Biserka Momčinović

Biserka Momčinović was born in 1946 in Zagreb, to a Partisan, antifascist family. Both of her parents were awarded the Partisan Commemorative Medal and had taken part in the Second World War from its very beginning. She was brought up in an environment in which antifascist and communist values were cherished. At the beginning of the war in the 1990s she was with her family in Zagreb. Very soon she and her husband got involved in activities involving the protection of human rights. In mid-1992 they left Zagreb: they moved to Poreč, in Istria, and organised a branch of the Civic Committee for Human Rights. In 1997 they founded the Centre for Civic Initiatives in Poreč. In their work in human rights they place a special importance on protection and promotion of women's rights. Biserka Momčinović is one of the founders of the Women's Network Croatia. Today she continues to live in Poreč and occasionally collaborates with human rights organisations.



[silence] Mrs Biserka, to begin with, I'd like to thank you once again for agreeing to talk to us. Please introduce yourself with your full name and the date and place of your birth. Biserka Momčinović, born in Zagreb, on December 9, 1946. Can you tell us what your occupation is, what do you do? I'm now retired. For years I've worked as a commercial officer for a big firm in Zagreb. Since the 1990s I've been a human rights activist. I think that's the most important thing that I'm involved with. Can you tell us something about the origins of your family? Where do your parents come from, what did they do? My mother and father come from a village called Donja Kupčina, close to Jamnička Kiselica. That's a Croat village. They were agricultural workers. Very early, sometime towards the end of the 1920s, my father became a member of the Communist Party. That early? - Yes. My father was born at the beginning of the 20th century. My father is 104 years old. He's still alive. My parents were awarded a partisan commendation. My sisters, who are older than me, spent most of the Second World War as refugees. They were aged six and four when they were forced to flee for the first time, in 1942, from a Croat village to Kordun, to save themselves from the Ustaše. That has left quite a mark on my family. In what way? - In the sense that I've always been involved in some fight for justice, for the working class, for others. And on the other hand my sister always had a real fear of any kind of war, or being reminded of the War. So I always had some doubt inside me. My father would sometimes tell heroic tales, and my mother and sisters had a different story. A story of suffering and fear. My mother was captured. She was sentenced to death by the Ustaše. Both your father and your mother took part in the Partisan movement? Yes, and they both deserved Partisan commendations. That means that they were active in the fight against fascism from 1941. What did your father and your mother tell you about their participation in the Second World War? Do you perhaps remember any stories? - I think that it was completely clear to them that fascism was an evil that had to be stopped. They were Croats. They perhaps weren't personally at risk. But they thought that they should take part. For them, it was a simple choice. They both felt they couldn't stay out of them. Even at the price of their children, their little daughters, having to go together with them to look for shelter somewhere. They mainly stayed in the liberated areas. Wherever there was a liberated area at any given moment, that's where they'd go. You mentioned that you believed in the working class and the worker's fight. Did you become active in the communist, or rather socialist party in Yugoslavia? At some point I... For a long time I wasn't involved, and then at some point, as I'd been working in that firm for years, I decided to join the communist party, the Communist League of Yugoslavia, because I thought that by doing so I could help and I could implement my ideas. But I was only a member. I didn't have any higher ambitions, I was just very active in the self-managing workers' councils. During my whole working life I was inquisitive, I was a woman who asked questions. As a result of doing that, asking uncomfortable questions, I was elected as the president of the worker's council. At some point I was the president of the worker's council of a firm that had 7 000 employees. What firm was that? - Monting. Did your inquisitiveness, your asking of uncomfortable questions, ever bring you into conflict with the establishment? - Yes, often. Always asking questions and wanting to improve things or to do something for the benefit of the workers, always involved getting into conflict. Because of that, I eventually left the firm sometime at the end of 1980s. Quite simply, some situations occurred that would later also happen at the level of Yugoslavia. We had a strategy, we had a development policy, about how to continue working together. There were certain procedures by which we, workers' councils, named the directors. And then those same directors of individual Organisations of Associated Labour (OUR) made decisions about the cost effectiveness of breaking off from the big organisation. So the organisation was simply split into many smaller ones. Seven or eight, I don't know how many, independent units which were later, in two or three years, all privatised. Then there's the question of the way they've been privatised. I was personally hurt. And I didn't want to continue working for those firms. And I could have, in any of them. But I didn't. And I didn't buy a single share. When did you join the Party, do you perhaps remember the year? Sometime in 1976, something like that. When I was around 30 years old. Do you think that workers' rights were entirely realised in Yugoslavia? I don't think they were