During the breakup of Yugoslavia, fear was planted in me. I felt paralyzed and couldn’t do anything. I thought that nothing depended on me and other people had the right to decide in my name about my future. I was not conscious of the fact that each of us as individuals can make our own acts of rebellion. The people around me were asleep. There was not even a ray of hope that the craziness would somehow be stopped. I thought that nothing depended on me, but I was misled. When I met Women in Black, I learned that there were women and men throughout the country who, in different ways, tried to stop the war which took more life from our area every day. Only then did I understand that my fear could be expressed differently, through nonviolent rebellion, through clearly stating that I don’t want anyone to kill in my name. I escaped a vicious circle. With other women, I decided to start to remember the events of our recent past, call them by their true names, and punish them in court so that they will never happen again. Through workshops and street activism with my friends from The Women in Black Network—Serbia, I learned many things that I was not conscious of. This caused feelings of bitterness, shame, fury, and guilt in me, as a member of a nation that did so much evil. Every time I meet women who suffered horrors because of the mistaken policies of the former regime, I feel guilty and disappointed with myself because, at the time of these events, I sat at home with my family and watched the televised lies that poisoned our minds. Now, I know that I must convert those newly-awakened feelings into action. Through acts of resistance and civil disobedience, I constantly warn people around me and those in the government to never again start on the path of mistaken politics.
For me, going to Srebrenica with Women in Black means showing solidarity and offering support to the families of the victims through political solidarity and building trust. You feel ashamed because of the crimes committed by your nation. Nevertheless, you are proud when you see the sincerity in their eyes. They believe in what you do and say, “Hat’s off to you! You are the best women in the world.” While we stood in Potocari and showed respect, I felt furious again, remembering the previous day, the comments, insults, and threats in Belgrade. In contrast, while we were in Srebrenica, people warmly approached us and thanked us for coming. During our stay, the sadness, fury, and chill in me was replaced by the song of the boys, the speech of the imam, and the mother’s story. This is another act of confronting the recent past done in my name.
We create deeper knowledge and familiarity with the problems of confronting the past and transitional justice by showing filmed testimonies and feature films. Our fellow citizens have the chance to also work to change consciousness and awaken citizens’ responsibility so that there will be more strong women, ready to change traditional and assigned values which influence our future in the service of patriarchy.
Women for Peace – Leskovac
FOLLOWING WAR CRIMES TRIALS: THE PUNISHMENT OF CRIMES – THE PATH TO A JUST PEACE
Nowhere is the character of the aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina as clearly expressed as Srebrenica, the site of the perfidious, brutal, and largest genocide. Nowhere is it as public as that place, where, despite the presence of UN soldiers, Bosniaks were massacred. At the beginning of the aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina, many Bosniak refugees from neighboring Vlasnica, Bratunac, Zvornik, Rogatica, and Višegrad gathered there. Escaping Chetnik knives, they tried to find safety in Srebrenica, not suspecting what would happen after it was proclaimed a UN Safe Area. A terrible genocidal murder of Bosniaks was committed. Serbian fascists expelled, arrested, or massacred the residents of Srebrenica and thousands of Bosniak refugees from the area along the Drina. Only witnesses and mass graves remain. Unfortunately, not all mass graves have been discovered. The survivors cry in vain for the thousands and thousands of missing persons – children, parents, brothers, husbands, and other relatives. It is impermissible to deny the truth about the terrible genocide against Bosniaks in that area or to relativize it. A massacre was committed by Serbian fascists. Throughout the occupation of Srebrenica special forms of war and genocidal destruction, such as denying water and blocking and prohibiting the delivery of humanitarian aid, medicines, electricity, and everything biologically essential for life was directed against the isolated Bosniak population. All of this happened under the command of Ratko Mladic, Arkan, Seselj, and Serbia’s political and government leaders with the blessing of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Today, even after tremendous pressure from the international public and the establishment of The Hague Tribunal and domestic Courts for War Crimes, criminals still freely walk among us we who work for the punishment of crimes are called traitors. The Special Court for War Crimes in Belgrade is the only institution in Serbia that addresses war crimes and attempts to try criminals objectively. Women in Black has attended many trial sessions for members of the Scorpions paramilitary unit accused of the murder of Bosniak civilians during the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995. Many women from all parts of Serbia who believe that the only way to revive our country is to confront the past followed this trial. I was one of them. Recently, we also follow the trial for the crime perpetrated by Serbian Interior Ministry staff against Kosovar Albanian civilians in March 1999 in Suva Reka. Additionally, contact with the families of the victims—support and solidarity with them—is an extremely important part of these activities. Political forgiveness – seeking forgiveness for crimes committed in our name – is a group of actions that recognize crimes committed in our name and demand justice and punishment for criminals. At the trials, we had the opportunity to listen to public testimonies about crimes and the suffering of the victims. At the trials, it can be clearly seen that Serbia’s police, military, and state institutions were behind the crimes.
