Names have been changed to protect the interviewee.
me about the situation in Belgrade:
"I work in a Women's Centre that
has many projects to help women refugees. I have been a member of
the pacifist "Women in Black" movement for three years.
We stand each in the Square of the Republic each Wednesday clothed
entirely in black. Sometimes people swear at us, but it is even
more difficult to be ignored. We listen to the news regularly and
try to sort the truth from the lies. The war began with a falsification
of reality - to make one side hate the other.
Recently one of the women in the "Women in Black" group
told me of a young man who phoned her, very excited, he had managed
to get out of Sarajevo and wanted to come by, to visit her. She
is a good friend of the man and said "Come, come at once!"
"Don't wait, come now!" She was so excited she gave him
no chance to speak. Finally he managed to get a word in and said,
"There's something I must tell you before we meet. People are
shocked when they see me. I have had one eye shot away."
When you think of the many wars going
on at present and those of the last 2,000 years, nothing has changed.
That is very depressing.
We try to show our total rejection of
the Serbian regime, its war policies and the "ethnic cleansing".
We write protests. Sometimes one of the independent papers or a
small womens' journal print them. We are met by much rejection -
one reason why we go into the street each Wednesday. Sometimes people
swear at us, but it is even more difficult to be ignored. We try
to express out suffering, doubts and helplessness in language and
When we visit the camps often the women
don't even have a piece of soap. It is really purely humanitarian
work. We buy oranges, bananas or chocolate for the children. We
organise workshops for the female refugees to talk about their problems.
Problems ! - the word is no expression for the reality. The women
are in a state of absolute despair. The more time passes, the more
they sink into a state of helpless, powerless, victim. ...
It is difficult to counsel them since their husband, son and other
family members have been killed, their houses destroyed. The role
of the women in the war is usually reduced to "sacrificing"
the male members of their family. Moslem women have a particularly
difficult time in the camps. There are not many of them ... and
everything that goes wrong is blamed on them. We try to help them.
The women refugees are totally cut-off
from their previous way of life and treated as second-class citizens.
Some activities are to help restore the women's self-esteem. The
loss of self-esteem is very serious. We are organising projects
which bring in income for the women - for example we buy wool for
the women to knit in pullovers etc. and then try to sell them. This
is a very important project for the women's self-esteem. We were
ourselves surprised. Women in Black also have a project "I
remember" when the women write about a positive aspect of their
previous life - and we "publish" it in perhaps fifty hand-written
Maria and six other women get 100 DM for their full-time work.
As Maria said, "It's not much but it's enough."
Colin de la Motte-Sherman