The Soul Is Indestructible – Interview With Julienne Busic

Julienne Busic with statue
of her late husband Zvonko Busic
in Rovanjska, Croatia
Photo: Private collection

 

You’ve been operating a foundation (Zaklada Zvonko Bušić Taik) in Zvonko’s name for several years now. Tell me about the Foundation’s work

– The Foundation was initiated by former Premier of Croatia Nikica Valentic, who became friends with Zvonko (Busic) and admired him very much. He offered space in his office building and that’s how it all began. Among the founding members are Drazen Budisa (past president of the Social-Liberal Party, former political prisoner during the Tito dictatorship, and also a friend from student days), and many others who have a place in Croatian history. We have been involved in many humanitarian activities; for example, delivering Christmas gifts to impoverished families with many children in Slavonia, and collecting canned goods and other groceries for families who suffered in the floods several years ago. Lidija Bajuk, one of Croatia’s best singer-songwriters of ethno-music in the world, donated a concert on behalf of the effort. We’ve also organised musical evenings with the children of war veterans as the performers. Many of them are extremely talented musicians and opera singers! And not to forget our Valentine’s Day party for very special couples, war invalids and their spouses, who have remained by their side and been their most important support and comfort! Our translation project – English translations of books about the Croatian war of independence – is among our most important ongoing projects. So far we have translated and offered on Amazon and the Internet two such books, In the Eye of the Storm, by Ante Gugo, and The Croatian War of Independence by Ante Nazor. A third is coming up soon, about the siege of Vukovar and the human aspect of the aggression against the city. This project was possible in large part thanks to a radiothon organised by the Croatian radio program in Australia (Pero Maric is the director). So once more, thanks to the Australian Croats for their unending support for valuable projects. We even had the pleasure and honour of meeting with the President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, and presenting her personally with our first book!

Julienne Busic (Second from L) with
former Premier of Croatia, Nikica Valentic (third from L)
Photo: Private collection

Now that the Vukovar Day of Remembrance is approaching, can you talk about your third book, Living Cells, which deals with the subject of rape as a war crime through the eyes of a survivor during the siege of Vukovar?

– I just taped a long documentary program for Croatian radio on this subject, which will be broadcast next week prior to the Day of Remembrance. As some might know, Living Cells (for which I was honoured to receive the prestigious A.B. Simic literary award several years ago) is based on the true story of a friend of mine who was held for months as a sex slave in Vukovar during the siege. Her story was particularly disturbing because she was forced to choose between three soldiers; in other words, they forced her to choose her rapist or else threatened that she would be raped by all of them and others as well. This was an evil psychological twist that was almost as bad as the rape itself, at least in my opinion. Later, many friends and neighbours accused her of willingly “cooperating”. Otherwise, why would someone “choose” her rapist? Not only was she branded as a rape victim, as though it were her fault, but also accused of having done it voluntarily, even received benefits from it. So this issue is a complex one, and needs to be addressed by several ministries. First, the Ministry of Health and Social Services needs to provide therapy for the victims, and the Ministry of Defenders must ensure the women receive some kind of compensation. Many are destitute still today. And of course, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must take action to get the perpetrators back to Croatia to serve their sentences. The two rapists in my friend’s case both fled to Serbia and therefore never paid the price for the horrific acts. And without justice being served, it is difficult to forgive. The women want to forgive, but until the perpetrators address their crimes and pay their debt, express remorse, it is difficult for the wounds to heal. This isn’t a pleasant topic, I know, but we need to inform women’s groups and human rights groups outside Croatia about our victims, create a network, raise our voices. My book is the only one I’m aware of that addresses rape as a war crime against Croatian victims, so I hope people will read it and perhaps donate a copy for their local university, a school, a group dealing with this issue.

Nino Raspudic (L) Julienne Busic (C)
Drazen Budisa (R)
Photo: Private collection

How are you coping with the loss of your husband? It’s been four years now.

