FRI, 04 MAR 1994 17:37:21 GMT
Refugees - Survival or Life
In the night between last Tuesday and Wednesday, Zlata G. killed her husband Jusuf G. While he was asleep, she approached his bed, took a stone, which, according to the police weighed five kilograms, wrapped it in a stocking and began hitting her husband. He was 59 years old, she a year older. All this happened in Slovenj Gradec (Slovenia) and is only one in a series of sad stories about the ill-fate of Bosnian refugees in Slovenia, but not only about that. Zlata and Jusuf lived in Bosanska Dubica until the end of 1992, they had 22 hectares of land, and during their life together gave birth to eleven children. As they grew of age, their children married and had their own families, and four of their daughters came to live in Slovenj Gradec where they settled down. They visited their parents in Bosnia during the holidays, brought them presents and returned with the trunks of their cars full of food, such is the custom and tradition that was not questioned.
At the end of 1992, armed men raided the town - a few men from the town joined them - and banished Zlata and Jusuf from their home which they had to leave carrying only a few plastic bags in their hands which contained their entire life. Their only crime was that they were Muslims, and the armed men wore uniforms of the army which called itself Serbian. That's how they reached Slovenj Gradec and began living at each of their daughters homes for a certain period of time always taking their plastic bags with them where ever they went, since in them they kept all that had remained of their estate and of their former life. Zlata fell ill, not only physically. She saw what the "liberators" had done in Bosanska Dubica and claimed, as her doctor later told the police, that she had a bullet in her body that was moving towards her heart. When it reached it, she would die.
Of course, at least in Zlata's case, there was no bullet except in her soul, since she saw how soldiers in Serbian uniforms killed people with whom she had lived all her life until a year and a half ago. All the bullets that killed those people, Zlata took with her, all of them hit her as well. What she did to Jusuf, is only a consequence of all those bullets. She could find no peace, although everyone said that she was lucky to have come to Slovenia. In the beginning, the state of Slovenia welcomed the refugees with open heart and arms, asking no one of his religion or nationality. Before the Bosnian ones refugees from Croatia came. After spending in Slovenia a year or so they began to return home, while exiles from Bijeljina and Zvornik began coming in, followed by those from Bosanska Posavina after which athey just flooded the country. During the first week-end in April, in only one night, about 200 buses with refugees from B&H arrived to Ljubljana and all of them were provided with shelter - with varied luck - some with friends and family and others in collection centres, three of which were opened in Ljubljana and two in Maribor that very week-end. And so until this very day, when more than a year ago now the entry of refugees into Slovenia has been prohibited.
The data made available by the Government of the Republic B&H, namely, the Government of Haris Silajdzic, show that out of a population of 4 800 000 in B&H - according to the 1991 census - one million nine hundred thousand are refugees, two hundred thousand have been killed while about two million people are still in the state, not counting 200 000 armed men that have remained out of the seven corps of the former Yugoslav Peoples Army who were regularly stationed in B&H and tens of thousands of members of para-military formations. Discrepancies in the official statistics of B&H regarding the number of inhabitans, when all the numbers are added, leave about 700 thousand people unaccounted for, namely, those whose destiny remains unknown - they are not on the lists of those that have been killed, banished or in any other category. It is more than evident that the numbers in these frightening statistics of death in B&H will have to be substantially corrected.It is assumed that if only the number of severely damaged towns and villages were taken into consideration, a toll of 700 thousand killed in B&H would be quite realistic. Therefore, those who claim that people like Zlata and Jusuf found shelter and saved their lives are completely right.
However, equally right are those who claim that Zlata and Jusuf are, regardless of the fact that people like them have actually saved their lives, also the victims of war as tragic as those who have remained in B&H, while on the other hand no one has said until now that the countries which have accepted the refugees, are likewise the victims of that war, of course on condition that the refugees have not been accepted only out of "cosmetic" reasons. In 1992 Slovenia accepted about 70 thousand refugees from B&H, out of which about 15 thousand have been accomodated in collection centres.
At that time, the refugees accounted for three percent of the overall population of Slovenia. If in the structure of the population of Italy such a percent was accounted for by refugees from B&H, that would mean that Italy would have to receive 2.5 million refugees from B&H, Austria about 300 thousand, Gernamy about 4 milion, while the United States would have to receive the entire population of B&H and would still not be "overbooked". Therefore the problems refugees in Slovenia have to face, among which Zlata's and Jusuf's are only an example, are much more complex from the socio-psychological and economic points of view than it might seem at first glance, not only for them but for Slovenia as as state .
There are more than enough illustrations of the frustrations that exist in this sense. A doctor of sociology and regular professor at the Sarajevo University suceeded in coming out of Sarajevo with his wife and two daughters. After spending 15 days in a four-bed room, his wife began contemplating divorce, while their older daughter decided to return to Sarajevo and join the Army of B&H. The young women and her daughters were taken by friends to a summer cottage (equipped with modern conveniences) in one of the most beautiful parts of Slovenia, in Bijela Krajina, in the valley of the Krka River. For days on end the children did not go out to the river, they had no desire to walk in the woods or swim in the calm river, they just sat in the living room and watched television. Their mother was happy that at least they ate their meals. The plates were always left clean. She only became aware of the distressing circumstances on the day she felt the smell of decaying food. The children ate as much as they could and hid the rest of the food in all sorts of hidden places. They did not leave the cottage because each one of them sat in the vicinity of the hiding place and guarded the food "from the other."
That is the sad reality of refugees life that is actually not lived as well as proof that it is not sufficient just to help save lives, but rather that it is necessary to do other things which will make possible the living of that life - to enable children to go to school,to study, to find jobs, to make friends, go to the movies, fall in love, to do everything teenagers do all over the world and what they would be doing if they had not become a statistical category - "refugees". They have thereby become, according to psychologists and sociologists, a formless mass in which the old are mixed with the sick, pensioners with farmers, doctors with academicians, university professors with students, patients with those in good health.... The Association for Voluntary and Preventive Activities which was set up in Ljubljana, dealt until three years ago only with marginal groups - drug adicts, homosexuals and lesbians, bums and beggars who seeked the help of psychologists, sociologists, painters and writers and took part in various forms of group and individual therapy.
Nowadays the activities of the Association are directed towards the resocialization of refugees from B&H who have already began to publish their own paper IZI (Refugees for Regugees), who have their music section, organize theatre performances, are enrolling in schools, have their refugee television programme with daily news programmes which are distributed on video casettes to refugees camps, and which are made on the basis of a compilation of news sitems produced by CNN, Sky News, Croatian TV, B&H TV and other TV stations. These programmes are exclusively informative in character and any form of ideologization is avoided. Once a week this programme is broadcasted on Ljubljana's Channel A TV station, a private television which is among the most watched in Slovenia. Thereby, two goals are achieved - not only are the refugees informed, but those in whose environment they are living as well and who are very frequently full of all sorts of prejudices and stereotypes. The problem is not in doing "something", but in the fact that the state of Slovenia is not taking part in the process of resocialization but rather civic society in Slovenia.
Judging by all that is happening, the things that are being done do not amount to much - but if nothing else at least a start has been made. If the Bosnian death statistics are such as they are, at least it has become clear that things can be even worse - those that have avoided death do not have to become and remain mentally handicapped, psychologically devastated and sentenced to vegetation and to Zlata's and Jusuf's fate.
ZORAN ODIC, AIM