As we were drinking hot cocoa in a cafe in Vracar Belgrade several weeks ago, a young woman approached each table in the room to ask if they'd like to contribute toward a shelter for domestic violence victims. Turns out there is zero government funding for shelters, so naturally I was happy to chip in.
According to this recent article in SETimes.com, the lack of government funding doesn't mean there's no problem. In fact, domestic violence victims equal a stunning 30% of people killed in Serbia each year. To put that into perspective, 1% of Americans who died in 2007 were killed by domestic violence.
I immediately doubted this 30% stat upon reading it. Surely that fat round number must be inflated at least a bit. But it made me recall a conversation I had with a journalist friend a couple of years ago. He'd lived in the Balkans in the 1990s while extensively covering news there. I asked him, "What are relationships between Serbian husbands and wives like? How are they different from Americans?" "The men beat their wives," he said flatly. "Ha, ha, you're joking," I replied. "No, I'm not." Disconcerted, I switched the conversation to ask which wines he liked.
Luckily, my husband is a very enlightened man for a Serb on the feminism front. But, he'll still occasionally make remarks of the "if a woman was hit, she must have had it coming to her" variety that got Sean Connery into so much PR trouble a few years back. And he really doesn't understand why I find this so disturbing. He's pretty sure I'm naive.
Sometimes cultural differences can exciting and enlightening. Sometimes they're confusing. But, sometimes they're just scary.