by Zvonimir KRSTULOVIC
Well, precisely this is the life of Vesna and Leon Levar, the wife and son of late Milan Levar, in Gospic.
Therefore, you live like that only because a planted explosive device killed your husband and father, blowing up his legs and a part of the head. Only because your husband and father will one day be remembered as a man who loved Croatia far more than those who, led by their alleged patriotism, butchered, killed and looted in the name of Croatia. Only because your father and husband loved the truth, and because the truth he spoke about today takes one either to prison or into hiding, because that truth is soaked with blood of innocents.
It's a holiday season. Are you one of those who will with clear heart dive in into the Christmas and New year's festivities? Of course. Msgr. Ivan Devcic, Rijeka archbishop and one of the youngest shepherds of the Church in Croatia stated for our newspaper just before Christmas the following: "People who manage in their heart to defeat evil and open up to good are the hope of this world". Was he referring to Milan Levar? He most definitely also referred to Milan Levar. His words stand like a monument against those black words and acts of all these self-declared "shepherds" who fed the Croatian populace, innocent sheep, on the meadow of evil. "Christmas guarantees that future belongs to good people" Msgr. Devcic encourages us. Milan Levar, one of the good, does not have a future in this world. But that does not diminish his greatness. Leon and Vesna Levar, son and wife of perfidiously murdered Milan Levar, also face holidays. What will they do, and how?
"First of all, we do not have enough money to celebrate the holidays the way they deserve to be celebrated. Secondly, there's no one to celebrate with. We are totally isolated," Vesna Levar says. "Christmas is a family holiday, therefore, house, son and mother. I don't have anyone else. I have an uncle, but he lives far away, abroad. I have some relatives in Slavonija, but they have their separate lives. I don't want to burden anyone with our difficulties, our troubles. I'll be working on New Year's eve..."
"I would give my life for those kids, because they've lost their parents. Why does not my Leon have the same rights? His father was also killed. Why wasn't he invited to any of the celebrations? Why didn't anyone visit him? His father was not killed in the war, but his death was closely related to the war... I could cry every day, but I don't want to burden people with things that are outside their jurisdiction... In a way, I'm weary. Even a man can be crushed, let alone a woman. Believe me, I'm crushed..."
"But I see strength in you!" was our sincere reaction.
"Strength is the only thing I got left. Another woman would probably end up in a mental institution in my place or with Drago Bajsic."
"He is our local gravedigger in Gospic. I have some strength left, but it's as if I've lost nerves. It's as if my will has been crushed. But I endure, because I have to, for the sake of my child. I must provide for him. I don't want him to miss anything. Unfortunately, I cannot bring back his father. He has faced that and has learned how to deal."
Evil set on Vesna Levar's shoulder and has stayed there for nine months. In nine months she was struck with three deaths of her loved ones. Her Milan was murdered on August 28, 2000. Her mother-in-law died on March 28, 2001, some nine months later. Then, on May 26, her father died. Her mother-in-law was felled by a heart attack, and her father by a stroke.
It's been a year and a half since the murder of Milan Levar. However, in that, we're sure many would agree, small community of dependent people who like to watch others suffer, some individuals have started giving "signals" that they are aware of their mistakes.
"I've noticed recently that more and more people at least say hello. Before, almost no one talked to me. These are simply Milan's and my friends who are slowly coming back."
The Levars are slowly returning to normal, if that's the appropriate term. Police sentry has recently been removed from their door and Vesna is less and less afraid of approaching other people. "There were cases that some people told me that they would come to see us but were afraid of being seen in our company, getting in trouble, losing their jobs... You know what, I think that most people are not prepared to face reality..."
"A friend told me that he would come to visit me but that he was sort of ashamed," Leon contributes his part of the testimony about isolation.
"Police did not stop visitors," Vesna continues, "but people feel ill-at-ease if they have to explain where they are going, who they are, if they have to show documents. I understand. I don't blame either the adults or children..."
Although the tension is slowly subsiding, the Levars also have to go through numerous unpleasant experiences. In the local health center, where Vesna recently took Leon, a man was so aggressive and abusive that she decided to file a suit against him.
"God forbid what he said. To make it worse, he is a former policeman," Vesna says.
