November 29, 2016
I was born in Zavidovici in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian Civil War. I came to Luxembourg with my mother and my sister when I was 16 months old. I live in Luxembourg but am currently studying in Brussels.
The war started in 1992. Of course I can’t remember the Bosnian Civil War but my mother has often told me stories about how life was back then. We lived in a small village in Bosnia and Herzegovina called Rudaca. We lived on a big property with several houses on it, there was my grandparent’s house, our house and my uncles’ houses. We all lived together. When the war started, the Serbs came very close to our property. All the young men from the village had to be on the front line and were positioned on the top of the hills to protect the villages and the families living there. My father once told me that the Serbs actually came so close that they were even able to talk with one another.
I used to ask my dad what it was like to be a soldier in a war. He would tell me stories about men who were killed because they were not careful enough and did not hide themselves well enough. Others were killed by mines hidden in the forests just down the hills. And others were captured and killed by the Bosnian army. When I would ask my dad or my uncles if had ever killed anyone in the war they would never want to talk about it with me.
I stopped asking because I honestly do not want to know the answer.
A year after the war started my grandmother wanted my father to leave the country. She was afraid that he would be killed. My father decided to go to Luxembourg. Two of his older brothers were already living there. They left Bosnia long before the war started. I was born a few month’s later. My father had already left for Luxembourg to prepare for us to join him.
My mother told me that she was very scared during this time. One of my uncles, who never left Bosnia, helped us a lot when my father was gone.
My mother told me that sometimes when she left the house the bombs or grenades fell so close to her that she thought that she would be hit and killed. She was pregnant at this time. She firmly believes that I felt her fear too.
As the hospital had been destroyed by bombs I was born in the cellar of a hotel which was being used as a temporary hospital during the war. I was born in a room next to wounded soldiers and civilians.
There is one story about a very frightening experience which my mother has told me at least a thousand times. It was when the Serbs were very close to our property and were attacking us with grenades. They were firing just a few meters from our house. The Bosnian soldiers were just outside our house.
The bombings were so loud that my face turned black. When my uncle saw me he ran to the soldiers to tell them to stop. My uncle realised that I had to be taken to a safer place and he decided to take my mother and I to my Aunt’s house in another village.
My parents always say that I was so frightened of everything as a child because of all of these experiences which of course I have no recollection of. When I was a child I was afraid of everything, I was afraid of the dark, of loud noises and of strangers. My parents were very worried about me.
I had a very difficult relationship with my father growing up. He was not able to handle his anger and he would shout and say very unkind things. What hurt the most was when he would say unkind and hurtful things to my mother. This hurt me so much more than anything he ever said directly to me.
I have realised today that he simply did not have the same education, cultural background or experiences that I have had. His life was very different, very difficult. He grew up with five brothers and one sister. He was one of the youngest. He had to work hard from a young age. My grandmother also had a difficult life mainly because of my grandfather being such a difficult man. He was not always very responsible and there would be times when he didn’t bring his wage home. It was left to my grandmother to bring up their children on her own. Her life was so difficult, she would work in the fields and then go home to prepare something to eat for nine people three times a day. This was her life. My father had a very difficult childhood.
When he first arrived in Luxembourg he lived with his brother. It was nearly impossible to find a job. After being in Luxembourg for a few months he was so disheartened that he decided to go back to Bosnia, back to the war. But this is when God gave him a chance and gave us a second chance.
He met a Luxembourger who persuaded him to stay in Luxembourg and promised him that he would find him a job in the next few weeks. And he did.
After being in Luxembourg alone for one and a half years without seeing his wife, his daughter and his new-born son, he was finally given residency and able to bring his family to Luxembourg. He still had to work very hard to earn enough money to buy his own house and to start his new life but finally we were together, united again.
My favourite memories from my childhood are my memories of being at school. I cherished my group of friends. We had so much fun together. I was very hard working as a child and after school I would spend a lot of my time outside playing with the other children.
I discovered football at the age of 9 and from then on football became a big and important part of my life. I met a lot of other children through playing football and I enjoyed football training and the matches we would play at the weekend.
I have not experienced much racism because of my nationality. I honestly do not remember any bad experiences from my childhood. Although I do remember one bad experience from the time when I was working as a student.
And after that experience, I started to ask myself how people could hate other people because of their cultural background or religion. I read a lot about the Bosnian War and how the Serbs (mostly Orthodox) attacked the Bosnian Muslims. I also watched a lot of documentaries and videos showing Serbs capturing Bosnians. When I think about all these horrible things I do get very sad.
And sometimes when someone asks me if I am a Muslim, I don’t know what to answer. I often wonder whether it’s better to say, « No, I am not a Muslim, I am just Halid”. I cannot be defined by my religion or my cultural background. I am not Bosnian, but I am not really a Luxembourger either. I am just Halid.
Please let me just be Halid, because I am afraid of identifying myself with a religion or a nationality. I do not want to be judged by a word such as Islam, Muslim, Bosnian. To me these are just words. These words do not and cannot tell you who I am. I am sometimes even afraid to say my name because it’s a Muslim name and Becic is a very common Bosnian surname. All of these simple words do not and cannot tell you who I am. Even this story doesn’t tell anyone everything about me. If you want to know who I am, then just meet me, listen to me, laugh with me and accept me as I am.
