Saturday, 25 August 2007

Let's talk about heaven!

Now it's time for me to share my heart with all of you!

I want to talk about that place in Bukovica, North Dalmatia that makes me feel the happiest. Of course that place is called Kistanje.

We - and by "we" I mean me and my mother - have been there twice this year. We spent five days there at the beginning of July and then returned there at the end of July and remained till Monday past (20th August). My father also came and spent a couple of weeks there, and his brother for a few days too.

Before the war, the town had an overwhelmingly Serbian majority population, in fact 98 percent! Like with Gračac, the population of Kistanje and the surrounding villages fled the area in 1995 to Serbia through Bosnia. Today a large concentration of Dalmatian Serbs still lives in Belgrade and in surrounding towns, from where many travel back to their hometowns and villages in Dalmatia during the Summer holidays.

After the war, the government of Croatia settled a group of Catholic Croats from Kosovo called Janjevci in Kistanje, many of whom settling in abandoned Serbian homes, just like with Gračac and the Bosnian Croats. Nevertheless, the Janjevci there also have an entire settlement that is called "Novo Naselje" ("new settlement"). Which reminds me, the Bosnian Croats in Gračac have also had built for them an entire neighbourhood.

Also in Kistanje, they had built for them a large white church that is not only larger than the Serbian Orthodox one nearby in front of the town square, but also dwarfes the smaller Catholic chapel right in front of it. Not to mention, it has a tall bell-tower that can be seen from further afield!

Fortunately for Kistanje, a lot of Serbs have returned to the town and the surrounding villages, mainly older people, 50+, but that's still something. In fact, according to the 2001 census in Croatia, it was the Serbs who were in the majority with 57.1 percent of the population of the Kistanje municipality.

Now, about my time there. But where do I start?

I have to say, looking back, that every day that past gave me something new. Be it a different person coming to visit where I was staying, or me going somewhere in the small town itself. Perhaps not every day, but something like that.

I and my mother were staying with my aunt and uncle there (the aunt is blood-related to me) by the railway-line in front of their house. Don't worry, no electric wires hanging above! They have quite a sizeable property that got heavily damaged in 1995 during the Operation "Oluja", executed by the Croatian army.

The state, the army of which inflicted that damage on their property in the first place, has actually helped renovate their home, it has to be said, and it has done so for many Serbian houses, whether their rightful owners choose to live there or in some cases not. Bear in mind readers, that the Croatian state denies any responsibilty for the Exodus of 150,000-200,000 Serbs from the defeated Republika Srpska Krajina that coincided with the Operation "Oluja". The military action is celebrated as a victory over the above-mentioned Krajina in Croatia. Numerous relatives of mine were part of that Exodus.

During my time there, I got to meet even more wonderful people. Even more of precisely the kind of people that have made me love that little town in the first place. They're hospitable and eager to interact with relatives of neighbours or friends who visit their small town.

Towards the end of our stay, we visited along with my relatives the Krka Monastery just south of the town by the river of the same name. When I was there, I got to be inside the church within the monastery where they were holding a liturgy service. And I must say that I found the environment in that space very intense, and with all the crossing I was making - you know, making the sign of the cross in either the Orthodox or Catholic way, in this instance Orthodox, of course! - it was a very humbling experience.

You can see pictures of the monastery and read about its history here. Unfortunately for those who don't speak the language, the page itself is written in Serbian (Roman alphabet as opposed to Cyrillics, though the same page in Cyrillics does exist).

The next day was the Preobraženje, the feast that marks the end of the Summer. And in the centre of Kistanje in front of the Cyril and Methodius church (the Serbian Orthodox church I mentioned above), we witnessed the sixth cultural manifestation presented by the Croatia-based Serbian cultural society Prosvjeta, in which we saw various folk dances performed by cultural and artistic societies from a number of places in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. Among the performers were also individuals from outside of the former Yugoslavia, including a musician from Japan! Kistanje is certainly international!

You can read more about it on this site here and here, if only, again, you can read Serbian! But don't worry, you'll see lots of pictures.

The last day I was there - the same day we returned to England, actually - I went with a few relatives and a neighbour to a funeral of a neighbour's father in a nearby village. A lot of people arrived, including people from Kistanje, residents from that village, and also relatives of the deceased who live elsewhere. It was a solemn and dignified occasion, with the expected weeping from the female relatives, along with one of them passing out twice. There was quite a number of cars that formed a courtege after the first one, in which the coffin was laid. We, me and my relatives and neighbour, also made our way to the cemetary by car, where the village church is, as there is quite a distance form the house and the church, since the village itself spreads wide. And even though I'm not related to the family in any way, the event was, nevertheless, rather moving for me.

Now of course, I'm back in England. And I had to get my head around the fact how two months ago I set off from my house in England for Croatia and now I'm back in it, and also how the two months I've spent in my country have now passed me by. It was quite a long couple of months at times, but at other times, the days just passed by in front of you.

Time really does fly, or as we say where we come from, flies fast.

That why what I need to do now till the next time I go back to the region of Bukovica in North Dalmatia is … Well, there are a few things I need to do, but one of them is to get myself a driving licence. 'Cause I tell you what, we didn't have a car, me and my mother, while we stayed in Kistanje or in Štikada. Though when we were in Kistanje the second time, that's when my father visited and then we did have a car he rented. But otherwise, we did not have a car and so we had to depend on other people. So, I need to start driving lessons! Gosh! 21 and can't drive … AAAARRHHH!!!

Oh, and as for the title of this blog entry, I call Kistanje a "little piece of heaven", and that's what I've been telling people there. I'm sure you understood that before I explained it!

1 comment:

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Oh, just wanted to mention that at the Preobraženje event, I bought myself a copy of the book Moje Kistanje. In fact, in the last chapter full of photos of Kistanje people, you'll find this one. That's my uncle! (His wife's blood-related to me)

You can get yourself a copy of the book here.