If Croatia is now a key destination for holidays, the other Balkan countries just become more and more visited. Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, all these countries that were a few decades ago caught in a bloody war. Everywhere you go, especially in Bosnia, vestiges of war remain and for a lot of people, it’s still in their mind, their memories and sometimes in their fears… We met Kristina who was a kid when the war began and she accepted to tell us a bit more about her experience…
You were living in Dubrovnik when the war began. In the old town or in Lapad ?
Yes, my family and I lived in Dubrovnik, in Lapad exactly, while we were building house at Ivanica. We were one country and Ivanica was just suburb of Dubrovnik.
How would you explain how war happened ?
Yugoslavia by itself was a rich country, we exported many things world wide but After president Tito died, no one was able to keep balance between six countries and when Croatia asked for independence, a lot of their population were Serbs and the government in Belgrade didn’t see sense of it… That’s why they started to fight.
When and how did you first hear about the war ?
When war began I was eight. I remember first sign of war, it was siren alarm. I was alone at home. My parents worked and my sister was at school. It was scary, I was afraid for my parents and my sister if something bad happen to them.
What happened then?
My parents decided to move me and my sister to my grandmother’s place in Bosnia while things calm down. My sister and I moved to the Bosnia because war didn’t start there yet. My parents stayed in Dubrovnik and they were not able to get out next five months.
Do you know why?
I was little child then. But, it seems that some people didn’t like to have Serbs as their neighbors. I didn’t really understand it because my parents have always taught me all people are same. In our family we have lot of mixture marriages, my uncles and aunts are Croatian and it was fine, always.
Were you able to talk to them ? Or to have any news from Dubrovnik at that time ? Do you know what happened to them during that 5 months?
No. My sister and I were at my grandmother’s place next five months without touch with our parents. Telephone lines didn’t work. We received one letter from our parents in five months, it was our friend from Dubrovnik, he found way to get out from Dubrovnik through Zagreb and Hungary. That letter was the most precious thing we had.
Do you know how it was for them staying there without any possibility of leaving?
My parents stayed at the basement of our neighbour almost all five months. We are Serbs and Dubrovnik is small town, everyone know everything. They didn’t feel safe on the street. They talked to me about it later, when I was older. They said that if they hadn’t have books to read they thought they would have been crazy. Books saved them and helped them to stay optimistic. Sometimes my mother was going out to get some water and food. She was brave. Croatian people were very mad at Serbian and they threatened.
Did your grandma tell you a bit of what was happening? And did you understand why people were fighting for?
My sister and I were safe at that point and it was the most important thing. We tried to live normally, we continued school at our grandmother’s place. We didn’t understand much. Actually, I don’t think that people understand why they were fighting for even now…
Do you know how your parents managed to leave Dubrovnik?
My mother applied for a permission to see children and they approved it. So my mother managed to get out of the town by boat to Montenegro and from Montenegro to Bosnia. My father stayed one month more, he waited things to calm down more. He asked for permission to get out of the town to see what’s going on with our house and they approved it.
So you managed to get back together?
Yes. Things calmed down and it seemed everything was fine. Our family was together and it was new beginning for us. We decided to come back to our place. Serbian army was there and we felt save. My father, who is a teacher, reopened the school at Ivanica. There was lot of people who hoped everything would be alright. We lived three months at our new house and things got worse again. My father had to go to the front and my mother had liver surgery. We had to move out from our place.and my father was on the front so my mother, sister and I picked our things at one suitcase and left as refugees.
Where did you go?
We stayed couple of days at my uncle’s friend in Montenegro and then we moved to the our uncle’s place in Serbia. My father was in the war still and we worried about him. He was close to Mostar and it was really bad there. He tried to reach our place to take some things from our house but the Croatian army had burned our house.
How was Serbia at that time? And what about your grandmother? Has she moved too as a refugee?
Serbia was stabile. They accepted lots of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. War in Bosnia just started. My grandmother and grandfather had a hard time. My grandfather lost his leg in Second World War and he was a handicapped person. They stayed alone at their village. All around their place were Muslims and they didn’t like to have Serbs as neighbours. One day they attacked their house, my grandfather tried to protect them but they shoot my grandmother and she was wounded at her leg.
Did they managed to get out of it…?
My grandmother and grandfather crawled to the first neighbour’s house and asked for help. My grandmother was bleeding. They succeed to find some car and transport her to the hospital. After it my grandparents moved to the Serbia as refugees as well.
