Woman in Black

Lucy Moore (19 Oktobar, 2006 - 13:47)

Yesterday I met yet another young person from Serbia who, upon hearing that I was from the States, asked me what on earth I was doing in his country when all he wanted to do was move to mine. I normally struggle to explain my decision to move to Belgrade. I myself question it almost daily when boarding a rattling bus or running down the path by the Sava River, a river lined with carelessly discarded garbage. But this time the answer was demonstrating right in front of us. I say “demonstrating” because we were standing in front of Women in Black’s commemoration of fifteen-years of women’s nonviolent resistance.

That morning I had attended a round table discussion entitled “Kosovo and Serbia: The Day After,” which covered topics from the rights of women and minorities, to the draft constitution, to Serb-Albanian relations in Kosovo. The panelists painted a bleak picture. They cited statistics showing that women continue to occupy a proportionally low percentage of the work force, as do ethnic minorities in government institutions. They picked apart the draft constitution with its hasty creation, its nebulous phrasing of the right to abort a pregnancy, and, of course, its territorial inclusion of Kosovo. And as for the Kosovo situation, they discussed the overly heightened sense of fear and the almost impassable divide between Serbs and Albanians, a problem they pinned largely on political manipulations from above. And throughout these discussions, the audience and panelists were reminded again and again of the frustratingly slow progress of Serbia’s post-Milosevic state.
I left the talk feeling very doubtful of not only Serbia’s chances of achieving a stronger and more equal society, but also for the world’s chances of further improvement-¬for the realization of an acceptable level of international equality and security. Serbia and Kosovo occupy a small territory with a small number of people who, excluding recent divisive conflict, have a somewhat shared history and culture. If a greater sense of equally and respect for human life cannot be fostered in this small area, and the same can be said for other pockets of current and recent conflict, what is the likelihood that the increasing hostilities between “Western” and Islamic cultures will ever subside on a global level? (See Tony Blair’s comment on veil wearing and the reaction from Islamic groups for one recent, non-violent example. I need not point out the violent examples.)
But I continue to be impressed the strength and persistence of local activists for peace, social equality, justice, and democracy in Serbia. Fifteen years ago, Women in Black in Serbia held their first anti-war vigil. Since then this country has undergone a decade of dictatorship, involvement in three full-scale wars, NATO bombings, and the assassination of the Prime Minister. Yet Women in Black and many equally as active, though not as visible, organizations and individuals have continued to work towards their goals and ideals for this country. It is their persistence, through times of heightened political fervor and times dulling political apathy, that I find intriguing and hopeful.
Perhaps I do have a masochistic streak in me, explaining my travels to the region. After all, my reasoning for continuing to study Serbian (I’m in my fifth year now) has repeatedly been something along the lines of, “It’s been so hard so far, why stop now?” But from my perspective, there is more to this country than a history of conflict and a tricky language. There are people doing incredible work here despite a range of opposition, and I am lucky to have the chance to meet them and see them in action.


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