“We are going to have a world of War until we proclaim and proactively invoke a World of Peace.” Marianne Williamson
Today, with this blog post I will begin to share my journey from dark to light, from fear to love, from pain to forgiveness, from War to Peace.
I was born and partially raised in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists. It was destroyed by nationalism, hate and war.
When I first moved back to Belgrade as a kid from Canada, I caught the tail end of President Tito’s regime. People of all different nationalities and religions within one country lived in peace and unity. As it was a Communist country, most people were Atheists. Religion was present but not prevalent. I felt a sense of acceptance and belonging.
Tito was the chief architect of the “second Yugoslavia,” a socialist federation that lasted from World War II until 1991. He was the first Communist leader in power to defy Soviet hegemony, a backer of independent roads to socialism, and creator of The Non-Aligned movement, as an attempt to thwart the Cold War between two hostile blocs.
Communism in Yugoslavia was unique. My personal experience was a positive one. My Dad owned a restaurant for over a decade and made an excellent living being self-employed. My education, medical and dental was covered and I felt taken care of by my country. Having a Yugoslavian passport allowed for travel all over the world. The country had good relations with the East and the West.
In first grade, l officially became a Pioneer (Pionir), a member of the Union of Pioneers of Yugoslavia. All children of age seven and older attended an annual ceremony and wore uniforms. I took the Yugoslav Pioneer Pledge that required me to recite the following:
“Today, as I become a Pioneer
I give my Pioneer’s word of honor -
That I shall study and work diligently,
respect my parents and seniors,
and be a loyal and honest comrade/friend.
That I shall love our homeland,
self-managed socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
That I shall spread brotherhood and unity
and the principles for which comrade Tito fought.
And that I shall value all people of the world who respect freedom and peace!”
I bolded that last statement as it is something I still live by and hold dear to my heart. After President Tito’s death, economic tensions and nationalism led the country into self-destruction.
I was attending high school in Belgrade, the capital city of republic of Serbia. As a person of mixed nations within Yugoslavia, I no longer felt a sense of belonging. Nationalism was spreading high and wide. My peers were questioning my background and father’s name. Everyone wanted to know what everyone’s ethnic origin was. My usual response “I’m Yugoslavian!” was no longer sufficient. I was asked to dig deeper. I discovered that my Mother’s side is ethnically Serbian, specifically from Lika, a region in Croatia. My Father’s side is ethnically Montenegrin Muslim (Slavic converts to Islam during Turkish occupation) who migrated to Novi Pazar, a mostly ethnically Muslim town in the south of Serbia. So what does this all mean? “Basically, one of your ancestors on your father’s side was a traitor!” as it was bluntly put by a classmate of mine. Great!
A series of civil wars (Yugoslav Wars) during the 90′s destroyed the existence of a once beautiful country. Men in leadership positions failed to find peaceful resolution to an economic crisis and destroyed a nation and its people. After attending a neighbor’s Serbian New Year’s party, I had a casual conversation with a random guy who said to me: “I heard there was a really good restaurant here. Too bad the owner’s Muslim!” referring to my father. My 15-year-old self was speechless and I felt deep shame for being who I was.
Shortly after, I decided to move back to Canada and lose myself in that National identity instead. After all, Canada was welcoming to all. I was able to continue embracing all nations and religions as one, which is the truth of my heart. I watched the news in horror as my own people were committing the most atrocious crimes against humanity to each other; Mass murder, Ethnic cleansing, Human slaughter and Rape camps. My heart and soul had no idea how to absorb or process these unthinkable crimes. The only way I knew how to protect was to stop feeling.
Although living in Canada, I spent the summers of early 90′s visiting friends and family in Yugoslavia. Boarding a flight in Amsterdam to Belgrade, a big burly man near me said: “Let’s go, let’s go slaughter some more!” Back in Belgrade, in my own town, as I’d run into ex-classmates who I heard spent time in War, I’d ask: “What were you doing in the War?” “Killing Muslims like you!” was the response. Sitting casually at a cafe, drunken guys would yell out to me: “Where are you from again? Canada? Isn’t that one of the countries that has sanctions against us?” Even being Canadian wasn’t welcoming now.
This tension for me reached its peak in 1995, when alongside my Serbian uncle I was defending my Muslim family’s home from Serbian refugees from Croatia with an axe in my hand. Nevertheless, that’s a whole other blog post. As brave as I seemed, that incident affected me on deep levels and made me fully disconnect from people from that region for years to come. I remember saying to my Serbian neighbors who asked how I was doing: “I wish I had nothing to do with this fn country!” For many years after that, I lived in shame over my ancestry.
Back in Canada, I attempted to live a “normal” life away from the madness of my homeland. I stopped all visits to Yugoslavia, I sang in school choirs, completed University and found a job in a bank. Working in a bank was short-lived as my soul longed to feel and express. I moved from Toronto to Vancouver and began the healing journey of my soul through music and personal growth.
In Vancouver, I had my very first rebirthing session. A type of breathing that releases suppressed emotions within the body. Fifteen minutes into the breath, like a volcano, out came the pain and sorrow over the loss of my homeland, people and atrocities. I wailed, I cried, I deeply felt the sorrow of my soul for the first time in years.
Shortly after, I learned my first few chords on the guitar and then came my very first song, “It could’ve been me.” It was so personal to me that I was too shy to place this song on my first album, so instead I sneaked it on my second released album as the very last song.
I cannot even imagine how deep the pain is for victims of War who have lost loved ones forever, witnessed, experienced and committed atrocities. I pray for forgiveness.
Today, as I continue to heal my personal and ancestral wounds, I re-pledge my vows as a Pioneer. Not only will l continue “to value all people of the world who respect freedom and peace”, in addition, I commit to spreading peace consciousness and non-violent problem-solving options for all nations in our World. May our World never see another War again.
“It Could’ve Been Me”
by Melissa Rebronja (1999)
Sitting in silence, they’re holding their breath
a child feels falsely safe in its mother’s arms,
she closes her eyes and fades away to her prayer,
but it doesn’t help,
the evil man, using God’s name
enters and takes her life away.
The child cries but nobody cares
It was born at the wrong time with the wrong name
Please tell me this is just a bad dream
How can there be such cruelty?
This is not a dream It could’ve been me
A family sits and waits in fear thinking,
how can this be what’s happening? Is it real?
Then the evil man enters their home
sees two beautiful daughters and instead of just slaughter,
takes their innocence away!
Look how wrong they are
Just to be Who they are
They were born at the wrong time
With the wrong name
When the evil man appears
And nobody cares
It’s only history repeating its self
They shouldn’t have stayed in a place where they live
Cause they carry the name that is just not the same
They were born at the wrong time with the wrong name
June 18, 2014
Los Angeles, CA