BALKANS: Political Pieces Assemble a Teenager

  • by Vesna Peric Zimonjic (sarajevo)
  • Monday, December 27, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Mila has coloured her hair recently. But, unlike the fashionable trend, her hair is not blonde. She dyed it dark brown - close to her natural colour. With blonde hair, she tells IPS, 'people recognised me in the street. Now they don't recognise me, don't approach me, or ask annoying questions.'

Two years ago, Mila's life changed forever when she discovered that everything she knew about herself and about the world was wrong. Even her name was false - she was born with a typical Bosniak Muslim name: Senida Becirovic.

Since the age of six, Mila believed that she had been adopted by a well-off, elderly couple, the Jankovics, whose two sons had died in a car crash. Mila’s childhood was comfortable in the Belgrade suburb Banovo Brdo, 'with seaside holidays and chocolate whenever I wanted.'

Mila was raised as a Serb. At age 13, she wanted to be baptised.

'But the Jankovics said I should wait until age 18 to decide,' she said. Because they knew she was born in eastern Bosnia, 'they presumed I was a Muslim.'

Several years ago, the Jankovics transferred Mila to a well-known foster home in the northern Serbian town Novi Sad. The couple, then in their early 70s, could not cope with raising a teenager - a decision that Mila understood. She said she is grateful for the years she spent living with them.

'But everything shattered when a social worker in Novi Sad asked me to give my DNA,' Mila remembered.

'After a few weeks, she told me I had a father named Muhamed Becirovic, who lived in Germany and was coming to see me,' she said. He visited his daughter on May 1, 2008.

'He told me who I was and that my real name was Senida. At that moment, I just wanted to die.'

Through her father and social workers in Novi Sad, Mila learned that she was from the eastern Bosnian Muslim village Ceparde, that was overrun by Serbs in April 1992.

During the raid, a Serb soldier had come across Mila, a nine-month-old baby crying loudly. Feeling sorry for the infant, the soldier brought her to his mother, whose friends gave the baby to a Serbian orphanage, where the Jankovichs found her. The soldier died in the war months after saving Mila’s life.

Dozens of people were killed and dozens are still missing from the village, including Mila's mother and sister.

Muhamed Becirovic, Mila’s father, was not in Ceparde during the invasion. After the war ended, he provided a blood sample for the central database in Bosnia. Such data is usually matched with DNA from remains in mass graves all around the country.

The Institute for Missing Persons in Bosnia lists some 2,000 names of children still missing from the war. 'About half of them were identified in mass graves,' said Lejla Cengic, a spokesperson from the Institute.

'Half are still missing, and Mila/Senida is the only one that has been found alive.'

Mila says she is haunted by the complexity of her past. She moved in with her mother's sister, Mejra Hasic, and her family in Sarajevo after learning of her true identity.

'It was only when I came (to Sarajevo) that I learned about the brutality of the war,' Mila told IPS.

'There are people whose stories are much worse than mine,' she said. 'I blame the Serbs as they left me without my mother and sister. But I was raised by two people who gave me their best and they are Serbs and I'm happy to know them.'

'People are either good or bad. There is nothing else,' she added.

Mila is about to graduate from high school and plans to go to college. But, she said, she is still adjusting to her new life.

'I still have to get used to everything. In January, it will be two years since I've been in Sarajevo and I feel like half of me is here and half of me still with Jankovics,' Mila said.

'I was like a puzzle for months when I learned who I was…a piece here, a piece there, not knowing all the parts of your life.'

However, there is one certainty in Mila’s life: a desire to learn what happened to her mother and sister. 'After my own experience, I live in uncertainty, waiting every day to learn whether they're alive or not.'

In the meantime, after a barrage of publicity from a series of articles and a documentary film about her life, Mila decided to change her hairstyle and dress herself in black 'as if to be invisible.'

'I can no longer stand odd questions,' she said. 'I want to be left in peace for a while.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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