Fact Check

Nobody In This Bosnian Town Has Ever Gotten Divorced?

Many posts over the years have painted Široki-Brijeg as a place that has never experienced a divorce due to its Roman Catholic population.

Published April 4, 2024

A priest oversees the wedding of Sara and Mateja in a Christian Orthodox church on October 1, 2022 in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  ( Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
A priest oversees the wedding of Sara and Mateja in a Christian Orthodox church on October 1, 2022 in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Image courtesy of Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
With a population of 30,000 people, the Bosnian town Široki-Brijeg has never documented a divorce in its entire history.

In the southeastern European nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, nestled within the picturesque landscapes of the Balkan Peninsula, lies the town of Široki-Brijeg, a place veiled in an extraordinary tale of marital bliss. With a population of nearly 30,000 people, this town is said to boast a unique distinction — according to its "collective memory," it has never witnessed a single divorce among its married populace.

Multiple blog and social media posts over the years have described Široki-Brijeg as a town that has never experienced a divorce due to its predominantly Roman Catholic population within a nation that is predominantly Muslim (one of few ethnically Muslim nations in Europe). We examined whether the claim of a divorce-free town in Bosnia is true, or if the chatter is nothing more than a false rumor.

Široki-Brijeg is an approximately 30-minute drive northwest of Mostar, one of Bosnia-Herzegovina's prominent cities. Ethnic Croatians overwhelmingly comprise the town's population, constituting 99.8% of residents, as reported by a census conducted in 2022. Such demographics align the town's religious affiliation more closely with neighboring Croatia, where Catholicism prevails, than with predominantly Eastern Orthodox Serbia to the east.

While the National Catholic Register noted Široki-Brijeg remained divorce free as of 2021, Balkan news outlet Dnevno challenged that assertion in January 2024 when it published an article with the translated title, "The priest said that there are no divorces in Široki-Brijeg, and then a reversal: 'This is the real truth.'" Per a translated version of the story: 

Dnevno.ba checked the figures at the Registry Office in Široki Brijeg and found out that in 2023 there were 163 marriages and 18 divorces. Five more divorces were registered on the side, and in that office they explain how divorces are registered on the side when one of the two spouses is from Široki Brijeg, and the divorce took place in another municipality or city. 

In Široki Brijeg, about 11 percent of all marriages end in divorce. The figures are still much better than at the European level, but it is far from zero.

There is government-sponsored evidence of divorce, as well. A search on Široki-Brijeg's official website, written in Croatian, brings up several posts featuring the word "razvod," a Bosnian and Croatian term for "divorce." The most recent article containing the word "razvod" was published in May 2020 and translates to the following (emphasis ours):

Due to the occurrence of more and more divorces in our local community, an increase in the number of children with developmental difficulties, increased violence in families, an increasing number of children who do not want to go to school, even compulsory school, it is up to all of us as a community to support families through creation of programs and cooperation at all levels, and through preventive programs we will also look at risky situations that have led us or could lead us to some form of behavior disorder.

Another post on the website, published in December 2017, contains the following sentence (also translated from Croatian): "Because of this [unjust way of thinking], it can be said that divorces and bad relations between parents and children are becoming more common today."

In other words, marriage statistics in Široki-Brijeg are not as pristine as some blogs would like us to believe.

That said, the divorce rate for Bosnia as a whole fares better than the global average of 1.67 per 1,000 people, according to Wisevoter's Divorce Rate by Country tracker. Per that source, Bosnia ranks 95th globally, with a divorce rate of 0.8 per 1,000 people. The Sarajevo Times noted in an article published in April 2023 that, among the nation's population of 3.271 million, nearly 3,000 couples divorce every year.

According to a 2024 report by the Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, titled "Women and Men in Bosnia and Herzegovina," over the past 25 years, divorce rates in Bosnia have been on the rise, with more than 1,000 additional divorces recorded in 2022 compared to 1997. Among all age groups, the highest number of divorces are occurring among 40-to-49 year olds, per the report, signifying broader societal trends impacting marriage.

Despite rising divorce rates, generally speaking, Široki-Brijeg residents view marriage as a sacred rite. For newlyweds, marriage transcends mere legal contract — rather, it is a holy calling as part of their religious beliefs.

Several online posts note that couples in Croatia and neighboring Catholic communities, including Široki-Brijeg, observe Catholicism's marriage crucifix tradition. During wedding ceremonies, as they approach the altar, the bride and groom carry a crucifix symbolizing their commitment to Christ and each other. Blessed by the priest, the cross holds profound significance as a cherished emblem of their union.

As chronicled in an article by the National Catholic Register in 2014:

The bride and groom followed a long-standing tradition: They make their wedding vows with their hands clasped on a crucifix. Then they kiss the cross, because, as our faith teaches, the cross signifies the greatest love. These couples realize that marriage is a vocation and that we need to take to heart the words of Jesus and seek his constant help to live and grow in this vocation.

In sum, while it was false to claim there are no divorces in Široki-Brijeg, the community is reportedly part of a region with fewer marriage breakups than global averages. Some people reportedly attribute that phenomenon to the region's distinct religious and social culture centered around residents' unwavering Catholic faith.


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Nikki Dobrin is based in Los Angeles and has previously worked at The Walt Disney Company, as well as written and edited for People, USA Today and The Hill.