Wherever I go, I steal Identities
Is there such a thing as a "perfect" culture?
My parents were born in a country that doesn’t exist anymore. It was called Yugoslavia. They described her as a land of wonders, terrain so diverse and beautiful: rich fertile plains to the north, limestone ranges and basins to the east, ancient mountains and hills to the southeast, and extremely high shorelines off the coast to the southwest.
Yugoslavia was an anomaly — a socialist state that allowed free travel to the West and promoted “self-identity,” unlike the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia consisted of six sovereign countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. She was a perfect blend of best qualities that each country possessed.
My father was born in Serbia while my mother was born in Slovenia. Both of them were born in Yugoslavia, and they consider themselves Yugoslavs.
I used to dream about Yugoslavia. I used to bathe in the warmest sea, climbed the highest mountains, explored the deepest caves and sat down in the company of the most noblemen (including Fidel Castro). In the middle of the night, I used to open the world’s atlas but was unable to locate her, the lost country, the Atlantis, the legend and the myth. Perhaps she never existed. I never stopped searching.
Where are you from?
The question I fear the most. Whenever it pops up I try to find the shortest and most adequate answer. The closest answer I give, though not the shortest one, is: I was born in Prague, Czech Republic. My parents were born in Yugoslavia. I received Russian Education and now I am living in England. Usually, my answer is followed by another question.
Ok, but where are you from?
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe… Today I will be Czech, tomorrow Serbian, next week English. I don’t have a straightforward answer to the question. But it seems that I fit a description of a third culture kid.
For the unintroduced, third culture kids are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country where they are legally considered native for a significant part of their early development years. They are often exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences and later in life, they are fucked up and often experience identity crisis.
Are you Czech? Serbian? Perhaps Russian?
I was born just at the start of the Yugoslav Wars which led to the ultimate breakup of Yugoslavia into six sovereign countries. In the year 1992, I was far away, in safety, in the former Republic of Czechoslovakia, Prague.
Since infancy, I was exposed to Serbian language. I consider the Serbian language to be my first native language. My second native language is Czech. I tried to fit into the Czech culture on many occasions, but my mother never let me. I remember like it was yesterday when I asked her:
“Mummy, why don’t we celebrate Christmas like others do?”
“Because we are not Czech!”
If we aren’t Czech, then why are we living in the Czech Republic? I never asked again. In the year 1999, NATO attacked Yugoslavia. Serbia became the least popular country. Because of my nationality, I was bullied in elementary school. I had no friends, my stuff was often stolen or thrown away and I was called “a war criminal.” My parents decided that it was time for me to change schools. At the age of 6, I had to drop the Czech identity and try out a new one: Russian.
In no time, I fit in and made new comrades. By the age of seventeen, I was confident in my new identity. When in Russia, nobody second-guessed my origins. I would have been a perfect spy if I had the opportunity. I spoke perfect Russian, dressed in shuba, and quoted Dostoyevski. At some points, I was considering myself Russian. Until I wasn’t anymore. On the surface, I fit perfectly, but my views and values belonged to my parents.
In my early twenties, I went to Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia). I was hoping that perhaps I would finally find the identity match. I fell in love with Serbia’s energy and welcoming people. Day after day, I was discovering new cultural differences which were to my liking. Soon I started thinking of staying in Serbia but an encounter shattered my plans.
Once again, I was asked a question: Where are you from? This time, I answered: I was born in the Czech Republic, but I am Serbian. I was laughed at. Apparently, I was not Serbian. I was Czech. I was told by multiple people while in Serbia that I am not Serbian. I listened to them and returned to the Czech Republic looking for a new identity to borrow.
Where do I belong, geographically?
I feel as if I’ll never find that one place where I belong 100%. I adapt too easily to changes, I am less prone to cultural shock, and I am comfortable in settings where cultural norms shift rapidly. I am rootless and free. The possibilities for the future are endless. I am able to choose to be whoever I want, wherever I go. Often I feel more like a visitor than a resident. If I want I can be at home anywhere, yet feel that home is nowhere.
We can’t choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there.
I understood that my identity is not defined. I am still in the process of creation. I am collecting, handpicking pieces in order to create a whole. I am carefully choosing the best bits from different cultures. When I am done, I will have a blend of best what each culture has to offer. I will possess the perfect cultural identity.
Perhaps the perfect cultural identity does not exist. Perhaps it is just a legend, a myth.
Whatever the truth is, I won’t stop searching.