What’s your identity? : A question that has no single answer

Ilia Chalimourda

Tuesday, 6th June 2017

“What intellectually challenging discussions are going to be engendered this day?” I thought, after waking up in the morning. It was raining heavily and I felt as if the rain had a meaning, an essence of its own. I was wondering if it was a foreshadowing for the wave of thoughts, feelings and emotions that were about to overwhelm us this day. While walking towards my destination I was contemplating about the various issues that we were going to address: Bosnia Herzegovina, LGBTQIA and Homonationalism.

The program started at 9.00 with Cihan Tekeli’s workshop about a methodology based on the roots of Deep Democracy. Cihan managed to introduce us to a way to cope with disagreement, identifying the undercurrents of each conversation and taking into account how the whole group is influenced in terms of the conscious and the subconscious. His theory of dealing with disagreement consists of three initial stages: active listening, summarizing and questioning.

The most challenging part was when we had to put this theory into practice. Cihan asked us to write down a personal narrative, a personal moment of injustice, that had an emotional impact on us, regardless of whether we had managed to respond to the interlocutor or not. We later did a role play based on our personal stories. For me this was emotionally harsh because I had to relive an incident that had traumatized me but it was also a personal moment of resolution and reconciliation with the past, instead of denial and avoidance. I realized the significance of merely asking “why” when somebody tells something really unfair or offensive to you. Feelings were later involved in the exercise as well but the first three stages for me was the most crucial part so as to be able to form an understanding of the other person’s perspective.

It was almost 11. It was time to close the curtains, turn off the lights and surrender ourselves to the screening of “My Own Private War,” a documentary directed by Lidija Zelovic. It was about the war in Bosnia Herzegovina and to me it looked like the director’s effort to disentangle the thread of the past and bring people’s buried memories into the surface. The traumatic incidents that took place in the past are not restricted to an individual memory but are shared among the members of her family. It is through the process of unburying the memories that the wound can be healed, without this meaning to be forgotten.

In her documentary I sensed that Lidija really made an effort to utter the unutterable, to express the impossible. Some emotionally strong images and a few moments of silence reverberated the unspeakable reality of the war, what cannot be restricted within the boundaries of human language, what cannot be adequately imagined and perceived by anyone, for the real witnesses of the totality of the tragedies are the ones who have actually experienced the horror of the war and most importantly, those who did not manage to survive, those whose stories will never be narrated.

Her documentary was also a motivation for me to start thinking about the conceptualization of identity.  “Where are you from?” “Where are you going to?” How can a country be part of your identity and define you as a human being? These are all open ended questions that we still need to reflect upon.

The sun appeared and we were all ready for the next speaker, Mounir Samuel, who was going to talk about the issue of gender as a social construct. Making critical questions to us about the traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, he managed to alert us on the fluidity of societal structures. In order to illustrate his points about the inherent instability of societal categories and  demonstrate the different positions of sexuality he drew the Kinsey Scale for us.


The archetypes, that have conquered the collective unconscious, serve to reproduce all the negative stereotypes that seek to enclose women and men into specific roles that eventually reduce their heterogeneity and complexity as humans. What for me is really vital to do is to follow Adrienne Rich’s method and “dive into the wreck,” meaning that we need to descend into the ocean of reality and dive among the ruins of these myths, which have violated humans’ very uniqueness and subjectivity. Only by resisting to remain in a constant state of stasis and finally, by diving into the “ocean,” as can be seen in Rich’s poem, can people become genuine citizens within a democratic society.

First having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,

I put on

the body-armor of black rubber

the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.

I am having to do this

not like Cousteau with his

assiduous team

aboard the sun-flooded schooner

but here alone.


There is a ladder.

The ladder is always there

hanging innocently

close to the side of the schooner.

Extract from “Diving into the Wreck”

Adrienne Rich

The talk about gender was an appropriate transition to our final speaker, Tugba Öztemir, who talked about the issue of homonationalism and how we construct identities. I really appreciate the fact that she shared her personal story with us and the various “micro aggressions” which she had to deal with. Tugba also described two ways of looking at cultures: the restorative and the constructive one. In the former case culture is considered to be something fixed whereas in the latter case culture is socially constructed. Our identities though are always under the process of formation and hence we should avoid dealing with identities in an essentialist manner.

With this final talk, the long day had come to an end and we all had to go. And it was raining again. But what kind of rain was it this time? Was it the rain of catharsis?  I am still wondering…