Ramapo hosts global talk focused on Croatia during war

Photo by Matthew Wikfors

As part of its “Ramapo Global Talks” series, the Roukema Center hosted the Academic Programs International (API) Croatia Resident Directors for “Dubrovnik, Croatia: A City Under Siege” on Thursday, March 15 at 1 p.m. through Webex. The discussion was about the history and culture of Yugoslavia in the context of the Balkan War and the speakers’ own experiences growing up as teenagers in Croatia during the war.

Pilar Llamas, an API representative that ran the panel, admitted that she was initially nervous about asking Nada Raic and Ivana Bajurin, the two Croatia Resident Directors, to speak about their experiences during the war in Croatia. Seeing how the war cost them so much, including their normal lives, she was unsure if they would be willing to speak.

“Don’t worry Pilar,” they told her. “We have lived the war.”

The first half of the discussion was a brief overview of history, what led to the war, and the aftermath of the conflict. After World War II, Croatia became part of Yugoslavia, a group of six republics dominated by Serbians under the rule of the Communist party.

On Aug. 1, 1991, the Yugoslav army, led by the Serbs, attacked the Croatian army and cut off the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia from the rest of the world. They isolated the city with troops by land and set up a naval blockade to prevent essential resources from making it to the city.

“That was the attack that shocked the whole world,” Bajurin said.

The war in Croatia lasted until August 1995. During that time, 50,000 civilians were trapped in Dubrovnik and other cities with the only way out of the country being evacuation by boat.

Despite the losses the country endured, Bajurin said that Dubrovnik is thriving today. It is currently a major site of tourism in Croatia.

“All these war happenings never broke the Croatian spirit,” she said regarding Dubrovnik. “It is still the Pearl of the Adriatic.”

The second half of the discussion was Raic’s and Bajurin’s personal experiences growing up during the war. Llamas asked questions on subjects including their lives in the early days of the war and how they escaped, with audience members later submitting their own questions via WebEx.

Bajurin said she was 15 years old when the bombings first happened.

“I was hanging out with my friends in front of our house and I saw three planes appear. Then, the bombardment happened. It was the beginning of the worst period of my life,” she said.

Raic said that it was difficult to adjust to her family’s new life when the bombings started. Her family moved everything they owned down into a bunker where it was safe. She said they “continued their lives the best they could.”

When talking about their experiences evacuating, Bajurin said that their boat was detained while in Montenegro and they had to spend the night at the docks. Raic meanwhile discussed how her family left her hometown of Novska via the one exit road, at great risk of being shot in the process. Both women shared the woe that came with their situations; Bajurin and her family feared being sent away to a concentration camp, while Raic said she has never been able to revisit her hometown since she first left.

Finally, both women were asked about the impact of the war 40 years later and whether they feel hatred for Serbs over what they did to Croatia. Bajurin said that she still gets nervous around loud noises. Things like balloons popping remind her of gunfire and the bombardments.

Raic said that she still feels lingering tension with her Serbian friends. Any time the war is brought up in conversation, things immediately become tense between them.

“I don’t hate individual Serbs,” Raic said. “What I’m concerned about is ideology. I’m afraid the ideology of ‘Great Serbia’ is a small flame in Serbian politics.”