(October, 2002)

Slobodanka Manojlovic from Bratiskovci

Were you born in this house?
I was born in this region, but not in this house.
When did you come to Bratiskovci?
Well, we came here a month ago. Before that we were at my parent's place for two months.
Where did you live before the war?
Before the war, we were up there, in the village.
Does this mean that you were not in this house?
Yes, this is my husband's house.
When did you get married?
I got married seven years ago.
Where were you durnig the war?
During the wartime, we were here in Bratiskovci. But, after the Oluja in 1995, we fled to Serbia.
Why did you decide to come back?
We decided to come back because of bad life conditions. In Serbia, we didn’t have permanent accommodation so we were, constantly, moving and paying high rents. Mostly, we came back because of the youngest son who was prematurely born, and is in bad health condition. We didn’t have enough money to pay for his therapies.
How long did it take you to get the Croatian documents?
It took me four months to get the documents.
Have you known how difficult the situation is here?
In a way I did. But I didn’t expect that we would have to live from the social welfare, so called, Green Card. Yet, sometimes, Dusan manages to earn some money.
How much does this welfare payments amount, and is it enough for living?
We are four and we get 2200 kunas. This amount is not enough, especially, for the families with children. It is needless to say that with these payments, we cannot cover the expenses of the therapies my son needs.
Can Dusan find job without difficulty?
One can hardly find job here.
What do you think, how would you survive if there were no work to do?
I don’t know.
What do you think is there future for Serbs in Croatia?
Well it depends how Croats will accept us. I still haven’t had any major problems with them, but we will see when Nikola starts attending school.
Are there any Croats in this region, and how do they treat you?
There are, but as I have already told you, I had no problems. I don’t know about the others. I know some clerks and they are nice to me. We also have some friends in Sibenik, but they are not full-blooded Croats.
Have the Serbian politicians, who are active here in Croatia, visited you?
No, I think they haven’t.
Has any other international organization helped you in anyway?
Well, for example, The Red Cross gave us a cooker and four beds. And, these two windows and three doors we got from certain American humanitarian organization.
Have the Croatian authorities helped you to reconstruct your house?
While we were in Serbia, we made a request for the reconstruction, but unfortunately our documentation is not valid. The authorities claim that we don’t have the right to reconstruct our house.
Afterwards, I turned to some humanitarian organizations in Knin. There, they told me, they could not provide me with provisional accommodation, since we are not from the County of Knin.
Concerning the all difficult circumstances you live in, how do you see your future, and what are your plans?
There is not future for Serbs here. If there were any opportunity, we would go abroad.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Well, I returned from Serbia, thinking it would be at least a bit better here, but...

