"MADRE: MOTHER COURAGE II"
25 March 1993
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Transcribed by k.mihalec

Please Note: This text has been transcribed from audio cassette. There are a few places where the voice fades out, which is indicated by "...". However, this only lasts a few seconds.

During the MADRE Tour in Toronto, a fax from Kareta Feminist Group, Bosnia-Hercegovina Refugee Women's Group: "BiH," International Initiative of Women of Bosnia-Hercegovina: "Biser," and Bedem Ljubavi Women's Group, was distributed to a few members of the audience.


MAGGIE HELWIG: Good evening. We will be focusing on the issues of violence against women in war time, and generally violence against women and the recognition of women's rights ....

VOICE OF WOMEN REPRESENTATIVE: It's the first conference on human rights, the first UN conference on human rights to be held in twenty-five years. And of course, we will be assenting the International Human Rights agenda for at least twenty-five years. It is our belief that we have to insist that gender is placed centrally on the agenda of Human Rights, organizations of the international machinery. We need to insist that gender is central and thet violence against women is seen as a major Human Rights violation ...

MATHOGONOLO MABORE: I'm sure at lot of you are ready and eager to hear about ex-Yugoslavia atrocities they are facing. especially those women who have to face being raped, and raped, and raped many days on end. And still have to live to tell not just the story but the experience of their lives ...

LILIANA CORTEZ: ... a woman is being raped because she is the wife of the enemy, a woman is raped because of ethnic cleansing, a woman is being raped for all kinds of excuses. A woman raises her voice, wants the world to hear her plea, but a woman is silent. When MADRE stared to organize this tour it was always our intention that in regards to the former Yugoslavia. Three voices will be heard.

MAGGIE HELWIG: ... from Belgrade, a clinical psychologist who has published essays on violence against women, rape, and war, and a feminist approach to mental health. And she's the co-founder of the SOS Hotline for women and children victims of violence in Belgrade, and a member of Women in Black, a women's anti-war group.

LEPA MLADJENOVIC: I will probably just say a few words because I'm not used to speak like this really. I will first try to say that in Belgrade, from the beginning of the war there is a women's opposition, very strong, and very small, and we have formed a Women IN Black in October '91, just a little bit after the war started in Croatia. And from that time on we are attending on the street on Belgrade every Wednesday one hour. I myself am also a part of the anti-war movement in Belgrade which from time to time has different kind of demonstrations in the street ... also something which is very important ... Women In Black and our Women's Opposition Group has different points. First of all, we are completely against the regime of Milosovic and Serbian regime. We feel that they are the ones who are most responsible for the war. We also think that the other national leaders of the sides who are involved in the war are also contributing ...

Women and children ... they have different needs and therefore we have to take care of different needs of the refugees, because they are nit just people. They are women, 85% are women and children. And also in Serbia for 380,00 refugees 80% of these are in families. Which means that these people are women, mostly taken care of ... in families. So that becomes for us a perspective to look at these refugee problem as mostly a women's problem.

We also want to point, the increase of violence, in the city, that means in Belgrade, which is not in the the war and because violence has increased in all levels. That means man against man in the street, in restaurant, among adolescent guys because they are imitating the big warriors in the war and so the violence in school has increased. Because the violence in TV. has increased because of the constant propaganda against the enemy. The enemy is always different, first they were the Slovenians, than they were Croats, then they were Muslims, and then Albanians ... so there is always the image that people watch on TV. That there is always somebody as the enemy of us. The children are watching these TV's and our research in Psychology Institute in Belgrade has shown a very, very catastrophic result. That children in fact, from a very early age learning that some group should hate, so that the hate group exists. Which before didn't exist, because, like, at least in Belgrade where I was until a year and a half ago we were all friends, and brothers, and sisters whatever nationality we were there was no pint at al. So now its drastically changed, and so has the effect on children too. And, there is another point which is of course now became a main concern is the rape of women. I'm one of the co-founders of the SOS telephone and that's been working for three years now. And we are a hotline that's open everyday and there's about 40 volunteers together. We have opened a couple of moths ago around the new year. A special groups which we decided to take care about women raped in war and who are over in Belgrade ... and who are in some other cities who are not only in Belgrade ....

As a group we've seen that it's very difficult for us because lots of women in the group themselves have lots of problems about being raped, and fears themselves about being exposed to violence in the streets ... We also working with women who come from Bosnia, who have been raped in prisons, but those who have recently come from Bosnia, who have recently been coming in are from Muslims prisons or have been raped by Croat soldiers, Muslim soldiers ...

Our group is very extremely not nationalistic oriented. Which means in the group there are women with Muslims names, Croat names, and Serbian names. Thatís very important because in fact, in a couple of months, recently, we had lots of women going to the group only because of that. Because they felt really, that is very important for them to have a support group which is non-nationalistic oriented and because they have problems in their families. Because the majority of the population in Belgrade and in Serbia is very nationalistic oriented because of the media which produces it ...

