Starting A New Life In Ireland

Zlata Filipovic (30), the author of the worldwide bestseller, Zlata’s Diary, talks about her life in Ireland and her experience with war. Photograph © Dragana Jurisic


By Mira Sobčáková                                                    

Zlata Filopovic has all the air of a happy and carefree young woman.  Her deep green eyes suggest wisdom, a life rich in experience, and some sort of willingness to change the world for the better.  But if the past is another county, then in Zlata’s case that country and past is Bosnia.  There, she survived two years of war.

The diary that she kept at the time got published in France and with the help of French officials, Zlata and her parents managed to get out of Bosnia, leaving all of their loved ones behind.  When the first shot was fired in April 1992; she lost her best friend, her childhood, the right to go to school and any sense of certainty about the future.

Now, having lived in Dublin for 15 years; the Oxford graduate and human rights activist enjoys life and      just like any other young adult, loves hanging out with her friends, going to concerts, eating out, traveling. And she admits no guilty pleasures at all.  “They are all just pleasures,” she smiles.

The soulfulness of the Irish, their light-hearted approach and the chattiness of the people appeal to her a lot.  But she also explains that it feels comforting to come back home and realise that over there, she is not just Zlata Filipovic, the writer and film-maker.

Over there, she is someone’s granddaughter, someone’s niece; she is the child of Alica and Malik Filipovic’s.  “It’s just nice to know that there are people wondering how I am or what I am up to, back in Bosnia. And every time I go home it feels so intimate.  As if I’ve existed there for longer; not just for 30 years.  I like that.” she says.
Zlata visits her home-town Sarajevo as often as her busy schedule allows her to.  She describes the unique scent of the air after it rains, and how she never misses an opportunity to sit and play her old piano back in the apartment where she had endured the two long years of conflict.

“I also love the moment I land in Dubrovnik, the capital city of Croatia.   Once you come out of the plane, you’re swept away by this particularly sweet and warm air.  Sometimes I think of moving to the Croatian coast when I grow old.”

But then she hesitates and quickly adds that ever since the war, she has been cautious and doesn’t plan that much really: “I just take life as it comes-with a positive attitude, but step-by-step.  I’m not a ’10-year-plan type’ at all.”
But it’s not just about fun and travel for Zlata.  She still campaigns for human rights and is a member of the Amnesty International Committee.  Together with her friends from countries including Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda; she established the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW).  The aim of the organisation is to speak up for the rights of all children affected by violence, like child soldiers for example, as well as to raise awareness through educational and artistic forms.

And when Irish writer Roddy Doyle’s young writer’s club Fighting Words recently asked her to take part in their projects; she was truly thrilled and honoured: “I cannot wait to share my writing experience with children.”

Zlata says that she has always wanted to live her life to full.  “But there is a part of me that likes to be engaged in serious matters, like the issue of rape in the Congo for example.” She doesn’t try to shy away.  She also sometimes reads her diary.  One could assume it might be too painful, but Zlata doesn’t mind:

“I’ve always kept a diary and I like to read them all, not just the book.”

Did she ever forgive the war-mongers for what they made her and her family go through?  “I never felt like there was something to forgive.  To me, hatred and anger are two very useless emotions.  I just remember feeling really sad…and helpless.”

The promotional tour for ‘Zlata’s Diary’ across Europe and the US gave her the opportunity to speak out, not just about the death of her best friend but for all the people back in Bosnia.  It was a chance to give a first-hand account of the horrors of war.  Reflecting on that time, she says,

“It was like a lottery almost.  My diary was randomly chosen by UNICEF from among all others; it got published and turned out to be a bestseller.  And I suddenly became some sort of a vessel between Bosnian people and the rest of the world.  I thought it was my duty to represent them all, talk about their suffering and hopefully help them that way.”

In one of the interviews from the tour of mid 1990s, her mother Alica said she felt guilty every time she switched a light on.  “Those times were extremely upsetting for my mother.  We were given freedom, but she still had to leave both of her parents behind in ridiculous, almost medieval conditions.”

Just a 14-year-old girl at a time, Zlata managed to endure long flights, continuous interviews, and the strain of being in the constant spotlight.  Wearing a peace-symbol necklace during most of her TV appearances, she spoke nearly fluent English and managed to stay calm and answer the toughest questions with grace and wisdom.

Even at such a young age, she had a very thoughtful view of the situation back at home, and compared politicians to kids.  “I still feel that way.  Wars are often caused by pointless conflicts similar to the ones of children arguing over a ball or hopscotch.  Politicians just try to out-do each other, and they don’t realise how much suffering they are causing to ordinary citizens, who have absolutely nothing to do with all that;” she says.

Though the Bosnian War is long over; Zlata still doesn’t cope very well with any sudden loud noises and bangs: “People seem to have this weird obsession with fireworks, but I just can’t stand them.  I’d rather stay indoors, watch TV or listen to music to avoid bringing back all the bad memories.”

The current pro-democratic revolutions taking place in Middle East give her cause for hope. “It is good that the Egyptians showed that change can be done by quasi-peaceful means;” she says.  “We never managed that in former Yugoslavia.  But I’m concerned with the situation in Libya and with the way civilians are being treated by their government and military.”

Given her own experiences, the fate of ordinary people is one that comes first, she always sees things from the human rights perspective. There is also the long-term effects of what she went through as a child.  She says that she sometimes asks herself:

“Who am I regardless of the experience I’ve had? Would I and my friends be the same if the war had not happened to us?  Would we keep in touch like we do now?” But then she concludes that is an impossible question to answer and that you simply have to learn to live with what you’ve been through. “You can’t always forget but you have to try and move on.”

What she is sure about though, is that people tend to surprise themselves in extreme situations:  “For example, I don’t think I could handle a divorce and I admire people that d0.  To me it is simply impossible to even try and imagine. Yet, I managed to get through the war.  It made me stronger.  I got to witness the blackest and the whitest of human kind at the same moment.  It was extraordinary in that way.”

”You just don’t know what you are capable of, until it really happens and you have no choice but stand up and face it.”


One response to this post.

  1. […] Pulse of the City//Starting a new life in Ireland – Dublin Posted by Rory Gehmair Starting A New Life In Ireland […]


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