entirely realised. In fact, what was bad for the working class itself was the fact that it got many rights served t them on a plate. The government was supposedly that of the workers and our workers didn't have to fight, neither for the reduced working years, nor for the apartments, nor for health or social security. Or for the free education. They got it from the government on a plate. I think that's precisely why our working class today so easily lost their rights. And why it doesn't know to this day how to fight for workers' rights. We're still fighting, and the unions too, for mere preservation of jobs. We're working in favour of the employers. We're prepared to work for three years without pay. There's still the mentality of having someone else do something for us. I think that we once had a government which provided certain benefits, but which didn't teach us how to fight to keep those benefits. This is why - through this privatisation, or whatever it is called - we were left without assets, and without real influence on politics. If you were to compare that period with today, would you say that your views of self-managing socialism differ to those that you have today? Have you changed your mind? Do you think that it was a good system? As time goes by, I think it was better. As time goes by, the better it seems. In particular when I look at these new capitalists today, starting from the Rovinj Tobacco Factory here, and so on, who divide all the profits between just a few of them. So much so that one person will get 260 million Kuna this year, which is equal to the budget of the whole Istria County. Nothing obliges them to invest in the community where that profit is being made. Just like all of the other capitalists across the whole world, they will follow cheap labour, cheap raw materials, and they will invest their accumulated capital god knowns where in the world. That's another question... Where, in what? Whilst here in the local community, or at the level of Croatia, we are very much aware of our needs. starting from water management, water preservation, and so on. We've just been through a terrible drought. The rain that finally fell didn't do much good. It's not sufficient to satisfy our needs and appetites. Do you think that during self-managing socialism that distribution of accumulated capital was fairer? Even now, when it comes to the accumulated means that the state disposes of - our means, collected from the Value Added Tax - every now and then there is pressure from various sectors, calls for help. For help with the drought, the price of wheat, the price of raw materials. And you still have investments in something or other. Before, it was all known; we had this energy potential, that manufacturing potential, that we wanted to improve. Today, we're not sure where those means are going. A whole series of industrial areas that were being developed in the old system, from the textile industry onwards, today can't get a single Kuna of support, or very little. Those final vestiges of the textile industry that mainly employed women. And where are those women today? At the job centre. We don't have any fabric manufacture anymore, nor the manufacture of clothes and shoes, which was once very extensive. We used to have that operating on a level that the state deemed necessary. Today we are part of a system of universal capital, a universal market. I suppose that's why some thing that we don't need our own manufacturing anymore. Which is not true. We'll have to go back, it seems to me. When comparing today's state interventions and previous interventions, I think it was fairer before. You mentioned that you joined the Party sometime in the mid 1970s. That was a few years after MASPOK, [Mass Movement], or the Croatian Spring. Why did you decide to join the Party then? Did you follow what was happening during the Croatian Spring? I followed it and I thought that it wasn't good, the way fingers were pointed at someone else. I mean, fingers were pointed at Belgrade. Tensions between nations were being provoked in order to achieve certain goals. Alright, the MASPOK movement did result in the 1974 Constitution being adopted, by which Croatia acquired certain elements of its sovereignty. So, the MASPOK movement did manage to accomplish its goal. I didn't participate in that movement and I didn't support them precisely because the methods that they were using were unacceptable to me. What was your opinion of the 1974 Constitution? Of giving more independence to the republics and the autonomous regions? Well, the same. On one hand it's good to keep things as local as possible, even more local that a state; to have local communities dispose of what they produce, what results from their work. So, on one hand, in that economic sense, it seemed OK to me. On the other hand it also seemed generally OK to have the Yugoslav Assembly where various interests and the conflicts that existed inside a society could be clarified. I think that, in general, it was OK. What about Tito's role in clarifying those various interests, and the fact that he was the one to make the final decision? How did you see him? The same, in two ways. On one hand I recognised a whole series of good things about him, universally on the international field. And our situation that in comparison to the whole of the Eastern bloc was much better. For all of us. I also saluted him, and the whole Party leadership, for that often ridiculed phrase: "Brotherhood and Unity, and the apple of an eye..." I always thought - that's how I was raised - that nationality was neither an advantage, nor a disadvantage. I therefore thought that those were good foundations for living in a multi-national community. You mentioned the ridicule of Brotherhood and Unity? It's often ridiculed now. It's a subject of mockery. But it seemed to me that it was a very