From LIFT Asia: Three halves, by Jasmina Tesanovic

Jasmina Tesanovic

Jasmina Tesanovic

Per gentile concessione dell’autrice, pubblico qui di seguito il testo dell’intervento di Jasmina Tesanovic al recente LIFT Asia Conference, appena concluso.

Three halves

by Jasmina Tesanovic

My father was just one man, but he had six nationalities. Not two nations, like in Korea, but six nations.

My father was born in 1923 in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.In 1929 my father’s country was renamed The Kingdom of Jugoslavia. My father was six years old.

My father was from a province called Bosnia Herzegovina. In search of a better education, my father went to study in Kosovo. Kosovo is a part of southern Serbia. Then came World War II. The country was occupied by nazis and people from every ethnic group were killed. There was also a three-way civil war inside the Balkans. But, my father survived.

During the war came a third country. This was the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, created in 1943 by the Yugoslav Partisans resistance movement.This was my father’s third citizenship. Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was a highly unstable country because the whole world was at war.

The Yugoslav Partisans of the the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia did not win the war. The Communists won it, under Marshal Tito. So the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was renamed again. It became the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1946, a communist government was established. This was my father’s fourth new citizenship.

In 1963, the country was renamed again to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). This was the largest and most successful Yugoslav state. It was recognized by other countries and was prosperous and stable. My father went to work as a diplomat and a businessman.

This small country, the latest version of Yugoslavia, was made up of many Socialist Republics. The Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Socialist Republic of Croatia. The Socialist Republic of Macedonia. The Socialist Republic of Slovenia. The Socialist Republic of Montenegro. The Socialist Republic of Serbia. Then there were some smaller places: the Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, and, finally, the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo.

As a Yugoslav my father was a citizen of all these tiny countries. The differences did not matter much. At least, not during most of his life.

But he was fated to outlive this country ( fifth citizenship), too.

Starting in 1991, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated in the Yugoslav Wars. But the country did not disintegrate all at once: it took several years. So there was another new Yugoslavia: the small Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which included Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosovo.

My father had not been born in this part of Yugoslavia but he became one of its citizens anyway. This was citizenship number 7.

On February 4, 2003, the name of Yugoslavia was finally abolished. All the former states of Yugoslavia had declared independence and were now foreign countries. My father, who had been born in a Kingdom, was now a citizen of something called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.But On June 3 and June 5, 2006, Montenegro and Serbia declared independence from each other.By now my father was 83 years old. But his citizenship was once again brand new, the 8th.

Then came the turn of Kosovo. The very small province of Kosovo is the so-called cradle of Serbian civilization. After 18 February 2008 Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Now my father was the citizen of a smaller country where the core of Serbian civilization was not part of Serbia. 9th citizenship.

In the meantime my father’s native town became part of another country, Bosnia-Herzegovina. But even this fact wasn’t settled, because this part of the Bosnian federation belonged to a new entity called the Republika Srpska. The Serbs in the Republika Srpska want to secede from the Bosnian federation.

My father died on March 30th 2008. By then he no longer seemed to care very much about nations. I think his experience had taught him that nations were inventions, things made of paper. Those papers: his passports, his money — could be torn up.His only identity was the ethnic identity of a Serb. A strong, paranoid identity of a people without a national cause.

My father was a Yugoslav businessman and diplomat who lived most of his life abroad. He was doing Yugoslavia’s business as a resident of foreign countries. After this success, he became the frightened citizen of a non existing national idea called Greater Serbia.

In this imaginary Greater Serbia, his three halves could fit in a perfect setting. He could a bosnian Serb, a Kosovo Serb, and a Serb from Serbia, and Greater Serbia would be great.

So: what went wrong there, in this troubled region called the Balkans? Some people live in divided nations. My father lived in a nation which was divided again and again and again.