– It might sound strange, but I don’t feel that I’ve “lost” him. He is always with me, guiding me, sending me messages only I can understand. Philosophically speaking, the physical body is just a collection of atoms and degradable materials that are reabsorbed into the earth. The natural process of birth, death, and regeneration. But the soul is something else and it’s indestructible. I take great comfort in that. In the end, he paid in full his debt to society, he never intended to harm anybody, and the fact that he served 32 years in prison, two years longer than the law allowed, didn’t bother him in the end. He often commented that he was grateful for the last two years because he discovered two philosophers, Pierre Hadot and John Cottingham, who provided explanations for many issues he’d been grappling with all those years. Unfortunately, he didn’t recognise the world into which he was finally released, and couldn’t find his place in it, couldn’t find a way to be useful. He was also deeply disheartened by the materialism, the Ego that seemingly ruled everything, the lack of idealism, the placement of party over homeland, and the vindictiveness of petty, superficial souls, so he went on to discover the ultimate Truth that can only be found in Death. He gave everything he had for his people and country, for their freedom, for his greatest love, Croatia.

Julienne Busic and
President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovuc (C)
Photo: Private collection

—————————————

Julienne (Julie) Busic (maiden name Julienne Eden Schultz) is a successful American writer and a worldwide well known political activist (alongside her late husband Zvonko Busic) for the freedom of Croatia at the time (1970’s) when Croatia was still a part of the oppressive communist totalitarian regime of Yugoslavia. Julie lives in Croatia and dedicates her life to book writing, promoting and actively taking part in translating into the English books by Croatian authors on the topics of the Croatian War of Independence and painful destinies of victims of crimes committed against Croats during that war. She remains a devoted humanitarian, concerned and seeks to promote human welfare of Croatian victims of war crimes. Interview conducted by Ina Vukic

 

LIVING CELLS at Amazon

 

Battles For Victims Of Communist Crimes And Croatia’s Homeland War

Damir Markus (L) Charles Billich (C) Damir Plavsic (R)
Phoro: AB

When politicians in positions of relative or specific power in Croatia, especially those beating the drum of integration between Croatia and its diaspora, visit the diaspora, which is made up of all sides of historical political spectrums, one would expect them to park their politics at the door and engage with all sides. Given that those in power in Croatia have so far shown little, if any interest, in ridding Croatia of the stronghold former communists have over the nation’s life, which is plummeting into living standard chaos and desperation for many, one would expect that the side that promotes remembrance of victims and justice for the multitudes of communist crimes that occurred during the life of communist Yugoslavia as well as the victims of Croatia’s 1990’s Homeland War would finally receive due notice, without any reservations. But no, what Croatia still has in its corridors of power is multitudes of unrepentant supporters of the communist system that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and chased out in fear for their own life and survival, into the diaspora, equally as many. It still has too many in the corridors of power that avoid reckoning with the Serb and communist Yugoslavia Army aggressors who sought to destroy the Croats who wanted freedom from communist Yugoslavia.

If the spark of a push to decommunise Croatia fails to ignite big fires within the people to achieve decommnisation then the die-hard communist Yugoslavia supporters will go to their graves believing that all the murder had been worth it in order to achieve that deluded fantasy of a “worker’s paradise”, which in reality brought workers to their knees as inflation in the country, by late 1980’s, surged beyond 1100%. So powerful is ideology that a person can be brilliant in certain fields of professional pursuits and yet at the same time totally blind to one form of evil. And communism in Yugoslavia was evil. 1990’s Serb aggression against Croatia was evil.

How one views the extreme, pathological end of an ideology also influences how one looks at its norms. The young in Croatia are distressingly ignorant of the crimes of communist Yugoslavia, they are also ignorant of the fact that Serb aggression against Croatia in early 1990’s was based on intent to murder and intent to ethnically cleanse Croats from their lands (specifically one-third of Croatia that became known during the war [and after the Croats were ethnically cleansed and multitudes murdered] as Republic of Serbian Krajina). They are ignorant of these facts because the powers that be systematically cover-up the crimes or fail to pay due diligence to them and downplay the absolute need for self-defense and self-preservation Croats were forced into.

One way to remedy this situation and set Croatia on the right footing to full democracy based on a reconciled past is commemorate the victims of Communism in the same way it’s done for the victims of all totalitarian regimes. There should be no concept of competition in this as all totalitarian regimes carried almost equal loads of indulgence that resulted in human sufferings.