good idea. As for his interventions, from the beginning I saw them as... His interventions in the political crises in Croatia, in Serbia, with liberals, and spring movement participants? That or..? - Well, yes. First, there were his speeches that we always read, because there was always some background to it, something was happening. On the other hand, when it comes to the spring movement, Latinka Perović and so on, it was an ugly realisation for me, to see that somehow he was not equipped to deal with those new trends and that it would have been better... At the time, actually quite a bit earlier I was thinking, why didn't he open up the space for political pluralism shortly after the Second World War. He would have rid of us tensions. I was thinking, had we embraced that, there would now be many different parties operating here. And there wouldn't be such tensions. That's what I was thinking. "Hey old man, why haven't you done that?" How did the death of Josip Broz affect you, how did you see it? It was hard. - Do you remember that day? - I remember. Regardless of how much we can laugh, tell stories and jokes about him and so on, it was hard for me when he died. And I was a little bit afraid. - Of what? I was afraid. I was aware of there being a cult of personality, and I was wondering how the presidency was going to function, and the federal and republic governments, and how long Yugoslavia was going to last for. In the 1980s, were you content with the structures that came after Tito, primarily with the federal structures? Do you think that they were up to the challenges that appeared, both economic and political, in the 1980s? - I don't know, really. It seems to me that they weren't, of course. There was a big difference in how things were done whilst Tito was still alive, and how they were done afterwards. First of all, reshuffles were frequent. I think that a session lasted for a year. So in fact at times we didn't even know who the President of the Presidency was. On the other hand, in commerce, things functioned. I know that we'd regularly have meetings at the Federal Executive Council about things that were important to us. Business people met. That went on functioning as it did before. Business and commerce, and related activities. Do you remember the economic crises in Yugoslavia in the mid-1980s, during the mandate of Milka Planinc? - I remember. How did you see the situation? What do you remember from that time? What was your opinion of Milka Planinc, as the only woman at the head of a socialist country? Did you have a different attitude towards her because she was a woman, than towards some other other party system apparatchiks? First of all, I was glad that Milka Planinc was the President. I was sorry when everyone was attacking her. I didn't even know what she was being attacked for, since the list of things was pretty extensive. The consequences were known; driving on even or odd days, having electricity, not having electricity, and so on. I remember that we were going to Poreč at the time. Amazingly, in Poreč you could find all the things that were unavailable in Zagreb. Poreč and the riviera somehow managed to get the products from somewhere. Such as coffee, detergent, and so on. It wasn't only the even-odd scheme that was the problem, but it was also hard to get detergent, and to get coffee in Zagreb. I remember that when we'd come here, we'd go running around; I'd come to Poreč and I'd almost faint. There was everything. There was mineral water from Sarajevo, chocolate from all over the place. A miracle. The goods were coming from somewhere. Evidently, there was the idea that tourism should be serviced. At some point you mentioned that national identity was not something that you placed a lot of significance on. Was that true for the entire period of Yugoslavia? - Yes. Was your family religious? - No. Did you place any importance on religion? - No. No. My parents were atheists. Even my grandmother was not much of a believer. My circle of friends and my closest family are all atheists. So I didn't often come across religious people. I was mostly surrounded by atheist Croats. You said you followed political events in the 1980s, both on the republic and federal levels. What did you think about Milošević's rise to power from the mid-1980s onwards? Terrible. I don't know how to put it. That was one... It provoked a feeling of disgust, unease, fear and discomfort in m. It was politics used in... For me, politics is at its heart a decent business for general good. We'll do something in our community, to make things better for all of us. For me, that was a terrible period. Terrible news was coming from everywhere. Starting with those revolutions of his, calling people to rise up, and so on. What about Tuđman's rise to power in Croatia? When Tuđman won, that is, when the multiparty system was established, I didn't at first think that Tuđman would win, but later I... Just before the elections, I remember having a discussion with a group of friends, and concluding that Tuđman would definitely win after all. I travelled out of Zagreb often. People in Zagreb think - they have a wrong impression - that we're all roughly the same. That our environment can take different ideas, that we can live side by side. However, in small villages and elsewhere I saw that... I felt that there was a nationalistic Croatian charge that he drew into his party. The other parties were also Croatian, but they didn't manage to gather as many votes. Did you at the time think that there would be war? - Yes. Yes, I thought that there would be war. Because Tuđman, and a whole string of other politicians, were being quite exclusive towards the Serbs in their speeches. They insisted on purging the part of the Constitution that defined the Serbs as a constitutive nation. Which probably hurt most of them, and brought