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Dr. Kathleen V. Wilkes 1946-2003 devoted her life to the victory of Croatia
By Prof.Dr. Darko Zubrinic | Published  02/11/2011 | Croatian Heroes , Učimo od drugih - We learn from others , Human Rights , Science , Politics , People , Media Watch , In Memoriam , History , Friends In Action , Environment , Education , Culture And Arts | Unrated
Awarded with the Hrvatska Danica (Croatian Morning Star) order from the Croatian Government in 1997

11. prosinac [December] 1991.


Dear friends,

I am taking the privilege of being an outsider - a British guest in Dubrovnik - to write to ask you a question which some people in Dubrovnik may be wondering, but which they are too polite to ask.

My question, put very bluntly, is just: WHY are you here?

Of course, some of the Convoy are people returning home. Others are those who want to see friends, who also want to see them. My question does not apply to these.

For the rest of voyagers: please do not reply that you are here to "show solidarity" with Dubrovnik, or to help to publicise its plight after more than two months of siege and assault. Dubrovnik citizens have the right to take for granted "solidarity" from the rest of the county of which it is a part; if it needs a convoy to prove THAT, then Croatia is worse-off then I thought. As for publicity: here the boot is on the other foot entirely. It is largely because of the publicity generated by the attack upon this international city - known and loved throughout the world - that the outside world, late but at last, started to react; and, late but at last, the rest of Croatia is beginning to reap some benefits. So it is in large part because of Dubrovnik's solidarity with you, and the way in which the agony of Dubrovnik publicised the agony of Croatia, that there seems to be some light at the end of this dark tunnel.

Do not come, please, to give them more words. I should explain that. Dubrovnik's war has been unique, as far as I can see. There was - is - a classic, textbook, military defensive war. It held all the ingredients known throughtout history when a vastly superior force assaults a territory and besieges a city. Skirmishes, bombing; small arms against wire-guided missiles, jets and naval shelling; small fast boats running the blockade at night... it was all there. Some who - God alone knows how - their outnumbered and outgunned force gave the city more than two months in which to prepare and put into acction its own assault.

Dubrovnik's own attack exploited all of its wealth of civlilization and humanism. For two months it worked with its own weapons: the weapons of its history. There were "negotiations", somehow, with an army command incapable of explaining WHY they were attacking the municipality: words, arguments. Dubrovnik exploited the techniques of more than civilization - phones, faxes, local, Croatian, and international media - to get across to all the vital importance of the values for which it stood; while the aggressors bombed churches and hospitals. Words, arguments, reasons. Dubrovnik's way of aiding morale was to hold Mozart concerts; while the assailants tried to destroy morale with discordant music blasted fortissimo from Žarkovica.

No, not more words; not more talk about the values for which Dubrovnik stands. You cannot possibly say anything that has not yet been said a thousand times on every street corner, later repeated by foreign dignitaries in "intellectual forums", and already agreed, endorsed and underlined in mass media throughout Croatia and the world. Please do not AGAIN tell the people of Dubrovnik that they already know better than enyone else.

A living heritage has to have living people to preserve and continue it. The best reason for "Convoy II" is to bring material aid: food, medicines, gass cylinders. The glare of the publicity generated by the bombing of palaces has thrown into the shade the less dramatic tragedy of malnourished children and old people with no hot food, shivering at night behind shattered windows. You will be welcomed in any case, of course; but "Convoy II" should not be coming just to accept the city's hospitality.

K.V. Wilkes

The City of Dubrovnik after the Serbian bombing in 1991. Photo on 7 Dec 1991 by Željko Šoletić.

13. prosinac [December] 1991.

History carries within it both "the balck wings of tragedy and the song of human hope" (Stephan Zweig). Croatia knows this.

This is a unique moment in European - indeed world - history. For the first tiem the democratic principle has almost universal acceptance ("almost", because we all know one of the exceptions).  The speed and completeness with autocratic governements collapsed right across central and eastern Europe - proving that totalitarian regimes, however unshakeable they may seem, have feet of clay - caught the rest of Europe by surprise, totally unprepared. With the collapse, though, came peace. Democracy is seen to be the fundamental precondition for lasting peace, and the baest, maybe the only, guarantee of international stablility. It is authoritarian regimes that threaten peace.

