by danica pantic

I am well trained to fear. My entire family’s legacy is basically built on fears that they’ve wished to control or squash. They built dreams out of those fears – their greatest accomplishments came out of reacting to a tragedy, which we all knew was coming yet did nothing to prepare ourselves for. Hope was not necessarily encouraged in a culture that had a history of layers of colonial powers laying themselves upon each other over what we now know as the Balkans. That kind of environment trains people to become reactionaries.

I struggle with how to explain any of that to outsiders. The political history is so immensely complicated, most “scholars” shy away from delving into it because it takes too much work to untangle 600 years, 4 empires, 6 religions, 9 ethnicities, and the thousands of political ideologies that swept the region to explain all the violence and chaos that continues to today. The more I learn about both my country’s history, as well as my family’s, the more I see how the two echo – the country’s big turns in fortune and philosophy usually got reflected in my predecessors’ lives. I am I am the last chapter of my family, and I came onto the scene just in time to see Yugoslavia dissolve.

I began this piece by saying that all of my kin have been motivated by fear, and I have no way to prove that. I do have a history, however, of multiple generations in my family who have crafted entire identities out of fighting for one cause or another that was supposedly saving the country from itself, or outside forces. I have photos of my great grandparents in revolutionary militias, and I grew up watching my father and grandfather fight ideologically (in word and action) about the future of the country. On its face, you may argue that they were fighting for their dreams, but in reality each generation would always actively try to undo the previous one’s efforts out of fear that the old guys had just about ruined us all.