In dealing with the legacies of fifty-year communist dictatorship in Croatia (as part of former Yugoslavia), the transition to democracy, after the Homeland War ended and all Serb-occupied territory liberated or reintegrated (1998) official Croatia has never confronted itself with the issue of what to do with the perpetrators of oppression and human rights violations before 1990, and to what extent, and how, to compensate the victims; to punish the perpetrators of mass murders and purges. Multitudes of people were at one point or another imprisoned on political grounds, scores upon scores sentenced to death without a fair trial, scores upon scores assassinated and murdered both in Croatia and in the diaspora, the whole Croatian national identity vilified as extremist, properties confiscated or nationalised for the use and/or ownership of communist operatives … a screening procedure by which people who had been collaborators or informers of the secret police (UDBA) as well as high ranking party officials should be banned from prominent positions in the government, the army, and the courts has not been developed nor adopted. Lustration did not occur and it must, whether it be through a radical break or some negotiated compromise.

Croatia should not and must not forget any of those who paid for its present freedom from communist Yugoslavia in one way or another. Independent courts should impartially consider the possible guilt of those who were responsible for the persecutions, so that the truth about the communist past may be fully revealed. This is, however, only a dream of democracy amidst the court system that still harbours those who participated in the persecutions in one way or another.

Compensating the victims of communist crimes is the last thing Croatian political machinery in power wants to do. Compensating the victims of the 1990’s Homeland War is a far, far cry from any justice or human dignity; why, Croatia has not even claimed from Serbia calculated war damages amounting to some 44 billion euro! That says quite a lot about the will, or rather the lack of it, in Croatia’s power corridors to fully address the victims of Serb aggression and the losses Croatia sustained.

Commemorative events, laying wreaths at many mass gravesites and the Bleiburg field for victims of communist crimes and memorial cemeteries or gravesites for victims of the Homeland War have become a way of life in Croatia for many who keep the memory of hard-won freedom alive. While this in essence is a pursuit of human dignity and remembrance it is not enough for justice and for collective remembrance; it reduces national suffering to individual or group ones; it waters down the suffering Croats have endured under communism in Yugoslavia and under Serb-aggression as Croatia set about breaking away from communist Yugoslavia.

Ivan Penava (L) Ljiljanna Ravlich (C) Zvonko Milas (second from R)
Photo: Facebook

In recent months the Sydney, Australia, based world renowned artist of Croatian descent, along with his numerous family members a victim of communist crimes and oppression, Charles Billich, publicly announced his wish and plan to erect a memorial monument in Croatia honouring the victims of communist crimes and the victims of the 1990’s Homeland War. Without a doubt this gesture has national pride significance for the Croatian people and their suffering. Knowing the terrible history associated with those victims such a monument is surely a platform that lifts into a permanent conscience the debt a free and independent democratic Croatia owes to them. But, as it appeared via a recent visit to Australia by the Croatia’s state secretary for the government office for Croats living outside Croatia, Zvonko Milas and Vukovar’s mayor Ivan Penava, seen as representing a “leading” political mood hovering about Croatia, such honouring of victims of communist crimes and those of the Homeland War is avoided rather than encouraged. In the same party of visitors to Australia were also two men, heroic Homeland War veterans, Damir Plavsic and Damir Markus, writers, producers and activists of the theatrical play “The Battle for Vuovar” (Vukovar was devastated by Serb aggression during the 1990’s Homeland War and became the symbol of Croatia’s fight for independence from communist Yugoslavia).

The “political” representatives of this group visiting Australia, Zvonko Milas and Ivan Penava, made a point to meet with the former Western Australia Legislative Council member and former Australian Labor Party minister WA Ljiljanna Ravlich, a Croatian born former Australian politician whose father was a communist Partisan in the Yugoslav Army and whom she has proudly painted a portrait of with the (Red) star on his cap, but expressly avoided even acknowledging Charles Billich, let alone offering a hand-shake for his announced remarkable gift to Croatia in the form of a monument to victims of communist crimes and Homeland War. This expressed avoidance occurred at a Croatian club in Sydney where Billich attended to honour the visitors from Croatia even at the cost of having to leave his prior engagement as official artist of the World Polo Championships held this month in Sydney.

Ljiljana Ravlich with portrait
of her father – communist star on cap
Photo: Screenshot

Croatia’s veterans and defenders of Vukovar, Damir Plavsic and Damir Markus made the point of meeting with Charles Billich at the same Croatian club and visiting his gallery at the Rocks, in Sydney. They also invited Billich to give a speech at the Croatian Club, which he accepted, confirming yet again his determined and monetarily generous plan to erect the monument in Croatia to victims of communist crimes and Croatia’s Homeland War.

