The Erased - Information and documents

Assistance to the erased persons in regulating their legal status and awareness raising of the public on the erasure and the status of remedying the violations.


A sad story (about the erasure) with a happy ending

I was born in Serbia. Our family moved to Slovenia when I was 8 years old. Despite the culture shock I experienced upon first contact with Slovenia, I assimilated quickly, and having a talent for languages, I learned the language fast. I must say I wasn’t a target of any mistreatment on account of my origins, probably because I wasn’t a weak person. Children can quickly detect the weak and start teasing them. They did try something like that with me, but gave up quickly, because they didn’t trigger any reaction.

The erasure occurred when I was a second year student of the Faculty of Arts. Because I’ve always been well informed, I knew I had to obtain citizenship by submitting an application by the end of 1991. The problem arose because I only had a copy of my birth certificate instead of the original issue. When I went to Mačkova Street to submit the citizenship application, it was rejected for this reason. It was clear to me that I couldn’t obtain the original at the time. It was impossible. It proved to be an extremely difficult task even afterwards. I tried to convince an employee to accept my application anyway, I even pleaded to her, but I couldn’t make her change her mind. She didn’t want to accept my application; however, she wrote on a tiny piece of paper that they’re missing the original copy of my birth certificate and put a date next to it. As it turned out, it was that piece of paper, which I’d happened to keep, that later solved my problem, or at least helped a lot.

After the deadline for submitting citizenship applications as outlined by Article 40 had passed, I knew there would be trouble, which really proved to be the case later on. However, there has been plenty of luck involved in my story. I’m well aware of it, and very thankful, too.

The first thing I was lucky to have was permanent residence, and that was of vital importance. The next significant thing was the fact I held an account with Ljubljanska Banka – based on that permanent residence. The problem was my faculty. Having no documents or status, I couldn’t continue my studies, and that left me marked. I actually could have continued five years later, but the study syllabuses had changed so much in that time that it would have been too complicated and difficult. I had bad luck with my driving test as well. I passed the first part of the practical test in June 1991, and I think the erasure happened right on the day I was supposed to take the main test at Roška Street.

Because I didn’t have any other documents, I lived in a sort of fear and suspense. I felt uneasy and uptight, and that was in the middle of a period in which a young person is supposed to develop towards their full potential. Being erased prevented me from achieving that.

I knew all that time that I shouldn’t leave the country. This played an important role in obtaining the notorious birth certificate. My parents lived in Bosnia, and my sister moved there later. I was quite young at the time, and not entirely independent. I was very roughly thrown into the real, independent world. I had difficulties adapting at first, and I also suffered from depression. I had to grow up overnight. The first two years were especially unpleasant.

I was aware that I was in the middle of a delicate situation, so I tried to avoid any possible circumstances which would require me to present my ID. To try and pass the border? I knew I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have any problems with the police. I lived with an existential threat hanging over my head, and I was afraid of being deported. I realised I was in real danger, but I can imagine the shock being even bigger for those who didn’t know what was going on. I did, and that was very important. It was why I always tried to avoid unpleasant situations. Those who didn’t know – probably the majority of all the erased – only found out when the police punched holes in their documents. That must have been even worse. I was very nervous and lived in fear.

The public didn’t talk about the erasure for a long time, and the media scarcely reported about it. Personally, I read the newspaper every day, because I’m interested in politics and current events, and I always like to be informed. So, people like me knew what was going on. Others, who didn’t really care about such things, couldn’t know. The significance it held for people coming from the states of the former Yugoslavia wasn’t stressed hard enough. They didn’t know what it meant in terms of further living in Slovenia. I knew. I was very well aware of it all. The erasure shrank my world immensely! I lived very cautiously for four years, having to look over my shoulder. I knew I had a problem that I had to solve. According to Article 40, I met all the demands of acquiring citizenship, and I thought it extremely unfair that I wasn’t able to. I wasn’t passive. I wanted Slovenian citizenship.

As I said before, I was quite fortunate in this unfortunate situation. After the erasure, I got married to a lawyer. My husband’s mentor, an esteemed expert in the field of law to whom I’m immensely grateful even today, presented a solution to my problem. He explained that my application, despite being incomplete, should have been accepted, and then reviewed later. The proof that I wanted to submit the application on time was the aforementioned little piece of paper. By requesting “restoration of the previous situation”, I managed to obtain citizenship retroactively under Article 40.

After I had acquired citizenship, I immediately went to Bosnia to see my parents. It was a very emotional reunion, as my parents had never visited me in Slovenia during that time. My father felt very hurt by the whole situation, and he refuses to go to Slovenia even today. He felt betrayed. The country he had defended his whole life turned its back on him. He was sure that the things could have been settled in a different manner, like I’m sure they could’ve been, and should have.

