Serbia and Montenegro: Women, peace, security - conference report

Women in Black
Report back from a conference organized on 31st October to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.
Panel discussion: Attacks on human rights defenders, female human rights defenders, and peace activists...
Belgrade, Center for Cultural Decontamination, 31st October 2005

Women in Black organized this panel discussion based on the following beliefs:
  • The Amnesty International position: «Many women are targeted, because they are strong, because they are political activists and community organizers or because they persistently demand that human rights be upheld, etc. This position is in accordance with feminist and anti-militarist politics, which rejects the reduction of women's identity solely to the victim role. It is important to give attention to courageous, strong, determined, persistent women from civil society, who because they defended the rights of others have become the victims of different forms of violence and repression, both institutional and cultural;
  • From the beginning of the ‘90s, women most often started civil initiatives, especially those that advocated human rights and participated in anti-war actions throughout the former Yugoslavia, and in Serbia particularly;
  • The demonization, defamation, and discreditation of the aforementioned women started in the beginning of the ‘90s. However, the campaign in Serbia intensified after the assassination of the Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and grew even stronger after the government of Vojislav Kostunica came to power.
Tanja Tagirov, panel discussion moderator

I would like to greet all of you who agreed to take part in this panel discussion. Today, we will talk about violence against women, primarily against NGO women who are working on human rights protection. The invited women vary greatly. They are politicians, NGO activists, women from Belgrade, women from Montenegro, women from various parts of Serbia – some places that are very hard to work in, since they are alone in advocating their ideas and positions. Here in Belgrade, it is somewhat easier to work. We support each other, and there are many media outlets. When we talk about attacks on women in Belgrade, four ‘witches’ are usually those under attack. Some of them are with us today.

Gordana Comic, Democratic Party, member of Serbian National Assembly

“The most dangerous creatures in Serbia are women who are clearly saying ‘the past can't be denied, because that denial abolishes the future.’”

I would call my lecture ‘Hello state, what are you doing (to me)?’ In my attempt to analyze our state, its mission, the mission of the politicians, and the mission of civil society and NGOs, I reach the following conclusions :

It would be good if I, as a citizen, felt good in the state of Serbia. It would be good if I were secure, if I had a sense of safety, if my country had a strategy for everyday citizens' life, if there were responsible people in public offices and workplaces, if we had economic and social justice and respect for human rights. In that case, I would be satisfied and I would invite people to come and live in the state of Serbia. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Everything that I have stated as parameters of a well-organized state, unfortunately Serbia, doesn't have. Here in Serbia, I have a constant feeling that my state wants to harm me and put me on trial. I feel it is a state that Thomas Hobbes' would describe. Let me clarify – the state constantly keeps me fearful of it. I think that the state in the previous, one-party system had been more distant from Hobbes' state than the one that emerged after the multi-party system was introduced. Hobbes argues that citizens can be either agents or subjects of a society. I have to say, with regret, that we, here in Serbia, are more subjects than agents -- and we have to change that. Let us see what is happening to laws in that kind of state and how that changes our security.

It would be normal if laws were applied and followed. That again, unfortunately, isn't the case in Serbia. From the local to the federal level, laws are not respected. The laws that protect human rights are those most often not followed. That gives us an additional feeling of insecurity and lack of safety. I'll give you one example. In the English language, there is an excellent example, RULE OF LAW or LAW AS AN INSTRUMENT OF RULE. In Serbia, unfortunately, law as an instrument of rule dominates and that gives us a feeling of personal insecurity.

I think that Hobbes' state needs to be destroyed and that a state that will serve, and not rule over its citizens needs to be created. If you have a state that constantly uses laws as instruments of rule, it will constantly deny responsibility. It doesn't operate with responsibility towards citizens, but it uses law as an instrument of its own rule. That kind of state doesn’t consider its citizens to be the agents, but the subjects of the society. Just take a look at how here politicians, in almost every occasion, yell at the people – that has to do with their lack of respect for the people. They don't consider them to be agents. Let us see now what kinds of fears we have in that kind of state – fear of losing a job, fear of sending a child to the military, fear of being attacked in the street, fear of having a child get hurt at school, fear of drinking polluted water, fear of being infected with the avian flu virus, etc. If all these things make me afraid, then the state is not doing its job. There are many examples of everything that I have mentioned. I, as a politician, am not denying my responsibility, but I have to tell you that, during Djindjic’s leadership, we made a powerful attempt to abolish Hobbes' Serbia.

How do all of us react to this kind of Serbia? The majority of the political parties just weakly plead for changes, for the country's accession to the European Union. The only clear voices can be heard from NGO activists, human rights defenders and some political agents. The majority of political parties just take care of their electoral base. They don't want to deal with the past or confront crimes and criminal politics.

I believe that if we deny the past, we don't have the future, too. Citizens, as active agents of society, have to take part in resolving these problems. Of course, the role of us politicians is also important.

And at the very end, let me express my personal position when it comes to insecurity. Poverty is, in my opinion, the greatest source of insecurity. I ask, ‘state, what are you doing to relieve me from this chaos, poverty, and feeling of insecurity when it comes to human rights?’ There are no answers here, my state is silent. The problem within our society is lack of interest, ignorance and apathy which has spread quite a bit.

