Location: Karlovac, Croatia
"They are just people. And I don't believe that people can be bad
just because their skin is not the same color as mine, or because of
their nationality. People are individuals, they cannot be categorized.
They can only be good or bad, and that has nothing to do with their
appearance or origin."
Those are the words of a dynamic young lady named Ivana. She is one
of the many whose childhoods were consumed by the terrors of war, yet
she is also one who carries an incredible dignity and courage. One
thing that stands the clearest is her hope for the future.
During the month of March, Jocelyn contacted Ivana. Ivana lives in
Karlovac, Croatia, a country that broke independent from Yugoslavia and went through the war. During this month of March, there
was a terrible conflict happening in Kosovo. By conversing with someone living
in Croatia, our team gained a whole different perspective on the wars.
She requested that personal information about herself be left out of
the letters. What follows are quotes, that provide much insight and
Ivana's words speak clearly. She gave to our team a priceless gift
Ivana's reply, March 27, 1999
I'm very happy to hear you would like to know something more about
my country and our way of life. Of course I'll answer all of your
Couple of months ago I got a message on my ICQ [an Internet Instant
Messenger] from an American person who asked me where Croatia is, is it
in Asia or something. That made me feel sad and a bit angry, so I wrote
him a letter, which I'm sending to you in attachment. You'll find out
some basic facts of Croatian history, and our life nowadays if you
decide to read it. (It's pretty long I'm afraid :-)) It's been written
before the latest events, so I'll just make a short comment on NATO
attacks: If they did it ten years ago, nothing of this would have
happened. I would have had nice childhood and teenage years, as well as
many others. Many children would have still had fathers and still lived
in their homes. I absolutely hate bombs and shooting after everything
I've gone through, but the force is the only language those people
understand, and that's the only thing that can make them leave
neighboring nations alone. I feel sorry for people who are suffering
right now, no matter what nationality they are, but Western countries
are finally doing the right thing.
That's it, I gave you plenty of reading material :-)) Hope to hear
from you soon,
What follows is the letter that Ivana had written to the person
who had previously contacted her.
I was very sad, but not surprised, when I read your message.
Although I'm only 19 I've traveled a lot and I'm used to people being
so...ignorant in a way. They always trust media and have stereotypes
which they don't change so easily. And Americans are the worst. You
think if you see a report on TV you know everything, you are well
informed and when someone brings up the issue, you can participate in
conversation. But you never think about what's really happening and you
don't really care.
Croatia is a small country in central Europe, people usually
consider it to be in Eastern Europe, but that's political location,
geographically it's Central and Southern Europe, because it has unusual
shape, it looks like a horse-shoe. The shape is a result of history
that hasn't been kind in this area. Croatians are Slavic people, we
came here in 7th century. We had our own script, it was called
Glagoljica, but now we use Latin letters. Our language is called
Croatian, and although it's extremely similar to Serbian (we can
understand each other without translation) there are important
differences in spelling, pronunciation and grammar. Serbo-Croatian
language doesn't exist, it only existed for a shorter period of time
during Yugoslav regime, and it was an artificial language created by
linguists. Croatian is very rich and hard to learn because grammar is
similar to Latin. If you ever took Latin you'd see my point.
I wanted to tell you something about history. It's very hard to sum
it up in just a few sentences, but I'll try. In the Middle ages
Croatian state was one of the most powerful establishments in
Mediterranean. Even Venice had to pay taxes to Croatian kings if they
wanted their ships to pass through Croatian sea. In 12th century
Croatian king Zvonimir died without an heir to the throne and nobles
accepted Hungarian kings.
From 1102 to 1527 Croatia was ruled by Hungarian kings. In 1527 we
elected Austrian dynasty. We became the part of Austro-Hungarian
monarchy and although we defended Western world from Turkish conquerors
we were always neglected. We were so small and weak and during al those
years of foreign rule, we almost forgot who we were. In 19th century we
began to express the eagerness to have our own state again. It's very
hard to explain what it looked like then, because now there are three
main regions in the country and back then those three regions were
separated and weren't even considered as a part of the same country.
Anyway, after the World War I, Monarchy collapsed and Croatia joined
first Yugoslavian state. It was the first time ever that Croatia
cooperated with East, but it was the best solution then. The idea of
Southern Slavic people in a same state (Slovenians, Croatians, Serbs)
was working only as a theory. Domination of certain nation was obvious.
