Transcript of interview, Queer Archive, 2017
I was born in 1975 and I live in Sarajevo. My mom is from Sarajevo, my dad is from Višegrad. I’m the fourth generation of known feminists in the family. I am very proud of our history and of contributions of my deceased grandma, who during the Second World War taught women how to read and write in Sarajevo. My mom was a feminist her whole life. Dad comes from, let’s say, a little more conservative family, a family that has nurtured and that still honors honesty before all, to this day. Honesty and family love, caring for children and caring for others are values nourished in our family and I think the two of them were a phenomenal couple in that sense. I am a child of a diplomat. My dad was a diplomat. I grew up outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and before the war, in 1990s we were supposed to go to a new mission, together with my father. Unfortunately or fortunately, they postponed their departure to Lebanon, where I sincerely hoped to escape from the former Yugoslavia in the sense that I will be happy again, because I will live outside of a very conservative place. However, due to family reasons we have stayed in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a year. The war was starting and my father fled from the embassy and returned home. I always relate that to my ambitions, because my desire was to be a surgeon, to finish medical school. Those were some dreams I had.
The war started at that moment when my brother…we were having lunch and there was a report on TV from Slovenia, and there was an interview with a JNA soldier who said: “I don’t know at whom I shoot or why I shoot, what’s going on?” My brother was then, maybe 10 years old, he was a little boy and was cutting some bread. I just remember seeing his face -he paused, frowned, looked at the television and kind of nodded his head, and then he saw that I was watching him and he smiled at me. I think that at that moment the war started in my head. Before that, it was funny to me all that was happening with all that shortage: there was no fuel, mom went to buy some fish, cans, to put it in that couch that was collapsible; then there was this big storage space, we had some soups there. And my dad was not here. He was in Lebanon at the embassy. We were somehow like, levitating all over the place in that process, I don’t know, until one day my father returned. He started talking about some of the tanks he saw by the way. Some demonstrations started. I was first or second grade of high school, I can’t remember. In 1992 there were demonstrations in Sarajevo. We have been demonstrating in Zenica, demonstrations started from me, from my high school team. We went out into the streets, so others joined us: the labor unions, workers – the school wanted to shut us up, so they wouldn’t let us go out. But we really wanted to be there.
The shootings started, not in Zenica, but in Sarajevo. We were terrified. And maybe a month after that, stories began reaching to us…terrible stories from Eastern Bosnia, stories that made my father grow old, like for at least fifteen years, in these few months. Fear. And then one day, you simply realize that you are in the war, some people go to the army, some mobilizations are happening, something terrible is going on, some refugees are coming, some planes are flying over you, some bombs are falling, some grenades, all that something…and then you realize – the war started in your small village. I think we were all running away from reality during the war, trying to stay normal and stay mentally healthy. Each of us found his or her shelter in different ways. Some people read religious books, some started drinking heavily, some began to use drugs, some really made problems and some ran away. Everyone in their own way tried to cope with these things.
I came across different people at different moments, which in those particular times meant a lot to me. One thing that is different for the period of war than the peace period is that you are thinking in the short-term during the war. So, you live every moment, and you live every encounter with that person to the fullest. You spend the maximum time you have, because you don’t know if you will be able to get close to each other tomorrow, again. I read Hobbit and Tolkien during the war. I learned English. I already knew French, but I didn’t know English, so I spoke English with French accent. I started reading a lot. I read a lot. I read all religious books. And then later, you meet some other people who come to your life and you learn from them certain things and you are being supportive, you are being mutually supportive. Every given moment, there was a person who meant something to me, in that period.
And what kept you sane, what gave you strength in that period?
Arrogance! I was so arrogant, that it was horrible. Arrogance and helplessness, which then turned to anger. They always used to tell me I was like hurricane. When I pass by I don’t make any problems…but, you know, people feel this energy. Being closed was killing me, it was terrible. Yeah, that…it was all coming out of me, some anger, inner anger… “What’s going on?! Who’s banning you from walking?” I have to walk. There is no freedom, no air, you can’t breathe. I mean, you live in some two square kilometers and that’s terrible. You have no electricity, you have no water…you don’t know if they will shoot again, every time there was shooting, someone was dead. And there were massive shootings, grenades would appear from nowhere, massacres are happening, and so on … and other people are coming back in coffins, the ones who went to the battlefield. Lots of things are happening. A lot of people with different social backgrounds are mingling. There are no longer those social norms that existed, the one that was a criminal – it didn’t matter if he was a criminal anymore, he’s trying to do something in given circumstances. I used to hang out with people with whom I would never sit for a coffee in today’s circumstances, for example, but they were great friends. Social differences were completely eliminated, and it was only important to remain as normal as possible.
Did you know some people who were LGBTIQs, then?