Does a woman's voice have strength? Of course, it does. The most dangerous creatures in Serbia are women who clearly say, “the past can't be denied, because that denial abolishes the future.” Those women are the most honest and the clearest in their opinions. However, as far as I see, the majority of women are silent. The greatest silence in Serbia is when women are silent – ‘Hobbes' Serbia’ is founded on women's silence. This is why the strength of women's voices is necessary. Thank you.

Sabina Talovic, activist of NGO Bonafida, Pljevlja, Montenegro

“I am a traitor to my national/ethnic community”

I come from a very poor town, but a town that was known in the previous period for its huge war-mongering euphoria.

As war began in Bosnia (1992), my activism began. It stemmed from my pure pain and desperation while I watched different convoys leave Pljevlje to go to Bosnia, and to Dubrovnik. Every convoy was accompanied by women with an aura of war euphoria. I was desperate and I did everything I could to stop that and to make my state better.

The political elite in Montenegro are still the same ones who led us to war in the beginning of the ‘90s. Now, they try to reconcile us with our neighbors.

Some of the political elite are apologizing now and they call this ‘confronting with the past’ in Montenegro. My town ‘confronts with the past’ in such a manner that some young people are promoting as national heroes those who were convicted as butchers and murderers by the international community. At our sports stadiums, even today, “butcher, kill” is a common chant, and the town's radio runs a hit “Radovan [Karadzic], come down from the mountain...”

How insecure am I in that kind of surrounding? I think that I have never been less secure than I am now.

Montenegro is completely helpless. It doesn't want to resist organized crime, since the politicians themselves are not safe. Every attempt to stop organized crime would jeopardize the political elite. The same would happen if serious work was done on dealing with the past. Right now, a television channel is broadcasting a series of television documentaries from the State archive about wars. The documentaries’ editor, Branko Baletic, described those who took part in the wars as poor people, victims who were pushed into war against their will. These shows don't initiate any broader social dialogue, but the officials consider them to be one form of confrontation with the past. I think that in Montenegro there is an institutional denial of crimes and criminal politics, and the approaching referendum [on Montenegrin independence] could easily bring different «storms».[1] They have already been predicted. How could we feel secure in this situation?

In my struggle against all forms of militarization, though I was very courageous, I was often lonely. The support of groups, especially the Fund for Humanitarian Law and Women in Black, meant a lot to me. Thanks to them for their support.

For the last ten years, I've been living with everyday anonymous telephone threats and with public threats on the street. I am a traitor to my national/ethnic community -- that is the Bosniak community. My status in my town is best illustrated by the fact that, due to my anti-war activities, I can't find employment.

I remember 8th and 9th August 1993 – when all Bosniaks were driven from their homes. They formed a convoy which was moving towards a military barrack. Then, I became their leader, to represent them and negotiate on their behalf. It wasn't easy; I was subjugated to numerous humiliations and offenses.

I will give one example of how important it is to support us outside of the major cities. I was the first to speak up and advocate for the right of conscientious objection in Montenegro. I protected one young man who wanted to do military service without arms. It was hard. If I didn’t have the Fund's and Women in Black's support, who knows how it would have ended for me.

On 7 May of this year, in front of the premises where we women gather, one local hero performed for two hours on his motorbike from which hung two Chetnik flags. He aimed to frighten us. What kind of security do I feel in my town? ...

Thank you.

Suzana Antic Ristic, Committee for Human Rights Office and Network Chris, Vranje

“How we can find clarity about Mackatica and war crimes in general, when we are immediately visited by state authorities? It is a sign that they want nothing to be done or discovered”

It is necessary to support each other. Especially, those of us who are from the smaller towns need support. We are lonely and we don't have a support from the local community.

We, in Vranje, have hoped that a change would occur in the last elections, that the mindset of citizens had changed, that they had became courageous and that they wanted to change the government. Unfortunately, such changes didn't occur and the south of Serbia remained a bastion of the Socialist Party of Serbia. Citizens' mindsets give me reason to think that this bastion will remain for a while.

During Milosevic's reign, civil society didn't even exist. Until the bombing (1999), the police repression was conspicuous. Citizens, and journalist especially, were intimidated into loyalty. My husband, a journalist, spent a month in jail. In 2000, after the fall of Milosevic's regime, there was a period of silence. Even Dargomir Tomic, a director of a Simpo factory, one of the greatest bastions of Milosevis's power, settled down and withdrew from public life. He has come back recently and is stronger than ever.

When the Fund for Humanitarian Law expressed suspicions regarding Mackatica (about cremation of the corpses of Kosovo Albanians during the bombing) and some new graves, the President of the Republic immediately came. He was greeted by Dragomir Tomic; they had a lunch together. Recently, the same thing happened when Prime Minister Kostunica came to Vranje.

How we can find clarity about Mackatica and war crimes in general, when we are immediately visited by state authorities? It is a sign that they want nothing to be done or discovered. Those citizens who know something are silent, they fear losing their jobs. Vranje is a poor region, the majority works in Simpo or ‘work camp,’ as we call it.

