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Eck Spahich Visits

Native
Bosnia After 48-
Year Exile
By Eck Spahich

Returning from a recent trip to my
FRITCH, Texas --
native Bosnia after 48 years of self-imposed exile, I found my
hometown of Tuzla drastically changed, hardly- recognizable,
except for a few old downtown buildings, and some remaining
businesses.

For those note familiar with my past, I immigrated legally
to the United States in March 1960, joining my exiled father, Mo
Spahich, in Dumas. Recently, I completed my first visit to war-
torn Bosnia, since Bosnia’s struggle for independence, 1992-95,
from Serb-dominated Communist Yugoslavia. I grew up and lived
the first 15 years of my life under Communism, becoming a
naturalized U.S. citizen during my freshman year at West Texas
A&M University.

We may have some minor problems in this country, but, in
Bosnia, where the unemployment is rampant, running at 60
percent 12 years after the end of war, the folks are doing their
best just to survive on a day-by-day basis.

I have seen the way my family lives, and I can truly say,
thank God we live in the good ‘ole U.S.A. While in Europe, I
realized, one of the most valuable assets in my possession, was
my American passport. Some of the strangers I met, inquired
about the possibility of coming to the United States in search of
jobs, and a better future.

Only after a few days in my homeland, I realized how
blessed America has been. There is no better place to live than
our America. Once again, I was extremely proud to be an
American.

While visiting my cousins, I learned of numerous, surprise
visits to my relatives by the Communist Yugoslav Secret Service
agents. While attending West Texas State University, and
afterwards, I wrote a number of editorials and letters to the editor
in area newspapers, presented programs to civic and
veterans organizations, denouncing the totalitarian Communist
regime. The authorities apparently kept an active dossier on me.
My relatives told me secret agents would show up with copies of
various clippings from Amarillo Globe-News, the Borger News-
Herald, Moore County News-Press and other area newspapers,
and some of the Croatian-American publications.

In an attempt to intimidate my family, Yugoslav Secret
Service agents were able to frighten my relatives, who became
too scared to continue correspondence with me. It was obvious
to everyone, secret service agents, for many years, read my mail
to and from my relatives in Bosnia and Croatia.

The government’s censorship of my letters increased once
I joined the U.S. Army. I enlisted shortly after college graduation
from West Texas A&M University, serving as a combat
correspondent with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.
As a teenager, I learned to dislike the Communist Yugoslav
government. Police officers often conducted unannounced
searches of homes, including my elderly grandmother’s. I
remembered when on several occasions, the searches were done
after midnight, requesting personal I.D. cards of all individuals
found in our home.

Summoned by my cousins after the death of my mother,
Fatima, in Sept.1990, I told relatives I would come to Tuzla “as
soon as possible” however, that trip only recently became a
reality.

My father fled Tuzla as a World War II refugee and went on
to the neighboring Austria, and in 1956 immigrated to Dumas,
under the sponsorship of the First Presbyterian Church. He found
employment as a laborer, and later, he became a foreman at the
American Zinc Co. smelter, north of Dumas.

Forty-eight years later, I find a disintegrated Yugoslavia,
broken up into six separate ethnic states. Bosnia-Herzegovina
broken up into two parts, a Bosniak-Croatian Federation, and the
other half made up of “Republika Srpska,” a Serb-sponsored
entity.

My native Bosnia is where the East meets the West.

More than any other country in Europe, Bosnia is an example
of a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. During a clear day,
one can see churches and mosques scattered across the
countryside and in cities and towns. I was warmly welcomed
by my relatives, visiting daily at least one of the cousins, where
food, dialogue and humor were always available. My relatives
were often asking questions about America and the American way
of life.

Tuzla, the town I knew as a 15-year-old student, has
become a major industrial and cultural center. What was once a
town of about 35.000 in the 1960’s, is now a city with a
population of 180,000, with primary industry being coal mining,
salt and chemical production.

The city has a vibrant street traffic through its narrow
streets, and high-rise apartment complexes built on the outskirts
of the town. The town seems to have plenty of food and clothing
in the stores, predominantly small vehicles on the streets, with
public transportation being done by buses and train. It was
apparent, both Bosnia and Croatia are being flooded with
products from Communist China.

During, the Bosnian war, 1992-95, the town aligned itself
with the Bosnian presidency, and was besieged by the Serb
extremist forces. The town was not spared the atrocities of war.
On May 25, 1995, a mortar killed 72 and injured some 150
young people in the single most deadly incident of the war. Along
the highways and roads of both Bosnia and Croatia, there is a
remaining visible evidence of war damage to both residential and
commercial properties, damaged roof tops, bullet holes,
accompanied with broken glass windows. The war for
independence from Communist Yugoslavia left the country in ruin
in l995, although much of the damage appears to be repaired.

One of the major current concerns among the locals is the
possibility of a renewed war in the event the Kosovo Albanians,
who make up 90 percent of the province’s population, declare
independence in the near future. While in-country, local
newspapers reported an agreement being reached with the U.S.
State Dept. to house some of Kosovo’s refugees in the event of a
renewed war.

