Transcript of interview, Queer Archive, 2017
Belma, tell me how old you are and where you currently live?
I was born in ’78 and I currently live in Sarajevo. I was born in Sarajevo, but I grew up in Konjic, where I stayed until I turned 18, when I enrolled college in Sarajevo. My mom is from Sarajevo, and my dad is from a small village near Konjic. His family is from Herzegovina, specifically some village near Stolac.
What were the customs, traditions and values that were passed down from generation to generation in your family?
Well, my parents were communists, but my paternal grandparents were religious, especially my grandfather. However, he never pushed those values onto anyone, but I did learn about Eid through him. In our closer family no one ever celebrated Eid, but we went to visit grandfather and grandmother for those special religious holidays. The ones we did celebrate are: International Women’s Day, Labor Day and New Year’s Eve. Our values were brotherhood and unity, honesty, friendship and so on.
Before the war I had a period of carefree childhood. What I really wanted in the nineties was to just play the piano. I was finishing the lower musical school. My ambitions were to enroll the musical high school, to be a musician, a pianist.
How old were you then?
I think I was 12 or 13.
What was your life like when the war started? Where were you at the time?
Well, my first memory of war is the memory of attending piano classes. The teacher, professor, turns me back home and tells me that we won’t be having classes for a certain period of time. I go back home. And I see people loading their personal belongings onto trucks. Then they go to their apartments for their furniture, and leave somewhere. I find out that we don’t have school that day, and that everyone has gone somewhere. And yes, I with my family – my mother, father, sister and I – we pack and go to, as well, to the village my father is from. Because we had a summerhouse there. We’re only going there for a few days, until everything blows over. The war in Croatia was already going on for a year. It started almost a year earlier. Regardless, the notion of war was completely unimaginable to my parents. So in the summer of ’91 we went to vacation in Tučepi. That is the Makarska Riviera. We were staying at a hotel where there were some refugees too. I know it was really odd for me. While we would take a walk, around 7 or 8 o’clock, or go for dinner… those people, those refugees would sit inside the hotel, in front of tiny TVs and watch out for what was happening. I had some kind of feeling that something was off, but the war, real war, still didn’t come through to me.
Belma, can you tell me something about the people that were important to you in that period of time? Were there people who were giving you more support and people you could lean on?
Well, there were a few. Those were my friends who stayed at the city of Konjic during the war. I mean, there weren’t a lot of us who were my generation, but there were at least twenty of us. We would meet up in the city, in this basement. The only basement that had electricity, thanks to the fact that the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina had headquarters there. They let us have one cable so we had electricity in that basement. We brought various instruments there, TV sets, video recorders and we spent all our time there, which meant going from one end of the city to the other. Sometimes I would even have to spend the night there. One, or two days. It all depended on how much shooting was there outside and if I could get home. There were my friends. There was the teacher, Nata, and her son Goran, who were our neighbors. They were both teachers of the Serbo-Croatian language, which meant they had a huge house library. They gave me books to read throughout the war. That was kind of great. One of the people who tried to normalize our lives during the war was Biljana. She brought some of us who went to music school together. Around ten of us. During the whole war we had a choir in which we sang, so we carried my piano to various locations for a few of us to play. There were friends who played the accordion, guitar, spoke or wrote poetry. During the second half of war we came together at certain places and kept doing those things. They drove us over to some of the UNPROFOR forces, who were from Malasia, they drove us in those transporters to various locations where we sand and played for them. That meant a lot to me. It gave me a sense of normality. It meant a lot to me at that age because I felt pretty closed up and trapped, especially in those moments when I would fail to go out of my house because shelling started. I really felt trapped. But, those moments gave me a rare sense of freedom. A feeling that I can do something. That I can move around, spend time with people, exchange or create something.
Did you know any other LBT*IQA people back then?
I did not. That didn’t even… there wasn’t even that idea in my head.
How do you identify yourself in regards to your sexual orientation and or gender identity?
I would say that I am fluid, in gender as well as my sexuality. When it comes to sexuality, I’d actually rather say I am pansexual.
When did you start thinking about your sexuality, and what memory reminds you of that? Is there a special person, crush or friend?
I… I think that when I go back to an earliest memory about my sexuality, it goes back to the first year of my life, but I wasn’t, of course as every other child, aware of that. The first memory of me liking someone, as in having a crush, was I think in third grade of elementary school. I really liked my friend Daca. We called him Daca, that was his nickname. He was my first puppy love. My whole life I hadn’t felt accepted nor fitting into certain categories, or groups. I didn’t even know how to articulate that at that point, but for example, I preferred some games with boys rather than with girls. Some of the games the girls were playing were completely uninteresting to me. I mean, I think one of my favorite games was when someone gave me something like a screwdriver or tongs and I would just screw and unscrew things all day.
But there wasn’t any conscious thinking about that. That came when I went to college. Sometime during my studies, I began meeting people who were not like everyone else. Only by leaving Sarajevo and staying in Gratz, Austria, for three years I began to get myself familiar with some wider outlines of freedom concerning gender and sexuality. That is when it all started moving in me, started to open up. And it was growing, and expanding. It started like that, and I began questioning, meeting other people and positioning myself in relation to them. I generally started thinking about those two kinds of identities. Somehow, it was always important to me that I question everything with myself, and when I am comfortable enough with something I don’t feel it difficult to say it to those surrounding me. To the ones surrounding me who are important to me and with who I am in touch.
Belma, when did the war end for you? Is there a certain moment, thought, memory, and did it ever end?