Our office has operated actively since 1998. We have a SOS Hotline for victims of domestic violence, but things are not going smoothly. If someone reports violence, the police arrive immediately to persuade us that it is not the case, that it won't happen again, etc. We are visited constantly. In one period that lasted about a month, the police was in our premises constantly, asking various questions and making demands: “what do you want?,” “let the court worry about human rights,” “you should go home,” “you should do something smarter,“ ”who is paying you?,” “what do your donors want?,” etc.

After 2000, the number of visits and calls increase in our office. Domestic violence is increasing and we are trying to help citizens in very difficult circumstances. Once, the local neurological-psychiatric clinic sent us a patient who almost demolished our office. The City Assembly almost passed a regulation calling for a tax on NGO’s activities.

Sonja Biserko, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia

“When women raise the question of war crimes, they have been criticized, hated, and attacked. Sometimes, even their physical integrity is imperiled in the street.”

My contribution to this discussion is about the confronting the past. The revival and promotion of the Chetnik movement as a anti-fascist movement is occurring. Even the Serbian Parliament passed a bill which equalized partisans and Chetniks.

Several NGOs in Belgrade and throughout Serbia are dealing with the recent past. that has become some a nightmare for authorities. The political idea that we are all one is dominating, and any dissenting opinion is unacceptable. In that regard, the aforementioned NGOs are seen as proponents of imported Anglo-American politics which allegedly has the aim of destroying Serbian identity and Orthodox Christianity in general. According to this ‘logic’ the concept of human rights isn't acceptable. The main promoter of this idea is the Serbian Orthodox Church. It recognizes only collective human rights and considers individual human rights to be ‘killing the identity of Serbs.’ Therefore, all of those who are advocating the respect of human rights, first and foremost NGOs, are Western agents.

What does this tell us? The current political elite believe that Serbia isn't ready for transition, so transition hasn’t started here. We can state that after 2003 and Djindjic's assassination, changes happened. Yet the elite believe that there is no difference between left-wingers and right-wingers; they have a conspiratorial relationship towards all of those who think differently. It is some kind of defense mechanism to protect themselves from all the pressures and changes that are coming from the outside in order to include Serbia in European processes. We were granted the Agreement on Association and Accession to European integration, which is in the first place a political and strategic decision by the EU. Unfortunately, there isn't a political potential to respond to this challenge. There was Djindjic; he's gone away. There is Kostunica who has not accepted the Hague Tribunal. Now, he considers the Hague the question of all questions. Accordingly, Serbia has no other option and with Djindjic's assassination Serbia was, in a certain way, put aside to wait for a new time to come.

There is no opposition in Serbia today. The only opposition is the Serbian radical Party (SRS) which is a coalition partner of the ruling party, both on local and various other informal levels. There isn't any political thought given to which direction Serbia should go. Everything depends upon the civil sector, to a part of it, since the civil sector has its problems as it has a political scene. Several NGOs and associations have raised questions which political elites are not ready to deal with at this moment. Primarily these are questions about confronting the past. In addition to that question, the questions about the status of refugees, minorities, and women, haven't been opened – namely, everything that belongs to the human rights corpus in a wider meaning of that word.

Women are the one that mainly tackle these problems, especially NGOs activists. Therefore, they are under attack. Women who plead for the upholding of human rights and who ask the questions which the political elites don't have the courage to answer, are under the attack of various tabloids, even of electronic media. Women are more courageous and ready to talk about problems which affect us all.

When women raise the question of war crimes, they have been criticized, hated, and attacked. Sometimes, even their physical integrity is imperiled in the street. Lately, these incidents have been occurring more frequently.

What encourages me in this situation is the latest research by S. Mihajlovic. For the first time, civil society was included on a list of institutions that people were asked if they trusted. Twenty-five percent of citizens trust civil society, while only 10% trust political parties. In this poll, NGOs were listed with the names of the women who are leading these organizations, and who are widely hated. Even with that identification, this sector managed to expose itself to the public, to become recognizable by addressing the problems, that the political parties haven't had the courage or will to deal with. I think this is good and that media should more closely follow all that we do. In this way, we would communicate more directly with citizens about the problems which affect us all.

Political parties have nothing new to offer. The apathy is present; this moment has to be used.

Everything that is positive here comes from the civil society and I see some possibilities here. The fact that the political elite are so afraid of some individuals and organizations shows exactly the rightness of our decision to raise questions, how politically necessary it is. Therefore, we should strive towards bigger networks and better organizations.

In Slovakia and Croatia pressure from the public brought about the initial transitional changes. I think that here, by us, something can be done through one well-thought and organized action.

It is also, indicative that here the government is passing laws on non-governmental organizations that could make our work more difficult. Our mandate isn't clear as well. Often we are qualified as political organizations. We should be mediators in the dialog on all topics in the society. The government controls how we declare ourselves politically and they decide how suitable we are. Every polemic on the human right issue has been characterized solely as a political polemic. Many things which are normal in democratic societies are stopped and condemned here. The state stops and condemns every human rights effort.