He said Kosovo Albanians want full independence from
Serbia, while Serbian officials opposed any such move. Albanians
of Kosovo are frustrated their province remains in U.N.-
administrated limbo eight years after an international bombing
campaign.

Serbia, which claims the province, is backed by Russia in the
dispute, and has refused to grant Kosovo independence, and
instead has offered a broad form of autonomy.

While in Tuzla, I was invited to a luncheon by the family of a
former Frank Phillips College student and basketball standout,
Alma Softic, at the nearby resort at Modrac Lake, some eight-
mile drive from Tuzla. Miss Softic, now a professional player on a
Bosnian basketball team, was accompanied by her father and a
sister. Modrac Lake is a regional tourist attraction, similar to Lake
Meredith National Recreational Area.

I was shocked as to the record decline of the value of the
U.S. dollar, especially in exchange for Euro dollars, down some 40
percent at the time I made an exchange at a Tuzla bank.

While at the bank, I noticed all five window clerks were busy
taking care of customers, while an additional 35-40 persons were
seated, waiting to be served. I he made a mistake asking the
receptionist if I could take a picture inside the bank, only to be
quickly told, “Zabranjeno!” (It’s forbidden!).

The policy has a lot to do with the left-over of the Communist
ideology and ways of doing business, often in secrecy, with
limitations imposed on the individual citizen.

At another location -- the main Tuzla post office – I walked
into the postal facility, noticing an Internet Café, where several
persons enjoyed the internet. I immediately decided to take a
picture, only to be right of way approached by a nearby post
office-based police officer, advising me that taking pictures inside
the facility is “Zabranjeno.”
I apologized to the security officer, explaining I was
“unaware of the rule.” On my way out, I told the officer I would
like to take one additional picture, and if the cop turns around, the
officer would be unaware of the picture-taking activity. The
security officials walked around a corner and the second
photograph was taken without an incident.

I got to visit a number of my cousins. Native language was
spoken, local cooking served, and I was frequently given a
choice of mineral water, coffee, beer or wine.

I was impressed with everyone’s friendliness and such nice
welcome extended to me after so many years being away from
my hometown.

Tuzla has certainly changed so much, and Yugoslavia is no
longer a country. I am glad to be back in America to share my
impressions, but another week, or two, I would have gotten
homesick for the Texas Panhandle, and America in general.

(Editor’s note: Eck Spahich, formerly managing editor of
the Borger

News-Herald, is currently a real estate agent in the Borger-Fritch
area.)
Eck Spahich Visits
Native
Bosnia After 48-
Year Exile
Returning from a recent trip to my native
FRITCH --
Bosnia after 48 years of self-imposed exile, I found my
hometown of Tuzla drastically changed, hardly- recognizable,
except for a few old downtown buildings, and some remaining
businesses.

For those note familiar with my past, I immigrated legally
to the United States in March 1960, joining my exiled father, Mo
Spahich, in Dumas. Recently, I completed my first visit to war-
torn Bosnia, since Bosnia’s struggle for independence, 1992-95,
from Serb-dominated Communist Yugoslavia. I grew up and lived
the first 15 years of my life under Communism, becoming a
naturalized U.S. citizen during my freshman year at West Texas
A&M University.

We may have some minor problems in this country, but, in
Bosnia, where the unemployment is rampant, running at 60
percent 12 years after the end of war, the folks are doing their
best just to survive on a day-by-day basis.

I have seen the way my family lives, and I can truly say,
thank God we live in the good ‘ole U.S.A. While in Europe, I
realized, one of the most valuable assets in my possession, was
my American passport. Some of the strangers I met, inquired
about the possibility of coming to the United States in search of
jobs, and a better future.

Only after a few days in my homeland, I realized how
blessed America has been. There is no better place to live than
our America. Once again, I was extremely proud to be an
American.

While visiting my cousins, I learned of numerous, surprise
visits to my relatives by the Communist Yugoslav Secret Service
agents. While attending West Texas State University, and
afterwards, I wrote a number of editorials and letters to the editor
in area newspapers, presented programs to civic and
veterans organizations, denouncing the totalitarian Communist
regime. The authorities apparently kept an active dossier on me.
My relatives told me secret agents would show up with copies of
various clippings from Amarillo Globe-News, the Borger News-
Herald, Moore County News-Press and other area newspapers,
and some of the Croatian-American publications.

In an attempt to intimidate my family, Yugoslav Secret
Service agents were able to frighten my relatives, who became
too scared to continue correspondence with me. It was obvious
to everyone, secret service agents, for many years, read my mail
to and from my relatives in Bosnia and Croatia.

The government’s censorship of my letters increased once
I joined the U.S. Army. I enlisted shortly after college graduation
from West Texas A&M University, serving as a combat
correspondent with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.
As a teenager, I learned to dislike the Communist Yugoslav
government. Police officers often conducted unannounced
searches of homes, including my elderly grandmother’s. I
remembered when on several occasions, the searches were done
after midnight, requesting personal I.D. cards of all individuals
found in our home.

