Dusica Rendulic, a Serb, and her husband, Almir Salihovic, a Muslim, have beaten the odds. Braving ethnic and religious divisions they have built a life together in the ill-fated east Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
Srebrenica, the site of the worst atrocity in Europe since the World War II, on July 11 buried more than 400 victims identified since the previous anniversary of the 1995 genocide, when Bosnian Serb forces executed 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Almir, a massacre survivor, was raised as a refugee in the northeastern town of Tuzla.
His six uncles were killed after Bosnian Serb forces captured the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. Almir, now 33, used to go into the neighboring mountains every spring to work as a shepherd. Three years ago he met a Serb shepherdess, Dusica, and they fell in love.
“We spent the summer together in the fields and [then] decided to marry and come to live in Srebrenica on my parents’ land,” he said.
Yet a seemingly ordinary love story was overshadowed by Dusica’s ethnicity.
“Yes, I wondered at the beginning, I was aware it was a big decision,” Almir said. “But I have always told myself that there is a reason for everything, so there was a reason to marry this woman.”
Dusica, a Croatian Serb, fled her homeland to Bosnia at the eve of the 1991 to 1995 war there.
Almir said he “could never put Dusica on the same side with the killers.”
“We are not all alike. One cannot blame an entire nation for crimes committed by individuals. Also, her destiny is similar to mine,” he said.
Dusica, her gingerish hair tied in a ponytail, admitted that their mixed marriage might be seen as “bizarre” or even “impossible” in Srebrenica. However, she was sure she has married a “sincere and honest man” who “just happens to be” a Muslim, saying that “it was a destiny that we have met.”
“I was attracted to him because of all he has lived through. We share the same thoughts about life, the future, we are very close,” she said.
Before the war that claimed about 100,000 lives, mixed couples accounted for almost 13 percent of all marriages in Bosnia.
Nowadays only about 4 percent of all couples are from different ethnic communities.
“It is so rare nowadays in Bosnia, and especially in Srebrenica, to see two people capable of overcoming prejudices and divisions imposed by political classes,” said Dragana Jovanovic of local non-governmental organization Friends of Srebrenica.
The couple, now with a one-year old son, Jusuf, have put aside the mistrust between the two ethnic communities and are simply trying to deal with the “everyday struggle to survive.”
With an Austrian humanitarian organization’s aid, they built a little wooden house of barely 25m2 in a hamlet near Srebrenica, on Almir’s parents’ land.
They had a few sheep and goats, but Almir decided to sell the animals to buy a cow. A dozen hens and a little vegetable garden is about all that the family has.
Dusica takes care of the home and rarely leaves the household. She has few encounters with her Muslim neighbors who, for their part, do not mind that she is a Serb.
“If the man whose beloved ones were killed in the massacre did not mind marrying a Serb, neither do I,” said Ibro Ikanovic, one of Dusica’s Muslim neighbors.
To make ends meet, Almir works as a forester in Serbia, which means that he is often absent for two or three months.
“I do not see my child often since I have to work far away to make money to feed him,” he said, but added that he did not believe the family “will stay here for long.”
“This is not life,” he murmured as Dusica helped him picking up hay.
Even religion is not an issue for them: Almir has not abandoned Islam, nor Dusica her Orthodox Christianity.
“She practices her religion, I do mine and the child will decide for himself when he grows up,” Almir said.