Notes on nationalism — Being a Yugoslav and Albanian

In late April 1992, my father’s friend Ismet came to Teslic as the war in Bosnia started at the former republic border between Bosnia and Serbia. Eastern Bosnia was among the first main targets for Serb nationalists operating in Bosnia and in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, where the aggression was planned.

In the Serb political- and ethnonationalist ideological framework, Eastern Bosnia with river Drina and the majority Muslim population, was seen as an obstacle “dividing” the Serbs and “preventing” the Serb nation from “uniting” in a larger unit and territory. And the Serb nationalist development did not start with Bosnia and hate against the Bosniacs and Bosnian Muslims, it started mainly with Kosovo and hate against the Albanians.

Ismet did the same thing as many other Albanians in Yugoslavia, mainly living in the Autonomous Province of Kosovo when he was young. He migrated to Bosnia at the beginning of the 1980s in order to find better economic opportunities. Kosovo was the poorest part of Yugoslavia, more tribalist, traditionalist, and collectivist regarding values and behaviors. Also, the medium wage during the 1980s in Kosovo was often 4–5 times lower compared to Slovenia as the richest and most developed republic regarding the quality of life. For Ismet as a young, positive, and more progressive person leaving Kosovo was a solution. He, just as my father, wanted to travel around Yugoslavia, go to rock and roll concerts, and enjoy life.

When he managed to get a job in Teslic at one factory, Ismet met my father, and they became friends very much due to having similar personalities. They found joy and community in drinks, travel, and music as by going to Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Split. After the same time, my father and his other friends who befriended Ismet started calling him “Šok” (Shok) since shok means friend in the Albanian language.

After living in Teslic for four years during 1980–1984, Ismet decided to move back to Kosovo. In 1991, as the war in Yugoslavia was starting in Slovenia and Croatia, Ismet migrated once more to Bosnia to Zvornik, where he had cousins who were able to help him with work at a bakery.

Zvornik is based in North-Eastern Bosnia and in Yugoslavia, the case was often that members from the Albanian community would often help each other regarding work, welfare, and marriage through family and even “clan” connections. Even today in Kosovo, there are problems with blood revenge and distrust for public institions as courts. Also, during the socialist or communist Yugoslavia, Albanians were often seen as second-ranked citizens and often exposed to racist and hateful behaviors.

As the war came to Bosnia and the aggression from the Yugoslav military and Serb nationalist paramilitary started, Ismet decided to move out, and probably escaped from being killed. As a reader, you may wonder why he returned to Teslic and my father since the war started? Why he did not emigrate to, for example, Germany as a refugee. It is because mentally and psychologically, the war did not start immediately for many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During the beginning of April, many people, such as Ismet and my parents, believed that this was just a minor thing, just a temporary event, something that would finish in a couple of weeks or months. A paradox is that many people believed, and many were killed as well, by interpreting the social reality that the Yugoslav army (Yugoslav People’s Army) would protect them as a federal/national institution. Many did not realize, unlike, for example, Noam Chomsky, that the multiethnic and “brotherhood and unity” Yugoslav army already during 1990–91 became controlled by Serb nationalists and individuals sympathetic to their inhumane, brutal, and criminal agenda.

Back in Teslic, Ismet and my father talked about the whole situation. My father told him in a style that the war is here and would not go away in a long time, and that he should leave the town since many of the local Serbs were already getting ready to start the fighting. One important thing to understand about the Bosnian war is that the war started differently at different places and that local levels such as villages, towns, and cities, have different histories regarding “who fought with whom”.

At some places as in Bosanski Brod at the border with Croatia, the war started already at the end of March. While in other places, the war started in April and May. In fact, the Bosnian government under the leadership of Bosniac nationalists, pro-Bosnian Croat nationalists, and progressive politicians as social-democratic ones declared full mobilization in June 1992, almost three months later after the first fightings, crimes, and destruction as in Eastern Bosnia.

One thing I never forget is a discussion between my father and my grandfather when my grandfather stated how Albanians were foreigners while my father reminded him that Albanians already lived in Bosnia as before the Second World War and that, in fact, my grandfather was the one born by parents who came to Bosnia from Montenegro after the First World War.

One funny and absurd thing is that my grandfather who sadly often had problems and hysteria with stories around Kosovo, Albanians, and Serbs is that every time he was in Sarajevo, including as a deputy/parliamentarian from the Serb community within the Bosnian branch of the Community party, he would go and eat ice cream at his favorite ice-cream shop called Egipat (Egypt), owned by one of the oldest Bosnian Albanians families in the city.

In 1992, Ismet decided to leave Bosnia and managed to emigrate to Norway, where he is living with his family and still enjoying drinks, traveling, and music.

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I am active as a social and policy entrepreneur. SEEDS ambassador. Motto: I have no identity, I have only identities.

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Vladan Lausevic

Vladan Lausevic

I am active as a social and policy entrepreneur. SEEDS ambassador. Motto: I have no identity, I have only identities.

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