We, as citizens or members of people's organisations, can preserve and nourish basic principles needed for long-term efforts aimed at transforming a totalitarian and war-torn society into a democratic one.

Acceptance speech – Katarina Kruhonja


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.

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