Gdje sam?

Izvještaj s 1. međunarodnog volonterskog kampa u Hrvatskoj

Sezona kampova u punom je jeku, i prijave za volontiranje vani su u tijeku... A kroz ured VCZ-a puhnuo je neki nostalgični vjetar pa vam donosimo iscrpan i detaljan izvještaj o Volonterskom projektu Pakrac i 1. međunarodnom volonterskom kampu u Hrvatskoj ikad. Iz ovog je projekta, među ostalima, izrastao i Volonterski centar Zagreb. Saznajte što se događalo u Pakracu ratnih i poslijeratnih godina, kada je svijet bio obojan ponešto drugačijim tonovima nego što je danas... (NAPOMENA: izvještaj je na engleskom jeziku)

A Brief History Of the Volunteers Project Pakrac

The Volunteers Project Pakrac has been working in the area since July 1993. It is a project composing of international volunteers and locals, and was initiated by Croatian peace activists from the Anti War Campaign in Croatia. The aims of the project were initially to work in a town that was divided by a cease-fire line, and to begin the peace process through activities that would start to bring normalization to the area.

This has meant many hours of work on reconstruction, both physical and social. Our present work spans from the reconstruction of buildings to social reconciliation through activities, seminars, workshops, the establishment of a youth club, community visits to the elderly and disadvantaged, and ongoing training for volunteers and community members in trauma healing and conflict resolution.
We are now conducting e-mail lessons, initiating a small repairs program including a Tools Library, a bi-weekly photo group, and organizing a puppet theater workshop for children and a childrens centre. The project works on both sides of the former cease-fire line to address the populations of Croatian and Serbian people divided by war. Although the normalization and peace process has not been allowed to happen at an equal rate on both sides due to the political situation, it has progressed positively and the project continues to address these issues in the area.
Due to the events of May 1st, 1995, the situation in the region changed dramatically as the Croatian army took over the Krajina and convoys of Serbian people left the area. A significant number of people from the Serbian community still remain, and many who fled are interested in eventually returning to their homes. As a result, our work in the project continues with an even stronger emphasis on the peace and reconciliation process. Although time spent on the physical reconstruction has decreased, as many private building firms are working in the area, our social reconstruction projects are expanding to address the current situation.
________________________________________

Between Dreams and Reality: The Volunteer Project Pakrac - Grassroots Peacebuilding in Croatia
________________________________________

The war in Croatia is over, but a young volunteer finds that the absence of armies doesn't mean that peace has truly arrived.
By Nathan Hegedus '95

The mood is one of constant static coming out of a broken radio. A white noise of stress, hatred, and depression that provides background to life. Destruction is everywhere: houses without roofs and cars overturned on the side of a street. Stick close to the road, muddy and potholed, as land mines lurk in fields, woods, and ruins. Every house has bullet holes sweeping across its plaster, testimony to real person-to-person gun battles. Out in the villages, many houses have no bullet holes. Instead they are burnt-out shells.

During the three-year standoff, soldiers blew everything up with grenades and gasoline. It is early November, the middle of a cold snap-my first day in Pakrac.

About 70 miles east of the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and 50 miles north of the Bosnian border, in a region known as Western Slavonia, Pakrac is a former Habsburg outpost, once the center of a quiet yet comfortable region of rolling hills known for thermal baths, beautiful churches, Lippizaner stallions, and superb rakija, a Balkan liqueur. Before the disintegration of Yugoslavia, it was also one of the more ethnically mixed areas of Croatia, claiming a population of 28,000, about half Serb, half Croat, with a few Yugoslavs, Hungarians, Czechs, and Italians. In the countryside Serbs and Croats tended to live in separate villages. In Pakrac they lived as next-door neighbors, friends, even spouses.

This sleepy corner of Croatia dominated the world's headlines in June 1991, when civil war broke out between the Croatian Republic, which had recently declared its independence from Yugoslavia, and the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. And when an uneasy cease-fire was negotiated in 1992 between the Croatian government and the occupiers of Serbian-held territory known as Serbian Krajina, four U.N.-protected zones were established. Pakrac fell within the only zone that encompassed both Croat- and Serb-held territory. Split down the middle by a cease-fire line, it was christened "Little Berlin."

Over 75 percent of Pakrac was destroyed in the 1991 fighting, and other buildings were burned during the cease-fire. Today, after brief spurts of morning activity, the town is empty by early afternoon. Still, it might be the best-policed town in the world-cops in groups of three walk down the streets, one always with a beret, others with regular hats, all with big guns.

