Sweden – Land of Education and Retraining was presented at the CHF by poet, international UN and UNICEF activist and returnee Slavica Božičević, featuring as speakers the president of the Croatian-Swedish Society of Zagreb Mirko Hrupelj and poet Zdravko Odorčić

A presentation, discussion and exhibition on Sweden – Land of Education and Retraining was staged at the CHF on the 12th of January by poet, international UN and UNICEF activist and returnee Slavica Božičević, featuring as speakers the president of the Croatian-Swedish Society of Zagreb Mirko Hrupelj and poet Zdravko Odorčić. The gathered were welcomed by CHF director Marin Knezović, followed by event moderator Ljerka Galic, the head of our emigrant heritage department. CHF secretary Diana Mašala-Perković spoke of her friendship with Slavica Božičević, born out of their collaboration in the frame of the Meetings of Poet in Rešetari in Croatia’s northeastern Slavonia region.
Slavica Božičević, a native of Zagreb (1837), spoke of her work in poetry, promotion, humanitarian and other activities at this first meeting at the CHF this year, its 65th year of continuous work. Božičević moved to Sweden in 1987 after her thirty-two year stint working at the transfusion laboratory of the KBC Rebro Hospital. She found her second home in Jönköping, a town on the picturesque Lake Väter, the second largest body of fresh water in Sweden. In her 51st year she earned a scholarship in ecological medicine at Umeå University. She graduated in electromagnetism and human health. Besides working as a lecturer she also passed the exam to be a court appointed interpreter. She worked at Radio Jönköping for three years as the head of the culture and children’s programme and another six yeas in a local amateur theatre. She returned to Croatia five years ago and has seen her poetry published in Školske novine, Kaj, Vikend, Arena, Vjesnik and Glas Istre. She has also been published in Swedish newspapers and culture magazines such as Hrvatski glasnik in Göteborg. In 1990 her poetry was included in Pjesme (Poems), a collection published by KK Studenac, then in the Ett öppet főnster collection published by Symposion of Stockholm. In 1992 her work appeared in Lunch lyrik, Jönkőpings kommun, a collection of poetry in Swedish. From 1992 to 1994 she translated from Swedish as a certified court interpreter. In 1993 she was a prize recipient at the Poetry Slam in Jönköping, and in 1998 took part in the Meeting of Poets organised by KLD Rešetari in Croatia. From 2001 to 2014 her poetry has been published by KLD Rešetari, and then by the KULTura sNOVA association and the Susret riječi event in Bedekovčina. She has published collections of poetry including Otvoreni prozor (Open Window), Samo sam žena (I’m Only a Woman) and Kaskade života (Cascade of Life). She is a member of Matrix Croatica, the Rešetari Literary and Visual Arts Society (KLD Rešetari), the KULTura sNOVA association poetry club of Zagreb and is the head of Kulturni krug Rovinj (Culture Circle of Rovinj). She now lives and works in Rovinj writing short stories, essays and poetry.
In telling her tale of Sweden and the Swedish people and all those who have found a new home there she was ably assisted by Osijek native Zdravko Odorčić, a poet living and working in Zagreb and by Mirko Hrupelj, who lived in Sweden for eight and a half years working as a musician and studying the Swedish language and Scandinavian literature. In the early 1990s he worked at the Croatian embassy in Stockholm as an advisor, before moving on to pen a Swedish-Croatian dictionary published and printed in Sweden in 2001 and then a Croatian-Swedish dictionary published by Školska knjiga.
Božičević’s fascinating and rich life story was accompanied by a recital of poetry in the Croatian and Swedish languages and closed with a presentation of a gift for the CHF guest. Other aspects of the story were to be found on the panels of the documentary exhibition for all those interested in how bridges are built between countries and, even more so, between people. Slavica Božičević first brought Croatia, its people and customs closer to the Swedish and will now bring Sweden closer to Croatians. Sweden, we are confident, will never again be for Croatians a distant and unknown land.

Text by: Diana Šimurina-Šoufek; Photos by: Hrvoje Salopek