Hecuba, Writing from New York
August 4, 1997
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
Maybe we will go in August for few days to upstate New York to the friends 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
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
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 Butlers
work. The second publication illuminated the Butlers interest in such themes as the
history of the former Yugoslavia, my once-homeland. I would like to learn Butlers
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 fathers
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
fathers 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 sons 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 fathers 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 brothers 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 Butlers 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
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 Hitlers
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
victims 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 Bosnias 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
couldnt 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 Bosnias 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