Goga M.'s Story


Interview conducted by Dinka Koričić and Vesna Kesić in July 1993
Vesna and Dinka: Did you pack everything?
Goga: I did more or less. I left some things. How do you think that we should start our conversation? With my personal information?
V: Let that be the story. Begin with how you came from Sarajevo, why you left, which family members did you leave behind, who did you bring with you?  And why at this moment you are returning to Sarajevo? How did this war change your destiny? 
G: Essentially, my mother is Italian, therefore a “Fascist,” and my father is a Serb, and therefore a “Chetnik,” and I married a Croat, therefore an “Ustasha”.  What am I in all of this? I have a birthplace, but no nation, no nationality.  I was a Yugoslav, which is now a great sin isn’t it?  Although I had felt good as every place was like home, amid all of that I wasn’t able to get accustomed because I was not raised as a Serb.  My father is a Serb, but no one in the last fifteen generations of his family has ever lived in Serbia. He was born in Sarajevo, when four generations of his family had already been living there. My Italian mother was a Catholic woman, but not a great believer.  She didn’t go to church, but she had her god and her faith.
V: How did your mother end up in Sarajevo?
G: They came in 1935.  My grandfather was a tradesman from Mantova.  He arrived in Bosnia out of his love for adventure. They were very wealthy and he decided to travel a little to what was then known as Yugoslavia.
D: Do you still have family connections in Italy today? Were they able to help you during the course of this war?
G: Yes, I have connections, but they were unable to help me at all.  First, they are mainly elderly people and I was unable to go there because I could not travel. I didn’t have a certificate of citizenship, or a passport, no papers; I couldn’t pass through the border. You know the story—if I leave Croatia, I would no longer be able to return.  I would lose my refugee status. I was in contact with them by telephone and they offered me some help, but I wasn’t able to count on that.  I didn’t have the desire to go to them because the move seemed too far and final. Considering that my mother was in Sarajevo, I didn’t want to go anywhere abroad.  To tell you the truth, I was constantly waiting to return home. When everything happened in Sarajevo, when they entered and seized my Grbavica, without shooting, without anything, I think the Chetniks… 
V: Was Grbavica a part of Sarajevo that was predominantly inhabited by Serbs?
G: No, absolutely not. In my building not one single apartment was nationally “clean”.  They were all mixed.  If the parents weren’t mixed then the children of all nationalities were marrying each other throughout the country. The Serbs immediately captured Grbavica because it was connected to Pale, a favorable strategic area for them.
V: Did your undefined nationality in Sarajevo present a problem in the past?
G: Oh no, absolutely not.  In Sarajevo, no one could ever say that he was in danger or had problems because of such things.  I personally don’t know what ninety percent of my friends were, even today, because their names, especially Croatian and Serbian names are in fact the same. In my family, we celebrated everything, Orthodox, Catholic and state holidays.  We loved our house to be filled with people.  I think that this was beautiful. The most wonderful image I have from my childhood memories was when my father returned home and brought my mother a small “crystal ball” for Christmas.  I grew up in complete tolerance. When all those Serbs came, those Chetniks, I didn’t recognize anything of myself in them, except my father’s religion. I’m not a believer.  I don’t go to church. My faith is what you call my love, my integrity and such…you love people and you do as much good as you can.
D: Did you have problems when the soldiers came to Grbavica?
G: I didn’t have major problems. All right, they searched my house, but we fared well.  One of the three men who came was a young man and the only Muslim, and a schoolmate of my neighbours so he spared our house.
V: How was it that a Muslim was with the Serbian army?
G: I think because it paid well. He came as a Serbian soldier, as a “Chetnik,” during the first attack when Seselj’s and Arkan’s soldiers invaded…
V: Does that mean that in Bosnia not even the beginning of the war was “ethnically clean”?
G: Oh no, it wasn’t. At first, during that time, not everyone dared to go to Vrace, a hill overlooking my house where the Serbs had immediately opened some kind of shops that only the Serbs were allowed to go.  That young man, the Muslim, was at the check point where you have to produce your identity documents in order to go up there and buy eggs.  We asked him, “All right, why are you here”?  He replied, “For the money”.   That was during the month of May in 1992.
V: Who lived with you in the apartment at the time?
G: It was my mother, my son and myself.
V: You were separated?
