It’s a mighty strange feeling returning to the place where I was born. It’s the small town of Višegrad in the Eastern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, positioned among the dark green river Drina, where in 1988 I took my first breath. Four years later with the outbreak of the war (aggression & civil war?) in Bosnia and Hercegovina my family and I got displaced, and via a short stop in Turkey we ended up in Belgium (Antwerp). Since then I have never returned to the town. Maybe because of fear of my parents, maybe because of disinterest, maybe because of …
My memories of this town were always very vague. I thought I remembered some places there, but it could have been informed by my parents stories about the place. It was sort of a mythical creature living in the back of my head. It’s not that I really identified with the town so much, but it remained this place of remembrance.
Yesterday (14th july) I eventually got the opportunity to visit my birthplace. It was in association with some other people that wanted to visit the place that I decided to join. Not because otherwise I wouldn’t visit it – it was part of my plan during my stay here in Sarajevo anyway – but because it was convenient.
Pionirska kuća, a place of horror where 70 people were burned alive. Photo by Jasmin Tabaković, 14 July 2015.
Arrived there we were shown places of deep pain by an activist that happens to be the niece of my father. I have never met this woman, or at least not since 92, but I knew about her work via the magical world of the internet and by stories of my parents. It’s a long story to fully explain everything we did, but the main activity was visiting two horryfying places where people were burned alive and raped, and also the graveyard where she and others put up a memorial for the killed and disappeared people of Višegrad.
The memorial is a fascinating story in and of itself because on the stone pillar originally the word genocide was part of the carved text. Thinking in ‘constitutive people/ethnonationalist’ lines it were Serbs who carved it away, and than it were Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims – not exactly correct) who wrote it back on. This back and forth movement has been going on for some time as is witnessed by looking at the stone.
The contested genocide memorial on the graveyard where many of the Bosnian Muslim casualties lay. Photo by Jasmin Tabaković, 14 July 2015.
What/where is ‘home’?
For a long time now I’ve found the concept of home fascinating. When people ask me where my home is, or how I identify, I mostly have to curve into some acrobatic positions to explain that in essence I don’t have an answer to this question. I mostly answer by a deconstructivist act. By referring to the absurdities of belongings based on ethnonational lines (I know that the term ethnonationalism is problematic of itself, but that’s for another time). Such negative answers have driven me to a position of groundlessness. I came to such a point as to question almost everything. One might say that I experienced ‘depersonalisation’, ‘derrealization’, or ‘dissociation’, to borrow some terms from the psychiatric jargon.
By visiting Srebrenica and the memorial centre two times shortly after each other a week or so ago, and by now going to Višegrad, my idea of home has been even more problematised. In Srebrenica the only thing that ran through my mind, as I tried to calm my tears, was a feeling of senselessness. The feeling was so strong at that point that it really made me hopeless for any better future. In Višegrad the tears were strongly diminished but again this feeling of it all having no sense hit me.
Taking some days to reflect on these experiences has done me well. The initial emotional overflow has slowly moved away, and instead now I’m experiencing a strong sense of identification with combating injustice. This idea has informed a larger part of my life, but throughout the recent experiences I came to realise that it truly is a major part of how I perceive myself. Making sense of pain-as-being seems an interesting position to live and think from when also trying to elaborate on life in so-called post-war situations; i.e. grasping crises as context instead of crises in context.
If I could define home in a raw way it would relate to emotional states that are not fully disconnected from physical places. It would lean on a kind of bricolage idea of identification, in other words, a fluidity of a bit of this and a bit of that.