Audio interview transcript:
QA: Good afternoon.
She: Good afternoon.
QA: Can you tell me when you were born and where you grew up?
She: I was born, grew up and have been stuck in Sarajevo ever since. All these years.
QA: Can you tell me about your childhood? Do you have some happy memories that you’d like to tell?
She: Happy memories? When I was growing up I was the only girl in the street and in that time to be part of the “raja” (cool person/s, or the specific circle of people one hangs out with and respects) meant you had to prove yourself. One of the challenges was to climb a tree. Nobody had ever told me that I was unable to do something because I am a girl so I then also thought it normal to climb that tree. It took time, it was painful, it took about four days of climbing up and falling down. I had been coming home with trousers full of leaves but on the fifth day I climbed up! I definitely got accepted in raja as their equal. Alongside the feelings of belonging and pride I had felt, one of the consequences of that experience was that by coming to elementary school I didn’t know any of the games for girls, but I did have the best slingshot and tube we used to use for shooting. (laughter) There you have it.
QA: Great. Let’s talk about the concept of a community. By this example you’ve just shared, you wanted to be part of the community. Can you tell me what the community means for you? Did it change from childhood to growing up, or before and during the war, after and now…
She: Community? Community of like minded people, LGBT, women, what kind of a community?
QA: You get to define what a community means from your perspective.
She: A group of people who are not me. And they give you safety, or let you know that you can count on them if you need something. That’s how I’d define a community.
QA: Can you tell me who belonged to your community? We’re a bit older, so we remember the time before the war. Did that concept change before and after the war and to what extent?
She: Before the war, you had “raja” in Sarajevo, as the broadest concept of the community and belonging. You’re either raja or not. You’re either an asshole or raja. So that community would set the norm and etiquette, sometimes positive or negative, it varied. But the core, or one part of Sarajevan raja was, so to speak, a brand that was desirable. On the other hand, when I was growing up, in my generation our groups were based on the music we listened to in different places we were going out to. So I had these transitions, like, ultra flower child, woodstock, hippy variations. And that crew would gather around Skenderija in Kaktus… And then later I was under romanticism, then Cenga so I would all dress up, fluffy style… and then punk period came, hooks and so on… But, before the war it was mostly the music that set the community, and of course, the entire culture along with it.
During the war it was the nearest and the closest, so it was almost by default that we spent time with our neighbors, whom we only sometimes had greeted before, I mean, they had been imposed. So what was really wonderful and what I remember with love when it comes to the war, no matter how silly this might sound, was the first war summer in Sarajevo and up until the first winter. That period impelled people to do their best, the best emerged from within. I remember the support, as we all had the same fear and that’s what set the norm, it determined us as a community. You know, strangers coming and dictating to us what we can and cannot do, if we’re good or not, and we are like… (silence). And that period showed what solidarity can really do and that you don’t always have to be on your own. I am not someone who runs away from loneliness, but in those radical conditions like war, being alone is not the best option and I think it was because of the solidarity and that strong brand of the neighborhood in our group, no one had ever felt alone. So, it’s that part that… I remember that part of the communality and of the war with a smile, but after the war it was the job, the work place that determined the community to great extent, the colleagues you hang out with. To make it clear, this community of ours did not exist in my perception. Even today I don’t think it exists, as I envision it, unfortunately, it’s not something that was worked on continually. The work done was ad hoc, occasional, project-based, it wasn’t through the purest activism. That’s what’s missing, I think. But currently, my community are my friends, mostly women, a couple of male friends, and, let’s say, we’re connected by our antifascism, age, and memories of Tito. So those values are the baseline that I find important.
QA: Do you feel supported and safe right now in your community?
QA: And what do you need to feel safe?