Actually things were never right in the Balkans. They were never right because the groups there never had solid political relationships: they always abused their power. I was writing books in English during the war and after, trying to explain to the world what went wrong. I had to invent words and concepts to describe the real sources of the trouble. The trouble was not ethnic, or religious, or communist or capitalist. It was not the orthodox christians against the catholics and muslims, it was not serbs against the croats and the bosnians, it was not the leftists against the right wing, communism against fascism… Of course all those elements were there, but they had always been there.

It was all about a power struggle that turned deadly because it could not find any rules. So the war was mostly a matter of raw numbers. The bigger entity of whatever nationality always battered the smaller entity of whatever identity. The majority would always bully and oppress the minority, no matter who the minority was. That smaller entity would batter the yet smaller entity within different identity inside it’s own territorial claims. Somebody was always in a minority, so somebody was always being victimized. Nobody ever felt whole and safe in the Balkans — there was always some leftover part, a third half, that was being painfully crushed.

So war crimes were committed. The biggest crimes were committed by the biggest group, because the biggest groups had the best resources. If there had been more guns and money in the war, there would have been more crimes, but Yugoslavia was not rich and the war exhausted it and destroyed its wealth.

Now the globalization of Balkanization is happening on vast scale.

The recent events in Georgia make the globalization of balkanization into a manual. Tiny Ossetia and Abkhazia are attacked by Georgia. Tiny Georgia is attacked by Russia. Tiny Russia is scolded by the Americans and the Europeans. Everybody is a victim.

Korea was a Cold War battlefield. Yugoslavia escaped that fate. In the nineteen sixties as a child I lived with my father in Egypt, in Cairo. Yugoslavia had close diplomatic ties to Egypt, because Nasser the Egyptian leader and Marshal Tito were both founders of the utopian Non Aligned Movement. They were neutrals who chose not to take sides between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Therefore, as a young girl, I learned that Indians, Arabs, and Cubans were my best friends. The Non-Aligned Movement, we were the third half of a world divided in half. If the long Korean cold war had become a nuclear war, we might have been the last survivors.
Money and citizenship do not have to exist. An international community can have different values, different troubles than our own. The future is not yet written and is full of dreams and fears. Fifty years ago Korea was as poor and as ravaged by war as any country in the Balkans. Today Korea is influential, high-tech, educated, and rich. Half of Korea, anyway.

Now I am here in Korea, in south not north. With my serbian passport. Korea is one of the few countries I can go to without a big fuss for a visa.I can also go to North Korea, by the way. South and North Korea are the two halves of my Serbian third half. In South Korea they do have one problem : they cannot find the latest name of my country inside their Korean computer.

This logic of the three halves provokes useless wars that solve nothing. It is a banality of evil. But on some deeper level it is plain stupidity that rules us. And when I say stupidity I mean my own, and yours , the stupidity of all of us who see a bad situation and just cope with it.

Going back to my late father, I ask myself, as his daughter: what is my inheritance, my knowledge, my patrimony, now that he is gone? I seem to have only one practical answer. Instead of seeking unity, and purity, I am adding more halves. I am married to an American. I have a serbian daughter, I live in Italy in Italy. I have no visible chance of becoming completely straight and legitimate. Wherever I go, national governments tell me the same thing: you don’t belong here, you have something missing, or there is something too much. People are not supposed to live in three countries, people are not supposed to have three halves. But my father was a person: and he had six countries. Six, and he didn’t even have to leave home.

I have a lot of trouble with the severe control of bodies and borders and papers. What about people, what do we do with human beings? Their emotions, languages, family and intellectual bonds, never visible in legal papers? Yet wars are fought in their names: wars fought for the people.

Koreans cannot tell the difference between a serb, a croat and a bosnian in my former country. Nobody else can tell the difference. But we have invented different official languages and churches to go with our new countries. I can’t tell the difference between northern and southern Koreans. Although the border that divides Korea is a legend all around the world. I am waiting for the third half of a Korea. The one that breaks the line. I don’t know what it would look like. But I know I will live to see it.

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