Women in Black, especially, we made a couple of appeals for some international womenís meetings. We together with some feminist groups from Belgrade, and with Vesna, we have asked for the tribunal against the war rapes. That all the rapes should be put on Tribunal. And where we have stated different feminist points in which we have disagreed completely with our government, and the war policy, and most of these documents have been signed by many different feminists group in Europe all together. Another point which is very important to us, is that we not only have good relations with the feminist group in Zagreb, but also with many other feminist groups in Europe which give us lots of support, by means of sending letters, some of them come by truck and bring us either some food or some cotton or papers or facts. It is not easy to be a pacifist group in Belgrade, because, especially when we stand in the street as Women In Black we are in fact considered as traitors because once you are not on the line, or with the general politics of course then you are against the mainstream, and so you are considered a traitor of a Serbian Nation. So, therefore the solidarity of the women's groups around the world is very important for us, that's one of the very, very strong support we get so to continue. I think that's about it.

MAGGIE HELWIG: Our next speaker who we are very happy to have with us is Vesna Kesic of Zagreb. Vesna is a feminist and journalist who is published in many Croatian magazines and a co-founder of Zagreb Women's Lobby, a political pressure group. I'd ask everybody to listen to what Vesna has to say.

VESNA KESIC: For me this is also difficult and a little bit unusual situation to speak in public, but I'll try. Just as Lepa, a colleague of mine from Belgrade say it's very difficult for them over there because they are identified or they are asked to identify themselves with the side of the aggressor. I'm on the other side, the side of the victim, and I'm pushed to identify with the victims. I have to accept the formula she's the aggressor and I am the victim. And I only know one thing, that every woman on this world can identify with a raped woman. Because each has this fear and the nightmare exist. Has it been taken from grandmother's folks and grandmother's culture or is it been the product of the culture and the experience she's been having all her life. War rapes are certainly not the same as the, uh, shall we call them "normal rapes" going on in peaceful cultures. Just as Liliana said there is hundreds of reasons to rape the woman, but when the rape is the part of the military strategy and when it becomes massive, so massive appearance and dimensions as a it did in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is of course only one name for it, genocide rape. This attack on the reproductive nucleus of the other group. Because of course you want it to disappear because the reproductive part of the population has been destroyed through the rape. So, what we definitely want is to stop this war, and to establish the courts, the International Tribunals which could bring the criminals to the justice. There is something which can be called genocidial rape, but every rape which has been committed during the war from the soldiers has to be named as a war crime. So when we talk about these Tribunals and these prosecutions ... (unclear) ... everyone who has been using the war as a possibility to attack to the women, to show her once again what is her place in society ... These are the women from the whole nation ... So, I just think that every rape in the world has to be pronounced a war crime, and all of them have to be punished in an adequate way. Women, never bring important political, especially not globally politically decisions as we know. There always been words from the men. I'm sure, women if they had a chance to decide about this war would have tried to avoid it. Would have looked for the way to avoid it, which cannot be said for the political national leaders.

APPLAUSE

In this sense we are trying to organize more activities this moment in Croatia and in Zagreb. Groups are very different, very different political, national, and feminist methodology and approach. I'm not saying that anything is ideal, we have divided very much. We've been divided between our nations and we've been divided into our nations. But I'm definitely saying that all the help which can be given to the women victims of war is necessary, and that is necessary to have grass root community basic democratic initiatives which would be working women with women. And we're trying to establish one, in which one we try to avoid any nationalism. In one which we just say, 'we are going to have any woman.' And ... one ... we very well know who has mostly been raped, and what are the numbers.

Actually the numbers are not very well known. This is just one of the way women have been reduced in this war because the war is reduction of all the values ... reduction of all the emotions ... So, also the women in this war have been reduced to numbers mostly, you know. How many of them 200, 000 somebody says; 14, 000 as Bosnian government says they can prove; or is it 60, 000 as somebody else claims or is it maybe 20, 000 as European Community has bring this number? So just when we have these numbers when we see how much they can compare, we can realize that this time women again have been used, have been manipulated and have been treated as these numbers.

So, as I've said, we've formed a small centre for the women victims of war, in which we try to work to decentralize, meaning that we have small centres all around Croatia ... We always inform that most of the help for the women victims of war is definitely needed in Bosnia. Our centres, our centre, will work in every way to meet the needs of the women. We started to walk to the camps. We don't want to make them tell their stories. We hate the idea to bring their stories to the press, which has been done, and manipulated and used. Again we shall be just trying to bring to help them to self organize, to give them political support, material support to regain any sort of self-confidence. And one fact which we also shall avoid to do is to give our datas and facts, which we may collect, to anybody. Especially not to the government because we don't think the governments are the right institution to be using it. That will be all.

APPLAUSE ...

END OF TALK ... FLOOR NOW OPEN TO QUESTIONS ...


Read the faxed response from Kareta Feminist Group, Bosnia-Hercegovina Refugee Women's Group: "BiH," International Initiative of Women of Bosnia-Hercegovina: "Biser," and Bedem Ljubavi Women's Group.