In 1992, I was barely 11 then, we impatiently waited for the postman, who first brought an invitation for my sister to come to the administrative unit. She fixed her personal documents there. Two months later they invited her again to come to the administrative unit and bring her new documents. This time they took away her documents – the ones they had issued two months earlier – punched them and said they weren’t valid any more. I remember the day when she came home, she was very sad, she cried, my sister; she was 15 at the time and she was arranging documents on her own. I didn’t understand anything. I still waited for the postman, but I soon could see that I wouldn’t get Slovenian citizenship. I didn’t have problems at school, but I didn’t tell anyone that the postman hadn’t come. Towards the end of elementary school my schoolmates were making decisions about where to continue their schooling, but I knew that I needed personal documents to enrol in secondary school. I didn’t feel like learning anymore, so in the seventh grade I replaced the classroom with the basketball ground in front of our apartment block.
I grew up in one of the rougher neighbourhoods in Slovenia, in Fužine, where there was a lot of police supervision. I had to hide all the time out of fear that they would find me. The manager of the building where our non-profit apartment was located asked me if we had citizenship. I naturally told him that we did. Had I told him that we didn’t have it, God knows what would have happened. I had this feeling all the time that people were suspicious. It’s true that I never had any unpleasant encounter with the police; I only talked to them when they, for example, surprised me with some similar question, such as, “Who scribbled over the wall in our building?” Even then I was stiff and frightened. I mainly stayed at home and, in order to avoid bad company, on the playground, where I played basketball with friends. After basketball, I went straight home; I was home by nine o’clock in the evening at the latest. Basketball became my life, my escape from a situation that felt like prison. Basketball, home, basketball, home, that’s how my daily life looked for several years. And today I regret one thing that I couldn’t realize. I’d certainly train to become a basketball player, but I couldn’t do it without documents.
My friends would invite me to come with them to the seaside and I’d reply to the effect that I didn’t know yet, maybe, possibly, if possible, probably another time, but in fact I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go, because I didn’t have any document needed to cross the border. They would go but I stayed in Slovenia, ten or eleven years. Like every child, I missed the seaside, my grandma. My grandma in Bosnia, where we used to go for holidays before that, was very old, and I only wanted her to live, not to die, so that I could see her once again. My grandpa died in 1994, but I couldn’t go to the funeral – it was very hard for me. We were locked in this country. I felt literally like a prisoner. I couldn’t go anywhere – it was such a strange feeling.
My mum didn’t speak about it a lot, because it hurt her so badly. Most of all, she worried how she’d manage to provide a livelihood for her two children as a single mother. Before the disintegration of Yugoslavia, she worked in a bar in Ljubljana, but she slipped while cleaning the floor, fell on her back and seriously injured it. Her treatment and recovery lasted a long time. Next time it was she who was cleansed from the register, and nobody slipped while doing it. She lost her job. It was only some time later that she came across another job in a restaurant, at her friend’s, where she worked illegally in the kitchen or helped with serving. She too had to hide. When work inspectors came in, she’d hide anywhere. She often told us how she ran away to escape them. She had to find her way around to earn money. She worked all day long to be able to buy bread for us. I spent all my New Years alone at home with my sister. I can remember how I called her on the phone and cried because I missed her, as any child would. But she worked for two days on end. To earn money. And when she came home she wished us a happy New Year and went to sleep straight away because she was so tired. It was hard on us at that time.
For more than half a year we ate only bread and milk. From time to time my mum got aid packs from the Red Cross. Child benefits and other benefits didn’t exist. But the bills came in regularly, for the apartment and utility costs, but it was impossible to pay them. During the period when my mum didn’t have any income, my ingenious sister, still a child at that time, would bring food from the shop now and then. I mean, she took it without paying for it. She stole it. So that we could eat. She would bring paté, ragout, spaghetti. And we were so happy then.
We didn’t have health insurance in the meantime. If I was ill, I waited for it to go away. If I sprained my ankle playing basketball, or tore something, if my leg swelled, I put some ice and waited for it to go away. My mum, soon after she obtained the permanent work visa for foreigners, got seriously ill. She had a tumor; they removed her kidney, then other illnesses followed, she got thrombosis and St. Anthony’s fire, and nothing went away. She has open wounds on her leg; she is fifty-four and she cannot walk without crutches, and she has a level one disability pension. Nobody can give her back her health.
My friends would invite me to come with them to the seaside and I’d reply to the effect that I didn’t know yet, maybe, possibly, if possible, probably another time, but in fact I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go, because I didn’t have any document needed to cross the border. They would go but I stayed in Slovenia, ten or eleven years.
My sister was the first to begin arranging her status according to the instructions from the Helsinki Monitor; then I followed in her footsteps. When I began to arrange things to obtain alien status, I used my birth certificate, which says that I was born in Ljubljana, my boy scout card, the elementary school certificate and the monthly pass for the city bus. In 2003 I obtained an ID card for foreigners, with the “country” box left empty. So I officially became a citizen of No country. I didn’t belong to any state, but I had to have an ID card for aliens. I still have it at home. When I look at it now, I only laugh. In order to be able to apply for Slovenian citizenship, I had to pay for a course in Slovene, because it did not suffice that Slovene was my subject at school and that it was stated on my school certificate. It was as if I were climbing Mount Everest.
At that time the debts for the apartment in which we lived were already high, and in 2004 we had to move out. I found work in a production unit after I obtained a permanent residence permit, and I worked on another student’s card. When I obtained citizenship I got a regular job. I immediately went to Bosnia to visit my grandma, and after some time I went on a short trip to England. I completed elementary school at 25, the seventh and the eighth grade that were missing. I enrolled in secondary school, in the pre-elementary school course. Now I attend lectures and work. I now find the peace and freedom that I once sought in basketball, in libraries and books. I live with my partner and our daughter, who is a few months old, and I take care of my sick mother.
My sister, who could not complete secondary school for a long time because of the erasure, later completed a commercial school. Now she wants to get a driver’s license for all types of vehicles. She has her dreams and she’s right to have them. She’s passed the exam for a lorry driver, and she’s been preparing for the bus driver exam. She’d like to drive a city bus.
My story is now only a history that can be put on paper, nothing else. But I cannot turn time back to start again and change things.