She: Well, it depends on the phases that have changed throughout my life. I don’t need anything right now. At this point I am in absolute peace with myself. When it comes to me alone. And whether I will be liked by you or not, uhm, is not something that I’m anxious about. I simply lost that need to be liked, to be accepted. I am what I am and then I somehow attract similar people. And regarding the feeling of some support, uhm, let’s see. There is this Corona now and all the nonsense. We are somehow a group that’s not scared to death. Of course we all wash our hands, and we’ve always washed our hands and I don’t know, but we don’t watch the news 24/7, we don’t live in fear, we don’t have that, uh… I don’t need support but I’m comfortable among like-minded people.
QA: Can we now look back at your developmental path, can you tell me a little bit about the process of discovering your sexuality, sexual orientation and gender?
She: I am someone who grew up without the internet. And the first thing I remember were the terrible tears because my official best friend was not with us for our vacation at the seaside. It went to the extent that our parents had agreed to take us to the sea together next year. Because I had literally been crying the entire time, the first time I had been separated from her. We lived very close and we were just like that… Now, from this point I know that I was attracted to her, but then again she was my best friend and I didn’t have any other parameters to… I mean, this was first grade, primary school. Then, as I said, I grew up surrounded by men and it always suited me. I felt somehow safe among them. There was this situation at the end of our primary school year, this boy who was everybody’s favorite at school fell in love with me. I was seventh, he was eighth grade and all the girls were crazy about him. I felt it was like an attack. It’s not panic, but something along the lines, don’t spoil our hang out time, you’re spoiling it, it’s not it. And I didn’t really deal with it much then, until… Well, it was important for me to have my raja, that we go out and have a good time. At one point I was going out with eleven men, I mean, they weren’t my dates or anything, they were my raja. And those were some fine years. Back then I didn’t fancy anyone to the extent to say I have a crush or something, but I did feel different… I didn’t know how to define it…until the moment it was 1994, when I was working for an international organization and we had received media digest from Zagreb and Belgrade and it was then and there that I read about the work of Labris. I had a phone on my desk. There were no phone lines with Sarajevo, like regular ones, but we had satellite phones in our office, so I rang Labris. At first, they couldn’t believe I was calling from Sarajevo, and then I said that I would like to talk to someone. It was more of an instinct. I don’t know how to describe it better. Until that moment, I had never before identified myself other than a woman, a girl. And they were really… It was amazing, we had been talking for two and a half hours and then I realized that I was not alone, who I felt to be and that I was not sick. (laughing) I never went to visit Labris during my later visits to Belgrade, but when Alex was going there there during his transition at the time, I had told him to kiss each and every one of the women [who were working there], though I doubted they stayed there so long, but still – I was so grateful!
QA: And how did the process look like afterwards with the people around you? Did you feel that kind of acceptance or rejection?
She: Well…. When I came out and came clean with myself I was very young, I mean much younger than now, then I had that need to hide it. Afterwards, when I accepted myself, I felt the need to tell everyone. Now I don’t care. The process was moving in waves. What played a big role for that feeling of safety, like, this-is-okay-kind-of-feeling were the parties that Svetlana and the team used to organize, so one would go to these parties in Fis and all. Um, it was like, you know, a must! No, I never found a partner at the party, but I guess I needed to be a part of it, I needed not to be alone. Well, when I finally realized my love for a woman, she was a foreigner and that opened up all the possible new worlds you kind of feel are there somewhere… but then I actually knew one hundred percent, I could look myself in the mirror and say: Yes, I’m a lesbian. Fuck it, that’s how it is.
On the other hand, all my life I had the desire to be a mom. So, one year I told my dad whom I love very much and to whom I am very attached, that I was going to give birth but that I wouldn’t marry. That really hurt him and he reacted badly… So I got married. I mean, even to this day I think I chose the best person possible because we have been friends all along, even after the divorce and to this day. We absolutely agree on parenting methods. But I really tried hard to suppress that part of me and be the best possible wife in line with all hetero norms. Because I had a guilty conscience. But none of us was happy. So we told each other how we felt about being unhappy. I think that the first parenting rule should be: Teach your kids to be happy. And that it matters to them. So, then I had four relationships and each had its new moments. So, here I am. I am in love now. I love and I am loved and I enjoy it.
