Jelena Halec Hadjikan

1919. – 1992.

Jelena Halec was born in 1919 in the village of Goričani in Medimurje, in the numerous family of a well-regarded tradesman. In 1937, at the age of eighteen she left her birthplace with her husband, Antun Hadjikan, and went to Zagreb, where she got a job on a factory floor. Shattered by the poverty of proletarian life, she gravitated towards communist ideals of a just and egalitarian society.

In 1938, she gave birth to a daughter, Olga. After a typing course, she got a job as a clerk in the Hygiene Institute. She soon got in touch with the liberation movement and up to 1944 secretly sent the Partisans medicines, medical equipment and even X-ray machines, endangering her own life and those of her family. She was admitted as a member of the CPY in 1942. After her cell was compromised, Jelena Hadjikan, now pregnant again, went off to the Partisans, where, at the end of 1944, she gave birth to her son, Slobodan. Not hiding her disappointment with the numerous toadies and cronies she met among the Partisan leaders, she concluded, while the war was still on, that “these people are never going to build real socialism”. It was because of this disappointment that in summer 1948 Jelena Hadjikan came publicly out in support of the Cominform Resolution. After that she was expelled from the Party, relieved of her duty as committee member, sacked and together with her family evicted from her dwelling in the Šalata part of Zagreb.

On November 2, 1948 she was arrested and after nine months spent in remand jail, on the whole in solitary, she was sentenced to two years of “administrative punishment”. In August 1949, in a livestock wagon, furgon, as it was called, she arrived in Belgrade, from where, with a group of political women prisoners, she was transferred to Ramski Rit. In this swampy Danubian setting, the prisoners day and night had to dig channels for land reclamation, but because of the strong winds and the mud, their work was futile and largely pointless. Jelena was subjected to the physical violence of the administration and of the other prisoners, because she would not give up on her belief in the justification of the criticism of Tito and the CPY. In March 1950, with the first group of women prisoners, accompanied by the interrogator Marija Zelić, she was moved to the women’s camp in Sv. Grgur and then to Goli Otok. She was incessantly exposed to boycotting by the other prisoners, to endless sequences of humiliation and degradation, punishment and brainwashing as well as physical exhaustion because she would not respect the demands of the administration to revise her views and could not or would not take part in beating the other prisoners. Most of the women in the book Women’s Camp on Goli Otok bear witness to Jelena Hadjikan’s being subjected to the greatest terrorisation, and also to her exciting general respect as an embodiment of communist belief in justice and consistency.

Even after her release on January 3, 1953, after four and a half years of imprisonment and prison camp, Jelena Hadjikan was neither a free nor a quiet citizen. Because of her record as political prisoner (43 pages long) she had to change jobs frequently, working in thirteen firms in Zagreb. People working for the secret police dogged her footsteps, locked her up when important politicians were coming to Zagreb and menaced her children, Slobodan and Olga, who at length emigrated to Canada. To the end of her life Jelena suffered from psychological problems and disorders, and felt best in a natural setting, in a hut in the wine hills around Sesvete. In an interview given to Belgrade journalist Jovan Petričević at the end of the 1980s, she declared: “In 1948 I was what I will be to the end of my life – a communist”.

*For materials loaned from the family archives, we thank Olga Markoč and Slobodan Hadjikan, the children of Jelena Hadjikan.