All this shows that Serbia is one very unstable country in which the point of integration of all citizens still hasn't been reached, not to mention the integration of minorities. Serbia, as well, has a bad relationship with its neighbors. It didn't open a proper dialog with them. It acts as if it is still the most important country in the Balkans. It tries to dictate the political situation.

Taking all this into consideration, it's no wonder that Serbia has this problematic relationship towards groups and individuals who have different stands and opinions. This trend will continue regardless of warnings coming from the outside. I have to admit that the international community would rather support the stability of the governent than a dialog within the society. The international community often attempts to quiet non-governmental organizations. I think that they are making a huge mistake; Serbia will not be able to make a step toward Europe unless it speaks with an authentic voice.

I will conclude by saying that it looks to me like there was never less freedom of speech in Serbia than there is now. There are active campaigns against all who think differently. By these efforts, the government only shows how weak it is. To me, it is one wasted paradigm that has nothing to offer.

Ivana Dulic Markovic, Minister of Agriculture in the Serbian government

“I was invited to Leskovac by all the presidents of the local communities from the south of Serbia. They told me that they could only meet on Saturday. I went on Saturday and no one showed up to talk to me.”

Thank you for inviting me to be present and in good company. I am terrified as always, since I represent that hated state and the government. I really don't feel complete guilt for what the authorities are doing, but I can take a part of the guilt on myself. I entered the government because I thought of Milosevic as our consequence. I did not think of him as a cause of all this that is happening in Serbia. I wanted things to change, though I thought that there would be more people who want changes. It turned out that it was one small circle of people, among whom are you and few others. In the Ministry of Agriculture, I see that I'm completely lonely in my political views. Everyone talks about changes, but when it comes to some completely simple changes, everyone is against it. They are even against the application of laws that were valid until 1992. They say: «Come on, why are you applying laws now? This is Serbia, where there are no laws. Next year, you won't be the Minister and everything will be as great as it was before.» As you know, we, in the Ministry of Agriculture formulated an agriculture development strategy, which was harshly criticized, though the government adopted it in the end. The strategy states that we have to work on rural development, it specifies how much competition to allow, and it contains some very good solutions.

I don't think that it will be adopted because of me, so now I have a dilemma. Should I resign? It's obvious that the socialists (Socialist Party of Serbia) will not vote in favor of laws which are proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, because of their relationship towards me. Now, the question is should I keep my position or is it more important to change the law on land and to adopt a law on organic agriculture. The destructive energy of stupidity and ignorance is imperiling all people, in all ministries, who want changes. I think that those who should lead the changes are not in this country anymore.

There isn't inner strength to overcome stupidity and ignorance because people from different parties will never gather together, even though there are many people who are good and smart. I know that here things will never be perfect, that we'll never have some perfect government in which everyone will be the way we want them to be and the way they should be – professionals, responsible, mature. Still, we have to struggle for it in every possible way. I think that in this moment no one wants to take responsibility because the situation is hard, because the big decisions should be made regarding Kosovo, Montenegro, and the deportation of Mladic.

The role of media is terrifying. Seselj was doing the worse during those years when independent media started to ignore him. I guess that they figured it out and they are now producing the media. People believe what leaders and the media tell them. I've been asked about it wherever I go. Whether things are true or not is not discussed, because if radicals (Serbian Radical Party) have said so, than it is certainly like that. People don't doubt if I'm paid by Americans to poison Serbs, to import the chickens with avian flu. They take it for granted that those accusations are true. I have no special need to defend myself, since I simply think that you can't defend yourself at all from that kind of stupidity and ignorance. On the other hand, I think that you should always do things better and that the role of the non-governmental sector is important.

I was invited to Leskovac by all the presidents of the local communities from the south of Serbia. They told me that they could only meet on Saturday. I went on Saturday. No one showed up to talk to me.

I too sometimes feel very lonely and endlessly tired, probably like all of you.

Natasa Kandic, Fond for Humanitarian Law, Belgrade

“I feel completely sure about what I'm doing, thinking and advocating. I will do it regardless of any cost. I will say what I think, regardless of any cost.”

Not even in Milosevic's times was there so much political primitivism. On one hand, it looks like there is no way out. Then again, everything is mixed.

The ones who don't believe that any Serb is responsible for war crimes deported to The Hague 16 war crime suspects in a very short period of time. It is true that they saw them off as national heroes, but still they deported them. When things are looked at factually, of course they are of interest to all of us...

The announcement of the initiation of the legal process for Suva Reka[2] is also important. The war crimes in Suva Reka are terrible and similar to the sufferings of Albanian children in Podujevo. Now, the question is asked what is happening with us if in spring 2001 we discovered mass graves throughout Serbia, and all of the ministers talked about it, condemned it and were ready to discover the truth, and that after Milosevic is sent to The Hague, nothing... everyone is mute?

Now, these things are again spoken of and it is important for us that the truth will be discovered and brought to court. I'm afraid that if there isn’t pressure and rebellion internally, nothing will come out of it.

In June this year, one framework of that kind was created. We, from non-governmental sector, created it. It was not used properly, but we still managed to have a dialog in the Parliament, admittedly in the most shameful way, about crimes, Srebrenica, etc. At least these things were spoken of. At this moment, no political parties are ready to talk in a clear and articulated manner about crimes. No one but us is ready.

