Transcript of interview, Queer Archive, 2017
Can you tell me what year you were born in and where you currently live?
1974. and currently I live in America, near Washington.
Can you tell me something about your lineage, your ancestry? Where are you and your parents from?
My mother is Aegean, from the Greek part of Macedonia, the part of Macedonia that used to be a part of Greece. They escaped during World War II, actually after it, during the Greek Civil War. They ended up in Vojvodina, Macedonia and so on. So that is the Macedonian side. My father’s side of the family is from Montenegro. They are from the villages of Gornja Brezna and Donja Brezna. That part of the family moved around the remaining parts of Montenegro, mostly in the area of Nikšić.
So the beginning of the nineties, before the war, that was a short period. I went to… I lived in Sarajevo. I attended the First Gymnasium. The idea was that I do a one year student exchange program and then go back to Sarajevo. To come back to Sarajevo. At first I wanted to study archeology. The prewar time was spent between Baščaršija, where I grew up, and the First Gymnasium, where I went to high school. Spending time with friends from school, family was coming to visit, and we went to see them across ex-Yugoslavia. We had plans to move closer to the sea, because parents wanted to move to the sea when they retire. Mainly a pleasant, easy-breezy life situation.
When the war started, I was in Bosnia, until my birthday. On my birthday in ’91 I got inside a car and drove to Belgrade. I flew from Belgrade to America for the student exchange. Those are the days before, when something was stirring up, and was happening for some time. In Croatia for example, a year earlier it was problematic if you were at the beach, with friends or alone, when the night falls. It would be a problem to say your name. In Sarajevo when… April ’92, when all that began, they put my sister on a plane, one of the last JAT airplanes flying to Montenegro and she ends up in Macedonia. In April of ’92 I was with my American family, somewhere in the middle of my schooling. Plans are still the same, I’m coming back to Bosnia, enrolling the university there, in spite of everything that is happening. But I was there and they were here. It was my 17th birthday. I actually left on my 17th birthday.
Did you keep in contact with the community, your family and those who stayed here during the war and your stay there? If yes, how?
In the beginning my parents and I stayed in contact through the phone. I called them on 23. April 1992, and my father picked up. He says “Mom is not here.” and tells me “You have to call tomorrow, mom will be home.” I talked to him and called tomorrow. From that day on we had no phone connection. From that day on I began calling them every day. I had a pattern of calling… Every time I called, I called three times, a few times a day. The least amount of times I would call was three times a day, and three times each. There was one phone booth in the hall where we were at, at the university. The first time we had contact was 15 months later, my mom called, I don’t even know how, and the call lasted for four minutes. I wasn’t there, so my roommate took the call. That lasted for two minutes. After that we had three more calls. Everything else went through the Red Cross and Leben Valencia (Incomprehensible!) There were same different initiatives. There were attempts to contact each other through shortwave and long-range radio frequencies that never worked. And those letter that went through the Red Cross and Caritas, they travelled for months. Which means, while I write and answer a letter, and get their answering letter, two months go by. At that moment you can’t know if they are dead or alive. I was in touch with my sister who was in Montenegro, whose behavior was completely different. What I did was watch news. I was looking for anything I can watch and listen to, and in those scenes of Sarajevo I tried to make out someone I know. For example, if there is a cemetery showing, I stop the recording, and try to read the names on tombstones, whichever cemetery it is, because I had absolutely no other way to get information. Then there was another way of contact, which might be crazy, which is that I simply had to believe they were still alive. That kind of contact was me putting my hand on my hart and just knowing if they were dead or alive.
In 95, when I left America to study in Kenya for a year, I continue the calling, on that old telephone where you have to turn the numbers. Whenever I was close to that office I go in and dial the number, three times. Nothing ever happened. One time, maybe a month after I came there, it was September, maybe October, we were invited for a dinner. We went to the dinner, on the way to there is where the office actually was. I told them: “Go on, I’ll just try it again.” I dialed it once, twice and on the third time it started ringing. I immediately thought I must have dialed the wrong number because it never rang. My mom answered.