I didn’t. Later, when my mother took me to Medica, because I was really depressed, I tried to find my space somewhere. And Medica was… In 1993, Monika Hauser came. My mom was in that circle of women who provided support; she was as a pediatrician, because there were a lot of women who were…surviving rape, war rape. They came with kids; my mom was around those kids, trying to do her job. And she brought me there to see if I’m going to fit in. And I did. And there, since that moment I actually stayed there until today, in this feminist circle or movement. And there I met women who were openly gay, openly lesbians who had either marital or love relationships, and so forth. And we were always joking, “She is a lesbian, and she is – she is normal.” Somehow it has become normal. You see, everything you were told was wrong, now you see it here, you sit with them, drink coffee, hang around you’re feeling great, and you don’t even care who sleeps with who. People think I’m the dominant female, alpha female, and that I’m not sure about my sexuality. And I wasn’t, until some series of moments in life happened. It was very difficult for me to establish, to have a normal heterosexual relationship. As a strong, dominant woman, it is very hard for me to find a partner, and even today I find it hard to find a male partner who will be able to support me and accept me as I am. For some time I thought maybe a woman could satisfy my sexual appetites and my emotional appetites. And I tried to have a relationship with a woman who was madly in love with me, it was crazy. And, we were very good friends, everything was wonderful, but simply, it didn’t work.
And, I think… that two things have played a key role, or three things. It was the first feminist school, in Bečej, in Novi Bečej, I think in 1997, when we talked about whether we had… have we ever seen our vagina. So then you say, “Hmm, I’ve been a nurse my whole life, and I know how to draw it, and I’ve never seen my vagina ever”, so you start there. So, then you say it’s a prerequisite for a stable society – a stable female orgasm, as a part of woman’s sexual satisfaction. And you start observing that stand point. Or when they ask you “What is your gender identity?” I am a feminist. Now, I cannot say that I am female or male or queer, I don’t know what that is. I am a feminist, and that’s it. Even in our circles, sexuality and sexual pleasure are taboo, that is my feeling. We always tend to please ourselves, and others, our partners. No matter what, we keep failing to devote to ourselves, to our inner selves, and to really be self-confident. I think this is the biggest problem, for all of us. Trying to talk about our sexualities, we are trying to please some kind of social norms. We are not talking about ourselves or about our needs. I’ve had my first orgasm at the age of 23. I met women who had never experienced an orgasm, a woman at the age of 28 and so on. I met women who do not talk about sex openly. Well, whatever that sex was, they don’t talk about it at all. They are not talking about their needs. They don’t talk about what they like, what they don’t like. All of this is considered taboo, as we consider our body taboo. And it hurts me. Because I think we are constantly dissatisfied. And if we’re unhappy, if there’s no good quality orgasm, then there can’t be a good quality society. I really mean that.
When was the war over for you? Is there any moment, thought, event, memory?
The war for me has not ended yet. And even today I fall into some kind of melancholic moments and I make a list of things I need to have in the house, in case the war starts again. And I end up with a couple of pages. “You need to buy…a good stove, you know, the one where you can cook on top but also one that has oven; make sure to have a good pot, that’s the easiest way to cook when you have a good pot…” and so on. I don’t believe the war will ever end. In my head it is still not finished.
And did peace start, and how did it start?
Did it start…? I think… I don’t know if peace started.
What would be peace for you?
Freedom for sure, possibilities… Lack of fear, no fear. The idea that everything is organized, in order, and that you have options there, you have opportunities. You can come in, you can get out. It could be a concept of peace, which I just cannot even imagine, nor do I… I don’t know if I remember it, at all.
Had some beliefs in your family changed compared to the pre-war period? Has your family become more opened or closed for diversity?
Well, I do not know. I mean, my mom wrote about the sexual identity in 80s, she did a master thesis on humanization of the relationship between the sexes. This subject on sexual and gender identity has always been present in our family. Mom worked on it, and we all had to read, scramble, pick up her notes, slice pictures and so on. Nationality wise – I find it funny. We always went at aunt Milica’s for Christmas, we knew when and where you go for Eid holidays, what’s being cooked for Eid, who do you call and when do you call. What we tried to preserve, and I believe that we have kept it until today – that is honesty in the family. And love for your neighbor, if I can put it that way, love for those people that make your family, your community. Love for friends, unconditional support, unconditional love. Attitudes have not changed; they remained the same as they once were.
Did the end of the war help you get more open to yourself and to others?
I’ve been travelling during the whole wartime. I have been on the whole free territory of Bosnia, I think, many times. I was in Croatia in 1994. In 1995 I was in Germany. When we wanted to go back, they didn’t want to let us on the plane, because I don’t know, that day some visa expired, so the next day we went to extend the German visa, it was a whole drama. And the woman in that office for foreigners weeps and begs us – me and my colleague to stay in Germany; and we weep because we want to go home. And today, when we remember that – what fools we were, I mean… you go there, you realize that no one knows what’s happening to you, and you want home, because at home everyone knows what’s going on.
Once women from the village told me that human rights are for women from town, and that they don’t have human rights. And I also think so, that human rights and the whole narrative on human rights can be discussed here in big cities, like Sarajevo, and any mentioning of human rights in smaller communities – people just smile at you and say, “It does not exist here.” Simply, here you have to play according to some social norms. It hurts me, because human rights should be the same for all, equal opportunities for all should exist.
What does freedom mean to me?
For me, freedom is the ultimate power one can have. So, being free is the greatest power, the greatest fortune, the greatest magic one can have. I don’t think we are free at all here. At the age of 42, I realized that as the oldest child in my family I was responsible for my parents, and I’d be selfish if I was not responsible for my parents, and somehow for my sister, and my brother. Regardless to everything said here, let’s say, we are saying we are modern, open minded and such; these are not conservative attitudes, I believe that these are human attitudes – that there is no greater love than the love that exists in one…stable and happy community. And that my role is to bear it…it is not a burden, but… part of the responsibility for that love and support in my family exists.