G: Yes, I have been separated already for seven years. It just so happened that my husband was on that—our side.
V: You still call the Bosnian side “our” side?
G: Yes…I really don’t know how to define things. Can you tell me?
V: No, I cannot.  I am interested in what you think and feel.
G: I don’t feel anything.  I only hope that Sarajevo will remain Sarajevo. I don’t believe that the smaller places will be as lucky. Too much harm has been done, men have lost and suffered too much, endured too much.  The media has contributed to it with their propaganda.  Since the beginning, my apartment served as headquarters where we all gathered: Jasna—a Muslim who was married to a Croat, Safeta—a pure Muslim, although her sister-in-laws were Serbs, and myself.  They seemed safer at my place because a Serbian name was written on my door…we spent entire days at my place in an attempt to protect one another.
D: Were you afraid?
G: Yes.  Later I had some problems when they threatened me about things such as who I was keeping company with and what we were doing. They said, “You should all be raped. You are not real Serbian women”…
D: Did they enter your house often?
G: Yes, they came into the house.
V: How? Did they invade brutally or did you let them in?
G: The war was full of absurdities.  When the Serbian army entered, Chetniks in the lead, we were sitting in front of my house.  Prior to that moment, some twenty days before, we didn’t leave the cellar at all because there was shooting.  We didn’t know at all who was shooting or at whom the shots were being fired. We didn’t know that in fact it was from Grbavica that they were shooting at our city. We thought that someone was shooting at us.  The radio spread total misinformation, always telling us, “Watch yourselves, they are coming in groups of two-three men, vandalizing houses…” and this and that. In our building, we barricaded the door, which even ten men could not break down, and we spent all night in the cellar. There was already no electricity.  One night our men, who had some kind of weapons, peered out through an opening and said, “A tank is aimed at our house.”  Panic swept over us and when they banged on our door, we opened it quickly because there was no other choice. It wasn’t three or four people, but Chetniks who definitely came down from Grbavica. When they came in, they searched the place for weapons.  They took away one man to Pale and later he was swapped for some Serb from Sarajevo.  We didn’t dare go outside until we knew what was happening and what might happen to us.  We didn’t even take out the garbage, but when we eventually saw that we could get as far as the dumpster, our curiosity piqued…at that moment, we all came out. We were standing in front of the building when about twenty of their men came. In front of all those soldiers, there was a man who I knew. I couldn’t remember where I knew him.  Later it turned out that he had worked for my brother. He called out to me and kindly asked if we needed anything or if anyone had bothered us.  I told him, “No one has bothered us.” One time, our next-door neighbour, Siso, a Muslim, was told by some soldiers, “You are a Muslim, so don’t leave your house. You are in jail.” That’s how it was for a couple of days. I felt sorry for the man—like a dog in his house, imprisoned, not daring to go near the window, or even to peer through it.  I said that I was going to make a plea to the commander to at least allow the man to sit in front of his house. I said to the commander, “Let the man go, he’s not going to do anything. He’s old.” He replied, “All right, let him go.” We made a bench and sat in front of the house, in front of the doorway only because no one was allowed to move further.  And Siso sat with us like that.  He liked to drink and got drunk one day with some Chetniks. The women went home. We mainly sat in the house because we were afraid that someone might see us. Everyone was “attractive” in that war. At noon, someone was knocking on my door.  I open it and see a Chetnik standing there—the type of Chetnik from the war films that we watched as little kids: guns, bombs, beard, drunk, dirty and all that. I say, “Can I help you?”   He replies, “I came here to have a cup of coffee.”  I say, “This is not a café.”  He says, “It doesn’t matter, I’m going to drink coffee.”  I tell him that I’m sorry, but I can’t make him coffee. However, he entered anyways and sat right in the kitchen.  Sitting astride, he started to provoke me by saying, “pretty girl” and this and that. I said to him, “how can you not feel ashamed since you are younger than me, for you I’m an older woman?”  He says to me, “You don’t like the Serbian army?” I tell him, “Listen, I don’t like any army.” I was terribly frightened.
D: Stories about rape have already been heard…
G: Yes, everything has already been heard. I was terribly scared, but I tried to show him that I was not afraid of him. Then I stood by the window—we’re on the fourth floor—and I thought to myself, “Dear God, if he tries something, I’m going to jump through this window, what else can I do?” 
