Here I am, sitting in hotel restaurant in Gorazde, town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, situated on banks of Drina river. Ten years ago I couldn’t have imagined that one day my feminism, activism will bring me here , to this beautiful country that suffered so much not so long ago. Music is on, and the song that’s playing now is Pledge, my love, and the one before that was It shouldn’t be war. All old pop/rock songs playing on the radio…. Songs as a reminiscence of another, happier time.
Twenty years after ….
I’m sitting near Drina, listening to it’s murmur and watching people passing by, swimming, sunbathing. Drina is truly beautiful – today when we saw it from the bus on our way here, it showed us it’s full beauty. it’s color was green, but that kind of green that you cant compare with anything else. If I was religious , I’d say it’s heavenly green. 20 years ago it was red.
I can hear kids laughing. And it fills me with sorrow. Only twenty years ago this same joyful laughter was interrupted and silenced with fire guns for many years. Now there it is again, which can really make you happy and sad at the same time. How is it possible that someone dared to break that laughter and joy?
I count this as my first time in Bosnia and Herzegovina even though I went last year to the peace march for Srebrenica , and this is actually the second time in three days that I’m here.
But march for Srebrenica , was different. It was psychological effort but physical as well, we marched over 100km from Nezuk to Potocari where are memorial center and huge cemetery. On the cemetery are buried remains of thousands of people, men and boys slaughtered in genocide committed by Serbian army in only three days.
I walked , aware of the atrocities committed in my name – and felt anger or better yet fury. I was furious once again as many times before at the country in which I grew up, and spent my entire life, I was furious at the whole Serbian nation – because I know that they supported the massacre, the genocide, they don’t give a damn – as long as horror happens to the others.
My father had a friend, also a doctor , form Nepal. Upon graduating, he got married with woman from Srebrenica, a Bosnia woman. I remember going there for a visit as a kid, and enjoying it. When the war burst, he decided that he wants to leave, go back to Nepal. Reasonable thinking, someone would say. Well his wife , didn’t want to go. So he left, leaving her and the children behind. Without second thinking.
I never found out what happened to them, my parents were never interested. She was their friend but they simply didn’t give a damn because it wasn’t happening to them. MY parents, father from India, and mother, who claimed for herself that she is citizen of the world – neither of them was nationalist, nor supported Milosevic’s nationalist, fascist politics but ….
They were in Belgrade, safe, convinced that they too have their own problems and worries, inflation, low salary and that life equally hard for them too… it wasn’t happening to them.
Tomorrow morning , my partner and I are going to another town Focha, about 30 km from Gorazde. There, we are going to pay our respect and commemorate women who were raped and murdered by Serbian soldiers. That’s why we came here . Women who survived those atrocities, those terrors are also going to be there.
I’m just , staring at Drina, realizing that we can’t even imagine all the horrors these women, people went through. Of course , yeah we read, we listened ….. we protested even as kids but it just struck me that we can’t really imagine
We woke up around 8:00 am. After breakfast and nice Bosnian coffee my partner and I went on one of the two bridges in Gorazde to wait for a woman who organized this and many other protests. The day before she said over the phone that she’ll come pick us up and we’ll together go to Foca. It was around 10 in the morning and already hellishly hot.
While waiting , I was thinking about the town, the people, the buildings. Before I came to Gorazde, I’m not sure what was I thinking how its going to be, but I definitely didn’t imagine that much poverty, I didn’t expect its like time is standing still. Like someone sent us back to the 80s except…. There are new houses built after the war and on almost each house there is a year when it was built. But there are lot of old buildings with holes from shrapnels as a constant reminder of the terrors of the 90s. I was thinking, for us, in Belgrade and in Serbia 90s are that. Past. Some of us, we want and choose to remember and never to forget. For us, forgetting would be equal to denying it ever happened. Some, find it easier to forget, to avoid facing the past. Most of the people in Serbia, they glorify that time and the monsters who created and participated in it. For women in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for many of them 90s never ended. They live through them every day, every minute every second of their lives. They are trying to live, struggling with nightmares of the day and nightmares of the night.