It seems to me that for anyone who is dealing with human rights and the investigations of crimes, the question ‘do we feel secure?’ is meaningless. I personally saw so many terrible things that I would feel uncomfortable if I said that I'm threatened. Those words are stripped of meaning to me. What was happening with thousands of people, who cared about them? We didn’t pay attention to atrocities; we were a comfortable backyard of war... who am I to say now that I need a police protection, that I’m not secure? What do I care about some insecurity? I feel completely sure about what I'm doing, thinking and advocating. I will do regardless of any cost. I will say what I think regardless of any cost. I have no problem with it. Radicals[3] once threatened with knives and physical violence. Now, they use their political power to file false criminal charges and initiate baseless investigations.

The fact is that we live in a country in which not only non-governmental organizations are hated, but everyone who is not obedient, subject, or a member of the dominant political parties is hated.

Women are hated especially. Just look at the media and our National Assembly. We only see men there. When a woman makes a rare appearance under spot-lights, she is subject to a barrage of curses that is simply too terrible to hear. Those rare women in the public life and politics are the only there to look decent. They say that public space is not given to us, women, because we are better, more humane, more moral, smarter, braver, etc. Look what is going on with men, we have eight local policemen who are involved with terrible crimes (Suva Reka) and nothing is done, for years. No reaction from the administration of justice or the prosecutor. There is a lack of public debate about it, even for years this was not spoken of.

The opening of the investigation in Suva Reka has to do with the upcoming negotiations on Kosovo. The political instructions were given to the prosecution “you come out with this, so that Serbia gets political points and strengthens its position for negotiations. Even if we lose Kosovo, this can be useful, it will be seen how we killed them. Naturally, they will not want to live with us.” Everything is so nicely planned politically, but still it is moving forward, which is the most important thing.

We, from non-governmental organizations always have to be focused on human rights. It is important to know that those who are in power are not our closest associates in what we want. What we want is to establish a rule of law, but we must first respond to what happened from 1991 on. Thank you.

Ljiljana Raicevic, Women’s Safe House, Podgorica

“Media persecution of me doesn't stop. They claim that I'm detrimental to the reputation of Montenegro, that I'm the shame of Montenegro. When they couldn't find a lover of mine, they said I am a lesbian.”

For ten years now, I've been trying to inform citizens of Serbia and Montenegro about problems of corruption, human trafficking, money laundering, involvement of police in crime, and judicial reform. It is deeply planted, creating cracks in society.

Our society is profoundly ill and crime is rampant. The new elite that emerged during the wars became rich through smuggling cigarettes, and selling drugs and weapons. It is especially important to stress that they became rich primarily through women, through trafficking of women, and the abuse of women in various criminal acts.

What we need here is a way to clean everything and to bring in some new young people who would create a different and better state.

For the six and a half years of the safe house’s existence, we have helped and talked to 938 individuals, and 62 women were taken care of in our house. I will now explain how that happened.

Every woman that we take in, we take to the police. She is interrogated and there is a record of the interrogation. Those women have mentioned in their testimonies 250 people, including police officers and government officials, not just of Montenegro but of other countries in the region. The prosecution never filed charges, and the complete documentation on testimonies simply disappeared. The case of Moldavian women is known, and you know how it ended.

We have heard terrible stories from women who were victims. They were maltreated and threatened. They were forced to smuggled drugs in their genitals (from 250 to 300 grams of heroin can be placed into vagina). They smuggled arms and ammunition. Police knew that this was occurring, but did nothing. Many women were transferred, after they were deemed ‘worn out,’ to special places where they were used for organ harvesting. Those who were designated for organ harvesting were not older than 25 years of age. I recently met one woman, relatively young, who looked like a fifty year old. She was kept for years as a sex slave for Arkan's troops. After her parents abandoned her, a Montenegrin soldier brought her.

I have to confess to you that the Moldavian women even had a good destiny. After she turned states’ evidence, she was given protection and accommodation in a third country.

Women’s Safe House has been working on three laws on witness protection which were adopted in the National Assembly. Now, we are working on a law to decriminalization prostitution.

Various things happened to me during the last year. I became known because of the Moldavian woman, as if I didn't do anything but that. There are several legal trials against me. I've been followed, and my phone has been tapped. Our computer database was broken into. The media persecutes me endlessly. Some so-called intellectuals, like Jevrem Brkovic, claim that I'm detrimental to the reputation of Montenegro, that I'm the shame of Montenegro. When they couldn't find a lover of mine, they said I am a lesbian.

Lately, we have had a serious problem with donations. Everyone is avoiding us. The funding team from Europe doesn't recommend cooperation with us. Recently, I was interrogated in the American Embassy. It's not easy, but we are still working.

Barbara Davis, representative of UN Human Rights Mission in FRY from February 1998 to February 2001

“If all this happened to me while I was enjoying diplomatic immunity, I can’t imagine what happens to you as human rights defenders.”

My contribution will be shorter because of the language barrier, but the first thing that I will say is: the signs beside the road, were the signs of darkness.

My stay in the Balkans was in the role of an international official. I enjoyed the functional international immunity in Croatia and diplomatic immunity in FR Yugoslavia.