But transition to democracy from monolithic or totalitarian system are difficult, even without a war. Democracies are fragile and complex. It si not "natural" for a society to turn to democracy as it is natural for rivers to run to the sea. When any ideology collapses suddenly, it leaves a gaping chasm; this chasm has to be filled by values and principles that may be unfamiliar to many, and by political and civic institutions not known in the community before. All this while reforming the economy to meet people's demands. To comlicate matters further, the speed with which the old collapsed fosters an understandable but impossible expectation that the new can be established with the same rapidity. The quest - as we see from other countries in Central Europe - is often hesitant, confused, slow.

Moreover, there is not, and should not be, any single pattern or model for democracy. Each community has its own unique specificity and diversity, its own rich texture in the fabric of its culture. So there is no "recipe for reconstruction", and decmocracies will all be different - for they have the blessed ability to agree to disagree.

Then, one achieved, democracy is still fragile, easily lost, easily corrupted, reversible. Maintaining it irequires an indefinnitely prolonged struggle. Indeed, many of the "established" democracies have lost much of their original power and success because of an apathy that takes democracy for granted as something that is just "there".

Responsibility and imagination; there are always needed. One of the values that must be common to ALL democratic systems, however great their differences, is the tolerance of diversity. Indeed, diversity is what makes democracies three-dimensional, and its absence what makes totalitarian regimes two-dimensional: the greatest democracies are those that express a kaleidoscope of many different cultures and civilisations. No democracy is, or should be, homogeneous, whether in race, religion, or culture. It is tolerance of diversity that enables some democracies to come closer to the goal of combining membership of a community with individual liberty.

What democracies do NOT need to tolerate, though, in intolerance: the ideology expressed in totalitarianism. This is just one of the reasons why Croatia and Slovenia were right to seek independence.

K.V. Wilkes.

An old woman exiled from Konvale to Dubrovnik, with a typical costume.
Photo by Željko Šoletić, 7 Dec 1991.

26. prosinac [December] 1991.

To the Editor of "The Guardian", 23. XII. 1991.

Once again I am writing a reaction to a GUARDIAN article which, after a month, has somwhow reached Dubrovnik. Written by Edward Pearce, it was entitled "Audit of Destruction". It cannot go unchallenged.

Of course, as Pearce says, the ustaše did terrible things in the second world war. So did the četniks. But just 2% of Croats were ustaše; Pearce says nathing about thousands who fought against the German occupation. 2%... how does that compare with the percentage of British fascists at the same time? Talking about "Croatia's warm feeling for the Third Reich" is dishonest nonsense.

Pearce claims that "ordinary Serbs" would say that Croat rule over Serbian minorities is not to be endured - that there would be "effective apartheid". But where were the Serbian fears and complaints a year or so ago? A year or so ago... when Serbia was and still is terrorizing Albanians in Kosovo. Pearce sais nothing about them; presumably he dare not: it would destroy his thesis. I have been coming to Croatia 12 years now. In Zagreb, in Dubrovnik, in Split, in Rijeka, anywhere I went, I find that Croats neither knew nor cared who was or was not Serbian. Indeed, here in Dubrovnik many of the 5000 Serbs in the territory have been among the strongest, bravest, and stouchest defenders of the city and all that it stands for.

Pearce is particularly sarcastic about the destruction of Dubrovnik, calling it "humbugging aestheticism" to get worked up about "a pretty little place which one is sorry to see knocked about". Nobody, nobody here in Dubrovnik has the SLIGHTEST interest in saying their human tragedy is worse than that in Iraq. Why should they? But for the people who live here, and who looked after the palaces and monuments on behalf of the whole world, it is more than "pretty little place". Not only monasteries and palaces and hospitals are destroyed; so are the people - too many of them, Serbs among them. (Two issues of the daily GLAS IZ DUBROVNIKA - The Voice from Dubrovnik - were 100% taken up with mourning, and celebrating, the great Serbian poet Milan Milišić, killed by Serbian cannon.)

