Zagreb again

Copyright 1992 by Lynn GAzis-SAx

"I have solved the problem of Northern Ireland." Ivana Balen, Beograd peace activist, announced, "Their problem is that they have only two groups, and so everything is polarized between the Catholics and the Protestants. What they need to do is to import new groups!"

Ivana had just returned from a conference in Northern Ireland. We had met by chance on the train into Zagreb, where Ivana, the daughter of a Croat and a Serb, planned to get a Croatian passport (like many people, she was still travelling under an old Yugoslav passport). Joel, who had already met her in both Zagreb and Beograd, recognized her and invited her into our cabin.

After we had finished with the problems of Northern Ireland, the conversation turned to the problems of former Yugoslavia. Ivana was angry about a letter which was recently published in a Western European magazine calling for military intervention in former Yugoslavia, "They have just discovered the problem, and they say, 'We have to do something now!' And they never asked the people who have been working on this all along about what would be helpful." She had sent a letter to the magazine with a list of things peace groups in ex-Yugoslavia are already doing. She added, "I do not see how I can be for military intervention when I am not the one who will be attacked." I asked about what things would be helpful. "We need an independent radio station where Serbian and Croat journalists can work together. Communication is most important . . . A lot will turn on the upcoming elections, and whether Milosevic wins. We need people experienced in electoral politics to help us defeat him."

The Hungarian officials at the border followed their usual procedure. The Croatians, however, were unusually tough. This time, they asked us how much Croatian money we have, and what we have in our luggage. Then they disappeared with our passports. While we waited nervously for our passports, we exchanged border stories. The other person in our cabin, an American relief worker, told of the time the Serbs held him as a suspected spy until UNPROFOR showed up to rescue him. Fortunately, our passports were soon returned, and we continued to Zagreb without further incident.

We met Jason and asked him about the girl he was to retrieve from Serbia. He said she was still there. She and her mother came out, and talked with Roberto, but then the mother cried and the girl decided to go back with her into Serbia.

For a few hours, we were tourists among the dolls in folk costumes, embroidered clothes, and woodworking. At one stall where we bought a souvenir, we were given Croatian shields by the vendor. We went up the funicular with several Frenchmen to see the best view in Zagreb (which was, for some reason, guarded by a soldier), and a church, covered with shields (the Croatian shield, the Slavonian weasel). We saw a Virgin Mary surrounded by candles, some in Croatian red, white and blue and bearing Croatian shields.

Out in the street, all was celebration - the 750th anniversary of the founding of Zagreb. Food, nationalist paraphernalia, and folk art were sold, and on Sunday a band marched through the streets followed by horses. Visitors from Western Europe remarked that Zagreb seemed to be trying to forget the war.

Back at the center, tensions had risen since we had left. The refugee project had moved out, but not completely. Some foreign volunteers were still camping in the center. Croatian activists complained that the refugee project had taken supplies without asking, and that the foreign volunteers had run up the Center's phone bill and not paid them back. "They must think we are the richest peace movement in the world," a Croatian activist complained. Worse, HOS had made a visit to the center, asking questions about the phone bill. As I listened to a Croatian activist's complaints in one room, the foreign volunteers were holding a birthday party in the other room.

The next evening at the center, Zvonomir asked me about myself and about Quakers and told me about himself. He is part of a religious group called Kumaja, which includes Orthodox and Catholics, Serbs, Croats, and others. They have seven points, including avoiding violence, avoiding poisons like alcohol and tobacco, proper sexual morality, and helping others. He approved of a lot of what I say about Quakerism, and found similarities between it and Kumaja. He also asked if it is true that I know Joan Baez. He is a street musician who has travelled through Switzerland and Germany, and his hero is Joan Baez. He sang (quite well) a few lines from "Forever Young."

As we were at the train station about to leave Zagreb, a young man approached us. He told us, in Croatian accompanied by gestures, that he was at Vukovar. His right hand was injured there, and he kept it always in his pocket. He said many words I did not understand; at one point he mentioned Bosnia and drew his finger across his throat. Joel embraced him. On the train, we watched him from the window, and Joel said, with tears in his eyes, "You know, that man represents what this war is all about. With all his anger, and with all his hate, you have to love him." I looked at the man and imagined I see my Uncle George forty or fifty years ago. Then I remembered Uncle George running and laughing with his grandchildren, and I hoped that this man, too, might run and laugh and play with his grandchildren, in a peaceful Croatia.

We were on our way out, but Joel's Slovenian friend Boris Horvat did not want us to leave without a visit to him, so we made a stop in Ljubljana. Boris Horvat met us at the train station at around 22:30, and, because no restaurants would be open this late on a Sunday night, he took us back to his apartment. Against one wall were bookshelves, including dictionaries for many foreign languages, and a harpsichord which Boris built himself. On another wall was a large collection of classical music. Boris fed us pasta, a bean salad, paprika, wine, plum juice, cake (baked by his mother and left over from his father's birthday), and grapes. We talked about the problems of Croatia, and he told us about his trip to the Bay Area, "Not very successful, from a financial standpoint. I saw many good things and I bought them all." He had bought some new high speed modems for Adrianet, and would be coming up with an APC (Alliance for Progressive Communication) node soon.

After dinner, we looked at a book of photographs of Istria, and Boris showed us his computer graphics - a couple of views of a space shuttle, some maps, "The PC Cowboy's Song."

Joel took me for a walk around Ljubljana. We walked through streets of three or four story buildings with arched doors and windows with rows of double panes, and along a river with hanging vines. Joel showed me three bridges, a church, and the only monument to Napoleon outside France.

When we got back, Boris pulled out a map of Venice and showed us where the sights are, which areas are expensive and which less so. He drove us to our 3 am train. And so my last memory of ex-Yugoslavia is Boris, who had accompanied us onto the train, explaining to us how to protect our possessions against theft and recounting the story of how his computer was once stolen on a train, but was then recovered near the lavatory.