Blog post

About loss and life in the Balkans

By Joanna Kats

We are about to embark on a journey, to explore experiences shaped in the Balkans over the period 1990 to present. These experiences share a sense familiar to all people: loss. True, a difficult sense yet an infinite source of learning.

If you were born and raised in the Balkans you would have experienced some significant loss in your life, you and those around you.

It may be in the form of a story about an event that took place in the past and has left an indelible mark on the soul. It may be some difficult experience that you are still trying to understand and process. Something significant has changed.

Maybe you were born in a country that exists no more and can be visited only in history books. You may now be living, studying, working, and creating in a country with a different name and a different language. That change may have been smooth, allowing for you to adapt to the new state of affairs. As a younger person, your decision to help an older person to embrace change is a display of maturity. You realise that change tends to be harder on older people.

Maybe it was a hard time for all. All of a sudden, neighbours may have become cold and distant. Friends may have turned into a memory. Like the friends you used to spend your holidays with and share plans for the future. For a long time, you were trying to understand what exactly had happened. That must have felt difficult. There may have been wider controversy and rejection.You may have turned against yourself. There is a question mark standing next to you, waiting for an answer. Why was it so difficult?

You realise that neighbourhood life can present challenges.

No matter how smooth it may appear, any given change is not easy to achieve. A past issue in the neighbourhood which remains open to the present day will put to the test the level of understanding that you and those around you can share.

Maybe you were taught to put the needs of others before your own. You may have been raised in an environment where greater significance was placed on collective needs rather than the individual. You may have regarded the state as some extension of the family, thus attributing the role of the guardian. In the course of time, that environment may have changed, along with the role of the state. And you are doing your best to understand new concepts such as “competitiveness” and “productivity”.

Maybe you were raised in a financially comfortable environment, feeling secure about the future. You may have meticulously chosen your steps towards fulfilling your dreams. You felt confident that things could only get better. In the course of time, that feeling may have been replaced by insecurity, affecting you and those around you. And you may have decided to abandon your dreams for more practical goals. One more question mark makes its appearance. Now what?

Now and then, the attraction of foreign lands a common denominator in the Balkans

Be it a thought or a goal, it is on the family agenda for the Sunday lunch, where the family tend to make important decisions. Moving to another country emerges as a solution to some loss and a step forward. It could be to secure a financially comfortable future or gain a sense of wider acceptance. For those who are leaving. For those who are staying, things would be different.

No matter how deep the loss is, you know that you owe it first to yourself to make a step forward. Life cannot be on hold. It could be that you need to change plans. It could be that you feel reluctant to make that step, wondering whether you might get hurt again. Feelings of worry and fear get the best of you. You realise that you have to accept past choices to make new choices today. Deep down you know that you will find your own way to move forward, eventually. Loss is part of life. So is creativity, in the Balkans and all over the world.

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