HEROISM Norwegian Jan Petter Saga Risked His Life to Help Dubrovnik

Author(s): Olja Ljubišić Photographer(s): private archive
Once every now and then you get to hear a story so inspiring it deserves to be filmed. The story of a man who decided to help people he didn’t know in a place far from home is definitely one of those. By building their homes, he found out it was his too. 

DD: How does your connection with Croatia even begun?

Jan Petter Saga : I’ve visited Dubrovnik in 1978 for the first time and I’ve spent summer holidays there ever since. During that time, I managed to learn some Croatian. Then, in 1991 I came last time before the war. News of refugee wave, a significant shortage of food and medical supplies kept coming. I’ve welcomed two refuges in my home in Norway.

DD: But you didn’t stop there...

Jan Petter Saga : No. Sandnes Municipality in South Norway received a recommendation from WHO’s Europe Headquarters in Copenhagen for need of humanitarian aid. Together with the local Red Cross they’ve visited Croatia. Afterwards, during 1992 and 1993 large donations such as clothes, food and medical supplies were sent to Croatia.

The Municipality decided to do more and gathered Norwegian entrepreneurs willing to help rebuild houses. In autumn 1993 the Municipality was looking for a construction engineer and as I was one with knowledge of Croatia, they offered me to manage the construction process in Dubrovnik.

DD: You had to quit your job?

Jan Petter Saga : Yes, I quit my job and accepted to join the cause.

DD: What happened when you arrived in Dubrovnik in spring 1993? The war was still on.

Jan Petter Saga : Once we’ve gathered all the materials necessary for the construction, I headed towards Croatia. There, we cooperated with deputy mayor at the time, Vido Bogdanovic. One of the most efficient and practical man which made everything much easier. Together, we visited the people that have been relocated in the hotels as their homes were burned and destroyed by Serbian-led army.

How did they react with a foreigner coming to aid?

Of course, they didn’t believe we would go with them and rebuilt is. They had no faith. It was important to prove them that we will stay despite everything and help. I promised we will be done by next Christmas.  And so it was.

Beside you, volunteers from other countries came to help.

That’s right. There were volunteers from France, United States. Some stayed shorter, some longer. One Frenchman even bought a house in Dubravica few years ago.

How it all was organized?

I was in charge of construction part and Harry Samuelsen for humanitarian aid – wheelchairs, equipment for the hospital and people. He brought 11 buses full of humanitarian aid all the way from Sadnes, Norway. Also, they brought a mini-van for the construction which we later on leaved for everyone in the village to use.

DD: During that period, you managed to rebuild the village of Dubravica and its church.

Jan Petter Saga : Yes, and we had volunteers from Norway in Dubravica to help us as well. We worked from 6am till 8pm every day. But, half of the group went home when the fire opened. The grenades were falling while we worked. The interesting thing is that women didn’t leave. There was a big party when we finished in the village until the sunrise.

DD: You also didn’t want to end your stay in Dubrovnik despite open fire.

Jan Petter Saga : In autumn 1994 Serb attacked with grenades and I got a question from Norway what was going on. I simply replied that I will not run, but rather stay and continue with the works. Around Christmas, everyone returned to their homes.

DD: For all these reasons you say you have three homes now.

Jan Petter Saga : Yes, one in Norway, one in Mokosica (part of Dubrovnik) where I spend my vacation and one in Dubravica I help rebuilt.

What would be your wish for the future?

It would be nice to see Dubrovnik and Sandnes as Sister Cities. 

Olja Ljubisic