them into a situation where they started drawing parallels with 1941 and fearing repression. So yes, I thought there would be a conflict. There weren't any clear signs, we all seemed alike. All citizens who lived here were welcome to stay and they would all get the same rights, and get citizenship straight away. We were all... That was obvious here and everywhere. At the time you were living where? - I was still in Zagreb when the new Constitution was implemented, and the law on citizenship. Was there a specific moment when you understood that the war had started, when you realised that that was that? Well, I don't know. There were quite a few incidents from the moment when Slovenia happened, when the war started in Slovenia and when the borders started being put up. I remember that a group of us wanted to go to the Slovene border. To stop them from closing the borders. Why did we need borders? Who wanted borders? Did you go in the end? - No, we didn't go because the Army had already taken over the border. We got the information. My husband and I went to Vojnić. We had some people there that we knew, we went to talk to the locals. We saw that there was terrible fear and intolerance there. In Vojnić, 92% of the population was Serb. I don't know what the figure is today. On the other hand, we saw tensions rising here too. So we understood. I couldn't tell you when the moment was that I realised that the war had started, but I knew that war was here. Did you have a lot of contact with the Serb population in Croatia, that lived in the area of what would become Krajina? Yes. For instance, the village where my parents were born is separated from the village of Prkos by the River Kupa. There are Serbs on the other side. There were my parents' friends. Here too, on the side of Karlovac, also from Vojnić, we knew a lot of people. I don't remember what they were called, but we went to see them, to talk to them, to hear what they were thinking. Were they afraid, and so on. At the time, you could hear bad news about people being laid off, being pressured... You could feel it. What did you do then? You lived in Zagreb? - Yes. At the time, my nephew and I were running a small business. However, considering that the market and the possibility of communication was shrinking every day, we were forced - as were some big businesses - to close up shop. We couldn't go on working. So I was in fact out of work by then. Yes, I was at the job centre. When did your peace activism begin? When it comes to activism, women, I associate those things with the group Trešnjevka. That's where I started. In fact, I went to hear their public discussions. I was there with them when they were contemplating inaugurating an S.O.S. telephone and providing support to women. Then through a... My husband was also considering what to do. We somehow understood that we were a minority. We wanted peace. And it's impossible to have peace when everyone around you seems to want war. Suddenly, you saw neighbours walking around the town with guns. And that was allowed. It became acceptable for guns to be visible. Civilians had probably had the option of carrying guns before too. But the gun was not supposed to be visible. There were terrible situations. My husband started attending meetings of the Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative (UJDI). That's where we met activists such as Srđan Dvornik, then Vesna, Vesna Teršelič, and elsewhere we met Đurđa Knežević and Alija Hodžić. A whole string of people who wanted to contribute to attempts at preserving peace. For instance, Srđan Dvornik came to us with the charter of the Anti War Campaign, to sign it. Of course, we signed it immediately. I was very happy to carry it about. I was, in fact, looking for information. I went to the headquarters of the Anti War Campaign, no matter where they were. At the beginning, they moved about a lot. I carried their pamphlets around the town, giving them to people. In that way, I got involved with the activities of already organised or half-organised structures. In a way, to keep myself going. Because at some point I thought, since I was so opposed to war, that I would go mad. I was thinking, how was it possible? Are we supposed to fight a war? Do I have to go fight a war? Is my husband, aged 45, supposed to go to war, to go and kill someone? So we were really searching intensely. We found some people who thought in the same way as we did. I always say that I don't know how much, and if at all, I've helped anyone, but that activity helped me to persevere. How did your engagement with the Anti War Campaign develop? At the beginning, we were gathering information about flat evictions. I was present at some of the evictions, we tried to organise ourselves to see how we could help people. In the Civic Committee for Human Rights we also discussed how we could help people who were losing their citizenship, who couldn't acquire citizenship, and who because of it weren't entitled to any social security, people whose property was endangered for one reason or another. We came up with a basic concept of what we were to do. Setting up the office, receiving information, helping with individual cases as much as was possible. Along with writing letters to relevant ministries and institutions. We wanted to alert people to the fact that there was unacceptable behaviour. Through protection of human rights, we contributed to keeping some kind of peace. You mentioned evictions, that you were present during some of them. Can you describe what an eviction was like? At one eviction that I witnessed there were a lot of us. There were a lot of women dressed in black. We were sitting on the floor, holding onto some radiators or something, so that no one could kick us out. Who gave you the information about there being an eviction at that time, in that place? - Somebody