D: You thought about jumping through the window?
G: At that moment my mother came over. She’s fairly old and doesn’t hear well.  I heard her voice saying, “Why did you come here? Why do you want coffee? How can my daughter make you coffee when there isn’t any?”  She didn’t for a moment comprehend what had occurred, but fought with him, saying, “You Yugoslav men are very dirty, always arguing and fighting.” The he began to say something to her—granny this, granny that—as I passed beside them and went out to my neighbour, telling her to go and find the police or anybody because their was a drunken Chetnik in my home.  The poor woman knocked from door to door, but no one dared to open it.  On the road, she found some policemen, three of them, who then came in and asked what had happened. I returned again to my window, so I wouldn’t put my mother at risk should the Chetnik get any ideas.  Luckily, he was too drunk.  They took him out of the apartment. I thought that he was going to kill us all because he didn’t want to give up his weapons.
V: How did the army behave during that time?
G: The police were Serbian.  They told us that no one there had anything to worry about. If there are problems, we should call them. All around the house were soldiers, police and soldier headquarters, a medical clinic and five transport vehicles.  On the front, there was one real soldier, who took a really fair stand, right from the beginning. He told me that when he was in Zagreb, he lost his apartment and while in Slovenia, he lost his country, and now he had come to defend his honour. His purpose was not to harass anyone, not Muslims, not Croats, but rather that everyone would stay where they are. In fact, I can’t say that there were expulsions where we were; people left out of great fear. There were so many of those groups who vandalized…
V: What did they do?
G: In one home nearby lived a family.  He was a Muslim, but had died.  He had been married to an Austrian woman, and had two daughter-in-laws. Three men had invaded their place, including the notorious Batko, who had raped eighty-year old women. Serbian women, Croatian women, there was no difference for him.  A completely deranged man, set free from a mental hospital in order to serve certain goals.  When they invaded, the sons were taken to Kula and jailed and the daughter-in-laws were taken to one apartment and for three days the men unleashed themselves upon these women.
D: Was this known?
G: It wasn’t known until one of the daughter-in-laws jumped through the window and then it was learned that something was happening there.  Then came the police, who arrested Batko. The woman was completely crushed.  She was taken away somewhere in Serbia to a sanatorium. Her mother-in-law had disappeared. Supposedly, she had called from Austria. The other daughter-in-law was found in the apartment and she had been raped.  A Serbian soldier, Miso, one of God’s emissaries, took her to his parents. I was acquainted with him because he was one of our clients at the bank. He asked me if I could help him with something and then told me the story.  He said, “Would you mind going to see her, having coffee and talking with her because she is so isolated after surviving those terrible things?” After that, I told my friend, Jasna, about it and we went to visit and have coffee with her often.  She never spoke about that experience, but instead we optionally spoke about our lives and former lives.  She acted as if everything was fine.  I was always asking myself where her energy and strength came from, even her ability to seem happy. Now when I analyze it, I know that it was something else.  I know many more things now that I didn’t know before.  Miso was able to get her false documents, put her in his car, and they left for Belgrade. I think that she is in Holland now.  That’s one of the terrible cases that I know about.
V: Did that soldier report anything to anyone?
G: He was bitter and even tried to leave Grbavica, to pull out of that army, but he couldn’t because his entire family still lived there. He even went to Belgrade, but returned again and said, “All I can do is stay here and get killed.”  There were so many incidents where someone came to chase people from their homes and then Miso would bring these people back. He helped many people, and saved many, too.  I think that real security is a kind of peace. He’s a young man, maybe 33 or 34 years old, a mechanical engineer.  He protected my friend, Jasna.  Wherever there would be tough situations, we could always call on him. 
D: Tell us, if you can remember, about your decision to jump through the window or about the woman who did jump.  How did you feel at that moment?
G: I asked myself why did this man decide to choose my apartment.  It turned out that the neighbour, the one whom I pleaded to the commander to let out of his house, was the one who had said, “Listen old man, upstairs is a divorced woman, who you can have one hundred percent…” Later at the police station, they said to me, “You begged for this man, and then he sent that scoundrel to your door.”
V: How did you then feel about that man?
G: I thought about what I should do to him.  If I had done something, made a complaint to someone, he could’ve lost his head.  But it wasn’t worth it. I simply turned my head when I would see him, and later he ran off to another place.  He left during the night. This is what the war was about.  I started with this story because I do not like to remember it otherwise.