Well, you know what… I think I have this illusion of the war’s end. It is the moment when the Dayton Agreement was signed. A few months, maybe month or two, after that, the road from Konjic to Sarajevo was opened, in the sense that… The Army of Republic of Srpska, Serbian army, or whoever it was, was still at Ilidza, but that road was opened only for two or three hours a day. I had that moment when I remember my mom, dad and me, without my younger sister… we drove through. We had an apartment in Sarajevo from before the war, which some refugees were staying in, for who we later found out were actually our cousins. There was that moment when we were driving through Ilidza, going inside Sarajevo where there were still bags of sand all over the streets, where everything was so destroyed it looked like the military had just left the trenches in the streets five minutes ago. I know that it meant to me that the war was over because I could go somewhere now, I could finally move. Only after some time it started coming back, through politics… there wasn’t shooting but the war was not over.
It wasn’t over in me either. Sometimes I have this feeling of being at peace with myself, everything that happened and that is happening. But it is not a constant state in me. For me, peace is a feeling within, which I finally, long after the war… after so much therapy and working on myself I managed to reveal that it is possible to come to a peace within. But it still isn’t a constant state, I think so… I don’t know, I don’t know. There is so much violence still, around me and inside me. I think that peace is something unknown to me. Something I would love to experience and something I want to live in regardless of the circumstances on the outside. I mean, I want it to be my internal state.
Did some of the convictions in your family, and if they did which ones, change compared to the period after the war? Did it become more open or closed to differences after the war? How did that affect you, or is still affecting you, if it happened?
I don’t know if they became more open or closed. I think I somehow stayed more or less the same, but disappointed. I mean, a lot has changed. My parents were, as I said, real communists. I mean, my mom is still, but it’s the feeling of togetherness before the war and the feeling of brotherhood and unity. That we are all one, that we breathe and work as one. That we love each other and respect each other, where there weren’t… there were differences, but we saw in them something that connected us. Nevertheless, I think my parents were completely lost because of the war itself and the ruin of those values. Really lost. Because they didn’t have any of those collective identities to connect with, and find some kind of support. And me? The war made me stop seeing identity as something set in stone. It made me realize that all these identities – national, religious, all of them, are just constructs and that they are very susceptible to change. And I want to deconstruct every single one of them that is labeled on me from the outside. Also, I want to actually see where I stand in relation to any of those identities.
I don’t really know if I would be questioning all of that if it didn’t happen… if the war didn’t happen and that shock of one system of value and the transition into something without value. I don’t know. I don’t know if that would happen if I didn’t go through war.
Does that mean that the end of war helped you open up to yourself more, and to others?
I don’t know how much, but I think it did. To me It’s like… I think that I had to violently question all those values, constructs and identities. It is like I’m suddenly going to school with some people, I know their names, but I am clueless. I know that this one is blonde. The other one has blue eyes. She likes this, but not in the sense of being divided. I mean the real division began with those nationalistic divisions, where all of a sudden, we are all divided because of our names or religion. But suddenly we are a part of these entities, religions, something. And me… for me that was so violent and pushed on me that it made me question what it all meant. What does it even mean to belong to an ethnic group? What does it mean to be religious? So, I would rather say that I had to question everything in haste and very violently.
How much does war still affect your everyday life?
A lot. I live in a city oozing with war trauma. The whole country is probably that way too. There isn’t a moment that I… it’s like something always reminds you. There are still destroyed buildings here. Pieces of grenades are in those buildings, in children’s games. In the way the children play. The way they still play – shooting at each other! The other day I was watching children play, and one of them was shooting at the other. The other one said: “I have a hard Bosnian head. I don’t need a helmet in war. A bullet can’t do anything to me!” Meaning, the war is still going on here. In other words, the consequences of war are still there.
Belma, was ethnicity ever important to you in choosing your partner?
No, ethnicity never meant anything to me.
How would you describe the period we are in today, regarding human rights, equality and freedom?
I think there is a lot of work to be done. I don’t really think we have freedom. Yes, we don’t, we don’t have human rights. There is some sort of basis, the bare minimum. There is a huge pile of laws that were passed, but implementing them is not going well. What we lack most is education of the people. I think primarily, working on people’s traumas is important. I think the war left an enormous trauma on this society and no one is taking care of it. That just goes on. And you can manipulate using those wounds of trauma. Beginning from the elections to everyday political work there is always and only a manipulation of traumas and turning hate towards someone who is in any way different. When it comes to sexual orientation and gender I think it will take a long, long time.
What is freedom for you?
To me, freedom represents having a constant feeling of peace. That I can create and that I can work. That I can move freely, but not just me, everyone else too. This is a complex question. It is because I feel freedom within but I don’t feel it on the outside. It’s like I feel that on the inside, I am deep and wide. I can go even and wider. And that is so beautiful. I feel great because of that. But when I have to coexist with the outside world, and be accepted the way I am by it, I do not feel free at all. I mean, right now, this is a bug problem for me because violence is constantly in the streets. It’s the fact that I can’t take a walk through this city, from A to B, without having anxiety and fear, which I am not always even aware of. That isn’t freedom for me.
What is your guide in life today, and what do you always go back to?
Well, love guides me through life today. I sort of have a couple of people I understand and who I love. I have a person who I live with, who understands me who I love endlessly and from who I get a lot of understanding and love. I am guided by my inner desire and tendency for personal growth. Somehow, when I go back, I realize I have done many things for myself and worked on myself. I worked for my micro and macro environment in which I live. That is something that fulfills me. That is how I somehow go back – back to myself, and to that which makes me happy. I want to keep on growing.