There was an interesting situation happening, when I came to Kenya, my father wrote to me. My dad is writing to me to tell me to take care of myself, since there is nationalism there as well. There were all sorts of overturns happening in Kenya too. How I went from America to Kenya, where something could happen to me. But I went anyway. He wrote to me, while sitting in Sarajevo, middle of the war, he was telling me to take care of myself because they have their own conflicts and situations.
My roommate, who I met in college was someone who gave me a lot of support. The family I was staying with were also great support as they wanted to shield me from all those situations. When I went off to college I spent time mainly with the people with who I studied with, or were at the same college since we lived at the same floor. The first person I met, who was gay, in college was this Scot, not Joyce, no, actually yes, Joyce. He was in the theatre and he was gay. Us, who lived there, we didn’t have any problems of any kind with anything and anyone, really, because people there were above the classic, average American mentality. That is the first time I got in touch with people, through friendly games of basketball, where half of them were queer. Also, I met them through theatre, where some other people were in a way queer, and that was my first contact with all of that in America.
I identify as queer. My sexual orientation is homosexual, but you could say I was bisexual since I’ve been on both sides. But at some point, when I was on this other side, I just stopped having relations with classic men. When it comes to my gender identity, sexual identity and expression, I always saw myself in some sort of fluidity. I believe, that at some level, we are all transgender. Because of the fluidity that a person can allow themselves, I simply don’t want to put myself into categories. I allow for it, within myself, to not play an important role. The connections I made with people were never made at the level of the body. And when it comes to my body, I never felt the need to change it.
When did you start thinking about your sexuality? Is there a memory you link with that? A special person, a crush? A friend?
I actually don’t think that I grew up as a sexual person. I don’t think I even felt puberty. I don’t even remember puberty. When that relation happened, my first one, I can’t say lesbian relation since that person is not a lesbian. The person I was with does not identify as that, but my first queer sexual experience started as they usually do. It wasn’t different in anything but us being something completely else with our bodies. To me there wasn’t a big difference, except that I knew how the society looked upon that, and what am I to do with that. Like, what now? Not about how my private, intimate part of life functions, or how we communicate with each other, not that part, but the part when you come out, actually. How to make it sound better, or not, and in the end just protect the relationship you have. It didn’t just come to me when I woke up and thought “I’m different.”. I always thought I was different. I always thought that I wasn’t really interested in boys. I absolutely do not have that type of feeling. It just came from within me.
I planned on going back to Bosnia for quite some time, but I had to pay back my student debt. At the time, going back, for me, was connected to paying my debts because I thought I should pay it back before I go back. I came back in September 2002, two months after I paid it all back. It was crucial for me to go back, because I had the feeling that a part of me was still 16, 17 years old. And all that war situation, not knowing where your friends are, if they are dead or alive, where they went away, and all the stories and destinies. It was essential for me to go back because there was a part of me that stopped living, stayed there, and was still there. The other part of me somehow went on, but not completely nor freely, it always went on lingering, waiting for something to happen, to resolve, and so on. I had to have those parts meet. Find each other. To be closer to my family. My family was incredibly important to me, and being in touch with them. I was alone there. I thought, great! I’ll go back and be closer to my family, it will all be amazing, great, and that I will stay there for a while. After some time, I thought it would be great if I continued my education there, to get on with my PhD. So I came back for multiple reasons. And I gave myself one task. Why wouldn’t I, while I’m in Bosnia, when I actually go there, start off some queer community talk? Because I need that community now. And if I come to Sarajevo, and that community doesn’t exist, wouldn’t it be great to see the same freedom and stability which I enjoy while in Dupont, in DC, which is pretty easy to create. Also, there are other people with that same need. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if that was created in Bosnia? That was the September of 2002.
I actually prepared myself to going back to the city of Sarajevo which is not the same city anymore. So when I came to Sarajevo, I felt relief. On one hand everything is familiar, and on the other, I feel like a tourist. I have no idea where all those people came from. And why are the ideological differences so great? When it comes to religion. And politics. But I accepted it. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice to not accept that and be there at the same time. For a year, maybe more, a year and a half, I was in a state of complete nirvana. I came there positive, I came cleansed. I came with all my problems solved. I wanted to be there. I had the feeling of absolute happiness because I was there, something that was familiar because I lived without it all this time. And I didn’t, to be honest, I didn’t through all those days, weeks and months of war… it was all a long kind of suffering. I didn’t… I didn’t even think that the war would ever even stop.
