Linked with Global Partnership for the Prevention of armed conflict GPPAC, and with Center for Education, Counselling and Research CESI.
She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Before the war, Dragica Aleksa lived comfortably with her husband and two children on their farm in the village of Berak. The war in 1991 tore mothers and their children from their families, and Dragica and her son were not spared. Her family was reunited in another village later, but after the war, in 1998, Dragica returned to Berak. She joined the Center for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights and took part in its Active Listening project. The result was her collection of “Stories from Berak.” Dragica also actively worked to find missing persons and in peace building efforts. Dragica Aleksa was born on 3 August 1952 in Svinjarevci, a small village in eastern Croatia. After attending primary school she went to a high school in Vinkovci … (1000peacewomen).
She says: “The past is memories, the future – hope. And only present moments give us the opportunity to do something for ourselves and others”.
download: Stories from Berak.
Dragica Aleksa – Croatia: sorry, the photo on this link of this peacewomen page cannot be downloaded, and I found no other one in the internet.
She works for the Center for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights.
Since she had good grades, her parents expected that she would study economics or medicine. But Dragica wanted to study forestry, a field largely reserved for males and which her parents opposed. So instead of going to the university, Dragica married a farmer. Since then she and her husband engaged in agriculture in Berak.
Life was not easy, but she and her husband worked hard and even applied innovations, so they were quite successful economically. She was contented although she differed from the usual woman peasant in her love for reading, an activity largely considered a waste of time. She enjoyed talking to people but rarely felt that they truly understood her.
That is why she turned all her joy and sadness, hopes and fears into writing. She did not care any more what other people would think. In her own world she could write freely, unlike the “peasant woman who is not supposed to write.” Life went on as usual. She had two children and thought that life was good. She had many friends that she could always rely on.
Then the year 1990 came. Incomprehensible things began to happen. The once forbidden ultra-nationalist songs were being sung more and more frequently and loudly. The news on television and in the papers was about the impending war. People could not understand how and why there should be war. Dragica thought that if there should be war, it would certainly not be in Berak.
But on 30 September 1991, two men from the village came and told her that she and her eleven-year-old son had to leave for a couple of days. All the women and children from the village had to leave in a transport that was organized for them. Through a forest and across the fields they drove to a village 30 kilometers away.
That was the most difficult night of her life. They were taken to a gymnasium. Each woman held her child with one hand and with the other, a plastic bag with some quickly packed items. Dragica was desperate. She did not know what happened to her daughter and husband. Those days were full of fear and uncertainty. From dusk until dawn, she sat in the Red Cross headquarters listening to the news.
Then the news came: “Berak has fallen.” Dragica did not dare to think what that meant. She learned later that her husband was wounded and brought to a hospital. When he recovered, he left the hospital and they wandered about for months until they settled in Suhopolje.
The people of Suhopolje accepted them, understood their suffering and wanted to help. For her it was hard to accept someone’s help. She was not conscious of the difficulty of her situation. She wanted to go home. It was not possible. She wanted to help, but did not know how. She only could donate her blood. It was a great joy whenever she met someone from her village. They talked about their houses, their village, common acquaintances, friends. They counted the dead and the “missing” and swore that once they were back in their village, nothing would ever separate them again.
The year 1998 came and the peaceful reintegration of the Danube basin started.
She was able to return to Berak, but alone. Her husband had found a job in Suhopolje, so her family had to stay there. Their house in Berak was still there, but it had been ransacked. She was lonely, sad, angry and confused and did not know what to do. The houses were empty, the trees grew wild, and unfamiliar people walked the streets. Dragica sat by the window and counted how many people died in each house.
The refugees started coming back. There was tension. Ten percent of the Croatian population was “missing” and all that was known about them was that they had been captured and taken away.
Their families searched for them but did not know whom to ask for help.
The world began to divide into “them” who were to blame, and “us” who were suffering. Dragica could not accept that. She thought of her suffering not as of “our suffering,” nor of someone’s fault as “their fault.” The fact that she had nobody to talk to about this made her angry.
One day, teams from the Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights from Osijek carried out a project called Active listening in Berak. They also came to visit Dragica. All her anger, sadness and confusion were released, and they just listened. When she finished they suggested that she attend the peace education workshops. She did not know what that was, but since she had time she went.
In the first workshop, she was supposed to write down ten of her identifying qualities.
She did not know what to write, and thought to herself: “It cannot be that I am 50 years old and do not know who I am.” She kept going to workshops, until she became stronger and self-confident. She realized how much the workshops helped her, so she tried to persuade others to go too.
Dragica learned to listen. She listened to the old women in Berak. They talked about their lives and the wars they lived through. They taught her that only evil people do evil things, and that there is no such thing as collective blame, collective sadness, or collective responsibility.
She saw how much a few honest and warm sentences could be helpful. She wrote down their stories in the book, “Stories from Berak.” The book was printed twice in Croatian and translated and printed in German.
[And here the English edition, download: Stories from Berak].
Chaos reigned in the village. The Croatians were returning to their homes and the Serbs, who stayed in the village during the war, were leaving. They were accusing each other for their suffering, but nobody tried to solve the problems.
Those in power and the businessmen made the situation worse. Whenever they needed points for their own cause, they came to the village promising “justice.” Then they left without changing anything, except adding salt to the wounds.
Once again, Dragica acted differently from the usual peasant woman. The people felt drawn to her, and so they began talking about their needs, fears and hopes. She did not know how to help, so she turned to the Center for Peace in Osijek. Together they let the villagers fill in questionnaires to assess their needs and then sprang into action.
The biggest problem was the unknown fate of the missing persons. On her initiative, and with the help of Center for Peace in Osijek, they formed an “embassy” consisting of the family members of the missing and Serbs who stayed in Berak during the war.
Together they visited the President’s office to ask for help in solving their problems.
At that time, people prayed every day for the missing persons in front of a cross in the center of the village. Those prayers, which were often very emotional, could turn to provocation and in one such instance, it culminated with the death of one Serb villager. This showed the great need for peace work within the community but no one was ready to do such work. Dragica was alone again.
The Center for Peace in Osijek organized a training of volunteers to work in communities. She passed the training together with five other participants. After the training, Dragica noticed that the villagers perceived the words forgiveness, reconciliation and communal life as something being forcefully imposed on them.
While they could accept those values, they were afraid to be blamed by the community. Together with the Center for Peace Dragica organized workshops for women and children that helped draw their attention away from the issues that divide them. They started to tackle the emerging problems in their everyday life: the young people in the streets, the small milk producers with no buyers, no doctor in the village, which was a big problem for many people since they had to travel to another village to get medical treatment. (1000peacewomen).
… In 2003 I met Dragica Aleksa for the first time. ‘I am a peasant’, she said. As I introduced myself as the QPSW Representative she asked me, ‘What can I expect from you?’ I didn’t want to raise her expectations with vague promises then, but tonight I received an email from Dragica telling me how the local peace group that she formed is sending some 10 applications for a regional training event in nonviolent conflict transformation to be held this month in Bosnia. When we met for the first time, they didn’t even have an office and she, already a grandmother, had no idea about computers. Two weeks ago I visited her in the new Municipality building, where their group LUC – Spark for Nonviolence and Dialogue – has its new office. They had moved from their beginnings in a ruined house into a centrally heated space. ‘Are you proud of me?’ she asked, showing me how skilled at using the internet she has become … (full text).
Sorry, no other information found in english for Dragica Aleksa, Croatia
III. CASE STUDIES OF LOCAL PEACEBUILDING PRACTICES IN CROATIA, 29 pages;
The Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in Osijek, Croatia: Working to Establish Civil Society;