What a tragic and sad week it has been for Croatia.
“I’m here because this injustice is killing me. I went to war so that my children could have a better future but it turns out life is not better for me or for my children. I’m here today explicitly to fight for myself and for my children and I’m not moving from here, they can only carry my dead body from here, I’m staying here…as I say, only my dead body is leaving this place … if need be for years and years until I die, I will be here,” said the Croatian war veteran and hero Nevenka Topalusic on Monday 21 October 2014 standing proud among her colleagues Homeland War invalids in front of the Croatian War Veterans ministry building in Zagreb, where the veterans had gathered in their wheelchairs, propped on walking sticks and frames, in suffering from other terrible injuries such as the debilitating shell-shock and posttraumatic stress disorder – protesting against injustice towards war veterans, seeking that the Minister Predrag Matic and his closest assistants step down.
Tragically, Nevenka Topalusic died on the evening of the very next day (22 October), surrounded by her war veteran colleagues – right there at the protest site! Despite the fact that the serious and critical wounds sustained defending Croatia from Serb aggression in 1990’s left her “chained” to a wheelchair she came to Zagreb to join her brothers in arms for the protest, that is now as I write this post in it’s seventh day.
Nevenka Topalusic was a mother of four children; she was a heroine whose courage and determination for a better life, away from communist Yugoslavia and within democracy, reflects the profile of all war veterans, men and women.
“When there is talk of the Operation Storm (August 1995) we can rarely hear that women had participated in the hardest and the fiercest of battles,” says on the Croatian War Veterans’ website.
“Although less in number than men, there were women who charged forth in the front lines, with rifles in their hands. Or they carried their head in a bag, and in their hand a bag with medical supplies and First Aid kits. In spite of those who think that wars are not for women, Croatia has its own courageous female veterans who had acquired the veteran status during the war at the battlefields, not in offices away from them. However, no one knows how many women fighters had given their lives for the homeland and how many of them are 100% war invalids.
Why almost none of those who were at the front lines have received an officer’s rank? Why not a single one has been officially pronounced a hero? No one seems able to answer these questions. But women warriors are the proof that patriotism, courage and heroism have no association with gender.
Even 19 years after the Homeland War had ended tears welled-up in Nevenka Topalusic’s eyes as she recalled how, as the front line she fought with advanced against the enemy in central Croatia (Banovina) she came across the wounded soldiers among whom was her 18 year old son, Dubravko.
Topalusic attended to her son’s wounds and said: ‘Mummy must go forth. This is war’.
Topalusic was a senior nurse and followed and accompanied the 2nd Brigade ‘Thunders’ soldiers in battles; she saved countless lives while risking her own.
Her brothers in arms lay around her, dead or critically wounded. There was nobody to help her in the most difficult moments.
When Nevenka Topalusic died last Tuesday in Zagreb she still carried 28 shrapnel and bullet fragments embedded in her body, was confined to a wheelchair and battled with the consequences of her war wounds daily. But all this did not anger her as much as those who belittled her role in the terrible war”.
With the latter sentiment she joined the Croatian war veterans and invalids in the protest in Zagreb, seeking veterans’ rights that are reportedly being systematically taken away, bit by bit. The protest by the veterans and war invalids is showing no sign of winding down and on the sixth day, Saturday, 25th October, the protesting invalids have finalized and formulated their demands:
Besides the replacement/resignation of Veterans’ Affairs Minister Predrag Matic and his closest assistants, they seek the organisation of a public debate regarding the suggested changes and additions to the Croatian Veterans Act as well as the passing of the Homeland War Act and Croatian Veterans’ Act at the constitutional level.
Djuro Glogoski, the president of the 100% Croatian military war-invalids association said that the veterans seek that all those rights that have been transferred from the Rights of Croatian Veterans Act to the jurisdiction of other government departments, which include welfare, employment, children’s education etc., be returned to the jurisdiction of the initial veterans’ rights Act.
The veterans have agreed to a meeting with Croatia’s leadership but reject invitations to hold meetings at the government headquarters, at the parliament house or at the office of the country’s president – they seek that the meetings be held at the protest site and invite the Minister of Veterans Affairs to also attend but as a veteran, not as Minister.
It’s heartbreaking that Croatian veterans, war invalids, have a Minister who is incapable of dialog with those citizens for whose welfare his mandate dictates positive action. All I have been able to observe from Minister Matic during the past week is spite against the protesters, stubbornness and utterly repulsive and off-putting stance that tells me he is irritated at the suffering veterans for being loud about their rights and feels contempt for such expressions of freedom.
One would think that one of the basic human rights of those who lost their lives, limbs and/health for everyone’s freedom in a democracy is being able to voice ones complaints and requests without the fear of retribution, without the need to suffer. Not in Croatia, it seems – the Veterans’ Affairs Minister is waging a war against the Veterans! On Friday, 24th October, Minister Matic and his aide Bojan Glavasevic (whose resignation the veterans also seek) entered their office building accompanied by riot police, which – as one can imagine – stirred a great deal of disgust among the protesting veterans and the public. The protest has been peaceful at all times and yet this pathetic excuse for a minister brings riot police with him, saying it was not he but the police risk assessment unit who sent the riot police to accompany him!
Well, he could have rejected the accompaniment by riot police – but he did not!
Zagreb residents were came to give support to the protesting veterans during their sit-in on the ministry’s premises and the local office of the Red Cross organisation provided them with blankets, food and drink during the week. Minister Matic’s words (pathological boasting) that the man against whom the protest is waged (He) is fair and good because he had paid for the mobile toilets used by the protesters and he is paying for the electricity so the protesters in front of his office building could have heaters running in cold weather!
What a nasty piece of work this minister of the current Croatian government is!
Minister Matic fails to realise that he paid for nothing to benefit the protesters – Croatian taxpayers have, including the ones among the protesters! Besides, mobile toilets were brought there after his ministry refused to allow the war-invalid veterans to use the toilets inside their ministry building and after the veterans publicly protested against that!
The support for the war-invalid veterans’ protest is growing significantly by the day. The veterans have vowed not to stop protesting even if it means they’d be camped there in the streets till Christmas and beyond. Minister Matic is becoming increasingly stubborn and says that he too is a war veteran and that no one can force him to resign – but that he may resign if 50% of veterans want him gone! Evidently, Matic has learned nothing about democracy in the past twenty years: he holds that the mere fact of being a veteran gives him the right of being a Minister in the government. Well it does not! Every Minister must stand down in the face of protest from those his/her portfolio holds jurisdiction over – and the protesters outside his office are many from the 100% war-invalids population! The veterans are adamant that a number of their crucial rights have been either directly transferred to ‘unsafe’ portfolios in the government, and therefore under threat, or indirectly cut under Matic’s mandate as veterans’ affairs minister and they wish to correct such injustices. They also emphasise that the clause banning those who participated in the aggression against Croatia from entitlements to war veterans’ rights has also been removed from the relevant legislation under Matic’s watch. While Matic has denied this the veterans persist that such moves are another way of equating the victim with the aggressor. If this is proven to be the case Minister Matic not only deserves a forced resignation from the post but a permanent ban from any public office or job in Croatia. Personally, I wish the veterans strength to endure for it is heart-breaking to see that those we owe our gratitude for freedom and democracy must now, under this communist coloured government, fight, suffer and even die for what is rightly theirs. Nevenka Topalusic, may you rest in God’s peace and your courageous soul breathe strength into those who, like you did, must endure so that the values of the Homeland War and the rights earned through spilled blood and lost lives are kept firmly there where they belong – at the top of Croatian nations’ priorities. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)