In an interview with the Azeri Observer Magazine, the spouse of the UNDP Resident Representative in Azerbaijan, Mrs. Jasmina Fracassetti, explains how the war in Yugoslavia prompted her to study international relations, and how she applied her education working for organizations aimed at making the world a better place. She also speaks about the beauties of her home country, Croatia, her unusual hobby which she shares with her husband, and the things in Azerbaijan she will miss. Finally, she reflects on the philosophical concept of yin and yang, and says how it manifests in her life.
By ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Could you tell our readers about yourself – your childhood, family, education? Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
Answer: I was born in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, but I grew up in a family house in a small town fifty kilometers from the city. I had a happy childhood, playing for hours in the street with my friends. I remember the joys of making fires during late summer and baking corncobs on a wooden stick or roasting chestnuts during the first cold days of autumn. I was always a lively child and I loved to climb trees and endlessly play. From an early age I had an attraction to foreign languages and a lot of curiosity about the world and people. I studied English, German and Latin languages during my primary and secondary education and I went on to learn French as part of my Master’s Degree. I also took classes in Arabic and Russian language at a later stage in my life.
Q.: Why did you decide to study international relations? What attracted you to this field?
A.: Relations and cooperation are the keys to success and prosperity – whether we’re talking about simple relations between neighbors or friends or more complex relations between countries. When the war hit former Yugoslavia in 1991, I was 19 years old, full of dreams and hopes. All of a sudden, everything came to an abrupt halt. Dreams were shattered. No movement was possible, and we had to learn how to live a very basic life without daily commodities such as electricity and water. I did not choose war. It happened to me and other people in my own country just as it happens to people all around the world. I wanted to undo the war and alleviate human suffering, but I didn’t know how. Studying international relations was a logical step after the situation I found myself in. Some of the main subjects during my study of international relations were public international law, security studies, ethnic conflict, and international organizations – all key components in understanding why conflicts happen and how they can be pre-empted. I am a firm believer that cooperation leads to peaceful coexistence and eventually to prosperity. Realpolitik might be appealing and pragmatic at times, but its disregard for ethical considerations certainly makes it unsustainable. We live in a world in which it is essential to have good relations because of the global issues we face. Global warming and environmental destruction, as well as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, are all issues that can bring even the most prosperous nations to their knees.
Q.: Tell us about your professional path. What do you consider your main professional achievements?
A.: My professional path has not been straightforward. I’m just as happy about what I achieved as a volunteer for one of the largest NGOs in Croatia as I am with my later professional achievements. I’ve since worked for the leading international organizations dealing with war crimes, democracy, rule of law, and election monitoring. It makes no difference if the work I do is financially rewarding or not because I work for the issues at hand and I put my heart into them. Election observation work remains my passion because it allows me to get to know a country politically, geographically, and culturally while I delve into its key legislation guiding the election process. The most exciting part is being able to apply a fresh pair of eyes and an unbiased approach to simply observe. It’s a fascinating job in that it is complex and also quite simple at the same time. It’s complex in that there are so many components to analyze and observe. Just to name a few, for example, there’s the legislative framework, the election administration, voter registration, political parties’ campaigning and financing, the media presence and its coverage of the electoral campaign, and then election day itself. On the other hand, the process is also simple on account of the clear methodology and the established criteria for guiding you through the election observation process. What is of paramount importance is that an observer is able to maintain neutrality and yet remain vigilant throughout the observation. Managing to perform this role without bias is something I consider one of my main professional skills and achievements.
Volunteer work is equally rewarding, though, because then you follow an issue passionately. When I was part of the main Croatian NGO, dealing with parenting issues and maternal rights, for example, I helped organize a national campaign about the importance of not separating mothers and their babies at birth. We organized street events and had meetings with the key institutions of the Croatian government and with hospitals and maternity wards – all for the purpose of supporting a dignified birth for both mothers and babies.
Q.: You worked for leading international organizations and then left your successful career to follow your husband to Azerbaijan. Was it a difficult decision for you?
A.: I have thoroughly enjoyed my professional and volunteer work. But I know that I will find more work and achieve a sense of fulfillment wherever I go. There are no difficult decisions when love binds everything together. When my husband was offered a post in Azerbaijan as his next duty station, I was excited. I did not think about myself but of him and our children and the new opportunities offered by the post. At that time, I did not know that I would go for such a long time without working. I thought I would take a one-year break, but then I got involved in so many things in Baku over the past five years that the time just flew by.
Q.: What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the life of a diplomat and a diplomatic spouse?