I never even thought I’d ever be able to go back to a Sarajevo that is in any way familiar to what I know. The war that happened, and the loss, brings me directly back there. When I was going back my mom told me: “Everyone is leaving, and you’re coming back? You won’t find a job here. Why don’t you go to Zagreb or Belgrade?” I asked her, what do I have in Zagreb and Belgrade? I mean, I was born in Zagreb. We have family there, but that is not where I grew up. Why would I go to Zagreb? Why would I go to Belgrade? I mean, what do I have to do with those cities? For me, only myself, the war actually stopped the moment I stopped watching the news and everything happening there on a daily basis, I thought, fine, now everything can happen without thinking what will happen, if someone is getting killed, if someone is dying. The moment I stop watching this kind of news I have a feeling a great relief. Now I can have a regular contact with them. None of it is actually resolved, none of it… I mean people were in the gutter, sick, dying. But it comes down to that feeling about the war, where you can’t even try to stop it. All the news that came were tragic. The moment when all that stopped, I started to relax in a way. That was until it all went off with Kosovo, when I started to listen to all of that once again, since I had family in Montenegro. That is when I realized in what kind of insane pattern I was for years.
But to me, war as war never really ended. We never came to that state which is still unknown. To me war, I can’ say that… I can say that I feel that there is some state of peace, but that it isn’t all there, through activism which I participate in later, where I take a part in the community scene, and I get familiar with other organizations and laws. That type of freedom where we invest in people on an educational level, where it is demanded of them and looked forward to their curiosity and creativity, that part never came back. There is a saying in Bosnian: “Beat the life out of someone.” If having life within yourself is peace, and having the life beaten out of you means that your own core is destroyed, by a war situation, or a struggle, or even a conflict in the time of peace. I can’t say that the peace ever came through. I can’t say that people have life within themselves.
Did the beliefs of your family change in comparison to the period before war? Did your family become more open, or more closed to differences, after war? How did that affect you?
Well, I actually don’t know how different my family was before the war, since some subjects simply didn’t exist. For example, the question of LGBTIQ. I have no idea how open they were towards that because that was something that wasn’t talked about. What happened in war generally, and in my sister’s case, who lived in Montenegro, is that at some point she became religious. We were talking, and she said: “I’m going to get baptized.” I asked: “How do you mean, baptized?” I’m just thinking, what does that even mean? Like: “Well, I’m going to Ostrog with a cousin, we’re both getting baptized.” That cousin also grew up in Sarajevo. I asked, again: “What do you mean, baptized?” she said: “Well, you know.” And I didn’t! I told her: “But why do you need that? We are not baptizes and we never had a religion. We didn’t grow up with that as a reason. So, why do you need that now?” I just couldn’t understand that. But, that is one of the things that just popped up. We were really close, we were sisters, and it just popped up. I noticed that, on both sides of the family, older people became a bit more religious. But I don’t think it has anything to do with the war. Through my contact with my family, and the thing I was involved with, my family in Croatia for example, on my mother’s side, found out about everything. They knew what I was doing and there wasn’t some big talk, there was just complete acceptance. I tell them: “I’m going to Zagreb for the pride.” and my cousin says: “I’ll be there too, that is the only way I get to see you.” Though, I don’t know how it came to her to come to the pride on her own. But they fight diversity in Croatia too. Before the war, during and after, because they keep coming, mixed marriages, it is about the Macedonian side. Jobs were lost, maybe they too… They instead of closing up, they open up, more and more. I think the Montenegro side isn’t as open for diversity, but they accept you because you’re family.
Does war and to what degree, still have an influence on your everyday life?
