Autor: Marko Simonović
Project: Being a Yugoslav Today
The process started some ten years ago, and now it’s complete: Yugoslavia is the only way I refer to the place I’m originally from, where I grew up, but also to the place(s) where most of my friends and family live at the moment. I do realise that it may seem as if I’m trying to recreate something that is long gone or to call something into existence, but for me Yugoslavia is right now and right there. It is not an internationally recognised state, nor is it a state that I need to see restored, it is simply the best name I have for all the things I feel to be familiar and intelligible ― the music, the dishes, the ideologies, the cities, the patriarchy, the policies, the words, the concepts, and the people.
While I understand that it may seem that being Yugoslav amounts to refusing to let go of a former nation and clinging to people who have nothing to do with you, I believe that it is exactly my Yugoslavness that allows me not to waste my time and energy on the identity nonsense that the little narcissistic identities impose. When a Croat meets a Montenegrin, when a Bosnian meets a Serb, they are by definition interesting to each other because they by definition have unresolved issues, they have been taught a board game version of history and it is clear that one of them was cheating very, very badly recently. On the other hand, when I meet another Yugoslav (whatever she may identify as), this person is not interesting for me any more than any other Yugoslav, i.e., not very interesting, since most people I know are Yugoslavs.
I’m Yugoslav the way I’m Dutch: it is about what I can understand, interact with and influence. In that sense, I don’t need my mixed ancestry to prove my need for Yugoslavness. It is not about failing to be anything else, it is not a last resort, it is common sense.
I should mention, however, that my Yugoslavness is a Serbo-Croatian-speaking Yugoslavness and for that reason less applicable to places where Serbo-Croatian is not spoken or even understood. I have some understanding for people feeling Kosovar, or Macedonian, or Slovenian. I’m, of course, also not going around correcting people who identify as Serbian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Bosnian, insisting they are Yugoslav. There is nothing to insist on, it is obvious that they are more than what they call themselves. I also spent quite some time trying to find myself in those labels, since after all they are “internationally recognised”. But navigating between these four was a tiring specular game, something I believe no healthy brain can sustain for a long time. Is sarma, Andrić, this song or that swearing Serbian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, or Croatian? Are they “ours” even when used by “others”? How do I account for the fact that 9 out of 10 things I want to talk about as “ours” are actually shared with “them”. I knew that there was no correct answer to that kind of riddle, but my brain would just keep solving it. And that was a waste of working memory. I do believe that trying and failing to solve the riddle helped me realise that there was something fundamentally wrong with the riddle. I then also realised that I’m part of a nation defined by that riddle, that was cemented in the wars of the nineties, a nation which is foundationally unaware that it is one. We could term that nation, consisting of four little nations, “Inner-Yugoslavs”: we are stuck inside Yugoslavia, even if there is no Yugoslavia to begin with.
The four little nations, entirely intelligible to each other and entirely founded in narcissism of small differences, are, not surprisingly, the ones that were most commonly referred to as brothers in the former state. To be sure, there was no destiny contained in that brotherhood. There certainly was a way to dissolve the brotherhood in a way which would make it possible for a Serbian citizen to travel to Croatia, for a Bosnian citizen to travel to Montenegro, the same way as Dutch citizens travel to the northern part of Belgium: the language is still the same, but it is very clearly a different country and it’s silly to assume that everything is the same as in your country. The wars of the nineties secured that the rest of (Inner) Yugoslavia will never be just some other country for anyone. For most Yugoslavs trips within Inner Yugoslavia became traveling to the other side of the mirror, where the evil twin lives on territories which used to be mine, speaking my language (which he slightly modified in order to be able to claim it) and where everything is about hating me, so the head of state would personally behead me if no one looked. And then, of course, you hate the evil twin back. For this reason, when you travel within Inner Yugoslavia, it is perfectly safe to assume that everything is exactly the same as in your own country, to the extent that you could say that it still is your own country.
I’m pretty assertive and people often ask me, after my lengthy rants on Yugoslavness, why we are so silent now and where the Yugoslav identity was during the war from which gave rise to our little narcissistic states. I believe the best answer to both was given by a 75-year old lady from the besieged Sarajevo in 1993., which I saw in Lordan Zafranović’s The decline of the century: “When a brother kills his own brother, then it is not war. They are brothers to us, they are Yugoslavs as we are”. I think we are not silent, but simply not heard, because we do not share the same basic vocabulary with the new states. Was it a war? Did it have armies and soldiers and states which had mobilised those? And what is the nature of the states that emerged from that and their national histories? I believe that is the Yugoslav riddle, and a good one.
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