Being a Yugoslav #2 – Sonja Aćimović

Autor: Sonja Aćimović

Project: Being a Yugoslav Today

Language without a flag

Language without a flag

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.

Serbo-Croatian is a "dead language" with the most speakers

Serbo-Croatian is a “dead language” with the biggest number of living speakers

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. 

Written by aleksandar



Yeah, part of the beautiful counry, who operated in the background by sending all the regime-opposers in the working camp on the island called Goli otok. Only few had a nice time back then, and only few cherish their memories in pink context. To the author….watch movie “Goli” from Tiha Gudac, she is your generation and tells completely different story. Cheers! Živjeli


Da lepa je to zemlja nema sta. Ovo je sa wikipedije o Borislavu Pekicu:
…Bio sam član ilegalne studentsko-gimnazijske organizacije koja se zvala Savez demokratske omladine Jugoslavije. Uhapšen sam 7. novembra 1948, maja 1949. osuđen po Zakonu o krivičnim djelima protiv naroda i države, na prvostupanjskom Okružnom sudu na 10 godina, a potom mi je na Vrhovnom sudu (Narodne Republike Srbije 26. juna 1949. godine) kazna povećana na 15 godina zatvora s prisilnim radom i izvjesnim brojem godina gubitka građanskih prava nakon izdržane kazne. Pomilovan sam 29. novembra 1953. godine…[1].
Govorimo o Borislavu Pekicu, sigurno si citala makar nesto od njega. Tezak kriminalac…


“Only few had a nice time back then, and only few cherish their memories in pink context. ”
This is a terrible and dangerous generalization, you should rather express your own opinion then talk in the name of others, you don’t know my memories!


“There was no distinction between ethnicity and language.”

There were 3 official languages and republics were separated on ethnical/historical basis. All republics, except B&H, were pretty much ethnically homogenous.

The main source of confusion imo stems from the decades long depoliticization of ethnic, religious and identity issues overall, by the government and party through the ruling ideology of SFRY. They offered an identity, but once they were gone, that identity didn’t disappear. It was only faced with other identities, other stories about SFRY, usually destructive and toxic. But by then there was no political space to resolve the crisis. SFRY never nurtured that kind of space. It considered it dangerous.

The only way to resolve this identity crisis, imo, is to look beyond states, for once, and rely on the fact that no identity can survive frozen in time. That can only lead to oppression. Some kind of oppression will always be there (political, semantical) but getting states involved to define your identity implies certain level of institutionalization, that will always leave someone on the outside.

ps: Put the flag of Yugoslavia. You’re welcome.


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