Seeking Freedom: A Five-Year Odyssey

 

In the turbulent aftermath of World War II, Marshall Josip Broz Tito began clamping down on the citizens of Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro, now combined into the new state of Yugoslavia. Industries were nationalized and private land holdings seized by the state under a 1950 edict that proclaimed “the factories for the workers” and “the land for the peasants.” Authoritarian controls were extended by the Yugoslavian Communist Party to keep the diverse ethnic groups of the country under control.

 

Fresh from two years’ service in the Yugoslavian army, Tony Burica returned to his hometown of Grohote on the island of Šolta. A year later, convinced there was no future for him in Yugoslavia under the authoritarian communist regime, he decided to flee the country to find work and opportunity elsewhere in Europe. Many others had fled the country, facing jail sentences and possibly execution if they were caught.

 

Without telling his family, (for fear of reprisals against them), he, his brother, and three other Croatian friends stole a boat one windy December night in 1951 and sailed to Italy. They crashed the boat in the surf near Rodi Graganico, then made their way to the town of Foggia, where they were jailed and placed in a refugee camp for six months. When released, they tried to decide what to do next. Conditions in Italy were not much better than Yugoslavia, but Tony heard that the British and American occupation forces in Germany needed workers. In Germany Tony met Ivan Raos, a fellow Croatian. Thus began a life-long friendship and a 10,000 mile, five-year odyssey before the two adventurers finally reached Los Angeles, California, and a new life and the freedom they sought.

 

Their travels in search of jobs and a better life would take them north to Sweden where they initially found work in a peat bog. After some months they felt somewhat isolated and alone in the close-knit Scandinavian community, and decided that better opportunities might be found in America. Their initial plan was to travel south, explore South Africa, cross over to Argentina, and then work their way north to the United States. They also were motivated by the spirit of adventure and a desire to see as much of the world as possible.

 

Using some of the money they earned, they bought two bicycles and some camping gear, stole a small boat, and sailed across the Öre Sound to Denmark, only to be arrested. As stateless individuals with no passports, they were arrested multiple times as they crossed from one country to another before finally reaching Spain. They anticipated there would be trouble with the authorities, but they went anyway.

 

From Spain they eventually reached the Canary Islands, where they attempted to stow away on a boat sailing to South America. They were discovered and returned to the island of La Palma. This led to the decision to build their own boat, an 18-foot sailboat that eventually took them across the Atlantic to a landfall on the island of Tobago.

 

From Tobago they sailed to Venezuela, where they were again arrested and jailed and the boat was confiscated. When released, they found work on a plantation in the Venezuelan jungle near the Orinoco River.


Once they’d earned some money, they set out again, crossing northern Venezuela and Colombia, hiking through remote jungles, traveling on foot, by boat, and by dugout canoe, but always working their way north. They traversed eastern Panama, at times living with the San Blas Indians. After several arrests, they became wary of border crossings and expert at slipping unnoticed across national frontiers. In this way, on foot and sometimes by bus, after nearly five years of travel, they finally reached Los Angeles, found work, became citizens, married, and began new and productive lives.
 

 

SEEKING FREEDOM: A FIVE-YEAR ODYSSEY

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  • Seeking Freedom: A Five Year OdysseyTony Burica

    A TRUE STORY OF GRIT AND DETERMINATION. Tony Burica, unwilling to surrender his freedom in Communist Yugoslavia, tells how he fled his home in Croatia during the turbulent aftermath of World War II. Having grown up on the Island of Šolta near the shores of the Adriatic Sea, boats and sailing came naturally to Tony. As a child, Tony worked the family farm along with his parents. At age 20 he was drafted into the Yugoslavian Army. When his enlistment was up, he returned to his home village, but could not stand to live under Tito’s communist regime. On a blustery December night, Tony, with his brother Jerry and three friends, sailed a small boat across the Adriatic Sea to Italy, where they were initially held for six months in a refugee camp. Finally released from the camp, Tony found work at an Army Base in Germany, and there he met Ivan Raos, another Croatian. The two men bonded and decided that they would somehow make their way to the United States. They crossed the Atlantic in a homemade 18-ft sailboat. After an incredible journey on foot, by bicycle and bus, by small boat and dugout canoe, five years later they reached California and both found jobs and new lives. Sixteen years after leaving Croatia, Tony returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Tereza Elezovich. She had waited for him all those years.

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