Identity as I see it: before and after the war

2017-08-05 11.55.39

By Stefan Gvozden

One doesn’t have to grow up in Bosnia to be able to figure out how important national and religious identity is to people here. It is given to you when you are born, you are taught to obey and promote it, and if needed every other aspect of your identity (if not more) may be sacrificed to it. I don’t quite fit into this mold. In fact, I decided to fight it.

The other day, a guy at the bus station, wanting to start a conversation, asked me: “Are you one of us?” Not even trying to figure out which one of the three sides that “us” was to him, I replied “No, I’m Yugoslav.” The man was so confused by my answer! He just bowed down his head, and didn’t try to speak to me again—so this is what 25 years of nationalism brought us, I thought. Pity.

I was watching my friend Kemal’s movie “Pretty Village” for the second, or the third time now. And this time it got me thinking about some specific things. In the movie, there is a part where Kemal tells us how before the war, most of his neighbors weren’t very strict in practicing their religion, and they were celebrating Ramadan and getting drunk in the process. I thought about how things have changed, and how during and after the war people turned to their ethnic and religious backgrounds, even though at happier times they were fairly irrelevant.

Today, the situation is changing because younger generations are slowly leaning away from nationalism—I say “slowly” because the nationalist narrative is still mainstream even in generations born after 2000. The slow drift away from nationalism, as good as it may sound, is actually taking them towards a more market-oriented thinking. Get a good job, fast education, trample over people to get the things you want, think only about your own well-being. Modern young people in Bosnia are in a state of limbo where they still support the nationalists, but not because of folklore and ethno-national ideas, but because that political option allows them to be brutally capitalist. This is the sad state of identity in Bosnia today.

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