Contents Contributors Resources Recommended Download Archive


Hecuba, Writing from New York

August 4, 1997

Dear Katherine,

As promised, I write again. My husband, my son, and I spent our vacation in Montauk. Besides rainy weather we had a beautiful time. We fell in love with this small village some years ago and go there every few months.

Our visits are not for tourist purposes anymore; the village is already intimately ours. Every time, its beaches, smells, shades, sounds are more close to our hearts. The sea food in our not well-known small inn in the Montauk outskirts is excellent. They serve a little bitter wine. That exactly tastes as the wine I use to drink in a small village at the Adriatic coast. There I have a house and spent many summers and winters. Tastes and smells are very important to me. After all, I am an Epicurean.

As we had come back, I got sick. Some virus attacked my teeth. I spent few days in the bed reading.

Maybe we will go in August for few days to upstate New York to the friend’s house. I hope to cache the summery shine of the forest there. Summer is almost over, and I feel depressed. In summer I really live. In winter I vegetate.

My family dreams about buying a small and tranquil house of our own. We are tired of the city, but yet dependents of it. There are many combinations, but we are remaining indecisive.

I need a green yard to have the morning coffee there and eat warm black bread and butter for breakfast in it. I desire to listen birds, grow flowers, talk to my friends about books, and see my child playing freely at least a few more remaining years of his childhood. I always wanted to have a house to live in. From my infancy, I often unconsciously draw country houses with the smoke from the chimneys, large windows, and surrounding trees.

I have read “The Artukovitch File” again. I read “Independent Spirit: An Appreciation of Hubert Butler” for the first time, to learn about the author. Both articles impressed me. I appreciate the analytic, meticulous, and honest Butler’s work. The second publication illuminated the Butler’s interest in such themes as the history of the former Yugoslavia, my once-homeland. I would like to learn Butler’s skill to “bury” an emotion as it is already out on the paper.

My feelings and my intellect become very “active.” My intimate emotional turmoil related to the recent war in Bosnia and my painful impression of my father’s suffering in the Second World War revived. My hatred against Ustashas intensified. I now know more facts, and I wonder why the Yugoslav Government has never revived all the facts. Which kind of flattering to the Catholic church was it? What was a “vis major” that prevented them to tell us -- to Yugoslav people -- the whole (hi)story? Who had the interest to hide; what was the interest?

As you know, I am born from Serb mother and Croat father. In my desperation and guilt of my belonging to the peoples of which large parts committed the war crime in the recent Bosnian war, I mentioned these facts to you many times. I also talked few times about my father’s fate in the Second World War because it still bothers me. The article about Artukovich provoked me to talk about that all again.

As a very young man, more teen-ager, my father in Sarajevo secretly collaborated with the partisans and against the Fascists. The domestic Croat Fascists were Ustashas, organized from Pavelic and Artukovitch. Bosnia and Herzegovina were a part of their “Independent State of Croatia.”

My father was captured, imprisoned, beaten, and finally sentenced to death. His mother, a great Catholic born in Slovenia, also partisan secret collaborator, begged on her knees in front of the Catholic priest for her son’s life. Imagine the power and influence of the dignified cleric on the Ustashas. My father was freed, and he escaped to the mountains. Because of his involvement with Ustashas, the priest was sentenced to death and executed after the end of the war.

My father then survived; he died recently from the broken heart, immediately after the Bosnian war ended. As an idealist, he had never believed that Croats and Serbs could slaughter each other again, or both of them more severely do it to Muslims. He died with his ideal -- the common life of all Yugoslav people.

I do not blame my father’s “rebellious” death. How he could survive the fact that the blood of all peoples to whom he and his successors belonged was shed in the fratricide war? And as a result Bosnia, his homeland, was destroyed, depopulated, and his child, grandchild, and son-in-law living abroad. His mother was Slovenian, his wife Serb, his son and daughter-in-law (my husband and my brother’s wife) are Muslims. My dad did not have any problem with that, except for the fact that others, such people as Milosevic or Karadzic, wanted him to have the problem.