A.: As a diplomat you learn to live your life on the go. It’s exciting to be able to live in different countries, to be welcomed by local people and become familiar with new cultures. The opportunity to influence international and diplomatic developments is certainly rewarding. But a diplomat must also handle stressful and difficult situations calmly and be able to adapt quickly to changing situations. The most challenging part is having to see our children say goodbye to their friends every few years. It normally takes up to half a year before our children make new friends in a new school. Sometimes things don’t go well and are not easy. As a parent and spouse, I have learned to be patient and have faith that things will eventually work out fine.
Q.: Tell us about your work and activities in Azerbaijan. What do you like the most about these activities?
A.: I have already mentioned my volunteer work in the NGO sector in Croatia. I’ve also done some voluntary work in Azerbaijan. For example, I’ve been part of the Executive Board of the International Women’s Club of Baku, and through our charity events, we’ve helped disadvantaged people and children with disabilities. Similar work is done by HoMS (Heads of Missions Spouses), which I’m also a member of. I’ve been involved with the PTA in an American school that our children have attended for the past five years in Baku. I’ve helped to organize fundraising events with the purpose of supporting our students and the school community.
As for hobbies, I spent the first three years of our time in Baku training in karate with our kids. My husband and I both reached black belt level, and then a year later black belt ‘2nd Dan’. I’m very proud of that because it wasn’t easy driving through heavy Baku traffic and doing 90 minutes of training, four or five times a week. We were training together with Azeri children and we were really impressed by the discipline and passion of those kids. It’s no wonder that Azerbaijan produces some of the world’s top karate champions! But the activity that can turn even the worst day into the brightest one is being in the art studio of my teacher, Turan Mukhtarzade. She is a student of the well-known Azeri artist, Sakit Mamedov, and under her guidance I’ve switched from painting in acrylics to oil-painting. In 2018 I had my first exhibition together with seventeen very talented Azeri artists. I’ll miss so many things when it is our time to leave Baku, but it’s the joyful energy and the fantastic girls I met in Turan’s art studio I‘ll miss the most.
Q.: What would you like to tell someone about Croatia who has never seen your home country? What makes you proud of it?
A.: Croatia is a beautiful country with very diverse landscapes. Croatian people are very hospitable, just like Azerbaijanis, and one of the things we enjoy most is sitting in sun-soaked cafes and chatting with friends over coffee or tea. Zagreb, the capital, is heaven for coffee lovers. Wine-drinking has also become popular in the past few decades, especially in the coastal region where wine is drunk with fresh fish and other delicacies. Even though Croatia is a small country, it can offer a lot in terms of sightseeing and outdoor fun activities. Anyone who loves sailing or island-hopping will find themselves in heaven in Croatia. There are more than 1,000 islands and you can spend days sailing and visiting these little gems.
Q.: What are your impressions of Azerbaijan? What is your favorite place in the country? What will you miss the most about our country when you leave it?
A.: Azerbaijan is a fascinating place. I didn’t know much about the country before arriving here but I was immediately struck by the beauty of Baku and its buildings, built with a lovely yellow stone. I absolutely love walking through the streets of Icheri Sheher and watching the sunrises and sunsets over the Caspian Sea. I love the contrast of the old part of Baku and the modern buildings. In the past year, many old buildings have been reconstructed in the city center, and I have been really impressed with the speed and quality of the work, especially the rebuilt traditional wooden balconies. They are absolutely lovely! Initially I was a bit scared of the strong gales in Baku. On windy days, the windows in our residence would shake quite violently! Over time, though, I’ve learned to like and appreciate these winds. I love their power and how they come so suddenly and forcefully and then just disappear. One of my favorite parts of the year is the period leading up to the Novruz celebrations. I love the energy around that period. I love seeing fires lit up in neighborhoods and people jumping over them.
I will miss many things when we leave Azerbaijan, but what I will miss the most are its people. Azeri people are warm and hospitable, always ready to go an extra step to help out. I have made many friends over the past five years and I feel privileged to have been welcomed into the homes and lives of so many of my Azeri friends. Azerbaijan has beautiful landscapes and fascinating and rich traditions, but its greatest wealth are its warm and welcoming people.
Q.: Finally, our signature question to conclude the interview. It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does that manifest in your life?
A.: There is no better way to describe this manifestation than yin and yang, the Ancient Chinese philosophical concept of dualism – of two seemingly opposite forces that are actually complementary and interconnected. I have great respect for my husband and what he does, and he reciprocates the same respect. We both have strong personalities and we have learned over time how to bring out the best in each other. In other words, when it is time to take the back seat I do so, happily and whole-heartedly. And when my moment comes, I know my husband will not hesitate to do the same. Any success either of us enjoy is mutual after all, and we both partake in it regardless of who’s driving it forward.