Here is a small list of situations in which my security was threatened: twice my office was been broken into. Twice, my apartment was broken into. My working agenda was stolen from a hotel; it was given back to me later. I was beaten in a crowd of 200 people and 10 policemen. Two times, I was a victim of premeditated car accidents; both happened near the police station. I was kidnapped and held at gunpoint for four hours.

All this happened to me while I had functional or diplomatic immunity. If this was happening to me, I can’t imagine what happens to you as human rights defenders.

I will conclude by asking if it is possible that no one from international offices is taking part in this conference. Thank you.

Stasa Zajovic, Women in Black, Belgrade

Why did they begin to accuse us of prostitution when the new year began? No woman worried about it. Yet, women understood the charge as a moral stigmatization. Women from outside of the cities understood it as a moral insult and had problems in their family because of it. What kind of ‘innovation’ is the security service introducing and what is its purpose, its aim?

I've been invited to different departments of the interior ministry, to the department for organized crime and prostitution, and to the department for financial crime. Then, they came to the Women in Black office. Then, they called. What was the most interesting to me is that it wasn't systematic.

Milosevic, for example, had total, absolute control over all government apparatus. They call us spies, which means they consider us to be worthy political opponents. The warrants were issued.

Now, we have the same persecution, but it is decentralized. It means that Kostunica has no control over security services. What happens is the ‘creative’ work of certain security officers. I can't say that it's a matter of state, since the state doesn't exist. There are different institutions close to Serbian government who have various kinds of ‘creations.’ like accusing us of prostitution. Which services do they use? Milosevic didn’t need any delinquents, scum, or vagabonds to interrogate us and now they are using these people as instruments to repress and intimidate us. Kostunica's legalism is of best use to them. For six months I was called in the night by a man who said « whore, I will slay you», etc.

We women who are doing this work know that this is an ever-present risk. We are taking that risk from the moment we start working. I felt ashamed to complain about something like this. One night, I was called by the Minister's office to be told that they are concerned about certain ‘immoral’ behavior. They are dealing with my morals. They are telling me that they can't allow these ‘prohibited’ activities to take place within the non-governmental sector. I knew that these ‘creative’ employees from the State Security Service (SSS), and the Security-Intelligence Agency were at work.

There is a total difference between previous and current SSS officers. Those working now are not convinced of what they are doing. They are just doing it because it is work to be done. These scum and vagabonds are using Kostunica's legalism. They say that they were notified by a citizen and we are following proper procedure regarding it, we respect a voice of the people, etc. That is that legalism.

From the beginning of Women in Black’s activities, we have faced different forms of repression, both on administrative-state and social-cultural level. These two levels are mutually interwoven and there is a causal-consequential relation between them. I will try to present the repression chronologically, in three phases which are connected to Women in Black’s relationship to war, war crimes, and confrontation with the criminal past. We, as a women’s peace group, have problems almost entirely due to our enduring insistence on collective responsibility for the war and war crimes that have been committed in our name.

Phase I

State-organized crime and denial of criminal reality (1991-2000)

The State denied the crimes which it organized through slogans such as ‘Serbia isn’t at war.’ Such ideas have been repeated and rephrased by the subjects through various mechanisms of ,relativization, and blaming others (i.e.‘others are guilty,’ ‘Because of you [anti-war activists] Serbia is in the situation like this’ or ‘You brought here NATO – you are betrayers, spies…)

Problem types:

