Steeped in history….
1oth May 2016
We are at a place in Croatia, it’s well off the beaten track and is densely UNpopulated. The owners of the Ethno Village Stara Lonja, Twin brothers Maladin and Egor told us about the village and how it’s decline in population was seemingly now, unstoppable.
The Ethno Village Stara Lonja is situated in the village of Lonja at the heart of the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park. It’s 120 km from Zagreb and 45 km from Sisack. Stara Lonja is situated in the part of Lonja called Budzak. The name comes from Turkish and it means a nook or a hidden corner.
A long time ago the river Lonja flowed through Budzak and at that time there were thirty houses here too. The houses disappeared along with the people who died or went away. The only houses left are these re furnished for tourism.
The river Lonja was the boundary between Slavonia and Croatia in the past. In old times you could hear the sound of the scythe and singing coming from Budzak, there was hammering and song, you could hear the sound of horses neighing and cows mooing, sounds of hammers and saws. Local people were building Budzak as if it would stay here forever. The boys said that in some places only the old water wells bear witness to the life that began, went on and ended in its full swing.
In 1900 Lonja had a population of 727. Now there are less than 100. They said that as the children of the village grew up, they grew more and more needy for western culture, the bright lights of the towns and cities. This, unfortunately leaves a dying population. The elders of the village are its main inhabitants, they still tend their own ground and grow their own food, there is only a small corner shop stocking basic essentials. Each day we have been out and about we have seen them out on their tractors or raking or scything their land.
It’s such a beautiful place, completely unspoilt and tucked away from ” real life ”
It’s understandable why the youngsters would want out though. There isn’t a living to be made off the land anymore, the farmers can’t get good prices for their work.
“Not so long ago” says Mladin ( or is it Egor ) “two horses would buy you a tractor, now a tractor costs ten thousand euros or more and a horse is only worth seven hundred!”
We took a drive out of the village and headed down river towards the Bosnian border, towards Jasenovac.
In the Balkan countries for many hundreds of years, tensions have run high between the main areas. Emerging some years ago were the main six of these areas; they became formed when Yugoslavia was formed after the Second World War and was comprised of Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia, there were tensions between all these states historically.
In the very early forties the then President of Croatia wanted to strengthen and establish the identity of his State. Over a period of time the President formed an allegiance, and with Hitlers support a camp was built ” as big as 147 full sized football pitches ” for Roma gypsies,Jews, Serbs, Muslims and Croats opposed to the new regime.
This was more than a work house it was a death camp. Jasenovac became notorious amongst the victims.
There were almost eighty two thousand lives lost at Jasenovac. Relatively little was known about this in the West, at that time, and also still now.
The death camp Jasenovac was dismantled immediately after the war and now Jasenovac is a memorial site, a museum and an educational centre. The train stands still on what is left of the tracks that carried the prisoners to the camp.
Mum pointed out that The rest of the sleepers have been lifted and re laid as a path which walks you out into the middle of one of the fields through the burial mounds, and to the concrete flower monument dedicated to all who died there. She said that either deliberately done, or by accident for convenience it was very Poignant that the sleepers from that awful track lead now to remembering. A sapling by the monument represents perhaps new hope.
Visiting the museum is a very interesting and moving experience. To read more about Jasenovac; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasenovac_concentration_camp
Arriving back at Lonja we played with the dogs and read for a while, we were going for dinner that evening with Mladin and Egor. At half past seven we jumped into the brothers car, and they drove us to a restaurant called “Tisina” which in Croatian means Peace, but it also means Oxbow, because only a couple of hundred metres is the oxbow to the river.
We knew the twins were taking us for a traditional Croatian meal, they had recommended Pike Pearch, what we didn’t know though was that they were bringing two of these massive fish to the table, which came with cooked potatoes and grilled vegetables….mmm. After the meal, we sat and chatted, each of them, with a glass of the local spirit, either cherry, walnut or plum.
We had a great time in Croatia. They invited us to breakfast in the morning, but now for those comfy, cosy beds.