A special ceremony was held in Zagreb's Croatian National Theatre on Wednesday to mark the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest humanitarian undertakings in the history of the Croatian people which saved children in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from famine in the last two years of World War I.
The campaign to save children from famine, caused by war conflicts and drought, was led by Franciscan Didak Buntic who spent his life in humanitarian aid as well as protecting and preserving the Croat community in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In parallel to the Great War in which men from Istria, Kvarner, Croatia's north coast, Slovenia's coastal region, Dalmatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were deployed, these regions were hit by drought and a campaign was launched in 1917 to save children from hunger.
According to official data in the period between 1917 and 1919 more than 17,000 children from Slovenian and Croatian coastal areas and an additional 12,000 children in Bosnia and Herzegovina were transported to the rich northern areas.
At the time, prominent citizens of Zagreb such as Josip Silovic, Djuro Basaricek and Velimir Dezelic, Franciscans in Herzegovina led by Didak Buntic OFM, organised shelter for children from these regions sending therm to northern Croatia, Slavonia, Srijem, and in present-day Serbian regions, Banat and Backa.
The campaign showed unprecedented unity of all Croatian regions and provided survival for thousands of suffering and hungry children thanks to the benevolence of residents from Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem who took in children and fed them.
Speaking at the event, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said that Friar Didak Buntic was a "good Franciscan," a visionary who, during a period of horrific hunger, helped the people to survive by sending children to wealthy Slavonia, who after the war and calamity left the country, could perhaps create a new life in it.
It is necessary to point out that the Slavonia-bound train of salvation was full of children of all faiths and nationalities, "because, like a true shepherd he did not divide them but took them in as helpless and frightened as they were, showing with his own example that it was necessary for people to live with each other and not against each other."
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic underscored Buntic's humanitarian work aimed at protecting and preserving the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and his endeavours to eradicate illiteracy amongst the Croatian people. Plenkovic described Buntic as an example of enlightenment and work for the benefit of every person.