What happened to your father? Did he managed to get out of it before the end of the war? Did your grandparents move to the same place than you?
When my grandma was wounded my father left war and took care of his parents so My father and grandparents joined us in Serbia.
How long did you stay there? How was the life in Serbia during the war?
We stayed in Serbia for the next four years. We lived poorly. My parents were not able to find a job and they worked in a restaurant. It was a difficult period for Serbia as well as their currency had devalued at that time. After four years we decided to move to Montenegro. We didn’t find place to call home and we wanted to be closer to the our real home, Ivanica. We hoped things will be fixed. We lived next four years there and then decided to go back to Ivanica. Following the Dayton Agreement¹ in 1995, Ivanica belonged to Bosnia and Herzegovina. But after 1992 nobody lived there. Every house was destroyed. It was a empty place without power nor water. Even birds had left. That silence was scary.
When did you come back exactly ?
We came back in October 1999.
So you decided to come back to Ivanica, how did you managed to rebuild the house?
At beginning just twenty men came back to Ivanica and they lived at the same house. It was not safe yet. We were afraid of Croatian revenge. We didn’t have any protection, we came in peace and wanted to have our home again. We had no power, no water, no doors nor windows. We tried to fixed it with old planking and asked for donations.
What about school and work for your parents?
My mother found job in Trebinje hospital and she rented a room there. My father had to stay to Ivanica and tried to rebuild our house. I stayed in Montenegro to finish my high school and my sister got married. Greek Orthodox Church gave us donation to rebuild our house. We got windows and doors and other building materials. Next year my father got job in Elementary school in Trebinje. I moved to my college in Banjaluka. My sister gave a birth to her first daughter. It seemed things were going better. People slowly came back to Ivanica, and rebuild their homes.
Did your grandparents come with you?
My grandfather died in a meanwhile and my grandmother insisted to came back to the her village. Some of her neighbours came back too.
Can you tell me why there are still so many unfinished houses or abandoned places ? Is there because the government or the owners don’t have enough money to take care of it?
Yes, some people moved abroad and they didn’t think it was necessary to fix it. Some people don’t have enough money to fix it.
Have you ever been afraid that war may start again ?
No, I never was afraid war will start again. We have family in Dubrovnik and when we came back to the our place we visited them. At beginning it was rare but then we were almost every day in Dubrovnik and we were going to the beach and we had friends there, everything was normal. All war experience made me stronger person. I was kid and I didn’t realize what was actually going on. But you learn to deal with every problem that appear. There was the time that we were scared for our father in the war, there was the time that we didn’t have real lunch, there was the time that we didn’t have shoes for winter. But, it’s life. Things goes ups and downs but you have to keep your faith, there is no problem without solution. Just keep trying and never give up.
You told me your master thesis was about Evolution of PTSD symptoms (post traumatic stress disorder),what is it like ?
Yes, when I studied psychology I wanted to know more about people who were involved in the war directly. I did research about evolution of symptoms of PTSD. It was ten years after war was done.There are people who still feel consequences of war, still. It’s difficult to accept everything if you lost someone in the war, for example. I worked with people who were enrolled in the war. Some of people with PTSD diagnosis still have strong symptoms as flash backs, strong anxiety, and PTSD symptoms evolved in real neuroses.
Did you find out something interesting or useful while studying the PTSD?
I didn’t like to talk about my war experience, there were some things that hurt. Of course, I picked PTSD from personal reasons too. My biggest symptom was anxiety. I learnt from their support group how to deal with it and just let it go.
Are you proud of how Ivanica managed to get on tracks and is now becoming a very nice vacation destination?
Yes, I’m not proud because Ivanica got up from ash, as well. I’m proud that my people changed, they are more tolerable and are building better future. You can see many new houses. Two new part of Ivanica are building. Foreign people found our place very interesting for vacation. Lot of British people bought houses at our place and we started to have guests at our home with Airbnb. Airbnb is a way for us to meet new interesting people and show them part of our country, life, history and tradition. We stayed in touch with many of our guests and became friends.
¹ The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Agreement, Dayton Accords, Paris Protocol or Dayton-Paris Agreement, is the peace agreement reached at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, United States, in November 1995, and formally signed in Paris on 14 December 1995. These accords put an end to the 3 1⁄2-year-long Bosnian War, one of the Yugoslav Wars.