The King was from Serbia, the capital was Belgrade, Serbia, National
Treasury was in Belgrade and Croatia was neglected again. Things
started to improve when World War 2 started, but then communists took
advantage of a situation and created new Yugoslavia, with six
republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Monte
Negro and Macedonia. In 1980s after Tito's death it was evident that
Yugoslavia will not last. Croatia with the beautiful sea had strong
economy, we were bankers, managers, merchants. Serbs held leading
positions as soldiers and politicians. Communism was not working, the
system was corrupted and Slovenia and Croatia started searching their
way out. Seven centuries under foreign rule, seven centuries of
suppression and neglect, it all became too much. I really do believe
that there are always mistakes on both sides when it comes to war. And
maybe Croatians really did something that provoked Serbian people, but
I'm not and cannot be objective after everything that happened here.
First step was secession, they let us go after long political
struggle. Soon after we declared independence, Serbian people in
Croatia (before the war there were 30% of them) founded their own
state, said that they're being treated unfair in a new Croatian state.
Yugoslavian army first claimed to be "Neutral" but after a while they
attacked Slovenia. They failed, war in Slovenia only lasted for 10
days. Slovenians were well prepared and ethnic clean, they only had 5%
of Serbian people living in their country. Croatia was first attacked
in autumn, AD 1991. My town was first attacked on 4th October 1991. UN
and EU did nothing. I don't know if you ever heard of Vukovar and what
happened there. The entire city was destroyed, men, women and children
were executed and put in mass graves. UN and EU did nothing. I
survived five years of hell and pain, thousands of people were killed,
thousands of homes were destroyed, no one did anything to help. I can't
even tell you what kind of things happened here during that war, and
explain the consequences. Before the first Serbian attack 16 000 of
Serbs fled because they knew what's going to happen to those who
stayed. I saw my friends leaving me in hell, now they are coming back.
Am I supposed to welcome them back? To offer them new homes, jobs and
trust while thousands of Croatian people still wait for their houses to
be repaired? Serbians attacked Slovenia, and got away with it.
They've attacked Croatia, and what is even worse, gave us a bad
reputation. Would you like to come to our seaside for a nice vacation?
No, I don't think so, you still think we walk around carrying guns,
don't you? They got away with it. They destroyed Bosnia, that's even
more popular these days, great idea for Hollywood, isn't it? They got
away with it. Right now they are getting away with Kosovo. No one
cares. We are east European savages, Balkanians and we can keep killing
each other for as long as we like. Americans will make nice movies
about it, and they'll have a chance to make nice experiments with
different plans and peace solutions. The real work will be done in Iraq
and Kuwait, oil is far more important than some poor tribe on Balkan
Croatia is a poor country. We are trying to change our system from
communism to capitalism, we have to heal our war wounds and we have to
work very hard to brake the barrier which was build by some western
countries. There are many problems, but I believe that they will be
solved. Young people are going away, they are trying to make better
living abroad. An average student from a Croatian high school can
accomplish incredible results in USA with minimum of effort. Our school
system is extremely hard and strict, we have 17 subjects each year, and
we are supposed to be good at everything - from chemistry to English
poetry of 17th century. After high school we go to University.There are
four Universities in Croatia.Zagreb University.is the largest and
oldest Croatian Uni. Zagreb is a Croatian capital, and it's a real
European city, with nice architecture, great culture and history.
If you read this letter and become at least a little bit more
interested in Croatia, try to find something about Plitvice lakes,
unique natural phenomenon, Adriatic sea (Croatian part has 2,000
beautiful islands) and Kopacevski rit. There are so many reasons for me
to be proud because I live here: Croatian baron Trenk invented a tye,
Croatian national team is third in the world in soccer, Croatian person
Nikola Tesla invented electricity etc.I could go on and on. And that's
it, if there's anything else you're interested in, I'll be glad to
explain and answer all the questions you might have.
Jocelyn's Reply, March 27, 1999
I was very happy to receive a letter back from you. I would like to
hear about your experiences; you sound like you have had a difficult
environment to grow up in, but have had the determination and courage
to stand strong.