told me, and I went there. Some of the women tried to talk to the Ministry of Defence, to the Police. Then Zoran Pusić came, so he talked to people. At that point we started thinking along the lines of postponing the eviction due to illness; for instance, a child is ill or something. Because one couldn't evict an ill person just like that. Anyway, we managed to stop that eviction from happening. I remember one eviction where a man had a court decision... A man was left without his apartment in Vukovarska Street and we went to try to assert his rights. When we got to the door we heard some noise from inside. It was just the two of us, and he told me: "Madam, please go down a few stairs. I'll go in alone. If someone has to get hurt, let it be me." I was very afraid. I wasn't ready. There were armed people there. After ten minutes or so, perhaps less, the man came out. He couldn't get into his apartment. Later Zoran Pusić tried to help. I don't know what happened subsequently. At the time I went with the man because none of the other activists were available. We were alone and that wasn't good. There should have been more of us. It was very dangerous. We didn't succeed. I don't know what happened in the end with that man, whether he managed to assert his rights. He probably did. Because he was the real owner of that apartment. The owner, the holder of the right of occupancy, whose only fault was that he was a Serb, so people moved into his apartment and he couldn't get into it anymore. Apart from the evictions, what other forms of human rights violations happened in Zagreb? Against the family members of the Yugoslav National Army officers, or Serbs? Most cases included being laid off at work. Then there were the situations where... In fact, most of it was psychosis. I lived in a neighbourhood where a lot of military men had flats. I can tell you how it was; you could feel that people were locked in their homes, not wanting to leave them. That they were very afraid. On the other hand, there was a situation at a street corner, close to the community building, there were three older man standing and talking. I was coming towards them, going to the community building. A man said: "All of that lot should be moved out." "Evicted, moved out". He was pointing towards the houses that were mainly occupied by military people. A man aged 80 or something was saying something like that. He couldn't do anything anymore. He couldn't have hurt anyone because had he lifted his hand he probably would have fallen. But he had some internal strength, a need to determine who should be moved out of the town, and who shouldn't. When I heard them - since I was very near them - I told them that one shouldn't expect to hear white haired people making such judgements at a street corner. Then they were humbled a little. You could also hear in the local shop that a JNA colonel was living in this and that house, and how he was surely a sniper. Since I knew that colonel, I went to see him and I said to him: "There's talk around the neighbourhood." The colonel, who was working for some military intelligence service, said: "Alright, I'll call Tuđman straight away." So he was lucky because he was friends with Tuđman. But what happened to those who didn't have such good friends? When you had a mob walking down the street, they would decide that someone's shutters were too low, just open enough for a sniper to be hidden behind. Someone could close the shutters, but leave just a bit open at the bottom. I walked around a lot, I had a dog and I was out often. That was my neighbourhood, my local community, I knew all of the people. There were some young men in black saying: "That there must be a sniper. Should we shoot at him?" To be honest, I often provoked various situations, but I couldn't resist. I said: "Just you shoot, boys, and soon enough you'll have the whole of Israel after you. Those are our Jews. A famous Zagreb goldsmith lives there." I don't remember his name anymore, it's not important. "Just you do it, and you'll have the Jewish state after you. You'll provoke an incident." I think that the whole story with the snipers was just psychosis. People were running around the town, it was like theatre. In the end, I don't know if there was a single documented sniper anywhere. As far as I know, there wasn't. Anyway, since both my husband and I were out of work, we decided to go to Poreč, where we had some property. We definitely left Zagreb. When did you leave Zagreb? - In mid-1992. Then we set up a branch of the Civic Committee for Human Rights. What were the activities of that branch of the Civic Committee for Human Rights in Poreč? Our first activities were to go public about certain human rights violations. We organised various discussion on human rights in Umag, Buzet, Poreč, Labin, Rovinj, Pula, in 1994. After that, HOMO was set up in Pula. That's an association whose president was Mirjana Galo. We wanted people to be aware of the culture of human rights and of the fact that they could turn to us. We collaborated closely with the Human Rights Committee from Umag. The Helsinki Committee had someone in Buje, a man who worked for them. So we held regular meetings together and we were trying to help people. The biggest problems were citizenship, assets, asset expropriation, pressures due to assets, the status of foreign citizens, acquiring the status of a foreign citizen, and so on. You see, in this area there were a lot of people who were seasonal workers. They were from other Yugoslav states? - Yes, mostly from other states. When the law on Croatian citizenship was implemented, it turned out that most of those people were never registered with the local police, or the municipality. And they lived and worked there, they had their contracts. For instance, workers at Agrolaguna or some other firm were permanently employed. But they