Dubrovnik... there is still no water or electricity, scant food, no glass in the windows, temperature at freezing point. But they are painting the boards that cover the windows in the main street of Stradun with pictures, jokes, prayers; Christams cribs are being constructed with bits of rocket and broken stone; concerts and lectures are held in between the funerals. The occupying army is about one kilometre away, still occasionally shooting. Croatia has ordered the cancelation of every midnight mass in the Republic on Christmass Eve - the government knows well how any Croatian religious occasion provokes more bombing.

It is to such people, who destroyed Dubrovnik on St. Nickolas' Day that Pearce thinks Croatia should cede its own land.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Kathleen V. Wilkes

The City of Dubrovnik and its famous street of Stradun.
Photo by Željko Šoletić, 7 Dec 1991.

15. prosinca [December] 1991.

So, the Mayor goes, briefly, to Washington. It is exactly the right time for him to do so; I was astounded to learn that President Goerge Bush had told European leaders that now "was not the time" to recognize Croatia. Fortunately, several leaders of European countries are unmoved by this.

When IS the time Mr. Bush? International recognition would be the quickest way to stop this war. [the political recognition of Croatia has already been established by the Badinter Commision on 7 September 1991]

Consider these things. The city-state (as it hen was) of Dubrovnik was the first democracy to recognize the independence of the USA. The first sentence of the Federal Constitution of 1974. gives every Republic [of former Yugoslavia] the right to self-determination, including the right of secession; Croatia has exercised that right, with a referendum in May 1991. that showed more than 90% in favour of independence (when have Americans been so united, Mr. Bush?). Croatia is democratic and Western-oriented; for centuries it was, as Pope Leo X described it, the "Antemurale Christianitatis" (the "bulwark of Christiantiy") against the Ottoman aggression; now it is fighting against an attack led by those who cling to unreformed communism - is that what America wishes to see prevail? United Nations flags "protect" this city of the world, Dubrovnik; "protected" it on our black Friday, St. Nickola's Day... and the United Nations headquarters is located in your country. It is disingenuous and dishonest of the Serbs to claim there is discrimination against them: the Croatian constitution unbigously affirms the equal right of all its citizens.

Croatia wants what you Amricans wanted, Mr. Bush, when Britain claimed America, and when the city-state of Dubrovnik was the first to have the courage to recognize your legitimate aspirations. The right to national self-determination is the natural inalinable, and most sacred right of every nation-state. Do you want yet more destruction and devastation throughtout Croatia, before you recognize the skeleton that will be left? Are you again to be one of the last democracies to recognize Croatia, as you were with Lativa?

K.V. Wilkes

A legendary photo by Pavo Urban: Man with a dog.
Taken during a vicious concert of Serbian bombing and shelling of the City of Dubrovnik.

16. prosinac [December] 1991.

Dear Friends and colleagues,

You have been receiving several letters and appeals from our indefatigable Director-General, prof. Orijar Oyen, who has been working non-stop on behalf of Dubrovnik in general and the IUC [Inter-University Centre] in particular. We thought that it was time to wrtie to you directly from Dubrovnik, to give you the news from the battlefield.

To start with what - since we are both functionaries of the IUC - concerns us most in that capacity: the IUC building is destroyed, gutted, irreparable [6 December 1991]. Only the Secretariat itself was spared (and even there the roof might fall in at any time); that gave us the opportunity to retrieve most of the documentationof the IUC's 20-year history. The building was still smouldering as we worked; along with other still-smouldering buildings, it was the only warm place in Dubrovnik, where the temperature is around the freezing point.

We can, happily, tell you that all those living there (some of our staff and refugees) were uninjured, although they have of course lost the roof over their heads and all their possessions, and are deeply shocked.

We are determined that the IUC will rise again, and for that we shall need all your support. The mayor of the city and other authorities here, share that determination. At present the situation is still so uncertain, and so much has been devastated, that it is evidently too early to talk of re-housing and re-establishing the IUC. But, as soon as possible, we hope to see discussions begin between our Director-General, the University of Zagreb, and the Dubrovnik authorities for the renewal of IUC activities.

For we had a dream oin 1971: the prject of uniting the world in Dubrovnik. With twenty founder-member universities we started and made it become true. This dream is now in ashes, not metaphorically but leterally. We now have to start dreaming again; now we have the potential of 240 member-insitutes, we  trust that we will have as many of you as possible sharing this new dream.

We will not describe the destruction in the city and the Old City. You will have seen it on your televisions; and it would make us heartsick to say more about it.

Our greetings from beautiful, devastated Dubrovnik.

Katheleen Wilkes, Chariman, Executive Committee
Berta Dragičević, Executive Secretary

The last photo by Pavo Urban, at the moment of his death.
Date: 6 Dec 1991. Place: Stradun, the central street in Dubrovnik.

24. prosinac [December] 1991.

I hav ebeen briefly away. Three days in the USA, three days to get there, three days to get back.

You should know - although I am sure you have guessed - about the extent of the anxious, devoted, non-stop work and support from the Croatian community in the United States (and indeed in other countries). In some ways, but of course in only some, it is even harder for them than it is for people lieving in Dubrovnik, Zadar, Osijek. Because it is difficult for them to get news; they worry about friends and relatives; they believe that no matter how much they try to do for Croatia from the outisde it can never, possibly, be enough; they want to be literally, physically, here instead of here just in their minds and hearts. So they work and work, in every way they can, doing things small and great.

Part of the problem for the Croats in America is, simply, giving the true facts to the American public. Most Americans are not very good about European geography; they have a mental picture of "Europe" that contains, somewhere, Paris, Rome, Moscow, London, Zagreb - even Tel Avivi and Baghdad - and they would have difficulty in locating Bon or Belgrade on a map. (To illustrate this: during the Gulf war, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra cancelled a concert in LONDON because "Europe" was to dangerous; Saddam Hussein might drop Scud missiles on London and on them. By constrast: Zagreb Symphony Orchestra played in the ruins of  Osijek Cathedral while the bombs realy did drop all around.) However, to be more fair to the Americans, you must admit that what we used to call "Yugoslavia" was never easy to understand.

Croatians in Washington and New York are of course anxious for every bit of news, however small, about life in Dubrovnik. So I wish I could have told them about the way that you, that the city, is preparing for Christmas! It is so impressive... whether it is the painted boards along Stradun, the performance on 22nd December in the Franciscan church, the Christams cribs...

"Normal" Christmasses are easy to forget. This one will not be! My greetings to you all.

K.V. Wilkes, 23rd December 1991.

1. siječanj [January] 1992.

Drage moje Dubrovkinje i Dubrovčani!

Iz dubine duše, sretno Novo ljeto. Svjetlo i voda su se vratili u Grad. Konvoji povratka se nastavljaju. Sve je veći broj dubrovačkih obitelji opet zajedno.

Dubrovnik je cijelog sebe ugradio u slobodnu i demokratsku Hrvatsku.

1991. godinu u Dubrovniku, pamtit ćemo kao godinu kada su oni rušili zidove, a mi rasli kao ljudi i stvarali Hrvatsku.
1992. godine, mnogo toga će biti pred nama.
Veliki dio Dubrovnika je i dalje okupiran, spaljen, kuće opljačkane, domovi srušeni; izgubiil smo najmilije; obitelji su razdvojene.
U 1992. moramo nastaviti oslobađati Dubrovnik, vraćati ljude, obnavljati razoreno i stvarati Hrvatsku.

