Here is one thing I definitely support: if the Croatians call their country Hrvatska then we should also call it Hrvatska. You’d think I might have figured out the ‘actual’ spelling of the name of Croatia, er, Hrvatska, sooner. It finally dawned on me why many of the cars have little HR stickers on them; you know the little white oval stickers lined in black? I kept thinking, what the hell does HR stand for? Well now I get it. Twelve days after arriving in this lovely country I asked someone how to properly say the name of it. In English we spell it wrong because we spell it phonetically for us, which is incorrect in Croatian actually. However, they’re extremely good sports about it, as a country. Numerous items such as signs, advertisements, directions, touristy-kitsch, and the like are written with “Croatia”, not Hrvatska1. Which is funny to me in it’s own right in comparison with the US, where many people sadly complain about “why write it in another language? Everyone should read English!” If only they knew how common it really is to see signs in a variety of languages.
But actually this isn’t what I want to talk about today.
No, it’s not.
What I would like to talk about is some of the things I’ve heard in regards to the Civil War of the 1990’s that occurred on Hrvatskan soil.
Disclaimer!! [I’m full of those now, aren’t I] I am not a history buff, really. I am interested in people, their world, and how a fairly recent war affected them. I like to consider how events alter a subsequent future in relation to individuals, family units, and communities. Therefore I have asked these questions and share them on this public blog as a hope that fellow Americans-in specific- may find themselves considering other perspectives, things outside our usual day-to-day realm. For me I want to continue to learn first-hand about the lives of others: it’s so much more interesting in person!
Here is a whole nation that only 15 years ago had to endure the hardships related to war within the boundaries of their own country, and in many cases their own villages and even homes! It was hard to wrap my brain around this, not having had to deal with it in the bubble that is the U.S. of A: things there sometimes seem surreal in some regards.
Imagine having any sort of ‘war’ actually on American soil2 -well, anytime after WWII. It wouldn’t even happen. The US military would gun down the perpetrators so quick it would make their heads spin, what would be left of them. At least, this is my opinion.
So now I find myself in a country that only 15 years ago had to cope with a civil war right here. It is different than things which younger Americans who have not left the country experience. I know that speaking for myself, when I was young [say, teenager] since I didn’t have to think about civil war or civil liberties, I didn’t. Many of our grandparents have personal experience with this type of thing via the patriotic-unification of the country during WWII, for example. Even many of our parents have personal memories through their experience with the Vietnam conflict. And I am aware that many Americans my age and much younger have their own take on this topic depending upon how they were engaged in some of these more recent wars overseas [including this one that occurred here in Croatia]. However, this idea of having a civil war in the villages where you live, in the places where you were raised and grew up? Within my lifetime? Not only that, within my adulthood? I’m embarrassed to admit, this felt new and different to me. It’s one thing to read about it somewhere3, or even to watch it on the news. It still is so far away when a person is sitting in the comfort of their own home watching it from afar.
While here [and before I ‘just Google it’, I asked a few people about it and here is what they had to say [and I paraphrase]:
Girl # 1 [appx age = early 20’s]. Works in tourism industry and is a student at the University.
It just happened [insinuating it’s like ‘a fact of life’], so people don’t think about it. Mostly we just don’t talk about it.
Woman #2 [appx age = mid-30’s]. Works in education.
This was interesting. We were having some coffee together and she is very expressive, so I asked her, and she immediately changed the subject. I was like, oh shit. I guess people really don’t talk about it. But a few minutes later she says “Ok. I will tell you about the civil war”. Brad and I looked at each other. I think we had both figured I was out of line and it may really be a taboo subject if this person wasn’t going to divulge!
Anyway, her overarching view seemed to be that it wasn’t a choice, to have this civil war. It was something that had to be done. Many people supported it because they had to if they wanted to keep their homes and their lives as they kind of were.
Now I wish I had written about her comments sooner, as the details have faded already! Only a week later!
Man #3 [appx age = early 40’s]. National Park Ranger whose family was displaced due to Slovenian occupation.
These people just come [he meant, came] here and say ‘this our land’. How they can say that? How is this their land?
His parents’ farm home and of course many neighboring farms and families had to flee the area in the mid-90’s. They went to Zagreb, which is a city to the north a few hours drive. When they returned their homes were trashed and they had to rebuild/restart everything.
I wish we had more time with this gentleman to hear more about it.
As I write this I am sitting in his parents’ farm house on the top floor in what is now a rent-able apartment, very common in this area near Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like for his family to leave everything behind in exchange for their personal safety. Then, to return later to find that they need to repair and rebuild not only the physical structures but their community as well. Currently they have three cows and some pigs in a barn behind a simple and well-kept three story home. They live on the bottom floor and rent out the upstairs. Roosters crow in the distance and dogs also try their hand at announcing the start of a new day.
This is merely a small cross-section of personal accounts. Just a small apertif.
My take on this country:
People here are kind, giving, caring. People here seem happy overall. I have seen bigger differences between the grandparents generation and the young adults here than I have noticed in the US, for example. The smaller villages are populated mostly with the older generation, while the younger people are moving to the cities because “that’s where the jobs are”. This is not really a new story. The grandparents do not speak English, while the young adults do. It seems that each successive generation speaks more and more English, “because we have to” [I know, this could be a whole nother topic”].
Enough about the people. They’re great. More affirmations of the fact that people everywhere really are more similar than different: we all want the same things, to take care of our families and see our kids have what they need to live a “good” life.
The geography of this country is also pretty amazing. The geology boasts limestone layers full of fossils, fault zones which create extraordinary systems of lakes and waterfalls, caves and caverns within the limestone layers, and shoreline galore for any outdoor enthusiast. The uplift has created cliffs that beg to be climbed, peaks that ask to be explored. And really there is so much more to see! Much of Croatia actually lies at and above the 45th parallel. Before arriving I had no idea it actually snows here. It never occurred to me since mostly this area in the states is known for being on the Mediterranean Sea and a popular tourist destination in summer.
Which reminds me, I know that there was going to be a blog about the National Parks. But now it’s time to move into Norway and the next things on the agenda. So, I would leave you with this. Google! Google images: Plitvika Lakes National Park and Palenika National Park. Beautiful!
1If you’re really curious about this, you know what’s coming: just Google it or ask your nearest Hrvatskan.
2Okay, I know it is relative. Since 1492, right? And I know there are many issues entrenched in this gross generalization. However, in trying to make a point about Croatia and how this news-blurb in the US was a real-in-your-face event here the story needs to begin and end somewhere.
3There are so many dozens of books that have been written in relation to wars in every country, I don’t even want to name them. But it’s possible to read into eternity just those that have already been written.