Autor: Sonja Aćimović
Project: Being a Yugoslav Today
When people ask me today where I am from, I say that I am from Sarajevo. I don’t mention the country. That is because I wouldn’t know what to say without getting into the complex discussion about heritage, history and politics. Most people would get confused. And who can blame them? Sometimes I get confused myself.
If I would try to simplify things, I could say that I am from Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. But somehow, to me that doesn’t feel right. I was born in 1983 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. I left my hometown and country when it was already torn by the war. Sarajevo nowadays isn’t even close to that beautiful multi-ethnical city I grew up in, in which I had an amazing childhood. It changed so much due to the war. It is not the same Sarajevo. My Sarajevo belonged to Yugoslavia.
But there is more to it. Being Serbian by ethnicity raises another issue in terms of current geographical and ethnical definitions. In the world, Sarajevo is known as the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and is mainly associated with Muslims and Croats that are part of Federacija. Even though Bosnia & Herzegovina also contains Republika Srpska, it doesn’t do much for my origin. Furthermore, I cannot say that I am “Serbian”, as people would automatically assume that I am from Serbia. But I am not. I was born in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia…
In 1994, my family and I came to the Netherlands and we are living there ever since. In the meantime, we also obtained Dutch nationality. But does that really make me Dutch? I don’t think so. Although I am truly thankful to the Netherlands, its government and its people for giving me the opportunity to have a future, I cannot deny my roots. There are simply too many differences in mentality, temperament, views on things such as family, friends, upbringing, hospitality and many others. That is probably the main reason why most of my friends in the Netherlands are from different parts of former Yugoslavia as well.
Being an ethnic Serb from Sarajevo, which is now the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, raises another difficult question. And that is: “which language do I speak”? Nowadays, there are as many languages as there are former Yugoslav republics. This creates the wrong impression that people from Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina no longer understand each other, while not so long ago they all spoke the same common tongue. Do I speak Serbian? Not quite, since being from the geographical region of Bosnia & Herzegovina I don’t speak with the typically Serbian Ekavian dialect. Is my language Bosnian then? Definitely not, since Bosnian as such was created only after the war. My mother tongue and the language I learnt in school was Serbo-Croatian. It is the language that belonged to Yugoslavia. And in my view it is the most spoken “dead language” nowadays.
This confusion about the languages is also reflected in the name of a networking group in the Netherlands which consists of young people from all over former Yugoslavia. The group is called “Cocktails in native language” (Kokteli na domaćem jeziku). That is the language reference that most of us make. We all speak “native” or “our” language and we leave it up to the other to define that language any way it suits them. The same goes for me and my fiancé. He may be born in Amsterdam, but his parents are originally from Montenegro and Kosovo. We are now struggling with the issue how to define “our” language next to Dutch and English on our wedding website. Putting a flag icon instead doesn’t help either, because we also wouldn’t know which flag to pick…
Most people are familiar with the term “no man’s land” which defines land that is unoccupied by any party. I believe that most Yugoslavs like me experience something as “no land’s man”: you are part of a land that no longer exists and you don’t fit in the current geographical and ethnical definitions. You speak a language that is still commonly spoken, yet that language doesn’t have a name anymore. No wonder that there are so many people nowadays who are Yugo-nostalgic. It gives them a sense of identity.
As for my parents, they still consider themselves as Yugoslavs. They raised me as a Yugoslav. We were part of a beautiful country and we were very proud of it. There was no distinction between ethnicity and language. We were all one nation: Yugoslavs. And that is what I consider myself to be still, no matter what the current borders say.
Disclaimer: The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the Philopolitics. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author.