"Are you with UNPROFOR?" The man approached me in the Suedbahnhof in Vienna. He was from Lebanon, now an UNPROFOR (United Nations PROtective FORce) soldier headed for Zagreb. I explained that I was not UNPROFOR, but rather was travelling to see my husband, who was doing relief work in Zagreb. "I had thought you were from UNPROFOR from the look in your eyes." We travelled down together and shared a cabin on the train to Zagreb. He helped with my luggage, and I interpreted to German for him. We discussed small things: where each of us would stay in Zagreb, and so on. The larger things which brought both of us here we did not discuss.
At 3 am we were awakened by a group of children chattering something; the only word we could make out was "Zagreb." "Are we in Zagreb?" my companion asked. I thought not; Joel had told me we would be in Slovenia at 3, and Zagreb at 6. But, to be sure, I asked the conductor, "Sind wir jetzt in Zagreb?" "Ja ja." she replied. We got off and unloaded our luggage. The train station looked small, and there was no sign of a city. The only sign I could see was in German. Could this really be Zagreb? We asked another official. "Need visa for Slovenia," he replied. Back on the train. I learned later that Slovenian, unlike other Slavic languages, uses "ja" for yes. Our non-German- speaking conductor was confirming that the train went to Zagreb.
Day came, and we passed houses of brick and tile, with a patchwork quality to them, then reached the train station in Zagreb. The streets of Zagreb are lined with trees. Cafes sell food with a heavy Austrian influence - lots of dishes with ham and pastries. (Coffee, however, is Turkish style. It was offered to us by every Croatian we visited.) Street vendors sell roast corn or shine shoes. Most of the cars I saw were parked, and many streets were filled with pedestrians. A reliable bus and tram system takes people around the city. In the center of the city is Trg Jelacica, formerly Trg Republica (as in much of Eastern Europe, the streets have all been renamed since Communist times). Here is a statue of the Croatian hero Jelacic on horseback; the statue was hidden during Communist times and recently reassembled. Joel calls this the pacifist statue, since Jelacic looks as though he is about to drop his sword, or perhaps to hand it over to someone. Other statues of Croatian heroes are scattered through the city (my favorite is a woman walking through a field, a famous feminist and journalist). A short walk from Trg Jelacica, a funicular leads up to a marvelous view of the city.
Zagreb has been almost untouched by the war, physically. Only two bombs fell on Zagreb itself. Joel showed me the Orthodox cathedral. Some wild Serbian rumor alleged that it was attacked by Croats; in fact it was untouched.
But other sights marred the picturesque beauty of the city. Soldiers were everywhere - some UNPROFOR, others Croatian army. Once, I heard machine gun fire - presumably from some drunken soldier, for the front was far away. Nationalist paraphernalia was also everywhere. I had never seen so much, not even during Desert Storm. Street vendors sold Croatian shields, Bosnian shields, and played Croatian nationalist music. Graffiti spoke of Croatia and of Vukovar (a Croatian city destroyed during the war). The post office had a new series of stamps titled "Croatian towns": Vukovar, Knin, Dubrovnik, Zadar - all cities either occupied or heavily shelled by Serbian forces. For the children, there was a CroArmy candy bar.
More ominous were the fascists. The Croatian Party of Right (HOS), headed by Paraga, trailed in the recent elections with 5% of the vote. But the paramilitary was better manned and supplied than the votes would suggest. Rumor has it that fascist forces from abroad, in France or Germany, are supplying them. Whatever the truth of that rumor, their iron crosses could be seen everywhere. As we visited the bank to change money, two foreign mercenaries greeted us. One responded to Joel's "Peace," with a cheerful, "That's what we're fighting for." He was wearing an iron cross.
Not too far from Trg Jelacica is the office of the Anti-War Campaign. Here the activists operated with the anarchy of an American student organization (all are young) - plus an additional element of chaos introduced by the steady stream of foreign volunteers. One of the three rooms was occupied by backpacks, another had a phone, a desk, a coffeepot, and some chairs and cushions on the floor, and the third was occupied by a computer and a fax.
The walls were covered with posters from various countries - Germany, France, the Netherlands. Drawings sent by the children of Palo Alto Friends Meeting hung on one wall. Another had an announcement of a Croatian language course for foreign volunteers. A poster with Cyrillic letters said, "Ne mogute?! Dosta!" which I took (based on my rusty high school Russian) to mean, "Impossible?! Enough!" Another showed a man with a black rectangle over his eyes: the caption, "Za sto slepi" - "Why are you so blind?"
Conversations took place in several languages - English, Croatian, German, Spanish. Two Westerners and a Croatian discussed a problem in the way aid was distributed to the Bosnian refugees. Croatians complained about the operation of the computer, and their lack of control over it. A plan was hatched to fetch the sister of one Croatian volunteer out of Serbia.
Here I met Eden, a Croatian Muslim with a Bosnian father. He was born and has always lived in Croatia, but, because of the nationality of his father, he had been getting the runaround when he went to apply for Croatian citizenship - never turned down, but never approved either. Eden is a war journalist. He showed me the photographs which he took in Bosanski Brod, Bosnia. First, the damaged buildings, with holes blasted in their walls. Then, the dead. Picture after picture of bloody corpses, a row of bloody corpses, two soldiers beside a hanging man. When he was done showing the pictures, Eden began to speak, "What is happening in Bosnia is not war. It is slaughter. It is genocide." He pulled out a map of Bosnia and pointed to towns destroyed, giving locations of camps (where some members of his family are held), numbers killed and numbers of refugees.
I felt what many of us must have felt when we saw the pictures of the camps on TV and in magazines - a combination of sorrow and a sense of helplessness. "What can we do?" I asked. But heard instead of details a simple call for action, "The United States and Europe can stop the killing. They can help the refugees. If they want to."