Report about the vigil of Women in Black, Belgrade, on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of the massacre in Potocari, Srebrenica—July 10th, 2004
Every year since 1995, we have been standing on Republic Square to commemorate the massacre in Srebrenica. The vigil and performance “Map of Forbidden Remembrance,” performed by Maja Mitic (Dah theater) were registered for July 10th from 7:00-8:00pm. At the same time on the Square, a celebration called “Belgrade Peace Festival” was being held, as well as a promotion for the Russian ice cream “Holodj, about which we had not been informed by the police when we had registered our vigil. As it was impossible to simultaneously hold both events in the same space, we were forced to improvise. Following unsuccessful negotiations with the organizers of the festival that was in progress on Republic Square to temporarily discontinue the program, we held the performance and vigil in black and silence in the area beneath the Square clock.
Before the beginning of the vigil, a group of citizens that was gathered began to approach activists of Women in Black screaming provocations such as: “For whom are you wearing black?,” “Who are you mourning?,” “Balinke,” “whores,” “junkies,” and then some of them began to physically attack the activists. Branislava Jeftic slapped Stanislavka Zajovic and Slavica Stojanovic, and Ljiljana Radovanovic was kicked and hit in the head. At that moment the police reacted – a few police officers formed themselves in a line between the activists and attackers. Despite the fact that we had been physically attacked, the police did not remove or arrest anyone, but we decided to hold the vigil and performance regardless of the existing conditions. We formed our circle, the formation we judged to be most secure, inside of which the performance was presented.
During the performance, Maja Mitic spoke the following text: “Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1995, A. Ademovici,” subsequently listing every name and family name “…Aganovici…Ahmetovici…” While speaking, she pulled out bread, put in it on the concrete, and on the bread placed pictures of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre. All while endlessly speaking their names, over 7000 in all. At the end she recited a line by Carlos Fuentes: “How long does grief imposed by historical violence last; and where is the limit of my personal responsibility for crimes that I did not commit?”
In the meantime, the women who verbally and physically attacked us were joined by a group of men, who together began to mobilize in the surrounding area in order to further provoke and obstruct the vigil. While we were silently standing in a circle and extending nonverbal support to one another, we held banners with the following slogans: Amnesty for all who refused to participate in war, Women in Black against war, To forget and be silent about crimes is a crime, and excerpts from letters of women from Srebrenica: We are searching for them! We are searching for the truth about them! For every victim of war, truth and not revenge, There is no peace without truth about the missing, Solidarity with the women from Srebrenica, Why is the government still silent, and We are searching for punishment for everyone responsible for the crimes in Srebrenica. We also had a row of eight banners that marked every past anniversary of the massacre, and this year we added the ninth: Nine years since the crimes in Srebrenica, July 11th, 1995 – July 11th, 2004. At the same time, the radical nationalists who were surrounding us were singing Serbian nationalist and Chetnik songs: Who says that Serbia is Small is Lying; Prepare, Prepare, Chetniks, and shouting the slogans: Mladic lives! Seselj lives! Karadzic lives! You are a shame to Serbia! Cult! Lesbians! Barren women! Whores! Bring weapons, we will skin you at your next vigil! We know where you live and we have your pictures! Betraying the fatherland is a criminal act! Traitors to the court! Foreign payees! Soros is paying you with drug needles! We know that you are Serbian, admit that you are Serbian and that Serbian blood flows through your veins! Not one of you is wearing a cross, anyone can tell that you are not Serbian! We will hang you on this lamppost! We didn’t kill enough of you! Through hand movements they showed us that they would cut our throats, and they were throwing stones and dirt at us. At one moment, they reappeared with a banner, similar to our own, that read Mladic lives!
The whole time, the police were between the activists and the radical nationalists, and trying to prevent the latter from entering our circle. Some of our activists began to distribute leaflets, but the police announced that they could not guarantee their safety if they left the circle. At one moment, we decided to widen the circle so that we would be seen by more people, but again because of reason security concerns it was impractical, so we turned around and faced outward. This proved to be more effective, because more people were able to see our banners. In some way we confronted our attackers and we felt more secure knowing that no one would be able to attack us from behind.
When the protest was over, we agreed to sit in a near-by café and wait for the attackers to leave, but they surrounded us, continuously observing us and deliberately walking through us, using classical methods of intimidation. In the meantime, the police sent for back-up: two police cars and special forces. When we were leaving, the police stopped the attackers who were coming after us and accompanied us to taxis. We can presume that the police intervention had been so efficient in order to prevent a scandal of international implications on the eve of the inauguration of the president of Serbia. In view of the fact that our activists were physically attacked, Women in Black, Belgrade is going to sue the attackers, whose information was taken by the police.
We consider that the reaction of the citizens was influenced by various factors. Above all, the ideology of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic and the result of December’s parliamentary election which signified the restoration of that regime, but also the mutual decision of Boris Tadic and the current government that his inauguration be held regardless and simultaneously with the commemoration in Potocari, scheduled for July 11th, 2004, which we consider as showing an ignorant attitude towards the dignity of the victims. On one hand we think that this kind of attitude makes it more difficult to “confront the crimes done by one’s own nation” (from the inauguration speech of Boris Tadic) as well as to find reconciliation and encourages radical nationalists. On the other hand it is obvious that nervousness is growing among extremists—not only because their favorite candidate did not win the recent presidential election, but also because they are anticipating the impending extradition to the Hague Tribunal of four generals accused of war crimes.
Once again we are calling on the public to accept responsibility for crimes committed by the Serbian military and paramilitary forces in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Also, we demand that the government clearly and unwaveringly declare cooperation with Hague Tribunal and extradite all suspected war criminals.
Women in Black, Belgrade,
July 14th 2004.