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“24sata” wins prize: the best stories are written by life itself

On May 3rd, “World Press Freedom Day”, the HND (Croatia’s press association) awarded prizes for the best journalists and photographers in 2016. One of the nine awards went to “24sata”-journalist Hajrudin Merdanović.

For his series of articles on Perica Matas (“the rain man from Rab”), Merdanović  received the “Marija Jurić Zagorka” prize. “I’m truly proud of this acknowledgement” said the prizewinner. “It was an astonishing, shocking yet nevertheless deeply human story with a happy ending. I’m very happy.”

The background to the prizewinning story:
Perica Matas was found on the street in a confused mental state in 1980. The 15-year-old did not know his own name, was unable to speak clearly and could not explain whence he came. The “rain man from Rab” had no documents on his person – and the authorities’ efforts to trace his family were to no end. Doctors had him transferred to a psychiatric institution. There, on Rab island, he spent 36 years (almost 14,000 days). It was at this hospital that he got the name Perica Matas. In 2016, namely 36 years later, "24sata"-journalist Hajrudin Merdanović came upon the story of Perica and began publishing articles about him in “24sata”. A big campaign, which did not elude competing media, ultimately led to success: Perica was recognised by his long-lost sister and brother. So it was that the family came to be reunited after almost four decades. In other words: Hajrudin solved the mystery of Perica in just 36 days – something that had remained unachieved for the preceding 36 years.
The journalist has maintained contact with Perica: “I think the best part of this whole thing is the story itself; and it isn’t really just a story but rather it’s about the fate of a man we ultimately, as it were, ‘found’”, according to Hajrudin Merdanović: “I’m truly proud and happy to have been in the right place at the right time - and Perica is happy that I found him.”