Ilija Kricka and Ratko Kricka from Bratiskovci

How old are you?
We are fifty-eight years old each.
Were you born in Dalmatia?
Yes, we were. All our ancestors were born here.
How was the situation here before the war, in 1999?
Before the war, we lived very well. We were very rich.
Were you in Bratiskovci when the war began?
Yes, we were here until Oluja in 1995. Afterwards, we left to Serbia, Vojvodina.
When did you come back?
We came back last year, in December.
I have read somewhere that when Serbs left this region, Croats were destroying all the documentation and registers of births. Is that true?
Well, it was the case in some places, for example in Djeverske. They didn’t do it here in Bratiskovci.
Was it difficult for you to get the Croatian documents and to return here?
No, it wasn’t. I waited for the passport for about twenty days and on the same day, when I got it, they also gave me an ID card.
When you saw your house after such a long period of time, how did you feel?
Well, it was not easy for me. I hardly survived it. Until 1995, I had plenty of everything in my house. When I came back it was a waste land – pitiful scene.
Have the Croatian authorities helped you in any way?
Yes, for six months, we received some kind of social welfare, so called Green Card. It amounted 550 kunas per month.
Did they help you to reconstruct your houses?
No, the Green Card welfare was only for surviving. We subsequently submitted the request for reconstruction in the County of Sibenik. We are waiting for the Commission which will evaluate the damage. They are constantly promising, but nothing of it.
Are the Croats, whose houses are also ruined, in the same position?
No, almost all their houses have already been reconstructed. The ruins you see are Serbian. In all villages only Serbian houses are not reconstructed.
Do you think they are putting off the reconstruction of your houses because you are Serbs?
Well, there is no other reason. Perhaps they think that in that way they will prevent Serbs to return to their hearths.
Since you have problems with house reconstruction, is it the same with finding job?
Well, any kind of job is out of question. Even they can hardly find work to do, not to mention us.
Then, how do you manage to survive?
We live trying to cultivate the land, but we don’t have a cultivator. For example, I have vineyard and olive-grove, but what can I do with it?!
This means that your major problem is how to survive?
Yes, that’s right. Even a hoe is a dream.
Do you think the situation will improve?
Well, we are sincerely hoping, but poor is our hope.
Hope is one thing, and the other is to have something in your hands?
How we will have something in our hands, when nobody gives anything?!
How will you live on then?
God knows; we really don’t know. For now, we are managing.
Could you believe that the situation is that difficult?
No, we couldn’t. Each of us has thirty years of working experience, and we hoped for retirement. They told us that we have to wait for seven more years. Now, one has to wait until he is sixty-five to get a pension - this is some kind of new law.
How was in Serbia during those four-five years, you were there?
We worked as day labourers, doing all kind of physical labour. Our wages were enough to live on. Nobody cares for refugees.
I assume that before the war you had friends – Croats. Has anyone helped you when you returned?
No, nobody has helped us.
In what kind of relations are you with them, now?
Who greets us, we greet him – closeness at distance. We were not close even before, not to mention now.
What do you think, will you stay in Croatia?
If only they would repair our houses, and if we would have the chance to cultivate our land, we would manage somehow. We would like to work, we would help each other. But what we mostly need is a tractor.
It is well-known that Croatia received funds from the EC to reconstruct Serbian houses. Has anything been done by now?
No, it hasn't. They reconstruct their houses, and use these funds in other purposes.
The situation is rather complicated. Have you ever thought to form some kind of association and to present your problem to the Croatian authorities as well as to the others? Or, such an association already exsists?
Well, there are some politicians in Zagreb.
Have they helped somehow?
Helped us? They only keep talking! We need help - there is no use of talking and politics.
And, have they ever visited you?
Absolutely nobody came. Last time we saw them in monastery Krka on the feast of Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To conclude, Serbian politicians in Croatia do not help you. Do you receive some kind of help from Yugoslavia? Namely, I ask you this, because it is obvious that somebody must help you in order to survive here.
Yes, of course, we are in bad need of farm machinery and cattle. This would be something.
And what about Yugoslavia?
There is no help from Yugoslavia. They hardly helped us even there.
Does this mean that you feel only attached to the Orthodox Church?
Yes, that's right.
What kind of help do you expect from the Church?
Well, for example, the Church organization Philantrophy could ask UNCHR and the Croatian authorities to help the reconstruction of Serbian houses as soon as possible. How can I ask something from my priest, when he is also in need!?
That's right. But, this is one more reason you need a local organisation which will present your burdensome life conditions.
Yes, that's true. But, for example, every week I have to go to Knin, and each time, I have to pay fifty kunas for the transport. How can I get this money? I don't have it!
And is there any bus line here?
No, there isn't. And if there were, it costs.
Unfortunately, you can't get help if you don't organize. Besides, the Orthodox Church is also present in this area and Croatia can't neglect that fact. All in all, you are in unenviable position. Have you ever thought to go back to Serbia?
Well, I'm in a dilemma, because I don't have a place where to live. My roof leaks, and I can't spend winter in this house.
The situation is very tough. How do you see your future here in Croatia?
If the things stay as they are, and if EC doesn't help, I think that in fifteen years we will die out.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Well, we told you everything – about our homes, about life here. But, still, let us tell you one more thing: all Serbs here in Croatia are dispirited. Nobody cares for us. They are only making promises and telling us to come back. And when you do come back, you stop existing...
Are you afraid when you, for example, go to Sibenik?
No, we are not.
How many Serbs have returned to Bratiskovci?
There are about one hundred and forty returnees. But, most of them are in old age, so that the two of us turn to be quite young. Yet, there are few younger families with children.
Thank you for your time. The things I have heard are not encouraging at all.
Thank you and to Greek people for your care and possible help.
There are some people in Greece who might help, but they are not familiar with your state of affairs. With this interview, I will try to reveal them, at least, a part of your reality. Perhaps some of those people will help, but that is not enough. You must ask help from the humanitarian organisations. You had the courage to come back to Croatia - that was the most difficult thing to do. Now, everything else is still ahead of you.

