Children at War and the Supportive Role of Diaries. The Case of "Zlata´s Diary. A Child´s Life in Sarajevo"

Term Paper, 2014

15 Pages, Grade: 3,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Yugoslavia War

3. Zlata’s Diary
3.1 How the war stole her childhood
3.2 Zlata and PTSD
3.3 The Journal Therapy

4. Diary Writing and its Versatility
4.1 The Techniques of Writing
4.2 War Diaries

5. Conclusion

6 References

1. Introduction

Wars have existed since the beginning of humanity. Especially in Europe, we had to witness an enormous extent of destructions in the twentieth century. Unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight regarding to the current wars in the Middle East and in Africa. In Germany or other parts of Europe, nowadays we only get the pictures of people living through wars. The ones who always have suffered the most are children. War destroys the innocence and lightheartedness of children. They cannot longer grow up in a save and happy environment. But also children find a way to handle the circumstances. A very popular example which shows what a child has to go through during a war is the Diary of Anne Frank. But there are many young people writing diaries while they live through a war. In this term paper I will deal with the book Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic, which is about a young girl living through the war in Sarajevo. When a child’s life is filled with fear the diary might be the only friend to talk to. The intention of this term paper is to signalize the effects war has on children and the supportive role of diary writing. Regarding to the thesis that diary writing can help young people to cope with traumatic events like a war. I suppose that there might be problems in finding literature which is focused on diary writing as a therapy for war victims. Nevertheless, I will point out different theories which are centered on diary or journal writing as a therapy and explain the advantages of this type of writing. I will establish these statements and advantages through giving passages from Zlata’s Diary. Further on, I will try to indicate diary writing as a specified genre and in the end I’m going to briefly allude why publishing war diaries is important for the sensibility of humans.

However, to create a basis for the comprehension of this term paper I will first explain the war in the former Yugoslavia for short.

2. The Yugoslavia War

After the First and the Second World War, the Yugoslavia War was one of the most terrible civil wars in Europe in the twentieth century. To understand how it happens that several nations, living peacefully next to each other, suddenly start a war, we have to understand their motivations.

The government of Yugoslavia was ruled under a communist party which was based in Serbia. At the elections of 1990 every republic was able to elect for their domestic governments and many of them elected non-communist parties. That was the first indication of discrepancies between the republics. The first republic which wanted to become independent was Slovenia. Slovenian leaders believed that it was a wealthier and more developed republic and should therefore be separated from a faltering and communist country as it was Yugoslavia. And also Croatia followed this idea of independency.1 The two republics proclaimed their independency on June 25, 1991. Economical problems arose with nations leaving Yugoslavia. So the Yugoslavian prime minister sent the army (JNA), which consisted mainly of Serbs, to Slovenia to subdue the republic. Thanks to the Slovenian national guard, the war took only ten days and Slovenia was finally free from the former Yugoslavia. With the government, and the president Milosevic, becoming weaker, the three ethnic groups, Serbs, Croats and Muslims, gradually got into a war with each other. Serbia didn’t want to lose territory and authority and tried to keep the country together at all costs. After Slovenia and Croatia left, Bosnia – Herzegovina did not want to be a junior partner for Serbia and also called for independency,2 followed by Macedonia. The politics in Bosnia – Herzegovina had always been an agreement between the three groups Croats, Serbs and Muslims, and with the separation of the republic the government could no longer keep the tensions under control. Serbs and Croats in Bosnia started to fight for territory. Today it’s known that the Croatian president Tudjman and the Serbian president Milosevic had agreed “to divide Bosnia up between themselves, adding its territory […] to their countries”.3 The war lasted in total from 1991 to 1999. Ten days in Slovenia, from 1991 to 1995 in Croatia and Bosnia- Herzegovina and from 1998 to 1999 in Kosovo. Over 140,000 people were killed and about 4 million had to leave there homes and be displaced.4

3. Zlata’s Diary

Zlata is a ten years old girl who grows up in Sarajevo. The book is based on the diary of Zlata Filipovic. She first tells about her daily life, a happy life of a little girl. She lets the reader know about her holidays on the seaside, her school, that she takes piano lessons, about her friends and family. They celebrate birthdays, watch TV and spend weekends away from home. In statements like “A weekend like any other – wonderful!”5 the reader gets the impression that she really enjoys her innocent childhood. The first time she gets in touch with war is in October 1991 when fighting in Dubrovnik, Croatia brakes out. A friend of her parents called Srdjan lives in the beautiful town. “We are worried about Srdjan […] and his parents. […] Are they alive? […] Every attempt to get some news ends in failure.”(ZD:7) Even though they care about their friend in Dubrovnik, she doesn’t really understand why this is happening or that it could also happen in Sarajevo. “Mummy and Daddy keep watching the news on TV. […] What is politics? I haven’t got a clue. And I’m not really interested.”(ZD:10) I believe that this is a normal response of a ten years old girl to all this occurrences, which she can’t really understand.

3.1 How the war stole her childhood

In April 1992 the war arrived in Sarajevo. Zlata now realizes that “[w]ar is no joke. […] It destroys, kills, burns, separates, brings unhappiness.”(ZD:35) Understanding that this is the turning point in her life where she is no longer an innocent child, Zlata has to deal with the loss of friends, poverty, shelling, frightening and the feeling to be left alone.

The first case of death in Zlata’s young life is her friend Nina from kindergarten. She gets killed by a shell which felt on a park. Zlata’s reactions are sadness, anger and being horrified. Studies showed that children with the age of ten to twelve years understand that “death is permanent and may be fascinated by the gory aspects. […] They may [try] to become perfect to make up for losses.”6 In the case of Zlata I can determine that she tries to process this change in her life. She comprehends that her friend got killed by shelling in a park and she knows that this shelling is a consequence of war but she does not get an idea of why war is going on or who gets benefits out of it. Children also realize feelings around them. Her mother is constantly crying everyone around her is worried she sees that there is no more peace in her life. Her way of coping with these events is that she wants to forget them.

