A Battle for Dignity
A Presentation of the Life and Feat of Martyrdom
of Milica Kostić (1956–1974)
Thirty-nine years ago, on the first day of the school year, in the centre of Kruševac, a high school student was dragged by deceit and forced into an empty flat of a building. She was a chance victim that the abusers planned to rape. However, this heroine persistently defended herself, albeit paying the highest price – at the cost of her life. Who was this child?
In the village of Strojinci, beneath the slopes of Kopaonik, Serbia, a baby girl was born to a modest Christian family in 1956. At the Orthodox christening she received the medieval name of Milica (meaning amiable).
She had a difficult but happy childhood. Everyone in the village led an unburdened life. They all worked hard but people were satisfied. Milica was the pride and joy to her parents. Though she was the favourite of four children, Milica was not spoiled by her parents but gained a greater responsibility through that love. She was extremely well behaved. In the village the relationship parent–child was respected. Parental love could not be easily seen but could definitely be felt.
In the surroundings in which she grew up, children had nothing to fear. It was unimaginable to be afraid of people, boys, to fear that something bad could happen. They had a carefree childhood. Milica and her friend Milka walked a long way to school never encountering anything adverse. Milka describes it like this: ”Nobody ever said a word to us, along our way we could never imagine anything that would be a danger to us.” Children lived in a poor world but it was an honest one where there was no place for lies and deceit. Milka adds: ”To be afraid of someone, that one could attack you – that just did not happen. No one ever discussed it.”
Milica believed in God. She took communion with her family at Christmas and Easter. The services then began early in the morning and as the church was a fair distance from their home, they started out very early. As it was dark, their parents held lanterns and led the way. ”They carried lanterns, we followed them, that’s the way it was”, says Milica’s friend Milka. Milica’s family celebrated St. George as their patron saint, along with most people of the village. The whole village also celebrated the feast of the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. Milica’s cousin, and first neighbour, Father Milan, the priest, remembers: ”Milica was a religious child”.
On reaching the age of 18, Milica was still a disciplined young person eager to learn. She remained an honest person, used to the hard life although she did not see her life as particularly difficult. She did not have any personal requests always wishing to help others. She was the embodiment of responsibility and obedience. She did not go to parties, not because she was unsociable but because she led a quiet life that was not exceptional in any way. She never spoke ill of anyone, never said a wrong word unnecessarily, never spoke untowardly. Nevertheless, she was accepted socially in school. ”She socialized, brother!”, says her friend, a neighbour. At the end of the high school year of 1974, her class teacher, Antić, recorded that Milica was ”withdrawn and quiet, almost unnoticeable, but attentive and diligent, has no absences”. Miroljub, at whose parents’ she boarded with her friend Vera during her schooling, speaks of her in this way: ”It was as if God Himself had sent her to show people how to be good, honest and honourable”.
That was what Milica Kostić was like. She should have begun the fourth grade of the new school year. The first day of the school year was Monday, 2 September 1974.
* * *
A few young idlers gathered in a flat on the 11th floor of a high-storey building in the city centre of Kruševac. Knowing that the new school year was to begin the next day, they made plans to abduct a passing victim who chanced to pass their way and bring her to the flat. The court later proved that they had planned, that evening, to go into town and lure a young girl into the flat with the intention of rape. With these plans in mind, they went out the next day.
On Monday, September 2, Milica said good-bye to her parents, packed a few things and started for Kruševac. As she was quite an attractive young girl, she drew the attention of the above-mentioned young men. Not knowing who she was, after a short reckoning, they decided to approach her. One of them, moving away from the group, came up to her and asked if she would do him a favour and call on his girlfriend, Dragana, in the flat. He explained that he could not do so himself as her parents were very strict. He gave the impression of a good and well-meaning young man. Not guessing that she was being misled, she agreed to help.
The young man brought Milica to the door of the flat and told her to knock. When she did so, a minor opened the door and to her question whether Dragana lived there he answered positively, adding that she was in the first room to the right and that she could go in and call her. As Milica stepped into the hallway, her assailant, who was on the stairway, pushed her forcibly into the bedroom. All this was done by force because Milica started screaming and struggling to free herself. A gramophone player was on loud so that her cries for help could not be discerned.
