Normal people in abnormal times

Barbara Matejcic

“Where is it worst, in Vukovar or in Mostar?” friends ask me. Not easy to say. Which is worse – losing a left arm or a left leg?  I can’t measure. It’s not good, that’s for sure.

“Why did you choose that subject? People don’t like to talk about it because it reminds them of the old Yugoslav slogan about ‘brotherhood and unity’ and they blame that ideological concept for the war and suffering”, the kind people in Vukovar and Mostar ask.

Well, some are not so kind. Exactly because of that – my subject.

Mixed marriages are still a kind of taboo subject. But they are an important indicator of social destruction or reconstruction in a formerly traumatised community, I answer, a formula similar to the one I used in my application for this fellowship.

It’s closer to the truth to say that I chose both that subject and those two towns because I wanted to understand what happened there, first of all on a private, individual level.

In those multi-ethnic towns people had lived together for decades, working together, forming strong friendships. They very often intermarried. A

lmost all of those to whom I talked say that the connections were broken suddenly, in the blink of an eye.

It makes it sound as if Vukovar and Mostar were hit by a tsunami, which it was beyond people’s power to prevent.

In fact, they were involved very deeply. The line was drawn between them. But where to draw the line in mixed families? How did it feel when the son of a Croatian mother and Serbian father was forced to fight on one ethnic side?

How can you bring your family together for a nice Sunday dinner when your Muslim uncle’s 17-year-old son has been killed by a Croat solder and at that time when your husband was a Croat solder as well?

How to explain to your mother that you want to marry a Serb just a few years after your injured father was dragged from Vukovar hospital and executed by Serbs?

A simplified answer would be that they managed because they stayed normal in abnormal circumstances. They kept their own individual identity, which relied on their own values.

It’s a common thing, one might say. Yes – when the war is only a image on CNN – and when your values are not brutally tested, every day.

Fellow Bio


Barbara Matejcic

Barbara Matejcic from Zagreb, Croatia, is a freelance journalist specialising in social issues


Topic 2009: Identity

The collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 triggered a frenzied phase of nation-building in Eastern Europe, while some Balkan nations embarked on armed conflicts aimed at strengthening national, religious and cultural identities.


11 Dec 2009 / 12:11

Sweet and sour

Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo
08 Sep 2009 / 10:10

A question of bureaucracy and co-operation

Adrian Mogos
03 Sep 2009 / 09:09

Normal people in abnormal times

Barbara Matejcic
31 Aug 2009 / 10:22

On the road

Maja Hrgovic
27 Aug 2009 / 11:32

The more you know, the less you want to say

Sabina Niksic
24 Aug 2009 / 12:22

Book of Records

Momir Tuduric
21 Aug 2009 / 13:33

A Big Dilemma

Boris Georgievski
05 Aug 2009 / 11:11

Children vs. Adults

Yana Buhrer Tavanier
03 Aug 2009 / 13:20

When you have nothing to say, say nothing

Sabina Niksic
30 Jul 2009 / 10:10

To Berlin via Vranje

Momir Turudic