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NO 119-120

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 119-120 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 119-120

May - June 2008


Burden of the Past


By Slobodanka Ast

"I've lost two sons, three brothers-in-law, five cousins, two sisters-in-law, my sister burnt to death in her house in Bratunac like many other women.We can never forget this catastrophe we survived, never, never, and can never forget the picture of our Srebrenica, our Potocari, our concentration camp.We cling to one another when reporters interview us.Our sons, husbands, brothers and fathers, our fathers-in-law and brothers-in-law have never been criminals, and that's why I am telling you all this with pride." (Suhra Malic of Srebrenica).

A Dalmatian who lost her son gives vent to her terrible pain and bitterness: "They came from the sea and took him away. The curse of the devil on them! They killed our children. That one from the police came to express his condolences and tell me I should be proud that my son gave his life for Croatia. I told him, 'May you kiss your stone-cold son!'"

Vedrana of Grahovo tells that officials were saying their town has always been Serb and shall always remain Serb, they were encouraging them on TV that they had enough arms, food, everything. Even the Patriarch used to visit them at the time. And then came the "Tempest" operation. As it seems, the business-like attitude of their Serb brothers hurt them more than all the suffering they had to endure on their days-long travel to Banjaluka. They were literally dying of thirst in August heat but had to pay 5 DEM for a bottle of bear, 3 for juice and even had to pay for drinking water. They paid 100 DEM for fuel from Grahovo to Banjaluka. And the bystanders called to them, "Where are you going? Why are you running away? Shame on you! Why have you left your houses? Why don't you fight back?" "They were selling us bars of soap and bread for German marks. Later on, we learned they sold us goods from humanitarian aid," says Vedrana.

Taxi driver Svetlana Djordjevic whose book "Testimony about Kosovo" had raised hue and cry in a part of Serbia's public because of its well-balanced presentation of developments in Kosovo, was forced to leave Serbia eventually. Obviously, those who recognized themselves in the book began persecuting Svetlana and threatening her. Her descriptions of the brutality of Serbian customs officers and policemen against Albanian women and children are valuable sources of information for any indictment. The case of Ms. Karoci, old Albanian woman suffering from bone cancer, who war harassed by infamous Scenic called Kruger at the Sredska border crossing is most illustrative. Svetlana admits wept when this policeman and his people begun to maltreat the son and two daughter of Ms. Karoci on their way to their mother's funeral. She pleaded the policeman to let them go and bury their mother, and he retorted, "Kneel down or I shall kill them!" "I stood for a second and then knelt down," writes Svetlana Djordjevic. It was late June 1998 in Kosovo.



Those dramatic testimonies are fragments taken from the book "Women's Side of the War" recently presented to the public eye.

Six years ago, lucid and well-informed Dr. Stipe Suvar told a round table "Wars in Yugoslavia 1991-99," organized by the Society for the Truth about the People's Liberation War in Yugoslavia, that over 1,500 books had been about the developments in the territory from Triglav to Djevdjelija in the period 1991-2001 had been published in the region of ex-Yugoslavia and worldwide. "And yet, despite this impressive book production, our recent history still waits for reliable answers to many questions, "said Suvar.

ABOUT HARDSHIP AND COURAGE: "Women's Side of the War" is a moving herbarium of women's experience of the war in Vukovar, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Zenica, Bjeljina, Prijedor, Krajina, Kosovo...

Here are all those horrible stories about children raped before their parents' eyes, sadistic torture, brutal plunder, conversions, friends that have let one down but also friendships that were stronger than fear that they might cost one his life. Selma of Banjaluka tells the following story:

"As of mid-1991 my Serb friends seemed not to be the same people I've known for years. I wouldn't say they were all war advocates but all of a sudden they begun talking about being jeopardized, about the impossibility of living side by side with Muslims. Some even made no bones that Muslims should move out of Banjaluka. Those were the people I tried to avoid. I tried to avoid verbal conflicts. I tried to pretend nothing unusual was going on, I tried to pretend not to hear day in day out, 'Muslims, your days have been counted!' When I divorced my husband two years ago the shop went to me. My ex remarried, sold out everything on the eve of the war and left for Serbia.When the war broke out, I knew I would also have to leave Banjaluka soon. Serbs seized all the power and immediately started harassing Muslims, blowing up their houses, smashing their pubs and shops. Croats and Muslims were arrested and fired..."