Summoned by my cousins after the death of my mother,
Fatima, in Sept.1990, I told relatives I would come to Tuzla “as
soon as possible” however, that trip only recently became a
reality.

My father fled Tuzla as a World War II refugee and went on
to the neighboring Austria, and in 1956 immigrated to Dumas,
under the sponsorship of the First Presbyterian Church. He found
employment as a laborer, and later, he became a foreman at the
American Zinc Co. smelter, north of Dumas.

Forty-eight years later, I find a disintegrated Yugoslavia,
broken up into six separate ethnic states. Bosnia-Herzegovina
broken up into two parts, a Bosniak-Croatian Federation, and the
other half made up of “Republika Srpska,” a Serb-sponsored
entity.

My native Bosnia is where the East meets the West.

More than any other country in Europe, Bosnia is an example
of a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. During a clear day,
one can see churches and mosques scattered across the
countryside and in cities and towns. I was warmly welcomed
by my relatives, visiting daily at least one of the cousins, where
food, dialogue and humor were always available. My relatives
were often asking questions about America and the American way
of life.

Tuzla, the town I knew as a 15-year-old student, has
become a major industrial and cultural center. What was once a
town of about 35.000 in the 1960’s, is now a city with a
population of 180,000, with primary industry being coal mining,
salt and chemical production.

The city has a vibrant street traffic through its narrow
streets, and high-rise apartment complexes built on the outskirts
of the town. The town seems to have plenty of food and clothing
in the stores, predominantly small vehicles on the streets, with
public transportation being done by buses and train. It was
apparent, both Bosnia and Croatia are being flooded with
products from Communist China.

During, the Bosnian war, 1992-95, the town aligned itself
with the Bosnian presidency, and was besieged by the Serb
extremist forces. The town was not spared the atrocities of war.
On May 25, 1995, a mortar killed 72 and injured some 150
young people in the single most deadly incident of the war. Along
the highways and roads of both Bosnia and Croatia, there is a
remaining visible evidence of war damage to both residential and
commercial properties, damaged roof tops, bullet holes,
accompanied with broken glass windows. The war for
independence from Communist Yugoslavia left the country in ruin
in l995, although much of the damage appears to be repaired.

One of the major current concerns among the locals is the
possibility of a renewed war in the event the Kosovo Albanians,
who make up 90 percent of the province’s population, declare
independence in the near future. While in-country, local
newspapers reported an agreement being reached with the U.S.
State Dept. to house some of Kosovo’s refugees in the event of a
renewed war.

He said Kosovo Albanians want full independence from
Serbia, while Serbian officials opposed any such move. Albanians
of Kosovo are frustrated their province remains in U.N.-
administrated limbo eight years after an international bombing
campaign.

Serbia, which claims the province, is backed by Russia in the
dispute, and has refused to grant Kosovo independence, and
instead has offered a broad form of autonomy.

While in Tuzla, I was invited to a luncheon by the family of a
former Frank Phillips College student and basketball standout,
Alma Softic, at the nearby resort at Modrac Lake, some eight-
mile drive from Tuzla. Miss Softic, now a professional player on a
Bosnian basketball team, was accompanied by her father and a
sister. Modrac Lake is a regional tourist attraction, similar to Lake
Meredith National Recreational Area.

I was shocked as to the record decline of the value of the
U.S. dollar, especially in exchange for Euro dollars, down some 40
percent at the time I made an exchange at a Tuzla bank.

While at the bank, I noticed all five window clerks were busy
taking care of customers, while an additional 35-40 persons were
seated, waiting to be served. I he made a mistake asking the
receptionist if I could take a picture inside the bank, only to be
quickly told, “Zabranjeno!” (It’s forbidden!).

The policy has a lot to do with the left-over of the Communist
ideology and ways of doing business, often in secrecy, with
limitations imposed on the individual citizen.

At another location -- the main Tuzla post office – I walked
into the postal facility, noticing an Internet Café, where several
persons enjoyed the internet. I immediately decided to take a
picture, only to be right of way approached by a nearby post
office-based police officer, advising me that taking pictures inside
the facility is “Zabranjeno.”
I apologized to the security officer, explaining I was
“unaware of the rule.” On my way out, I told the officer I would
like to take one additional picture, and if the cop turns around, the
officer would be unaware of the picture-taking activity. The
security officials walked around a corner and the second
photograph was taken without an incident.

I got to visit a number of my cousins. Native language was
spoken, local cooking served, and I was frequently given a
choice of mineral water, coffee, beer or wine.

I was impressed with everyone’s friendliness and such nice
welcome extended to me after so many years being away from
my hometown.

Tuzla has certainly changed so much, and Yugoslavia is no
longer a country. I am glad to be back in America to share my
impressions, but another week, or two, I would have gotten
homesick for the Texas Panhandle, and America in general.

(Editor’s note: Eck Spahich, formerly managing editor of
the Borger

News-Herald, is currently a real estate agent in the Borger-Fritch
area.)
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