Serb-Muslim couple brave ethnic divide in war-scarred Bosnia

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‘One cannot blame an entire nation for crimes committed by individuals’

Love beyond barriers:Almir Salihovic (R) and his wife Dusica Rendulic (L), from village of Solocusa near Srebrenica, are pictured on July 4, 2013.PHOTO: AFP
Love beyond barriers:Almir Salihovic (R) and his wife Dusica Rendulic (L), from village of Solocusa near Srebrenica, are pictured on July 4, 2013.PHOTO: AFP

Dusica, a Serb, and her husband Almir, a Muslim, have beat the odds. Braving ethnic and religious divisions they have built a life together in this ill-fated east Bosnian town.

Srebrenica, the site of the worst atrocity in Europe since the World War II, buried on July 11 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 Salihovic, himself a massacre survivor, was raised as a refugee in the northeastern town of Tuzla.

His six uncles were killed after Bosnian Serb forces captured then U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.

Mr. Salihovic (33), used to go into the neighbouring mountains every spring to work as a shepherd. Three years ago he met there a Serb shepherdess, Dusica Rendulic, 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.

But a seemingly ordinary love story was overshadowed by Ms. Rendulic’s nationality.

“Yes, I wondered at the beginning, I was aware it was a big decision,” admitted Mr. Salihovic.

“But I have always told myself that there is a reason for everything, so there was a reason to marry this woman,” said the thin man with short-cut brown hair.

Ms. Rendulic, a Croatian Serb, fled her neighbouring homeland to Bosnia at the eve of the 1991-1995 war there.

Mr. Salihovic 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.

Ms. Rendulic, her gingerish hair tied in a ponytail, admitted that their mixed marriage might be seen as “bizarre” or even “impossible” in Srebrenica.

But 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 some 100,000 lives, mixed couples accounted for almost 13 per cent of all marriages in Bosnia.

Nowadays only about four per cent 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 a local non-governmental organisation “Friends of Srebrenica”.

The couple, now with a one-year old son Jusuf, have put aside the mistrust between the two ethnic communities, just trying to deal with the “everyday struggle to survive”.

With an Austrian humanitarian organisation’s aid, they built a little wooden house of barely 25 Sq m in a hamlet near Srebrenica, on Mr. Salihovic’s parents’ land.

They had a few sheep and goats, but Mr. Salihovic decided to sell the animals to buy a cow. A dozen hens and a little vegetable garden is about all else this little family has.

Ms. Rendulic takes care of the home and only rarely leaves the household. She has few encounters with her Muslim neighbours who, for their part, do not mind the fact 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,” Ibro Ikanovic, a Muslim neighbour in his 60s, said.

To make ends meet, Mr. Salihovic works as a forester in neighbouring Serbia, 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 he added that he did not believe the family “will stay here for long” “This is not life,” he murmured as Ms. Rendulic helped him picking up hay. Even religion is not an issue for them: Mr. Salihovic has not abandoned Islam, nor Ms. Rendulic her Orthodox Christianity. “She practices her religion, I do mine and the child will decide for himself when he grows up,” Mr. Salihovic said. — AFP



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