Dr. Svetlana Broz: “I wanted to document that good in people can prevail, survive and overcome evil.”

Photo: Prof. dr. László Imre KOMLÓSI (Pecs University)

Ilie Rad and Svetlana Broz. Photo: Prof. dr. László Imre KOMLÓSI (from University of Pecs)

 

            –  Dear Svetlana, first of all, I have to tell you I very much appreciate your approval to give a first interview to the Romanian press (I have learnt you’ve had over 2000 interviews so far!). Have you ever thought of collecting some of them in one book?

            No, not yet. But you are right. I spoke with many, many very interesting people, not necessarily important, but interesting. And it would be a good idea to put at least the most interesting interviews in a book.  Maybe I can make this kind of the book once, when I will not be preoccupied as I am now by teaching civil courage to people who seem to have forgotten that there is always a chance to choose, that you can always say: no.

            – In 1980, when you grandfather, president Josip Broz Tito, passed away, you were 25 years old. Consequently, a significant part of your life overlapped your brilliant grandfather’s. How do you remember him?

            My personal memories belong to me and to me only. I hope you will understand this. There was not one single interview with me in which I was not faced with the same question you asked. If I have had answered every time, it would become meaningless for me, because I would repeat the same over and over again. I beg you and your readers to understand that my memories should stay mine.

            – In your capacity as granddaughter of president Tito, have you benefited of a series of privileges?

            Not a single one, which I am very proud on.

            – What happened to Tito’s family? Where are the members of his family?

      Some are in Belgrade, some in Zagreb, I am in Sarajevo with my daughter and her family, one close relative of my grandfather lived until his death in Hungary. We were, one might say, a truly Yugoslav, if not Austro-Hungarian family.

           –      What has come of his wealth?

           Now you are touching one of the many gossips and legends that are circulating after his death. First of all, the residences he used in several Yugoslav republics, as well as his official residence in Belgrade were not his property. They belonged to the state. As for the gifts he received from foreign statesmen and these gifts were given to him as a person, meaning they belonged to him, you should ask the current President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić. What was found after my grandfather’s death in 1980 were deposited in the National bank of Yugoslavia at that time (now Bank of Serbia). It was inspected recently by a commission named by President Nikolić, without court, any member of the family or their lawyers attending. So, I don’t know what they found, but I am pressing for a court procedure in which this would be recognized as Tito’s ownership and given to us – his family. It does not belong to the Republic of Serbia, or to any of the newly formed states.

            – There are, of course, a lot of monographs on Tito’s life (unfortunately, I do not think there is one in Romanian). How is Tito described in these biographies?

            In different ways, it greatly depends on who the authors are and when these books were published. Most of them, however, give a rather objective picture of my grandfather as a politician and as a statesman and of his policy.

            – By the way, where does “TITO” come from?

           

Dr. Svetlana BROZ

Dr. Svetlana BROZ

           It was his, let me put it this way, code name during the WWII. There are several stories about how he choose it, but I really don’t know why “Tito”. In the Komintern, before the WWII, he was known as Walter.

            – In 2002, during my stay at Belgrade, I visited the grave of Iosip Broz Tito. It was well maintained and guarded by soldiers (as far as I recall). Why was your grandfather so loved by the people in former Yugoslavia?

            I am the last one you should ask about this. My feelings were always the feelings of a granddaughter. Ask people from Yugoslavia and they will tell you as they often told me that Tito’s time was time in which they have had a decent life.

President Tito has more than once visited Romania. When he returned home from his visits, did he use to talk about it? Can you remember something about such things?

            Even if he has had and even if I remember, these are my memories and I want them to remain mine.

            – In the period of time 1970-1975, you worked as a journalist and you published various articles in newspapers and magazines. What did you write about? What was the subject of your articles?

            I published over sixty interviews with the famous artists (writers, composers, painters, actors, sculptors etc.) I wrote about things that interested young generation of my time, but not only about them. I wrote about so called general themes too, about good and evil, about responsibility, about personal courage, not knowing at that time that I will return to these subjects years after, during the collapse of Yugoslavia, that I could not even imagine in my wildest dreams when I was journalist.

            – Were there attempts to have you censored, given the fact you were the granddaughter of the state’s president?

            No, although I know there were circles who did not like some people I was meeting and interviewing at that time.

What comes to your mind about the day your grandfather’s funeral took place?

            I prefer to keep my personal memories mine. But, it is not hard to imagine what a young woman feels when her grandfather passes away. The funeral was a funeral of a world statesman. I lost my grandfather.

