Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Back in England and a bit about Gračac

Hey readers wherever you are, I'm back in England. Me and my mother returned via aeroplane the way we had originally set off to Croatia in the evening and my father took us back home.

In this blog entry, I want to talk about Gračac, where my family come from and my impression(s) of the place and the area. Gračac, in case you haven't read anything about it, is a town and municipality located in the south of Lika. Prior to the recent war (1991-95), the municipality had a Serbian ethnic majority, the majority of which does not live there anymore. The Serbian population of Gračac fled along with around a hundred and fifty thousand Serbs in a mass Exodus from the short-lived Republika Srpska Krajina, which was mostly defeated by Croatian state forces during the 1995 Operation "Oluja". After the war, Croatian refugees from Bosnia took residence in vacated Serbian houses in Gračac and other towns throughout the area of the short-lived republic. There has been a return of Serbs to the area since the war, and in the 2001 census, Serbs made up almost 40% of the population. However, as is usually the case with refugee return, it is mainly the older generations of Serbs that return to live permanently, the younger generations living either in Serbia or elsewhere around the world.

We stayed in Štikada, a village immediately outside the town to the west. It has a hamlet called Podkosa, where my mother's family lived in for centuries. There we stayed with my old grandmother I mentioned in a previous post and another relative. We had other relatives come visit us. A cousin of mine with two kids stayed twice. The younger one, five years old, was very sweet. While his older brother, seven, is very clever for his age and also understands fairness. He even has tips on getting yourself a girlfriend!

Of course, I got to visit two cemetaries there, the one on the outskirts of the town and the Štikada one. Obviously it's important for anyone to visit graveyards, namely to see where your relatives who are no longer with us are buried. At the Gračac cemetary, I have a grandfather, grandmother, uncle and a great-uncle and great-aunt from my father's side buried there. While at the Štikada cemetary, I have relatives from my mother's side buried there. They include her father - my grandfather, her late brother - my uncle - who died nearly four years ago in September of 2003, another brother who died during the Second World war - not killed, just died, and a number of other relatives.

As for property in the town, my father has a house there which is connected to his brother's house. Like a semi-detached house, only there is an inside staircase between their houses. Both he and his brother built that one building with two adjoined garages on either side. Their houses did not get burned, bombed or destroyed by Croatian troops during "Oluja". However, their houses were looted. His brother, my uncle, and his family today live in Serbia near in a town just south of Novi Sad. They have no intentions of returning to the town and they don't believe things will improve there. Both my father and his brother want to sell their houses. I bitterly oppose my father selling his house, since I want the house to stay in the family for my descendents to inherit. Life's unpredictable, things can change as they have done and are, and you never know when things like that house in Gračac could come of use. I've heard how Serbs have sold their property for some thousands of Euros, only for it to be sold again for even bigger money later. Our houses won't be sold for so little. I don't want my father to sell his house at all. As for my uncle, I just wish I could have the money to buy it!

The Gračac valley is a picturesque place to live in with the Velebit mountain on one side and Resnik on the other. However, as I have noticed staying in Podkosa, Štikada, looking at the surrounding mountains that are part of such a breathtaking landscape, as beautiful as they are, they are also witnesses to a tragic past. And that goes back further in the past to the Second World War and even beyond.

Although I love the mountainous region of Southern Lika, as I have travelled many times on the Gračac-Knin road, passing by villages like Grab, Glogovo, Vučipolje and the rest and the stunning Zrmanja valley in the very south of my mountainous homeland, I must admit that neither would I want to live in Gračac on a permanent basis myself. If I were to live in Croatia at all, I would travel to the town often during the year and stay in the house for perhaps a few days, visiting my grandmother during my stay for as long as she lives. So regular visits yes, permanent residence no.

You see, there is another place south of my parent's hometown, on the other side of the Velebit mountain in the region of Bukovica in Northern Dalmatia. This is a small town, whose residents - members of the pre-war population who have returned after the war - along with relatives who come stay during the year, have made it a place that I have come to hold dear.

And I will tell you all about it, gladly, in my next post!

10 comments:

Alan Jakšić said...

I forgot to mention something with regards to the administrative divisions that Gračac and Štikada find themselves in. And they are definitely divided by them!

You see, Croatia has these županije (singular, županija) which are divided into municipalities, or općine (I usually say opština, but I'm writing "ć" instead of "št", because that's how they write it and say it in Croatia). In the past - that is, before the war - the village of Štikada was part of the Gračac općina. And as for županije, well, there were none during Communist times, though they did exist in the past.

In the 1990s, the županije were re-established, however their modern day borders do not completely correspond with those of historical ones, specifically with the borders of the županije of the former Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. With regards to the općine, former ones were re-established, new ones invented and many existing ones saw their borders altered.

As for Gračac and Štikada, the village of Štikada is part of the Lika-Senj županija, which covers most of Lika with its administrative centre in Gospić. Notice the word most, because my parents' hometown of Gračac and its općina is not part of the above-mentioned županija, but is part of the Zadar županija with its centre in the city of the same name.

As you can tell, my mother's village of Štikada is certainly not part of the Gračac općina the way things stand! Today it is part of the Lovinac općina, which itself was once part of Gračac općina.

These territorial changes, of course, cause many practical problems. Štikada is much nearer to Gračac than to Lovinac, and it would make more sense for the village, which like I've said was once part of the Gračac općina before the war, to be part of it again.

