Transcript of interview, Queer Archive, 2017
I was born in 1973 in Sarajevo. I live in Sarajevo and I’ve spent all my life in Sarajevo. There are no some special customs or special traditions in my family except that it is a standard Bosnian family, predominantly Muslim. It was never too communist or too religious family, either. However, the only thing that has always been celebrated is Eid in fact, so it’s typical Bosniak story in the sense – we were Muslims, we remained Muslims. We respected communism, we appreciate communism even today, especially in today’s society where nobody has anything, and back then we all had everything. And that’s it.
What was your life like in the nineties, before the war started, at the beginning of 1990s? What did you dream about? What were your plans? What were your ambitions?
Well, this is a rather broad topic. The war started when I was finishing high school. I enrolled in Druga gimnazija (Second Gymnasium) in 1988 and was finishing it in 1991/92, when the war was starting. Back then I envisioned myself as someone who was interested in science. So, at the beginning of the war, I was in Sarajevo. I was 18 years old. We had to leave our place of residence, but we stayed in Sarajevo, solely because of the moving of the border line. We returned to our place of residence, in 1995 of course, when…when the situation began to calm down.
There were two or three generations of people with whom I have generally socialized. So, first of all, there was my family, and then, my whole generation of eighteen-years-old fellows, couple of years older or younger, and we turned to each other, since we were young crew during the war. Since I was in the military, my network of people spread, and it was young people again. I was one of the recruits in my generation, and people in the army were my age as well. So, in that sense, there were many, many people who were around my age with whom I’d been hanging out and spending time. On the other hand, my family – my parents and their generation have played that crucial role in keeping us alive. I mean…so it means, my father was definitely in charge for making sure we have some food on the table during the war, no matter how hard it might have been to get some food at the time, generally. We, of course, as children played our part in it. We were brining water. And there was this third group of people that were in my social sphere who were quite older than me. I was young and talented and as such student in high school, and then also during the war, in fact I was very connected just with the University of Sarajevo, with the Academy of Sciences – and those were mainly people who were a lot older, professors and doctors. Essentially, I never identified myself, even today. So, now at the age of 43, I cannot say with certainty that I am bi(sexual), or gay, or queer – I am a little bit of everything. I’m even heterosexual at certain moments, and so on. So basically I cannot see myself within any given defined doctrine. So my approach is very individual with each person. And based on what sort of relationship I develop with them, that’s how I see myself. Since from very early age, that is, from elementary school, I realized I liked my male friends, and my female friends. There were no any particular experiences during my elementary school, but basically my earliest memories and feelings that we relate to sexual awakening and sexuality today, included both genders.
And when and how did the process of revealing your sexual orientation go? How was it for you and how did it go with others?
Well, talking about myself, I – this process is still ongoing, even today. Each situation implies a certain way of presentation most likely in some new context. Although my experience proved me that there are a lot of stereotypes, of course. And then, such stereotypes fit into the already anticipated stereotypes. Fortunately, there are still situations that can surprise me. It happened to me, more than once; so, I just think to myself “Well, that’s it, this is who I am” – and then something else happens. I was in a situation where I wanted to marry, with my girlfriend, with whom I had a great relationship. Well, I didn’t. Simply, because I admitted to myself and to her that there is also this other side of me, many sides, actually. So this storm, this inner storm of self-discovery, in fact, lasts even today. And speaking of others, well it goes the same way. In fact, everyone represents a unique story for me. I’m really trying not to put people in some stereotypes, giving each individual a chance to play a role in my life in a way that that person gives me their best, not something expected or something stereotypical, and so on. So, basically I was very, very rarely in a situation in my life when I didn’t have some support. Meaning that, when somebody didn’t give me support, that would be really extreme, extreme cases…this…where I was even in a situation of being exposed to physical violence. But it was very rare. So, what’s usually happening is when, when I’m talking to my friends, let’s say to my female friends, about my own sexuality, they often see my personality before my sexuality. So, they see me as a person first and how I behave to others, before any of my life choices.
In 1992 as a young adult I joined the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I participated in the war until 1995. So, for two years I was actually in the army. For me that was an experience – well, like any other. Something new, something that needs to be faced, and something you need to go through. By nature I am not a militarist, I am even a pacifist. I can say that I was lucky one; I was in the back on the position of a midfielder. On the other hand, my first homosexual experience happened in that army. We, well as all young people, during the military training, there were about thirty of us in that unit…so, we used to, just like all young people, at the age of 18, 19…relax a little, from time to time. We’d sit down, play the guitar in some basement, while we were hiding from shootings, we’d make some rice wine, stuff like that… And then it actually happened…my first kiss with a man, it wasn’t my initiative, but there was this friend of mine from the army, who caught a moment and so, he approached me and kissed me, so lusciously. And, even though I enjoyed it, I slapped him. Unfortunately, I was sorry I did it. And this situation never happened again. That was actually my first homosexual kiss in my life, and I can still remember it today. We were in the war together, in the same unit. We never mentioned it again. And even after the war we, we’d see each other and hang out having a good time, but still we never came back to that.