The eerieness never dissipates. A jog down Pozega Road is never "normal." Following the cease-fire line, this road was known as the Road of Death. Mines and snipers took a constant toll on drivers who braved it as a shortcut to nearby Pozega. The snipers are a memory now, but the road still reeks of death. Not a sign of life-not anywhere. A simple line of houses, all without roofs, stretches to the horizon, a room inside one of them painted blue. To see that room exposed to the world is an invasion of a life. The forest reaches up the adjacent hills, hiding more villages. The few rebuilt Croatian houses fly the Croatian flag-a proud gesture, yet a sign of the hopelessness of true reconciliation.


Both churches in Pakrac-Roman Catholic for Croatians and Orthodox for Serbs-were gutted during the fighting. Inside the Orthodox sanctuary, some stained glass remains in the windows, hinting at the former beauty of the place, yet the windows highlight blackened chandeliers hanging from the ceiling over a floor strewn with twisted metal and broken stone. What am I doing in this place?

In July 1995 I joined the Brethren Volunteer Service, expecting to work overseas for two years. After a few weeks' training in Chicago, I thought I would be sent to Israel, but instead spent three months working at the Franciscan Shelter in Chicago, feeding and caring for the homeless. I came to Croatia in November for a three-week work camp, then signed on as a long-term volunteer.

After the surprisingly easy Croatian victory in Operation Flash in May, 1995, the United Nations withdrew all its military units from Western Slavonia, leaving only humanitarian agencies as an international presence.

Between 1992 and 1995, volunteers from more than 20 countries, including Americans like myself, have participated in Volunteer Project Pakrac, a series of three-week-long work camps set up by Croatian organizers. Our project, for which I have served as recruitment coordinator, English teacher, work camp co-leader, and newsletter editor, seeks to aid reconstruction and reconciliation in the war-torn town.

The fate of Pakrac is solely in Croatian hands, much to the discomfort of the remaining Serbs. Denied entrance to the Croatian Republic by the government, Serbian refugees from Bosnia and Eastern Slavonia cannot apply for citizenship, as this can only be done from inside the country. Only the few Serbs who stayed behind have the dubious privilege of running the gauntlet of bureaucratic and police harassment that accompanied registration. All over the former Serbian Krajina, they suffer the indignities of unemployment, taunting, and denial of basic utility services.

And while life in Pakrac was not much affected by the arrival of the NATO troops last winter in nearby Bosnia, the NATO mission could have a serious long-term impact. Many Serbs who escaped the onslaught of the Croatian army by fleeing to Bosnia were conscripted into the Bosnia Serb army. Meanwhile Croatian refugees have moved into the Serbs' homes, setting the stage for more conflict. The Croatian Army will shrink if peace holds, and jobless ex-soldiers will swell the already large ranks of men, often traumatized by war, who fill the 30 bars in this district of 4,000 people. Some observers worry about the volatile combination of these hardened Croatian soldiers with potential Serb returnees. A Serb was murdered in town just after the New Year.

Even so, life in Pakrac has stabilized. The weekly market on Thursdays offers cheap food, large crowds, and all the cheap ripoffs of Western merchandise one could hope for in a formerly socialistic country.

Construction companies are making fortunes as the pounding of hammers has replaced the crack of gunfire. One street was closed during December so three entrepreneurs could hawk Christmas gifts, hot dogs, and rakija from booths. New businesses are springing up beside the bars, which, profiting from the trauma of war in a drinking culture, remain the dominant economic factor.
Work Camp #35 first met at a Zagreb youth hostel on a Friday night in early November. The recruitment director had planned for six volunteers but five others somehow ended up in the camp. The group consisted of two Germans-a cook and a kindergarten teacher; two Englishmen-a farmer and a student who had spent the summer picking grapes in France; two Irish women fresh off months of factory work in Holland; two Americans just out of college; a Belgian tour guide; a Dutch student; and a very unique Australian man who would almost go insane in the next six weeks. Our ages ranged from 22 to 45.

After a day-long orientation from two long-term volunteers, we began our journey into another world, transferring in Banova Jaruga to a smaller train. Someone told me it was because standard-length trains presented too great a target for Serb snipers and artillery, but I later learned that this was a myth-one of many in the war zone. The work campers were usually given a tour of town on their first day, but due to the vicious cold, ours spent the afternoon huddled in the frigid work camp house.

The house can seem like a hippie commune. The kitchen had no water and the bathroom only limited hot water. In space usually accommodating between six and 12, 15 people slept in two rooms, sharing the bathroom, living room, everything else from teacups to towels-including rampant cold viruses. Only the living room had a heater, so we broke the monotony by going to a bar, sipping tea for hours in red vinyl booths.

Then there was Sasha. "Kako ti?" is Serbo-Croatian for "How are you?" It is the familiar form of the greeting and one used all day by Sasha, the 13-year-old mentally handicapped boy who hangs out at the house. He was always happy to see us. Sasha is not washed much at home and one work camper sprayed him with Lysol one stinky day. Sasha loved it and was still imitating him months later. He looks about 7, yet has the mannerisms of an old man. The way he gets ready to leave, firmly setting his little hat on his head, is particularly endearing. With his constant, quizzical smile, Sasha is at the heart of the project.

