Identity is a complicated instrument. Psychologists use it to understand various behaviors in the human condition. In public relations and marketing it is used to sell products or ideas to specific groups. In politics, we use it to both express our beliefs and create cooperative opposition to beliefs we do not hold. I believe, for the most part, we use identity to create small, comfortable, communities in a large world. Our religious beliefs, politics, choice of entertainment, sexual orientation, gender, sex, financial status, skin color, hometown, and personal style (abbreviated list); all, say something about how we identify ourselves and how we would like others to identify us.
Personally, I am a: agnostic, liberal democrat, TV lovin, heterosexually born woman, who calls herself a feminine-feminist. I am white, and I grew up in a middle class family in a little town called Georgetown; where I honed my sophisticated yet trendy look. These examples are trivial but they are part of who I am – and to some identifying these specific characteristics are incredibly controversial. I am proud of who I am. Like everyone in this world, I am a product of my past, my surroundings, my genes, my peers, and my family (not to mention a hefty dose of propaganda fed by mass media). I use identity to find like minded people and to celebrate the differences of others. While not everyone is celebrating, like they should; we are all classifying ourselves and others because humans, by nature, are social animals.
The Kosovars that I have met also identify themselves; as strong people, as fun loving people, as dancers, as women and men, as Ethnic Albanians, as drinkers and abstainers, as cooks and parents, as doctors, and as activists. They are a diverse harmonization of Kosovar identity – and they only represent a small portion. They are proud of their identity as well; perhaps even more so, because they, unlike me, have to fight for identity in talks concerning the political status of their country with UNMIK, Serbia, the EU and a plethora of other actors.
Identity plays a huge role in these talks. Nationalist and religious identity spurred the plan for Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing throughout the former Yugoslavia. Those who are now survivors of this rampage of hate, identify themselves as such. The survivors ability to live above his destruction, while never forgetting their history, helps define the group today. Even regarding logistical issues, identity plays a part. Minority identity requires certain conditions for the Serb Kosovars who still live in Prishtina (representing about 10% of the population); and, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 identifies the unique perspective of women as vital to forming a new government.
Complications arise because the needs or beliefs one identity can, too often, be in direct contrast with another. Here, while the Serbs are the minority, the Ethnic Albanians find it abhorrent to compromise their property and history to suit the needs of this minority. The UN seeks to identify itself as a “women friendly” organization – but too often their help falls painfully short in reality.
How I identify myself as an American and an international, here, is the polar opposite of the current administrations international identity. This is both an internal and external conflict. Although I am not proud of the comparison, I have been reading articles from the Serbian resistance, and I identify with them. Having fought their government, with little success, they became lumped into a group that did hold their values and were subsequently bombed. Some very important and defining characteristics aside, I identify with their struggle to redefine their identity to the international community.
That’s the trouble with identity; you may define yourself one way while others define you quite differently. The media coverage of the Kosovar refugees is a great example. On our TV’s: women, children and men were cast into certain media friendly roles. The widow, the lost child, the active militia – all these identities did exist but did not wholly define the refugees. In the camps there was singing and mourning – both together, and both a critical part of existence. There was an organized Kosovar army, but they had to hire a PR company to tell the world they were not terrorists – but freedom fighters. Children were lost, yes, but the community of people in camps took them on as family. Despite the loss of personal identity, replace by an ID number, the Ethnic Albanians of Kosova held strong their community.
Thinking on this, I am reminded of a good friend; who, when defined as something he was not, simply stated “I do not subscribe to that”. These are simple words with a powerful lesson for civil society. KWN will not let member organizations be defined by media perceptions of what a post war society ‘should act like’; or what the UNMIK says they ‘should need in the way of aid programs’. They subscribe to their own identities, serving their needs and finding like minded individuals (like the Women in Black of Serbia) to stand in solidarity with.
We need our identity to unite us; and, I think, if we search long enough, we can use identity to surpass the differences between us. We make individual decisions to “subscribe”, or not, to perceptions of our personal identity. I do not have to subscribe to my countries foreign policy to be proud of my citizenship because there are so many wonderful and quirky commonalities among the American population.
This is especially potent when you are an American living abroad. In the end we all can identify with our humanity; if we recognize it in each other and not subscribe to the hate our differences sometimes
Posted By Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)
Posted Jun 26th, 2006