Administrative: Bans
  • Ban on work in a refugee camp (Kovilovo, May 1995): We were banned by the order of the Serbian Refugee Commission and the warden of the aforementioned camp, due to the alleged lack of a work permit, which was incorrect, considering that humanitarian activity was part of our work. Additionally, the State Security Service had on several occasions interrogated refugees in a number of refugee camps in which we had worked, and we denounced this as a form of threatening.
  • Legal Proceedings: From 1993 they were initiated on numerous occasions, due to alleged improper and inaccurate reporting (declarations) of public manifestations/protests, which was incorrect, since we have always operated in accordance with regulations.
  • Police interrogation – more than a few dozen of activists have been subjugated and exposed to police interrogation, as a form of threatening, frightening, blackmail, and breaking solidarity and group cohesion.
  • Obstruction of International Women in Black network meetings: From 1992 until 2000, we organized eight meetings of our network. These types of obstruction represented an attempt to prevent our contact with networks of international solidarity. FR Yugoslavia introduced visas in 1993, and obstruction especially became harsher from 1995, which manifested itself when the Embassy of FR Yugoslavia in Madrid refused to issue visas for thirty activists in our network from Spain. The border police forbid an entrance to a bus full of activists from Italy, Spain, Great Britain and Croatia who were supposed to come to the meeting together. Police have interrogated all foreign participants in the meetings, meeting organizers, as well as some of the local population of Tresnjevac (near Senta) where the meeting took place. Police was maltreating participants from Croatia on the border.
  • Organized attacks: Language of demonization and lynching becomes a call for a lynching, which I will substantiate with one example. Vojislav Seselj, president of Serbian Radical Party, during the session of the Serbian Parliament held on September 28th 1998 said the following: “If the USA decides to attack Serbia, they should evacuate their quislings like members of Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Belgrade Circle and Women in Black, and should not leave them as hostages. Perhaps, we will not be able to take down each plane, but we will grab those [from the aforementioned organizations] who are close to us”. Other members of the Serbian Parliament responded to this threat with laughter. However, thanks to the great solidarity of civil society in Belgrade, we organized a public protest “I confess” on October 9th marking the 7th Anniversary of Women in Black activities.
  • Culmination of the repression: The most aggressive campaign against Women in Black was noted in a period from June to September 2000, namely in the last months of the Milosevic regime. This was manifested in the following ways:
  • Everyday police interrogation by the Serbian State Security (SSS) officers, both in premises Women in Black and Ministry of Interior Affairs;
  • Criminalization through financial control;
  • Unlawful detention and torture to which activist Bojan Aleksov had been subjugated by SSS;
  • Issuing an arrest warrant for activist Stasa Zajovic, as well for activist Srdjan Knezevic (because of his desertion from Kosovo during the military intervention, but the warrant remained active, even after Srdjan Knezevic was aquited by Amnesty law);
  • The Passport was confiscated from activist Dunja Hadziomerspahic;
  • Apartment search, telephone secret listening, planting bugs in some apartments, including an apartment of Stasa Zajovic, etc;
  • Confiscation of activist material and Women in Black documentation by SSS officers during the police interrogations in June and July 2000. This material still has not been returned.
  • Expulsion of international volunteers who were expressing their solidarity through help and support to Women in Black’s work. During the period until 2000, three people were expelled.
Cultural-social repression
  • Physical attacks: The first physical attack we experienced during our protest happened in October 1993. The attackers were members of the para-military organization “White Eagles”. The majority of the attacks happened during our protests against the politics of violence and apartheid that the Serbian regime conducted in Kosovo, but some attacks happened because of our symbols (rainbow-colored flag).
  • Reactions of people on the street during our protest always reflected political tendencies in accordance with the war-mongering of state institutions and state-run media;
  • It has been shown that a state is the biggest security threat to activists, but that the state apparatus is not the only source of repression while it converted (and still converts) subjects into police informers. It means that the system of control was not only vertical, but horizontal;
  • Stigmatization and demonization represent a way of expulsion, exclusion from the community (i.e. ‘those who break national consensus deserve punishment’). By this justification and legitimization, violence against those who think differently is achieved (i.e. ‘you deserved that…’);
  • An attempt to separated the rest of the population through demonization and frightening, aiming to stop the ideas which are contrary to the dominant ones from reaching other people;
  • An attempt to create a discord within a group and instigating paranoia and distrust among us;
  • The aforementioned mechanisms have always been used to deny the criminal past like ‘You have made up Vukovar, Srebrenica…’;
  • Both sexes have been contaminated by the regime’s propaganda, but there are differences in their attitudes. Men were more active in expressing their opinion, but women, too, were active in attacks until 2000. A certain change was noticed after 2000, which will be explained later.
Phase II: From the Fall of the regime to the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (October 2000 – March 2003)
    During this period we haven’t been only AGAINST since the regime change created more space FOR promotion of different values;
    • Disburdening of fear – we had even, on one occasion, spontaneously and without informing the police organized a women’s street march on March 8th 2003 and we didn’t suffer any consequences or sanctions;
    • Decentralization of public activity: In this period our activities (protests, performances, and campaigns) expanded to the towns outside of Belgrade as well;
    • Problems with authorities continued on the administrative level, since the legal proceedings which were started against us by the previous regime (because of the alleged accounting problems) continued until February 2003, when they were completely stopped. This problem was a clear sign that in juridical bodies, reforms haven’t been undertaken, and that the system stayed intact, which turned out to have a catastrophic consequences.
    The campaign ‘Enough crimes’ (which was organized in whole Serbia after the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic) had shown the following:
    • There was an agreement (during a short period of time) between institutional messages and those from civil society, with support of the huge part of media;
    • Action (the first and second phase) was very efficient, accompanied with consent and acceptance by citizens;
    • During the period of the Marshal Law this action was conducted usually without problems with the police;

    Third phase of action called ‘Vukovar, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Kosovo, 8, Nemanjina Street’, with stickers on which names of places where crimes were committed in our names were printed and clear demands for responsibility, caused the discontent of a substantial part of the citizens, and was supported by far fewer non-governmental organizations than the previous two phases. This showed that the confrontation with the past is one of the most painful problems, which anticipated the next phase.

    Phase III: Institutionally organized denial of criminal past and refusal to confront the past

    After the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic, and especially after the December 2003 elections and Vojislav Kostunica’s rise to power, the following thins have been noted:
    • Parallel to the rehabilitation of representatives of the previous (Milosevic’s) regime, methods from that period were rehabilitated as well;
    • Repressive measures became different;
    • Ban on action ‘Deport them’, scheduled for December 10th, International Day for Human Rights, which demanded that all those who are suspected to have committed war crimes should be extradited to The Hague Tribunal, and a ban on action celebrating March 8th, International Women’s Day.
    • Administrative measures: offense charges;
    • Police interrogations and hearings held in different departments of Ministry of Interior Affairs (in a department for organized crime and prostitution, and for financial crime)
    • Visits of police officials to Women in Black premises, especially during the period from April until October 2005.

