Vampires in Serbia. What’s up with that?

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On November 24, a story appeared in the Austrian Times relating fear of a vampire roaming the remote village of Zarozje,Serbia.

That seemed odd. Vampires aren’t something we assume people actually believe are real.

The story, however, was legendary. According to Serbian folklore, a man, Sava Savanovic, lived in a wooden house near a mill on the Rogačica river. He was a horrible guy, a vampire, who would attack villagers and drink their blood. These stories went on as late as the beginning of the 20th century. For several decades, the watermill was owned by the Jagodić family and was in operation until the late 1950s. After its closure, it became a tourist site. The legend of Savanovic appears to play a part in that draw for tourists.

The Balkans, of which Serbia is a part, has a rich history of superstitions involving vampires. As late as the 18th century, the accusation of a person being a vampire brought on mass hysteria, mob violence and public executions.

Back in the village… the Savonovic house by the old mill stream recently collapsed. That was followed by reported misfortune upon the local towns – five deaths and a suicide occurred. I also found in news reports that people were hearing strange sounds and footsteps in the woods. OOoo, spooky. Also rumored is that Sava can exist not as a bat but as a butterfly.

Now, this is all very fuzzy because this information is from news report that were neither fact checked nor originally in English. So, we have this translation of language AND culture. But, the conclusion made by local officials was that Sava, presumably real, was now on the move and lurking in the woods. A quote from a local official was blunt: “People are very worried. Everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people. We are all frightened.”

This municipal official also said villagers “are all taking precautions by having holy crosses and icons placed above the entrance to the house, rubbing our hands with garlic, and having a hawthorn stake or thorn.”

On November 27, the story from the Austrian Times was reproduced word for word in the U.K.s Daily Mail and was accompanied, as often in the Mail, with photographs. There is a widely circulated picture of Sava, looking like a creepy but friendly old guy with fangs. This depiction of him actually is used extensively to photobomb other pictures. He shows up with the locals and of course in photos of the wooden shack were he supposedly lived.

sava-savanovic

Once the story appeared in the Daily Mail, it went viral. Which is likely JUST what the locals wanted.

So, what is going on here? Are the villagers a bunch of rural hicks who are still afraid of supernatural creatures roaming the forests? I’m not sure because I have no idea what life in rural Serbia is like. Maybe they really are more superstitious as a historian suggests.

One local housewife says. “We have inherited this legend from our ancestors, and we keep it alive for the younger generations.” Just like in Romania, where they take advantage of their history with vampire legends, such as that of Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad Dracul) and they promote Dracula’s castle as a popular tourist spot.

Deborah Hyde wrote a piece for The Guardian called “Vampire legends that refuse to die” that explained a bit about the old customs and misunderstanding of decomposition.

My interest in this story is that of paranormal tourism. I have previously written about places that deliberately play up their local stories of hauntings, monsters and strange events as a way to draw people to visit. They are even cool festivals. Great fun I hear. So I suspect that is at least some part, and more likely a large part, of what is happening in this area of Serbia. Visitors can inject a boost into the local economy and the legend grows in popularity.

I have mixed feelings about such promotion. On one hand, it’s a very interesting way to examine folkore in the modern day –  a way for us to connect to what life must have been back in history. For example, in Gettysburg, ghost tours are often given by people in period dress who describe the life style of the times. At Salem, we see how social aspects of a closed, repressive environment caused humans to behave so tragically towards their neighbors. In the case of vampires, we can imagine how an isolated village feared being invaded by disease (attributed to a vampire) or an evil threat. I also despise paranormal tourism because it DISTORTS history by inventing tales that just aren’t true, embellishing the historical records, and promoting a belief in the paranormal or supernatural for means of making money.

It can be OK if done right but it’s rarely done right. It’s done for greed rather than education. Some skeptic groups have organized tours for haunted locations. This is a great way to raise awareness and promote your group. It takes a lot of work but if you have a history buff, someone who likes the paranormal aspects and a good talker, you will have takers for your skeptical tour.

Sava has his own website and Twitter account.

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