Croatian Diasporan Voice Presents Lifetime Achievement Award To Charles Billich

Awarding Lifetime Achievement to Charles Billich
Croatian Diasporan Voice
From left: Branko Miletic, Anne Dujmovic, Ina Vukic,
Alenka Bonic, Charles Billich, John Ovcaric
Mary Suminga, Valentin Perkovic

Recognising the dedication from the Croatian diaspora to the nation building of the independent and democratic Croatia, to the well being of Croatian people wherever they may be, has been a tireless, selfless pursuit of many people of Croatian descent living across the world, outside Croatia, for several decades. Recognising and awarding that dedication has been a goal of the Croatian Diasporan Voice association to which I proudly belong. On Saturday 9th December 2017, in the company of many distinguished guests from the Australian community, the worldwide renowned artist and humanitarian, Charles Billich, became the first inductee of that Hall of Fame dedicated to Croatians who have and who excel in their tireless dedication to the prosperity and well being of the Croatian homeland and Croatian people. An annual event for this Award is planned.

Lifetime Achievement Award
for helping Croatia from the diaspora

On the night of the Award presentation to Charles Billich in Sydney, Australia, the Member of Croatian Parliament for the Diaspora, General Zeljko Glasnovic, arrived to the ceremony via Skype from Zagreb, Croatia with the words that included:

“… independent Croatia was created in sweat and blood …Charles Billich is a part of that birth, of the rebirth of Croatian freedom. He is a great ambassador of Croatia, and I’m overwhelmed to be here at this commemoration to him … follow Charles’ example, he is got this, he has led by example and Croatia is one of them… Stay true, follow the course, and don’t stray from dimension – never quit. I wish you all the best, Merry Christmas and may the birth of Christ come to you with the best, thank you all …”

General Zeljko Glasnovic
Member of Croatian Parliament for the Diaspora

At the moment of the Award presentation to Charles Billich, John Ovcaric, Vice-president of the Croatian Diasporan Voice said that “this Award represents Lady Liberty, who we affectionately call Jelena, after Jelena Zrinski, the last of Croatian royal family and she represents the Croatian people and their defense of Europe from invading (Ottoman) forces and we feel that it’s a very apt figure and one that represents also the determination of Croatians such as Charles who worked tirelessly in this country to represent Australia first and foremost but also to represent our culture. Charles it is our great pleasure to present this to you as the first inductee of the Croatian Diasporan Voice Hall of Fame.”

Charles Billich and Christa Billich
Walking into the Hilton Sydney
Award night hall
9 December 2017

Charles Billich was visibly deeply touched by the honour bestowed on him, saying:

It’s like getting an Oscar for something that you’ve done, but this is better! Thank you so much. I am deeply touched and I declare I’m undeserving of this fuss, but yes, over time I have painted a few paintings that have skimmed over the history of Croatia so the highlights and symbolism of Croatia are thus recorded and it’s my intention to keep on doing it at an accelerated pace because I don’t want time to run out. My schedule is very, very busy and I have to rationalise my time from now on. Every moment counts and through hard work, working many hours a day, seven days a week, I achieve a modicum, a little fraction of what I would like to achieve, but even that little is holy to me. Thank you!

Charles Billich (L) John Ovcaric (R)

Reflecting upon his own past when he was persecuted by the former Yugoslav communist regime and upon this Award, Charles Billich said:

“Thank you the brotherhood of Croatians. I said that word, brotherhood, because I believe in that word perhaps a little bit more than in the word nationality, you know, we are brothers and sisters.

We are within parameters of this definition brothers and sisters with all the other tribes in the world. But in this, to each his own, I am very proud to be part of the Croatian tribe.

Ina Vukic (L) Charles Billich (C) Nila Oreb (R)

Tonight is a great surprise, I was not expecting it. You know, such a tribute to me, my work has just started …thanks to the inspiration of my new country Australia and my old country Croatia – beautiful people who populate both countries…

I have a body of work coming up in the future, which may disappoint you but will stun you. So bear with me for a little while longer and you will see something decent and professional coming out of my brushes. One of the things I want to do in the near future is a monument to another pioneer of Croatian and global links – Marco Polo – he is a super hero in Croatia, he is a superman, he is the one who established contacts with the Far East, particularly China, Mongolia and virtually put Croatia on the map – for all times. I’m working on a great monument to Marco Polo, which will be erected in Korcula, which is a Croatian island, the island where Marco Polo was actually born.

