A STORY OF MENDING THE PAST IN METLIKA, on the SLOVENIA-CROATIA BORDER
‘It’s difficult for you to understand, child.’ Mia looked up at her grandfather, his rheumy eyes were moist with restrained tears. He managed a sad smile, ‘It’s difficult for me to understand. My whole life I belonged to one great country.’ His voice trailed off and he shrugged.
‘Can’t we ever go back?’ Mia asked.
‘It would never have happened if Tito was still alive.’
An innocent question, met with a strong rebuke from her grandfather. ‘Who’s Tito? Don’t they teach you anything at school?’ His exasperation subsided when he looked down at her young face. ‘Perhaps you are too young. One day you will learn about him. A great man.’
‘But can we go to our picnic place in the forest again soon?’
‘Not for a while I think, and even then we need documents and travel arrangements, and your parents would have to come with us. You see, our forest is in a new country called Croatia now. And we, we are Slovenians now.’
‘How can they stop us going somewhere we have been before?’
‘That is what happens when politicians and people can’t get along. Barriers are created to maintain control.’
‘Well, what shall we do then? Can we go and visit Uncle Alojz?’ Uncle Alojz was not really her uncle, but her grandfather’s friend who owned a café that served the finest ice-cream in Metlika.
Her grandfather only sighed heavily again. ‘Uncle Alojz has closed his café and decided to return to the town where he was born.’
‘Where is that? Is it near?’
‘It is near, but it is also behind the new border. Uncle Alojz is now a Croatian, just like our forest.’
Mia humphed, ‘This is crazy. Is no one upset about this?’
‘Plenty of people are. We are the lucky ones. Here we manage to accept what has happened and make peace with it. The rest of Yugoslavia will tear itself apart, just you watch.’
‘Why can’t people just get along?’
‘Ah, you are so young an innocent, my little angel. That is not the way of the world. Perhaps when you are older you can help make everyone get along.’
Mia took a long draw on the cigarette and handed to Marko, the captain of their unit.
‘Come on, Angel’ Marko said, in English. ‘Break’s over.’ Mia smiled at his use of her nickname.
They went back inside the main command tent.
‘We have one,’ Luka announced. ‘A big one, stretches about two kilometres across.’ He pointed at the chart on the computer screen, an area near to them, in the forest north of Kosovo, was highlighted red.
‘Okay, Mia, suit up. We’ll take this one.’
Mia pulled on her protective suit, marked with the UN insignia. She was tired, never a good thing when entering a mine field.
‘Remember, one at a time,’ Marko said to the rookie. ‘Every mine we remove is one weapon of the war that failed to kill someone.’
‘Will we ever find them all,’ she asked.
Marko only smiled, and replied in Croatian. ‘Ah, you are so young and innocent, Angel.’
Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.
Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today it’s two countries as we visit Metlika in Slovenia, on the border with Croatia – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.
Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.
For a full list of stories and places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.
Read more about the break up of Yugoslavia and the decade of war and genocide that followed here: Wikipedia.