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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the Closet About Being Serbian in Zadar Croatia

Zadar Croatia is the hometown of my husband's heart. It's where he was brought up, where he was educated, where his children were born, and where his aging parents still live.

It's an outstanding place. Super-clean air and the everpresent sunshine mix with ancient buildings and lovely public parks. You can take a ferry to your choice of local islands or as far as Italy. You can buy fresh Adriatic fish, homemade local wine and olive oil, as well as Pag's famous sheep cheeses everyday in the old town greenmarket. You can swim at the beach in the morning, go rock climbing at Paklinica park in the afternoon, and then listen to the unearthly sounds of Zadar's sea organ as the sun goes down. (The sunsets are well known to be among Dalmatia's finest.)

But, for me, it's all a bit hard to enjoy.

I get the feeling that we never can really relax and be ourselves there. Partly this is due to the heavy Italian influence (Zadar was part of Italy until WWII) which means even a trip to the corner store is considered worth dressing for. Zadar women never look remotely as casual as American women.

Mostly though, it's because ethnically my husband is a Serb. I don't speak enough Croatian yet to really understand the ebb and flow of native conversations; so, I'm hamstrung in my perceptions. Is being a Serb no big deal these days or do many in Zadar hate Serbs still? Most people who "knew all along" are friendly to us; only a very few have been cold if not outright rude. Some friendly people who "find out" become a little more distant. And, some people, we met while flat-hunting last year, I suspect would be uncomfortable if they knew they'd had a Serb in their homes.

At my husband's counsel, we stay undercover with strangers. He is a Croatian returning home from America and that is all. We do not mention our other home in Serbia. We do not mention in what specific year my husband first left Zadar. We do not mention the fact that his sister lives in Belgrade. We are glad our last name is generic enough to be either Serb or Croatian.

I ask my husband, "Is subterfuge really neccesary?" He honestly doesn't know. He'd rather be safe than sorry. And, as this recent news item shows, perhaps he's smart to be that way.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dalmatia is a place where hot-headed bullies - Croatian and Serbian, mind you - walk around with a particularly big chip on their shoulders. Same could be said for Herzegovina and Montenegro. Bad blood runs deep and murky there as often they don't even know when and why the feud started. And the body count keeps rising...
In Istria which is just a couple of hundred miles north (Croatia as well), Serbs don't have any problems with the locals. Never had, even in the worst days of war in the nineties. Go figure!

Anonymous said...

I've bookmarked your blog; some interesting writing. Strangely (and coincidentally), I am not Serbian nor from that region. I did, however, work for a local NGO a couple of years ago and fell in love with the country and people. Came across your blog when searching for "work in Serbia", since I wouldn't mind doing a short/or long contract there again.

Cheers.

Mario said...

Srbofobia is Croatian curse heated by religion and narcistic small language difference. Your countryman was in Zagreb in 1990's and he noticed that things he heard about Serbs were not politically correct even for Black Americans before MLK. I was born in Varazdin, Croatia in 1945, elementary school in Banja Luka, Bosnia, Belgrade University until 1978 when I moved to Slovenia. Yugoslavia was overwhelming idea for small background nations. They went back to 19th century nation states lead by powerful Serbs under psyhopat Milosevic. Tudjman was ideal partner for ethnic cleansing, Muslims paid the price.

I was in Zadar last May. Real perl like Dubrovnik. Venetian past makes for Croat copycats. I am coming to Obama WDC on March 27th for my 64. birtday!

Anonymous said...

Even at the local balkan stores in Toronto, the shopkeepers are quite cagey as to where they're from. They say, oh we're from Europe, Souther Europe, Balkans, or just plain Yugoslavia.

I just ell them I have friends from almost all of the republics (met no one yet from Slovenia or Mac.) and they lighten up a bit.

cheers
gbcinque

Anonymous said...

I'm from Zadar. My mother is Croatian my father is Serbian. Zadar is probably the worst place in Croatia in terms of anti-Serb hate. People in the cities are ok, people in the villages remain ill. That said, in the city, if you give out your Serbian ethnicity to enough people, you will for sure run into a psycho. All it takes is one crazy person, trust me I've gone back 4 times since the war. My name is Serbian, I speak a hybrid of Dalmatian Croatian and Serbian, they notice right away. Overall, you're ok in the city, even in most villages. Just be careful.

Anonymous said...

In researching for my dissertation i stumbled across this post, I think this is a really interesting point and one that is sad at the same time, not feeling able to express what you are. My father is a Croatian Serb and my mother a Croatian Catholic, so I have had experienced both sides of the coin. Your post resonates what so many that I know personally have also experienced. My dissertation, although not specifically on this, is whether there are still racial tensions, prejudice and hate crimes being committed 20 years after the war, in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. I am keen to get across all 3 sides and experiences. I would very much appreciate if you could let me know if any of you are interested in participating in some questions via e-mail. Kind Regards.

Anonymous said...

In researching for my dissertation i stumbled across this post, I think this is a really interesting point and one that is sad at the same time, not feeling able to express what you are. My father is a Croatian Serb and my mother a Croatian Catholic, so I have had experienced both sides of the coin. Your post resonates what so many that I know personally have also experienced. My dissertation, although not specifically on this, is whether there are still racial tensions, prejudice and hate crimes being committed 20 years after the war, in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. I am keen to get across all 3 sides and experiences. I would very much appreciate if you could let me know if any of you are interested in participating in some questions via e-mail. Kind Regards.