Charles Billich (L) Valentin Perkovic (R)

I compare tonight and I compare my joy that I feel tonight with the joy I felt a long time ago, since a century ago it seems, but it was only maybe 1952, I think, when something really unexpected happened like tonight was unexpected and which filled me with great joy. Now, if that’s possible in a communist country where I was in prison.

But because of prisons being so overpopulated and crowded finally the communist Yugoslav government, which dominated over communist republics Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia the government had to do something in order to satisfy the insistence of the International Red Cross to do something about the status of the persecutions of Croatians. I was in the prison one day and I was serving a ten-year sentence for political reasons and sedition when there was some announcement. And it was announced that because of the overcrowding of the prisons there would be an amnesty and the amnesty actually included some half of the jail population.

And guess what! I was one of them! I can’t tell you the joy I felt at that moment, I was orgasmic, it was really something I can’t describe, I couldn’t sleep for two days after that – and this night is like that – thank you very much. Thank you to all the Croatians and Australians. Za Dom Spremni! (For Home Ready!) We are ready to defend our home.”

To capture in this article the character, the mood and the significance of this event here are other speeches of note delivered at this event.

John Ovcaric, Croatian Diasporan Voice/ Glas hrvatske dijaspore:

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen
Dobra večer Dame i Gospodo

On behalf of the Croatian Diasporan Voice,and the entire Australian Croatian community I wish to welcome you all to this gala event in honour of Charles Billich, recognising his lifetime achievements and contributions not only to Australia, but his community and his beloved country of birth Croatia.
My name is John Ovcaric, founder and vice-president of “The Croatian Diasporan Voice” and it is my sincerest honour and privilege to serve this evening as your master of ceremonies.

Before we commence with an evening that we all hope will leave lasting impressions and memories with you all, I would ask that we all take a moment to first recognise not only the man we are here to celebrate but also his dedicated wife.

Ladies and gentlemen, could I ask you all to stand and join me in a round of applause for Charles and Christa Billich.
This evening has played heavy on the hearts and minds of many for some time now.

Croatian Diasporan Voice as an association was formed not only to represent the interests of Australian Croatians, who now number in the vicinity of some 200,000, but also to preserve our cultural heritage.

Women of Croatian Diasporan Voice:
From left: Mary Suminga, Anne Dujmovic, Ina Vukic, Alenka Bonic

As Australians we embrace all that it is to be Australian, Australia gave us the rights and opportunities that our forefathers left their place of birth to seek in order to provide their children that which they yearned for but could not have.
The story of Charles is no less dramatic.

Having suffered as a young student the repercussions of speaking out against tyranny under a communist regime
And having any resemblance of freedom taken from him, Charles also looked beyond the beauty of his homeland seeking afar a place where, as an individual and artist, his artistic abilities and beliefs could merge and express themselves.

Australia provided him those inalienable rights, and in return he reciprocated by adding to its unique and rich cultural beauty through his work.
Charles, this evening a number of your friends, admirers and those privileged to be custodians of one of those works are here to celebrate with and honour you
Yet so many more, that you don’t know this evening also celebrate with us.

Each of us here this evening will at some point stop and reflect on a work you have created, a work they may have, seen adorning a place
All too often we forget that a digital world can never replace the expressions of an artisan who not only through the subject, but through its creation conveys emotions that existed as each brush stoke was executed.

When you create Charles, each of these brush strokes captures a small moment in time, they capture the essence that is you, and it is the colour, texture and their interplay together that capture the hearts and minds of those that admire.

These moments pass for you as you transition from one creation to the next, but for us, you are most certainly thought of and admired somewhere, every minute, of every day as we focus on each and every stroke, a moment captured in eternity, a moment that inspires and delights.
After this evening comes to an end, and you return to your studio and your easel, we sincerely hope that the memories of this evening in some small way inspire you, that as you create you know that the beauty you bestow upon us all will live forever and that this brings a smile to your face in return.

David Jakic, President of Australian Croatian Chamber of Commerce NSW:

David Jakic
President, Australian-Croatian Chamber of Commerce NSW

Dear friends, colleagues and guests,

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the team at the Croatian Diasporan Voice for creating such a sensational event.
John, Valentin, Branko, Ina, Anne, Mary and Alenka you have done such an amazing job in helping us create tonight and it’s an honor that I am able to stand here and express my appreciation for this memorable occasion.

To be honest… for my first official speech as president I’m nervous… it had to be at a night that’s appreciating such a inspirational person Mr Charles Billich.

