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Laughter, Tears and Politics PDF Print E-mail

Dialogue — in women's way

Seventeen women from Belgrade and Zagreb met in Istria, in Medulin, from March 17th to 20th, 1995. Their in­tention was to exchange experiences between militants and feminists, to ex­press some frozen feelings among them, and to establish women's political dialo­gue. All the participants in the meeting are members of feminists groups who have cooperated together for a long time. They also have, during this war, opted for peace and non-violence and worked against war, militarism, and nationa­list spreading of hatred. The meeting started with an exercise of so-called "mu­tual listening." How does one listen wi­thout interfering, without asking que­stions or expressing one's point of view before the other finishes her story? How do we free ourselves from the content and interpretations of our value system in order to be open and able to listen to the other side genuinely? Living in different environments has produced different ex­periences and different perceptions of events.

Our communications began well and continued throughout our time toge­ther. The women's willingness to hear the other side and to be heard remained pre­sent. We started with questions. Women from Belgrade wanted their sisters from Zagreb to hear and know why some of them had already started crying on the bus to Zagreb. Some women from Za­greb wanted to tell their sisters from Belgrade why they had decided they would "never again come to Belgrade." We asked each other what we wanted to know and asked what were our expecta­tions.

Most of the women participating had met previously in various internatio­nal meetings and conferences. Despite our willingness for cooperation and soli­darity, those meetings were not always without pain and tension. Were we to answer such questions as if we were speaking as individuals or as repre­sentatives of our groups? Or both? How? When? Can we be representing the enti­re nation? (Of course not). Are we guilty of the consequences of the politics of our respective governments? (Not at all!). But we are aware of the responsibility for our political activities in our own sur­roundings.

What to do in the case of an inci­dent or misunderstanding between us? What if we hurt each other without in­tending to? Just because we are in some international crowd, and we didn't listen properly or hear each other. During the intense conversation by the sea, it wasn't difficult to reach the consensus that it is necessary to appreciate our own state­ments and check our opinions. Each mi­sunderstanding or incident increases doubts and fears, which can easily turn into conflicts.

We talked about many things. We heard stories from women in mixed mar­riages who had sons of military age, and their problems. Stories about families di­vided by borders, nationalities, ideolo­gies. Stories about loved ones who lost their lives in this or in the last war. About cemeteries of friendship. We told each other our hopes, illusions, mista­kes, fears, and successes. What was really important to us? Women's Dialogue starts with five hours of singing in an Istrian restaurant, from tears and lau­ghter to the level of "mommy-daddy-me," from our grand-mothers' stories in chil­dhood. Women's Dialogue moves along to personal war experiences, genocide, camps, country, nation, and our own poli­tical thoughts and attitudes concerning Krajina, Kosovo, Jasenovac, Bleibourg, and mass raping of women. Then we ask each other how much those stories hurt us and how to overcome their effects. How to find a balance between the conti­nuity of our personal stories and the po­litical decisions that we have to make. Then we ask each other the same que­stions over again and laugh and cry toge­ther, and we think of new projects. When and how to include other women in a dialogue which we need like bread (and roses)?

Women from the following groups took part in the debate in Istria: Croatian Anti-War Campaign, Autonomous Wo­men's House, Autonomous Women's Center Against Sexual Violence, B.a.B.e., Women in Black, SOS Hotline, Center for Girls, Belgrade's Women's Lobby, Labris-Lesbian Section of Arkadija, Women's Studies from Belgrade, Women's Studies from Zagreb, Center for Women War Victims, "Homo." The gathering was supported by women acti­vists for human rights from Istria, and it also had the financial and moral support from the women of Delphi-Star Project.

Authors: Vesna Kesic i Lepa Mladjenovic
Text is published first time in Feministicke sveske No. 5/6


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