Djuro Karabuva from Bratiskovci

When did you return to Croatia?
We returned in 1997. UNCHR brought us here. We were first returnees.
(Djura's wife Danica adds: We were afraid so I told Djura if they broke through the door, we would run through the window. But, still nobody disturbed us.)
Does this mean that you were afraid?
Well, we were afraid untill we didn't get used to the whole situation. And the police was also present here protecting us. My wife said to a policeman: «Who will trouble us?» And he replied: «The devil never sleep. There was always evil, especially nowadays.»
Have you had any kind of problems since you came?
No, we haven't. They were coming and asking why we were running away, but, admittedly, I knew how to answer.
What did you tell them?
If I weren't running, I wouldn't come back.
What was the situation like when yo came to Croatia?
There were five-six of us in the village. Everything was devastated. It was horrible.
And how did the houses look like?
Now they are dilapidated, and you can imagine how they looked like when we came. Norway helped the reconstruction of thirty houses, so now one can live in them.
Has any other humanitarian organisation helped you?
Poor is their help.
Where did you live after the persecution?
We lived in Serbia, Vojvodina.
Are you happy to be here now?
I'm overjoyed. I'm always saying that. I'm not ashamed to live in my own house.
How was the situation here before the war?
Before the war, we lived very nice. And even now, who returned may survive if he wants to work.
Do you think that the situation in the future will improve?
Well, I believe it will. Everything can change for the better.
Where were you during the war?
We were in Bratiskovci and we ran away in 1995 during Oluja.
Did you manage to take some of your personal things with you?
No, we left everything, but everything.
How did your flight to Serbia looked like?
Well, our flight lasted eleven days and ten nights on a tractor. We were going through Lika and Bosnia and finally came to Vojvodina. We were accepted in the refugees’ centre in Vrbas, and we lived there until we decided to return to Croatia.
How did you spend those two years in the refugees’ centre?
What can I say! A lot of strange things happened there. They didn’t expect us. They used to say: “They should be deprived even of bread. Why didn’t they fight?”
So, you stayed there until 1997?
Yes, we spend there two years and a month.
How did you decide to return to Croatia?
I thought that I would manage somehow, since I was on good terms with everybody here before.
Could you believe that the situation is so difficult?
Well, I supposed, because I made my documents in Beli Manstir, and there I got a picture about the situation here.
Did you leave Serbia satisfied or disatisfied?
I left it being content. I'm going home. How could I be unhappy?
And were you satisfied while being there in Serbia?
Well, I wasn't, because I was far away from my homeland.
Did people and Serbian authorities helped you in any way, while you were there?
They provided us with food and provisional accommodation. A lot of people were settled there, and we hardly had place where to sleep.
Is it true that you decided to return to Croatia when you heard that Sibenk got an Orthodox priest?
At first, I was in a dilemma. But, when I heard that the priest came, I thought: «Well, it's time for me to go home!»
Why did you find important the fact that the priest came?
They are our shepards. They lead us.
When you saw your house after such a long period of time, how did you feel?
It was a catastrophe. Everything was turned upside down. Since we came on the 5th of September in the evening, we had to sleep somewhere. So, we began cleaning the place and we found this couch. We locked the door, and we were afraid.
Have you thought then to return to Serbia?
No, this is mine. The third day from our arrival, some Croats from Dubravice came asking me if, I was the owner of the house. I told them: «If it weren't mine, I wouldn't be here.»
Who helped you to get the documents for the house?
I went to Sibenik and did everything in a regular way.
Do you have pension here in Croatia?
Yes, I do.
Did you have any problems with Croats?
Well, there were some problems in the beginning, but I didn't pay attention to that. They used to say: «Here are those who were shooting at us!»
When you came back, did you receive help from any humanitarian organisation or Yugoslav ambassy?
No, we didn't receive any kind of help.
Does that mean that you struggled for your existence by yourself?
Yes, that's right. Only the priest helped me. He gave me this tractor.
If someone asks you what do you need, what would you say?
What we need most is farm machinery.
Is that everything you need?
Yes, that is the only thing we need.
What do you think, how Yugoslavia treated refugees while you were there, and how does it treat you now?
They provided us with food and accommodation, but they weren't fair. Now, when we are here we receive no help from them. We have to endure.
Did they advised you to return to Croatia, or that was your decision?
The decision was ours. We are used to this land and there was no life for us there.
What makes you think that way?
We were born on this land, and we see that we can live on here, if we want to work.
How do you see your future?
I see it.
Thank you.
Thank you for a visit. I hope we will meet again.
I will personally bring you the papers in which this interview will be published. I will keep my promise, because I visit Serbia very often – my wife is Serbian.