All legal documents, for example, pertaining to property in Štikada are to be found in Gračac, not in Lovinac. Lovinac, on the other hand, does not even have a court like Gračac, let alone a hospital. It has a post office and police station though. And yet when someone, for instance, in the Podkosa area of the village needs to pay taxes or seek medical assistance, he/she has to travel to Gospić, which is around 60km away via the Gospić-Gračac road! A good hour's drive, while Gračac is only 10-15 minutes away by car.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan
I live in Niagara Falls,Canada
and was very interested in your
artical as I was born in Vucipolje,emigrated to England in
1954 and emigrated again to Canada in 1967. Family name is Radusin and
my dad was Bozo. I remember my
uncles and family talking about
Stikada,although I dont know really where it is.
Just went to the website out of
sentimental reasons when I found
your article. Thank you for putting that area of the country
on the map.

Anonymous said...

alan,
i do not know if there is a any minority which enjoys status of a nationhood with one or more other nations or ethnoses!

thus, with often anounced threat from serbia, i think croatia was justified in rendering serbs a minority.

on a principle and morally every ethnos has has the right to self-determination.
as a constituent people serbs wld have that right.

however, a minority dispersed thruout a given country in which just 30 or 40% of them live in countryside and intermixed with the other ethnos, separation of two or more ethnoses cld not be done humanely.
it is possible, but not probable or feasible to separate two peoples politically.
that left war as only option for panserbs.

and we thought so all along!
i do evaluate that an overwhelming number of serbs living in rural areas of croatia sincerely believed that areas where they lived and constituted a majority was morally and legally theirs.

they were also taught by church and many leading serbs that the croats living among them are catholized serbs.

armed wit such false knowledge, it is no wonder most of them were willing to be killed and kill even serbs who'd stand in the way of their at least one century old dream.

and now dzakula,atlagic, livada having led serb sto a catastrophy say that they only wanted an autonomy.

to find out what the say, google "zlocinacki projekat hrvatske bez srba". bozh tnx

Anonymous said...

Hi I university student writing my dissertation on Mihailovich's Chetnik movement. My best friend's surname is Radusin and i can offer some information if you need it. Otherwise, im looking for people around the Gracac region to talk to about what life was like during the war. I also have in my possession a book written about the Chetnik unit in Gracac so if you'd like any info, email me at Facebookrdiks@hotmail.com

Dean :)

Alan Jakšić said...

Thanks Dean. I will contact you in a short while!

George said...

Hi Alan, my mum was born in Gracac and i lived there myself for several years although i was born in Birmingham, England where i currently live. Our new house was burnt in Oluja 95. I have some fond memories of Gracac. Take care mate, George.

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Hi George, nice to hear from a fellow Gračanin in the UK! Veliki pozdrav iz Luton-a! :-)

Anonymous said...

There's loads of us 'Gracani' living in the Netherlands too, especially in my city Den Bosch. :)

Most of them here left in the 80s to work elsewhere, and established a little community here. It's almost a big happy family :D

Do you ,guys, visit Gracac occassionaly or not?

I go quite often and often bump into people during the hollidays from my city Den Bosch in the local supermarket or some abandoned road, which is always funny: hey, you're here as well?

I noticed that more refugees from Serbia are coming each year, especially younger people who go out and meet up in the town's local bar Rustika.

It's quite funny when you meet new people in this bar, as you notice the social and cultural differences between them, despite that most of them are originally from Gracac.

The children of the 'guest workers'; the refugees from Gracac that now live in Serbia (city or countryside), or who live abroad; the ones that returned and live now in Gracac; and not to mention the Bosnian Croats living there now. It's interesting to see how much the village/city/country one lives in influences the norms and values, music taste and social behavior....every year it results in funny misunderstandings one would normally have being in another country, in another culture...not your own :)

Ow....and what is hilarious as well, that all the elder you meet seem to know your family better than you do, and that they are often related to you in some way :D

@Radusin & Alan Jaksic, do you have family living in Vrsac? My aunti's kuma's, her name is Marija Jaksic :)

BalkanAnarchist, what's your last name? Care to share it with us too...maybe we're related ;)

My family name is Dragicevic, and I have Komazeci, Simici, Veselinovici and Zegarci in my family as well :D

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Anonymous Gračanin in the Netherlands, puno vam pozdrava u Nizozemskoj!

I'm Alan Jakšić and I live in Britain. It's good to hear that there are Gračani where you are in Den Bosch. Hopefully we will one day bump into each other somewhere in Gračac!

Yes, I've also been to the Rustika bar by the bridge in town, and I think it's a decent venue. However, the Kafana Velebit is much closer to my house, and I can tell you that the two waitresses who work there have recently become mothers!

I've met many Dragičevići and Veselinovići on my visits to our hometown. I know they originally came from the other side of the Velebit from Golubić after WW2, and some of them settled in my mother's village Štikada.

Sorry, I don't know of any Jakšići in Vršac. But yes, I always find it delightful to meet Gračani, whom I've never met before, who know members of my own family!

PS: I will be publishing another more detailed article about Gračac in the near future. So watch this space! ;-)

Kris Peterson said...

I know this is old but interesting anyways. I was a UN soldier stationed just outside Gračac in Aug to Oct 1993. On 9 Sept 1993, the Croats launched an offensive near that town and would later become known as the Battle of Medak Pocket. On one day alone there was more than 6000 artillery impacts in what we called Sector South. I know there were some direct hits in Gračac too. I could see the new graves dug in the cemetery that was on the outskirts of town when you returned from Knin.