Leon Levar is now twelve years old, he is a fan of Hajduk soccer club, likes computers and technology, and in his misfortune he was fortunate enough to be treated normally by his friends. The "small folks" were treating him better than the adults treated his mother. But some kids, older bullies from other classes did pollute the school with stories of the adults.
Leon, by the way he already speaks English well, gladly talked to numerous journalists from abroad who have passed through their house, and he exchanges letters with some American journalists until today. According to Vesna, he is aware of the reality. She is not hiding anything from him and he is firmly planted on his two feet.
"Do you ever recall the day when your dad was killed?" I ask him.
"I see that you are strong. You can handle that?"
"I have to!"
"Do you go out?"
"Yes, I play soccer with friends. We drive mopeds, sometimes go to see movies."
"Are some of them bad?"
"Of course. They say: 'what are you going to do now that your dad and the Hague are gone? You're nothing now! No one and nothing.' Like that."
"Time will prove that my Milan told the truth. That's already obvious," Vesna jumps in the conversation.
"Some people have been taken into custody..."
"Listen, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. As far as I am concerned they are innocent, although I know very well that they aren't, but I can't prove it and until that is proven they are not guilty. Perhaps they are even responsible for Milan's death, but I don't know that. Time will show... I think that Milan did a lot for this state, and we were even criticized for protecting Serbs, instead of Croats, even though some Croats were also killed. But whatever, to each one its own... To such questions and to the statements of journalists that Chetniks killed Croats Milan responded by saying 'Croats killed Serbs, as well as Croats, they murdered in my town; I can't do anything in Serbia; we must sort things out in our state!'"
Vesna Levar received promises that she would get her husband's state pension, and at least a scholarship for Leon. However, whenever she enquired about the promises, she was told "it will happen, it will happen..."
"What are the most recent news about the investigation?" we ask.
"I don't receive any information about that," Vesna is resigned.
"When initially newspapers wrote that Milan had committed suicide, I was so upset about that that I went to see the Police chief and he told me that that was a lie and that warrants had been issued for the arrest of unidentified murderers."
"Later, they told me that the investigation was ongoing and that's all."
"I told them: don't tell me anything. I don't care what you're doing, but I'm waiting and living for the day someone tells me that they found the murderers. Not because I want revenge, but simply, I want to know who did that... I think that it would be more the state's interest than mine to find that out, because Milan is gone and no one can bring him back. But, nevertheless, my child will have an easier time growing up if told that his died was killed because of what he believed in, than somebody else's child with the knowledge that its father was a murderer."
Despite everything, Vesna Levar is proud of her late husband and she is trying to transfer that pride to her son.
"I told Leon that he can be proud of his father, because he did not kill nor did he steal, nor did he run away. Until the last moment, he stayed here and fought for the truth!"
While Milan Levar, on August 28, 2000, was dying in the courtyard of his car shop, murdered by a planted explosive device, the investigation was conducted, what irony! - by Pavao Rukavina, investigative magistrate of the county court in Gospic, the man accused by Levar of suppressing information about war crimes. Croatian authorities did nothing to protect Milan Levar, president Stjepan Mesic said at the time. Many say that both of them are courageous, good, stubborn... In the end, what could be Levar's lesson?
"In 1994 the court decided that we did not have the right to purchase the apartment. When the deadline for the purchase had come, I sent a request for purchase, but never received any response. They did not try to evict us while Milan was alive, and now that he's dead they can throw us out whenever they like. I am afraid..."
The status of the Levars can be summed up like this: no safe accommodation, no pension, no assistance. Vesna works for the local meteorological station.
"We live on my salary. I am not hungry and I hope that my son does not go without anything; however it is not easy to live like this, with uncertainty and fear that some day they'll come to the door and throw us out in the street. We have nowhere to go to. My husband was with the military from the first day until June 1992."
She has heard from the military circles that Milan Levar could be decorated based on his defense of the sovereignty of the Croatian state.
"But when?" Vesna wonders. "When it is proven that crimes he talked about were indeed committed? By then our lives may be over. I think that at least Milan's son deserves to be able to use his father war veteran's pension for education, or at least some sort of scholarship. Or if at least we could say: we have our own apartment; I don't ask for a gift, just let me buy it. I think that that is the least this state could do for us..."