Independence is a pretty powerful word these days, with communism laying at its deathbed, gasping its last breaths, and really only holding on by the red slimmer that is Cuba (Laos and Vietnam are inching towards capitalism and China's only communist on Fox nowadays) the West has truly established itself as a beacon that smaller, developing countries look to as their guiding light. There are few words, in my humble opinion, that will conjure up an American flag faster than independence and it is hardly arguable that no one makes a larger point of celebrating independence than the Americans, with customary associations of fireworks, flags and barbeques springing to mind just at the mention of the word.
So I've been dwelling on the matter of independence with regards to my former communist state of a country, and while dwelling on the matter of independence I also asked others to dwell on it with me, and as we dwelled on it together, we all (well, most of us) realized that we didn't particularly care for our independence, which must seem like a rather baffling thing to put into writing, knowing what nationality the majority of my readers are going to be.
Now, this is where I’d like to draw a distinction between the US and Bosnia, while a modern American might not care about the meaning of Independence Day he or she still meets the date with excitement and a positive attitude, which they probably relate to friends or family, usually in association with the aforementioned barbeques, fireworks and parades. But here it's a little different; our indifference is a different sort of beast, and a rather dreary one at that. For starters, it isn’t actually even a national holiday, it's only celebrated by half of the country (the half that liberated itself), and while I suppose we should be happy that it doesn't stir up vast amounts of nationalistic fervor in that half, the occasion is still only really universally met with a collective, national shrug, which is one way to unite a nation I suppose.
You might think it strange, that most of the people I asked to describe their sentiments regarding independence day said they were generally indifferent to the matter (remember, we gained independence 20-odd years ago, can you envision the average citizen in the age of Americas forefathers as completely indifferent to their liberation?), but Bosnia’s kind of weird that way. See, the drive for independence (as we traditionally know it, i.e. the severance of a newly formed state from an existing one, generally motivated by distinct cultural and ethnic differences; oppression being optional, though somewhat of a staple in such matters) is something that Bosnia has experienced, like every other newly-formed independent state, but it isn’t something that has had as much of a sustained impact on its people or their beliefs.
What I mean to say is that Independence Days usually represent the triumph of a culture or a people against their former rulers or oppressors, with varying degrees of distaste usually left over, although even these thankfully fade, given time and space between the groups that were previously in conflict. But Bosnia is different in this regard, unlike Americas resolution of its conflict of independence, Bosnia’s war was “mitigated” in such a way that no one came out of it feeling like they’d accomplished what they set out to do (the Bosniaks didn’t end up with their own state, and the Serbs didn’t reclaim Bosnia, with either of these presenting a clearer path to a resolution than the compromise we’re living now), with part of the problem being that some people still think those are the goals they should be trying to accomplish.
So what does this mean for us? Well, I'd venture a guess that you aren’t going to have the nation rally behind this particular holiday or what it represents to us, seeing as the best thing anyone says about it is that they don't have to go to school or work (nope, no parades, fireworks or barbeques, just atrocious weather). This isn’t surprising however, as very few associate it with the severance of ties with an oppressor and the ascension of political autonomy, which is usually how such remembrances gain ideological or political traction; in addition to the unifying effects that grow out of such moments. Though even if that was the case, it wouldn’t present the solution to our problems, as we need all the people to actually join together with those some would call their former oppressors, not band together against them (We are, quite literally, stuck with each other with no other (legal) way out).
So where does this leave us? Well, since our independence, the public's primary association to the word "oppressor" is not a nebulous outside threat, but rather an internal pack of opportunistic parasites, ones we usually call our government. I think that, when changes come, they won't be the result of us banding together on a national/ethnic basis as we do now (which is actually the way we discriminate against each other), but will rather represent the forging of a new national identity, one that is inherently tolerant and encompassing* (Which it is not today, regardless of the fact that Sarajevo is trying to be sold as this cultural gem; case in point, a couple of days ago I've seen it referred to as “Europe’s cultural capital”, which frankly, made me gag, since we are painfully lacking in culture at the moment). This new identity will not be based on religion and historical hatred, but rather on a sense of common purpose and necessity, even if this probably means we still haven’t hit rock bottom yet, which is holding us back, ironically (I’d only refer to the riots last year as a false start and a vent for frustrations.)
Ultimately, though we have failed to tread the path others have walked before us, I’m hopeful that, through forging our new national identity; one which would abandon its reliance on nationalism and ethnocentrism in favor of a sense of purpose and tolerance, we will, as a people, be able to forge a path that will allow us to transcend old hatreds, if not because we should, then because we must.
Photo Credit: Harun Brkovic