In macho Serbia, it’s OK to slap the wife

KSENIJA PRODANOVIC

ARTICLE (August 03 2008): A bridegroom on a popular Serbian television show brags how he slaps his bride now and then. The bride’s mother approves the “educational measure” as something her daughter “deserves.” The bashful bride acknowledges, while looking adoringly at her husband-to-be, that she can be lazy and disobedient and should be hit in the face from time to time.

The scene from 48-Hour Wedding, a reality TVshow that sets up Serb couples for real nuptials, points to a less romantic issue in the macho Balkan society: spousal abuse. Domestic violence is the most common kind of abuse in Serbia and every third women has been a victim, surveys of non-governmental groups say. Laws have been tightened, but lenient punishment and a patriarchal society remain hurdles.

“A slap in Serbia still isn’t regarded as beating. To slap a woman in the face if her husband is annoyed is considered OK,” Vesna Stanojevic of the Consultancy Against Domestic Violence told local media. Many men in Serbia, unsettled by the nation’s defeats in the 1990s Balkan wars and crumbling moral values, believe women should stay at home and take care of their men and children.

“Of course, beating is out of the question, but a slap now and then – why not? She needs to know her place,” said taxi driver Pera, who declined to give his last name. Most victims are believed to be among Serbia’s Roma population and Serb refugees who fled to the homeland during the recent wars. But the abusers can be found in all walks of life.

One woman spoke out to dpa about her dentist husband, refusing to give her name out of fear of another beating. “Where can I go? Whom can I turn to? Nobody will believe me. He’s a well-respected dentist and I’m his sweet, good-looking wife,” she said. “So I stay with him. Thank God I can’t have children, so he can’t hurt them,” she said. “But he hits me because I can’t give him sons.”

Advocacy groups believe women report attacks by the men in their lives in only one of 20 cases. There are no official data. Vanja Macanovic of Belgrade’s Autonomous Women’s Centre blames lack of cooperation among state institutions, slow courts and women’s fear of their attackers. In 78 per cent of domestic violence cases, a husband, ex-husband or partner is the source, the consultancy says.

And domestic violence was behind about 30 per cent of murders committed in Serbia in 2007, data show. The Belgrade Center for Human Rights says Serb judges are often judgemental toward the victims and unlikely to remove culprits from the home or issue restraining orders.

Usually, offenders get one year’s probation or a fine. Women who go to court are liable to be faced with months of proceedings, with humiliating testimony to police and in front of a court and perpetrators who accuse them of “asking for it.” Getting away from violent male spouses is also difficult. Serbia has only three safe houses for abused women, though more are due to be built.

In a country where democracy, rule of law and membership in the European Union are goals for more than 70 percent of population, wife beaters are still considered macho men. “I tried leaving home and finding a job, but he’d always find me,”the dentist’s wife said. “I tried fighting back but the last time I did that, he broke my jaw and left hand.” “Now I try to stay away and hope that he’ll kill me the next time he hits me,” she said.

Courtesy: Business Recorder, 3/8/2008

Leave a Reply