“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
In August of 1991, the center of Osijek, a regional capital in eastern Croatia, fell under bombardment from artillery, often along with Serbian dominated Yugoslav Air Force strikes. Katarina Katulic was six years old. The invaders threatened to encircle the city from every direction except the west. Sandbags were stacked everywhere, and the city went black at night. Those who hadn’t fled slept in basements. At its most intense, a shell hit every minute.
By the following winter, Serb guerrillas and Yugoslav army units encroached to a few hundred yards from Katarina’s city just across the Drava River, but Croatian forces managed to hold it. What became Croatia’s war of independence stretched into 1995 when Katarina was ten. Osijek survived the pounding from 6,000 artillery shells with 1,700 people killed, and damages to the city placed at $1.3 billion. The university that Katarina would one day attend, the J. J. Strossmayer University, was the only Croatian university severely damaged in the war. It had been named after a bishop who was also a statesman favoring open dialogue in the hope of dispelling ancient prejudices and conflict. His visionary global reasoning inspired the university’s mission.
What the casualty count didn’t register was the number of victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), a situation Katarina says is compounded by ongoing ethnic tensions in the region and economic devastation. “Hundreds of factories are now closed, factories in which thousands of people worked, and more suicides are caused by depression and PTSD,” Katarina says. Additionally, class differences were growing more pronounced, and “corruption is present at almost every level of the economy.” With philosophies like that of Paul Coelho, Katarina stays hopeful. She believes that inclusion in the EU will attract foreign development, which she sees already happening.
Katarina longs for effective leadership in her country where the primary obligation is to motivate people and help them maximize their potential in order to accomplish great things. She sees where she fits into this dream as a psychologist helping large numbers of people who participate in the many group projects being done today. She enrolled in the J. J. Strossmayer University as a psychology, emphasizing social psychology, group interactions, and group therapy. The university awarded her a scholarship grant. She also joined the psychology student organization called “Psihos.” Its president commended her for her volunteer work with “Klasje,” a shelter for children. Through the association, she achieved what the president termed “astonishing results on complex projects with great attention to detail. Quality was never compromised.”
Katarina is especially interested in human rights and currently volunteers in community activities such as a telephone hot-line for the elderly. Determined to be a part of Croatia’s healing, Katarina has networked with international students at HSI and hopes to return with ideas to help her country in its search for peace. “HSI is the kind of experience that stays written in our minds forever,” Katarina says.