Dusan Karanovic from Kistanje

Are you from Kistanje?
Yes, I am. I live here, except that I attended school in Belgrade and Zagreb.
Were you here when the war broke out?
Yes, I was in Kistanje. Where I would go from my home town?
Does this mean that you were here during the war?
Yes, it does.
How did you manage to survive those war years?
Well, it was very hard, but we lived on somehow. I also tried to help people around me.
I was in Kistanje until Oluja in 1995. Yet, few days before this military action, soldiers from the UMPROFOR came to warn us. They told us, it would be best to leave Kistanje.
How long have you been in Serbia?
We travelled to Belgrade about five-six days, and when we came there, they offered us to go to Kosovo. But, I didn't accept this offer. After about twenty days, I went to Croatian consulate asking them the permission to return to Kistanje. They told me that it was not safe to return. Afterwards, I had heard that not far from Kistanje nineteen Serbian families were slaughtered. This happened in the end of September 1995.
When did you exactly return?
We returned in September 1996.
It was quite risky for you to come back. You heard that they slaughtered people, destroyed houses and churches. That kind of political situation could not have changed for just one year. Why were so adamant to return?
I could not imagine to live somewhere else, except in my home town. I couldn't imagine, not to return to this land where Serbs had lived for ages.
Were you afraid?
No, there is just one life.
How did people treat you when you came back?
Well, it was hard, because only three percent of Serbian population remained in this region.
Were Janjevc herei when you came back?
No, they were not. They moved here later.
How did Croats, who knew that you are a Serb, treat you when you, for example, were going to Sibenik or Knin?
To be honest, I didn't have problems with native Croats, but I had a lot of problems with those who came here from Bosnia and Kosovo.
Was your house destroyed?
As most of the houses, mine was also completely ruined.
Devasteted houses, no work, problems with Janjevci, what was on your mind then?
Well, I knew that this region belongs to us, and in spite of all the problems and difficulties, I have decided to live here.
Have the Croatian authorities helped you to reconstruct the house?
No, although I had all the needful documents. On the contrary, the Croatian authorities, urged by the immigrants, threw me out of my house.
And why did they do it?
They, allegedly, claimed that I wasn't the owner of the house, and that it belongs to them. I showed them the documents, but they told me to get lost. Otherwise, they will send us in the coffins to Belgrade. And again, we remained without everything. We are leaving the house, and the immigrants are moving in, escorted by the Croatian army. This happened on the 22nd of March 1997. I took a legal action against the Republic of Croatia, but I lost this case; and I had to sell my house. Afterwards, I bought a new one.
Where did you reside after this misfortunate event?
My wife's relatives provided us with accommodation.
Could you find any kind of work to do when you came from Belgrade?
No, Serbs can't find job here, and that situation will never change.
Why do you think so?
Well, even Croats don't have work to do, and let alone Serbs.
Does this mean that you didn't get job and that you will not get it, because you are a Serb?
They are not allowed to employ Serbs – such is their politics.
Have you received some kind of help from Serbia?
Unfortunately, not. We would be grateful for any kind of help.
What kind of help do you expect?
We expect financial support, because we can't survive here without it.
So, that kind of help is most important?
Yes, that's right.
I have heard that in Zagreb there are certain Serbian politicians. Do they protect your interests?
Well, hardly. There has been no improvement since Oluja.
What do you think, how Church might help?
I don't know, because they are in the same position as we are.
What do you think, will there be Serbs in this region in ten-fifteen years?
No, without financial support, we would hardly manage to survive here.
Thank you.
Thank you for publishing this interview, because it will reveal how Serbs in Croatia live.
I will publish it in Greece, and soon in Serbia.