When did the war end for you, if it ended, at all?
Technically, there is this practical aspect. So we can talk about the war as…the war as an act of aggression, violence – it ended. However, reality shows something else. Forms of warfare today are not just those forms of violent warfare that imply the presence of weapons, open armed conflict. Well, we had a cold war with no weapons. There was no conflict, and again, we had a couple of decades of tension between the Soviets and the Americans. I think that what is happening to us today, some twenty years after the official end of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina – we still have no peace. Why don’t we have peace? Because each of us individually is forced, literally forced, to fight. Even against each another, to fight for a job, for a piece of bread, for any kind of freedom that is guaranteed by peace conditions. Until we establish such freedoms as are guaranteed under the conditions of peace, according to the international understanding of peace, we cannot talk about the existence of peace. If there is no peace, then some kind of war is certainly still current. That’s my attitude.
My family has remained as it is. Of course, everybody in my family has the freedom to live their life the way that we let them, to live that life. Now, somebody went one way, someone went in the other direction. Change as a change is one of the characteristics of life as such. Who doesn’t accept the change as it comes, actually gives up the right to living the life. In that sense, my beliefs did not change, except in the context in which they became clearer to me. Clearer in a way that everything could be analyzed as such. Again there is no…so there is this fluidity. There is no ultimate belief, it does not exist. I don’t want to allow myself this freedom and say: “Well, now I’m the kind of the person I’m supposed to be, and that’s it!” So, every day I try to be better, more effective, more useful, and so on, compared to yesterday. And as long as I’m trying, it actually shows me that I’m happier, more peaceful, more organized, and I have a better life. Without such an attitude I would most likely have remained a slop – that is the word I want to use. I lost a lot of relatives. More than thirty closest relatives have simply disappeared in the war, found somewhere in some river, and so…or they have never been found in the end… Some are living somewhere in the wide world, and so on… These are the things we can grieve over. But we have to start accepting these things. So, you see, these are the things that happened. We must not forget them, but we have to make ourselves better, not only in order for this kind of things not to happen again – it is simply not matter of question anymore – it must not happen again. It cannot happen again. But that is not all. We have to move further from what happened, in order to achieve any prosperity, both individually and as society. I’m achieving this prosperity in my life individually in countless ways; I have so many interests, activities and so on. And bearing in mind that I, as a discriminated member of the community, I am still unemployed today, since I have been engaged in LGBT activism for many years. And not just LGBT activism, but especially in all those taboo things that the “gentlemen” do not want to deal with. For example, I was dealing with intravenous drug addiction, commercial sex work, Roma issues, and many more…of course, LGBT, and of course sexually transmitted infections. So nobody wanted to deal with HIV in Bosnia and Herzegovina – I was dealing with it. I did not have a problem to provide support for people living with HIV; I wanted to show through my own example, that one can work with intravenous drug users and not become an intravenous drug abuser, or one can work with commercial sex workers and not be in commercial sex work business. Of course, I cannot find a job today, because I’m personally stigmatized.
Today, there is this overuse of this term – human rights. Human rights, in today’s setting have its bright side and its dark side. Just as every sword is double-edged sword, sometimes it is necessary to think through about how much we ourselves, while fighting for human rights, in fact violate the rights of others.
What is freedom to you?
Freedom is one category that, if we would understand it properly, I think the world would be much better place. I do not claim that, I do not claim at all, that I understand it, as well. Every day I try to understand it, but every time I realize that there is a category that can be understood under the perception of freedom as such, the worm of suspicion always appears to me – is it real freedom? Is it freedom, knowing that you can walk down the streets freely and not being attacked? Or is it freedom walking down the street, being attacked, and being able to defend yourself? I cannot highlight either of those. Because both situations represent a certain kind of freedom for me. But it does not define it fully. And what we should actually do as civilization, as a whole, and which would probably lead us to peace and progress, is in fact to expand our own vies, and those ideas we get in creative process – we should actually implement it. In fact, we are scared today, to step out in such way – “To boldly go where no man has ever gone before”. Because, all that we have today, in our freedom, in fact, limits us. So, the beauty of life itself, the beauty of this cosmos in which we are and which we have found, the essential beauty of each being as an individual, without the shells that make us like this or like that, but give us the right to be individuals in abundance – individuality creates an abundance – is what I admire, what I’m following, and what I’m aspiring to.