The person I will be describing is fictionalized for ethical reasons. He and his family are a combination of people whom I have known over the years. The situations that I describe are very real, though.
I met Darko about 15 years ago for the first time. I was working with another therapist with a group of veterans in a town not far from Vukovar. Darko’s wife, whom I had not known before, called me and asked if I could come to their home. I told her that I would do it only if Darko also agreed. When I got there, she and he and I sat down together. When I asked what the issues were, she said that Darko had gone into himself and had isolated himself from the family. At certain points, he would burst out in anger. Sometimes, he was violent toward her and the children. She said that she loved him, but that she couldn’t live that way. I asked Darko to respond.
He said that he had been through the war. I asked him to describe what had happened. At first, he declined, saying that it would hurt her and the children if he talked about all of the incidents. She then said that she would rather know what was hurting him. He then began to talk. It was, indeed, horrific. At the end, she said that she finally knew why he was the way he was. He also was relieved that, finally, it was out in the open. This relieved the situation in him and in the family somewhat.
He agreed to further therapy, and we have seen one another fairly often during the intervening years.
A number of things have happened. First, when we explored his background, we found that he had been abused as a child by a narcissistic mother who had had several husbands, one of them quite famous in Croatia. Furthermore, in fact, he had been a pacifist and had not wanted to go to the war at all but could not find a way out of it. He idealized one of his brothers, who had been killed during the war.
At one point, he had tried to get assistance for his psychological feelings. He faced a number of barriers. First, during the war, the government, in the person of President Franjo Tudjman, had denied that Croats could suffer from PTSD. Then, he faced the psychiatric establishment. They then, and still do, gave very little talk therapy, and had put him onto a combination of drugs that had made him into a virtual zombie. I must point out here that we are virtually the only group providing therapy without drugs and without charge. This is true even now, 24 years after the end of the war.
Even now, such events as New Year, when there are fireworks, and during thunderstorms, and on the anniversaries of various events, Darko gets very anxious and upset. 18 November, when Vukovar came into Serb hands, is one of those events. Unfortunately, the politicians have made that day into a feast of nationalist sentiment and use it for their own purposes. Starting in 2020, it will even be a national holiday.
Darko’s family history has not been easy. His wife ultimately divorced him. Recently, he remarried. His current marriage also is problematic. His children have suffered from transgenerational transmission of Darko’s trauma and the trauma of their mother, who also lived under difficult circumstances during the war. There still is occasional violence in the family. On a few occasions, Darko has been violent in public.
In this region, there still is virtually no psychological treatment for military or civilian war victims. It is a silent problem. The politicians say that the issues have been solved. This is very far from the truth. The city and the region have been physically rebuilt, for the most part. Yet, you only have to scratch the surface to find many many people like Darko.
The migrant issue adds to the complex situation in Croatia and Bosnia.
Again, we are virtually alone in dealing with the psychological aspects of all of this. Donors are insensitive to this as well, wanting to sweep it under the carpet.
Thus, while we now recently have heard that we will have funds for 2020 to exist, at least, we cannot do the things that we would like.
If Friends feel so inclined, they can contribute through the Hulpfonds. Also, if Friends would like to know more and to talk to us, we would like to organize a conversation on Skype at some point. Please let us know.