The Holy Trinity feast day celebrated in the Catholic Church is coming up on June 15.
Just inside Serbia, not far from the border with Croatia, not far from Vukovar there’s a place called Kukujevci. It’s in the Syrmia district of the Vojvodina province of Serbia. There’s a Holy Trinity church in Kukujevci, empty and carrying the scars of forced abandonment from early 1990’s.
Just before the Serb aggression against Croatia in 1991, 89.07% of the Kukujevci population was Croat and 1% Serb nationality! Today, these figures remain the same only the 1% are Croat!
One might ask why? How can this be?
The answer lies in ethnic cleansing Serbs attended to within their Serbia while the world stood by watching and focusing on their acts of ethnic cleansing across Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kukujevci is only one of many places in Vojvodina cleansed of Croats and these horrible crimes still remain unpunished and the Croat ethnic minority which still exists in Serbia is afforded almost no human rights, indeed, it would seem that Croats in Serbia are not even permitted to call themselves Croat, let alone afforded the decency of having a secured representation in the Serbian Parliament!
The world knows very little, if anything, about this horrible ethnic cleansing within Serbia. Here’s is a profoundly touching account written by a survivor, Ljubica Kolaric-Dumic and published in May 2014 in “Hrvatske Novine 10” (Croatian newspapers) from Vojvodina, Serbia.
Translated into English by Ina Vukic:
“She loved her home country and her Kukujevci with the love only known to those who endure in that love despite, if it need be, the sacrifice they will bear. And whoever loves in such a way remains loyal always; consistent, steadfast even in the hardest and the most dangerous of times. For such love there are no two roads, there are no confusing crossroads at which everyone asks where to go, which direction is the right one. For such love one stands upright even when the earth trembles, when the storms rage, and thunders rumble. Cliffs, the rocky symbols of indestructibility that rise into heights despite the harshest of winds that lash against them – know that love. When lightning rips the skies and the winds blow, when something turns in a man, making him inhuman, and evil rules – let those cliffs be our models! So that we remain strong, that even the strongest of storms cannot knock us down, that is fear of dangers we do not run like cowards. But man is not a cliff and fear is the frequent ally in the fight for life. That is why we do not look for blame or cowardice in those who flee in fear of death, but we admire with immeasurable gratitude the people who remain like cliffs to the very end.
Agica (Aggie) was like that. Upright, fearless, firm as a cliff. Her life was cut short, a sad end, too early, by the hand of criminals in the dark of the night. She dies in unspeakable tortures, in indescribable massacre perpetrated by crazed minds. And for years now we have been asking ourselves how is it possible, how is it permitted to keep quiet about Martyr Agica? We ask in human pain: How did her mother endure leaning over the open casket? How could she look at her massacred body? How come she herself did not die on that terrible day? What did Agica’s son feel looking at his dead mother? And we ask ourselves: Why is there so much silence about such a horrific crime? Books are written, films are made, and stage theatre plays are performed about victims. Is it possible that Agica’s son is not considered a victim? In one night the criminals murdered his father and his mother. And he, like other children, needed them for a long time to come! Or, are the Croatian victims of lesser importance?
We have no exact data about the silent emigration of Croats from Vojvodina (Serbia) from 1918 to today, and especially we have no exact data about the forced deportation from Syrmia during the Homeland War (1990’s). Due to well-known reasons many had not expressed themselves by their national name in former Yugoslavia. They went to Croatia for education and in search of employment, especially after WWII. The land was taken away from peasants and as a result they literally had nothing to live from. The young left the village in masses in order to escape poverty and make life easier. Their parents were pronounced as kulaks (affluent farmers who opposed the communist collectivisation of farming) and enemies of the state and, as such, were themselves tortured and humiliated in various ways, and wherever they came they were treated as second grade citizens.
Leaving the home had continued at the beginning of 1990’s, not individually but whole families, whole sections of villages. Persecution was strong and without mercy. Intolerable, day and night intimidation and tortures commenced, especially of young people who were fit for the army and fit to go to the battlefronts. At this time, not only were they pronounced as enemies but threats against them were made as well: if they do not leave – they would all be killed. Honest but through fear distraught people did not at first believe that such an insane idea of deporting people just because of their nationality could exist is someone’s criminal mind, let alone be put into practice. Such a crime against a nation, about which secret whispers spread and became louder, seemed like a horrible and impossible dream after which, a broken person awakes in disbelief, and asks whether he dreamt it all or whether it was all really happening to him.
And nights became scary. Dark shadows stalked under the windows, threatening messages arrived in envelopes that had no address written on them. Everything occurred in the blackness of darkness, and eye-to-eye with a bloody stare. Tortures and hits, kicks, thumps across the body, derogatory name-calling for nationality and insults to the souls, warnings and death threats – wounded the innocent youth that was full of love and dreams about life. Not about death! In their youthful dreams they dreamt of life! Expel completely innocent people from their centuries-old homes, their birth homes, from the land of their ancestors – just because they are Croats! They tortured and beat them, but Syrmians, as used to injustice as they were, thought that this evil would pass too – just as other previous tribulations they endured because of their nationality and Catholic faith had to, after a certain time, pass.
That is what they believed. And so they hoped while fearing for their sons who were taken away by the blood-thirsty criminals at night, tortured till dawn and then left in nearby farm fields – all bruised, wounded, cut in body and soul, with profound insults to their nationality and religion. And they were still unripe young men, many just having left childhood days and filled with the faith in a happy future.