Now for people that might be wondering why I’m slightly nervous, I just want to take this moment to recap on some of Charles achievements…
• Paintings for the United Nations in New York
• 2 Paintings at the Vatican
• The official artist for the Olympic games of Sydney 2000, Beijing, Athens and Sotchi
• The key to the city of Atlanta
• Charles art is on the Nobel peace prize certificate
• For me, my favorite… He purchased a beautiful Bentley.

Now I know I can go on much more but I’m sure you get the point…
But then, it doesn’t end there… not only did achieve so much, he is a man with an enormous heart.
This is a man who has not had it easy;
• He was imprisoned overseas for standing up for what he believed in a communist regime
• As they did, he came here on a boat which I’m sure wasn’t the ‘ovation of the seas’
• He helped Europeans coming to Australia find work
Again, I could go on but the one I love… he was once a taxi driver… so much respect.
Mr Charles Billich, You are an inspiration to so many and your work has brought so much happiness to people around the world.

Australia may claim you as their own; Croatia theirs… but its only fair to say that both countries should be proud to call you their son as you are an international treasure.
Please raise your glasses…”

Ina Vukic, Croatian Diasporan Voice:

The only embroidery of friendship is fidelity”, Antun Starcevic, 19th century politician and writer referred to as the father of the Croatian homeland.
It is both an honour and a pleasure to be with you all here tonight when we celebrate excellence and outstanding dedication and devotion from the Croatian diaspora to the advancement of our Croatian homeland. This award tonight is also given in recognition of Charles Billich’s enduring vision for a free and democratic Croatia and his enormous contributions to the defence and promotion of truth and Croatian name throughout the world – not to mention his outstanding humanitarian generosity.

Croatia! The cradle of Croatian peoples’ existence; the mother of our history; the father of our freedom fighting spirit; the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition; the grandfather of Za Dom Spremni (For Home Ready) and the great grandfather of patriotic love and resolve.
Patriotism and nation building has been the Croatian diaspora’s artery of existence.

Patriotism means a love of country.

Yet, that on its own – says very little.

We can, after all, love many things in different ways, but to love something always means to have certain devotion, and to care for that object of love in a special, thrilling way.

For a Croatian migrant to love and succeed in the new, as well as the original homeland, translates into that special love, that special devotion.
Some people express that special love through momentous actions that touch a whole nation.

And Charles has been and is right up there with them!

Many today regard patriotism with scepticism.

In a globalised world, multiple identities, nationalities and allegiances are commonplace.
Many would say that it would be better for us simply to celebrate our common humanity, to become citizens of the world – and not worry about our country of origin as well as the one we have built our lives in, being special.

I disagree. I don’t believe that we should abandon patriotism because patriotism is to countries what self-respect is to individuals:
You need it as a condition of collective self-improvement.

The unspeakable and brutal losses of family lives, the oppression and persecution by the communist regime of former Yugoslavia are all too well known to the young Charles Billich, way back then.

But Australia has been a balm that only a homeland can provide; another homeland that gives you freedom to nurture your dreams for the country of you birth and helps you work towards realising them.

Over almost three past decades I have had the privilege and utter delight in being touched by the selfless stewardship championed by Charles for a collective wellbeing of the Croatian people in the homeland and those in the diaspora.

Charles Billich has consistently and steadfastly delivered not only to Australia but also to Croatia on actions that are so important to our collective wellbeing.
Both countries have benefited richly from the talented and dedicated Charles Billich over several decades.

16 January 1992 was a day when Australia became among the first non-European countries to recognise Croatia as an independent and sovereign state.
Here, in my hands I hold the testimonial of that very day when we celebrated that momentous occasion of which Charles was a significant part!
I am gifting this publication to you Charles as one of the many beacons for Croatian freedom you have held in your hands throughout many years!
I salute you, Charles Billich!

Portrait of late General Praljak.
John Ovcaric (L) Charles Billich (R)

To honour the unwavering determination in defending the Croatian people from the brutal attacks waged in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Serbs and Bosniaks/Muslims during the 1990’s war Charles Billich unveiled on this night his portrait of the late General Praljak, who recently committed suicide in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in response to the injustice pointing to Croats served by the tribunal. The proceeds of the sale of this portrait are intended for helping the late General’s family. May the proudest and the highest bidder for this stunning portrait do Croatia proud also!

This Award giving event for dedication to Croatia’s freedom and democracy was also organised with the memory to the 18th anniversary of the death on 10 December 1999 of Croatia’s first president dr. Franjo Tudjman! His determination for freedom inspired also the whole of the Croatian diaspora to become a major element and fighting force, alongside Croatian homeland forces and people, in achieving independence and democracy. With profound respect and fond memories Croatians in the diaspora – remember! Ina Vukic

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