“Life goes on. The past is cruel, and that’s exactly why we should forget it. The present is cruel too and I can’t forget it.”(ZD:43) Children always show different ways of getting along with traumatic events. So I don’t believe that there is a special way of reacting we could expect from children. Some like Zlata want to forget and go on, others want to get angry or just be sad. The amount of time children (but also adults) need to cope with an event is contingent on the person. Fact is, that “children’s early efforts to cope with traumatic anxiety and helplessness are dependent on their degree of maturity.”7 Zlata reacts very emotional, especially when her friends leave Sarajevo. “Maja and Bojana […] leave tomorrow. It was sad. We were all upset and cried.”(ZD:92) With her maturity, Zlata looks ahead and does not only think of her own pain but she also notices that “Sarajevo will be poorer for loosing so many wonderful people, who made it what it was.”(ZD:93) And also Zlata is about to leave Sarajevo with her mother. Living in very bad conditions with no electricity and water in October, Zlatas mother Alicia decides to leave her husband, parents and brother behind to get Zlata out of the war. It turns out that Alicia can’t manage to get all the papers needed together so they stay in Sarajevo. Where ever there is a war people decide to get away from these places to have a chance to continue their life in normal circumstances, especially if they have children. This often becomes a dilemma. Children find it hard to be without friends and family. They often don’t want to leave their homes, even though they are destroyed. Studies showed that “[d]isplacement can cause financial difficulties, the breakdown of the social network, social isolation, uncertainty about the future, and mental trauma.”(ET:626) I believe that there is no such ideal solution, although it looks to be more efficient to leave the war zone behind. In Zlata’s Diary it seems to me that Zlata does not really know what to think of leaving her city and takes it how it comes. She does neither complain when her mother decides to leave with her nor when the plan fails. I got the impression that Zlata is very sensitive to people and that she is okay with staying in Sarajevo because she does not want to be split from her father and grandparents. It is also known that “[s]eperation from family [is one] of the most important and potentially damaging consequences of war for children.”(ET:626) It is clear that parents play an important role in children’s life particularly when it comes to the coping Yugoability of children. When children feel that their parents are concerned, have fear, or can’t contend with a situation, they start to worry and don’t feel safe anymore. “Children whose parents respond with positive coping skills and who can remain with their parents have better coping skills than those whose parents react negatively […].”(ET:627) Zlata recognizes that her parents lost weight and don’t look the same anymore. She writes in her diary “What is this war doing to my parents? […] Will our suffering stop so that my parents can be what they used to be – cheerful, smiling, nice-looking?”(ZD:106-107) It is hard for Zlata to see her parents suffering and she has to put up with massive changes in her life. All things considered, Zlata lives in terrible conditions with no running electricity or water, friends and family leave Sarajevo and her parents become weaker. She can’t go to school anymore, can’t go outside and play something. They never know when the shelling starts or how long it takes. When Zlata witnesses the first shells she reacts like a normal little and scared girl, but after almost two years of living in a war she is hardened. She endures the war in depression and sadness, her life is all about the war now. But she also delights in every birthday, letter from friends, moment with her pets and is thankful whenever she can visit someone or for every hour of electricity they get. Things that seemed self-evident to her before the war are now precious. “We try to brighten up this life of ours […] this isn’t life, it’s an imitation of life.”(ZD:78) She asks herself how long this war is going to take and keeps on trusting that the war will stop some day, but with every day of war this trust dwindles more and more. Zlata closes her diary entries with sentences like “I keep thinking that this is going to stop, but the war just goes on and on.”(ZD:115) In statements like this I can note that she perceives herself in a desperate situation. While she is waiting for the conditions to get better she becomes more and more demoralized. Every day she has to put up with unhappiness and fear. She doesn’t really understand why war is going on or what politics are, and I’m convinced that a young girl like Zlata does not have to know anything about these things. I assume that it is part of an innocent childhood not to know too much about politics or what is going on in the world. But when war enters a nation children get pushed into affairs they shouldn’t be dealing with. Because their minds are all about the terrible things happening in their country, they have no other choice than start thinking about politics and why war happens. Zlata writes in her diary that “[e]ven children no longer seem like children. They have had their childhood taken away from them, and without that they can’t be children.”(ZD:122)


1 What happened to Yugoslavia?: The War, Peace and the Future. Chapel Hill: UNC, Center for European Studies, (2004): 5

2 What happened to Yugoslavia?: The War, Peace and the Future: 6

3 What happened to Yugoslavia?: The War, Peace and the Future: 7

4 Transitional Justice in the Former Yugoslavia. International Center for Transitional Justice, 2009: 1

5 Zlata FIlipovic, Zlata’s Diary. A Childs Life in Sarajevo. (Puffin Books, 1995): 9 from now on the title is abbreviated as ZD

6 Eileen Meier, “Effects of Trauma and War on Children” Pediatric Nursing: 626

7 Meier, “Effects of Trauma and War on Children”: 626, the title is from now on abbreviated as ET

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Children at War and the Supportive Role of Diaries. The Case of "Zlata´s Diary. A Child´s Life in Sarajevo"
University of Constance
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
children, life, child´s, diary, zlata´s, case, diaries, role, supportive, sarajevo
Quote paper
Alberta Cejovic (Author), 2014, Children at War and the Supportive Role of Diaries. The Case of "Zlata´s Diary. A Child´s Life in Sarajevo", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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