The very long arm of Serbo-Croatian animosity

Mike Royko

August 05, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

IRENA HARAMIC, 22, tall and lovely, spent months planning every detail of her wedding.

She wanted everything to be perfect when she marries the lean and handsome Max Popovich, 22.

"He's just beautiful," she says of Max. "Six-four, high cheekbones, a Roman nose, a strong jaw line, blue eyes, black hair and the cutest butt."

She will wear a traditional white gown. The priest will speak Croatian. Max will slip a 1.2-carat ring on her finger.

At the reception, there will be roasted lamb. The women in her family are making 17 kinds of Croatian pastries.

Then the music, always an important part of a wedding party. A Croatian tamburitza band, with its mandolin-like instruments, will play the traditional kolos, during which everyone joins hands and dances. (If you are interested, the instruments include the bugarija, the brac and the prim. But you probably know that already.)

A few days ago, Irena remembered a small detail she hadn't asked about.

"I called Bob Persa from the band to confirm everything. Then I said: 'Not that it makes any difference, Bob, but do you play Serbian kolos? My fiance is Serbian, and I was wondering if you play any.'

"He said no, but he hoped it won't be a problem, and I said I was sure it wouldn't be and what we have is fine.

"Anyway, Max told me that Croatian and Serbian kolos are pretty much the same.

"But then my father got a call. He told me the band had canceled. I was distraught. I called and asked them what was happening.

"He told me they weren't going to play because they are Croatians and there are going to be Serbians at the wedding.

"Well, of course there are going to be Serbians. Max is Serbian and so are his relatives.

"But I told them that I'm Croatian, and I'm the one who booked the band.

"He told me: 'Well, it's your fault; you should have told us up front that you were marrying a Serbian. You were trying to keep it a secret from us. With everything going on back there [in Yugoslavia], you should have known.'

"I became distraught and started crying and told him he was breaking a contract. But that didn't bother him. He told me: 'I don't know about you, but I'm going to be playing golf on Saturday.'

"This whole thing is ridiculous. My grandparents are back in Yugoslavia in the middle of what's going on there, and they blessed this marriage. Yes, some of the people coming to the wedding don't think I should be marrying a Serbian. Some have come right out and said it, and others accepted the invitation reluctantly. But that's just a few.

"I get married once. I planned everything. I booked this band in March. My big thing was to have an ethnic band. Now that's shot."

We called Bob Persa, leader of the Blue Adriatic Band, to see if he had really been so pitiless.

Yes, he had. "We weren't informed it was a Croatian-Serbian wedding, otherwise we would have canceled it right away," he said.

"If you're aware of what's going on in Yugoslavia right now, tensions are high.

"It's not good for our reputation. We'd probably be ruined. The Croatian people wouldn't understand why we did that. We cater to Croatian people. We haven't done anything other than Croatian jobs."

But just this once? Irena is heartbroken.

"I'm not sure it would be safe. People drink at weddings. I have nothing against the Serbian people. I'd just rather not have anything to do with them. We just don't do things together, either here or there. There's been disputes all the time, and I don't feel like being a part of that. I'd rather cancel and lose the job. Who knows what can happen?"

The political experts have always said that the Balkans are one of the most volatile regions of Europe. Can anyone doubt the truth of that when in 1991 a Croatian can't be persuaded to strum his bugarija for some Serbs at a wedding in a suburb of Chicago? Is the world crazy, or what?

So Irena, unable to find another band, has hired a disc jockey to play Croatian records at her wedding. It will probably sound as good, but something is lost when you can't see the musicians flailing their bracs and prims.

Let us hope that all goes well and that civil war doesn't break out at the reception before the cake is cut.

As for Bob, the leader of the band who will be playing golf that day, may all of your shots land in water.

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