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One family with a goal and a dream
Ah yes…waking up in the morning with comforts many of us take for granted: a hot shower, a refrigerator full of food and a television with endless channels are all luxuries that many of us take for granted. But what if your surroundings included: broken buildings, rubble in the streets and constant fighting right outside your house, if you are lucky enough to still have one? These are the conditions that Quinnipiac University senior soccer defenseman Aldin Beslagic (bez-lah-GEECH) grew up with and eventually forced him from his native land.
Movement is a key to the game of soccer, but for Aldin it became a way of life. When Aldin was 10 years old in 1990, his family was forced to move from its home in Derventa, Bosnia, a country directly east from Italy across the Adriatic Sea. It borders Croatia and Serbia.
But, this wasn’t your typical move. In July, Aldin’s mother, Mirjana, was abruptly informed by one of her neighbors that she and her family had to leave. “We got a message from our friend,” Mirjana said. “He said we must leave immediately. If we did not leave, they were going to kill us.”
For a young child, this was just as much a traumatic as a confusing experience. “I was scared,” Aldin said. “I was being chased from my country. I was shocked, basically.”
Serbia did not want Bosnia to become its own independent nation. Then President Slobodan Milosevic had empowered many Bosnian Serbs with weapons to prevent the country from becoming nationalized. The fighting was uncontrollable.
“The memory of the war, bodies and gunshots, haunted my dreams for years,” Aldin said. The city had already been destroyed by the war. Aldin remembered seeing a hole in the ceiling of his room just before they left.
They had roughly 20 minutes to gather any essential items and get out. If they took any longer, they risked their lives. Mirjana recounted their sudden departure. “We had no time to pack,” Mirjana said. “Two pairs of underwear, the clothes we were wearing and some toys. No pictures, no memories, nothing. We left everything behind.”
For a month and a half, the Beslagic family moved to Prijedor, a city 45 minutes east of Derventa, Bosnia, to live with Mirjana’s brother. But their struggle did not end there. They initially found a safe haven here, but the war soon overtook this part of Bosnia too.
“Originally, it started in one small area,” Aldin said. “Then it spread like a virus. In a month it had spread across the country.”
Three months later, the family moved to a different area of the country: Doboj, Bosnia, which is almost four hours northwest of Prijedor. However, the family knew this would not last long as the Beslagics faced gunshots, corpses and grenade explosions every day.
Mirjana and Miralem were put in a position that no one would envy. With the country in the midst of a horrible war, the Beslagics decided they had to leave the country.
“Before the war, life was wonderful,” said Mirjana. “There were not many problems; we both had good jobs making money, had our own apartment, two cars, and two wonderful kids.”
Mirjana and Miralem began searching for ways to get out of the country and find a safe place to live. The last thing the parents wanted was to worry every day that their children may not make it home safely. They began to weigh their options, and because family lived in Germany another move was in the works.
From Bosnia, the Beslagics drove for 12 hours, through Serbia, Slovenia, Austria and then to the German border where life presented them with another obstacle. “We were missing some papers and they were going to send us back to Bosnia,” Aldin said. “My mother begged the man (at the border) to let us in. She said we had family there and we would probably die if we went back to Bosnia.”
Mirjana’s plea for sympathy struck a chord inside the border official, and the man allowed the family to enter the country.
Mirjana had a cousin who lived in Guglingen, Germany, and the family was able to stay there until they got an apartment of their own. “It felt good,” remembered Mirjana. “I got my kids freedom, and I got a job.”
Once the family had settled into its new surroundings, Aldin continued his soccer career that had began in Bosnia at the age of 4. And after missing roughly three years of school, Aldin was not forced to make up the lost time; rather, he was placed in the appropriate grade and expected to compensate for the time he missed. “I just had to study harder,” Aldin said. “I was giving 150% in everything I did. I wanted to do the best I could.”
Aldin was on a soccer team similar to that of America’s AAU basketball program. The team consisted of the best young players from the town and traveled all over Europe.
This was different than his playing days in Bosnia where soccer was played for fun and winning was not emphasized. In Germany, winning was all that mattered. “They take it to a different level,” Aldin said. “It’s all about winning. It is all that matters.”
Despite the change to a faster, more fundamental and aggressive style of play, the game helped Aldin establish himself and make friends in his new community. “In order to be a team, you have to know your teammates,” Aldin said. “You have to be friends and really know each other to be good teammates.”
Members of the team were always hanging out, in and out of school, so this helped. “We were all really good friends,” Aldin said. “Almost to the point I would call them my brothers.”
Aldin played forward for his team, and it was not uncommon to see his name among the leaders in goals and assists during his seven years in Germany. However, he did not let this success get to his head. “It was not about me,” Aldin said. “There was a team; it was all about winning and losing as one.”
Then, Aldin got an assist he had a hard time turning down. A letter came in the mail in January 1999. It was an inquiry concerning exchange students. Aldin had the opportunity to come to America to go to school, but if he did so his family would remain behind.
As great of an opportunity as this was for the developing soccer star, his mother refused to allow it. “I said no; he is a human person,” Mirjana said. “If we were going to go anywhere, we were going together.”
Aldin felt the same way. “I did not want to leave my family,”
Ironically the same day, the family received another letter explaining that all refugees had to move back to Bosnia. They could apply for German citizenship or anywhere else for that matter, but if these actions were not taken they would have to go back to Bosnia. This left the family with yet another life-altering decision.
But first, the family returned to Bosnia to visit with family. The war had eased up and was not as intense as it had been. However, they were welcomed home by destroyed cities, crumbled buildings, and desolate conditions. “It was strange, especially after five years,” Aldin said. “You remember it one way, and then you come back and everything is destroyed.”
The family returned to Germany and had one year to move. When all options were considered, the Beslagics decided that America was their best choice as Mirjana’s brother lived and worked in the Hartford area, so it would make the transition a little easier. “We applied and we got an interview,” Mirjana said. “After two months, we got approved.”
Finally, April came and the family boarded a plane to cross into the unknown. On the 10-hour plane ride over, Mirjana and Miralem focused their attention on keeping Aldin and his sister, Dina, calm, but the children could tell their parents shared their anxiety. “As strong as they were on the outside, I could see they were scared too,” Aldin said.
Aldin remembered his first impression of America as he walked outside JFK Airport. “It was so dirty, there was trash on the ground. It was different from Germany because everything is clean over there.”
But Aldin would not be deterred. “When I got off the plane, I said to myself that this is my final destination; I don’t want to move anymore.”