Selma experienced the worst - a group rape, beating and robbing. The help came from her next-door neighbors, Serbs, with whom she hadn't spoken a word for years due to some stupid misunderstanding. They were hiding her in their apartment for 76 days. Few were the people ready to risk their lives and the life of their child to save someone at the time, says Selma. Those brave and honorable people helped her to leave Banjaluka under the cover of the night.

A Serb woman from Capljina also tells a moving story. A mother of three sons, she saw them off to three sides of the world, and watched from an attic of an abandoned house some unknown people taking away everything from her flat. She experienced all sorts of torture and harassment. She went to a commander in Capljina and pleaded him to kill her. She underwent Golgotha from Croatia, through Hungary to Serbia. Her husband, an army officer, was not entitled a pension in Serbia-Montenegro and dared not return to Bosnia to have the problem settled down. Since he was born in Valjevo, he was not entitled refugee status, had no right to humanitarian aid or accommodation in some collective center. "Sick and tired, we rented a flat. So far we have changed 33 landlords. No one from governmental agencies from Bosnia-Herzegovina or Serbia has ever visited us. After years-long medical treatment in Belgrade I decided to get an expert opinion of a gynecologist. I had to go again through the worst experience of my life.To this very day I am afraid of a uniform and never sleep with my lights off. My husband died in September 2005 in Belgrade. Every criminal, regardless of ethnic origin, deserves more than punishment..."

The letters lawyer Inja Pasalic of Sarajevo to her father's friends, translator Milica Nikolic and journalist Omer Karabeg, are most interesting. They stand for valuable literary recordings about war atrocities in Sarajevo under siege, but also about courage and vitality of its citizens. Those precious documents are published in the book "Letters from two Sarajevos" in 1996.

ALBANIAN WOMEN AND SERB WOMEN: This unique anthology of the stories women told about their war hardship includes the stories about developments in Kosovo - the stories told by Albanian women and Serb women alike. Feminists also contributed to this precious collection of historically important documents. They had visited refugee camps in Macedonia and gave moving testimonies about the refugee camps in Stenkovac and Cegrane housing several tens of thousand Albanians expelled from Kosovo - barbed wire, barbed wire all around, barbed wire inside, dust, UNICEF jeeps, tents, children, children...

All our politicians, who so persistently and ruthlessly perceive politics as geostrategy should be brought in here and kept for hours and hours, days and days, until they experience the Golgotha of "ordinary" people and realize what actually happens at the border crossing at Blace. They should be released then and let wonder on foot - not by car - from one border crossing to another.For, as dramaturge Borka Pavicevic put it, there is no such horrible court as the one at a border crossing, established by the hunger for power of the creators of prison states.

In her book "Testimony about Kosovo" Svetlana Djordjevic dramatically pictures torching of Albanian houses: people were burnt alive in their cellars. This brave woman knew some of them. Svetlana, extraordinary taxi driver and writer, describes Albanians pushing their old and disabled relatives in garden carts towards the border with Macedonia, waiting patiently in a queue for the police to inspect their documents and leave the country. She describes plundering of abandoned Albanian houses, army trucks in which soldiers moved other people's belongings, endless columns of tractors with kitchenware heading towards the nearest town in Serbia, the columns that were longer and longer as days went by...

"Darko, Violeta, David and I left on June 19 with practically the last column of troops. I didn't want to go but wasn't strong enough to stay. I wondered whether I would manage to tell the Albanians, 'No, I haven't hurt anyone.' Would they listen to me at all? Had anyone listened to cries and pleas of their civilians? I should better leave, therefore, until passions cool down, until people become aware of what happened to them and begin thinking rationally...

