I knew the day would come when I could tell someone the truth of what happened to me in my life – and I know it was not my fault. I was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1970. I came to Slovenia in 1986, when I was barely 16 years old, with the aim of searching for a better life. I lived in Ljubljana with my uncle, who helped me to find a job. I was also temporarily registered at his place. Very quickly I started working at the Medical Centre in Ljubljana (in the laundry room), and received a single room in the workers’ house soon after. I was working in the Medical Centre for about seven years. I felt good and satisfied at work. In 1991 I got married and gave birth to a son a year after that.
When it was time to submit an application for the citizenship, my husband and I did it at the same time. He got the Slovenian citizenship, but my application was rejected because I did not have a registered permanent residence before the Slovenian plebiscite. I was not able to register for permanent residence before, because I lived in a workers’ home and was told that I cannot register at this address. Immediately after the plebiscite I applied for permanent residence. I was told that I can reapply for Slovenian citizenship later and request it on the basis of my husband and son, who were Slovenian citizens. And so I did.
At that time they told us at work that anyone without Slovenian citizenship will be fired and in 1992 I remained without a job. I believed that they will take into account the fact that I am a wife and mother of a Slovenian citizen, but I was wrong. The other co-workers who did not have Slovenian citizenship also got fired. It was hard to deal with being thrown somewhere in the fog where you have neither a job nor citizenship. I was waiting for Slovenian citizenship for eight years. In a meantime, my ID card expired and I went to administrative office to have it extended. I experienced a shock there. The responsible person destroyed (punctured) my still valid ID in front of my husband’s eyes. The same person also told me that foreigners in Slovenia cannot have a permanent residence. I cannot have Slovenian documents if I do not have a citizenship. I asked – how can I live without a document, how can I prove to anyone my identity, if I do not have any personal document? At that time I did not realize that I had been erased. I did not know. The official told me that I have to go to the Bosnian embassy to get my passport, and then I can apply for a residential visa.
I submitted a request for a Bosnian passport and after that I asked for a residential visa. I got it, but for a very short time. It had to be constantly extended. In administration office there were always long rows. Since I had a small child at home, I could not always wait in a line all day long. And during winter time we were always freezing standing in there! I was sending my father in law to wait in a line, and when it was my turn, he called me to get there. And once I got there, it was already end of office hours. That happened three days in a row and my visa expired, which complicated things even more. When I finally came to the window (with an invalid visa), and explained them what happened, they told me that they cannot help me with anything. The next day I went back and again asked them to help me. They insulted me and told me that I am not in the right department, and that if the police catch me with an invalid document, they will send me back to Bosnia. I had a husband and a child here and I was never depending on a state, I was able to take care of myself, I had a job and a normal life. That was when it finally crushed me. Not so much because I was out of work, although I cared since it was my first job, but because I was in a situation in which no one treated me as a human being. I was really hurt.
When I first applied for a residence visa, they told me that I have to unregister first (because I had permanent residence registered at the address where we lived), and then register again on another department for temporary permit. I never understood why. Were they playing with my fate? I ended up without everything. I had no identity document, no health insurance. The officer told me that I have an invalid document (Bosnian passport and invalid residential visa) and that I have to go out of Slovenia and then come back and claim for the residential visa again. I asked them how can they advise me this and who guarantees me that I can come back with an invalid document. The officer did not want to tell me her name, she was quiet, and after she said she cannot help me anymore. How could I go across the border with an invalid document? I had a family here! And I was afraid to walk down the streets! I think even these officials did not know what is right and what is not. It was all so confusing. If somebody had told me clearly what to do and what are the consequences, it would have been much different.
For about three years I was without any document. I had only confirmation that I applied for Slovenian citizenship. I found job somehow (on black market through someone else’s student referral) so that I had some income, and I was also used and willing to work. My husband lost his job at that time. I did not have health insurance and could not see a doctor so if I felt any pain, I had to put up with it and suffer. I have lost a lot of my teeth and they ached! I was only able to help myself. Out of despair I asked my relative for her health card once, but she did not give it to me. She was afraid she would have troubles because of that. I understood, but I was still hurt. Luckily, I did not have any serious health problems. I was young and healthy.
In 1996 I got pregnant and had to see a doctor. But how? I believed that there are still few good people in this world and did not give up. I told myself that I will give birth, even if the world collapses. I told people around me about my distress, because I hoped somebody will be able to help. And one girl really did – she took me to her friend who registered me as a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was first afraid to register as a refugee, because I had already applied for citizenship. After all these years of living in Slovenia, I had to become a “refugee” because I did not have health insurance. I came here as a sixteen year old child because I wanted my own money and a normal life. However, I was grateful for that refugee status so I could go and give birth normally – I got a daughter. I was still wondering why I cannot get a Slovenian citizenship. I had refugee status by the time I finally got the citizenship in 1999.
