Croatian Women in Toronto in the Struggle for Our Freedom

Zagreb's Vijenac Hall in the historic old town Kaptol district was the venue on the 26th of October for a presentation hosted by the Croatian Culture Council of Documents from Exile: Croatian Women and Mothers in the War for Free Croatia (The Toronto Chapter of the Mothers for Peace).

Zagreb's Vijenac Hall in the historic old town Kaptol district was the venue on the 26th of October for a presentation of Documents from Exile: Croatian Women and Mothers in the War for Free Croatia (The Toronto Chapter of the Mothers for Peace). The event was hosted by the Croatian Culture Council (Hrvatsko kulturno vijeće, HKV). This comprehensive two-volume collection of archival material offers an overview of the contribution of Canadians of Croatian extraction in the forging of contemporary Croatian unity on the foundations struck by the first president of modern Croatia. In his opening words Croatian Culture Council and Croatian Writers' Association president and writer Đuro Vidmarović noted the importance of unity in the struggle for independence in which he also participated.
Editor Vladimir Benković, who served as AMCA Toronto vice-president from 1991 to 1999, offered a vibrant recounting, as a first hand witness to the events, of the material, armed service and humanitarian aid that came from across the Croatian communities of Canada. Ivan Hrvoić PhD, president of AMCA Toronto from 1990 to 1995 said that the documents included in this work reflect the broad patriotic support provided by all Canadian Croatians, often far above their financial means. Višnja Milas Matutinović, president of Mothers for Peace (Bedema ljubavi) from 1992 to 1995 spoke of the group's work for peace and their excellent collaboration with Croatian women in Canada. Valentina Krčmar, the first president of the Toronto chapter of Mothers for Peace, serving at the post from 1990 to 1992, reminded the gathered, including members of the Canadian chapter now living in retirement in Zagreb, of the great quantity of love for the homeland in the hearts of Croatian women residing in Canada, thanking their families and all others in Canada who took part in the projects spearheaded by the Toronto chapter of Mothers for Peace.
The two-volume book follows the work of this women's group from 1990, when Valentina Krčmar, Ljubica and Kiril Bukatko, and Biserka Butković were joined by many women at the founding assembly at the Croatia Hall in Mississauga. At the promotion Krčmar noted that all members of the Mothers for Peace group from Toronto and its environs were common women, mothers, with full time jobs of their own.
In this struggle the Croatian mothers owe a special thanks to the work of two investigative reporters with the Toronto Sun newspaper, Bob MacDonald and Eric Margolis, who saw the truth of the matter and decided to help.
With varying success these activists wrote and pleaded with politicians and diplomats, national leaders, ministers and the officials of powerful international administrations, including Cyrus Vance, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Croatia, and Canadian foreign minister Barbara McDougall. They also worked with other associations, including the Canadian-Croatian Information Centre, the AMCA association of Croatian university alumni, the Dora association, and with members of the Hungarian, Slovenian, Macedonian and Ukrainian communities and other groups in Canada.
Historian Ante Nazor PhD, director of the Croatian Homeland War Memorial and Documentation Centre (Hrvatski memorijalno-dokumentacijskoi centra Domovinskog rata) said the two-volume work was a first-rate source of archival material for all future historiographic syntheses of the movements that contributed to victory and freedom in the Homeland War.
Mr Nazor lauded the editorial efforts of Vladimir Benković, noting that this was a continuation of sorts of the already published two-volume Emigrant Documents – The Role of Croatian Intellectuals in the Struggle for an Independent Croatia (2014), which showcased the work of the Almae Matris Croaticae Alumni (AMCA) association in Toronto, Canada and in the United States of America.
There is no doubt that without the efforts of the cited trio of Benković, Hrvojić and Krčmar this rich two-volume work and the archival material it brings to one place could never have been created.
The work is edited by renowned Canadian innovator and electrical engineer Vladimir Benković (Zagreb, 1931). From 1990 he worked actively in founding AMCA and was a member of the founding committee, serving as vice-president up to the year 2000. He has also taken part in the work of the Croatian World Congress, serving at many posts.
Ivan Hrvoić (Trebarjevo Desno, 1937) also worked on this two-volume book as an associate and philanthropist. He studied at the University of Zagreb's Faculty of Electrical Engineering, where he earned his doctorate in 1972. He worked at the Ruđer Bošković Institute for a decade on nuclear magnetic resonance problems and instruments. From 1972 to 1980 he worked in the research and development laboratories of geophysical companies in Toronto on instrument development. In 1980 he founded GEM Systems Inc in Toronto.
Along with his significant philanthropic activities for youth in the homeland, Hrvoić has also served as the vice-president of the Toronto chapter of the Croatian Democratic Union, as president of AMCA Toronto, as president of the Canadian-Croatian Congress for Toronto and as president and council member of the Canadian-Croatian Library in Streetsville. In Croatia he is a member of the Brethren of the Croatian Dragon and of the Macelj 1945 association. He provides material aid to a number of humanitarian and education projects in Croatia and Canada.
The core contribution to the creation of this two-volume work was made by writer, culture and humanitarian activist Valentina Krčmar and her husband, the respected businessman Vlado Krčmar. As of recently she writes for the Večernji list newspaper and its insert for the diaspora communities Moja Hrvatska (My Croatia). She was born in Vrbanja near Županja on the 3rd of June 1943. She lived in Zagreb from her early childhood, where she received her education and earned degrees in English and Russian in 1967 at the University of Zagreb's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. She moved to Toronto with her family in 1970 where she and her husband Vlado established the Krcmar Surveyors Ltd company. During the Homeland War she joined the work of the Croatian community, in particular in the fold of the Almae matris Croaticae alumni (AMCA) association, where she served as president (1997/99), and with the Mothers for Peace association, whose Toronto chapter she founded in 1990, collecting the documentation for this two-volume work. In 1993 she took part in the proceedings of the first assembly of the Croatian World Congress in Zagreb. When the Canadian-Croatian Congress was founded in Toronto, she was elected its vice-president (1993–95). From 1997–2000 she edited the Hrvatski cirkular (Croatian Circular), renamed Hrvatska iskra (Croatian Spark) in 1998. She has been decorated with the Order of the Croatian Interlace in 1996 for her contributions to disseminating the truth about Croatia in the international public during the Homeland War. She has already published the monograph Hrvatska mojim očima i srcem (Croatia Through My Eyes and Heart) in 2005, and I Dreamt of Christmas in Croatia (2016).

By: Vesna Kukavica; Photos: Damir Borovčak

     

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