Nadja Duhacek has been part of Serbia’s Women in Black for some seventeen years. She shares how she got involved, and explains in what way the Women in Black struggle against yet again, increasing nationalism and militarism.
Below are just selected excerpts, listen to the full episode of Avaşîn Podcast
What is the source of your struggle? Where did it all begin?
The source of my struggle, and of many women and also men, who were born in Yugoslavia and then witnessed the wars and the country’s violent break-up, that part of the answer is always the question that we kept going back to: why did it have to end up in a war, why did it have to end up in so much violence? Part of our answer was always that we have to start building peace, and peace can not be about going back to something because the society that we had before the wars was also patriarchal, and part of the struggle is to build a better peace. A peace that is also good for women. We have to understand that we are not fighting just the physical violence but also the war mongering, the hatred that is built into the values before one bullet is shot.
Women in Black are feminist and anti-militarist, so the work is always focused on dismantling the violence, the patriarchy and hierarchy in whatever shape or form they come. But it’s also a place where you can connect with people who share your values.”
“For me personally… Women in Black started in November 1991, I was ten years old at the time. I was glad to know that they existed when I was a teenager. After I graduated I was privileged to study abroad, and I moved back to Belgrade when I was 24. I was interested to see what kind of peace initiatives were still going on. With Women in Black, I could rethink the war of the 1990s and the dominant narratives, which are unfortunately still present. That was also my entry into feminism. Like many middle-class women I thought that this was not necessarily the priority. Meeting feminists made me realise that I had so much to learn. That it was an ongoing struggle and none of it was actually finished.
What kind of dominant narratives?
The dominant narratives in Serbia – and some of them are gaining strength – that this was a war that had nothing to do with us, or that this was a war in which we were attacked and we were the victims, that nothing can be gained from rethinking responsibility, that as a state, even when we understand that crimes were committed we should not talk about our responsibility, we should only talk about Serbian victims. One of the things that I have learned from Women in Black is that we need to start from ourselves. We need to start from the group that we belong to and we need to critically evaluate what has been done in our name.”
“One of the ways in which these narratives are still very much present today, is what you could call a graffiti war. There is, they call it a mural but it is not a very aesthetic rendering of Ratko Mladic, the convicted war criminal, and it is painted in one of the streets in the central residential part of Belgrade. Over the last eight months, different activists have tried to either throw paint on it or to remove it in other ways, they have also tried the very legal and slow way of asking the municipality to remove it, they have the consent to remove it from people who live in the building, but any time anybody touches it, a group that is really more like an army than anything else, young men, born much time after the genocide in Srebrenica, show up. They are very caring towards the wall and the painting but very violent towards people who disagree with them. The police stand on the side and does nothing as they threaten us.
How do you talk about strategies in Women in Black, at a time when nationalism is rising?
Trying to resist the kind of one way thinking that nationalism offers, is a struggle in itself. Sometimes it feels lonely, sometimes there is a lot of questioning going on, I like to think that from time to time we do offer some answers and some ideas. When it comes to the question of whether we need to change our strategies or intensify them, I would say we need to do both. You can’t stand by looking at things getting worse, globally. There are new wars breaking out, ecological disasters are happening, we need to look at the whole complicated pattern and think about how we are responding but also what kind of alternatives we offer.
We organise street protests on dates of certain war crimes in all parts of former Yugoslavia – those we mark by standing in silence in black, or with slogans like ‘Not in our name’, or holding the names of cities that were attacked. But also Women in Black takes to the streets to do pro-active things, for example we took part in a very large initiative to make conscientious objection possible in Serbia. It has been possible for a couple of years now but it’s very interesting that one of the initiatives that the current government has is to bring back army service as an obligation for young men.
Do you want to know more about the struggle of the Women in Black, and the Women’s Court in which women testified about the violence in the private and public spheres both during the Yugoslavian wars and after the war? Listen to the whole conversation with Nadja Duhacek in the third episode of Avaşîn Podcast, hosted by journalist and author Fréderike Geerdink.