Nevenka Martin

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Ethnicity
    South-Slav - Croatian and Montenegrin/Serbian
  • Religion
  • Level of education
    MA in East European Studies
  • Family status (children included)
    Divorced; Son of 23
  • Place of birth (town, state)
    Zrenjanin, Yugoslavia
  • Now living in (town, state)
    London, UK

Multi-faceted identity, with some facets more "important" than others.

1. Woman and mother; 2. Sister and friend; 3. Student and a marginal academic; 4. Yugoslav (although Yugoslavia does not exist as a country any longer I still define my national belonging as such. I was born and spent my formative years there and it was the country I left when I emigrated 24 years ago. Being Yugoslav most fully expresses my upbringing); 5. European and within that, more narrowly in terms of citizenship, British and a citizen of Serbia and Montenegro; 6. Orthodox.
With age and life's circumstances my identity in terms of gender has become much more important to me; national belonging or religious identity have never been prominent facets and remain so today. Emigrating to the UK and later the birth of my son were the points when I noticed the change in the hierarchy (from daughter and student, sister and friend etc. to woman and mother; sister and friend; student etc.).

Family was the most important influence as was the social environment in which I was raised; the milieu in which I live now has also shaped my identity particularly in terms of gender.

I find the following figures interesting, although I would not say that I necessarily identify myself with them:
Kassiani, a 9th century Byzantine poet, composer and abbess, the earliest woman composer whose work survives today. Kassiani's most famous poetic hymn is the Troparion, a confession by Mary Magdalen as she pours myrrh over Christ's head just before his Passion. Tradition has it that Kassiani was shunned by the Emperor Theophilus as a possible bride because of her response to his comment that women were a source of sin (reference to Eve) to which she replied that women were a source of salvation referring to Mary, the mother of Christ.
Elizabeth I, Margaret Thatcher (although I have never agreed with her policies!) as examples of strong women functioning in a "man's world" and of all fictional characters - Scarlet O'Hara from Gone With the Wind!
Dositej Obradovic, Serbian monk who advocated the Enlightenment amongst the South Slavs in Austro-Hungary and Serbia; the "father" of Serbian literature, great and enthusiastic educationalist. The Enlightenment is the period I am most drawn towards as is the period of the rise of the Yugoslav idea at the beginning of the 20th century in Serbia and amongst the South Slavs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Time of great enthusiasm, creativity and cultural exchange between the South Slavs.
With regard to musical preferences: Orthodox church chants obviously relate to my religious identity; old folk songs to my ethnic identity; Mozart - embodies the Enlightenment and emphasis on the individual.

Scarlet O'Hara obviously (civil war in America) but it is more some of this fictional personality's traits that I can identify with rather than the period; Dositej Obradovic and his autobiography Zivot i prikljucenija /Life and Experiences which charts his travels across Europe and his experiences along the way which led to the change from his clerical ideals to championing the 18th century rationalism among the Serbs and to being an admirer of Joseph II whom Dositej saw as the example of an enlightened monarch.

The only time when I found that any facet of my identity has been a "problem" (not so much an obstacle) was during the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia. This was the only time when I was asked to specifically define my ethnicity by some people I came across in everyday life (these events were constantly in the news at the time and the general public was aware that there were Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims etc. fighting with each other; added to this, the general perception of the Serbs was extremely negative in most of the press). Since I come from a mixed marriage (Croatian mother/ Montenegrin father) it was obviously an almost impossible task for me as I always regarded myself and was brought up as a Yugoslav. Suddenly I had to specify which part of the country I came from, and having come from Serbia where I was born I was automatically pigeonholed as an "aggressor". This is where being a holder of a British passport became very useful and I began to describe myself as British only in certain situations. It was a natural thing as it worked in the same way as being Yugoslav - it encompassed a wide range of ethnic, cultural and religious identities. Having the possibility to shift identities according to my needs was extremely convenient - national and ethnic identities are just facets of my identity which I don't consider particularly important and having this possibility to chose according to my needs was, at that particular time, a useful way to avoid "justifying" my ethnic background. These days, if asked, I tend to say that I am a "former" Yugoslav and a British citizen. These two facets of my identity coexist quite happily. Some 15 years ago I have also formally anglicized my surname (from Martinovic to Martin) for practical reasons. However, when I am in Serbia I actually use Martinovic in all informal situations as it is more convenient. I do find that the concept of shifting identities suits me - it seems to fit perfectly with my lifestyle which incorporates both the UK and Serbia.

Since I am the "product" of a mixed marriage the consequence of that was my upbringing as a Yugoslav rather than a Croat or a Serb/Montenegrin. I can also quite happily define myself as British as well. I suppose I feel more comfortable within a broad identity framework rather than a narrowly defined one.

In practical terms one had to obviously adjust to a particular way of life (although in my case this was not particularly difficult - Yugoslavia was always open to Western influences and travel abroad helped to gain experience). On the other hand, I had to work much harder in terms of acquiring some sort of social status and start from scratch. This would have been much easier had I stayed in Yugoslavia since all the social and family support was already well established. In London I had to create this by myself. Also, since I come from a very close-nit family background my bonds with my place of birth have always been strong. This, however, is actually connected to people rather than to the place itself. In fact, I love living in London, the city's openness and cosmopolitanism suit me and I feel at "home". This now brings into question whether I feel at "home" in Zrenjanin where I was born and grew up. If home is "where the heart is" than I have two homes - one which I have created myself, where my son was born and where I have been living for the past 24 years, and one which is where I was born and raised and where the rest of my family is. Both have deeply emotional connections.

When in company of my family and friends in Serbia and Croatia and friends (some of whom are from the former Yugoslavia, some colleagues from SSEES in London. In fact when I am with people who have some connection to South-East Europe (the Balkans) whether they come from there or have academic interests in the area. The intellectual and mental framework of such groups suits me best and best expresses my identity in terms of national belonging. It is interesting to me that these feelings are becoming stronger with my "advancing" years - I am beginning to feel more and more drawn towards my "roots".