    Physical attacks

    • A group of football hooligans and skinheads attacked Women in Black activists on November 9th when they celebrated International Day against fascism, which was a clear sign of society’s facisization and the tolerance that authorities have to fascist incidents;
    • In April 2004 we organized a protest against violence in Kosovo, but against destruction of mosques and attacks on those of non-Serbian ethnicity in Serbia too. Two of our activists were attacked;
    • On July 10th 2004 in the Republic Square in Belgrade, a huge group of ‘patriotic oriented citizens’ attacked Women in Black during the commemoration of the 9th Anniversary of genocide in Srebrenica. Police didn’t respond adequately and the criminal charges brought up against attackers were dismissed;
    • An attack happened on February 2nd 2005 in Svetozar Miletic Square in Novi Sad on Women in Black activists from Belgrade and Novi Sad during the action ‘Deport them’;
    • On July 10th 2005 in the Republic Square in Belgrade, a group of neo-Nazis threw tear gas on participants in a protest commemorating the 10th Anniversary of genocide in Srebrenica. Offense charges were brought up against the attackers, while criminal charges which were initiated by Women in Black have not been taken into consideration.

    Financial Investigation

    Investigation occurred during June 2005, as an attempt to criminalize Women in Black. Records showed that there are no any irregularities of this kind in our work.

    Prostitution accusation

    In order to further criminalize and discredit Women in Black, authorities reached for a new ‘invention’: they accused Women in Black of the ‘organized practice of prostitution’ continuously from April till October 2005.

    What do the aforementioned types of repression against Women in Black show?
    • The source of repression is always the same – institutions under the control of the Serbian government;
    • Those institutions use delinquents, football hooligans, criminal groups with clero-facistic orientation, and pathologically violent types;
    • The actions of the aforementioned groups are not spontaneous, but threats and premeditated actions aiming to discredit, frighten and exhaust Women in Black;
    • Repression has a gender connotation – accusations of prostitution aim at attacking the moral integrity of activists and discouraging them from being activists, especially in smaller communities;
    • Use of women as instruments of repression: since 2004, women were more often used for attacks on Women in Black than during the Milosevic’s regime. This method represents a rehabilitation of the model of ”state-pimping,” which was used by JUL (United Yugoslav Left), headed by Mirjana Markovic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic. Political “pimps” take women into the streets to fight their female political opponents. This leads to a conclusion that certain parts of authorities (some being under the control of the government, while others may operate autonomously) use both people and methods from the darkest war time.

    What else does our case show?
    • The current government doesn’t have an absolute control of repression apparatus – accusations of prostitution represent not only the rehabilitation of former methods, but a ‘creative invention’ of those from previous regime who remain in power. They are using the so-called legalism of the present government as a way to retain power and rehabilitate previous regime.
    • Institutions connected to the Serbian government are very cooperative, or to put it more properly, obedient, in their relations with the international community. On one hand, they execute almost all orders as to stay in power. On the other hand, in order to keep ‘the patriotic image’ among voters, they express their rage against human rights defenders and justify the violence against them.
    • Perverted value system and the coalescence of war mafia and institutions: war criminals and war mafia are still ‘heroes and patriots,’ and human rights defenders, anti-facists -- in short all those who are supporting the radical discontinuity with the criminal past and the responsibility for war crimes-- have been qualified as ‘extremists’, even ‘criminals’.

    Borka Pavicevic, Center for Cultural Decontamination, Belgrade

    Moralism is always an instrument of doctrine. The emergence of whores, witches, and ‘an other’ is completely in accordance with the beliefs of our regime. Our state and its elite believe that unenlightened masses will be brought to a higher state of consciousness through moral enlightenment and the church.

    This country is, so-to-speak, divided into fiefdoms about which our friend from Vranje talked: you have a fief in which Simpo rules (Vranje), one in which Ilic rules (Cacak), and one for Kostic (Nis). In Novi Sad, Maja is ruling, which is even worse since she is a woman. In this feudalization, tribal communities are created, which producing one moralistic principle. Therefore, the number of whores on the public scene is increasing, as that is a language of those in power. That is what their worldview is like.

    I just want to explain something, and that is a question of charging some, not all non-governmental organizations, of with the misuse of funds. I was watching a show yesterday. As in all shows, they only talked about money. It is true that we are a poor society and that it fascinates them. During socialism there were debates among Marxists and neo-Marxists, new left and everything else, after which that group split into patriots and betrayers. I stated yesterday that there is a huge amount of people who need money and whose value model is that one and they associate it with other people. It is simply amazing, that money is what they care most about. They don't have it. If we have to give them a per diem, then we would rate better in all that combination.

    [1] Storms here refers to an action of the Croatian military when, both military and civilian population were driven from their homes in the so-called “Republic of Srpska Krajina” in 1995, by a single military operation.

    [2] Where during the bombing in Kosovo, Serbian armed forces killed Albanian civilians.

    [3] Serbian Radical party