Through this episode at the Croatian club in Sydney it is clear that avoidance of dealing with due justice for victims of communist crimes and victims of the Homeland War strongly exists in Croatia but, fortunately, there are many, especially in the diaspora, who will persist at it until full justice is done. Ina Vukic

 

Croatia: The Haunting Of War Missing 25 Years On

Connor Vlakancic at Vukovar November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Connor Vlakancic
at Vukovar
November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

Being in Vukovar on the 25th anniversary of horrid atrocities committed against innocent Croatian people by the Serb aggressor was a sombre, sad, gut-wrenching experience for over 120,000 people who visited there on 18 November and vividly remembered the horrors once again as my last post read. For those who were unable to be there, here is a close-up journal of what Connor Vlakancic’s eyes saw in the day leading up to that big day, on the day of Remembrance itself and the day after; what he felt as any of us might in the same place; he came from the US to be there.

Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Photo: Connor Vlakancic

It is now 03:01, I can’t slumber, I must search about. The sky black of overcast and haze at ground level in the streetlights. The temperature is brisk and a breeze is up. An autumn morning that would have 99% of families asleep so to wake-up for a typical workday. But on this day 25 years ago, nobody blissfully slumbered in Vukovar and so it is every year on this date. And I have been here many times.

Photo; Connor Vlakancic

Photo; Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar is dear to me, I was married here in the Church of Philip and James (Svetog Filipa i Jakova) in September 2001, also the first year of the Vukovar Remembrance.

The holes dug into the bottom of all the stone and mortar columns, which the retreating JNA army (Yugoslav Army) would fill with explosives intending to even obliterate survivors’ memories (a hero had prevented their detonation) were all visible with a single candle in each.

Reminders of war dot the streets of Vukovar 18 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Reminders of war dot the streets of Vukovar
18 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

On this date the church was long yet to be finished renovated, wounds in the walls and marble floors painfully still obvious, yet the bell in the reconstructed tower [the first work accomplished] was rung for 24 hours.

 

Vukovar hospital basement - preserved Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar hospital
basement – preserved
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

At 06:00, shortly after daybreak, the buses start arriving at the bus station (autobusni kolovador) the passengers walking to the hospital where the Remembrance Walk will start the five-kilometer march to the Vukovar Memorial Cemetery. As has been every year starting 2001. Me too.

South Courtyard Vukovar Hospital monument to the fallen Photo: Connor Vlakancic

South Courtyard
Vukovar Hospital
monument to the fallen
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

Vukovar hospital basement remembering those that perished November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar hospital basement
remembering those that perished
November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

I stand waiting in the hospital South side courtyard. I am up several steps of an alternate side building, watching, and my camera busy, overlooking the area as it fills with people. Veterans of every city, town and village, each it seems with their own municipality regimental flag, such a number of them 1,000+ I can believe.

a Proud flag in Vukovar Hospital courtyard Photo: Connor Vlakancic

a Proud flag
in Vukovar Hospital courtyard
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Following the dedication ceremony commencement and memorial song, the Remembrance Walk commenced shortly after 10:20. With flags flying unfurled, it took 45 minutes for the leading line to reach the cemetery, yet people were even then still just departing from the hospital and so it was for nearly two hours more and another hour for the march to finish for all walking. The time is now 14:00 and memorial flowers and wreaths are placed at the central statuary. I can’t get near. I must return tomorrow to see this up close.

 

Ceremony begins at South courtyard Vukovar Hospital 18 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Ceremony begins at South courtyard
Vukovar Hospital
18 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

Procession starts at Vukovar Hospital to Memorial Cemetary 18 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Procession starts at Vukovar Hospital
and continues to Memorial Cemetary
18 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

This day commences familiar renewed for me, upon walking back toward ‘center’. Along the return route, again I stand and look up at the Vukovar water tower that stands on a ridge overlooking the Danube River. Built in 1968, it held 2200 cubic meters of water and had a restaurant at the top. It survived an estimated 600 direct hits from JNA bombardment. Many are the pictures of its suffering. I walk to encircle the water tower. There is no fear of walking around and under it. Years ago it was encircled with scaffolding (150 feet tall), all loose bricks were removed and all remaining were made secure. Now, these 25 years past, there are ongoing plans (the financial means accumulated) to renovate it into a new life.

Vukovar water tower 18 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar water tower
18 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Walking to an adjacent neighborhood, I visit my fondest dearest friends in Vukovar, Vilma and Ruzica. These two heartfelt people embody and mentor all that is Vukovar. Vilma, indispensable to the life flow of Vukovar, has again prepared her specialty, sarma (cabbage roll), enough to feed the Croatian army. Many people come, it is built into our remember. Ruzica is the curator of the baroque Eltz Palace that contains the Vukovar museum.

