Updated: Feb 15, 2021
By Richard Vaško, Warwick European Society Correspondent
The cities, towns, and villages we come from have an immense influence on who we are. I often see parallels between my existence and that of my hometown - Bratislava. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, a tiny country in Central Europe. I would like to introduce this city to you, whilst also exploring the aforementioned parallels between my life as a fresher and Bratislava.
A quiet road in Bratislava. Image by Pixabay.
A lively square in Bratislava. Image by Pixabay.
I have to admit, my hometown and I have been struggling with an identity crisis for quite some time now. I shall start with analyzing Bratislava’s identity crisis because it seems easier than talking about my own issues. Bratislava is a city whose identity is ephemeral. To begin with, Bratislava is known by many names, notably as Pressburg or Pozsony. Prima facie, the alternative names are more similar to each other than to the official name of Bratislava. Pressburg is of German origin and Pozsony is Hungarian, which reveals the city’s history. Prior to the First World War, it was populated predominantly by Hungarians and Germans; Slovaks constituted a minority. Pressburg never considered itself a distinctly Slovak city. However, after The War, a new burden was imposed on Pressburg - not only to become a Slovak city but to become the capital of Slovakia! Pressburg became Bratislava and forcibly abandoned its past. New external expectations entail a necessity to form a new identity.
Life often does this to us. We are forced to change and adapt to circumstances we find ourselves in. Yet, we are reminded to remain “true to ourselves”, whatever that means. How can Bratislava know what would she have become, had it not been for The War? How can I know who I truly am, when I am forced to change? Everybody changes when they come to university. It is expected of us. We abandon our old friends. We have to learn to be responsible and constantly consider our future. We are adults now! If I internalize this new identity, does that mean I denied my true self?
Clearly, Bratislava is not Pressburg anymore and I am not a high school student anymore, whether either of us likes it or not. We just have to deal with it. The literal meaning of “Bratislava” could be translated as “Glory, Brothers!”. Let’s hope for the glory of the days that await us, then. What else is left to do?
A carillon clock in Bratislava.
"Time's arrow neither stands still nor reverses. It merely marches forward." (from Bojack Horseman) Image from Pixabay.
Consequently, a new question emerges:
Do we belong to the environment we were thrown into?
Bratislava had the ethos of an international city with historical importance, yet she was thrown into a rustic and conservative country. I often find myself pondering whether I belong to a competitive careerist university environment, which is permeated with overachieving individuals. Resistance to the norms of your environment is an incredibly difficult task, since everybody longs for the feeling of belonging. Nevertheless, I postulate that it is better not to succumb to norms which cause us distress. Yes, change may be necessary sometimes. However, when reshaping our identities, we must do so in accordance with our inner intuitions. Contradicting our bedrock values will not make us feel less lonely, quite the opposite - we will feel alienated even from ourselves. Although Pressburg became Bratislava, it retained its unique way of life and culture. I intend to do the same as a university student. I must adapt, but I will not deny myself the pleasure of being myself.
The Bratislava skyline. Image from Pixabay.
Lastly, Bratislava also suffers from an inferiority complex. Even though it is the largest city in Slovakia, Vienna is only fifty miles west. Compared to Vienna, Bratislava is a tiny and insignificant town. It is unlikely that Bratislava will ever live up to the standards of her elder sister. We all have a vienna in our lives, which puts even more pressure on our identity. Once Bratislava became a capital city, it had to compare with all the other European capitals as well. There is always somebody, who is better than us at anything we do. The only way to cope with this fact is to realize that we are “enough” and that we should not constantly compare ourselves to others. Easier said than done, though. Both me and Bratislava are yet awaiting such a personal epiphany.
Richard in Bratislava.
All these emotions and worries can feel overwhelming at times. The lyrics from one of my favourite songs called (funnily enough) Vienna by Billy Joel can be comforting:
Slow down you're doing fine You can't be everything you want to be before your time Although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight
It truly is quite romantic on the borderline. Change and uncertainty have a poetic value. Figuring out who we are is undoubtedly difficult, but it can be fascinating and thrilling. Identity crises emerge from trying to impose a static identity on people (or cities) which are clearly in flux. Thus, I believe that in times of uncertainty, we ought to focus more on who we are becoming, rather than on our being.
By Richard Vaško , First Year Politics, Philosophy and Law Student & Warwick European Society Fresher Representative