Immigrants should on the one hand show their willingness to participate in our society, to learn the language, to work, to pay their taxes etc. But on the other hand, society has to encourage the new citizens by giving them the chance to integrate by offering for example language courses, cultural activities and an appropriate education. Our society should be open-minded and understand the difficulties some immigrants may face when trying to achieve all of these things.
I think that I have integrated very well. Since I was young I have never only had one group of friends. I didn’t like to be with just people from my home country. I wanted to be friends with everyone.
Of course I had my Bosnian friends, but I also had my Luxembourgish, Portuguese and Cape Verdean friends.
People say that I am an exception. But I am not, I know this for a fact. I am just someone who faced his fears and who made the first step each time. I see this as my strongest personality trait. I learned not to be afraid of other people, but to approach them with a smile and to just be myself. People would then be nice back to me.
I think that a lot of immigrants are afraid of people who are different – just like residents are afraid of immigrants. If only they knew how similar they are.
There are of course open and narrow-minded people in every culture or religion. Just as there are people who respect the laws and people who do not . We are all similar. I believe the key is to listen to people, to not only hear them but to actually listen to them. Refugees do not only need money and a place to stay but they also need to be listened to just like every human being does.
I chose to study Communication because I realised that this is our biggest gift. Being able to communicate with others opens doors in your life. You learn to discuss critical, emotional subjects without getting angry or being offended by others which my father could never do. You learn to be open-minded and the most important lesson is that you learn to listen. When I started studying Communications I actually thought that I would learn to speak, to discuss, to debate more efficiently and to improve my public speaking. But in fact I learned to speak less and to listen instead. I learnt to concentrate on what the other person is saying. It sounds very simple but in fact it isn’t. We always want to explain to others what we mean or think, but we forget to listen to the other person when we are finished. This is not what communication is about. Everyone needs to be listened to.
I have a message to everyone who has had to flee their country and start a new life somewhere else. I know that I know nothing about your journey and your personal experiences.
I can only encourage you not to lose your faith. I also was an immigrant and for some people, I always will be.
But please remember that there are a lot of people who will welcome you and who will listen to you. Immigrants, refugees, residents… we all need each other. Show them who you are, do not be afraid. Be open-minded and do not be afraid of the unknown. People who are rude or hurtful to you are in fact the ones who are afraid.
I was very afraid as a child and my parents were very worried about me. I have also had bad experiences in my life but I have learnt to face my deepest fears and to go forward step by step. I do not regret anything. I have learnt a lot, I have met many interesting people and I have discovered different cultures. And what I have always noticed is that it does not matter where I am, or where I go, people are very similar and you will always find a way to integrate and to make friends, you have to want it, you have to try it.
I only speak Bosnian with my parents. My mother has not learnt any common language spoken here for various reasons. In terms of my Bosnian culture, although my parents have told me many stories about Bosnia, they have not actually passed on that much about Bosnia to me. Both of my parents come from simple, rural families. They lived a fairly isolated life in the mountains. Education was rather limited. My mother sang me songs when I was a baby. But I was never really interested in them. But I do remember the Luxemburgish songs that I learnt at school.
Bosnian TV was and still is a big topic of discussion at home. When I was younger we would have endless discussions about which TV channel to watch because I of course wanted to watch the German channnels. The status quo was that we would all watch the Bosnian news and then we were allowed to change to a channel I liked. I actually became a very good Bosnian-German translator over time as I had to translate from a very young age.
In fact, I grew up in the middle of two worlds. My cultural background is Luxembourgish although I am aware that there are bits of the Bosnian culture hiding somewhere deep inside of me.
I love to visit Bosnia. I feel the same excitement every time when I know that I am going to Bosnia. I feel good there. I love the music. It’s a strange, beautiful feeling. A feeling I still do not really understand. My Bosnian part takes over as soon as I am in Bosnia and when I am back in Luxembourg, I quickly forget about it. I realise it’s time for me to discover more about my Bosnian background and that’s why I will probably do my exchange year in Turkey which is historically and culturally speaking very related to Bosnia.
My family is not particularly religious. I know it might sound strange but in my teenage years I actually became very religious. When I was fifteen I developed a strong interest in Islam. I learned the Sure prayer by heart even though I did not understand a word of Arabic, I liked the sound. Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day. Of course this was not really possible for me as I spent most of my time at school. I think I was in an identity crisis typical for teenagers. I was looking for my way and looking for somewhere where I could fit in. I am interested in understanding the mechanism of Islamic radicalisation. And I actually do understand why some young people follow ISIS. Social exclusion is at the origin of this.
My parents are happy in Luxembourg. They do not want to go back to Bosnia when they retire. They are happy that I have integrated so well and turned out to what they call a “real” Luxembourger.
The problem is more that we are slowly drifting apart from each other because our differences have grown over time. We have different views on education, experiences, goals… Communication is getting complicated.
My father speaks Luxemburgish (he learned it at work) but I cannot say that he is really integrated. My mother who worked as a cleaning woman has not learned the languages, mostly because she had very limited connections to residents.
I realise that there is a big gap between men and women in the Muslim culture. In the Muslim culture, both worlds are traditionally strictly compartmented. To me that is a problem that we have to tackle. Men as well as woman must learn to overcome this difference. Women must learn to say no to their husbands and to lead a life of their own. When I speak to Muslim women they often want to persuade me that it is normal for a woman to listen to her husband but I tell them that it should not be that way. I find it ironic that it’s me as a man and not them as women fighting for their rights.