Diving into the future from a scarred past

  • Sarah Koenig<br>Enterprise writer
  • Tuesday, March 4, 2008 7:00am

In 1992 in the town of Prijedor, Bosnia, Serbian tanks rolled by 7-year-old Adnan Duldanic’s house, planes buzzed overhead and soldiers fired guns.

That day kick-started a long nightmare of war, dislocation and poverty for Duldanic, now 21, who’s nearing graduation from Shoreline Community College.

Fifteen years later, he’s found love. He’s a little torn between finding a government job and pursuing his professional soccer dreams. And he takes a philosophical approach to the past.

On a recent Thursday, Duldanic stood outside the college library in the sun, talking to his girlfriend on a cell phone before sitting down with The Enterprise to tell his story.

Civil war in Bosnia had been raging for about a year when the Serbs attacked Prijedor, taking Duldanic’s father, Osman Duldanic, to a concentration camp.

“They were looking for men,” Duldanic said. “Anyone over 21 was taken to a concentration camp.”

Before the war, Christian Serbs and Muslim Bosnians, including the Duldanics, lived peacefully side-by-side.

“Everyone was connected, we never even looked at races or religions,” Duldanic said. “People treated you like family.”

All that changed when dictator Slobodan Milosevic came to power and ordered Serbs to attack Bosnians, Duldanic said.

The Serbian neighbors who used to come over for dinner, the ones his dad would always help in a pinch, were the ones who dragged him to the camp, Duldanic said.

The day of the attack, Duldanic and the rest of his family, panicked, ran to the forest and eventually got to his grandmother’s house in rural Muhice. There they hid in the basement, but the next day Serbs surrounded the town.

They walked a day through the forest without food, a painful journey, to get to Travnik, a United Nations shelter, he recalled. The family then was sent to Croatia and stayed there until United Nations soldiers dismantled the concentration camp where Duldanic’s father was held for seven months.

There, he’d been tortured, his son said. He saw men burned alive on tires.

“The Serbs were hiding it, saying they were feeding people,” Duldanic said.

When U.N. forces discovered the truth, they released camp victims, who had a chance to move to any country they wanted.

The Duldanics moved to Germany. Four years later, when Duldanic was 11, they moved to Seattle.

Duldanic didn’t know any English, so school was tough for him, he said. But in high school he studied hard and pulled off a GPA of 3.3. Even so, his family, he remembers, has struggled financially.

Duldanic’s father tried working as a janitor in a local supermarket when the family first arrived in Seattle, but lost the job. Broken psychologically by the war, he takes 14 pills a day to function and can’t work, Duldanic said.

Duldanic’s mother, Razija Duldanic, also can’t work, her son said, due to frequent debilitating migraines that hit after the family came to the United States.

Duldanic lives with his parents and brother, Samedin, in a north Seattle apartment. The family lives on government assistance, which pays for rent and food but nothing is left over, Duldanic said.

Thanks to financial aid, Duldanic pays no college tuition. He tried working and going to school at the same time, but it was overwhelming, he said.

He’d planned to graduate in June, but missed days of school due to a death in the family and must take one more class in the fall. He’ll graduate with a degree in business technology.

“It teaches me how to work with computers, in a business place, be ready to take on multiple tasks,” he said. “To work with different programs, be ready to do anything.”

He wants to find a government job so he can support his parents. He’s not sure what kind of job, or what branch of government.

“I want to become something I never became before, a computer guy, putting in all the important stuff,” he said.

Government jobs are safe, he added.

“I want to work for the government really badly,” he said. “When you work for the government, you’re in the safest place — you have benefits and everything else.”

But there’s something else he’d love to do: become a professional soccer player. It’s his dream, he said.

As a child in Bosnia, he played soccer with his friends. When he moved to Germany, he played on a team and watched every soccer game he could on television. He’s a passionate World Cup fan.

Since coming to the United States, Duldanic has played on teams on and off for years, and is now on a co-recreational team through the city of Shoreline.

If possible, he’d like to get a soccer scholarship to the University of Washington someday.

“There’s still more time to go toward that goal,” he said. “I think I can reach it if I try my best.”

Duldanic is looking forward to other parts of his future as well. He’s been with his girlfriend, Jasmina Omerovic, for over two years.

They met moments before she jumped off a diving board into Green Lake.

“I was on the deck getting ready to jump into the water and she was on the board and she looked Bosnian,” Duldanic said.

He asked her where she was from and she said “Bosnia,” then turned around, smiled and jumped.

Duldanic dived in after her, but Omerovic was climbing out to go home. Duldanic told her his name and asked her if she had a boyfriend. She did, but not for long.

Omerovic did an online search for Duldanic and got in touch with his cousin. He invited her to his soccer match and they’ve been together ever since.

Duldanic said he hopes they will marry, although no official date has been set.

He said that no matter what job he gets in the future, or whether he achieves his soccer dreams, he feels secure because he got something out of college.

The experience was a challenge, but it was also enjoyable, partly because he made a lot of friends.

He knows some Bosnians who have been scarred by the war and still talk about what happened and who should be punished.

“(My father) can never forgive what happened,” he said. “Because he was tortured, beaten.”

Duldanic has had more success with putting the past behind him, in part because he was so young when it happened, he said.

“I just try to let go of it and think positive, try to do something that makes me happy,” he said.

When you’re a young boy, it affects you, he said.

“If I’m happy, the war doesn’t affect me,” he said. “It’s not happening anymore.”

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