No Broken Bones, Only Shattered Reality

Article excerpt

War in the Balkans is different from its more civilized form in the West. There, no rational explanation for the war exists, nor is it expected--it is genetic. I say that it is genetic because it feels as if the moment you are born, you already know the enemy. This enemy is hated with a hate that is 600 years old. It is deep, and it runs through the veins. Again, it is not rational, it is emotional, and once it reaches this level it becomes personal within each individual. It is a collective history, a collective memory, a collective hate and fear.

I come from a country, from an idea, that no longer exists. As a child growing up under the last remnants of the communist regime in Yugoslavia, I was educated to respect every person in the country, and so I never saw the difference in nationality between my friends. Or if I did see it, I was not bothered by it. I was brought up to believe that all the people of Yugoslavia are brothers and sisters.

As a child, the war to me was not about Serbs, Croats and Muslims, nor was it about nationalism and pride; it was about death. It was about my neighbors being called into the army and going off to fight. I did not understand what the fight was about, and as a child, the only thing I could do was look to adults for guidance. Their minds were made up: "A Greater Serbia is our right, our destiny. The Serbs had waited too long to regain what was once theirs." I still did not understand it, and to this day, I am considered naive and foolish for thinking that Yugoslavia was ever a real entity. So in a sense, I come from a place that never really existed. It was an illusion, a break with the usual pattern in a history full of warfare, bloodshed, honor and religion. That is who we are--we are a people mentally implanted in an era of kings and sultans, fighting off the enemy and dearly preserving what is ours.

I do not mean to insult people from the Balkans for their beliefs. Their fears and their dreams are real. I feel them too, but I am different, because I want to break with the past. I do not believe that we should educate our kids to hate Albanian kids, or vice versa. My allegiances are not to the past, but to the future. Sadly, because of my beliefs I am considered an outsider, a traitor, and just like Yugoslavia, I am torn. Neither one of us will ever be put back together or function quite the same.

My pain is threefold. First, I am seen as a traitor to my friends and family for leaving Yugoslavia during the war and wanting to break with the tradition of hate and fear. Second, I am seen as a traitor here in the United States because I did not want Yugoslavia to be bombed by NATO. Lastly, I am a traitor to my own beliefs because I have not been able to stand up for myself and defend what I think is right. I am torn and pulled in a million different directions, and each step I take seems to land on top of someone else's toes. It has not been easy, and the feelings of confusion, guilt and betrayal are emotions I deal with on a daily basis.

My mother and I left Yugoslavia during height of the war in 1994, and we settled in a small town in Indiana, where I knew no one and understood nothing. I was depressed to the point where I would throw up food immediately after I was done eating it--right back onto the plate. I missed Yugoslavia with every breath I took. To this day, I miss my home and my streets, my music and my food, my people and my language, and my sun that shone only for us. I remember everything, and I fight to preserve the images, the smells and the feelings from fading.

However, even though I share the pain of my people, and even though I drop to my knees in tears whenever I hear a good song on one of my old cassette tapes, my-people back in Yugoslavia no longer feel the same for me. …