Drage Dubrovkinje i Dubrovčani,
postali ste legenda hrvatske slobode i zbog toga imate obavezu lučonoša dostojanstva. Zato moramo:
  1. Obnoviti križ na Srđu i to odmah.
  2. 31.10. (ili na zadnju nedjelju u listopadu), kada je Hrvatska došla pomoći Dubrovniku, i 6.12. treba se popeti na Srđ putem, koji se treba urediti kao križni put hrvatske slobode, s postajama: Vukovar, Kostajnica, Topusko, Osijek...
    Kipare i slikare iz tih godine pozivam da idejno riješe postaje križnoga put i dostave ih "Maloj braći".
  3. Slike iz Dubrovnika moraju postati knjige i film. U ovim zapisima moramo sudjelovati svi mi koji smo to proživjeli.
    Zati vas molim za suradnju.
Uz pozdrav,
Slobodan Lang

  Dr. Slobodan Lang and his endevours in Dubrovnik. Published in Glas iz Dubrovnika / The Voice From Dubrovnik, 12. prosinac [December] 1991.

3. siječanj [January] 1992.

I start this piece in a way that might seem unexpected; but be patient - I shall get to the point.

It can be argued, and has been argued, by Thomas Nagel, that technological progress makes it harder and harder not to be selfish. Selfishness is a matter of the time, energy, money, and power that one devotes to the satisfaction of one's own needs and desires in comparison with the amount of time (etc.) that one devotes to satisfying the needs and desires of others. In non-technological societies, a large proportion of one's time (etc.) must be devoted to one's own needs. Let us suppose, just for the sake the argument, that in such societies 50% of one's time must be spent on one's own basic necessities, so that 50% could be devoted to the needs and desires of others. But, as Marx pointed out, as technology advances we needs to spend less and less of our working lif to actually providing ourselves with food, clothes, and warmth.

Now: in highly-developed societies many people have an income twenty times as much as what is needed for their needs and desires. This means that such a person has earned enought to keep himself alive for a week by the time he is half way through Monday morning. So, supposing that - like the man in non-technological society -  he devotes 50% of his resources to hmself, and 50% to others - then 5% of his activity is required for his own maintenance, so that 45% of his activity expresses a preference for superfluities for himself over subsistence for others. If one is responsible for evils that one knows about and can prevent without disproportional loss, then such selfishness is evil.

Now I come to the main point. Dubrovnik in the last few months has been anything but a "high technological society"! The struggle for warmth, food, clothes, even water has consumed at least as much time as it did in more primitive societies. So it seems to me that the other side of the coin has been well-illustrated here. Despite the fact that so much time and energy has had to go for the hunt for basic necessities, despite all that; I have never in my life experienced such self-denying altruism, such sharing, lending, giving - not only food, clothes, and other material necessities, but also of time: time to the Red Cross, to the refugees, to offices like CONVOY... well, you can all continue the list.

I am just about to return to Oxford (alas), which is at least a medium-technology society. So I hope that I can keep this lesson in the front of my mind; for which I shall always be grateful to you.

K.V. Wilkes

Suffering of Dubrovnik, a monograph written by Đorđe Obradović,
Dubrovnik newspaperman. Six Croatian editions.

4. siječnja [January] 1991.

Dear friends,

This will be my last offering for the moment (unless the editors of GLAS IZ DUBROVNIKA [THE VOICE FROM DUBROVNIK] will accept an occasional comment faxed from Oxford). But I shall be back very soon - so this is not "goodbye", this is "ciao: see you soon".

I must return... because Oxford calls, and I have to remember that I have a "normal" life teaching students in Oxford. One of the many, many things that I have learned here is that it is importnat to retain as much normality as possible - to try to keep things going even as the bombs drop - so, in accordance with that lesson, I must always go back to my "normal" life.

Many people here have thanked me; I am not sure for what. I was here when I need not have been: true, but also true for thousands of you too. I have done some work: true, but that made the hard times easier, not more difficult - the difficult times were when one could do nothing, nothing, except listen to the bombs dropping.

So the thanks should go in the other direction. But if I started to thank you all for what you have done for me, I would need a small book. From material things (as I type this, I am wearing a scarf from Mokošica, a coat from Cavtat; my toothpaste, towels, and such things were given by friends here) to intangible things like the meaning - the real meaning - of friendship, of altruism, of courage.