QA: She, I’ve known about your activism ever since we’ve met. So can you tell me something about your activism, resistance, solidarity before and now and what has changed? What is your opinion on the general situation of our state, is there any hope of change?
She: The situation in this state is, well… I know each and every face…no matter the cause that connects people, be it children with disabilities, I am naming topics that are relevant to me and that can get me out to the streets and react. So, be it gay population, animal rights, women in general… About 200 of us know each other’s faces, at least we nod our heads to acknowledge each other on the street when we meet, and that’s it. What I am fascinated by, at least on social media and when people write to me, is this high level of fear. I just can’t understand all those reasons for fear… I get it, existential, these, those, but like, we’re all like-minded. Like, we sometimes say something, do something, but others remain silent. When we had JMBG protests I was so proud of people protesting for an unknown baby, which means they had felt the emotion and it got them out to the streets. I think all these years of fear that the nationalist parties are promoting, they’re enjoying our fear of others and that’s the main narrative. The other is not good. They manage to keep the status quo and nothing changes. I live for the day when all these who think alike become equally loud in verbalizing and voicing what they feel, think. And activism, well… Look, I don’t have any fear in my genetic code but the fear for my children and even there I only feel love. At least I think I don’t have fear. But not acting, not reacting to things you don’t like to me is equal to accepting those things. So then we have a case of a kid who throws a bag of puppies into the river somewhere in Cazin, just for the fun of it. That’s scary. You know, that’s the indicator of what’s wrong in that family, in that school, in that community, and not responding to that…Though in law silence means refusal, silence does not constitute acceptance, in Roman law, in general law. But in life, not reacting, absence of a reaction is acceptance of such fenomena. Queer Sarajevo Festival 2008. A woman was beaten, the woman who was the last person to be beaten. A straight woman who supports and believes that all people are equal. I jumped on some wahhabis because I… I’ve been wanting to see that girl ever since. That was my trigger to make more noise. Actually, there are two things about QSF that I am still strongly triggered by. The first situation is when I was coming out from the Academy [of Fine Arts], so we’re passing next to the wehabbi cordon and the special police forces are there, but just standing. It was evident they had orders not to act. A girl with a bandana on her head was walking in front of me. She was 16, 17 years old, not more. She had some skull imprints on her clothes. The guy she had passed by kicked her on her back with his leg. She just put her hands into her pockets, lowered her head and moved on. She didn’t turn around. Now, whas it the mother in me that spoke, or a woman, or whatever… I just jumped on him, try it with me, you motherfucker. And that bearded guy started running away from me. My boss from Banja Luka was there, she came to support one of our colleagues who was part of the exhibition. Of course she was terrified. So, now, I’m trying to protect her though I initially wanted to chase that kid to ask her “Who told you it was okay to be beaten and you don’t even turn around to see his face?”. So I got mad. I really did. And afterwards, I guess some journalists had filmed it, Nova TV from Zagreb and they played the video on the news. I was in the hospital, waiting to check up on my friend, and I started getting these text messages, “Your kids should be taken away. You need a good fuck. You should be this, you should be that…” Disgusting, pure disgust that kind of made me angrier and that was when I started being actively involved in community related activism. Until then I was in animal and children protection circles. But this specific work, LGBTI, this acronym, well, in 2008.
QA: What has changed and in which direction in terms of the LGBTI community since QSF until the present day?
She: First, I don’t see the community as a community at all. I really don’t. I see a lot of small clusters that are divided whether by former ties, mutual crush, or whatever, so… These lobbies and groups that people talk about do not exist. That’s one thing. Another thing is…
QA: Can you tell us what has changed?
