Katarina Kruhonja

(1998, Croatia)
Joint Award with Vesna Terselic

...for their dedication to a long-term process of peace-building and reconciliation in the Balkans.

About

Katarina Kruhonja was born in Osijek in 1949. She is one of the founders of the Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights in Osijek in the East Slavonia region of Croatia. She is a physician and was the nationally recognized senior specialist in nuclear medicine in Osijek hospital. 

Contact Details

Katarina Kruhonja
Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights
Trg A. Senoe 1
HR 31000 Osijek
CROATIA

Website

Biography

Katarina Kruhonja was born in Osijek in 1949.

She is one of the founders of the Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights in Osijek in the East Slavonia region of Croatia. She is a physician and was the nationally recognized senior specialist in nuclear medicine in Osijek hospital.

The Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights was founded in 1992, and was initially part of the Croatian Anti-War Campaign (ARK). It became formally independent of ARK in 1993, but is still a 'collective member' of it.

Vesna Terselic, born in 1962, was largely responsible for founding the Croatian Anti-War Campaign (ARK) in 1991 and has been for some years its National Coordinator. After studying at Zagreb University she became involved in street theatre and then, intensively, with environmental issues.

ARK is now a network of about 15 local and specialized organisations, a peace movement that is also the strongest and most active part of emerging civil society in Croatia. ARK is concerned with, among other things, education for non-violent conflict transformation, human rights protection, social reconstruction and reconciliation, support for refugees and displaced persons, help for the unemployed and the bereaved and those severely traumatized by war, the promotion of conscientious objections and the promotion of a civil rather than a military service corps. There are now well over a dozen centres where different aspects of these activities are pursued.

The Centre in Osijek is also making a major contribution to peace building in the region. From its activities several independent peace groups and regional as well as national networks have been established. The main activities of the Centre are dealing with the protection of human rights, peace education, organising seminars and workshops for primary school teachers and children as well as post-war peace building, including psychosocial support to the wounded population and preparing the ground for the return of displaced persons and refugees.

There are a number of projects intended to bring people together and rebuild confidence across the ethnic divides, and to start interethnic cooperation in postwar community building.

As a result of work facilitated by Terselic and Kruhonja, in March 1996 three organisations from Serbia and eight others from Croatia came together to form the 'Coordination of Peace Organisations for East Slavonia, Baranja and West Sirmium', which has made a major contribution to the prevention of a massive movement of Serbs out of the region, their integration in the Republic of Croatia, the prevention of incidents and violence and the processes of rebuilding trust between divided ethnic groups.

In order to initiate the process of dealing with the past and the establishment of factual truth about the war, the Center of Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights Osijek, the Center for Peace Studies, the Civic Council for Human Rights, and the Croatian Helsinki Committee together established in 2004 DOCUMENTA, a Centre for Dealing with the Past. The key reason for establishing this centre was the experience of suppression and falsification of war crimes and other war events in the younger history of the Balkans. Vesna Terselic is the director of DOCUMENTA.  

The commitment of these two women, and the many organisations and activities which they have helped to inspire, has significantly increased the prospects for a transition in the area from war and ethnic division to democracy, justice, non-violence and peaceful coexistence.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Katarina Kruhonja

December 9th, 1998

BUILDING PEACE TOGETHER

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends!

The beginning of my personal dedication to peace work and reconciliation could be the moment when I became aware of my part of responsibility for what was going on in Croatia in those days.

It was summer of 1991. At that moment I became aware that my own passivity towards 'politics' was a factor which also contributed to the outbreak of the war.

Then, I started taking part in actions, which I thought might help to prevent it. There I met my future colleagues Ante, Kruno, Pavle, Vesna... But, it was in the middle of the war zone (i.e. in Osijek, in late 1991 and early 1992, when the city was under fire from Serbian forces), where while sitting in the basements, we reflected upon how such a horrible war could have taken place at all.

We also asked ourselves what could be done and what we could do. We realised that we, as citizens or members of peoples organisations, would not be able to stop or influence the war and its course. But we also realised that we can resist the general belief that the best way to respond to violence was with still more violence and that we can preserve and nourish basic principles needed for long-term efforts aimed at transforming a totalitarian and war-torn society into a democratic one.