Well, it does have that effect on me that I have trust issues towards any country, or the situation in that country, wherever I go. I can basically imagine war likely happening in any well regulated country. Which means I have no trust. I can’t ever really completely relax. Of course, going somewhere as a tourist, climbing mountains, castles, and exploring archeology and anthropology, history as well, is possible. I find it great that when they’re not at war you can go and do all that, respect the country and the nature. But I… I don’t see any space as a space where war can’t happen. And if I think about where to live and how, it is absolutely out of question to relax completely. I can go back to our ideology of peace, brotherhood and unity, where we really were relaxed. We really did think like that, I don’t know, I never lived anywhere else as a kid. But now I am not sure if it is possible to have that great sense of connection and communication with people. From this perspective, it seems like what we had was a wonderful anomaly. Because, no one who had been through any kind of war can never, at least I can’t understand how could they, settle into the thought that war isn’t around the corner. From the perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region it was a great defeat. We were all robbed of our lives, history, and ideology in the end, the belief that we can organize the society in a way that works for everyone. And that there is some peace and order. And to have people who are creative and curious. To actually have people pushing themselves to be the best they can. Simply to satisfy the desire and need for information and connection. I absolutely don’t know, and can’t understand. Why couldn’t we still have that? What do the people have now, and they are still paying the price? All because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
How do you see this period today? In the sense of human rights, equality and freedom?
Well, the situation isn’t exactly anything to be jealous of. I think that, generally, the concept of human rights is something foreign to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because that language isn’t ours. I mean, it came from the UN, OSCE, EU, postulates. As such it was created after WWII in order to stop what was happening at the scale it was happening. We caught up to it, there isn’t a choice. You have to really grasp on to something, whatever you’re doing. I think there is a huge gap between the understanding of the population and that terminology. The system wasn’t built in a way to put people in the center of Bosnia’s existence. The system, as it is, is egocentric, not anthropocentric, and it is completely up to the people if they will change it or not. In terms of certain people, their principles, their demands and needs, their wishes, in between all of those there is a bigger gap being made. When you have a society which doesn’t take care if healthcare and education are available to everyone, or that there is a certain level of freedom and that that freedom is not endangered. If I were a politician, why would your freedom threaten me? But it does, it does. The more you use your head and think critically, you will threaten me more. That is basically what they are saying, to all of us, and that we are always one step away from respect and a well-regulated system.
That is why the fight is important. Because, you know, that even those who negate, and those who steal money and stall in politics, in meetings and so on, all of that is a step away from respect. They wouldn’t negate if it didn’t oppress them, and it doesn’t get them into a situation where the people take matters in their own hands.
But, I also think that now, after all these years, it is 2017, when you’re doing something that is slow enough, or absolutely doesn’t function at all, every single person, every organization and the whole community needs to ask themselves: “Okay, why am I doing this? What is it that I want to achieve? Is it realistic that I will? When are we going to achieve that? Is there some other way? Some better, faster way? Are we supposed to do something that is the complete opposite of the system that we are all following?” I still think all of that is possible. That we need a strategy, but also to feed people in a way where they stay motivated and inspired, where the people, all of this is people, all, the human resources is completely pushed aside, because there is something else in the center. But that same human resource is the real one and I make all of these negative or positive changes.
But I think that there needs to be a strategy, how to preserve that energy from vanishing, knowing where you live. Knowing what happens with it, knowing that you have no support from the country, knowing that it just isn’t important because they are looking at something else, completely different. But is there hope? Is it possible to do something? Yes. Certain states in which people exist, which they are being drowned in, sometimes can put people into a situation where they think to themselves: “This changed me to the core.” And that is what they are counting on. That the drowned ones, the drowned stay drowned. That no one ever emerges and says: “Okay, I still have strength. Okay, I know who you are, I will sue you, this can’t be! We also have equal rights, we also matter.” That is their biggest fear, actually. And that was always their fear. When you drown people, you’re taking them hostage. Their core and their belief in themselves will be removed. It is constantly, actively being removed.
