The past few days have been unbelievably difficult for me. Watching this country, my home, the United States of America, turn into something eerily familiar and terrifying has been equal parts shocking and scary. Maybe shocking isn’t the right word because let’s be real, anyone that has truly paid attention to Donald Trump in the past year or so isn’t shocked by his actions or the most recent events. I think more than anything, I’m saddened by the amount of support he is still getting. I’m saddened by the lack of responsibility and awareness from people who put this man in office. And I’m mostly saddened by people I’ve been friends with over the years who still remain silent on these issues and this presidency. Who have I surrounded myself with the past few years? What kind of people did I grow up with? These are no friends of mine.
Let me start off by saying that I am very well aware of my Whiteness. I am a White woman in America and I understand the privileges that being White in America provides (that’s a whole other entity and topic of discussion). But before I was a White woman in America, I was a Bosnian girl in former Yugoslavia. For those who don’t know much about Yugoslavia (and trust me, most people in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia where I grew up didn’t even know Yugoslavia, existed let alone that it was a country), it has a long and complicated history filled with war, turmoil, and hate.
I was born in 1987 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, right on the cusp of what is now known as the Bosnian genocide. The dictator known as Slobodan Milosevic had just come to power and Yugoslavia as we knew it would soon cease to exist. I won’t go into the historic details too much and you can read all about Milosevic and the Bosnian war here, but I will speak of what I know and the war’s effect on me.
Slobodan Milosevic hated Muslims. Slobodan Milosevic hated Bosnians. Slobodan Milosevic hated anyone who wasn’t a “pure” Christian Serb. He used his power as the leader of Yugoslavia to get on TV, radio, in the papers, anywhere you could think of and talk about the horrible effects these people were having on our beloved Yugoslavia. Now, doesn’t that sound familiar? The Bosnians? They’re a threat to everything we stand for! The Muslims? They’ll ruin us! We must band together against these people before they destroy us — and they will destroy us. We have to strike first! Slobodan Milosevic brought people together against one common enemy. He made them feel like they were part of something. He made them believe that if they followed him and everything he stood for, they would be on their way to a better Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milosevic was elected into office. Make Yugoslavia great again.
I remember hearing my first bomb when I was three years old. I was sitting in the kitchen with my mom in our high rise apartment eating crepes when it happened. She immediately scooped me into her arms and ran into the hallway, covering my head with her hands, kissing me repeatedly.
“What was that noise?” I asked.
“Oh, they’re just testing some stuff,” she responded, cradling me back and forth, still kissing me.
No matter how hard I try, that is a moment that I will never forget. That is a memory of Bosnia I will always have. The next few weeks, months, years were mostly a blur, to be honest. I was young and my parents tried to shield me from as much of the war, of the genocide, as possible. But they couldn’t shield me from everything. I remember peeking through the basement window of our apartment building (we often had to spend nights there in case of bombings), seeing snipers take out people running in every direction one minute, and collapsing to the ground the next. I remember hearing loud noises and seeing buildings go up in smoke just a few miles away while screams filled the air. I plugged my ears. I remember my 11-year-old brother holding my hand and talking to me about WWE wrestling and how much better the Undertaker was than Hulk Hogan (no he wasn’t). I remember piling into a car with all my cousins trying to escape the attacks only to be stopped by Serbian soldiers and forced at gunpoint to spend the night on a gym floor with hundreds of other Bosnian refugees. We were piled in like cattle.
How cool! I thought, as I ran around the gym with my brother. It was like a fun sleepover with my cousins and him. When I was much older I found out that every single one of us in that gym was supposed to be sent to a concentration camp or killed. No one knows why they let us go. Does it even matter?
It took us over two years to finally get to the U.S. You read that right. It took my refugee family and I over two years to finally be admitted into the United States of America. Even at six years old, I saw the amount of work, strain, and dedication it took my mother to get her children to a safe place.
I knew who Donald Trump was the minute word spread about his interest in running for President. Donald Trump is Slobodan Milosevic. He is a rich, old, White man in power who uses his money and absurdly large media platform to instill fear, hate, and separation with the promise to fix it. Make America great again.
People think things like war and genocide and concentration camps can’t happen in the U.S. We’re too evolved. We’re too rich. We’re too powerful. We’re too something. We’re too everything. Look around. Look at the wedge this man, this presidency, has created between people. Look at the KKK rallies. Look at the Nazis. Look at the support of all of these things. I mean really look.
Thoughts turn into words turn into actions turn into how did we get here? We’ve always been here. This man just made it okay to be here loudly and proudly.
I sat on the phone with my brother a few nights ago, crying, asking him how this could happen to us again. Memories of hysteria, landmines, and sleepless nights filled my mind amongst other things. My mother brought my brother and I to America for a better life. She wanted her kids to be raised somewhere they’d be treated like equals. Somewhere they could be themselves. Somewhere they wouldn’t have to worry about the religion they choose to practice, their gender, their sexual orientation, or their ethnicity. Somewhere they wouldn’t be punished or killed for simply just being. Somewhere they wouldn’t be scared. The irony is not lost on me.
You don’t have to be a minority, or of a certain religion, or part of the LGBTQ community to be outraged, you just have to be a person living in this country. Stop waiting for this to go away, for other people to fix it — in doing so, you are enabling it, you are part of the problem.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”