I’ve said it more than once and I’ll say it again: Tito’s Lost Children is a work of fiction and all of the main characters are completely fictitious. However, many aspects of the books are inspired by real people, places and events. Let’s have a chapter by chapter look at some of the real history that War (book) Two: Croatia is based on.
Battle One, The Cult of Personality: As I mentioned in an earlier post about the historical inspirations behind Book One: Slovenia, Franjo Tudjman, the president of Croatia, is historical. He was accused, in some circles, of emulating Tito’s cult of personality in order to consolidate his power. The Carrington Plan is historical as well. The Cetinje monastery in Montenegro’s former capital is very real. The Serbian warlord Arkan and his Serbian Tigers paramilitary stayed there while they helped lay siege to Dubrovnik. Miroslava, his fictional bastard daughter, references this in the book.
Battle Two, The Battle of the Barracks: The title makes reference to the fight that resulted from the Croatian police forces surrounding the Yugoslav People’s Army garrisoned in Croatia in their barracks. The JNA forces in Gospić tried to bust their way out, resulting in the destruction of most of the town. The character of Colonel Čavar is historical; it is true that the commander of the barracks was found dead after the JNA surrendered to the Croatian forces, though it is arguable whether he was killed by his own troops, or whether the Croatian forces killed him. The book gives its own answer to this, later on in battle four.
Battle Three, Causalities of War: The specific photo-op that occurs with the wounded soldiers at the Zagreb train station is fictional. But, the scene was inspired by a Slovene friend’s memory of being at the train station in Zagreb at the time and seeing the wounded soldiers there. The siege of Vukovar and the fighting in East Slavonia, which occurs in the background for much of book two is historical. While we never go there in the books, Vukovar comes back in a big way in book three. Sorry, I can’t give away more without major spoilers.
Battle Four, Daggers in the Back: The Yugoslav Air Force bombed the Croatian presidency building in real life. The plotline related to the Croatians rigging their own presidential palace to explode as a publicity stunt is fictional, but inspired by Serb accusations that the Croatians had really had done that, rather than admit to the bombing. The succession of Macedonia is historical. Anything about President Tudjman getting a gun stuck in his face by a really pissed off twenty-something is, of course, completely fictional.
Battle Five, Island Lessons: Barren Island and the remains of the Yugoslav political prison on it really do exist, as does the resort island of Sveti Stefan. The family Predrag protects and their situation is completely fictional.
Battle Six, On the Run: The state of the bridge between Rab island and the Croatian mainland is historically depicted, though in real life the road was mined. I took a bit of dramatic liberty with our heroes’ escape on the ferryboat. The ferry, too, would have been within range of Serb artery on the front lines.
Battle Seven, The Hrvatska Dubica Massacre: The Hrvatska Dubica massacre is historical.
Battle Eight, The Gypsy Way: Trebinje and the hills between it and Dubrovnik are very real. The National Opera of Niš is fictional, through I did loosely base the physical theater and its location off of the Sindjleć theater in that city. The siege of Dubrovnik and the positions of the Yugoslav forces are historical.
Battle nine, The Cold Reality: Predrag’s description of the ruined house that he is staying in is consistent with what Serb paramilitaries often did to the homes of non-Serbs when they ethnically cleansed a village. Anything about deflecting bullets with electromagnetic knifes is totally fictional, though an engineer did tell me it could work.
Battle ten, The Convoy of Peace: There really was a convoy of peace led to Dubrovnik by a ship called the Slavija One. In reality it was headed up by Stipe Mesić, the President of the by-then-defunct Federal Presidency. It was filled with journalists and dignitaries, many of whom spent their time in the ship’s bar and was stopped in the Mljet channel by the People’s Navy. Jovana’s actions in the book are based off of Mesić statements and actions during this stand-off, as is the captain’s attitude, except Mesić didn’t also have to deal with a drunk and misbehaving adoptive brother at the same time she was negotiating passage!
Battle eleven, The Siege of Dubrovnik: Refugees from the surrounding villages did flee into besieged Dubrovnik as the JNA advanced from Montenegro. Not a single boat was left afloat in the harbor of Dubrivnik’s old town by the end of the siege. The specific shelling of Dubrovnik is fictional. As for that secret cache of experimental Yugoslav weaponry that Hristijan finds out about? Well, you’ll see…
Battle twelve, Objekt 505: Objekt 505 — the Željava air force base — is historical; Serb forces really did blow it up. The television program that Mojca is watching at the beginning of the chapter is also historical. The reference that Duško makes to President Milošević of Serbia unseating the president of the SAO Krajina is based on real events, as well. The evidence that Jovana discovers of US-Yugoslav collaboration on the space program is fictional. Actually, I put it in as a shout-out to the mocumentary ‘Huston, we have a problem,’ which is worth a watch if you want to see another alternate history of the region.
Battle thirteen, Roads to Sarajevo: The Bosnian Serbian Autonomous Oblasts mentioned in this chapter were the precursor to Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity that fought the Sarajevo government.
Battle fourteen, Sarajevo, We Have a Problem: Warren Zimmermann was indeed the US ambassador to Yugoslavia and he did meet with Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović at the same time their ‘characters’ do in the book. Shortly after, Izetbegović declared Bosnian and Herzegovina independent, leading to theories that Izetbegović was encouraged to do so at the meeting. The reception held for Zimmermann at Sarajevo’s national library is made up by me. It is true, however, that at the war’s outset, President Izetbegović was reluctant to believe that there would, in fact, be a war. The Bosnian Presidency members Fikret Abdić and Biljana Plavšić are historical; so is the ethnic cleansing of Bijeljina by Arkan’s Serbian Tigers and Mirko’s White Eagles. The Banja Dvorovi spa complex is real. Civjetin Mijatović, another World War II hero with the partisans, is historical as well.
Battle Fifteen, The Council of National Salvation: The Council of National Salvation really did happen, minus my fictional characters, of course, as did the Serb takeover of the police academy on Vrača hill. The woman Jovana sees get shot as part of the resulting demonstrations is implied to be the first causality of the siege of Sarajevo. The Sarajvsko Brewery was one of the only two major factories to remain in production throughout the siege of Sarajevo, the other being the Drina cigarette factory. The house the General Aksentović gets on Jekovac street is a real place.
Battle sixteen, “I believe I Have Been Kidnapped.”: President Izetbegović really did get kidnapped by the JNA after landing at the Sarajevo Airport on 2 May 1992. His conversation with the anchor on the news has been represented faithfully. Zlatko’s plot for the kidnapping to be part of a take over of all of Bosnia is, of course, fictional; though some evidence may suggest that Fikret Abdić did attempt to take power and form a quisling regime with Serb support. He denies these allegations. Generals Kukanjac and MacKenzie are historical, as is the incident where the latter mistook Muslims for Serbs in Lukavica, while trying to rescue Izetbegović.
Battle seventeen, A Question of Unity: The character of General Divjak is historical. The Bosnian forces really did try and stop the JNA when it attempted to leave the Sarajevo barracks. The voice that yelled “Talks tomorrow are out of the question” over General Divjak’s walkie-talkie has never been identified. So who knows, maybe it could have been Hristijan? The fight in the Sarajevsko Brewery’s basement is made up by me.
Battle eighteen, Civil War: The measures taken at Sarajevo’s Koševo hospital during a shelling have been represented as faithfully as possible. The Serb forces did have a position on mount Trebević, where Predrag is observing the besieged city, about to go back to Belgrade. We will get to meet his father — President Milošević of Serbia himself — in War Three: Bosnia and Herzegovina.