The population of the small village of Malo Tičevo is 10. These are the data of an official census. It used to be 56 of them.
Written by: Vanja Stokić; Photo & Video: Ajdin Kamber
Branka Višekruna returned exactly 20 years ago. She spent seven years as a refugee and then decided to start from scratch with his husband and two children. Literally from scratch.
“There was nothing. No electricity, no job. We didn’t have any money or food. It was very difficult for us to get on. We lived a hard life, and the kids went to school to Drvar. My daughter went to secondary school, so we had to find them a place to live down in Grahovo so they could travel there as there were no conditions for living. So they were alone in Grahovo, and my husband and I lived in the village. My husband got ill and died in 2007”, Branka remembers that period.
Alone with two children and with no income, she struggled for life. She grew vegetables, bred cattle and produced cheese and kaymak. This enabled her to finance her daughter’s university studies. She proudly tells us her son and daughter are independent people with their families. She has still been farming.
“I produce food for my children and myself. I’ve got a garden, I grow potatoes. I breed cows and pigs. I’ve got bees, I make honey. I sell cheese and kaymak to earn some money that way. I also have a small but regular pension. It’s most important that it’s regular because I didn’t have any income for a few years while my daughter was in school. I breed cows, sell calves and then I economize the whole year until autumn. Autumn comes, I buy flour, salt, sugar, oil, macaroni and coffee. I get stuff I need during the winter until spring”, she says.
Her life today is more bearable than 20 years ago. Mostly because her children have grown and are not dependent on her.
Her house is near Šator Mountain. Near Ledenica cave and the house of Gavrilo Princip. Three places with tourist potential. The village is not connected to the city water supply network, although the water intake is at the spring that belongs to the village. They do not have access roads, so the road connection with the town is poor. When they need to go downtown, they mostly hitchhike.
The town is demolished and empty. For us, who have been here for the first time, it seems like the war stopped yesterday. People in the town convince us that the situation is much better today, although it does not seem so.
“We who have lived here for over 20 or 25 years know what kind of town we came to. It used to be called ‘cabriolet town’. There were no roofs on houses at all. The complete infrastructure was razed to the ground. All that shelling and damaging and then putting to torch. Nothing was left, and 97.5% of the infrastructure was destroyed. The war is over, and lots of money has been invested, but this is still barely visible. It just takes additional strength and money to bring this to a normal state, says Danka Zelić of the Association of Women Citizens “Grahovo”.
That association does the job the official institutions should. Although their main task is protecting and empowering women, they cannot stand seeing all the suffering in their surroundings. Almost 70% of their fellow citizens are elderly. Besides, most of them live in poverty.
“Opening a centre for social work is the priority of all priorities in Bosansko Grahovo. There are lots of civilian casualties of war, nobody visits them. I contacted the Ministry, nobody had done any revision of social assistance contracts for 20 or more years, and nobody had ever visited them. It would be necessary to provide at least one hot meal for those members. To open a soup kitchen or to cook them a meal somewhere and bring it to them in these places. Somebody should visit those people to bring them food and medicines and sit and talk to them. During winter, nobody visits them for several months. Nobody opens their door, they are alone”, warns Danka.
This town also needs a functional outpatient clinic. A physician arrived only several months ago; however, if they need to have medical tests done or be examined by a doctor, they need to travel to Drvar or Livno. Until several months ago, they did not have a pharmacy. As she says, an ordinary painkiller used to be BAM 30 if you consider the travel costs to the nearest pharmacy.
The Association “Grahovo” has renewed and equipped several outpatient clinics in this town with the help of different donors. However, they work only when the Association can pay its staff through the project.
“For us, a new exodus began recently, in 2008 or 2009, when they separated us and registered us with the Drvar Health Centre. This is the worse situation; it means we didn’t have a doctor here anymore as we used to have every day. The doctor would come three times a week, then twice a week, then once a week, then once in three months and then it stopped. The doctor stopped coming. The whole Grahovo population depended on a single paramedic. Very, very difficult. A lot of people died”, says she.
Citizens often ask for medical assistance from nurse Milena Marić. In her 70s, Milena is vital and willing to help.
“After the war, mostly elderly people returned to villages, those who were almost forgotten even by their closest relatives, not to mention the municipal authorities. Nobody visits them, nobody takes care of their hygiene, nutrition or healthcare. Absolutely nobody”, says she.
Destroyed infrastructure was the main reason why returning to Grahovo was very slow. The lack of kindergartens, secondary schools, health centres and, generally, institutions – all made people move to other towns and countries.
“According to the official data, between 3000 and 3500 inhabitants live here. It is a realistic estimate that the Grahovo population is between 1500 and 2000 at most – during summer when everybody comes. It is a realistic picture. The Grahovo area is vast, about 720 square kilometres. It is among the 10 largest municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, points out Danka.
As with anywhere else in the country, poverty is a big issue here. Those who work are poorly paid. Two only grocery shops are more expensive than in other towns.
“I know families of two or four children where only one member works. They must fight and do farming as they are all in debt, but they must survive. More and more people decide to look for a job somewhere else. We can’t blame them. I don’t know what others offered them, but here nobody offers anything. And it would be if only… When I start thinking at our meetings, even when it’s possible to make something without big money, there’s no will. Politics, politics… Politics brought us here”, concludes Danka.