I salute you all. Vidmo se [See you].

Kathy Wilkes

Two English editions of the monograph.

Two German editions.

Prof. Katheleen Wilkes, Professor at St. Hilda College in Oxford, lecturer at many universities throughout the world and holder of a Zagreb University Honorary Degree, wrote in her foreword to the first English edition of the monograph Serving My Country written by dr. Hrvoje Kačić:

“… It is an honour to be asked to write a foreword to Hrvoje Kačić's book. I found it quite eye-opening; for in the besieged city of Dubrovnik I, along with many others, had very little access to news from "outside". Indeed, I had to be more concerned with trying to get news about, and appeals for, Dubrovnik out than getting news in - I had access just to one much-overworked telephone/fax. In particular, I read with astonishment that in Zagreb even Tudjman himself thought that in Dubrovnik there was no stomach for the defence of the city, or that it might yield to the blandishments that invited it to consider a status as an "autonomous" province within the so-called "Greater Serbia"; and this scepticism about the determination of Dubrovnik's (hugely courageous) defenders and citizenry, and about its loyalty to Croatia, clearly spread to the world outside and, obviously, to the Serbian generals and politicians - a fact which helps explain some of their otherwise inexplicable changes of tactics. Equally surprising was the discovery that it had been widely assumed that Dubrovnik's defence was largely provided by mercenaries; this was something that Cyrus Vance, for example, had taken to be a fact. From inside the city, most of us were unaware of these lying and dangerous rumours. But Kačić, as the reader will see from this book, hit such canards firmly on the head.

            He was in an exceptional position. An independent in politics – thus owing his allegiance to Croatia rather than to any political party – he shows in this volume his independence of spirit time and again. He was often in Dubrovnik, usually accompanying heads of state, foreign ministers, ambassadors and diplomats, people like Sir Fitzroy MacLean and Bernard Kouchner; but also in Zagreb, Belgrade, The Hague, talking to the European Parliament, to parliamentarians of the NATO countries, to the Council of Europe, to Cyrus Vance, even to generals in the JNA and much, much more. He took every opportunity to argue, to explain, to correct misapprehensions such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph. A "roving ambassador" in every sense; for Croatia in general and Dubrovnik in particular.

            Possibly the single greater disaster to befall Croatia, though, was the appalling siege and eventual fall of Vukovar, that most courageous of Croatian cities. Returning briefly to  Dubrovnik, the news that Vukovar had been overwhelmed was our worst day – the worst, at any rate, until our “black Friday”, December 6, 1991. Vukovar was a symbol to us, as it was to everyone in Croatia, of extraordinary bravery against extreme odds. Kačić keeps our minds on Vukovar; this is necessary, because the tragic brutality in the onslaught against this city never received the press coverage in the west that it should have done. Whilst never overlooking the disasters that hit other towns, villages, and cities throughout Croatia, he shows how Vukovar and Dubrovnik – “top right” and “bottom left” in this most eccentrically-shaped of countries – encapsulate, and serve to illustrate, both the human and cultural catastrophes, and the sheer courage of the citizenry, throughout the country.

            The reader should be aware that this volume is a collection of articles, speeches, addresses, reports, letters, interviews; most were written in 1991-2, some in the 1-2 years following. Each piece was delivered, recorded, or written at the date given. This means that each can be read as a free-standing chapter, without reference to others; but also, of course, makes some slight degree of repetition inevitable. It also means that none of them makes reference to events that followed (for example, only a few make reference to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina which came hard on the heels of the war against Croatia, and none to the events in Kosovo that followed that; nor, of course, to the downfall of Milošević in 2000). Thus, the items in the book constitute almost a diary-like account of the war against Croatia as it proceeded. Several pieces use the present tense, some the past. The present tense - for example, in speeches or appeals - adds a great sense of immediacy, and brings vividly to life the situation as it was seen and felt in these years so crucial to Croatia. It is important to see each chapter in the context and time at which it was written or presented…”

Formated for CROWN by prof.dr. Darko Žubrinić
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