Olga, the Authentic War Child

Interview

Olga was born in a Serbian Orthodox family during the war in Croatia. Now she lives with her girlfriend in Berlin. In the interview, she shares her story about growing up in a religious family and falling in love at an Orthodox monastery.

Betende Hände mit einem Rosenkranz

Olga realized that she was gay when she fell in love with a woman at an Orthodox monastery. She talks nostalgically about it like it was a chapter from a fairytale.
She was born in the early 1990s, during the war in Croatia. Her family is Serbian Orthodox and they moved to Serbia. Olga doesn’t remember Croatia or her hometown well. Yet, she doesn’t feel at home in Serbia, either.

Today, Olga lives with her girlfriend in their studio apartment in Berlin. With a bachelor's degree in theatre arts and acting, Olga is on a constant lookout for a new role, be it through auditions at a neighborhood theatre or blockbuster movie castings. This is not the kind of life that she had in mind growing up in rural Serbia. 

Lea Noa: Tell us about your childhood.

Olga: I like to refer to myself as the “authentic war child” (laughs), having been born in the midst of the war. Luckily, I don’t remember the war. I was only a year old when my parents decided to move to Serbia and join our relatives. My childhood was relatively happy. My family was religious, so we spent a lot of time at the church. My dad was also president of the church’s board of directors.

Was your family always religious? 

Well, when the war started, they became very religious. I mean, they still live in a small town in Serbia where religious communities are still much bigger than in the cities. My mom comes from a religious background. I guess it was during the war and the fall of Yugoslavia that my dad became religious, especially once we moved to Serbia. Since I was a child, I’ve always had a dream of becoming a nun and living in a monastery. After I graduated from high school, I did exactly that and joined a monastery.

Tell us a bit more about your life in the monastery.

Orthodox monastics have a number of different levels that the nun has to pass. The first is always the novice level. The novice has to make a decision on her own to become a nun. Next is a formal service where she is given the robe and veil, and a new name. The old “you” dies when you get a new name, and the “new” you is expected to dedicate the rest of your life to God.

All that matters is God and prayers, and one’s mission as a nun is to spread love and faith.
I loved the fact that none of the nuns ever talked about their previous life. As if it didn’t exist, and it wasn’t important anymore. There was only now. My first life-changing experience actually happened at the monastery. 

What happened?

Well, it was a rainy and cold day, and we were just setting up the table for lunch when she walked in, a girl in her early 20’s with the biggest smile and this amazing aura. For me, it was love at first sight. I was attracted to a woman at the monastery, and the crazy part is I didn’t feel the guilt. We became friends right away. She was a second-generation Serbian-Australian studying theology, and she was at the monastery to do research.

She did confide in me that she was gay, but she wouldn’t dare tell the nuns as she probably wouldn’t be welcome to stay at the monastery. Shortly afterwards, we started our secret relationship at the monastery. I have never felt like that in my life. With her, it was love, real love. Luckily, we didn’t get caught.

How long have you two been together?

It was a short relationship. Just during our time at the monastery, for about a month. After she left, we tried to keep up our long-distance relationship, but she met somebody new in Australia and broke my heart. But she changed me forever, and I am grateful for it. I guess I can still be surrounded by women but not at the monastery. (laughs)

How was it to be in such a religious surrounding in a homosexual relationship?

It was very difficult. We were talking a lot about it. She was more comfortable with her sexual orientation and was helping me find out who I was. I struggled a lot and finally had to accept that I am who I am, so I gave up the path of becoming a nun. I mean, it [is] committing a sin at a holy place.

Are you still religious?

I have always been, and I will always be. That didn’t change. I still go to Sunday morning liturgy. When I have time, I also sing in my church’s chorus. Of course, nobody there knows about my sexual orientation. I wouldn’t be accepted, for sure. There is no doubt about it. 

Did you ever experience discrimination from somebody at the church?

No, because I never came out to anybody there, and I am very careful that nobody has found out. But my friend, for example, recently had an abortion, and she received a communion ban. So imagine what would happen to me if I came out? I don’t want to. I want to continue going to the church. It gives me peace. To me, it is like an escape from the reality. When you are inside, you are not in the everyday surrounding. Even the language is unclear because the language of liturgy is Old Slavonic. So, liturgy, chorus, music, everything is created to make me escape the reality and meditate.

People come to Sunday morning liturgy to relax. It always makes me feel better after a stressful week. To me, it’s a Sunday’s therapy. I personally separate it from a religious institution that is inconsistent with my lifestyle. I have been going weekly ever since I was born, and it is definitely something that I want to continue. I will never be able to tell them that I am gay. Never. 

Do your parents know about your sexual orientation? 

No, I don’t think so, although I live with my girlfriend in a studio apartment. We have one bed, one that we share. We have been living together for the past four years. My father still makes remarks about me getting married to a man and having kids. He will never stop doing that, and I simply ignore him. That’s the way our relationship is. I had numerous arguments with my girlfriend about it.

She is German, and she wants me to have ‘”the talk” that is long overdue.  According to her, the relationship is absurd, which I agree it certainly is. But she doesn’t understand the mentality of the conservative rural Balkan man. My father wouldn’t be violent, that is for sure, but a lot of them would. I am already happy that he does come to visit me and the fact that he looks at my girlfriend as my best friend. To me, he is already accepting me in his own way. 

Will you stay in Germany or do you want to move back to Serbia?

I want to stay in Germany. I am in a serious relationship, and we have a wonderful circle of queer friends with whom we regularly meet. It is also better for my career. I have more work opportunities here, from theater to movies. So I will stay here and work as long as I can. I also feel free in Germany.

I mean, we are not affectionate in public because I don’t want to risk running into people from the church. That is my biggest fear. Gossip spreads within the Serbian community here faster than back home. My girlfriend is also not a fan of public display of affection, so we agree on that.

Will you ever come out?

You sound just like my girlfriend (laughs). For me, it’s not important to say the words to come out. I know that neither my parents nor the community would accept it. This is my life and I know what kind of consequences to expect. Therefore, I just do not see the point of coming out. 

I like my life the way it is. I don’t think that they even want to know what I am doing and with whom. After all, it’s nobody’s business what I am doing within my four walls. So, to answer your question: No, I don’t think so.