didn't have a registered address with the police, since Agrolaguna had its own property where it accommodated the workers, and so on. People found themselves in a situation where they were left without citizenship and they were forced to leave Croatia. The police would pick them up, since they had no papers, and take them to Rijeka. Then from Rijeka they'd go in buses via Hungary to Belgrade. There were some unpleasant situations there. Not some, many unpleasant situations. We followed some people to the assembly centre in Rijeka, but we couldn't find them. Because people were picked up without having taken their things. So we wanted to take some things to them, some money. Money was being gathered here in Poreč, for them. It was tricky because those people had been living here for years. It was tricky if you had an Albanian who had been living here for years and who was to be taken to Subotica and handed over to Serb forces, or rather Yugoslav forces. And he was an Albanian. It was tricky because some people, Muslims, were sent to Bosnia, and you didn't know where. There was war in Bosnia. So we tried our best to prevent those residence-cancellations or whatever the police officially called them. We tried to help them to either acquire citizenship or to regularise their status as foreign citizens. However, the regularisation process for foreign citizens was endless. You had to have a valid contract for accommodation somewhere, and a contract with the employer that you worked for. And to get a work permit from the Ministry, as a foreigner, you had to have your foreign citizen status regularised. So we were running in circles and we didn't manage to help most of the people. I know about the case of a man who got a decision from the Ministry, allowing him to work for an employer. He received that in March, for the year earlier, for the period ending in February. And he received it in March, after the year that the decision was referring to had already passed. Anyway, there was so much administrative mess and pressure from the administration, from the government through the administration, on people who weren't officially resident. It was terrible. Most of the people who were exposed to that kind of pressure didn't manage to endure it. So they left to return to their areas. Beside that institutional violence that was coming from the state, were there any tensions amongst nationalities or religions in Istria? Between the Croats and...? I'm asking because Istria is often said to be the most tolerant part of Croatia. Well Istria is more tolerant. People who managed to endure, endured only thanks to the support shown to them by others. Institutions, of course, offered them no help. More so, they made it difficult or impossible for them to acquire basic rights to stay here. There was an absurd situation in Istria where at the same time the people were offering all kinds of help to those other people, but when the local institutions or companies found themselves in trouble - and they did find themselves in trouble in 1991-1992, there was no tourism and so on - the first ones on the list for lay offs were Serbs and Bosnians. They were the first ones to be fired or demoted at work. After that, those people would mostly leave. The only good thing about it is that a person can survive here without having any support from the state. He can be officially out of work, without health care, but with the help of the neighbours, Italians, Istrians, Croats, whoever, local people, a person can get by for twenty years. Were there any lay offs and evictions from flats in Istria at the beginning of the 1990s? Yes. There were lay offs and demotions. Probably most of them in Pula. And the most evictions took place in Pula also. Here there were attempts to get hold of properties whose owners... In effect, attacks on owners who didn't manage to regularise their citizenship. So people who were officially foreigners, but who owned property here. There was non-institutional pressure coming from various semi-gangster or god knows what circles where people were told: "Go to Mohacs!" Mohacs is in Hungary. "And bring 30 thousand Deutsche Marks for all your assets." Those sorts of pressures. We responded to those pressures by organising coffee gatherings, or similar events, in order to help those people. To make people who exerted pressure on them understand that those people were not alone. To what extent did these things happen in Istria? Evictions, attacks on people, their assets..? It would be good to check the documents, but I can tell you roughly. Most of the problems were related to status, citizenship and the status of foreigners. Then the assets. There were a few murders. There were a few cases of people having gone missing, that are recorded. In Novigrad, police picked up some young men, workers who were from Bosnia. They were supposed to be taken to the Island of the Youth, Obonjan. That's where some kind of UNHCR centre had been set up for the Bosnians, or refugees. A refugee centre from which people were later sent in various directions. They were supposed to be taken there, however, all trace of them is lost. They were Bosnian Serbs. How long was the Civic Committee for Human Rights branch in Poreč active and ran by you and your husband? Until 1997. And after that? - After that we set up the Centre for Civic Initiatives. We saw that, alongside the activities that we ran as an organisation for protection and promotion of human rights, we had a great involvement with the bringing together of women's organisations. From 1996, we started organising meetings twice a year here in Poreč, of women's non-governmental non-nationalist peace organisations. Through those activities, and then activities fighting violence against women, we understood that perhaps it would be good to change our focus from dealing with harsh issues