A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES, COMING TO CANADA

Radovan Gajic's native Yugoslavia, as a country, disintegrated with the Bosnia-Hercegovina crisis in the early 1990s. It was destroyed by the ravages of warring states and ethnic cleansing. In the end, the death toll for all of the former Yugoslavia was close to two million. Nearly 500,000 had fled their homeland forever, seeking refuge in countries such as Canada.

Canadians of Yugoslavian origin have not entirely escaped or gone unaffected by the ongoing strife in their homeland. It has led to serious fragmentation of their communities in Canada, breaking along ethno-religious, ideological or political lines.

Before the war in 1990, Radovan Gajic hadn't necessarily planned to stay in Canada. But here he found a haven from the horrors of war in Yugoslavia. Here he has made a life for himself.

Gajic's attitude was that once in a new country you have to take whatever work one can find. He became a superintendent of two Toronto apartment buildings. Over the years, this apartment complex has become a magnet of sorts for emigrants and refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Gajic, as the superintendent -- the helper and handyman -- became the backbone of a community coping with endless obstacles in a new world, and nightmares from the old.

Over their first few months in Canada, the new immigrants were so overcome with sadness and sorrow and shock that they couldn't see the new world before them in Toronto and Canada. Gajic helped them get their immigration papers in order, translating the foreign questions. He helped kids with their homework, and tried to teach them to pronounce the new vocabulary.

"I belong only to the nation of word," is what Gajic says of his idea of nationality these days. He had been a writer in Yugoslavia and continues his writing here in Canada. His first book published in English is The Hostage of T. City, poems about the difficulties he had learning English, about the feeling of being taken hostage by a foreign language.

Both Gajic the poet and his poems are lonely. But he considers himself lucky not to be haunted by memories of war. Many of the people he's helped out in Canada tell him they have nightmares every night: the shooting, the running. Those images haven't gone away with coming to Canada. The grenades were so loud that they would shake houses 15 kilometres away. Doors would open, windows would break, children wouldn't sleep. They were sobbing and scared. The hardest thing for parents was hiding their fear from their kids. Fear from the uncertainty of what would happen tomorrow.

Radovan Gajic has heard these horrid stories about what war is like. But he's still adamant to say he doesn't know war. He's never lived it.

The threat of war in the former Yugoslavia has never really subsided, always looming, since Bosnia-Hercegovina. Today, in 1999, the ethnic wars continue with the crisis in Kosovo. The thousands of refugees who have escaped only with their lives, wrenched from their homes and forced to uproot, now endure further indignity and human squalor as they wait for a life of the unknown.

Footnotes:
The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

Bosnia-Hercegovina: The International Response, by Vincent Rigby
(Library of Parliament, Political and Social Affairs Division, Ottawa, 1994).


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