Collector of stories of hope and unity in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina to speak

Courtesy of Svetlana Broz Svetlana Broz

Dr. Svetlana Broz, a Belgrade-born cardiologist and author of two books, will give a talk titled “Choices People Make in Wartime: The War in Bosnia and Its Aftermath” on Tuesday afternoon in Encina Hall Central. Broz is the granddaughter of Josip Broz Tito, the late leader of the former Yugoslavia.

During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a 21-year-old Serb soldier was badly wounded while fighting Croatian-Muslim forces. Abandoned behind enemy lines, he expected to be killed; instead, he was given care and survived. "My friends left me to die," he told Dr. Svetlana Broz. "My enemies helped me to live."

Broz is collecting such stories to spread a message of hope and unity in a war-torn region, and then to the world at large. A native of Belgrade, Broz is the author of two books, Good People in an Evil Time and Having What It Takes: Essays on Civil Courage. Her conclusion: Goodness is everywhere, even in a war zone, and it has no ethnicity. Broz focuses on tales of heroism carried out by those identified as "ethnic enemies."

Broz is scheduled to give a talk at Stanford titled "Choices People Make in Wartime: The War in Bosnia and Its Aftermath" from 4:15 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, in the second floor conference room of Encina Hall Central. The event, sponsored by the Forum on Contemporary Europe and the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, is free and open to the public, but reservations must be made by 5 p.m. Oct. 15. Online reservations can be made at

Broz, a cardiologist, has a name that turns heads in the Balkans. She is the granddaughter of Josip Broz, better known by his nickname and title, Marshal Tito, when he was the leader of communist Yugoslavia from 1945 to his death in 1980.

She is the youngest child of Zarko Broz, Tito's eldest son, and his first wife, Dr. Zlata Jelinek-Broz. Refusing to identify herself by ethnicity, Broz claims the blood of six nationalities (Tito himself was half-Croatian and half-Slovenian) ranging from Western Europe to Siberia.

In 1992, at the outbreak of war in Bosnia and Herzogovina, she left Belgrade to offer her services in hospitals and clinics in the war zone, sometimes treating 100 people a day. Her patients were eager to tell her of kindnesses and often life-saving help they had experienced from those who were marked as their enemies. In a region where patriotism is proved by hatred of others, they could not otherwise share their stories without jeopardizing the lives of the Good Samaritans by doing so, as well as their own for speaking well of an enemy.

Speaking last month at Berkeley, Broz delivered the same message that will be the theme of her talks at Stanford.

"Thoughtful people ask this question: What more could I have done?" she said. She poses the question everyone in the rest of the world asks: "Would we become inhuman in inhuman circumstances?"

Broz is a stately Slav with close-cropped platinum hair, an elegant accented English and a great deal of personal charm—not the kind of person one envisions as the target of death threats and warrants for arrest. During her research, her house was broken into and her computer discs and interview recordings stolen.

She personally pitted herself against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic during his regime, and in the 2,000 interviews she has given to newspapers and to radio and television programs, she became known for her bold and biting remarks against those in power.

Although she and Tito were close, she remembers arguing with him as well, when he was jailing nationalistic dissidents. Now she has second thoughts—those former prisoners, she said, are the very people who are ruining the former Yugoslavia. She attributed the country's problems to the calculated moves of politicians using nationalism to break up the country for personal profit.

The motives of the current crop of politicians are "to keep the property they stole during the war, to stay in power, not to be in prison," she said, "because between power and prison they do not have time to pick up their toothbrushes."

Her calls to civil courage are threatening because "such politicians do not want responsible individuals"—that is, they don't want citizens protesting or even asking questions.

Bosnia-Herzegovina still has "a critical mass of intimidated people," and behind such passivity is fear, she said. Many say they are afraid of losing their jobs, even though "the majority of the people are unemployed." People fear retribution from others but cannot name the people they fear. Broz said she asked them, "Can you point those people out? I'll talk to them if you do not have the courage." The nature of fear is vague and fuzzy; inevitably, she said, people cannot be specific. "Everything is somehow, somewhere, but not clear."

"What gives people the courage—civil courage, as opposed to wartime courage?" she asked. "It's always easier to be a bystander—it doesn't cost anything." Remembering those she wrote about, she added, "Those people risk, always, something. Desperate people risk a lot."

The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is still desperate. She compares the regional politics to a hypothetical situation where "the majority of Hitler's people were left in power."

"There was no housecleaning after the conflict," she said. "They are still spreading hatred—not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in Serbia and Croatia.

"We have the support of the international community to do nothing," she added.

She has headed a group called Embassy for Children, helping to track down the killers of thousands of children who were murdered during the war. She is also trying to create a peace park in Sarajevo, modeled on Israel's memorial to Holocaust victims, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, to salute those who opposed atrocities during the recent wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

At the Berkeley gathering, someone suggested that religious forces could join in support of reconciliation, but Broz pointed out that religious leaders have often worked hand-in-hand with political forces to foment fear and hatred. She named a bishop, Vasilije Kacavenda, who routinely totes an Uzi beneath his cassock and, at a funeral where he had officiated, publicly threatened an activist. Although articles about the incident appeared in newspapers, he was still appointed president of a multi-religious council in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Broz now lives.

When a man at the Berkeley event asked what denomination the archbishop belonged to, Broz answered with a wave of impatience, "He belongs to Christianity—isn't that enough?"

"We are the only country with a constitution that was written abroad," she said, referring to the Dayton Peace Accords. It was written, moreover, "by the politicians who waged war—those monsters made it." The region's main participants were accused of war crimes and massive corruption.

"We are a country in transition—when I ask from where to where, I cannot get an answer," she said.

Broz said the former Yugoslavia now looks back with nostalgia on the time they all lived under the same flag. Flowers are placed daily by Tito's bronze statue in Sarajevo. But while she is fond of her grandfather, she said she has no wish to enter politics, saying, "There are enough politicians in my family for the next 300 years."