Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Monday, September 3, 2007

F-ing Croatians

No this post isn't about what you probably think it is about.

One evening last week, I was sitting here in my little home office, working away at my computer. (Ok I was reading the Desperate Serbwife Blog past postings, which are absolutely addictive, but hey I supposed to be working so that counts for something.) Anyway, a couple of young guys walked past, saw our house lights on, and said in Serbian (roughly translated) "Oh, the f-ing Croatians are back again."

I thought, "Oh isn't that funny, they think we are Croatian." I figured they thought my husband wasn't a Serb because we travel and live elsewhere, which is rare for many Serbs still, given financial restrictions and problems getting visas. And I knew from studying the Wikipedia info about Sombor that 8.33% of Sombor residents were Croatians.

Then a few days later I was walking with an acquaintance when we passed a cafe that's a blight on the neighborhood. It's on a fairly quiet, otherwise lovely, stretch of street, and no matter what time day or night, it always seems to be BLASTING music outside. Usually only a couple of people -- nearly always 100% male -- will be sitting outside next to a sound system that's booming and booming like it's for a concert for hundreds. A few other cafes in the town center do this, but only at peak times in the evening and only in more commercial neighborhoods. Plus, the other cafes' music just sounds better. It's either live gypsies, or European house music, or not-too-bad central European pop. This awful cafe instead blasts stuff called Turbofolk all day and night.

If you're a Serb you know what this is, if you're not, be very very glad. (Actually there are a few Turbofolk hits that weren't bad at all, but like heavy metal, a couple of popular hits do not make the rest of the genre palatable when blasted out in a quiet neighborhood morning, noon, and night.)

As we walked past this loud cafe, my companion turned to me and said words to the effect of "F-ing Croatians. " "It's a Croatian bar?" I asked. "Yes."

OK, so my (turns out incredibly naive) assumption through all of this was "Croatians" meant ETHNIC CROATS. And hey, although it would be better for world peace, etc. if the two Slavic tribes of Serbs and Croats could just get along, according to Rebecca West it wasn't going to happen anytime soon for the most part. So, it was sad but slightly understandable if the Serbs in Serbia might not be such big fans of the Croats living in their midst, even in Sombor which is known for open mindedness and a uniquely high racial mix.

Turns out I was completely wrong. Turns out we are the "f-ing Croatians" people were bitching about here, because they're not talking about racial Croats. They are talking about racial Serbs who were refugees from Croatia when civil war broke out 15 years ago. My husband was one of those refugees.

Even though he's ethnically 100% Serb, and he never took a single dinar of government assistance, and he built a business with his own hands (he was a carpenter) and raised a family here, and currently is responsible for the well-paid employment of four Sombor citizens (in an area that's rife with unemployment) etc., etc., to some people's minds he'll always be a F-ing Croatian Refugee.

Let the record note we never play Turbofolk, or any other music so loudly it would upset the neighbors.

Now I have to go ask someone about that noisy bar. Is it really a 'Croatian' hang-out or it is just an obnoxious place for obnoxious people which is being tarred with the 'Croatian' brush just because refugees are easy people to blame for stuff you don't like? Will post here again and let you know.


Anonymous said...


please consider, really consider, the usage of the word "racial." a lot of former yugoslavs come from mixed backgrounds. personally, i'm a bosnian with serbian and croatian parents, and all of my cousins happened to marry muslims, with most of us being atheists. i don't see how we are supposed to be from different ethnicities, let alone "races."

even in the us, the concept of race is not clear cut. in the balkans, i find its usage deeply offensive. i have read your posts and you seem to be a generally pleasant person, willing to learn.
but if i heard you say those words, i'd refuse to talk to you, no matter how nice you are otherwise.

please drop that "racial" category.

Anonymous said...

ps i don't want you to apologize, those would be just words.

i'd rather have you reflect and understand why it's both socially inappropriate and empirically wrong to talk about "race" in the balkans.

Rosemary Bailey Brown said...

Ah, I see I was misunderstood perhaps. I do apologize for offending anyone, but it wasn't meant either as an offense or in the way I think you think I meant it. For me, the whole idea of fellow-citizens being described (or separated) by their ethnic race in a country where everyone looks nearly the same no matter what ethnicity they are, is weird and new. Everyone, where I come from in the US, is a genetic mutt. It would never in a million years occur to me to think or talk about a fellow citizen's racial or religious background.

So, when we live in the Balkans, I'm always surprised by how some natives are polarized by the issue of race. How frequently they'll mention race in conversation when they describe someone. People will say, "Oh that's so and so, he's a Croat" or whatever. Like I would care. Freaky.

My post in this instance was describing something else - my confusion between a racial or ethnic description such as Croat versus a national description such as a Croatian. In this case, because we were living in Serbia and my husband is racially Serbian, I was surprised to hear him described by passers by, especially with such hatred, as a "Croatian."

I didn't know some locals had such negative feelings toward refugees still.

However, I've always felt most at home in Sombor because it is full of so many people from different places. To me that feels normal, like home.

Lastly, you made me realize I do tend to use the term "ethnicity" and "race" interchangeably which is a mistake. I'll try harder in future.