After I had applied for citizenship, I had to go every three months to renew the expired documents (e.g. certificate of good conduct) to the application for citizenship. Each certificate was valid only for three months, and every time I had to go to the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I paid 40 marks for each certificate. It was like this for eight years. After eight years they rejected my request for citizenship, because I did not (so they claimed) bring the certificate of my husband’s personal income in deadline. I said that I submitted it on time, but I had no proof, because the keeper who accepted it from me never gave me any confirmation. When I got the invitation to come to administration office, I was convinced that I finally got the citizenship. When I came there, I happily asked the employee (I very well remember him as he was without one arm), if I really got citizenship. This gentleman laughed in my face and said, “Yes, yes, ma’am, you got it!” Without any explanation, he gave me some papers to sign. I was led to believe it is an invitation to come to be served, and he even said that I got it. When I signed it, he said, “No, ma’am, you are not getting citizenship”. The application was rejected because it did not contain the certificate on personal income of your husband. I will never forget this day! I went home crying to my family. Once again I was humiliated in the “nice” way. I believe I should get the Slovenian citizenship in 1992 when I met all the conditions, and my husband and child were also Slovenian citizens.
During these eight years I was also hurt about what I heard from the neighbours. They said police was coming every three months into our village to ask if I really live on this address. When the neighbours asked them why they are asking this, they said it is because of the citizenship. I felt like the worst criminal, like I did something really wrong. But I did not. I was living a fair life, taking care of two children and had never lived on a state support. Even now, after 20 years, it breaks my heart when I remember all this. Maybe someone who is reading this will say it is not true. But it is the cruel truth. I could have written much more, but I am ashamed to tell all what I had experienced because I did not obtain the Slovenian citizenship.
When I got the request denied, I was told to apply again. It needed to be accompanied by the same documents, and I had to pay for all of this again. I had learned you should never give up. I heard about one lady who was offering free legal assistance and the day after I got my application denied, I went over to her, told her my story and gave her all the documents. Even today I am grateful to her because she saved me. She even paid for my fee, for which I did not have the money because me and my husband were both out of a job. I am still so grateful to her! Within two weeks I received the Slovenian citizenship! Then I immediately found a job and started working again.
It is sad how someone can play with people’s lives like that. Many are probably still wondering – what do these erased want? We want an apology for what they did to us. I can still very well remember gentleman without one arm, who was working in that office. And one of the ladies who worked there at that time and now works in the office in Moste. When I have something to be arranged in the office, I feel bad when I remember about these people. There is still fear present that something will go wrong again.
Only the erased and our families really know what we have been through. I know they are cases much worse than mine, some families broke up because of this. Some of them had not seen each other for years. Did anybody ask themselves how did these people feel? Until I got the citizenship, I had not been anywhere out of Slovenia. I had not seen my parents, brothers and sisters for four and a half years. My child met them when he was five years old. Is this humane? Because I did not have my papers, I could not cross the border. How do you explain to a child why the others can go to Bosnia and we cannot? What do you say to them when they are asking, why others have two other grandmothers instead of one? You cannot explain all that to a child. Later we went to talk on Gorjanci because I could not cross the border. They were able to, but I was not. And then the war began in Bosnia, and for some time I did not even know whether my relatives are alive. Why me? I remember people who did not have a job or housing and got citizenship immediately. I did not. When I got my citizenship and went to Bosnia to visit relatives, I did not even remember them properly anymore. They asked what happened to me, why am I completely different. I was not able to laugh anymore. I first met my grandmother on the street when I arrived. I could not speak. I cried. I could not get myself together for two days. I was so happy that after so many years I could go there again.
I feel bad when people say that the erased did not want the Slovenian citizenship. That is not true. I wanted it! People did not know. When I first came to Slovenia, I also did not know that I have to apply for permanent residency, if I do not want to have any problems later. If someone had told me that, I would have done it immediately. At that time there was no talk about this in public, in media. People did not have all the information. I found out about the erasure very late. Only after I got the citizenship and went back to work in the laundry room, my colleagues and I discussed what happened to us. I did not hear anything in media about it. One of my colleagues told me about the erasure, and that there is an association dealing with it. I once went with her to the general meeting, and got enrolled in the association. If I had not been talking to this people, I would not have any information.
It was bad. It was really bad. What happened to me was injustice. I do not like to speak about these years. My family has a normal life now, luckily. I wrote down all this long ago because I knew that once the time will come when I can tell someone. I had such a feeling, and now this day has come. I will conclude here and say that I never want anyone to experience what I have experienced in Slovenia. Of course, I also have a lot of nice memories, but because of everything else what happened, it all has a bitter aftertaste.