I was erased for about four years. During that time, I managed to acquire my original birth certificate with great effort. Legal experts later explained to me that I should have been able to obtain citizenship even without it. I was lucky. I’m aware that not many had as much luck as me. I can imagine the fate of the people who weren’t so lucky, who weren’t as informed as me and who didn’t get legal advice. It never occurred to me to demand any compensation, even though the erasure had quite a significant effect on my development as a young person, and therefore lessened the quality of my life.

One of the many things I was lucky about was the fact that I had never had any significant health issues. I was young and I wasn’t ill. Sometimes, a problem arose when I needed antibiotics, but we found a way. I asked others to get them for me. And I paid for the dentist myself. I’m not sure how that would work nowadays.

The worst memories I have from that period were the visits to Mačkova Street. You went there to try to find out what you could and should do to remedy the situation… Those visits were the worst nightmare a person can imagine. They were definitely the worst moments of my life. I’d like to mention two very emotional examples. The first one was the waiting room. All those faces… It was something I’ll never forget. You could see so much helplessness, despair and suffering in their eyes. Lines of waiting people. You had to wait at least two hours every time you visited this misery of life. The peak of it all was when it was finally your turn to enter the office. I’ll never forget that office, as I’ll never forget the person who worked there. He must have been a sadist, enjoying his power and showing it off shamelessly. We were second-rate people in his eyes, to put it mildly. He was handicapped; one of his arms was missing. This person has so many of my tears on his soul. Every time I came from his office… He was supposed to be there to help you solve your problem, but instead he took delight in telling you that you were in a hopeless situation and there was nothing you could do. I didn’t exactly understand what his function was. That was why I demanded someone else to talk to, as I couldn’t get anywhere with someone who had no intention to help. But all I got was a gruff reply that I couldn’t get past him, that he was a fortress protecting… whatever there was to be protected from us poor souls. It seemed his sole purpose was to get pleasure and gloat over our helplessness and our tears. He never used any insults – there was no need for them when he could easily convey to us what kind of people we were in his eyes. The worst part was that his contempt wasn’t even directed at our actions, it was directed at our very existence.

Even though I didn’t know or associate with any of the other erased, it was crystal clear to me how someone who wasn’t educated and informed must have felt when they found out about the erasure by getting their documents seized. It was clear to me. I’m not saying I’m not an ordinary person. Of course I am, but what made me different from most was that I was informed. It hurt me to see how society fell for demagogic claims that what had happened to the erased had been their own fault. I knew it was the opposite. It was more than obvious that they were doing us an injustice.

I think the question of compensations isn’t even relevant. I’m sure most of those people didn’t think about demanding them, and neither did I. The real question was a lot more moral and existential. Putting the blame on others saying they hadn’t done enough seemed monstrous. It took me a while to understand the full scale of the problem, though I admit that I didn’t give it as much attention as I could have. It was such a painful chapter in my life that I wanted to forget it as soon as possible. It also took a while before I learned about the two associations of the erased via the media. I think the media played a very problematic role in this whole thing. Their reports weren’t constructive – they supported putting the blame for the erasure on people and incited intolerance towards the erased.

In my opinion, the erasure was connected to some sort of a tantrum, which was also present at the formation of the country. This was a bad start, since Slovenia had shown a lot of potential and had enjoyed a good reputation in the former Yugoslavia, among other things. It was probably about the greed of those in power and the deception of the people. I’m not sure how to put it. It was about some inexplicable desire, perhaps a desire to have 20 different kinds of yoghurt on the shelves, like they had seen in neighbouring Italy and Austria. Maybe it was an inferiority complex. Proof that they were better than the former Yugoslavia. Maybe. It was definitely reflected in a general contempt for everything coming from Yugoslavia. There was a lot of black-and-white thinking, and everything coming from the former states was bad and needed to be erased from its history, its essence, and its future.

I’d never had any troubles due to my origins before the erasure. But I do think nationalism was growing stronger in the years preceding the independence. The language played an important part in differentiation. A lot of people coming from the former states spoke Slovene badly or with an accent. They were quickly identified, and perhaps automatically treated differently because of that. My Slovene was perfect. I’ve never hidden the fact I’m a Serb, I’ve always spelled my surname with a ‘ć’, and so on. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of the fact, because I think labelling people like that is completely wrong. But I’m sure I had less trouble because I could speak Slovene, which probably also affected my story. The only place where I didn’t have any advantage over the rest due to my knowledge of the language was at Mačkova Street. They didn’t treat me any differently despite my scolarly Slovene.

I’m convinced that stressing nationalism and taking pride in belonging to a certain ethnic group are completely pointless. It makes much more sense to be defined by what you have achieved in your life with your own abilities rather than by where you happened to be born. That’s my personal opinion. The same way I condemn Slovenian nationalism, I condemn others – Serbian, for example. It was about some sort of a domino effect. They say that Yugoslavia fell apart because of Serbian nationalism. I wouldn’t say it contributed to it any more than Croatian or Slovenian nationalism did. Patriotism was often present in Slovenian political discourse at the time, and I think it defines it even today.