I was born in Sarajevo, then the civil war started in 1992 and we moved away. I may have seemed too young to remember, but I remember everything from that era quite vividly: my old house and how I would swing side to side looking through the fence just to make the view appear hazy, the smell of Turkish coffee, the day I went to play with my chicken friend only to discover my grandma turned into chicken soup, the heartbreak that followed, walks and picking up flowers in forests and on valleys with my mom, songs my dad would sing, the day my cousin and I found a newborn kitten in a trash bin, amongst a batch of dead kittens, and how we ran to my aunt so she would take it out of the bin, years of playing with it, my crush on a local celebrity, trips to the sea, playing under my grandparent’s mulberry tree… It all seems like an intangible dream now, but I’m okay with it.
Three years ago, I started visiting my family there (or actually here, as I am in the Serbian Republic now, still) on a yearly basis. I figure, I should keep my extended family close, especially considering they all were imminently present in my early childhood years, and I do love them dearly. My uncle and his wife gave birth to their first and beautiful child not even two years ago, and it makes me want to visit so much more, as I’d like the kid to grow up knowing who his family overseas is.
However, kind of like the characters from Milan Kundera’s book, ”L’ignorance”, I feel like a stranger every time I step out of the plane into this country, or countries I should say, completely separated and distanced from its common views and mentality. People here may not notice it, as they’re immersed in this lifestyle, but from an outsider’s perspective, bitterness, segregation and complete defeatism reigns. Three nations used to cohabit into this country, a little over two decades ago, Yugoslavia was viewed and used as an example of functioning socialism. Now those three nations stay away as far from each other as they can. Where communism and atheism used to reign and used to be taught almost in unanimity, now mosques and churches are being built, competing with one another. What I’m trying to say is that people suddenly adhered, clinging to religion, as a symbol of their nations. Bosnian muslim women are now wearing hijabs, and more and more arabic sayings are being integrated in their culture, prayer calls are broadcasted on a megaphone across polytheistic towns, etc. On the other hand, Serbs, are of course, adhering to their orthodox christian ways, but in a less obvious manner to the observant eye. The omnipresent islam reminders make serbs feel and speak passively aggressively. Live and let live is the motto, except the talk here falls in two periods (Pre and Post War) and often, sentences are begun with “before the war”.
The elections are coming here, and besides political parties sending cars on the street to broadcast a brainwashing message on repeat on speakers across towns, television adds are also broadcasted, like anywhere else in the world. I was reading a book on my kindle, so I ignore exactly what party it was, or what preceded it but the add ended with the words ”Serbian house next to serbian house”. It outraged me that such obvious segregation would be broadcasted on a channel that Croats and Muslims watch as well. My aunt defended the message, seeing nothing wrong with it. I gave up right then and there.
To be quite honest, of course, as any human, I sit here, regarding the events with judgement, but I’m also mainly regarding it with sadness. I wish that I could discuss evolution, without being automatically persecuted. Yesterday my aunt had the audacity to call evolution by natural selection a fairytale. The disillusionment and the conviction that biblical teachings are some sort of a fact and that Darwin spoke bullshit gets me to completely give up on trying to converse or even LAUGH at it. I often take humanism and atheism for granted, as most people I surround myself with share my views, or at least are open to them. It’s when I travel here that I feel like I’ve traveled back in time. I could not care less if you think you need god in your life, I’m a firm atheist, but to each their own. However I do care when your biblical god is the only god there is, end of story, because that is precisely what is wrong with religious views. I don’t know if I should blame them, the situation comes with complex history that is hard to let go of. I think people here are defeated, rebuilding a society from scratch, on grounds that a whole lot of people have now deserted, the economical situation is terrible now, and the government is not really doing much for the people. People are frustrated, for instance, my aunt, who was a lawyer, now retired gets barely any money. To be a Doctor or to be a bartender equals to one and the same in the end. Also, them rejecting, or actually mocking the theory of evolution for example, or other ”facts” that would appear as common sense to me, has nothing to do with them not being aware of it, as mentioned, evolution was taught and ”praised” in schools. I believe it is done with a deeper motive, the motive to preserve some sort of identity, which unfortunately here, in the current times can only be found in the adherence to a specific religion.
But still, when I walk these streets and see buildings still in ruins, and hear the same old ancient talks, notice people struggling to get a paycheck, let alone a pension, a part of that memory of a peaceful and happy era in a prosper little country, that is not even on the map of the world anymore, and a little kid playing under that old mulberry tree dies, but only a little.