Has you country been greatly effected by all the disputes and
bombings happening in neighboring Kosovo and Serbia? I think that
bombing is horrible, but if the Serbian leader is really massacring the
ethnic Albanian people.I don't know what to think of my country being
involved in stopping him, although I am proud of my country's
disciplined military forces and respect them. But it is all so
confusing; I don't know what side to believe, sometimes. I suppose war
is never really right, and there is probably never a right side - war
is so ugly. For the past week I have been corresponding every day with
a young woman in Belgrade, Serbia. It is so sad to hear of the
distress that she and the others encounter during the bombings,
although she has been safe in shelters. She is very bitter against the
USA, but does not blame me personally, in fact, she is happy to have
someone listen to the other side of the story.Ironic, isn't it, that an
American girl and Serbian girl will both be conversing, while my
country is bombing hers?
For most every story I have heard on the news about Albanian
killings, she has another side of it. Sometimes I wonder just how much
both of us are lied to. I believe our journalists to a point, but then
some things become questionable - on both sides, and now especially, I
imagine, as our journalists were ordered out of Serbia. It is sad that
there are deaths on both sides - from whatever perspective you take, we
are all alike when it comes to being human beings and having much love
for our family. My family has been praying that families that look to
God are spared, and I know He will protect them.
So tell me about your experiences.
P.S. I know you are neighboring countries with them - how close is
the bombing in Serbia and Kosovo to where you live in Croatia?
Well, you made some pretty interesting points in your letter. First
of all, about my personal experiences. I live in Karlovac, 50 km from
Croatian capital, Zagreb, 500 km from Belgrade in Serbia, 1,140 km from
Pristina, Kosovo. So, that's pretty far away I suppose. :-)
I was.[a young girl] when Croatia claimed independence from
Yugoslavia. In 1990 it was evident they will not let us go peacefully.
However nobody here ever dreamed of what was about to happen. Imagine
this: you're living peacefully, you never question your friends'
nationality. And then all of the sudden, a madman 500 km away starts
spreading lies and panic. You're not taking him serious, but your
friends are. Imagine seeing your family and neighbors leaving the
city, going away to the other side to shoot at you, destroy everything
you built together. We simply couldn' t imagine that happening, but it
did. There were 20,000 Serbs in my town in 1990. After Milosevic told
them they are going to be mistreated by new Croatian government, 16,000
of them went away to the so called Serbian Krajina, their quasi state
in Croatia. Everything started in autumn in 1991. We had a couple of
air raids in August. And then first attacks in September. And then
October. I will never forget that October as long as I live. I
remember every single day, every single minute. Thank God, I was just a
child, I thought everything was just a game. I can't imagine what was
my mother going through. There's nothing to tell really. It was hell.
One improvised shelter, twenty people in it and 4,000 shells a day.
Ground was shaking,we couldn't go out for days. Then someone said that
Serbs are coming and we'll be all executed. We fled. That was the
first time I cried. Then and never again.
I forgot everything about the four years that followed. I can just
remember dark, tears, fear and desperation. After a while people got
used to situation, accepted it as normal. That was the only way we
could go on with our lives. I remember how I used to lay on my bed in
basement and stare at the light bulb, feeling nothing, praying for the
next shell to kill me. I couldn't stand it any more at that point.
That's when first went.[abroad]. I spent one beautiful summer there.
It took time to get used to peace. I was shaking when someone would
slam the door. And then, when summer was over I had to go back. I
almost fainted when plane landed.I was so upset. That night I was
talking to my sister, and it started again. She started to cry, "No,
not again, they never did it while it was raining. They can't do it
tonight." Of course they could. There was no one there to stop them.
There was only one thing keeping me alive, memory of.[abroad]. I
wanted to go back, so I did. And I still do. :-) You see, in the
beginning we thought Americans will come and help us, stop it all.
Nobody did anything. So, the hope was gone. We only had ourselves,
and we succeeded. War finished in 1995. Problems were still there. I
couldn't stand Serbian people.I was so bittered and disappointed
watching same thing happening in Bosnia again and no one giving damn
about it.I think I wanted them [Yugoslavia] to feel how it was to
suffer. Now 4 years had gone by.they [Serbs] did such terrible things
to us. I should hate them, I should avoid any contact with them. They
are evil and they are all hypocrites. No they are not. They are
just people. And I don't believe that people can be bad just because
their skin is not the same color as mine, or becauseof their
nationality. People are individuals, they cannot be categorized.
They can only be good or bad, and that has nothing to do with their
appearance or origin. There are still lots of bad feelings between
Serbians and Croatians. I give a fair chance to everybody: if he/she
proves to be a nice person I will accept him/her as my friend.for the
sake of wonderful people that live there.