While sitting in the car on our way to Foca I mainly stared through the window, watching the hills and houses shattered on all sides, trying to figure out a way to distance ourselves a bit – just to stay calm. I never saw so many houses way up in the hills. In fact I stared at those houses all the time we were there wondering what are people’s lives like up there. How they go to work? Or their children to school? Do they still have to walk for miles to get somewhere, like in the past? It sounded like a dumb question to ask , so I stayed quite.
The fact is that almost every question sounded like a dumb one. What to ask? How is it now after almost 4 years of slaughters, murders, rapes and near 17 of injustice, ignorance denial by others. I’m guessing that we now the answer and we’ll never know it all at the same time. Those women – they live. Some of them, few managed to try to continue their lives, many of them live in hell everyday. There is no one who listens, no one who helps, nothing. While people in Serbia live , most of them on the verge of poverty, these women live under that verge, they live in severe poverty, with severe health problems, without recognition of their suffering, with constant insults form their neighbors, without justice but with fear. Even 20 years after most of the monsters live in their towns, villages – free.
On our way, we stopped once more to pick up one woman. The moment she entered the car she begun talking. She talked about everything she went through like it happened yesterday and not 20 years ago. She spoke all the way, how Serbian men raped her in camp, how she saw her son in another camp, who told her to take care about his father, her husband not knowing he was already slaughtered the they before in their home. Her son was murdered in that camp when he was 17.
She has 20 years old daughter, now. “ With my husband!”, she said. Her daughter was born in 1992, and everyone in the village, who knows what has happened to her is insulting, accusing her that she gave birth to a “chetnik bastard”, rejecting and blaming her.
We were sitting in the back seat listening. Numb, speechless…. What are you suppose to say when someone starts talking about all that. It seemed to me that there isn’t any word in the whole wide word, in any language , to say . Whatever we might have said it wouldn’t have made any difference. Everything would be the same. Everything is the same.
I wanted to disappear. I felt anger, sorrow, shame, guilt, disgust, responsibility all at once. All those feeling were very well known to me. I’ve been having them since adolescence because of living in the country which created hell, whose leaders and their companions murdered tens of thousands of women, children and men just because they have different religion.
In Foca, we got out of the car after the women came out from the bus and walked with them to the camp Partizan in which 585 women have been murdered after being raped. It was over 40 degrees that day, but we felt chills standing in front of that building of horror . This awful place was sport center before the war where young people of all ethic affiliations came to hang out. Then in 1992 it turned into hell for women. Today, there is no sign, nothing to show, to remind, Serbian inhabitants of ethnically cleaned Foca, or anyone who intentionally or not passes by, of the atrocities that happened here. Foca belongs to what is called Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbs that our now living there, sons and grandsons of criminals are proud of what their ancestors did. Even criminals themselves still live there peacefully without any fear that they’ll get caught and punished for their crimes.
Most of the women who were in that bus from Sarajevo were over 50, 60 years old. They walked in that heat towards the place of their daily nightmares. We walked along with them and they approached us, one after another speaking words of thanks because we came there to be on that day with them. We tried to say something back with lumps size of a melon in our throats , but just kept repeating how sorry we are, and that’s the only thing we can say.
After the protest we went back to Gorazde because we didn’t want to stay in Foca and take a bus to Belgrade from there.
Our bus left Gorazde around midnight. As we drove into the night , before falling asleep I though how I cant stop wondering at the kindness and hospitality of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and strength, courage, love for life…. After everything they’ve been through, after all the evil, and suffering, and horrors , country that we are coming from has put them through, they are still capable to be survivors, not victims.
On a way from one camp to another one of the women asked how are we going to go home, and I told her that in case there is a bus from Foca to Belgrade in an hour or two we’ll wait there and go with that bus. She then looked at me and said that we shouldn’t do that and that we have to leave Foca as soon as protest if over . She said that the fact we are from Belgrade doesn’t change a thing for Serbian nationalists – that they hate us the same way just because we were there. I was silent for a second and then said that it’s ok, they shouldn’t hate us any less, they shouldn’t make a difference.