Although she was already aware of her situation, the first man told her why she was there. Milica categorically refused and at his insistence and audacity she replied by crying and pleading to be let out of the room. The frightened child shouted: ”Let me go, let me go!” repeatedly. In spite of her fear and the unenviable situation she found herself in, she fought. Because of her determination, the intentions of the young men remained just that.
The second attacker, seeing that the situation was not developing the way they had planned, entered the room swearing. He was sure that Milica would stop resisting, especially as he saw that she was petrified. However, he was wrong in his assumptions. Milica was quiet but persistent. When she refused him, he slapped her making her cry. Even under the greatest pressure, she fought and stood fast. Another abuser came into the room using common language to break Milica’s defense, but she prevailed. All this time the owner of the flat, the minor, waited his turn to rape the girl. Had things gone the way they planned, they would have raped her and believed that she would not have the courage to tell of her plight being threatened by them.
Milica defended herself from the very start without intending to stop. Beside the childish simplicity, reasoning and excuses, a woman’s tears and pleading, she also possessed something more – a strong masculine decisiveness. This decisiveness gave her the strength to persevere, to fight like a lioness and to finally and completely thwart her assailants in their intent.
Because of her determination, everything was prolonged, so that at one stage in time none of the villains were in the room and the door slammed shut due to a draught, the lock had been taken out. Comprehending that her pleading was not going to be of any further help and unable to go on defending herself, knowing she was sure of being raped by the whole group, Milica decided to flee. In the few short minutes that followed (while the attackers tried to open the door), she decided not to let this happen and using this moment Milica jumped through the window from the 11th floor.
She fell a whole 40 meters, hitting the shades of the restaurant below, falling through it and hitting the plastic chairs. The guests sitting in the street café immediately transported her to the hospital. An hour later, she came through in the hospital bed and clearly and precisely told the criminal inspector Stefanović her reasons as to why she jumped. She then fell into a deep coma from which she never awoke.
This incident caused great public interest and general sympathy for the girl. The doctors fought for her life for two days. Milica subsequently died due to her injuries on Wednesday, 4 September.
* * *
The usual reaction of the abused in situations similar to the one Milica found herself in is that one should endeavour to stay alive at the cost of suffering. The venerable Augustine, at the start of the fifth century, counsels that in cases like these one should bravely endure the misfortune of disgrace and it is natural that if one cannot defend oneself the only thing left is to endure. One then can, bearing his tribulation, manage to save his life and with perseverance and patience save his soul. (see Luke, 21, 19.) However, the human character is not bound by this. The Church respects human freedom above this boundary. What if someone loves life and wants to live but will not allow to be violated by others and used as an object, at any cost?
The fact that Milica believed in God has already been emphasized. That kind of person did not have to jump from the 11th floor. Had she endured her violators she would not have been less irreproachable because her endurance would have come from the highest incentive. However, she decided to thwart her violators and escape them. By the words of the Apostle, ”To the pure all things are pure; but nothing is pure to the tainted minds of disbelievers, tainted alike in reason and conscience” and with that every decision and action.
Milica Kostić did not wish to die, she wanted to live. However, falling into a situation, not through her own will, where she had to defend the freedom and dignity of the human character she resisted the assailants completely. What did she do? She placed innocence against violence and cruelty, a young and almost childish sense of freedom she placed before violence; she consciously placed pureness against self-confident shamelessness. Her self-respect endured before the persistent efforts of others to humiliate her. She behaved in keeping with her character even when in the face of danger. The quiet child defended herself quietly. Always satisfied with the least, she only wished to go free. This she was not granted. Therefore, despite her defenselessness, it became clear that the child would defend herself at all costs-paying the price of her life.
By defending herself, Milica moved and shook the conscience of many. With her death she defended other victims, because society, later, took more precaution in the prevention of similar criminal acts. Some had rightly acknowledged that Milica sacrificed her young life for a greater cause, because it was deemed necessary.
Archimandrite Tihon (Rakićević)