By: Madelaine Triebe
Sitting on the last Red Cross bus from the town of Jajce in Bosnia, just days before the closure of the borders, 7-year-old Anja Kresojevic, puts her jacket above her head. Tucked in by the comfort of it she is trying to shut out the pictures painted in her life by a dark and uprising ethnical conflict between the people of her country. Leaving her father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, with the thought of: “Will I ever see them again?” she is, together with her mother and two-year-old sister, about to be evacuated from her hometown, and taken to Split in Croatia. She is undertaking a journey forced upon her with no guarantees of a happy ending, only promises of memories, which will never leave her mind.
It was 1992 and the beginning of one of the worse massacres in Europe since the Second World War. The war split her family and thousands of others, under the flag of nationalism, and what had been a happy life with love and prosperity turned into an inferno of uncertainty and fear.
Today, eighteen years after the escape from her birth country, she still remembers it as it was yesterday. “That’s the thing about me, I have a very good memory”, she says wearing a white t-shirt, with the famous print of Barack Obama’s face in grey blue and red covering her chest. Her dark chestnut brown thick hair, almost like the mane on a horse, is tied back in a ponytail and she explains that her young age has not prevented her to remember how the road to a peaceful life was triggered with worries and anxiety.
Before the war her family led a good life. “It was a filled with love and there was more than enough of food on the table”, she says. Her father was running a business, which made the family able to go on holiday to Austria, Italy and Croatia every summer. “When life is good, when you have everything you can ask for were you live, you never think anything bad will happen in your country.”
She explains how people were friends with no reflections upon religion and descent. “We all lived side by side, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Orthodox. Religion wasn’t a big thing.” Her mother being Muslim and father Orthodox-Christian, represented a mixed marriage, and were among other fused couples allowed to live peacefully. She reminisces the time when every sort of religious feast; Ramadan, Christmas, Easter was celebrated together.
When the nationalistic movements arrived to the scene, Yugoslavia was not longer one nation in harmony. Slovenia wanted to become independent; something the Yugoslavian army could not accept, and invaded the rebel nation. “There was a war in our neighbour country, but it was peaceful in Bosnia. We didn’t think the conflict would spread to us. Life was too wonderful.” They turned out to be wrong and shortly the civil war in Bosnia was a fact, and it became the conflict that forced three quarters of her family to board the Red Cross bus years ago.
The journey from there is long and involves anxious months spent in Slovenia, not knowing if her father was dead or alive. After they had arrived with the bus to Croatia, they had continued to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to stay with her father’s aunt. Once there she remembers how her mother sat on the balcony and cried unstoppable, trying to conceal her despair from the children.
Her fair skin with no traces of make up shimmers with an aura of acceptance and conformity, when she speaks calmly and thoroughly about her experiences as a political refugee. “I would play with my sister to try to ease the burden from my mother. Our situation made me think like an adult at a very early stage of my life.”
One day her mother managed to find a radio and connect with her father in Jajce. At last they got to know that he was alive. “After locating a radio, this became the light of the day for my mother; to go to this place and talk to my father.”
Some time after, her father managed to get out of Jajce and flee to Ljubljana where the family was reunited. “When I met my father that day, I was the happiest person in the world” and still today she treasures the opportunity to be with her family and close ones. With an insight only beheld to the ones having balanced on the verge of uncertainty she says: “It’s very important for me to be surrounded by people I love. I know how it is being separated from loved ones.”
After arriving to Sweden, where her family was granted asylum it took her years to process the traumatic experiences and figure out her true self. “I’m not going to say war and what happened to us was good, but what I’ve gone through has been good for me. It has made me the one I am today and made me aware of what I can achieve.”
Today she is no longer afraid and she is proud of her heritage. She has just finished her degree in International Business and has grand plans for the country running in her veins. “I’m lucky enough to have been able to finish my education and it is my turn to give back to the Bosnian people.” Her determination is unmistakable and her vision is clear: “I see Bosnia as one country, with one people, without religion being considered as an ethnicity. You are Bosnian, nothing else.” She speaks enthusiastically and with power in her voice, almost like a politician campaigning for voters and she finish off her speech by saying: “There’s for example no one of mix heritage in the Bosnian government”, referring to everyone being straight of Muslim, Orthodox-Christian or Catholic descent. “What the country need is a multiethnic leader to represent its diversity.”
And who knows, perhaps it one day will be the scared little girl under the jacket.