Reflection on the identity – who am I and what determines me

I am one of those nervous ones. Or sensitive ones. Or both. To such an extent that sometimes I am even annoyed by things that others do not even notice. I wonder about myself sometimes, as well. In the past, I used to be annoyed by the statement that nothing was black or white. I somehow saw it as a phrase used when one wanted to say something without actually saying anything meaningful. And usually one is annoyed by exactly something like that, it hurts somehow. Today, I know that there are lives that prove that nothing is black or white. Well, maybe this is not the best way to present myself to someone. I was born in Sarajevo, but I was growing up and became a person in many places. Not that much in numbers as in the context of the fact that it all happened in 28 years. I lived in Sarajevo, Gračanica, Prnjavor, Stara Pazova, Novi Sad, and then again Sarajevo. So, it is not easy when I am asked where I am from. Because, is a person from the place they grew up in or the place where they spent their childhood? Or the place where one spent their formative years? Or where one started their career? Or the place one currently lives in? And what happens, if one spends half a month in Sarajevo and half a month in Stara Pazova? Or is one from the place they had to flee, because the war started? And what if one fled several times? In addition to the fact that nothing is black or white, I know how a person feels when struggling with unresolved identity issues. I know how I feel. And as if this were not enough, new identity issues come up. Having lived in Serbia and returned to Sarajevo, one of my key identity issues also became the issue of language. I had various life phases and transformations, from the protagonist who knew all epic folk songs to the person that did not care much about the national identity, because it cannot be eaten and only constitutes a made-up social construct. However, my return or arrival to Sarajevo, depending on how I interpret this, was transformative in such a way that I understood that the issues that limited or marked me were sensitive issues that were becoming important for me. Namely, since I have an Ekavian dialect and feel that the language I speak is my natural one, although both of my parents still have an Ijekavian dialect. I can also use the Ijekavian dialect, but I have the feeling that I am joking. Only after having arrived to Sarajevo, and having started to talk aloud there, I felt that people saw me as a person who is temporarily staying in my city or something that should be my city, and I understood how important and sensitive identity was. And how important language as part of the identity was, not just as a means of understanding. I truly believe that BCS language/s that we speak are actually a single language and that is also how we understand one another. I believe that the division of the language is a political one. Just as the issue of use of a gender-sensitive language is a sensitive political issue, an issue of power relations, rather than spelling rules. However, a language is not just that. It is also a means of identification and influences how others see us. It does not matter who are the first and the second ones in a given moment. Roles are different in different places, behaviour matrices are similar. I know what it is like to be a first-grade student at a primary school in Serbia, among one’s peers, in a period when the most important thing in the world is to fit in and belong somewhere, and children make fun of one and tell one that something one said was wrong or that the way one talks is funny. And one goes home confused, because everyone there talks like that, and on the other hand, one would like to talk like one’s friends. I cannot say that I felt like a victim, because I was not a victim. A victim would be passive and wait for the destiny to resolve the issue. I was not like that. But I did feel denuded and exposed, sometimes ready to confront people, explain and listen about this topic. Sometimes I would decide that it was easier to withdraw, to save my personal energy for things that were important to me. And sometimes I tried to explain to myself why that issue was so important for me and how come it suddenly became important. While today ”important political issues” are resolved, discussions are held about whose truth about the past is the actual one, what the actual history is, while we live in the post-war peace, because the arms were put down, what happens with people, who deals with them in a way that does not treat people as mere numbers, statistics or a herd of a politician? Who asks how we feel when everything is turned in a political issue, when we are only a number in some national statistics, when we are only we or them. Ours or theirs. What should I tell you about a childhood wasted in a war, about a life without a childhood? What should I tell about what it was like to be a refugee child in a country in which other children do understand one, but one still does not speak like them… Great political stories do not include small human lives or the feeling of not belonging somewhere. I am not one of those persons that believe that a difficult life experience is a pre-requisite for a catharsis or that a great suffering creates a great personality. Not only do I not believe, I refuse to believe and that is my political decision. A question of choice. One of the reasons why I refuse to believe is the fact that in the former Yugoslavia, almost everyone has their personal suffering and traumas from a violent past, but I do not see us being great, great in solidarity. Given the fact that we have not become great in solidarity and that suffering has not made us better persons, I believe that it is my duty to say it out aloud, in order to leave a better society behind for the next generations. And to be honest, I do not have this wish only because of young people or children, I also have a right to a life in a different context. It is not always up to others, it is up to us. It is not selfish, it is honest and resulting from the wish to take responsibility for my life and my place in it. It is coping. My coping.


Nataša Okilj holds an MA degree in Sociology from Novi Sad. A woman with many addresses. A feminist, peace activist, passionate about left-wing ideologies, but equally passionate when it comes to criticising them. In love with the social change for the purpose of a better and fairer world. As regards her professional career, she focuses on gender equality, human rights and peace building. She is a regular columnist of the Urban magazine. A chess player. A daughter and sister. E-mail: