Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Response to comment by "Anonymous" - 23 June 2010 00:01

Following the publication of my extensive article Being a British Serb - living in contrariety, regarding British Serbs like myself, I received a comment from an "anonymous" person, who expressed views regarding recent Balkan history still held by many Serbs today. Here is his comment in full:

Sounds like the Brit Serbs are too cowardly and/or lazy to defend their own people in a negative atmosphere. With "Serbs" like these, no wonder Serbia doesn't do well.
Furthermore I see you push a lot of the mainstream media false accusations and propaganda against Serbs - at least you seem to agree with it or believe it is true unquestioningly - when in fact and true analysis of the claims show they fall apart. The Balkan wars WERE set up and there was bias against Serbia and Serbs from the start. It was planned to break up Yugoslavia into little pure or ethnically divided statelets. Britain was one of the countries involved with this along with the U.S. and Germany, and still others went along. So many of the "witnesses" against the Serbs have proven themselves bald-faced liars at the Hague. Yet the Hague allows these perjurers to get their propaganda set as the official "truth". There were also staged-for-the-cameras incidents in Bosnia and even some UN personnel and international officials testifying for the prosecution (against Serbs) have admitted Muslims DID stage and provoke attacks and further were witnessed killing their own people (other Muslims) to have the Serbs blamed.

23 June 2010 00:01

Putting aside his view on British Serbs' "cowardly and/or lazy" nature and Serbia's progress in the world - and whether the two are linked - I wish to respond to the main substance of his comment, which unfortunately was not about British Serbs. And I will do so in point by point fashion, and I will refer to the anonymous person in the second person, thus creating a dialogue between myself and him/herself.

  1. "…I see you push a lot of the mainstream media false accusations and propaganda against Serbs - at least you seem to agree with it or believe it is true unquestioningly - when in fact and true analysis of the claims show they fall apart."

  2. Interesting assumption you make: you assume that I either agree with or believe "unquestioningly" something you consider to be "mainstream media false accusations and propaganda against Serbs".

    Actually, if you had read my articles Serbs, Media, Justice and Me! and Serbs, Media, Justice and Me! contd., you would've learnt that I used to think the same way as you do: I used to blame the West for the break up of Yugoslavia, and I used to think that all the war crimes accusations against Serbs were "lies", just like you do now.

    Surprised? But what could've changed in me? Well, Anon - if you don't mind me calling you that - I really did do a lot of genuine analysis of virtually all those claims. And what happened? I was deeply moved to discover how my former way of thinking could not stand the test; it could not refute a single aspect of the reality of all those war crimes! Can you believe that?

  3. "The Balkan wars WERE set up and there was bias against Serbia and Serbs from the start."

  4. Ah, but really Anon? 'Cause if that was the case, like a lot of Serbs still believe - and I used to believe, then how come the West only decided to intervene in Bosnia towards the end of the war? Have you ever asked yourself why they didn't bomb the Bosnian Serbs at the beginning of the war? You see, many believe if the West had done that, they would've prevented numerous deaths on all sides and brought the war to a speedier end. What do you think?

  5. "It was planned to break up Yugoslavia into little pure or ethnically divided statelets. Britain was one of the countries involved with this along with the U.S. and Germany, and still others went along."

  6. "[L]ittle pure or ethnically divided statelets", does that include the "Greater Serbia" project? Wasn't that supposed to be ethnically "pure", or do you deny that it happened? I used to be in denial about "Greater Serbia"; I used to think that that was a bare-faced, Western media "lie" used to smear us Serbs. Of course, the West didn't actively support "Greater Serbia", but neither were they resolutely opposed to that campaign earlier on in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia, as explained above.

    As for Germany, a lot of Serbs resented Germany's support for an independent Croatia, understandably for historical reasons, i.e. Germany's Nazi past and the fascist Croatian puppet state during World War Two. Some Western politicians were likewise critical of Germany for supporting Croatia's independence. That's all true. But didn't you know that Germany only recognised Croatia at the end of 1991 in December, which was months after the war had started?

  7. "So many of the "witnesses" against the Serbs have proven themselves bald-faced liars at the Hague. Yet the Hague allows these perjurers to get their propaganda set as the official "truth"."

  8. Ah, so you still think those witnesses were "bald-faced liars"? Oh dear, Anon! I was the same; I thought that way too. But the thing that you don't appreciate, which I used to refuse to accept as well, is how these are people who lost everything and are deeply traumatised by what they experienced during war. Because of this trauma, many are psychologically scarred and this affects their everyday life. So if they do contradict themselves, or otherwise come off irrational in your eyes, try to bear in mind that they are victims of war, and don't assume that they are "liars".

    Now, you will tell me, "But look at us Serbs, we are victims too!" And yes, Anon, we are victims as well; many of us have also lost everything that we had held dear, and as a result, there are many Serbs who are likewise deeply traumatised, and living daily with psychological scars. However, I take it that you only care about Serb victims, some Serb victims more than others I bet. I, on the other hand, sympathise with all victims of conflicts, especially with people from the Former Yugoslavia, because that's where I come from and because all of us former Yugoslavs, whether we identify as Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks or anything else, have family histories that are full of war stories from various periods of Balkan history - in fact, there are too many stories of war in our families!

    And finally…

  9. "There were also staged-for-the-cameras incidents in Bosnia and even some UN personnel and international officials testifying for the prosecution (against Serbs) have admitted Muslims DID stage and provoke attacks and further were witnessed killing their own people (other Muslims) to have the Serbs blamed."

  10. Oh yes, blame the victims, why don't you! But ask yourself this question: why would the Bosnian Muslims/Bosniaks of Sarajevo have staged a single shelling incident against their own people on any given day at that time, when they had been shelled constantly for over three years by the Bosnian Serbs? Have you not heard of the Siege of Sarajevo? If not, I can understand how; I heard that people in Serbia during that time had no idea that there was such a siege being laid against that once-Olympic city! And yet you blame the Western media for leading campaign of deception, and not Milošević's régime!

    And as far as I understand, the Bosnian Serbs were found responsible for both attacks on Markale market in Sarajevo, despite a concerted propaganda effort to lay the blame at the Bosnian Muslims. And not only that, Serb General Stanislav Galić was found guilty for the first attack in 1994, convicted of not just one, but five counts for crimes against humanity, including murder and other inhumane acts, and one count for violations of the laws or customs of war.

So Anonymous, you blame the West for breaking up Yugoslavia rather than Serbian nationalism, which caused so much ethnic tension before the wars, and then destroyed millions of lives during those wars? You either deny that our war-time leaders ever committed ethnic cleansing - i.e. expelling people from their homes - or you accept that they did all that, but it all was done for our "safety" to "protect" us from "Ustaše" and the like!

I was just like you - in fact, I used to dream how one day I would liberate my people from "lies"! Alas, that was not to be: those "lies" I detested turned out to be actually true, whereas those "truths" that you are convinced by turned out to be disgracefully false.

So I'm sorry Anon, sorry if I've disappointed you. Call me a "traitor" or whatever you like! Be rude at my parents' expense, why don't you! Think however you want to think, but know that you can never change the truth, especially that which has passed before us, however much you wish you could.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Being a British Serb - living in contrariety

I'm a British Serb, i.e. a person of ethnic Serb origin living in the UK. I personally was not born in Britain, but many other British Serbs were. I can speak Serbian - or Serbo-Croat - fluently as it is my mother tongue and I use it regularly, whereas many of my fellow British Serbs do not speak it as proficiently as I do, but they do understand it in spoken form. Both my parents are Serbs, which, according to most people's understanding of national identity, makes me "100% Serb"; while many of my fellow British Serbs are from mixed marriages, in which one of their parents is a Serb and the other parent is usually of British or other European origin, making them 50% Serb and 50% English or Irish or something else.

Being a Diaspora population, British Serbs are an ethnic minority subject to the culture and language of the majority population. British Serbs tend to live in small communities in big towns, and therefore, their social interactions with other people can sometimes be with fellow Serbs, other times with people who are not Serbs, and occasionally with both Serbs and other people from Britain and the rest of the world! They also tend to spend most of the year in Great Britain and only a few weeks in the year - if ever - in their Balkanian homelands, which they call "zavičaj" or "ognjište".

Serbs have been coming over to the UK from the former Yugoslavia since the end of the Second World War, following the recent Yugoslav wars, and in between the two war-torn periods. They settled into Britain's industrialised environment arriving from a largely rural background, raised in a strongly traditional, patriarchal spirit. Serbs, who were born here, have grown up in those same urban areas settled into by their parents, and have thrived in a vibrantly modern, multicultural society.

Serb immigrants have to various degrees integrated themselves into this Western society, founded on liberal democracy and free-market capitalism; while their children have inherited much of their parents' traditional values stemming from the Balkans based on faith, customs and history. And it is precisely by examining this case of cultural inheritance and cultural dichotomy will we understand what it means to be a "British Serb".

Which language do you speak?

As far as language is concerned, British Serbs born in the former Yugoslavia obviously speak their native language fluently, though many of them can also speak English just as fluently, depending on how long they've lived in the UK - sorry, correction: depending on how much interaction they've experienced with other English-speaking people while living in the UK.

Based on personal experience with members of my ethnic community, I've discovered that living in the UK for many years does not alone make a fluent English-speaker out of a British Serb! In fact, because many Serb immigrants enjoy most of their inter-personal interactions with other Serbs and other former Yugoslavs, both during work and after-work hours throughout their everyday life here, many of them never become fully fluent speakers of the host nation's language, even though knowledge of English is a practical and vital necessity for working and living in this country.

On the other hand, British Serbs who were born in Britain and went to British schools often don't share the same level of proficiency in speaking Serbian that their parents have. Nevertheless, they do understand it when spoken to them or around them, due to exposure to the language within the family and community since childhood.

However, when it comes to passing on the language to the next generation, those British Serbs who can barely speak their parents' language often don't teach their children to speak Serbian as a first language; rather they pass on some Serbian phrases to them once they've already mastered another language, i.e. English, both at home and at school, thus breaking the chain of language transmission linking the generations, while also raising a generation of British Serbs who never attain even a minimal understanding of their ancestors' language (not that they really need it in this country anyway)!

Where d'you come from?

We British Serbs are very proud of our family history and origins, as such pride is instilled in us by our parents and grandparents. Even though we live far away from our Balkanian "ognjišta" (meaning "hearths") on the isle of Britain, we have been raised with Serbian legends and stories about our "preci" (meaning "ancestors") from our various "zavičaji" (meaning "home regions"), that have been passed on from generation to generation, stirring up within us a passionate pride and an indelible sense of glory!

But when it comes to explaining our origins to other people in the UK, we British Serbs tend not to boast about our cultural heritage to other Britons; in fact, for much of the last 15-20 years, many of us have been inclined to keep our Serbian ethnicity a personal secret, as a way of avoiding the stigmatisation surrounding the word "Serb" created during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Unfortunately, none of us can avoid admitting our origins forever, and yet being asked, "Where are you from?" can be such a sticky situation for us!

As a rule, British Serbs from Croatia, like myself, have found it easier to just tell people that they're from Croatia, which is a popular country for Brits, thus conveniently hiding the fact that they're ethnic Serbs; likewise, British Serbs from Bosnia have also found it easier to just tell people that they're from Bosnia rather than admitting the whole truth that they belong to those same Bosnian Serbs like indicted war criminals Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić; and of course, the same rule applies to British Serbs from Montenegro, a land seemingly free of war criminals and wars! But what about British Serbs from Serbia, the former pariah state of the infamous Serbian hard man Slobodan Milošević, the Butcher of the Balkans; how on Earth do they explain to people where they or their parents come from? Why yes, they just say they're from Yugoslavia instead!

Speaking of which, many British Serbs still refer to their country of origin as "Yugoslavia", even though that name is no longer featured on any modern world map! Some of them prefer to use that name to avoid saying "Serbia" (as mentioned above); some use it because they long for those days of living in an internationally respected country, which co-founded and co-led the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, and which was also home to a relatively decent society - albeit a communist one - that lasted for nearly fifty years since World War Two; while others use that name because they're so out of touch with their homeland, so out of touch with all the current affairs and trends over there, that they can't be bothered to refer to it as anything else!

Your surname is…?

Other than being asked where we come from, another annoying - yet comparatively more essential - question we get asked all the time by everyone we meet throughout our lives is, "How do you spell your surname?" Most of our surnames end in -ić or -ović/ević, just like other Serbo-Croatian surnames from the Balkans written in the Roman alphabet (in the Cyrillic alphabet, it's written like so: -ић and -овић/евић. But since we live in a country whose main language only employs the Roman alphabet and doesn't use accents on any consonant, British Serbs are compelled to write their noble and glorious surnames without those decorative yet honourable ticks like so: -ic and -ovic/evic.

Surnames borne by us Serbs in Britain range in size; some of them are short ones, while others are much longer. Bear in mind, however, that short Serbo-Croatian surnames are not always the easiest ones! Nevertheless, some of us have relatively easy surnames like Popović, Zarić or Radusin; but others amongst us have more difficult to pronounce surnames, which for English-speakers look really unusual, like Stojisavljević, Krcunović and even Brkljač!

Serb immigrants are proud and fond of their surnames, and would never consider changing the spelling of their surnames to make it easier for English-speakers to read or pronounce near-correctly - let alone changing their surnames completely. Afterall, they did grow up in a country where they didn't experience any serious problems with their surnames. And a favourite pastime among Serb immigrants is watching the cast and credits at the end of TV programmes to see if they can spot a Serbian name and surname among the rolling credits!

However, British-born Serbs, who retain their surnames' original spelling thanks to their parents not changing them, have to consider whether to pronounce their surnames the way they're pronounced in the former Yugoslavia in the company of English-speakers unfamiliar with Serbo-Croatian linguistics, or whether to pronounce them in a way that would sound more familiar to English-speakers but unlike the original pronunciations. And of course, it's British-born Serbs who are the ones who are compelled to spell out their surnames time and time again for their whole lives, and whose children and grand-children will have to do the same for years to come, even when their immigrant parents and grandparents are long gone!

What's your community like?

In this country, there are significant Serbian communities in London boroughs like Hammersmith and Ealing, or further north in towns like Bedford, Corby, Leicester and Derby, and Yorkshire towns like Leeds and Halifax. In such places, you will often find a Serb Orthodox church like St. Sava's church in London and St. Elijah's church in Corby, which get packed during Christian holidays like Christmas (or "Božić"), Easter (or "Uskrs/Vaskrs"), and saints' feast days (or as we call each of them "Krsna slava").

If you live in the above-mentioned places, where the largest concentrations of British Serbs in the country are, you can feel like you're part of a vibrant community of like-minded people with whom you share a common origin. But if you live outside of them, being a Serb in Britain can be an especially lonely experience. In fact, there are many of us who live most of our daily lives without seeing a single fellow Serb for most of the year! And because many Serbs have moved around the country over the years, many of them have lost touch with fellow Serbs, whether immigrant or British-born, and find themselves outside of any Serb community in the country. Therefore, it's not surprising that many British Serbs often feel that they're the only Serbs where they are!

Upon their arrival to this country, Serb immigrants tend to conglomerate in areas where there are already existing Serbian communities to keep company with other Serbs, which is practical since many of them come to Britain barely speaking a word of English. Because of that tendency to settle into places where there are already some Serbs, most of their daily interactions with other people are with other Serbs, thus forming close-knit communities of immigrants that maintain strong links with the home country, be it Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia or Montenegro.

British-born Serbs, on the contrary, spend most of their time - and their lives - with people who are not Serbs at all! They go to school here among children from a variety of different backgrounds, with whom they make friends and find girlfriends or boyfriends. When they grow up, they find work among fellow Britons, and later on, get married and raise their own families here, either with Serb or non-Serb spouses. Unfortunately, many of them have few Serb friends - even none - with whom they can celebrate their Serbian culture or discuss Serb-related topics (as indicated above). And although their parents take them to their homeland to visit family over there during their childhood, many of them rarely visit their parents' country of origin as adults, and therefore can easily lose contact with however many Serb relatives they may have back home.

So, what does it mean?

Living my life as a British Serb has so far been an experience full of contradictions. As detailed above: you have Serbs, on the one hand, who've spent most of their lives in the UK but have never become fluent in English; while on the other hand, you have Serbs born in this country who have never attained fluency in Serbian. We are proud of our origins and inspired by our ancestors, but don't boast about either in order to avoid prejudice and exclusion. Moreover, we have wonderful surnames each with a colourful history, but nobody can say them properly except for ourselves! And there are those of us who keep in contact with fellow Serbs and "zavičaj", and others amongst us who've lost all contact with fellow Serbs and "zavičaj"!

But what is the future for our community in this country? Well, it could look a bit like this: at one end of the "British Serb spectrum" will be a community of middle-aged and elderly Serbs, who'll keep themselves to themselves, but will continue to maintain links with their homelands till the end of their lives - unless they go back there to spend their retirement; while at the other end will be younger generations of Serbs, half-Serbs, quarter-Serbs and eighth-Serbs, who will completely assimilate themselves into the mass of British society, and who'll have little to no idea what their ancestral land looks like (to be fair on them, they're better off not going there anyway)!

And the main reason why this could be the case for British Serbs - or maybe is the case already! - is simply because there just aren't that many of us on this island anyhow! According to all population estimates, our ethnic community, made up of waves of immigrants into and natural births in this country, only numbers in the five figures and no higher. And although there are concentrations of Serbs in certain towns and cities in Britain, there are many others who are dispersed throughout this country, isolated from any major community.

But whatever the future holds for us British Serbs, whichever language - or languages - we will speak, and however many of us there will be in the UK, the most important thing for us to do is to remember that we are British Serbs; that we came from the Balkan peninsula, bringing our names, customs and Orthodox faith along to the British isles, where we have adapted to and integrated ever since - or are trying to!