Pubdate: Mon, 06 Mar 2000
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2000 PG Publishing
Contact:  34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Fax: (412) 263-2014
Author: Bill Steigerwald


CISTA, Croatia -- This economically and politically troubled country's
first and only drug rehab center for women is a lonely place to spend two
years getting clean.

Situated in an old stone seminary 25 miles inland from the Adriatic port
city of Split, the center sits alone halfway up the side of a scrubby
mountain in a wide, desolate valley laced with sturdy stone walls and
abandoned farming villages.

Whipped by a chilly January wind, the center is the middle-of-nowhere home
of 15 former drug addicts who have chosen to put themselves through a
grueling, no-nonsense rehabilitation program called Zajednica Susret.

Croatia's first and only independent drug program, Zajednica Susret was
founded by Sister Bernardica Juretic, 35, of the Sisters of Charity. She
imported it from Italy to Croatia in 1990, just as the Western
European-oriented country of 5 million was declaring its independence from
the former Yugoslavia.

Juretic, who has been named Woman of the Year by a Croatian national
magazine for her work with the addicted, started with two centers for men.
Like this stout, immaculately clean and beautifully refurbished place in
the country, those centers, too, have no gates, no locks, no guards.

The centers are designed to be homey, but in this part of Croatia's
Dalmatian Coast, which has the under-watered look and climate of Southern
California, that doesn't mean thick rugs and warm fireplaces. The floors at
the women's center are made of stone or tile. There is no heat in the icy
bedrooms and the women sleep seven or eight to a big room, buried in heavy

Walls are posted with principles to live by: No. 1 is to "Love and be
responsible for yourself." Others are "Try to understand others" and
"Better to give than to take" and "Believe in your group and your caretakers."

Then there are the strict house rules: No drugs, no alcohol and no
violence. Well, not all drugs are verboten. This is Croatia, after all,
where nicotine and caffeine intake are national pastimes: The women are
allowed 10 cigarettes a day and one cup of coffee.

Hard days of constant physical work leave little time for relaxing. Up at
7, in bed at 10, the women have to prepare meals, raise vegetables, care
for the rabbits they raise to eat, do laundry, split firewood and keep the
grounds spotless. Two days a week they have a therapy group. Prayer is
voluntary; so is attendance in the tiny chapel.

Free time each day is between noon and 12:30 and from 7 to 10 p.m. The
women can watch TV Saturday and Sunday nights, plus 30 minutes of TV news
each evening. They play sports on Saturday afternoons and take hikes as a
group, but no walks alone are allowed. They can have visitors three times a
year and take phone calls any time.

The women don't study books or take lessons, says Maria Maracic, an ex-drug
addict herself but now one of three counselors who rotate at the center
four days at a time. She says the women study only how to live each new day
without the nasty drugs that once got the better of them -- marijuana,
heroin, crack and ecstasy.

Zajednica Susret's three facilities currently serve 85 men and women. There
is a waiting list of 100 and so far, 70 men and women have graduated from
the program, which traces its roots and methods straight back to America
and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Funded mostly by private foundations and individuals, the program receives
little money from the strapped Croatian government or the Catholic Church,
says Juretic.

Famous throughout Croatia, she now spends most of her time raising money,
doing PR and overseeing her 24-person staff from her office in Split, a
port city of about 200,000 that is a major drug trafficking center.

"It's expensive, but it works," says Juretic who puts her program's cure
rate at 98 percent. And the secret of her success?

"There is no secret," she says. "It demands that the individual accept
their addiction, find the reasons for it and then change. If an individual
recognizes what leads himself to take drugs, success is possible."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart