Apr 19, 2022
6 mins read
I feel like I’ve been re-living the wounds of a thousand generations before me recently.
With the war in Ukraine, it has been weeks of adjusting to a reality where I can’t seem to take my eyes away from a life that seems strangely familiar to me.
It’s an odd concept when you feel in your bones that you have lived this timeline over and over again, despite never having physically been in a warzone.
I was born in Australia exactly two years after Operation Storm (Oluja)- the military offensive conducted by the Croatian Army to liberate land taken by the Yugoslav People’s Army during the Homeland War which started in 1991. I’ve always thought it was rather fitting that I was born on that day considering how I feel and why I am so passionate about what I write.
Whilst I was born far away from and long after a war that hit close to home for me, it did little to stem the feeling within my soul when I got the Twitter notification that Russia had invaded Ukraine.
Within days, I was witnessing footage and finding myself saying: ‘I’ve seen this before’. The parallels between Croatia in 1991 and Ukraine in 2022 were spooky, disturbing and uncannily reassuring.
As the Ukrainian people came together and defended their country without hesitation, the Western world watched on absolutely amazed, inspired and baffled. For many Croatians- both in Croatia and in the diaspora- we knew what that felt like. We nodded along, unsurprised, especially given the relationship and history both Ukraine & Croatia share. Put them side by side and it’s remarkably familiar. There’s a bond between the people of the two countries (and I’d say Poland too) that only they truly understand. You only have to look at comments on Youtube videos to see the abundance of comments that fall into the ‘Croatia & Ukraine= brothers’ category. Seeing the countless men and women in their late teens and early 20s taking up arms and doing what they could felt like deja vu. It’s wild because one day, they were your everyday youth in their early 20s, posting pics with their mates on social media, heading out for a nice dinner and what not- and the next day they’re defending their country.
During that first weekend as the world waited with bated breath to see whether Kyiv would stand until morning, I couldn’t help but remind myself of yet another uncanny similarity. Both Kyiv and my dad’s hometown of Šibenik have Archangel Michael on their coat of arms and as their patron saint. Why was this reassuring and not something of a coincidence? You only need to take a quick glance at Šibenik’s history to know that Kyiv is in safe hands. Namely, Šibenik was one of the few cities or towns across Croatia to not be conquered by the Ottomans. It also defended Croatia in the September War of 1991. Had the JNA taken the coastal town, it would have undoubtedly changed the face of the war and given them an astronomical advantage. Not only this, but years later it was said that Šibenik was also meant to be the original Srebrenica. Given that my relatives, including my dad who was 23 at the time, were there at the time, it’s unfathomable to think of what could have happened. As I watched what was happening in Kyiv and felt myself at times falling into the trap of doubt, there was something within me reminding me of Archangel Michael.
Days later, footage emerged of Ukrainian soldiers shooting down Russian helicopters. Someone posted it on Twitter and edited it to include the famous ‘Oba Dva, Oba Dva’ video from the town of Zečevo, near Rogoznica, south of Šibenik in September of 1991. I had goosebumps. Thirty-one years later, Europe was back at it again.
And it all felt too familiar.
So much for the ‘never again’.
I wanted to touch on an aspect of mindset and wellness that the particular industries don’t seem to discuss as much as they should. What many don’t realise is how in moments like these, it’s common that ancestral traumas are brought to the forefront. Even if you have never experienced these events personally in your physical being, there are generations before you who have and it’s instilled within your DNA.
On a more generic, day-to-day basis, this can appear as your mindset towards working, money and health. There have been countless studies to show that this ancestral trauma can be passed down anywhere between 7 to 14 generations.
What does that mean?
Most of what you think isn’t actually yours to begin with. Most of your emotions, thoughts, behaviours have all been passed down from generation to generation- either through what your relatives have taught you, or somatically.
This can explain why you might be feeling more anxious, frantic and alert than usual as you watch the news in Ukraine. Chances are that your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and before have experienced conflict in such a way that it is now being brought up for you to process and heal.
When I say that I feel like I’ve been reliving the wounds of a thousand generations before me, I’m not kidding. Especially as a woman.
My dad moved to Australia in 1991 in the midst of war. My uncle was in the army.
During World War II, my great-grandfather was killed by Nazis months before my grandfather was born. Another great-grandfather was a POW.
This was just the basics of the 1940s onwards.
I have no idea what was going on in my family prior to that- but I’ve always wanted to be on that show, Who Do You Think You Are?, so I could find out.
Whilst I don’t know my family history as far back, I know Croatian history. Let me sum it up for you and ask you if it sounds somewhat familiar: it was basically a constant fight for the right to be Croatian not erased.
Ottomans. Italians. Hungarians. French. Austrians. Venetians. Yugoslavia. It felt like battle after battle- both in a literal war, and a metaphorical one.
Croats were treated as second-class citizens. Throughout history, there were phases where it was illegal to speak Croatian. Scarily enough, this mindset was still seen even in the 80s and 90s. An example was the persecution of Doctor Ivan Šreter. When entering a patient’s occupation in the medical record, he wrote the Croatian term ‘umirovljeni časnik’ (retired officer) instead of the Serbian equivalent, ‘penzionisani oficir’. He was sentenced to jail because of this. In 1991, he was taken captive by Serb soldiers due to his history and was killed. His remains were found in 2008.
The right to merely exist as a Croat was laughed at, frowned upon and threatened. All the people wanted was to live freely, happily and safely in their own independent Croatia.
Where have we heard that before?
As you read about the latest in Ukraine and notice these unprocessed, complex emotions whirring within you, I want you to think about your own family history.
And then I want you to be kind to yourself.
And then, once you’re feeling more relaxed and you’ve neutralised your nervous system, I hope that you take the time to learn more about your own country’s history.
These are the stories we need to make sure we pass down generation after generation.