Published February 14, 2011
Zlata Filipovic: Author and Bosnian Civil War Diarist
by: Nathan Weissler
  Issue: 12.02
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In 1993, the diary of Zlata Filipovic, recording her daily experiences between ages eleven and thirteen (1991-1993) in war torn Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia, during the Bosnian Civil War, was published in Sarajevo. A French edition Le Journal de Zlata followed. The diary was shortly thereafter published in English as Zlata’s Diary and has since been translated into many languages. She has most recently co-edited a book of youth war diaries throughout 20th and early 21st century history entitled Stolen Voices: Young People’s War Diaries from World War I to Iraq in addition to contributions to other books.

In June 2010, I interviewed Zlata for this article which was a wonderful experience. She was born in Sarajevo on December 3, 1980 and was the only child of Malik and Alica Filipovic. She remembered, “…very happy memories of times of going to school, of going to the seaside and skiing,…birthday parties and going on trips with my mom and dad,…driving down three and a half hours to the seaside.” Also in 1984 when Zlata was three years old, Sarajevo hosted the Summer Olympics which she described as, “…sort of [marking] a whole generation of kids my age.” Her life changed forever when the Bosnian Civil War broke out in 1992 accompanied by the siege of Sarajevo. In addition to many other occurrences, her father who was in the police reserves was called to duty. For a long time, Zlata could not attend school and her family had no running water, gas or electricity.

She also told me about the existence of a convoy run by the local Jewish community in Sarajevo during the war. “I think," Zlata recalled, “because the conflict itself was so much between the three other ethnic groups: Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs, the Jewish minority was… less intertwined in all that and they had these convoys that were leaving the city so people could go and be safe somewhere else.” Finally, in December 1993, Zlata and her parents succeeded in leaving Sarajevo when they were flown on a United Nations (UN) plane to safety in Paris with the intervention of then-French Defense Minister Francois Leotard. She continued her education ultimately graduating from Oxford University in 2001. Zlata also has a Masters degree from Trinity College Dublin— an MPhil in International Peace Studies.

After her diary was first published in 1993, many began to compare Zlata to Anne Frank. She has been called, "the Anne Frank of Sarajevo." When I asked her when she first read Anne Frank’s diary Zlata responded that, “I can’t exactly remember but I was probably around,…nine [or] ten years old….I don’t know where I would have heard it from, probably my parents….Because you usually study it a bit later in school when you’re like thirteen or something. So to read it at nine, I would have had to come to it myself. ..I just sort of knew the story and I wanted to read the diary.”

Finally, we should all understand and take to heart in what Zlata told me, “I think we need to learn the value of peace and…taking it for granted as just a given in life might not make us realize the value of it. ….Very quickly things can descend into mayhem, very quickly things can descend into conflict …and then it’s really hard to go back to peace. I think it’s just important to realize what an incredible luxury it is and how important it is to preserve it all times.” Zlata lives today in Dublin, Ireland and speaks about her experiences frequently in addition to advocating for peace and human rights.

As an eighteen year old who is approaching adulthood, I totally agree with Zlata and believe adults need to focus on doing everything possible to foster peace, tolerance and harmony and to make the world a safe place to inherit. My generation can take the initiative by writing letters to President Obama, members of Congress, state and local politicians and activists as well as newspapers expressing our concerns and making our voices heard. May many more youth take up this cause!

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