That future society would be based on common security and reconciliation, on the participation of citizens, on tolerance and human rights - a society more resistant to threats of war and more creative in building peace, justice and harmony.

Gradually, assisted by peace workers from all around the world, we started learning, deliberating and acting.

We were doing what we could for the victims of war, the homeless, the injured and traumatised, those whose human rights had been violated because of their ethnicity, and we did our best to introduce an element of peace education into schools.

Aiming on a peaceful transformation of existing conflicts and peaceful return of displaced persons, we also opened a dialogue with individuals and groups from the region which were still under Serbian control and UN protection. The opening of that dialogue was not easy.

Firstly we had to overcome our own prejudices and to convince ourselves that there must be individuals and groups with attitudes similar to ours and with whom we could start talking about how to prevent further violence and how to transform the existing conflict in a peaceful way. Also we had to find a way to mediate our idea and motivation for such efforts in our own community without provoking anger or even violence against us.

Nevertheless, this made us unpopular with many people, who felt our anti-war views were not only unpatriotic, but even traitorous.

But in our contacts even - and in fact particularly - with those who were hostile to us we tried to act in the spirit of non-violence. The words we spoke and the feelings behind those words, were friendly. If, as was often the case, we sensed that a person was in pain, or confused, or afraid, we would try to feel, and to project, healing or helpful thoughts.

We hope that in this way we encouraged people who had been angered and hurt by war, to develop a constructive approach to making peace.

We also carefully wove personal, human and friendly relations inside the group and with many individuals and groups from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and all over the world, receiving moral and material support.

This included the Anti-war Campaign Croatia (AWC) and Vesna Terselic, member organisations of Coordination of Organisations for Human Rights in the Republic of Croatia, Gordana Stojanovic and Association for Peace and Human Rights Baranja, the Franciscan Institute for Culture of Peace Split, several organisations from Serbia: Manda Prising (Vojvodina), Association for Tolerance Backa Palanka, Group "484" Belgrade, Adam Curle and the Quaker Peace Service, Dirk Heinrichs and foundation "Die Schwelle", Bert Boom and 'Peace Bridge Danube' (the Netherlands), Margareta Ingelstam and Christian Council of Sweden and Life and Peace Institute, Arne Engely and HEX, Terens Grace and ADA and Charles Tauber and many others.

These international peace organisations and individuals from abroad and Serbia helped us, peace organisations from Croatia, in opening the first contact and beginning the co-operation with similarly-minded individuals from the part of Croatia while that region was still under Serbian control. That was in summer 1994.

Three organisations from Serbia and 10 from Croatia accepted the peace agreement and the United Nation Transitional Administration in East Slavonia (UNTAS) mandate as a political framework for co-operation in the field.

A series of messages and letters were delivered. More than 1,500 persons from both sides took part in dialogue workshops organised on neutral territory in Hungary by international NGO's.

We work together on the protection and promotion of human rights, the reduction of tensions and the prevention of violence, the preparation of the environments for the return of displaced persons and refugees, and the reintegration of Serbian people in Croatia. Today, almost a year after the completed integration of this territory in Croatia people are still searching for a just and sustainable peace. Many persons lost during the war activities are still missing, Croats are returning very slowly, many Serbs left the region, tension between ethnic groups is high.

But, we all suffer existential insecurity coming from oppression through poverty, economic injustice and political crisis - at this moment around the question "Should citizens and parliament be controlled by the secret police or should the secret police be controlled by parliament elected by citizens"?

In the most eastern city in Croatia, Ilok, thirty women and men are preparing themselves in order to become multi-ethnic peace-building teams. According to the principle 'Let's build peace together', they are going to serve in local communities to empower positive social change inside the Croatia moving towards a democratic, justifiable and reconciled society. I am privileged to be with them and to actively share their visions, hopes and commitments.

In the name of all of us, those organisations and individuals working together for peace, justice, reconciliation and positive social changes in Croatia, I would like to express our gratitude for the trust, honour and support granted us by acknowledging our efforts through the Right Livelihood Award 1998 as a part of the regional and global peace service. Thank you very much.

Dr. Katarina Kruhonja

Co-founder of the Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights Osijek, Croatia.

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

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