to something else. Although, those harsh issues always come back to us. Like a boomerang, in one form or another. And violence against women comes back as... If we were to look at the statistics, we would see that at the beginning women mostly came to our offices with various other problems. Later women started coming because of violence against women, against them. So we have a jump from one reported case of violence to sixteen. That's a significant step forward in reporting violence within families. And previously those same women - I'm not saying the same people - mostly resolved those problems inside a family. Do you think that Croatia dealt with the consequences of the war well? Do you think that today it's handling the consequences of the war in the right way? I don't think it's handling it well. Perhaps my feelings and expectations of the Croatian state are far greater than it could ever fulfil. From the beginning I wanted the Croatian state to be nice, decent... At the end of the day, it has 4 million inhabitants, we could almost all know each other. A nice and decent state where all of us could live well and comfortably. I thought the same after operations Flash and Storm, and after the peaceful reintegration. I simply think that a state should appreciate all of its citizens equally. And recognised all of their suffering and everything that they've been through in the same way. And to give them some satisfaction, as much as is possible. If it's not, at very least with words. Is Croatia doing that? - I don't think so. Not systematically, not through laws and the application of laws. It's absurd that to this day we have to file constitutional complaints because of the different assessment of property belonging to Croats who moved from Bosnia to the area of Krajina and the domiciled Serb population there. A month and a half ago, or something like that, the Serb Democratic Forum again filed a constitutional complaint because Croats who moved from other areas are entitled to buy off their houses. No. They are not entitled to buy off their homes after having used them for ten years, but are in fact entitled to be given them. And the Serbs whose houses were destroyed, and which the Croatian state later had to rebuild, after ten years they are to be given the right to buy them, but according to, I don't know, market prices. Those are double rules, double standards. I would quite simply like the state to have laws which would be the same for everyone. And to stop valuing things in different ways. A house lost by one person or another person, a leg lost by someone or someone else. A leg lost in peace, in war, on the battlefield. There are fifty different criteria. Bearing in mind that it's not the employer's fault if a worker breaks his leg, but it's the worker's fault. And his invalid pension is minimal. You mentioned that you had a lot of friends, a lot of contacts amongst the Serb population in the area that became Krajina. Are you still in touch with those people? Did they mostly leave before, or after Flash and Storm? I was in Pakrac after Operation Flash. And after Storm I went to the area of Krajina every weekend. At the time I was free and I could spend my Saturday and my Sunday doing that. When you went to the area of Krajina, you went there in what role? I went because here in Poreč we received a massive list, a long list on two pages of names of the people who were either our friends or our friends' friends, who were looking for their relatives in the area roughly from Karlovac to Kostajnica. We couldn't cover such a large area. Anyway, there were still war operations on, so we tried to reach some places via Sisak. We didn't manage because it wasn't possible. That was when we followed the refugee column to Popovača. A day after Ambassador Galbraith headed the column. We went along with that column the next day. I can tell you, regardless of what our people are saying, that was a column of misery and sorrow, whit people on tractors carrying a head of cabbage and a spare tyre. We escorted that group until Popovača. Some had their cars break down, so they had to stay. I don't know what happened to them. Anyway, there were Croats throwing things at them. Perhaps it was hooligans, perhaps children, I don't know who they were, I don't remember in all that chaos. They were throwing eggs and stones at the column. That was horrible. I remember, there were no birds after the people had left. It's incredible how nature sends a signal that something is wrong. That there was a mistake of some sorts. There were no birds singing, in the middle of the summer, in August. We only saw horses who would run after a car because they were probably both thirsty and hungry. When our cars would pass, they would run on the road like crazy. You no longer knew if you felt bad about the people who had left or about the animals who had stayed. The worst thing was, for me at least, when I saw a sign on a small house: "A grandfather and a grandmother here. Please don't hurt us." Something like that. An old man and woman who lived there wrote on their house: "A grandfather and a grandmother live here. Please don't hurt us." When we knocked and asked about some other people, they came out, frightened. They told us that someone had taken their cattle and everything. So the rest of the population, those who stayed, had their cattle taken, and some other valuable possessions that they had. In fact, it was only old people who stayed. What area did you go to after Storm? - From Sisak towards Karlovac. Because one still couldn't go from Karlovac to Kordun. From Sisak towards Karlovac and then after two or three weeks we'd go via Karlovac towards Vojnić, and then down to Topusko. The devastation that we saw from week to week was terrible. The first week when we came, there were some monuments, some memorials, there was a