 

Remember Vukovar Renovated Eltz Palace Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Remember Vukovar
Renovated Eltz Palace
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

 

Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

 

Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Soon enough, it is 18:00+ and pitch black. I go with Vilma and Ruza to see what I have not previously witnessed, one thousand candles, each on a tiny boat, one each for all persons missing, not accounted for, disappeared, ‘gone missing’. The Danube flows past Vukovar, a river of history and mystery. A thousand candles for the unforgotten because we remember for them.

Vukovar 18 November 2016 Floating Candles on Danube Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar 18 November 2016
Floating Candles on Danube
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

One candle each for the thousand persons who are unaccounted for, yet here again, we remember for them. Deposited upstream from three boats, the thousand candles drift downstream longer than a kilometer. My camera cannot adequately capture their breath. The moon, since last extraordinary display event ‘super moon’ in 1948, is in bright display. Yet, its light fails to illuminate this solemn Remembrance. Many people watch, nobody speaks, and a young mother nurses her baby. Tomorrow more will be revealed.

Vukovar 19 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar 19 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Now Saturday (19 November) morning at 07:00, sleeping a bit longer from physical and emotional exhaustion, I return to Center. The open market has returned to normal typical activity, and much surprise to me too…

I drive past a long tented area. Yesterday it encompassed a great many tables with adjacent food preparation. Feeding 100,000+ people requires such and many more. This morning, even so early, the tables are gone but with human waste of empty cups and paper plates littering the ground.

Vukovar Memorial Cemetery 19 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar Memorial Cemetery
19 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Onward I drive, returning to the Vukovar Memorial Cemetery to capture 25 years plus one day in pictures. The pavilion (that yesterday you could not get close to as Mass was being celebrated) stands empty with the canvas cover [roof] now lowered to disassemble position. There are a few, actually several, people coming and going that perhaps could not come yesterday because they were service staff working to feed the 100,000+ people that returned to Vukovar Remembrance.

Vukovar 18 November 2016 Reminders of terrible war still haunt Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar
18 November 2016
Reminders of terrible war still haunt
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Now about 10:00 in the morning, the cemetery area has been picked-up of human trash, collected in black plastic bags to be disposed of, perhaps in earthen burial pits. Twenty five years ago black plastic body bags were not required for disposing of ‘human litter’!

The day after twenty-five years ago, human litter was human beings. Of the perpetrators, certainly for some of them, I am prayerfully for some of them, the enormity of the deprivation of human life wrought while they were drunk and disorderly, invaded their mind with revulsion for what they participated in and thus captured as the chronicle of their lives.

November 19th, 1991 [be there in your mind] and Remember all of Vukovar murdered heroes. They don’t remember, we must Remember for them.

Holy Mass at Vukovar Memorial Cemetery 18 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Holy Mass at Vukovar
Memorial Cemetery
18 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

I returned to the memorial cemetery at dusk. The votive candles, individually lit one-by-one each deposited by an individual person that Remember. By now the temperature has fallen to about 13 degrees with a slight breeze. Yet, as I stand downwind of certainly thousands of candles, the air temperature is 22+ degrees, a LOT of candles. I reflect as this is the warmth of the spirits of the dear departed giving their gratitude to we who come to Remember the chronicle of innocent victim lives.

Vukovar Cemetery 19 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Vukovar Cemetery
19 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Grave-sites of those who were ‘eliminated’ between August and December 1991 are adorned with every flower and candle that our Remembrance can enshrine. Here too, the thousand of lost ‘gone missing’ are remembered in an array of 36 by 28 stone crosses. Each Remembered with flowers and votive candles but where are they, dumped in mass graves … somewhere … nearby.

So, that is the point of this Vukovar Remembrance of 25 years ago, the missing are still missing! With 25 years of Remembering, the 25 years of Croatian governments have failed to achieve, even failed to try to achieve, secretly know grave-sites in villages around Vukovar.

For the families of the victims of the JNA executioners, where are the missing buried. This question is foremost what these families remember for all these 25 years!,” Connor Vlakancic

Lest We Forget! Vukovar Memorial Cemetery 18 November 2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Lest We Forget!
Vukovar Memorial Cemetery
18 November 2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

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