getting back to Belgrade


It was the first day of spring with gusts of a cold wind blowing strongly as I walked down Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna. It so happened that I overheard the conversation of three youngsters walking along. They spoke in Serbian about an event where also some Bosniaks and Croats were present. What drew my attention was not their language per se, you hear plenty of it in the subway and the streets of Vienna nowadays. It was an expression one of them used. “I did not expect there to be so many people who speak our language,” he said. It was apparent to me that by “our language” he did not mean one particular language such as Serbian, Bosnian or Croatian. On the contrary, the point was that the young man said “our language” on purpose, i.e. instead of naming that language by its proper name which would have been the politically correct thing to do. This is because “our language” is usually the expression refugees and immigrants – or, for that matter, a mixed group of people from former Yugoslavia meeting abroad – use as the name for their different languages of communication. The truth is that their language of common understanding has no common name any longer. It is not the Serbo-Croatian of before. So when one of the youngsters said our language, it was to name the minimum common denominator that established itself as a kind of norm after all the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Indeed, it serves as a code name indicating good intentions; we are not enemies, we can still understand each other in spite of everything that happened.

more from Eurozine here.