little hotel, half-board, which was normal. Two weeks later those buildings were full of bullet holes, destroyed, burnt. I realised that that was no place to look for anyone. I had come across a few people when we were in Belgrade, where the refugees... There are a lot of refugees in Belgrade, of course. There was some conference in Belgrade, regarding refugees, something like that. We tried to persuade some of them to come back. I mean, who am I to tell them to come back? But with a few people that I knew, I tried to persuade them to come back, although I knew what procedure people had to endure when they were coming back. In particular men who were of military age, and so on. Very few people returned, of those that I knew. It would be interesting to see the list now. I have no more will. I don't have the will to go about those areas. Because I saw the other face of the war. I don't have the will, nor the strength, to live through it all over again. Another time, a hundredth time. Let other activists do it. It would be interesting to see the census list. To see how many inhabitants there are now. After all, it's been twenty years now, it would be good to see the state of things. Anyway, as early as 1998 we had some small project. To try and sensitise the local government in that area to the plight of the existing population. That was the last time I went from Plaški to Kostajnica and Dvor na Uni, we went all around there. I can tell you that at the time, the local government bodies were mainly - not mainly, 'mainly' is a decent word - intolerant towards the local Serb population. They didn't in the slightest think that they should help them in any way . The Serb Democratic Forum played an important role there, and some other organisations that started to be set up in that area in order to help the local population, and some returnees here and there, to persevere. What do you think the future of those areas will be? China. To see the future of an area, one should always look into the land registry, to see who's buying up the land. I heard somewhere that some of our notable employers, as they are called now, are buying up a lot of land in that area. Many socialist firms had their plants in this area. A company such as Pliva had to have its plant somewhere, and so on. That's how it was in Korenica, in Vojnić, in Vrginmost. So that the locals had something to live off. And that there wasn't any great need, or pressure, to move to towns. People would stay in their area, life was easier, there were some advantages that presumably someone had thought of. After Storm and Flash, or whatever those operations are called, all of those plants were left completely devastated. I don't know if any of them have been rebuilt. Apart from Plitvice Lakes, I don't know of any notable project. And Plitvice Lakes are still in state ownership. I don't know of any notable project that has been put into operation. Not even Gavrilović is the same Gavrilović that it used to be. At the time, Gavrilović had hundreds of farmers who were rearing pigs and who lived off that. I don't think that's the case now. What are your personal expectations of the future? Is there something that you hope for, that you wish for yourself and for society as a whole? I wish that for once I find some time to gather all of these activities into some meaningful form and to give it over to Documenta or whoever else. As for society, we have this problem when it comes to dealing with the past, or not dealing with the past, with the possibility of us having been arrogant, shameless, nasty and gruesome. And seeing it all in some positive sense. I think that perhaps there would be some progress if we were lucky enough to have some non-nationalistic people in power for some longer period. But I don't think that it would be considerably better. Capitalism will follow its course, it's all about the space, in general, the whole area of Croatia. After that great nationalistic upheaval, instead of being big Croats, we will be servants to god knows whom. That's what nationalists did to us. Nationalists who were banging their chests: "Hrvatska!", and at the same time they brought us to a situation where Croatia is mainly owned by foreign capital and to a lesser degree by local pawns. There's a question mark over Croatia. I hope for some normal, fair reasoning, from Croats, Serbs, all of us. I start thinking, what would we as people need? How would we like to live? With some dignity, with some work, with all of us having work. And how will we achieve that? If things were that way, I think that we would all think more similarly. As when here in Istria, when they talk, they start the sentence in Croatian, end it in English, and in the middle they speak Italian. And everybody understands each other. When it comes to dealing with the past, do you think that the apologies that came from high officials of Croatia and Serbia, for the crimes committed by the members of their forces, helped? Or The Hague verdicts? - I think that everything could help. Everything helps. Only negating things doesn't help. If there is a Hague verdict, or a verdict by a local court, that a crime was committed, then - in my opinion - it is offensive to glorify that person. In that respect, as a society, we did nothing. I suppose that's pluralism. I guess parties are allowed to do that, I don't know. Political parties. Some political parties can wear a badge with an image of a convicted war criminal in the Sabor. I don't understand that kind of pluralism. I can't understand it. For me, that's unacceptable. In my opinion, not all parties should be given the right to represent. If that's how they're representing their interests. Let them be marginalised, let them go to Čavoglave and let them sing. Mrs Biserka, thank you once again for talking to us. I hope that you'll be able to use some of it.