Zlata Filipović

Zlata’s Diary

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Zlata’s Diary Summary

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Zlata’s Diary is a true story in diary form as written by Bosnian writer and activist ZlataFilipovic, who was a young girl living in Sarajevo when it was under siege during the Bosnian war. The diary was written from 1991 to 1993, when she was eleven years old. The diary chronicles her daily life, and the slow encroachment of the brutal war on her hometown and her life. The primary theme of the diary is the way war affects ordinary people, and how a child perceives these huge-scale atrocities. The diary also contains themes of hope, faith, and the enduring strength of family. Zlata’s Diary has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank, both being diaries written by young girls during periods of war and genocide when the writer and her family were targeted for racial or ethnic reasons. However, unlike Anne, Zlata survived the war and was alive to see it published in 1993 by a small Bosnian press. In 1995, it was translated into English and given a major release by Penguin Books. Critically acclaimed and widely used as an introduction for young readers to the themes of genocide and ethnic cleansing; it has also been adapted into a choral work by Anthony Powers.

Zlata’s Diary consists of first-hand entries of Zlata’s daily life beginning in 1991, when her life was mostly normal and peaceful. She’s about to enter fifth grade when the story begins, and is a bright girl who enjoys spending time with her friends, practicing the piano, going on vacations with her family, and learning. She’s ambitious, creative, and studious. However, the outside world soon intercedes on her peaceful life. The first hints of the coming war come when her father is recruited into the local police reserves. Soon, violence breaks out in the nearby area of Dubrovnik. The family worries about the fate of their family friend, Srdjan, who lives in that region. Zlatadoesn’t understand why war is breaking out around her, but she believes that war coming to Bosnia-Herzegovina is impossible and that she and her family should be safe. That, however, proves to be premature hope.

In March 1992, the first violence breaks out in her native Sarajevo when Serbian nationalists attack the city. Immediately, gunfire from the hills becomes a common sound, and shelling with bombs becomes a fact of daily life. Zlata and her family keep safe by hiding in a neighbor’s cellar to avoid the shrapnel and bullets. The nationalists are making inroads into the town, conquering a nearby area. Reports start trickling in of mass casualties in the areas that have been conquered.

Things go from bad to worse, as on May 2nd, the local post office is burned and the country’s President is kidnapped in the worst day of fighting. People start fleeing, including most of Zlata’s friends. However, when Zlata’s uncle Braco is injured and confined to bed, the family can’t leave. The family is forced to shelter in place, with water and electricity being scattershot and food becoming scarce. The United Nations becomes involved, dropping care packages that the family occasionally is able to get ahold of. The community stays strong despite the hardship.

The remaining people get together for humble birthday celebrations, and a temporary summer school is started which Zlata happily attends. It is through her summer school teacher, Irena, that Zlata’s diary is first noticed, and it’s published in a limited run through the UN organization UNICEF. It is through her work that Zlata and her mother first get the chance to escape the country, but a last-minute bureaucratic snafu stops that. More and more of her friends and family friends escape the country on convoys, including a young man named Nedowith whomZlata was becoming close. Zlata and her best friend Mirna spend more time together, as two of the only ones left. On July 17th, 1993, Zlata attends a promotion for her book, and this leads to her becoming an international celebrity. She is interviewed by famous journalists from around the world. By September 1993, word is spreading of a potential cease-fire, but by October the shooting is still going on. Zlata ends her diary by asking one simple question about the war: Why?

Zlata Filipovic’s story didn’t end with her diary, as she and her mother escaped to Paris in 1993, staying there for a year before moving to Dublin. Zlata went on to attend St. Andrew’s College and later the University of Oxford. Now a prominent activist and writer, she wrote the foreword to The Freedom Writers Diary and has written segments based on her experiences for anthologies about children in wartime. She currently works in documentary and film production, having served as producer on nine documentaries between 2010 and 2015. She served on the Executive Committee of Amnesty International Ireland, and is a founding member of Network of Young People Affected by War.