Beyond the house and Sasha's magic spell, the physical damage in Pakrac seems almost normal. But it isn't. The eye might not consciously see the destruction, but the mind does. The subconscious knows, and can feel the hatred, see the sadness in the eyes of the war victims. Work camp days are long. I learn to stack bricks one day by watching a Croatian woman work. She stacks bricks in a distinctive pattern that takes a while for me to pick up, and after taking a break, she corrects my mistakes for an entire hour. But then stacking bricks becomes my skill, something no one else in the camp can do. Now I don't have to just stand in a line passing bricks. I can evaluate each one, place them, and build something next to the ruins. My brick towers will stand all winter and will only be demolished to build something greater.

With the two Irish women, Rosin and Maura, I visited a local woman a couple of times a week. Her name is Ljuba, and she lives in a high rise right on the former cease-fire line. There was no electricity in her building, so we drank tea in scalding metal cups by candlelight. As her cat curled up in my lap, she talked about the U.N. troops who were her only visitors for years. She had counted on snipers to spare her because she wasn't important enough to kill.
We helped demolish the house of a local bar owner, who is half Albanian and half Bosnian, so he could rebuild. We ate well on that job, and he seemed strangely good-natured during the final destruction of his home, as we took it down brick by brick.

The volunteers seem to drink more in Pakrac than they normally would. Maybe it's that a place like this only attracts those with a strong capacity to lose themselves. We were warned that the stress could lead to heavy drinking, and the culture encourages it. Much of the rakija consumed during the work camp was courtesy of residents of Sumetlica, a nearby village where we helped renovate the damaged community center. The mayor offered us rakija at 9:00 a.m. He was insistent. So we drank.

Our work in Sumetlica involved lots of scraping paint off walls and ceilings. The men of the village made us little inventions like paint brushes hammered to long sticks of wood. Then they stood around and watched us work. None of us could ever figure out what the men did all day, except to bring more rakija. They seemed to enjoy watching us drink and get drunk. The damp, bone-chilling cold was only alleviated by warming next to the fire that heated one of the village stills. It was a wonderful communal event. And lunch was consistently delicious, after we let the dust settle and ate chicken and potatoes or thick bean soup-hearty, warming meals.
The long-term volunteers have a thousand stories about innocents who come to Pakrac never having touched a drop of alcohol. Three weeks later the train to Zagreb carries away experienced drinkers of wine, rakija, and beer. Not everyone deals with Pakrac by drinking, though. Many can handle the shock or find healthier outlets for their feelings. Others are just too sick from the constant communal colds.

Life in Pakrac is hard. The language barrier, the sometimes rough living conditions, the lack of visible improvement, and the often depressingly militant mood of the town all put great stress on us. On the other hand, like some veterans of war, volunteers often have a hard time returning to the comfort and safety of Western Europe or America. After the trials of surviving in a war zone, it is everyday life back home that seems distant from reality.

Once a potential Croatian volunteer named Sasha came to Pakrac to check out the project. He ended up sleeping 20 hours on his last day in town. He was cheerful when awake and even compulsively cleaned the kitchen until it shone-not an easy task in any communal house. But mostly he lay on his bed, day and night. Martina, the project coordinator, said he was in shock. He had not been in the war and had not seen the damage. Imagine seeing your own country in ruins.

Martina asked me if I was shocked by Pakrac. Surely foreigners can't be as shocked as innocent Croatians. To us the "Balkans" denotes a faraway place familiarly associated with images of war, so I came here prepared for a tough time, but not personally connected. Yet once here I had to concentrate so hard on getting through the day and keeping warm that I focused solely on the group and on myself. I was sick for a long time. Why did it take me so long to recover? Why do people sleep round the clock? For the same reason that they drink so constantly? Even so, several volunteers in the work camp expressed gratitude that their eyes have been opened to this level of suffering in the world.
The project's long term goals are shifting as it searches for more local Croatian involvement in an effort to ensure its survival. A women's group has already become independent and even spun off a laundry run by its members. Eventually the volunteers will all go home, but we can leave a legacy in Pakrac in the community organizations built by the project and lessons learned from them. We have brought training, experience, and an outside perspective that this region sorely needs. Ultimately, though, the Croatians themselves will have to provide the momentum for reconciliation. Then maybe one day the harsh static in the heart of Pakrac will cease, and the music of a united Slavonia will ring out.

Nathan Hegedus '95 majored in history and political science. He expects to continue his service in the former Yugoslavia for another year before attending graduate school in journalism.
________________________________________

Integralni izvještaj o dodatnim projektima (kazališta lutaka, dječje kuće i ostalima) pronađite ovdje.