Dr. Svetlana Broz

Dr. Svetlana Broz

– When president Iosip Broz Tito passed away, in 1980, I was a young professor in Timisoara and I was invited to take part in a Youth Congress, being held in Bucharest. According to the requirements of the time, Nicoale Ceausescu, the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, was also present. I recall he started his speech by stating that Iosip Broz Tito, his great friend and Romania’s friend had passed away the night before. I could not see his eyes, as I was standing quite far, still, I realized his voice was trembling. Are dictators, too, capable of such emotions, which seem to humanize them?

            Everybody is capable of emotions. Dictators might be inhumane in their behavior, but they are still human beings.

You studied Medicine at the University of Belgrade, subsequently working as a cardiologist at the Military Medical Academy. Why did you part with this profession?

            I did it when I understood that I can be more useful as somebody who would help people to tell what was a heavy burden on their souls. Thus I wrote the book Good People in an Evil Time. I did it, when it became clear to me to what degree are people disoriented after the collapse of Yugoslavia, especially the young ones. I am convinced that I can, in perspective, save more lives if I teach people what civil courage is, if I point out people who demonstrated and still demonstrate civil courage, than if I had continued to work as cardiologist.

            – While my generation was forced to learn Russian, you’ve told me you speak no word of Russian, but your English is very good. Was it not at the time “the language of American and British imperialists”?

            GoodNot in Yugoslavia. We were enjoying much more freedom in every aspect of our lives, than people who lived behind the so called “iron curtain”. So, learning English was quite normal, as well as German or French.

            – When the interethnic conflict burst out in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992), you took over your old profession and you worked as a volunteer (cardiologist) on the battlefront. Weren’t you afraid of the perils watching you?

            No, I worked in the war zone in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but not at the front line. I was never afraid for my life, but I was profoundly shocked with what I saw in the war zone. The least I could do was to try to help those suffering people, regardless of their nationality or religion. I was helping people, human beings.

            – One year later, in 1993, you started to do research and interviews for Good People in an Evil Time, which has already been translated into several languages. Why did you write this book? Is it a piece of evidence for the future generations about the crimes during the war from 1992-1995?

            I do believe that the preface for the book I wrote in 1999 might cast light to my motives[U1] . No, I was not interested in documenting anybody’s war crimes, I was interested in documenting that even in evil times, and believe me, these were evil times indeed, there were good people. I wanted to document that good in people can prevail, survive and overcome evil.

 In 2000, you and your family left your home in Belgrade (a very cozy one, I suppose!) and you bought a piece of land in Sarajevo, where you built another house. Why did you decide to move to Sarajevo?

            Sarajevo kept the spirit in spite of all tragedy the citizens passed through four years of siege. It seemed to me, despite everything that is happening here too, that Sarajevo is a place where I could live and work, that city is not infected with nationalism and hatred as much as other places in my country are. When I say “my country” I mean the whole of what was once Yugoslavia. I will never stop feeling about all these regions and places as about my country.

            – Taking into consideration your Serbo-Croatian origin, do you fear to be treated at least unfriendly by Bosniaks?

            First of all I do not have Serbo-Croatian origin. I do have six different ethno-national braches in my blood which are: Russian, Austrian, Jew, Check, Slovenian and Croatian. So far nobody persuaded me that one of them is more important than others, so I do not have ethno-national identity. I am cosmopolitan considering the fact that Europe is not enough for me.  Why should I be afraid of any ethno-national group in the world?

            – You’ve witnessed the interethnic war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Do you approve of the term genocide of Serbs against Bosniaks?

            I disagree with the term interethnic war in BH. It was clear aggression from Serbia and Montenegro to Bosnia in 1992 and clear aggression from Croatia to Bosnia in 1993. So, I witnessed two aggressions to one independent state recognized at that time by OUN. Genocide in Srebrenica has been recognized and approved by judgments with final force and effects in ICTY.

            If you see what happened in Srebrenica, you cannot avoid the term genocide. But I would never say it was a genocide committed by Serbs. I simply do not accept the collective guilt. Each perpetrator has his/her own name and surname.

            – During my stay in Sarajevo, I visited the exhibition The Siege. In your opinion, are such testimonies meant to diminish ethnical issues or, on the contrary, to increase the tension between Serbs and Bosniaks?