She: Well, the awareness of young people has changed, which, of course… They have access to the information, what I never had thirty, forty years ago. It’s much faster, less painful, more safe for them to find out who they are, what they are, where things are. They have support, they can get help if they need it. I think that’s wonderful of course. I look at my daughter who at the age of fourteen said who and what she is. And for a while she was so happy and proud that she had finally finished that entire process, it was all she talked about. Then I said at some point: “Child, there are so many parts of you, other identities, other roles, many things. One thing doesn’t determine the total you. As much as you are not exclusively determined by the fact that you are a woman. Or that it’s ok for you to experience yourself as a woman, in a woman’s body. You are also a daughter and a student, I don’t know, tomorrow you will have a specific profession and you are also a neighbor and Sarajevan, and so on. ” We all have one look that is multilayered and it comprises different identities. But when I look at the activism among this youth, I don’t see it the way we used to do it, you know, wholeheartedly. Maybe they just don’t feel the need or maybe they don’t have anyone to guide them. I don’t know what the reason is. But if they don’t see people taking to the streets then how will they decide to go out to the streets? So, yes, I am glad that it’s easier for them today to grow up in this regard, but that’s it’s turning into some activism, well, no, I don’t really see it happening.
QA: Let’s go back now to the current state and context regarding COVID-19. Can you tell me how that changed your life and the lives of your loved ones?
She: Well, let’s say in that first wave, I walked around as proud as a peacock, Honestly, it was because on the first day of age-based lockdown on people over 65, my daughter visited the whole neighborhood on her own, without anyone telling her what she should do. She made a list of their needs, giving out her phone number, and she was going shopping… She was there for everyone because she was in that age group that could move. So that’s what I remember from the first wave, just as I remember that when it had all started I was at my friend’s place in her summer house, I was sowing for the first time and digging the ground with a friend. We were making our own food, so we were developing these… I mean, in general I’m not a person who is subject to fear and now to imagine myself sitting at home and being in constant panic if I’d get infected… I’d probably die of stress, that’s who I am. So, that’s about it. I allow myself to think on my own. You know, they say curfew is at 10 PM, so I think to myself, does Covid finish work at 10 or what? Why do we need curfew? It didn’t bring me back to the war. Many of my friends had that feeling of being in the war, but I really didn’t. I was angry, you know. Just tell me I must do something, well, I won’t! That’s how I am, a rebel. I was breaking the curfew on purpose, I’d go out and walk around my building just to show that I can. And something feels good. (laughter) Even as a child when I had a set curfew, I’d always come late, so me and imperatives don’t really go together… And now I am more of a bystander in this second wave, I observe human reactions. I hug. I am someone who loves people terribly and I hug when I meet someone. I guess we had probably formed our own cluster. (laughs) But somehow, I mean, some great things came out of this entire Covid situation. Let’s say, working from home, which for a lot of my friends came out as an option, showed that you don’t have to sit in an office from 9 to 5 and still be very effective. My children really miss school, I mean, real school, not this online nonsense. I see that teachers are not overly happy with that either. So, I observe now, this second wave. I completed one project, all via Zoom. So, we’ve learned something new. We’ve learned to use these platforms. I was using Skype, but now we have Zoom and all these numerous platforms… This too shall pass.
QA: Now, as we’re wrapping up, can you tell me what leads you in life, a thought, an idea or something that you would like to share with others?
She: In some of my darkest days, when I was falling apart, both physically and mentally due to the most miserable love relationship, I was somehow awakened by the sentence: “Someone is praying for what you have at this moment.” And some day, I’m going to make that a tattoo somewhere. We’re not aware of the value of things while we have them. I think focusing on yourself and those closest to you, working on and empowering yourself is the best thing we can do for humanity.
QA: Great. Thank you.
This story is part of a series of personal stories of LBTQ women about relationships, identities, sexuality and gender, feeling of belonging, creativity and work. Persons from the community share their thoughts related to these questions reflecting on the period before, during and after the war, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Initiative supported by Feminist Review Trust Fund.