Finding Freedom in a New Land

After experiencing violence and oppression in his former home, Boban Stojanovic is now an inspiration to others seeking a new life.

Photograph by Jared Sych.

Since arriving in Canada, Boban Stojanovic has made the most of his new life — but the transition hasn’t always been easy.

Stojanovic was born in Serbia and began his career as a radio and TV host in his small hometown of Zajeĉar. From there, he moved to the Serbian capital city of Belgrade, where his passion for activism was sparked. “I met many interesting people, queer activists, feminists and peace activists,” says Stojanovic. “I met many politically angered artists, as well. I learned a lot from all of them.”

An openly gay man, Stojanovic quickly learned that many in his home country did not approve of him. “I was attacked physically so many times, my apartment was shot twice by neo-Nazi groups, I got threats from Serbian government officials and my life became unbearable,” he says.

In 2016, Stojanovic was again attacked and, even though he had recognized his attackers, the local police did nothing, nor did they even seem to want to help him. He knew it was time to leave Serbia.

 

Choosing Canada

Stojanovic moved to Canada with his partner, Adam Puškar, in January 2017, submitting an application for asylum, which was accepted that March. The couple relocated for a variety of reasons, one being that Canada is one of the most open countries for LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers.

“We were a little bit scared about what it would look like,” Stojanovic says. An acquaintance, who had lived in Calgary for more than 25 years, offered the couple a room. “We said yes, because we have to start a new life, and we can create it anywhere.”

There were, however, challenges from the onset, from improving his English-language skills to the process of integrating himself into the country. “To feel rooted, you need time. A lot of time. And this feeling will come from the things some people take for granted, like citizenship,” he says. “I am a social person, and I like to meet exciting people like artists, writers and journalists, and, to get there, I had to prove myself.”

Making a fresh start in Canada was made even more difficult with the loss of his parents, who both died shortly after Stojanovic immigrated, his mother to complications with health issues and his father to suicide. “It was hard for me as I could not travel back home due to my complex immigration situation,” he says. “But, I coped independently and learned how I am grateful to have them as my parents.”

 

A Brighter Future

Calgary quickly became more than just “anywhere” for Stojanovic. Today, he feels very much at home here. Working at Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers — he started there in October 2017 after receiving his work permit in September — as its director of LGBTQ+ and vulnerable populations, Stojanovic provides aid to refugees and other immigrants wanting to come to Canada.

He has received numerous accolades for his activism, including a Trailblazer Award at the 2019 Calgary Stampede, a Newcomer Champion Award in 2022 from the Alberta government and was even the lead in the short film, A Walk Down to Water.

Ultimately, Stojanovic says he has realized that he needs very little to be happy in Canada. “I came here with my partner, our cat and two suitcases. I left so many memories back home,” he says. “I know many people think being a refugee is hard. It is, but it is so liberating at the same time.”

[Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Stojanovic came to Canada with his cat, not a car.]

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This article appears in the January 2023 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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