Archpriest Ilija Karajovic from Sibenik

I am familiar with the fact that you were the first priest who came to Dalmatia after Oluja. When exactly did you come to Sibenik?
I am the priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Croatia since 1st of October 1965 till the present day. I left Croatia neither in the time of communism nor in the time of so called Croatian democracy. Before I came to Sibenik, I had been a priest in Slavonia, to be more precise in the town of Podravska Slatina. When the war broke out in 1991, my house was mined three times.
When exactly did you come to Dalmatia?
After my house in Podravska Slatina was mined, I moved to Osijek. I was there for three years. Unfortunately, in Osijek my house was mined for two times even. Since there was no Orthodox priest in Dalmatia, (all of them fled away during the military action Oluja), Metropolitan Jovan invited me and told me that there is a need for a priest to come to Dalmatia. I felt obliged to fulfill this obedience. I celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in 1996, on the feast day of St. Petka. The believers were happy to have the priest again.
What were your first impressions?
Well, it was terrifying. I waited for forty-five days to get an ID card, although I came from Osijek and had all the needed documents.
How did people react when they saw an Orthodox priest in Sibenik?
I always wear a cloke. Whoever greeted me and smiled, he was a Serb. Sometimes they would even cry out of happiness. And those who shouted at me, well... They called me a Chetnik, Djuic.. They used to say: «Not long ago you were shooting at us! Are you not ashamed to walk on Croatian soil!»
Concerning the Roman-Catholic Church, on a personal request, I was received by the present bishop of Sibenik Mr Ivas. He only asked me where I came from. Thanks God I didn't come from Krajina.
How much time did youspend alone in Sibenik?
Well, about two years, and then another priest came. Soon, he went to Split.
What do you think about current situation?
A leopard never changes its spots!
What do you think about current ecclesiastical life?
It is obvious that ecclesiastical life develops gradually. Now, we have the bishop, the monasteries are reviving, and we have twelve priests who serve to God and to people.
I have heard about the incident in Drnis. Can you tell us what had happened there?
It was in August 1997. The church in Drnis, as well as our Cathedral in Sibenik, celebrates the Dormition of Theotokos. I decided to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Cathedral in Sibenik, and Vespers with the moleban to Theotokos, I decided to serve in Drnis.
A few days before the feast-day, I went to inform the mayor of Drnis about this event. He didn't receive me, but his secretary only noted down the reason of my coming. Afterwards, I also went to inform the police. I told them I want to serve the Vespers at six pm. An hour before the service, I once again went to the police station and asked them if I could serve. They told me: «You may. Everything is under control.» I was really happy to have the chance to serve in this church.
I came to Drnis by car with eight more Serbs. When we entered the church, I told the churchman to toll the bells. When he started tolling, all of a sudden, some people thronged in the church - may God forgive, as if they were lying in wait. About thirty of them entered the church and wanted to prevent me from serving. They were screaming and yelling at me. There were also members of police who were helping me to make order. With difficulty, we forced them to leave the church. In all this chaos, I was also telling them: «You don't have to leave. Let us pray together to one and only Theotokos.» They cursed me and Theotokos. Finally, they left the church, but they were constantly shouting and cursing. Later, some women set in front of the church door, not allowing the believers to come in. Beside all the difficulties, I managed to serve.
I was never stronger in my spirit and never had stronger faith. I felt some great power inside of me that I thought the whole Drnis might hear me. Yes, Theotokos saved me.
After the service, I came out of the church. There were seven hundred people and they again started yelling at me. They were was throwing bottles at me and spitting. A group of them is spitting at me, while the others are waiting to spit. I was that much covered with spit, that my claok was all white.
Then, I headed towards my car; a twelve years old child was beating and punching me. His mother said to me: «You beast! Don't you see that even children don't like you! What are you doing here?!» I kept walking towards my car, surrounded by the crowd – anyone could stab me or kill me.
When I approached the car, I saw that they bored a tire. While we were changing the tire they attacked my fellow-driver. When we started the engine, they began stoning us. All the car windows were smashed.
There were also the members of OSCE. They knew I was serving in Drnis, and they were in front of the church watching what was going on. They put off their OSCE ID cards, in order to disguise their identity.
I want to add that a few days later the police phoned me and asked me if I want to sue those people who attacked me. I didn't sue anybody. And whom I could sue?
The very evening, I was also phoned from the editorial office of radio Slobodna Evropa. I made a statement about this sad event, telling them that I had a right to serve to God and to Orthodox people. Consequently, William Woker talked in the United Nations about the freedom of faith in Croatia.
Finally, the Roman-Catholic bishop of Sibenik gave a statement for the newspaper wondering why I hadn't turned to him as I did to the police and the mayor of Drnis. I told him that he was not my bishop, and that I wasn't under his jurisdiction.
I may claim that this whole event was staged. If you are interested, I have a report, a document, I sent to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Jovan. I can only say that my faith and Theotokos saved me.
Do you think that the situation is a bit better today?
Well, at least, one can serve more freely.
Thank you for the interview. Would you like to send a massage to your Mother-Church in Belgrade?
If only they could take more care about us in this region. We are here at the defense line of Orthodoxy; and there is no retreat!


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