"Like others, we joined the column of army vehicles. We were heading towards Kosovska Mitrovica and passing by the Albanians, probably from Montenegro, going in opposite direction back to their country. Ironically, we were leaving with documents meaning nothing to us and they were returning without any documents and no one was asking them to prove they were citizens of Kosovo. It was raining all the way. Was it the heaven crying over human lives and bad fortunes? Was it crying to wash out the blood from Kosovo soil?" writes Svetlana Djordjevic in her book published in 2003. As a form of threat and pressure she was, the same as Premier Djindjic's sister, "visited by the Red Berets" - so she and her husband, an ex-policeman, were forced to ask for political asylum.

This anthological book records that Albanian poetess Flora Brovina said that Serb women probably best testified about the challenges facing Albanian women and that Albanian women should never forget that.

"I am truly sorry to see that we have revanchism in Kosovo now. Albanians have never before treated their neighbors, women and children that way. I regret I am not free to go there and try to influence people, to join other Albanian women and extend hand of friendship to refugees. As an intellectual, I take it's high time that intellectuals do their utmost to reconcile Serbs and Albanians. Other nations were in conflict too, they had wagged bigger wars but eventually reconciled. Should it be in my power I would do everything to reconcile Serb and Albanian people," said Flora Brovina at the trial in Nis on January 9, 1999.

And then, two years later, Aferdita Jakubi from Medvedja publicly reprimanded Flora Brovina for having soon forgotten all those brave Serb humanists who had raised their voice against Albanians' tragedy. Why did the poetess forget the advocacy of Serb intellectuals who had contributed to her release? Why she keeps silent, why Albanian intellectuals keep silent about the courage displayed by some Serb intellectuals? "The Women's Side of the War" raises such questions as well.

Even today, many years after the war, many wounds still need to be healed and many people still have to awaken in those regions of ours and the regions that used to be "ours." We should all look at ourselves in the mirror and see our true faces. Too many people have been taken astray, manipulated and blinded with chauvinistic propaganda against "the others."

This is not only a book about the tragedies and hardships of women, their families and civilians in general, this is also a book about incredible strength of women, of their denial to play the role of a obedient victim, about friendships that have overpowered all the challenges, about human and intellectual courage.

The book "Women's Side of the War" will help us to see "our ten bloody years" with eyes wide open. This chrestomathy is a valuable contribution to a modern approach to the science of history: the past is perceived from the angle of personal experiences of various actors. Only such multi-perspective comprehensively pictures the most painful topics from our common past and recent war tragedy. Heartfelt and moving testimonies by women of different ethnic origins, different religions and different levels of education turn all those "controversial issues" into priceless historical documents showing how some major events were interpreted in different contexts in ex-Yugoslav territory: for some "liberation" was the most traumatic experience of all.

The book "Women's Side of the War" breaks the pattern about the history recognizing one and only truth some historians insist on and thus lay bare authoritarian reasoning. It would be great to have this book in all libraries, to have it discussed in the media. It would be priceless to have some of those testimonies in history textbooks, at least as referential literature. That could be the best way for students in all ex-Yugoslav republics to learn how other nations experienced certain events. And that's the only way for them to learn more about one another and thus open the avenues of coexistence.




Lina Vuskovic, editor of the book "Women's Side of the War," published by the non-governmental organization Women in Black, says that such anthologies could make the invisible, women's side of the war visible. This voice against war must be heard in public so as to prevent any future war, she says.

This book of women stories about the wars wagged in the territory of former Yugoslavia in 1991-99 is the outcome of a year-long joint endeavor by many women organizations, human rights organizations, organizations dealing with confronting the past and reconciliation, and individual women, who have bravely gone public with their experiences. "We have learnt how to make presentations in various capitals such as Rome, Madrid, Berlin, New York.We have learn how to give statements to major media in Italy, Spain, Germany. We have learnt how to address international forums. But they have hardly heard us, they have listened to us just to relieve their conscience," says Stasa Zajevic.

In Serbia neither political and other elites nor the media made an effort to hear the voices about that women's side of the war. Those are the voices that are constantly hushed up over here.


NO 119-120

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