I believe NATO is finally doing the right thing. A little bit late,
but they are putting a stop to this mess. If they let Milosevic to get
away with Kosovo, he will do it again somewhere else. And the tragic
fact is he's getting his people's support. I see all those
demonstrations in front of embassies and I can't believe what politics
and media can do.
As far as your friend is concerned, I believe she's in distress.we
were all expecting this, and I was absolutely out of my mind when it
began.I was told that everything's fine. They are just destroying
military targets, civilians are not in danger. Of course I'm worried,
there can always be a mistake or something, but I believe that this is
controlled military action, and civilian victims will be minimized. And
you must bear in mind that Serbian television is a bit different than
Western TV. Believe me, almost everything those people are getting are
lies. There were student demonstrations in Belgrade last year, the
motto was: "Shut Serbian TV down, give your brain a chance" .
I say a prayer every night for all innocent souls to be spared. I
pray for peace and the very thought of another war terrifies me. I
finally sorted out my life, my feelings. I want to go on. I want to
finish.[school] which I love, get married, have children....War is
definitely something I don't want.
OK, I could go on and on on the subject, but it's time for me to go
Jocelyn's Reply, March 31, 1999
Your letter was deeply touching. I cannot tell you how it reached
me, reached my soul. Your experiences are truly amazing. You have
been through war, death, fear, but have come out as such a dynamically
strong young woman.After I read your letter.my perspective.changed.
I do think that maybe NATO's approach is a little off-balanced.they
plan on bombing again and again.The other day they held this big rock
concert in celebration of downing our F-177, while NATO was bombing, to
show NATO and the USA that they are not afraid.I am not for the
bombing. I hate war. I hate bombing.
The girl in Belgrade is not responding.anymore.It is sad. I wanted
to befriend her.
You have a very insightful onlook. Your letter really touched me,
an got me to thinking what is happening.Also, on the news here we are
sitting in our homes, watching these poor ethnic Albanians traveling
over mountains for miles and crossing into other countries where they
are sometimes refused. Our troops should be there helping them get
through, get to safety. These people are even being rejected, after
traveling by train into I think it was Macedonia, the train was sealed
up, the people told not to speak, and only a selected amount were let
off, and the rest sent back. Can you believe it?
This year I am participating in.[she explains the delopment of the
global relations site].
You have a very big heart, and it blessed me to see how much you
care for all the innocent people. War can be so ugly. It can turn
neighbor against neighbor, country against country, and even brother
against brother. Unfortunately, innocent people are caught up in the
midst of all of this. But God protects those who look to him, and I
firmly believe that.I really like how you speak of people. How you
give everyone an equal chance, whatever nationality they are. I think
you should pursue your dreams.That's what you want - to live a normal
life after all these years. You are very inspirational.
It is because of you, and future generations that my team and I are
doing this project. And stories like yours reach into people's souls
as it did mine, and have the potential to get people to really site up
and think. To think of what is happening. To have a will to
understand. And most importantly, to educate our children. So much of
our future lies in our children. And so many are not getting the
education that they deserve.That stirs within me.
I have had such an amazing experience talking to people like you.
It has made me think hard about all of this.
Ivana's Reply, April 5, 1999
I'm so sorry it took me so long to reply to your last letter.I just
found it yesterday. :-)
I'm glad I helped you to answer at least some of the questions you
had about this terrible situation. And I have nothing against you
putting my thoughts on your web site. I think it's a great initiative,
and I totally support the idea.
I think that my town really does need help. It's been heavily
damaged in war, and now there's absolutely nothing: Karlovac has a
population of about 80,000 people and we don't even have a cinema!.I
know how ignorant people can be, and usually are and I think that
you're doing the great thing. Keep up the good work!!!
Yes... Serbian people turned into some kind of fanatics these
days.I've seen the concert on the TV and I couldn't believe my eyes! Of
course they are hurt, and of course that bombing is making them angry
and frustrated, but this is not a normal reaction. If something like
this happens to you, you should sit down and think about everything,
try to find the causes by yourself. They should see what their
government is doing. I can only hope that they will realize the truth
after some time, nothing else.
Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and we all prayed for Kosovars.We are
sending clothes and food, and can only hope it will reach those poor
people on time. It's nice to see people finally doing something.
It was nice to hear from you again.
Jocelyn and Ivana continued to correspond over the next few months.
It was truly a very educational and enlightening experience, to hear
the perspective of this young woman.
During our interviews, we developed a set of questions to ask.
Ivana gave us some very thoughtful answers, and the interview can be
viewed by clicking the link below.
Our Interview with Ivana