‘Refugees are not here to hang around, but they are often brave people.’ Vesna Evans shares her experience from the war | iRADIO

When hatred against refugees from Syria surfaced in 2015, writer Vesna Evans decided to put on paper her experiences of fleeing the war in Yugoslavia with her parents. Although the book Velvet Home, published this year, is based on real life, Evans speaks of it as fiction. “My grandmother’s letters affected me more than the memories when I was writing,” she admits. Her grandmother lived through the war in Sarajevo from the Grbavica district, where the greatest atrocities were committed.



Prague
0:10 September 3, 2022

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Vesna Evans, writer | Photo: Tomáš Vodňanský | Source: Czech Radio

“It’s not just about running away from war and leaving everything at home. It’s also the fact that you suddenly find yourself without a background, everything is foreign, and you have to deal with common problems like your children’s puberty or difficulty finding a job. At the same time, you don’t understand the local language, you don’t have anyone to help you, and you don’t even want to ask for help to avoid being deported. You don’t know the language and that’s why you’re dumber,” the writer Evans summarizes the experience of refugees.

Vesna Evans, writer. Moderated by Markéta Kaňková

Refugees-are-not-here-to-hang-around-but

Sarajevo native Vesna Evans, formerly Tvrtković, knows what she’s talking about. In 1993, she fled the war-torn country to Prague with her parents and brother.

She herself put down roots in Prague quite well, she learned the language quickly and she also found friends quickly – especially those who, like her, had left Yugoslavia. “Pretty early on, we were driving around Prague by ourselves and meeting up, for example, in the subway at Můstok,” she looks back at the time when she was around twelve.

The book Velvet Home was written by Evans from the point of view of a teenage girl. The impetus for her to recall her own experiences as a refugee was the year 2015 and the hatred towards migrants at that time.


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“I was very touched by how the whole debate revolved around the fact that we must not accept any refugees because they will take away our cottages, everything. I took it quite personally. I think we could handle some 1,500 refugees that were talked about at the time, we’re not bad after all. They’re people too,” says Evans, emphasizing:

“You need to realize that most refugees are not here to hang around. They are people who have managed to cross mountains and seas, and they will probably be brave. And maybe they have some power that maybe they can contribute to this country. That’s usually how it is.’

According to Evans, the refugee experience cannot be conveyed, but it can be approximated. And that’s exactly what she tried to do in her book.

Grandma was not fit to be left alive

The village of Tvrtković in the Czech Republic lacked a wider family background. While the other children went to visit their grandmother, she could only exchange sad letters with her – and also with her cousins. It was also new for her that she suddenly had to think about her identity.

“Before that I was simply a Yugoslav. I come from a mixed family, I have Croatian, Muslim and Serbian ancestry, but it was never an issue for us. Suddenly we had to deal with it, suddenly nationalism started to play a role in everything.”


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At the same time, her grandmother remained in Sarajevo, sending letters to her family in Prague, but, according to the writer, she could not write everything in them because of fears that someone would read the letters.

“The grandmother was a Muslim in Serbian territory. This was the occupied part of Saravej. And she lived through the whole war there, and even after the end of the war, the Serbs were there. It is true that she tried to keep the apartment for us, that she did not want to leave. At the same time, there were not many Muslims left there, because they preferred to go to the other side. It was not an easy situation. She’s seen it all, been through a lot. So it probably wasn’t a good idea to leave her alive.’

A bruised soul is inherited

According to her, the war set the entire region back many years. While the economic situation can always improve over time, according to her, it is significantly worse with the human psyche.

“Generations carry scars and a scarred soul is inherited. War is something that is still known here, and I don’t know when it will be equaled. It’s hard and sad. People should avoid war at all costs.”

Even thanks to her experience as a war refugee, Vesna Evans has been helping organizations that lend a hand to refugees since the age of fifteen. She has experience from the Red Cross, People in Need and the Organization for Aid to Refugees, she admits that to this day she doesn’t really know if this job is helping her more.

Listen to the entire interview in the audio recording.

Markéta Kaňková, Hana Slívová

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