Kroatien: Dragica Aleksa

The past is memories, the future – hope. And only present moments give us the opportunity to do something for ourselves and others.

— Dragica Aleksa

Before the war, Dragica Aleksa lived comfortably with her husband and two children on their farm in the village of Berak. The war in 1991 tore mothers and their children from their families, and Dragica and her son were not spared. Her family was reunited in another village later, but after the war, in 1998, Dragica returned to Berak. She joined the Center for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights and took part in its Active Listening project. The result was her collection of "Stories from Berak." Dragica also actively worked to find missing persons and in peace building efforts.

Dragica Aleksa always thought that if there was to be a war, it certainly would not be in her village, Berak. But on 30 September 1991, two men came and told her that she and her son (11) had to leave for a couple of days. Together with all the women and children of Berak they left in organized transports that took them to a village 30 kilometers away. That was the most difficult night of her life. Inside a gymnasium, each woman held a child with one hand and a plastic bag in the other. Dragica was desperate. Her family had been dispersed. What happened to her daughter and husband? Those days were full of fear and uncertainty. From dusk until dawn she sat in the Red Cross headquarters listening to the news. Then the news came: “Berak has fallen.” Dragica did not dare to think what that meant. Later, she was informed that her husband had been wounded and taken to a hospital. After his recovery, they wandered about for months until they settled in Suhopolje. The village people understood their suffering and accepted and helped them. At first, Dragica found it hard to accept help. Instead, she wanted to help, but did not know how. She could only donate her blood. It was a great joy whenever she met someone from her own village. They talked about their homes, their friends. They counted the dead, the "missing" and they swore that once they got back, nothing could ever separate them again. Then, Dragica learned to listen. She listened to the old Berak women talk about their lives and the wars they lived through. They taught her that only evil people do evil things, and there are no such things as collective blame, collective sadness, or collective responsibility. She saw how much a few honest and warm words could help. She wrote down the stories in her book “Stories from Berak.” The book had two Croatian editions and was later translated into German and English.

Center for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights