Ulične Svjetiljke vendor Ljilja Plackovic has empathy for people in the position she was once in

By Dunja Osojnak Marinović, Ulične Svjetiljke

Dolac Market in Zagreb would be empty without Ljilja Plackovic. Ljilja has been involved with Ulične Svjetiljke for over ten years. Once upon a time she used to sleep on the square as a homeless person; now it is the place where she works.

Her husband died when she was only 36 years old. He was a veteran of the Homeland War [the Croatian War of Independence] and consequently developed mental health issues. These problems eventually led him to take his own life. Three months later, she lost her son. The terrible stress she experienced caused an autoimmune disease that, among other things, caused hair loss.

Picture by Anita Čevra

In 2007 she was still employed at a roof tile factory in the eastern city of Vinkovci. She agreed to be a guarantor for a colleague and ended up paying her mortgage. In the meantime, she lost her job, but the legal enforcements still kept coming. She thought that moving to Zagreb would give her a greater chance of finding a job. She had no money and slept on the ground, rummaging waste containers for food for 21 days.

Her family refused to help her because they believed she was fully to blame for her situation. Ljilja currently lives in a rented space that is not fit for that purpose, but she has no other options. The rent is 800 Croatian kuna [around £90] and she is happy to have a roof over her head. She is receiving security benefits, earning extra money by selling Ulične Svjetiljke, and has enough to live on. She is also grateful to generous people who buy her food and sometimes give her some money, and likes to share her food when she sees people looking for food or bottles that can be cashed in like she once did. She calls everyone “son”, and easily bonds with people, who never forget her. Ljilja is warm and friendly, a true light of the Ulične Svjetiljke project.

Translation by Nataša Zambelli Wilkie

Courtesy of Ulične Svjetiljke / International Network of Street Papers