When you live abroad, there are two questions people will ask you again and again:
1. how long do you plan to stay here?
2. do you plan to go back?
The answer to the first has been a standard "one or two more years" until I realised that we've been here much longer than that. So nowadays I am more likely to say that I have no idea.
The second one is easier, because the answer is a resolute "no." There is something terrifying in that certainty but I suppose it is better than deluding yourself that you will go back in some distant future.
When I left in 1997 I didn't mean to leave for good, I had some vague idea about returning when Milosevic is gone and things get back to normal. Maybe these were half-hearted ideas all along--my best friend claims so, anyway, and he is probably right. But that door that was ajar, at least in my perception, slammed shut in 2003 when our then prime minister was assassinated and any improbable return was taken off the agenda.
So do I still have a homeland? I grew up in Yugoslavia and then, without any choice in the matter, in Serbia, spent some great years in Bulgaria, had an exciting time in London, have fallen in love with Budapest and enjoyed it for years.
Legally speaking, I am Serbian, I have no other citizenship. And Serbian is my one and only mother tongue, even though being away from where it is spoken has taken its toll on my vocabulary and (embarassingly) even grammar. But I feel neither a bond nor particular loyalty to Serbia as a country. I feel closer to people who have grown up watching the same cartoons as myself, even if their native language is Slovene or Albanian, than to my own cousin who was born in 1989 and has only been Serbian all of her life. As Tony Judt so aptly put it: "This warm bath of identity was always alien to me."*
But while I have given up on having a homeland, I still need to have a home--a place to start from on all the journeys, a place to belong. An anchor, if you will, and not necessarily geographical, although that helps. Budapest is, for many reasons, not home and, while I always knew that, I have felt it more strongly lately and the realisation that I live in a beautiful bubble has seriously put me off balance. I got tired of not belonging, not understanding and not participating.
It is a little bit like a relationship--after so much time, you either commit or you split, you don't just drag on forever. But which way for the boat?
*"Crossings," published in New York Review of Books.
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