Enes Lukac was born in a city called Novi Pazar – known for being the only Muslim majority town in Serbia.
Growing up there in the 1990s, life was full of identity conflicts.
“I experienced the dreadful happenings characterised by war between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as constant ethnic conflicts between Orthodox Serbians on the one hand, and Muslim Serbians on the other, to which my family belongs,” Enes tells SI News.
And that wasn’t the only challenge.
“In Serbia people often approached me with prejudice due to my non-conformism with the typical cisgender heterosexual man model that was assigned to me by birth,” Enes says.
Enes prefers to use the pronoun “they” in written form and “she” in spoken form. The Swedish language has a gender neutral singular pronoun – hen – but as English does not, linguists have recently decided that “they” should be permitted in such contexts.
“I did not feel that I had a safe place to work on my self-development, as well as to express my thoughts and feelings that go in contrast with normative pattern of conservative majority,” they say. “When I have publicly started to be engaged into LGBT activism, I have been constantly targeted by various extremist groups in terms of Internet threats and trolling that I received on a daily basis.”
But these experiences did not silent Enes. On the contrary – they say it gave them the incentive to continue their activism and contribute to the cause for every oppressed individual in their country.
After finishing high school in Serbia, Enes moved to Turkey and graduated with a High Honours Degree for their studies in sociology at Bogazici University. Enes was also awarded the Best Student Award thanks to her activism in the area of transgender and minority rights.
But they didn’t stop there. By then Enes had set their sights on Sweden.
“I have always considered Sweden as one of my study options where I could have a safe personal space as a transgender person, be engaged in transfeminist activism more actively, and work academically on the issues related to gender studies, queer theory, and human rights,” they say.
Enes kept an eye on the official site of the Swedish Embassy in Turkey, and that was how they discovered the Swedish Institute and the opportunities it offers.
After graduating, Enes was granted a summer internship position as a social policy researcher at Oxford Research Sverige in Stockholm, a specialized knowledge company in Sweden that work closely within the area of gender equality and LGBT issues. where they began working on various projects related to asylum seekers’ rights and discrimination. And this autumn Enes began studies at Lund University as an NFGL scholar with the Swedish Institute scholarship.
“From the very beginning, I had a positive impression that the majority of Swedish people that I have had contact with firstly value me as a person according to my manners, acts, and behaviour towards them,” Enes says. “I have the feeling that my personality is respected for the first time in the same way as I respect people around me for the mere fact of them being human beings, and I feel wonderful about it.”
But even though Enes feels treated better in Sweden, they say that the system still needs improvement. Through their research on asylum seekers and LGBT rights they has discovered that certain groups, such as transgender people, still face additional challenges when seeking asylum.
“There are discrepancies between Swedish legal system and the practical implementation of legal policies by Swedish institutions,” they explain, “the most notable being the ‘safe third country’ principle that is implemented without legal support in various negative decision for asylum seekers made by the Swedish Migration Board.”
The ‘safe third country’ principle, they say, is something that operates in the practices of the Migration Board regardless of the fact that Swedish asylum law does not recognise ‘safe countries’ and does not allow prioritisation of certain nationalities.
“Consequently, the realisation of human rights of the LGBT asylum seekers is seriously jeopardised, and serious systematic change in dealing with asylum seekers in Sweden is needed in order to tackle this issue.”
Enes advocates that a Common European Asylum System be introduced in all member states in order to prevent possible discrepancies, prioritisation, and unfair treatment of asylum seekers coming from different parts of the world.
“In addition, I believe that the amendments to the Law on Reception of Asylum Seekers and Others in Sweden is necessary because the residence permits are now mostly temporary, but for trauma victims, as my interviewees are, the permanency of their residence status is important because the legal security in the form of residence permit is a pre-condition for their rehabilitation.”
Their summer internship and research concluded, Enes is now embarking on a 2-year master programme in Gender Studies at Lund University. But they remain focused on her ultimate goal and hopes to keep learning and fighting for human rights.
“Regarding my master thesis, I am focused on the Southeast European migrants in Sweden who migrated in the nineties after the war happenings in the ex-Yugoslav countries,” Enes says.
“I am interested to learn how this migration has influenced opinions and attitudes of them toward non-heteronormative sexualities that they are encountering in Sweden, or better to say, how Swedish legal, educational, and political system has influenced the heterosexual migrants’ opinions towards LGBTI individuals.”
Their long term goal is to develop concrete policy proposals that might be implemented back home, in the context of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“That would hopefully decrease the level of homophobia and transphobia in the Balkans,” Enes says. “After graduating my goal is to make this world a better place for each and every one of us – as I’ve always tried to do.”