A Croatian native who fought for freedom “Thinks of Ukraine” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

A Croatian native who fought for freedom “Thinks of Ukraine”

Croatian War of Independence that lasted four years

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE

Even in the midst of socialism, where information was controlled, they thought they were free.

‘All the gold in the world will not make me sell my freedom.

These words are inscribed in Latin at the entrance to the Lovrienac fortress in the old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dubrovnik is now a city in Croatia, but in the past it was one country, the Republic of Dubrovnik, which was invaded by many different countries. After all, “freedom” is something that must be protected no matter the cost. ……

Right now, Ukraine is suffering from the ravages of war, and Croatia was once a war zone all over the country.

The region that is now the six countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and Northern Macedonia became a socialist federal state in 1945 as Yugoslavia.

It was led by President Tito. When President Tito died in 1980 and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, wars of independence began in many countries.

For four years, until the war ended in 1995, Croatia was at war with the United States. Fierce battles were fought in various parts of the country.

But I didn’t understand what they meant when they said we were going to be a democracy and free. Factories and farmland were “the property of society,” information was filtered, and TV programs were limited.

But I thought that was normal. I thought I was free even before the war, and I had many Serbian friends, and I didn’t want that kind of freedom if I had to fight against them.

These are the words of Elena Yamazaki, who was living in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, at the time.

Elena Yamazaki came to Japan 26 years ago. When the socialist system was in place, she rarely spent money, and when she received her first paycheck, she did not know how to spend it and even tried to return it (photo by Ayumi Kagami).
Croatians protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When Ukraine gained independence, Croatia was one of the countries that immediately recognized it as a state (Photo: Afro)
Croatia is shaped like a boomerang. The region facing the Adriatic Sea is a popular tourist destination, which is also why it was often targeted by neighboring countries (map courtesy of Partenza Croatia Tours, Inc.).

I learned how to handle a gun in high school to protect my country.”

But the unrest began before the war started in 1991, and when Elena was in high school, she also began to learn how to handle a gun.

She was given an M48 rifle, which she would disassemble, clean, reassemble, and shoot at targets. I would take it apart, clean it, assemble it, and shoot it at a target.

It is surprising that if they did not hit the target, they could not graduate, no matter how good their grades were.

The most severe attack was in Vukovar, near the border with Serbia.

It was really bad there. Massacres were committed in several places, and hundreds of bones have been found in the area around Vukovar that were probably taken from Vukovar and buried there. The devastation in Mariupoli reminds me of Vukovar.”

Areas along the Adriatic coast, which face the Adriatic Sea and can earn foreign currency as a tourist destination, were also targeted.

‘My mother’s family lives in Sibenik on the Adriatic. = Kunin It was in the county, but it was completely destroyed. It was terrifying.”

Many people understand the area along the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was one of the areas of fierce fighting, as a civil war between ethnic Serbs and Croats, but according to Elena, the fighting was actually also a war of independence.

She says, “They were giving financial aid, such as free electricity and gas, to Serbs to live there, creating the Republic of the Serbs of Ukraine, and then having them attack Croatia.”

This is the same method that Russia used in its recent invasion of Ukraine to create the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic inside Ukraine.

In the areas where fierce battles were fought, genocide was also committed.

Although Zagreb was not in a fierce war zone, there were more than 10 air strikes every day, and we had to flee to shelters each time. The parliament building and TV tower were destroyed, and military facilities were occupied. Tanks were driven around the city, and gun battles were commonplace.

War makes people less human. It’s not about which is better or worse.”

The cemetery in Vukovar where the massacre took place, with a ceremony to honor the dead on November 18, 2021, 30 years after the war began on November 18, 1991
Photos of those who died in the war are displayed at the Fatherland War Memorial Center, built in Vukovar in 2013; a woman searches for a photo of her son, who died 30 years ago at the age of 21.

For our country, for our freedom…

But will they still fight for their homeland?

Until then, Croatia had been incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire and had even had some areas occupied by Germany and Italy during World War II. So independence was Croatia’s long-cherished desire, and at the time I was so filled with patriotism that I couldn’t think of not fighting.

At that time, most of the men fought as soldiers. Women could join the army if they wanted to, and I wanted to go too. But my father was against it. At the time, I resented him very much.

It was Yasushi Akashi, then Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Yugoslavia and in charge of Yugoslavia’s problems, who said, “Let’s talk it out.

He was a very nice man, and he said that people could solve the problem if they could just talk it out, but at the time they didn’t take me at my word, and I was 20 years old and full of patriotism. I think the people of Ukraine are the same way now.

But now I know that Mr. Akashi was right. So I can’t say, ‘Ukraine, keep fighting.'”

People say “for our country” and “for freedom,” but “is it worth all these people dying for it?” says Elena.

I am a Christian, so I read the Bible. I read the Bible because I am a Christian, and it says to have a forgiving heart even when people do bad things to you. When I was in the middle of the war, I didn’t think that way, but now I really believe that. Life is very important, so I pray that the war will end as soon as possible.”

I really hope it will end soon. I don’t want to see any more bombed towns or people running away.

Vukovar, a fierce battleground of the War of Independence, holds a memorial service at the end of every year, where people from all over Croatia march in remembrance
Water tower in Vukovar destroyed by Yugoslav forces. It still remains as it was then.

Elena Yamazaki is the president of the Japan-Croatia Friendship Association. She came to Japan after the end of the Croatian War of Independence. She has been active in promoting culture, arts, academics, sports, etc. between Japan and Croatia by introducing Japan on Croatian information programs and organizing events such as friendship and peace concerts.

  • Interview and text Izumi Nakagawa Photography Ayumi Kagami Photo Afro

Photo Gallery7 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles