In Place Of An Introduction


The Days of December 1992 - The Beginning
Biljana Kašić
The night after my arrival from Bangkok, while lying curled in my bed and trying to recall the fragrances of distant Asia, was anything but relaxing. December 8th, 1992. The first day/night after the ten-day International Women’s Conference (War Resisters International) in Thailand. The telephones ringing incessantly from midnight to 5:00 a.m., and I was drowsily and half-consciously having long-distance conversations. The only thing I could hear and understand was a recognizable American accent at the other end of the wire, which was wrapped in agitated female outcries like “Is it really true?”, “How can we help?”, “We’re shocked”. Day and night, simultaneously mixed up and revolving in my head, creating new phantasms. War violence against women, the connection of the Far East and the Balkans, UNPROFOR and prostitution, aid centers for raped women in Laos, Burma, the Philippines and the Pacific and Vietnamese war nightmare – it all flowed into the everyday stories that we are getting used to from day to day. But despite that flash of global reality and tenuous similarities between the emerging Balkan “monster” and the Far East, everything was tenaciously illusory to me. “We are at war” – this so-called fact pronounced for the umpteenth time, not understanding the ultimate meaning of these calls. Only this summer (1993) – almost eight months later, I received a facsimile of a text printed on the front page of the New York Times from Doris in the USA. It was one of the first texts published in America, relating to the “mass rape of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, and in connection with this, mention was made of an American reporter’s interview with me, among other things. Only several sentences, which I had uttered before leaving on a flight to the Far East, had managed to create upheaval across an entire continent for almost a month at the year’s end. Whether ironically or not, the media avalanche crashed down on us from the West. We are still weathering the western winds.
This is how it began, or better said, this was one of those “nightly frantic” motives for the founding of the Center for Women War Victims. The American telephone nightmare from a distance of several thousands of kilometers. Around December twenty-something three square meters of space by a window were occupied in a back-building on Tkalčićeva Street 38, the offices of the Anti-War Campaign of Croatia. The persistent buzzing of telephones every twenty-four hours is persistent once again. One day passing into the next.
Every one of us who embarked on this female undertaking had her own personal nightmare. The Autonomous Women’s House in Zagreb from its very beginnings had experience with women – victims of war violence; some of us – their own personal “women’s” reasons. The question of how to return dignity and self-confidence to a woman in spite of and against the general benevolent fervor so abundant in times of war.
Statements made in which we sought the punishing of the offenders guilty of war rape, and conforming with this, the seeking of amendments to articles of international conventions, were sent directly to a number of international political organizations and world centers of political power on several occasions.
December 1992. At the railway station we see off women from women’s groups from Switzerland with whom we organized demonstrations against the rape of women in war. “Rape is a war crime and a crime against humanity” was barely legible on a placard washed out by rain. Purple candles, the signing of the first petition against rape in war, some forty women on the Flower Square. Women together.
Women’s stories, dispersed and expelled, squeezed in amidst war nihility, at railway stations, in plastic shopping bags, in the nooks of workers’ quarters turned into so-called refugee camps, in glass apparitions of crumpled tram-cars packed with people, within queues for social welfare, suffering and waiting.
Media space became improperly politically somber and almost without feeling in its approach to this, up-to-now completely taboo, theme. “Raped women” became the medium for every sort and kind of political abuse and for me unthinkable pornographic desire of a host of scribblers, while the theme “mass rapes” in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the hit theme for the next three, four months. The weary crook of human dignity. We knew that even then, and that “time is on our side”. Inadequate time.
Everything happened within those short ten days in December. I can remember: a late afternoon in Đurđa’s flat, Vesna J., Neva, Nela, Vesna K., Ivana, Đurđa and I reached a decision on the initiative for support and aid to women who had suffered war(rior) rape. We knew that we had to react. When I think about it today, I would not call it just women’s responsibility, even though the same created a sort of lattice through which we could recognize one another. Distraught by the hypocrisy which placed the tragedy of women’s experiences on the altar of patriotic necrophilia without contact with the experience itself, we made ourselves heard. It was the internal choice of each and every one of us. The following day Neva was leaving for Freiburg where the coordination of all women’s groups in Germany was to be organized in order to clearly define the criteria for aid to women survivors of rape. I remember that on this occasion we formulated a statement on behalf of the Zagreb Women’s Lobby, which, amongst others, contained the following sentence: “Even though all information indicates that mass rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina was committed by Serbian soldiers, rape occurs on all “war sides”. Feminist insights into male-warrior rape bear witness to the fact that the woman has always been the “object of the conqueror’s lust”, symbolically functioning as the “place” of conquest for the aggressor and also the destruction of the conquered, as a place of humiliation on one side and “just” revenge on the other.
Otherwise, for those days and quite exceptional for the winter season, the atmosphere was unbearably oppressive. Along with all the noise that smothered me worse than the December smog, there was indifference equal to the ages-long women’s “lot”. Everything, of course, looked different. The arrogance of moralistic indignation and the dramatization in the media concealed the authenticity of women’s life stories, completely blocking the way to a different approach. Or nothing of what we simply call original women’s support of and aid to women themselves. During those days and a long time afterwards, I often felt like dying of shame. Storing away the unreal worlds which were becoming equal actors to the historical experience of the modern mythology of evil. I asked myself why the substance of women was decomposed with such relish? And was not the sentence uttered by a thirteen-year-old girl to an activist in during the spring month of 1993: “That can happen to any woman. And she forgets about it!” significant for more copy? A slap in the face to the avaricious speed of healing the collective memory. In my mind’s eye I can see a painting called “The Spring of Rags” by Nives K.K. from her collection of pictures “A Babylonia of Question Marks”, her so-called Black series of oils. A world outlined in circles and crosses where the naming of things acquires a different meaning. The young girl had that morning and otherwise, under the protection of her mother, spoken in the third person plural. The experience was merged with, erased, obliterated in the coordinates of the stories of women from another village, of other women, of all women.
Just before the New Year we kept stumbling across newspaper columns and the malice contained within them, across columns written by foreigners, both men and women, eager to meet women war rape survivors face to face, across the most varied questions and expressions of amazement, across political statistics and messages. Almost everybody felt they had to say something about this: representatives of this and that government, journalists, people off the street… the World. Numbers of raped women were tossed around, pictures of women’s faces appeared on the front pages of newspapers, an outpouring of the exposure of women’s initials which became a “general site”, a foreboding of the magic “charm” of gynecological wards and maternity hospital waiting rooms. The “exoticism” of war.
I felt how from one day to another blaring emotions turned into political messages where the women were only instruments. “Nationalistic rapes”, “barbaric syndrome”, “Chetnik savagery”.
Repeated attempts by male “state patronages” over women’s problems, this time through the women who had suffered the tragedy of war with their own bodies, remained suspended in the air.
When Martina agreed to be a part-time coordinator of our initiative during one nighttime telephone conversation from Đurđa’s flat, within the span of a week we had the first core of our Center. Of course, at the time, we had no idea of how our initiative would develop, nor to the scale it would “grow”, was Martina’s comment a year later. An “operation” of almost forty women gathered together! We look at each other and cannot believe. Forty different women in Đorđićeva Street. And Bosnia. Womankind.
Overwhelmed by piles of information, by various queries and arrivals of feminist groups, entangled in stretched out telephone wires across the floor of the Anti-War Campaign office, during those first hectic days we prepared for the Center’s first project. Two things were important to us at the time: to “decentralize the project”, which meant supporting the formation of other women’s groups in Croatia who would help women, and to persevere in a seemingly “self-evident” detail: to work with women of different nationalities. Today I look at the 1993 award for peace “Memorial per la pau – Josep Vidal i Llecha” with one of the variations of Picasso’s dove on it. An award from Barcelona for our work with women of all nationalities. A peculiar token of fellowship. In shelter. From a room next to the office, now an authentic office of the Center, murmurs can be heard. The workshop “Stress management” (and how to cope with it) and Debbie.
Already with the first educational seminars for women activists which we organized with the help of two psychologists, Mirjana and Sanja, our friends from abroad came to be a part of it all. The interest for the workshops was great, women came every day. Women from Zagreb, women refugees from Bosnia and Croatia.
Monica from Köln came in December 1992 with the intent of founding the Center for helping women victims of rape in central Bosnia. The renowned “Medica Zenica”. We grew together.
From the time of the foundation of the Center I now draw out what was for me an apocryphal sentence uttered in passing by a German peace activist: “You understand them (the Bosnian and Muslim women) better; they are a different culture.” A framed stereotype. A sentence uttered so simply and without any (hidden) thought, it seemed almost like a trivial error. Today I interpret this message in a different way. In it I find a prophetic beauty. Namely, I know that we are all women – of another culture. Out of diverse kinds of matter, during the span of a year of war rolling by, we succeeded in shaping our own immediate environment.
(January 1994)



Foreword to the Second Edition

  Women Reconstructing Memories by Vesna Kesić

In Place Of An Introduction

  The Days of December 1992 - The Beginning Biljana Kašić

Goga M.'s Story

  Interview conducted by Dinka Koričić and Vesna Kesić in July 1993

Reaching High

  Dinka Koričić

Rachel’s Bed

Eve Ensler


  To woman's and peace organizations all over the world

Rape as a weapon


Global Tribunal


Laughter, tears and politics

  Dialogue - How Women Do It