My new friends spoke about what happened in Godinjska Bara, in cottage country, where civilians were escaping from Srebrenica towards the hills. There, men and boys were caught by the Scorpions and killed atrociously twice. They were shot. Then, their bodies were taken to a weekend cottage and killed another time; their bodies were burned. The perpetrators acted as their commander ordered. ‘The packages were liquidated.’ Among the victims were three boys, including 17 year old Sajo, the son of Hana Fejzic, and 13 year old Alvedin, the brother of Safeta Muhic, who is now a housewife and mother of two children. At the trial, Safeta described her last meeting with her brother, his last hug. Her younger brother said, “Sis, I cannot lead you away, nor can I stay with you.” He left with their father. Safeta, her mother, and grandmother set off towards Potocari to seek safety with the UN. There, the Chetniks often went into the factories, leading men away and separating pretty girls. They separated my friend Safeta, even though she was only 13. Her mother begged that she be released to her family. Finally, one of the Chetniks released Safeta. She remembers, ‘It is difficulty to talk about. On the way to Potocari, we trudged passed the dead, the exhausted, and old people. We choked on the whimpers, yells, and wails of thousands and thousands of people. Everyone was killed. Airplanes flew over Potocari and shot artillery at us.” Her tragedy was not finished. Her desire to know her brother’s location is strong. That is a human desire; it would be important to me. The first time she heard something about him was in 2003. The truth about him became known when, during a trial in The Hague, a cassette recording of his death was shown. Even after eight years of emptiness and silence, her hope was still alive. She was so young, but had to identify and confirm to herself and others that she would never see her brother’s face again. It was their last parting. I understand her pain and feel compassion for her. I tried to help her through my activism, urging the state that I come from to confront and acknowledge all the evil deeds which were committed in the name of the whole nation. At the trial, Safeta turned and asked, “Are they human? What are they?” Her face was full of pain; her injured voice trembled as she survived trauma once more. Over coffee in the afternoon, I recognized in her a strong and mature person. These events ended her childhood and forced her to grow up without a happy childhood.
Nura Alispahić lived in Srebrenica before the war. She had two sons. One of them, Admir, was killed by a shell at the gate. She sent the other, who was 16, to relatives in the hills because she heard that the Chetniks were taking away all men and boys over seven years old. The last time she saw him was on the cassette shown in The Hague Tribunal, which B92 broadcast. He jumps off a truck with his hands tied behind his back. Nura says, “I would love to know who killed my child with his hands tied behind his back.”
In this story, I wanted to evoke for you a small part of the truth, similar to thousands of other stories. I ask myself about the thousands of their peers who are also without one or both parents and the warmth of their home and their mother’s bosom. Their childhood and right to life was taken away from them.
Truth and justice are a tragedy today. Justice means respecting the interests of the victims, their families, and the welfare of society as a whole. We have to consistently work to widen political consciousness about the need to replace the official truths. Every crime must be punished because that is the only path to a just peace.
Our confrontation with the past is visiting the sites of crimes, compassion for the victims of war, and building peaceful relationships among women. For us, confrontation with the past means transitional justice mechanisms in war and in peace. We do this consistently in our activities. We do this through visiting the sites of crimes, attending commemorations, and creating platforms for peace in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo.
Women for Peace – Leskovac
Visiting places where crime was committed in my name
My name is Ljilja, and I have been a Women in Black – Belgrade activist since 2000. That is when my active resistance to the criminal regime of the state of Serbia, headed by Slobodan Milošević, began. Until then I had opposed everything that was being done in my name, that I disapproved of and felt strongly against, all that evil, violence, fascism, militarism and growing clericalization of the society and the state that had engulfed our country.
U was born in a village near Belgrade and, luckily, by grandfather, my father and my brother were exempted from regular military service, so that I they did not participate in any war. Therefore, in my childhood I was spared from wartime stories, male bragging about their adventures, either during the war or in the barracks, as subordinates of their superiors sporting metal stars on their shoulder straps. In the late seventies, a nationalistic craze began, launched by the Academy of Science and Arts, calling for the creation of Greater Serbia under the slogan “All Serbs in one state”. I started harboring anxiety, fears and horror, because the rattling of arms had begun, because threats were articulated about the others and the different. I simply felt that Yugoslavia would not disintegrate in a peaceful way, and unfortunately, this came true. We all witnessed the atrocities that ensued.
As I had been brought up in an anti-militarist spirit, with the idea that all people are equal regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, race and religion, I did not succumb to that nationalistic hysteria that had pervaded Serbia. The media also greatly helped the spreading of racial, religious and ethnic hatred, so that all others were vilified, dehumanized and proclaimed to be enemies. The state machinery of the warmongering propaganda was sending us the message that “everybody hates us and wants to destroy us.” All those coming from Serbia who were of different opinion were treated as bigger enemies that the whole world, who, according to state television, was “plotting against the entire Serbian people.”