            The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege in the contemporary history of wars in Europe. Twelve thousands of civilian victims including 1.602 children; sixty four thousand maimed and injured civilians and hundreds of thousand people who starved four years without water, gas, power, medicines, fuel. They all were exposed to permanent snipers and shells. This kind of suffering must be remembered and all exhibitions are not enough to commemorate and to warn: not to be repeated at any place in the world. Facing the truth can never increase the tensions between members of different ethno-national groups. Everybody should know what happened and why, who were responsible and guilty.

            – You are the founder and director of NGO Gariwo. What does this organization do?

            The NGO Gariwo (www.gariwo.org) is part of the network Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide (www.gariwo.net) and was registered in Sarajevo in 2001. We campaign to develop civil courage among young people in the Balkans to stand up against ethnic and religious antagonisms, bigotry, intolerance of diversity, all kinds of group prejudice, corruption, intimidation, bullying, physical abuse and violence. For a decade now we have used some 900 public lectures attended by over 100,000 people and covered by over 2000 media reports, our school and University visits, in-depth seminars, group training sessions, summer schools and a series of books to stress each individual’s civic responsibility and to create a network of socially conscious and committed youth across the Balkans. Our main goal is to educate young people in the Balkans on civil courage to resist ethnic, religious, political, racial, gender, sexual and all other prejudices and intolerance, corruption, intimidation, bullying and abuse.

We define civil courage as the will and the practical skills to disobey, to resist, to oppose and to end by non-violent means the abuse of power by any public authority, any private enterprise or any individuals who deliberately neglect their duties or illegally use for their own advantage the levers of their political, economic or social power – whether in civic and political life, in the media, in business, or in the academic, ecclesiastical or family spheres.

            Our Programme Education for civil courage is developed to mobilize the bravery of individuals.

            Specific aims of the Programme Education for civil courage are to raise public awareness of moral and social issues and their chief purpose; to encourage citizens to think in terms of their whole society rather than identify mainly with ethnic groups; to persuade citizens to take responsibility for changing their society; to inspire self-confidence that individual and collective action can succeed; o train particularly young people in the practical skills for constructive opposition

            In memory of a colleague murdered seven years ago for his civil courage in testifying to war crimes perpetrated by still powerful political figures we annually make “Dusko Kondor awards”– often posthumously – to individuals, families or groups such as journalists who have shown outstanding moral courage, and in extreme instances have given their lives for their neighbours or their convictions. Films about such heroic people or interviews with them are then given wide publicity on various TV channels as role models the region’s future. Our series of documentary films about such heroic people or interviews with them are now given wide publicity on TV and in educational programmes. They provide role models for individuals to contribute to the reconstruction of civil society in a region even now to some extent ruled by the strong men and their retinues that emerged from the collapse of the Yugoslav state. The lessons we have learnt in extreme circumstances here – and are still learning – may well be increasingly relevant also to the wider modern world.

            – What is your knowledge about Romania? Would you like to visit my country?

            Of course, I have the basic knowledge about Romania and I would welcome the opportunity to visit your country and to enrich my knowledge through direct contacts with the Romanians.

 

Dr. Svetlana Broz

Sarajevo, January 3, 2014

 

                                                                  Before Reading

When I was in my last year at medical school, in 1979, I was studying for an exam in surgery, and part of the material I covered was on surgery during war. I admit that at the time I was absolutely certain, at least as far as my country was concerned, that this subject was moot.

It was twelve years later when the bugles of war sounded in Yugoslavia…

All you could read about in the papers or hear in any conversation when the hostilities broke out, were the horrors of war. Every day for three years I met only words speaking of the evil. Those rare writers who wrote politically unbiased texts were every bit as obsessed with the horrors of war as those who were busily blasting the horns of the great princes. I found that there were friendships of many years that did not survive because all some people could do was wrangle over whose contribution to the evil was greater. And this in the cosmopolitan city of Belgrade.

I began to feel as if the slightly crazed European metropolis where I was born had become a beehive where every bee was busy at work building its own segment of the hive, feeding it not with pollen but hatred, carefully stored in every unfortunate conversation with my deaf, former friends.

Believing that there was nothing human in that madness, I started going to the combat zones, first as a doctor, to see if I might be of help to those who were suffering. Treating people of all three confessions, I felt their need to open their souls and tell me, shyly at first, what had happened to them during the war. From these brief stories on cardiology wards I realized how thirsty they were for a truth which was subtle, nuanced where the shells were falling, in a way that it wasn’t in Belgrade or worldwide black and white coverage.

