“Nothing interests young people today.”

“These young people are just having fun, drinking, living and leeching off their parents.”

“They’re only interested in money.”

I have heard these words countless times in my life, and they were often directed at me – a young person with a great many interests, who is not “leeching off”, and who is not interested only in money. Numerous arguments to the contrary and positive examples were not enough to dissuade those older than me. Then, when I did exactly the opposite and stood up for my views, fought for the public interest and the betterment of society, I was asked the most demoralizing question – And who are you?

Funny how the question that we ask ourselves over and over again through our lives can be an insult when it comes from someone else. I have a lot of answers to who I am, but when I’m asked that question, I only give one: I’m no one.

In Montenegro as it is today, and as it has been since I became aware of its existence as a political-economic-social construction, I feel, frankly, like a no one. Mostly because I know who a “somebody” is. In our beautiful country, a somebody is one who deceives citizens, denies them basic human rights and allows the destruction of natural resources. A ‘someone’ sits in the parliament, in the government, enjoys the comfort of the position he/she won at our expense, and doesn’t care about us. We’re nobody.

Knowing this, I am glad I belong to this second group. The people who are nobody to those in power are exactly the people I believe in. Even though as a journalist and activist I have worked towards strengthening gender equality, protecting the environment and human and minority rights, I am still not someone. Paradoxically, the people who think they are someone, for me are not. Readers might now ask themselves, so who do you then consider to be someone?

For me, somebodies are my friends and colleagues, young activists and journalists, who every day do more good for our country than those who run it. Some of them have exposed the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Montenegro, some advocate for free menstrual products, others are demanding better conditions and legislation for victims of gender-based and sexual violence, then there are those working on the equality and inclusion of the Roma and Egyptian population, and others are using their knowledge and achievements to better Montenegro’s image throughout the world. They are not only somebodies, they are many things. But, in Montenegro, most often they are nobody. With them, I defended trees, rivers, the right to equality, the right to life and the right to dignity, which is the greatest luxury in the country. I would never trade them for those who are someone in the public eye.

I don’t know when exactly we got to the point where we complain that there are not enough ambitious and hardworking young people, but when they do show themselves, we hold them back and limit them. In the workplace we are there to work and learn, but if we know better or progress faster than older colleagues we are immediately branded as conceited and pretentious. At school, we’re stupid if we don’t have great grades, but if we have them, we’re nerds. We are someone when political candidates talk about us and when we are their target electorate, but after we get them elected, we are nobody. We are passive, but in the front rows at protests we are labeled as children.

You know what? Let me be nobody. It means that I still have the will and strength to properly fight for young people who I hope will be nobodies in the years to come. It means that I still have the ability to represent my own, public and civic interests instead of the interests of investors, senior politicians and directors. It means I’m still me and I know who I really am, which is more than what the “somebodies” can say for themselves.

In the wake of Americanization, Europeanization, globalization and other such trends, we have forgotten that the number of votes is not what makes us human. We’ve forgotten that the number of likes and follows doesn’t make us important. In fact, we’ve forgotten what’s important. Capitalism has done its thing and has made sure that we do not see the largest capital that is right in front of us – nature, virtue and, most importantly, each other.

If I were someone, I’d make sure people like my colleagues never felt like a no one. That would make my mission a success, as these are the people I know can change the system for the better, and I would be the wind in their sails. If I were someone, no man would suffocate in the shackles of patriarchy and feel frustrated when unable to fulfill his traditionally imposed role. Women would have more faith in the legislative and executive power of Montenegro and would not hesitate to report their abusers to the authorities. The health system would not be a machine pushing citizens into the private health sector, but would work in the interests of public health. If I were someone, poaching would be banned and concessionaires wouldn’t be able to pick any piece of land like it’s a piece of cake. In Montenegro, everyone would be free to be themselves, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and skin color.

I’m not somebody. Somebodies are more concerned with themselves and their interests, their personal advancement. They only look towards a potential new step up they may be able to take. They don’t see the citizens; they see them as beneath them, even though they’re actually right in front, behind and on both sides of them.

A somebody can only be one who knows that there is always someone smarter, better, more successful and more capable than he/she. Since everyone is someone. We can only be someone when we stick together. Young people in Montenegro are on a mission to prove that and make sure that in the future young people are nobody. If I were somebody, I’d least of all be me, and instead be everyone else.

Marija Pešić