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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 10:39 GMT
Sarajevo finds love after the war
By Neil Arun
BBC News, Sarajevo

On Marija's first visit to Sarajevo, Aldin Arnautovic made sure she stopped for a sip of water at the Gazi Husref-Bey mosque.

Aldin and Marija
Aldin and Marija see mixed relationships as a tradition
According to legend, whoever drinks from the fountain in the 16th Century Ottoman mosque will, one day, return to Sarajevo.

The legend worked. Marija, a young woman from a Montenegrin Orthodox Christian family, now lives in the city with Aldin and their eight-month-old baby, Fedja.

Aldin's family are Muslims who stayed in Sarajevo while soldiers from the Orthodox Bosnian Serb community besieged it in the early 1990s, killing some 11,000 people.

But, he says, his family never objected to his love for Marija.

Ten years after the siege ended, young people like Aldin and Marija still see Sarajevo as the cosmopolitan capital of the Balkans - a place where ethnic background is no barrier to falling in love.

"I begged her to marry me on the first night we met," Aldin laughs. "And she made me wait three years before saying yes."

Unrest and romance

Marija recalls the early days of their love affair. Both journalists, they met while reporting on the Bosnian elections in 2000.

Cazim and Masha
Cazim and Masha have been together since 2002
"I felt a terrible sadness when I first came to Sarajevo," she says.

"I was a member of a state that had waged war on this city. I would've understood if people were angry at me. But they treated me decently - that was perhaps the saddest thing of all."

After the elections, Marija returned to Montenegro and the couple kept their relationship alive by visiting each other on weekends.

Aldin recalls collecting Marija from a bus station in Sarajevo's Serb-dominated suburb of Dobrinja, amid unrest in 2000 over who controlled the area.

"There were armed men standing by burning barricades," he says. "It was with nights like that that the war started."

"As I drove past a barricade, I was scared Marija might be hit by a bullet or a rock, so I told her to keep her head down," says Aldin.

Marija smiles at the memory. "I thought at the time - how romantic!"

Symbolic plight

Until the inter-ethnic wars that ripped Yugoslavia apart more than a decade ago, mixed relationships were widespread in Sarajevo.

The early days of the siege gave the tale of one such couple a tragic twist.

Bosko Brckic and Admira Ismic had been together since high school. He was a Serb, she was a Muslim and they died in each other's arms in May 1993, gunned down in no-man's-land as they tried to flee the city.

A reporter for the Reuters news agency, Kurt Schork, took up the story and Sarajevo's Romeo and Juliet became known to the wider world as symbols of the city's plight.

Schork was killed on assignment in Sierra Leone in 2000 and was posthumously honoured with a Bosnian passport and a street bearing his name in Sarajevo.

Courtship rituals

In today's Sarajevo, couples who find love across the ethnic divide do not regard themselves as martyrs or rebels. They believe they have inherited a tradition of the city that long predates its war.

Marija and Fedja
Marija hopes young Fedja will grow up in a multi-ethnic society
"There is nothing unique or unusual in what we are doing," Aldin says, shrugging nonchalantly.

Cazim Dervisevic agrees. A Bosnian Muslim, he was married in 2003 to Masha, herself born in a mixed marriage.

Masha's mother is Bosnian Muslim, her father half-Catholic, half-Orthodox. Her parents stayed in the city throughout the war, despite coming under pressure from both sides, Bosnian Muslim and Serb, to leave.

The courtship of Cazim and Masha was enacted through text messages and chance encounters at techno parties, following a path familiar to many of their contemporaries in Western Europe.

"She kept resisting my advances," Cazim recalls, laughing. "But I had managed to get her phone number, so I started pestering her with text messages while she sat next to me at a party."

Fears for the future

Aldin and Marija believe they were lucky to have grown up in the same country.

"We are the last generation to have finished secondary school in socialist Yugoslavia," Aldin says. "We hope we are not the last generation in a relationship of this kind."

He fears the younger, post-war generation may be more nationalistic - it has no memory of a multi-ethnic society.

"We called our boy Fedja because it's like a nickname. It means he could be anything - Bosnian, Serb or Croatian. We didn't want him to be marked by his name."

Smiling wryly, he says: "I guess it was a practical decision. People here have a strange habit of killing each other because of their names."

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02 Aug 00 |  Europe

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