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Best of RFE/RL: 29 Years Later, Serbian Man Helps Reveal Truth Behind 'Missing Babies'

Stories about babies disappearing from delivery rooms under suspicious circumstances have been in the news for many decades in Serbia. More than 3,000 parents have said they don't believe medical reports officially listing those babies as being stillborn. They have persistently claimed their babies were stolen and sold on the black market to married couples without children. Now, the truth is finally being revealed. Correspondent Branko Vuckovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reports. (This story was a finalist for RFE/RL's Division of Broadcasting Innovation & Excellence Award for reporting on social issues. It was originally broadcast on 27 February 2004.)

Kragujevac, Serbia; 24 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Milan Petrovic disappeared from a hospital delivery room 29 years ago.

"I was born on July 16, 1975, in Vrsac," he says. "I was an abandoned child, ending up in the center for abandoned children in Belgrade. From that moment on, I could not be traced. While my father was in the army, my mother got a telegram saying that I had died from pneumonia. I am officially among the living people from 25th of July 1979, when Gospava and Milorad Vasic from Budisava adopted me. At that time, I was baptized and got my social-security number. Then Gospava and Milorad got divorced. One year later, Gospava died, and I moved to Novi Sad, where I was living with Gospava's cousin. After that, I moved to Futog, where I was living with Milorad and his second wife. At that time, Milorad confessed that he was not my father; nor was Gospava my mother. Then I was returned to the home for abandoned children and stayed there for a while. Later I was sent to Irig and stayed with two different families there. After that, Perisa and Gorgina Petrovic from Kragujevac took me for good."

Milan considers himself very lucky to have landed with the Petrovic family. Finally, he had the opportunity to live a normal life like other children.

"I finished elementary school and high school and the two-year school for engineers in Kragujevac," he says. "In Veliko Krcmarevo, where I served in the army during the war, I met my wife, Zorica. We have two children, Stefan and Milica. We don't have a lot of money, but we are satisfied."

Milan describes how he finally managed to find his biological mother, Bosiljka Groza, and his biological sisters: "First, I met my sisters, Maja and Dijana. I was crying because I was so happy, knowing that I am not alone anymore, that I have two sisters. Two days later, we went to Vrsac, to our family home, and then I finally met my birth mother. Again, I was shocked, crying, and happy at the same time, not believing that I had just met my real family."

Milan's birth mother, Bosiljka Groza, is still recovering from the shock of meeting her son, after 29 years of not knowing where he was -- or even whether he was alive.

"We talked about him all the time, and he lived in our hearts," she recounts. "I would always light a candle for him when I was going to the church."

Bosiljka remembers very well giving birth to Milan and what happened afterward: "I had to have a Caesarean section, so Milan was born two months early. He was a very big baby, and I saw him afterward. Then they moved him to Belgrade, to my surprise. I was in hospital for 13 days because of the C-section. Everything seemed suspicious to me, as if I had had some big operation, although it was only a C-section. Then they sent the telegram saying that my baby had died."

Bosiljka had doubts about what the doctors had told her regarding her child. She says it took a long time to convince her husband to believe it, too.

"My husband was in the army, and when he got out, I told him that I didn't believe in their version of the story at all," Bosiljka says. "He is an honest man, so he couldn't believe that somebody would steal a child, but I thought completely differently. And I still do. I will never forgive the doctors or the state for what they did to my son and me."
"I will never forgive the doctors or the state for what they did to my son and me." -- Milan's biological mother, Bosiljka Groza

Meeting his mother and sisters was a great shock for Milan, as it was for his adopted mother, who took him in when he was only 10.

"That was a great shock for me. It's as if somebody close to me just died. I was crying," Milan says. "His sisters were also crying, and hugging the children and Milan's wife and me, too. I got sick then, and I still can't recover from it. Milan lived with us for almost 20 years! He went to school here, served in the army, celebrated his birthdays with us. He got married here, and I was the one who prepared the wedding. Then his children were born, and I was helping his wife all the time. I lived through all this and gave him everything I could, except I didn't give birth to him."

Everything affected Milan very deeply, so now his feelings are mixed.

"I feel somehow frustrated," he says. "DNA tests showed that the Grozas are, indeed, my parents, but I am still waiting for it to be confirmed by the authorities so they can give me back my real identity."

Milan Petrovic has now two families, and he cares for both of them equally. It will stay like this in the future, and he hopes that other children will never have to go through what he did: "No matter that I found my birth mother and sisters, I will not let Gorgina be set aside! We lived as a family for 20 years, and she raised me. From now on, we will all be one big family without any separation."