Contributed by Brian Englar. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
I came to Serbia fully expecting to hear, read, and write about tragedy. I believed myself ready for it.
I came to Serbia knowing that I’d be working for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), an international news agency functioning as one of the only truly independent reporting mechanisms in the region. I had read their articles and learned about their work; as a news agency in the Balkans, their articles and investigations primarily revolved around corrupt politicians, war crimes and tragedies, and lingering tensions. I had come to the understanding that this summer, I would hear about awful acts, I would read about awful circumstances, write about awful events.
Little did I know that the most disgusting, gut-wrenching stories I’d hear during one week of my stay here, would all come from back home in the States.
I was disgusted by the Stanford rape case,
I was horrified by the murder of Christina Grimmie,
and words cannot attempt to explain how I feel about the massacre that took place at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida while I slept half the world away.
I came to Serbia expecting to learn and be able to grasp the issues that face this country in a better sense than I ever could from a textbook. I expected to take away insight about a transitioning country, a country wracked with government corruption, a country plagued by racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
I’ve come to realize that that goal might be impossible, as I can’t even pretend to grasp what occurs in my own world, my own country. It’s blatantly obvious that the US suffers from each and every fault I originally pinpointed while examining Serbia.
These events – each and every one a tragedy – pulled me back to reality faster than gravity ever could. While I was working here in Serbia, trying to make a difference in my own way, I became removed from my home, distanced from my reality. I forgot that everything I learn here, in a “less developed,” post-war state is a lesson I can take back home. I forgot that tragedy can strike anywhere, even in the supposedly “most just,” “safest,” “most tolerant” country in the world.
I thought that this summer, I’d be learning only from my host country. I never thought that the toughest lesson I’d face so far would come screaming across the Atlantic from the country that made me fortunate enough to be able to leave her borders in the name of international service.
But that’s not to say that my time in Belgrade hasn’t shed light on the state of reconciliation. This city, this country, this region witnessed some of the most horrific events of the late-twentieth century. Inhabitants of the Balkans saw ethnic rivalries lead to civil war, civil war lead to genocide. And while no, things aren’t perfect and won’t be for a long time in the Balkans, communities have rebuilt, apologies have been accepted, and opposing sides have, to an extent, reunited.Youth from countries that clashed during their infancy are cheering for their parents’ former enemies during football matches. Neighbors previously divided by conflict have worked together to help a wave of refugees from a far-away crisis find some semblance of peace.
We must do the same. We can’t let tragedy tear us apart. While politicians call on us to reject others, we must refuse to do so, as rejecting or devaluing the livelihood or lives of others is the method of thinking that caused the perpetrators of these acts to justify their deeds.
We must learn from others. We must be better.
We must refuse to devalue victims or attempt to justify the actions of the perpetrator by their superfluous merits.
We must refuse to forget the legacy of the lost and the light they brought to the world during their lifetime.
We must refuse to blame the actions of an individual on an aspect of their identity or retaliate against others with similar but benign identities.
We must grieve together, not apart.