New Blog Post by Jadranka Kosor – Zero as Good News

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How can “zero migrants” be considered good news?

March 8th came and went. There were no wondrous round tables, special receptions, celebrations of women, mothers and queens (as one Croatian pop song would have it). There was no reception in the President’s office on Pantovčak (or, at least, I didn’t notice one was organized so if it was, I apologise), there were just a few symbolic protests and the day came to its end.

One day after, the so-called “Balkan route” was closed for refugees and our Prime Minister declared it as good news. Because zero migrants and refugees are apparently good news, one which is accepted without any complaints even if it does contain the dreaded adjective “Balkan”, the very same one our Minister of foreign affairs clearly said we must avoid. However, when the Balkan route is closing, no one will look a gift horse in the mouth so we are using this term without any fear and with good old Balkan enthusiasm since this is great news.

Of course, all this was happening around March 8th so behind the wire, somewhere far away on some border, thousands of refugees (and migrants since some insist on only using this term) were stranded, many women and children among them. Of course, no one congratulated those women on the International women’s day because who would go there in pouring rain, through mud, garbage and sewage to get to those soaked tents in which all the things that shouldn’t be swimming are, where everyone is wet and where the air doesn’t exactly smell like roses, scampi, and freshly baked bread.

How long have those women refugees, both young and old been on the road before March 8th? When and where were they able to wash, take a shower or change their underwear? Women will understand what I am talking about and why it terrifies me. It is a horrible punishment for every woman to be forced to walk in mud unwashed and wet.  Because of our physiology, we women need water just like air, several times a day, and without water, a woman will turn into an awkward stranger she cannot recognize in just one day. I keep thinking about that and I am in awe of their collectiveness because this humiliation is not making them scream from the top of their lungs.

Crowded, dirty toilets you have to wait in line for, unwashed hair, unwashed body, stench and the cold would drive me mad. But those women, looking far into the distance, are calmly feeding their children with whatever little they have, they are trying to dry their clothes, keep their kids warm with nylon, find a fire and a pot, they are trying to keep them warm and comfort them. In the sea of waste, garbage, dirt of every kind and in the sea of despair. Many of them, while travelling slowly and with great difficulty, were wet to the bone a hundred times,  with painful cramps, looking for toilet paper, pads, diapers, all the things you sometimes have to change up to ten times a day, things they are missing desperately. Even if they managed to take those supplies with them, they used them all along the way. The only thing that remained is the need for hot water, dry and clean clothes and unbearable dependence on others and the so-called good people.

I just cannot imagine the despair of women that are mothers of small and grown children (doesn’t make a difference), wives and daughters, comforters and organizers on this never-ending journey. Both big and little ones have to be fed. How do they wash the baby bottles and pacifiers? How do they boil and disinfect them, how do they warm up the milk and tea, do they even have baby food if they’re not nursing, how do they get diapers if they don’t have any? What do they do when the kids get a cold, when they have a runny nose when they are coughing under the open sky in Indomeni wrapped in nylon while rain is pouring over them? How do these women keep on going in this mud, among utter helplessness and hopelessness, often wearing nothing more than wet slippers that are falling apart?

How and where do they wash their hair? Because, yes, many politicians who are deciding on what’s good and bad news for us, don’t believe that those nameless women, and others like them, who are no more than a number in the eyes of the powerful ones, have the need to wash their hair, put on clean clothes and look decent.

They stand very little chance against prejudice given that many perceive them as ones that were never clean or shining even when they had brand new and perfectly clean clothes. Prejudice kills almost like weapons, and these women have seen a painful amount of weapons.

As I watch the images of these wet and hapless refugees in front of the barbed wire, I remember Croatia during the war. I remember villages and cities in the East falling under the boot of the occupier, I remember meeting male and female refugees in the free parts of our country. Women were always desperately asking for pads, combs, clean clothes. We collected and helped while women refugees were the ones carrying the heaviest burden. They were rounding up their families, keeping the remains of a home, dignity and hope. They didn’t have to lie down in the mud and yet many of them were desperate because they had to wait in line for the toilet, shower, lunch or a place in front of the TV in one of many refugee villages.  

During the Homeland War, Croatia passed all the tests when it came to taking care of refugees and displaced persons. Hotels were opened, sports halls, many people took in refugees into their own homes. We accepted many refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. We didn’t mind that their religion and customs were different. We opened our border and our hearts, we understood them. And for many refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia was a transit country on their journey towards western countries.

As a journalist, I was also seeing off trains that were going to Germany, a much more peaceful place while the war was raging in Croatia. In the summer of 1992, as we returned from the train station where we saw off a train which was organized by the German Red Cross I wrote:

“We were all waiting for the train to finally take off. And when it happened, when it started moving slowly and without an announcement, we were all taken aback. People in the train and the few of us standing on the platform. Safe voyage, I shouted. Goodbye, the women were waving. A little girl appeared on one of the train windows and she released a white balloon. It flew towards a young Croatian policeman and the girl shouted from the train that was now sliding away faster and faster: ‘Don’t forget me!’. The young man caught the balloon and waved to the girl in the train that was no longer there. I had to run back to the radio and write the news, finish the job for the day. I was suffocating in the studio, barely reading the sentences I wrote. Wherever I turned all I could hear was ‘Don’t forget me’.”

It is a part of the transcript published in my book “Hello, this is Croatian radio”. My son was a young boy back in 1992 and I remember thinking of him as I was waiting for that train to start moving. And when little children from Vukovar were coming to us from their devastated city, I always saw my own son in them. All of us parents will probably, in some way, always feel the responsibility for someone else’s children, sympathizing with all those parents that worry, just like we always worry about our children whether they are still little or grown up.

This is why, on the day after March 8th, I listened, with great anxiety, to the fact that “zero migrants” and the closing of the borders is actually very good news for us.

While I am writing this blog post, I am listening to a journalist on the Croatian radio reporting from the closed border, far, far away.  Rain is pouring, the journalist is saying, many children are barefoot and there are many sick people in the camp. He can see, he says, a 7-year old boy trying to get through the mud wearing large stilettos because he obviously couldn’t find anything else in the pile where he was trying to find new shoes.

So I am thinking, trying to imagine how his mother must be feeling if he has one. But, even if you don’t have any children, what matters is if you have a heart, which is what Angela Merkel has been demonstrating so congruously. A woman. Because when you accept that the closing of borders, barbed wire on borders and “zero migrants” is good news, then you’re on the right path to becoming “a zero of a person”. Whether you are a man or a woman.



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