When the war and aggression against Croatia started, the young fled and hid in order to avoid being mobilised into battles while the older men lived in fear, not knowing what dangers and what calamity were being prepared for them. Strange people began appearing at their door every day, “offering” to exchange their land and home, frightening them: that they will be killed or forced to leave with only one plastic bag of possessions if they do not agree to hand over their land and home. At night they were awakened by phone calls that swore at them, insulted and threatened them – To leave tomorrow, to not wait for the following night because they may not be alive by then! And when they began realising their threats, many did not greet the morning alive! Among them was my childhood friend. Syrmian Martyr Agata! (Agica, her husband Mika, Nikola Oskomic and 87 year old granny Marija Tomic, neé Oskomic were massacred by Chetniks in the night of 29 July 1993. Serb Vojislav Seselj currently befor ICTY in The Hague is also indicted for crimes in Kukujevci and other predominatly Croat villages in Serbia, as well as those in Croatia).
And I still see her before me today. I see clearly our playful childhood. On the shores in the summer’s dust, in the white of the snow of winter. In the yard, ours or theirs. In the fruit plantation, plum or vineyard. I see how her grandfather Ivo drives us to the hill for some sweet grapes. I see everything clearly. Our rich, large village. I also see Aggie, that’s what we called her, on the day when the Democratic Alliance of Croats of Vojvodina was founded in Kukujevci. In the autumn of 1990! That was my last stay, my last summer in my home village. Oh, with what great pain I see our Syrmia! Aggie in the goldie! Goldie is a part of our folklore dress, silk scarf, embroidered with golden threads, which young women always wore on their head on Sundays, on holidays and on occasions of any celebration. And I can hear the string instrument players. And when the violin whines, every Syrmian’s heart is pierced with the pain and yearning for his stolen land. That is how it’s going to be while we are alive, while we are still breathing, dreaming and waking with an irresistible wish and eternal dream of returning to our homes, to our fields.
And those 1990’s! Why did they bring us so much misery? What happened in those years? Can years, seasons, time, beside changes in nature and works in the fields, harvests, bring such evil upon man?
The killing of people started in many places. Frightened for their life, the hard working and proud Syrmians suddenly spread across Croatia, accepting anything offered to them in those dark days. To save their own life. As pressured and threatened, they exchanged their homes and land so that they would never again have the right of return! What destiny! What ill fortune! They left into the unknown, into strangers’ homes, onto other people’s fields, the fields they, instead of the rain, would water with their tears.
It is estimated that about 40,000 Croats were forcefully deported from Vojvodina; mostly from Syrmia, about 25,000, and 15,000 from Backa and Banat. The big place of Kukujevci fared most tragically of all as its whole Croatian population was forcefully deported and two families horribly tortured and murdered (Oskomic and Matijevic, and Mr Zivko Litric).
It needs to be emphasised here that Germans, who were mercilessly deported after WWII, lived in Kukujevci, and in many other places in Vojvodina. After fifty years Croats would experience the same destiny here. Why has Kukujevci been chosen – that is the big question of JUSTICE, truthful and honest answer to which we have been waiting for a very long time. At the beginning of the aggression against Croatia about half of the people from Kukujevci had exchanged their properties just as it happened in other villagers of Vojvodina. But, after the Croatian liberating military operation Storm (Aug 1995), the army and police (Serbian) stormed into the village and chased all those that remained out. They did not just chase out a few older families.
Kukujevci experienced ethnocide. Kukujevcians were expelled. Only the grand Holy Trinity church, a declared monument of culture, commissioned for building in 1772 by the Empress Maria Theresa, remains. Kukujevcians and many just people expect the return and the church’s renewal as suggested by the parish priest of Sid – the parish to which Holy Trinity church, without its congregation, belongs. The church was bombed at the end of WWII (its bell tower and roof were destroyed), and now, unless some of the damage is repaired as soon as possible, complete ruin threatens it and her people, who loved her limitlessly, who congregated in it, prayed and were joyous.
The suffering and persecution of Croats in Vojvodina, especially in Syrmia, hard working and proud people, who lived for centuries on their rich land, but forcefully deported from their land at the beginning of the third Millennium, cannot be described by words, because dictionaries into which so much human pain, broken heart, torn roots from the soil could fit – do not exist. The tragedy of my people has no name, has no grammatical word meaning. It’s not written into the history books. It’s not sung into our songs. It’s incomprehensible to an ordinary person. And so, to the traveler with intention, who passes through Kukujevci, we send our plucked out heart. Let him take it to our church, to our cemetery. Let him cry his tears out! Let him leave inerasable tracks of our footsteps in blood as he leaves our home land. Permanent tracks of existence. We lived there. We lived for centuries.
Return us to our hometown! Years are passing by. The nineteen nineties are buried in the crime of our persecution, deportation. Kukujevci is our monument. Our unhealable wounds. Kukujevci is a NAME. Embroidered in gold. Weaved in firm stitch. Kukujevci is an inerasable name. Holy Trinity is soon coming. Our church had always been filled with our guests on Holy Trinity Feast Day. Today it is desolate, without believers, who had always been loyal to her, and then, although innocent, forcefully deported to over 120 places across Croatia. Let all who come to Kukujevci on this year’s Trinity day visit our cemetery after the Holy Mass. Let them visit the graves of our dear people who remained there and visit the sad resting place of our Aggie, our Syrmian Martyr.“