These first sparks of hope that there might be human goodness even in this greatest of evils, regardless of the God a person prayed to, stirred in me a desire to set down my stethoscope and take up a tape recorder to record authentic stories of people of all three ethnic groups.

The working title of my future book: Good People in an Evil Time, was, indeed, my most concise question to my interlocutors.

I admit it was hard to earn their trust. The conditions these people lived in were awful. They were first in ruined houses, damp cellars, with shells blasting near-by, and then they’d go from there to strange houses, often in unfamiliar neighborhoods and towns, where they were bombarded by the sickening rhetoric of the national leaders on the need for national homogenization, every bit as disturbing as the exploding shells. They were scared of everything: allowing their names and the names of the people of other backgrounds who had helped them survive to appear in print. Many requested anonymity to shield themselves and their saviors. This was such telling proof of how strongly they felt surrounded by intolerance and exclusivity. I had to respect their need for privacy. Wherever you come across an asterisk next to a name or initials, those are the stories of people who wished to keep their identity private. The names of those who committed the atrocities are authentic. No one requested privacy for them.

My interlocutors talked of their experiences with people of a background different from their own. In conditions such as these, stories of goodness are not, indeed, suspect. Overall, the onus for the veracity of each of the stories rests with the person who told it.

The language they used depended on how educated they were. My interventions were limited to the shaping of language and style. The facts and quotes are authentic.

A careful reader may well note how few really emotional descriptions there are in these stories. There were almost none. While I listened, I had the sense that they kept their emotions under lock and key somewhere deep inside, perhaps even in their sub-conscious. Their trembling voices, interrupted by quiet, barely audible sobs, the huge gaps between words while they garnered the strength to continue talking, flooded with feelings that stole their words, their curses to vent their tension, all these remain recorded on the original audio cassettes. Their eyes, faces, trembling hands with which they held a glass or lit a cigarette are etched in my soul. Each reader should feel his or her way to the depths of anguish and joy.

Human goodness is something we take for granted under normal conditions. Often enough we don’t even register it. In evil times when someone’s survival depends often enough on someone else’s respect for moral and ethnical norms, only against a backdrop of countless horrors does goodness gleam like a pearl in the sand, plucked from a shell at the bottom of the sea.

Someone had to dive to find those pearls and string them into a necklace. Without them the evil that individuals committed will hold all of us in thrall who were born in this part of the world. This is a place were so many honorable and noble people live. No one speaks of them. I believe that the time will come when every criminal will answer for what he or she did. The question is, will the deserving people reap just rewards for their goodness and courage? What rewards can there be for those who lost their lives for refusing to acquiesce to the bestiality and mindlessness around them, and insisted on protecting people of other backgrounds? No army or government can give them the credit that is their due. Streets or city squares won’t be named after them. Their names will endure only as long as those whose lives they saved, and, perhaps, the survivors’ children. Future generations should have a way of knowing that good people did, indeed, exist.

I covered 7,500 kilometers one winter during the war along the icy roads of Republika Srpska, searching for interlocutors. My perseverance was rewarded: I recorded more than a hundred testimonies.

I would have completed the book in 1996 had those who objected to its publication had not moved to stop me. Something happened I might have expected while I was in the combat zone in Bosnia, but hardly in the center of Belgrade: my home was robbed and most of the material I’d collected was stolen. This did, indeed, slow the publication of the book, but it did not prevent it. To the contrary, it was proof that even the “raw” material had value, though the value, apparently, was all the greater when the recordings were stolen and hidden.

I spent yet another post-war autumn driving 6000 kilometers around Bosnia and Herzegovina, and finally recorded enough material.

You will find an equal number of stories in this book from Muslim, Serbian and Croatian interlocutors, interwoven just as their lives and fates in Bosnia and Herzegovina were interwoven. This is a collection of individual human stories from the areas I managed to visit. The tragedy of all the peoples living there is far too great to fit into any one book. Any generalizations based on this material would abuse the sincerity and suffering of those who had the strength to speak of their experiences.

My fundamental motive that guided me in this project, even when I faltered, was the desire to reaffirm goodness as the ultimate postulate at a time of prevailing evil, and spiritual and material destruction, when a human life is worth no more than a bullet. This goodness, I believe, will be the foundation for the future of all three ethnic groups in the land of my ancestors.

The good people who mustered the strength in the most terrible of times to testify to the goodness of others, and all those who had the courage, without asking what price they would pay for their own acts of goodness, are the most durable guarantee of the trueness of that motive.

January, 1999, In Belgrade                                               Dr. Svetlana Broz

 


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