About 60,000 Bosnians live in St. Louis. That’s estimated to be more Bosnians per capita than anywhere else in the world outside of Bosnia.
Bosnians settled in St. Louis during the 1990s, after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and ensuing war and genocide. Bosnia, or Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country in southeastern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of when Bosnians came to St. Louis and questions surrounding Bosnian cultural and national identities remain unresolved.
Host Don Marsh talked with three women from former Yugoslavia to help gain insight into Bosnian identity in St. Louis and in the homeland.
Ena Selimovic was born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1990 to Bosnian parents. The family went to Turkey when she was just two years old and arrived in St. Louis in 1997.
“It’s always hard for me when somebody asks me where I’m from,” Selimovic told Marsh. “To some people, I’m not comfortable saying that we lived in Belgrade because it was Serbian territory and my dad worked for the Yugoslavian army. I don’t think I ever say I’m a full blown American, I’m always a hyphenated American.”
Amila Buturovic and Zenija Halilovic have different experiences.
Buturovic left Bosnia in 1986, well before the war began. Now an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Humanities at York University in Toronto, she specializes in Islamic studies with an interest in the nature of collective memory.
While far removed geographically from the war, Buturovic said, “things changed and I suddenly became a refugee. I had a passport of a country that did not exist any longer…and people around me started to see me in a different light.”
“I felt I was in some type of time warp or in some space which I could not really comprehend because I was going through a transition without knowing I could do anything about it and indeed I couldn’t do anything about it,” Buturovic said.
Zenija Halilovic thinks of herself as an American, especially after the birth of her five year old son, who was born in the United States. Her family fled Bosnia on her sixteenth birthday and moved to St. Louis in 1997.
Currently a civil engineer for St. Louis County, she says she also thinks of herself as Bosnian. “I spent a large chunk of my life there,” she said. “I’ve never been able to let go of that Bosnian identity.”
All three guests are involved in a public symposium taking place this weekend at Fontbonne University, “Being Bosnian: Identities after the War.”
Check out Tim Lloyd’s report on the Bosnia Memory Project, an initiative at Fontbonne University dedicated to establishing a record of Bosnian genocide survivors, especially those living in metropolitan St. Louis.
Fontbonne University Presents a Public Symposium: Being Bosnian: Identities after the War
Friday and Saturday, April 12-13
Free and open to the public, reservations encouraged
Fontbonne University, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63105
Website: Being Bosnian: Identities after the War
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