Croatian Woman Veteran Dies Rallying For War-Invalids’ Rights

Nevenka Topalusic Croatian Homeland War Veteran and War-Invalid Held Onto Her Courage To Her Death

Nevenka Topalusic
Croatian Homeland War
Veteran and War-Invalid
Held Onto Her Courage To Her Death

 

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.

 

Nevenka Topalusic  Photo: Boris Scitar/Pixsell

Nevenka Topalusic
Photo: Boris Scitar/Pixsell

“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”.

 

Candles for Nevenka Topalusic at the war-invalids' protest site  in Zagreb ,CroatiaPhoto: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

Candles for Nevenka Topalusic
at the war-invalids’ protest site
in Zagreb ,CroatiaPhoto: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

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)

Funeral of Nevenka Topalusic in Vrbovec, Croatia - Thursday 23 October 2014 Photo: Slavko Midzor/Pixsell

Funeral of Nevenka Topalusic
in Vrbovec, Croatia – Thursday 23 October 2014
Photo: Slavko Midzor/Pixsell

Croatia: Goodbye Violeta-Vicky, The Heroine Of Freedom

Tribute to Violeta Antolic - Vicky Original photo collation by Goran D.

Tribute to Violeta Antolic – Vicky
Original photo collation by Goran D.

 

She was barely 21 years old when she left her three-year-old son in the care of others at the bomb shelter in Vukovar, took a rifle into her hands and went shoulder to shoulder to the front-line with her male veterans, the heroes of Croatia’s Homeland War, to defend the city from Serb aggression, beastly destruction of anyone non-Serb, of their homes, infrastructure, community and religious buildings…Violeta Antolic – Vicky defended Vukovar’s Sajmiste to the last minute, until ethnically cleansed and devastated Vukovar fell into Serb occupation (November 1991), only to end up in a Serb concentration camp – as a courageous defender she was the only woman in HOS (1991 Croatian Defence Forces arm of Croatian Party of Rights made up of volunteers from Croatia and abroad) fighting the enemy on equally strong and determined love for freedom as her male veterans. She endured all the imaginable and unimaginable horrors of war; she was a heroine the kind of which one rarely sees in battlefields only to die in a fatal car crash in Zagreb, in her free Croatia, on Tuesday 29 July 2014.
The first line of defence was at Sajmiste, the place where I grew up and where I lived. When I arrived (to HOS local headquarters) I said that I did not want to be someone who is entrusted for First Aid, that I did not want to be nurse or a cook,” said Violeta in an interview two months ago for Oluja (Storm) magazine.
Here is some more of Violeta’s story of courage, suffering and determination for freedom:
When they started shooting at our home from the barracks, we had to run into our neighbour’s cellar. The army started to come out of the barracks and we were not aware of this. They also started to shoot at my son, whom I was carrying in my arms. As we broke through to Olajnica my three-year-old son screamed and cried: mama, mama. The shelter was full of men and women.

 

I felt safer but everything in me burned with rage.

 

I thought: they shot at my son – I’ll strike back.

 

In a coincidence, the boys from HOS formation were passing by. I asked if they had a gun for me, because I had no money to buy one. They gave me a Kalashnikov. Street battles ensued that night. They captured one of ours. Sajmiste echoed from his screams. I froze then, but I decided to remain at Sajmiste. We found clean clothes in houses and brought water from the well. That’s how we kept ourselves clean. A sniper fatally hit our first commander Vladimir Derek-Sokol at that spot. We did not go out for water any more. Things were getting worse and worse. When Vukovar “fell” we withdrew from the front lines.

 

The stench of death was in the air; the city had collapsed under the final defence.

 

The Serb paramilitary and local Serbs took the few people that remained to Velepromet. After that I dressed in civilian clothes and went to get my son, and with my child was taken to Velepromet. They separated us into male and female columns. They pulled out my stepfather and beat him.

 

They separated me from my son; I thought I would go mad. I pleaded with them to return him to me.

 

They laughed and giggled at me saying that they would take him to Belgrade and place him in an orphanage. Luckily a friend of mine took my son. Soon after four men came and took me away and beat me with batons, rifles, sticks and feet. My first neighbour who drove his fist into my face first hit me. He was younger than me. Predrag Marusin-Pedja hit me after the main gendarme Nenad Zigic gave him approval for that. Pedja was a dear young man before the war. I think he was an artist. If the situation were reversed I would never let a hair fall from his scalp. Miki Ikac and another enemy man were there too.

 

The four of them took turns in beating me. They beat me with batons, rifles, sticks and feet. I collapsed, lost consciousness and then they dragged me into the ‘room of death’ in which they had murdered four people on the same evening. They weren’t sure if I was at the front line as I lived in Sajmiste. A Serb woman had previously seen me in uniform near the hospital and it was probably she who revealed my identity.

 

 

A man returned with his face slashed, another was forced to eat bullets, and the hands of many were tied with barbed wire.

 

 

I remember how they ridiculed and giggled when they took a young man. He said: let me just get my tennis shoes. They replied: you won’t need them where you’re going.

 

 

Ljubce Atanasov saved me from certain death. He said I should be as silent as possible. When they started to beat me again, he yelled at them. He set up guard and did not allow anyone near again. One day a real Chetnik arrived, as from a movie, ripped from a mountain, bearded … I stood before him with my face all beaten up and swollen. He took out a knife and said to me – oh, you’re so swollen, I bet your tooth aches. Come on, open your mouth so I can pull it out and it won’t hurt any more. I put my hand to my mouth and kept saying my tooth did not hurt.

 

 

After that they transferred us to a military base in Mitrovica (Serbia, concentration camp) where we waited for a prisoner of war exchange. Luckily I was in the first exchange group and came out at the same time as dr. Vesna Bosanac. My recovery time did not last long. In May, together with the 204th Vukovar Veterans Bridage I went to Suica in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When the air attack occurred I shot at the plane with anti-aircraft weapons, saying to myself that I could finally confront the plane that had shot at me when I was in Vukovar…

Violeta Antolic – Vicky earned the rank of Sergeant Major during the war.

An amazing photo-video tribute: “Violeta Antolic –Vicky: goodbye my friend”

Violeta’s tragic death in a car accident barely attracted a few lines on back pages of mainstream print media in Croatia. No doubt, the culprits for such a shameful display are those who still sit in high positions of power, pining for communist Yugoslavia, making sure Croatia’s heroes and heroines are kept away from widespread national show of pride. Never mind – God is great! For Violeta’s funeral will come in the days of celebrating 19 years since Operation Storm (5 August 1995), which freed much of Croatian territory from Serb aggression and set the path to freedom and democracy.

I will end this post with the words of 1LT Anne (Sosh) Brehm, US Army Nurse Corps/WWII:
Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom. That our resolve was just as great as the brave men who stood among us. And with victory our hearts were just as full and beat just as fast – that the tears fell just as hard for those we left behind”.

 

Screenshot from movie "The Heroes of Vukovar" -  Violeta Antolic - Vicky

Screenshot from movie “The Heroes of Vukovar” –
Violeta Antolic – Vicky

 

Rest in God’s peace, Violeta – Vicky!
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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