Reading your magazine, I wonder what is it that attracts South Slavs to keep trying the common life and building the Yugoslav state? On the other side, what is the self-destructive motive impelling them to demolish their unions in fratricidal bloodshed? I read many essays about this theme. I consulted many opposite opinions, and I remained more ignorant than before.

I have known many facts about the Ustashas’ role in the Second World War in my country. From Butler’s essay I have learned more. I agree with his story completely. What he described was only a part of the Yugoslav catastrophe. Unfortunately, there was more.

In the Second World War the large part of Serb population was organized in the Chetink military, under the command of Draza Mihailovic. They collaborated with Hitler’s army. I have seen numerous pictures of the smiling bearded Chetniks, sometimes accompanied by the Orthodox priest, over the headless corpses of Muslim or Croat victims. The fresh victim’s blood was dripping from the knife, and the executor was pointing it proudly to the camera. (I do not hate Orthodox priests. My respected great-grandfather was one of them. I am just saying what I had seen.)

The part of Muslim population, organized in different kind of unities, also committed crime on the Yugoslav peoples. I write about these three groups of people because they are closely related to Bosnia’s conflicts. Members of all of three peoples, on the other side, rejected fascists, too. They freed the country from the Nazis.

This is also a very simplified story about the role of some Yugoslav people in the Second World War. How many members of all of them were on the each side I do not know. I am confused now more than ever because I read too many different statistics.

As you know, Ustashas and Chetniks reappeared in the last Balkan war. They were killing each other, members of their own peoples if they did not want to take a part in murdering, but they took the highest toll on Muslims. They slaughtered too many of Muslims in Bosnia. Serbs even committed genocide on Muslims.

I had lived common life with Bosnian Muslims in Sarajevo for more than 40 years. I have still lived with them peacefully in New York. I do not see any reason why I couldn’t coexist with my own people.

It is not possible to analyze the historical facts in this letter, but Serbs this time without any doubt started the “quarrel.” They caused the tragedy and dissolution. The Croats’ role in the Second World War can explain one of aspect of the recent Yugoslav breakdown. However, Serbs did not have any right to start a new catastrophe to avenge the history 45 years old.

There are many answers to the Balkans’ problem. Causes are deeply rooted in the history. Even if they sometimes look controversial, almost every answer is the part of the complete truth, too. To write one objective Balkan history assumes well balanced facts, but who is going to say what is that balance?

Through the whole past, Serbs and Croats fought for control over the Balkans. They competed over Bosnia fiercely, dividing its population along the religious lines of the both Christian faiths, Catholic and Orthodox.

Struggling to save their own integrity, pressed between Eastern and Western Christianity in the Middle Ages, Bosnians first established their own Bogumil religion and Bosnian church sometime between 12th and 14th century. Later, under the Turk occupation, almost the same population undertook the Islamic religion. It has always looked the most logical to me that Bosnians had a choice of their own Bosnian nationality; the Communist Government had never offered this option. I heard about “Bosnaks” some time before the Bosnian war, as they formed a political party. The members were mostly Muslims, but also people of other nationalities who accepted the concept of Bosnia’s integrity and common life there. Does the genesis look as an “accident”?

Mr. Butler made a great contribution to the acknowledgment of the Balkans’ history. He “caught” a big fish. He put the large “puzzle” in the Yugoslav picture. Unfortunately, there were and there are more fish and puzzles. I wonder, how many human generations are necessary to pass to unscramble this mass.

Dear Katherine, your magazine is amazing. It is the refreshing paper. I enjoyed absolutely every page of it. Please, say halloo to your two young assistants. I would like to talk to them sometimes.



see also, in Vol. 1, No. 2:

“The Artukovitch File”
“An Appreciation of Hubert Butler”
“Hecuba in New York”


contents download subscribe archive