First, because of my political opinions, I came into conflict with my close and distant relatives, and then with my close environment.
Then at one point, in the nineties, the majority of people from my surroundings were against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, but our motives were not the same. For them, he was to blame for the hardship, poverty, hunger, inflation and unemployment; I was outraged because he was organizing and ordering crimes. People were being kidnapped from trains, tortured and shot, people were being banished from their homes just because they had different names.
At Women in Black I found allies, friends and sisters in peace. With them, I could talk about the ongoing events, we condemned the Serbian regime in solidarity and I found the strength to speak out loud. I was not alone any more, I had found like-minded persons, I felt good and could articulate my ideas loudly and publicly. In my environment, I was a stranger who stuck out of the religious and national consensus, I was a misfit who was not defending “ours” by “theirs”, I was an outcast, an enemy and a traitor of the Serbian nation and the Serbian people.
During the war, Women in Black had been visiting trouble spots and war-affected areas. My first trip to a site of crime that was committed in my name was to Srebrenica in 2002, when we were denied entry by the police of Republika Srpska. In September 2002, we traveled to Sarajevo. Before the sight of burnt down houses, window frames blown out by mortar shells, blackened apartment blocks and bullet holes, I was seized by a cramp and, overwhelmed with shame and mortification, I started shaking and crying. Jadranka said: “Calm down, you have not done anything.” I know that I have not done anything, but – could I have done more to prevent this from happening?
We travel by bus with women coming from over twenty cities in Serbia. We leave very early, there is commotion and talking; “Ljilja, give me a sandwich, please pass the water, when are we going to make a break for coffee and cigarettes…” Then we arrive at Srebrenica, we approach the Memorial Center slowly and silently. People make way for us, come up to us, thank us for coming and comment: “These are Women in Black, they are with us”. I follow our women, nobody speaks, only sobs are breaking the silence, no one minds the heat of July. Children approach us with juices and water. Something ponders upon me, shame and guilt feelings, it becomes even more difficult to bear as they treat us with respect. I keep repeating why, why ,why , who are the monsters, who could have engineered, ordered and committed such a crime? We all enter the bus silently and wait for departure. Senka is crying and I ask her why now, what happened, and she answers – this is terrible, look, the children are waving to us, and they can see the bus and where we come from. There is no talking, nobody asks for anything, we all sigh speechlessly, thinking about the pain of the families we encountered. This is what happens when we visit Srebrenica, Prijepolje, Priboj, Visegrad, Tuzla... I have been to Prijepolje twice, for the commemoration of the crime in Strpci, when 19 civilians of Bosnian nationality were kidnapped from a train, tortured and killed. I remember the procession through the city and us holding banners with the words: “We remember” and “For all the victims of war”. Then we threw white roses into the Lim river. The pain and the suffering of the victims’ families dwell in me for a long time. I visited Priboj once, for the commemoration of the Sjeverin crime, when 16 passengers, also of Bosnian nationality, were taken off a bus and killed. Once again, white roses and the Lim river. The picture of a mother and father whose two sons had been killed is carved in my memory. In Višegrad, under “The Bridge on the Drina” , the river turned red with the 3,000 roses that were thrown in its green waves, for the three thousand people who were thrown into the river. Once again, we are met with welcome and cordiality by the people with whom we sit on the Muslim cemetery. I have visited Tuzla twice. The first time was for the commemoration of the anniversary of the massacre in the city center, when a mortar shell launched by the Serbian army killed 72 civilians in May 1995. The picture of those 72 graves still hovers before my eyes. The second time, I visited Tuzla at the invitation of the women of Srebrenica, where we, Women in Black, joined them in a procession through streets of the city . It was on the occasion of the protest that the women of Srebrenica organize every 11th of the month, are a reminder of the genocide. Each of us was holding a peace of cloth with a name of their killed family member embroidered on it. With the women of Srebrenica, we monitored the trial of the “Scorpios” , and I spent a lot of time with them between December 2005 and April 2007. Every year, some other women finds herself in a new cite of crime and goes through a catharsis.
My feminism enables me to choose who I am going to care for and to judge who are “my” people, as my personal choice and not a choice that has been imposed to me by birth or bloodline.
I deeply believe in a policy of asking forgiveness for the crimes that were committed in my name. I see my visits to the sites of crime as an act of solidarity with the victims of those crimes, as and as the expression of respect for the victims and seeking forgiveness for the crimes committed in my name.
It is my duty to address the community I live in and to seek responsibility for those crimes, to demand that all the war crimes suspects be handed over to the Hague Tribunal and that all the other perpetrators be trialed before domestic courts, before the Council for War Crimes of the special Court that was established in Belgrade in 2003. I demand that the authorities who are still denying the occurrence of state organized crimes sanction crimes against humanity and genocide as criminal acts.
I feel that it is very important that, after such visits to the cites of crime, I should address my surroundings, my relatives and my friends and tell them clearly why I went there and what I experienced, with the wish that this evil would never ever happen again.