What is freedom for me?To me, freedom, me as an individual, basically means that most importantly I have a certain authority over myself. Of course, I won’t kill anyone. Of course I won’t kill off someone’s chickens in their yard and so on. A person gives themselves the permission, and you have to be in touch with yourself and cherish your own life. If you cherish your life you cherish someone else’s. I feel that with that kind of freedom, the feeling of that freedom, I can do anything. I have a feeling that life is worth living. I have a feeling that life is worth sharing with someone, communicating with people, I simply feel that whatever I want, I can have it. It isn’t just the freedom I feel, but the freedom of approach. To people and to information. That all of it is somehow fluid. It flows. Of course, if intentions are not bad. I assume that people who have that feeling of freedom can also have bad intentions and get rich over someone else’s back. But, that freedom, that feeling of freedom is very important to me. If it is removed because other people are putting you in such a situation or, in the end, you’re putting yourself in such a situation, it is like you lose both your arms and legs.
I look at life as movement. We are, and everything alive is constantly in movement. That what is dead – does not move anywhere. That mobility, the energy that exists, for it to keep moving it needs something to motivate it. To me, that freedom means not that I can do anything I want, but it also means responsibility, towards myself and others, knowing the full potential of it. I believe that people have be allowed to be creative. They have to be allowed to be curious. They have to be allowed to satisfy those needs, to grow. You grow through having freedom. If you don’t have that freedom, all because your dad thinks you should train football, but you’re actually interested in playing the violin, you’ll never achieve your potential and develop your talent. The development of that brings us that freedom. When a person is at the peak of his work and potential, we feel that freedom. You don’t feel it only when you go to bed and think “Wow, I had a difficult day, I am so tired, but now I’m free and no one is bugging me.”
I think freedom is felt through action. It is felt through contact with people. Through that something it wakes in you when you help someone. It is that complete wave that functions like a spiral, or in a circle.
What guides your life nowadays?
Well, I’m not sure. What guides me in life today is, actually, that I am 43 years old and the realization that I might have done some things differently if I could turn back time. Maybe I would be smarter in doing some things, but I would definitely be doing them. Well, if I’m going to do them anyway, and if I had a whole life ahead of me, some 10, 15, 20 years ahead, however many, I’d have to look at it in a more mature way. You know, before I didn’t really… you just don’t think about dying. Even if you do think about that, it is far away. You know, I, for example, prefer working at night, because the morning always seems so far away. If I work in the morning, and I have some sort of obligation in the afternoon, I’ll constantly look at my watch, because it will end fast. When I was young, I knew I was going to die, but that was somewhere far away, and the morning was 10 hours away. Now I’m aware of the fact that I don’t have all that time. And that I have to use my time and myself in a smart way. I need to feed my resources, spiritually, psychologically, physically and so on. The things I do chose to work on have to be precisely evaluated in terms of time, because I don’t have the time to start on 101 projects at the same time.
The number one thing that guides me is the fact that I know that I can do it. I know that there are different passions, and that maybe those will be satisfied in another life, just like they were in the 5,6 lives before, when a person goes back. But what guides me is, in a way, this stability and insight. I know, I am aware that there is a positive space. That positivity exists. And, instead of following rules set in stone, I carve my own rules. If you’re going to do something, do it right, even when you know that someone can come to you and destroy it all. But, is there another option?
It means that those people around us and that what gives you purpose; working or traveling or only those differences in your own lifetime, I know it’s possible, and it guides me, in general, it is necessary to create your own positive space. In your own bedroom, backyard. It doesn’t have to be a gigantic political impact. I’m satisfied with less, now. Because, having less resources, which can simply disappear, it’s not okay to me. So I am a bit smarter in using the resources at hand. All because I am aware that now I don’t have it… there isn’t an infinite amount of it. Every person I meet, or see on the streets, who has that positive side and openness is a connection with the whole humanity and a guide.
That is my greatest guide. When you know that you’re not alone. You know that there are people just like you.
You know that life is shot. And what about all those stories about the purpose of life? You know, the purpose of life is whatever you make with that purpose. How can I know if it is the correct purpose or not? But you know, somehow I feel like a guest on this planet. I don’t want to destroy anything, I don’t want to ruin anything. I think that the Earth as it is has her own agenda, and beautiful places we need to visit to even be able to say: “Yeah, I lived on this planet.” Not like some Bosnian woman, not like some specific identity that I didn’t even chose for myself, but the other ones, the ones that I did chose on a greater level. Having an access to that is my guide. That approach, the positivity, for which in fact I know exists. We have to nurture it a little bit more.