V: During that moment, why did you reach a decision to jump through the window?
G: As always, I couldn’t stand violence and aggression, or even a voice rising in a conversation.  I don’t do well in fighting and I have never fought in my life. After that type of aggression, I wouldn’t be able to live like a normal woman.  I wouldn’t be able to handle it.  Even now I don’t know what waits for me in Sarajevo, but at that moment, it seemed like the only solution.  For someone to rape me in front of my child…later I found my child in the corner of the room covering his head with a blanket. I don’t think that I could continue to live, to look at him with shame and humiliation.  It would have crushed me as a person.
V: What do you think now? Do you think that what we have learned here, as well as some of the shared experiences of other women, would have provided you with more strength in that situation, to decide that life is still worth living, that there are ways to survive?
G: I think that it’s an intense, terrible horror and I think that I would act in the same way today. If you had seen it—well, you’ve seen that type in films—like someone had sketched him…I think that surviving at any price is not always the best.
D: When did you definitely decide to leave Sarajevo?
G: In fact, I was thinking about it the entire time, but man is tied to these cursed things.  They are not simply things, it is your home, it is something that you have been building your entire life and it represents something. The question was to preserve your honour and give your own contribution to the city. The way time passed, there was little that I could build.  I could have helped someone over there so that something would get done.  When our neighbour died, no one wanted to go and bury him because they were all afraid. You had to go all the way to the top of Graca where there were snipers from our side and it was dangerous to get to the funeral home.  How to say, “Come to bury a Croat?” No one dared. Then I said, “Okay, I’m going to go. I’m a Serb.” When I arrived, three soldiers were sitting there, and I asked them if that was the funeral home, and they replied deceitfully that it was.  I said, “One of our neighbours has died and we don’t know what to do.”  One of the soldiers asked, “Is he a Muslim?”  I replied, “No.”  He said, “Good. What is he then?”  I tell him that the man is a Croat. He says to me, “No problem, we bury our dead the same.”  They were actually very kind and insisted that someone come with them, to see how well they work and to prove that it wasn’t true that people were thrown into sacks.  The daughter of the man who died actually went with them in their van. The soldiers had come in front of the house, brought with them a casket, and took him away to Lukavica. There were no funeral services.  Muslims, Serbs and Croats buried themselves separately, but correctly. I could do some small things and expose myself more than could the others, but I constantly felt this terrible fear.  I was afraid since there was this myth that existed that all children of mixed marriages were bastards, regardless that my father is Orthodox and my mother is Catholic; for them, I did not exist.
D: No one asked about your husband?
G: They always asked me and I would tell them, “I’m separated and I have no idea where he is.” And then it all started…Men boarded up the empty apartments, snatching things and taking them away.  We had to clean the suites in which there was meat rotting and worms throughout the apartments that were already starting to smell terrible.  Then we received an order for all of us to leave our apartments since they were to be boarded up. The army boarded them up and took with them whatever they liked, and the women stayed behind to clean. I’ve never in my life seen anything like this—cleaning and throwing up at the same time. There was food in the refrigerators of abandoned suites, in which forty days had passed without electricity. It was really terrible.  The men were useful in simply taking away the things that they liked; transforming them into horrid predatory shapes…they took away everything. It was awful, and a child was watching all of this. I had seen that there was really nothing more I could do there.  And that’s when I reached the decision to leave, but that I would come back for my mother because she didn’t have any papers.  Her passport had expired, but I could have had it extended on the Serbian side, but then it wouldn’t be recognized by Hungarians or Croats.  Then I thought that I would come to Zagreb and sort things out at the Italian Embassy regarding her papers and then return for her.  However, that was a naďve decision since all the roads were closed. Namely, when I came to the Hungarian border, the Croats had closed their border. I sat around Hungary for two days and then one of my relatives came for me.  She was able to gather all these signatures and papers for me, and drove me to Croatia. I was without status for a long time since I was only given permission to stay for fourteen days from the 23rd of September in 1992. My relative tried to secure forty days, but because my son’s name is Milos, we only received fourteen days.  Still we stayed.  When there was that registration in the third month of 1993, it was then that I received refugee status and an identity card without any problems.
V: How did you feel in Croatia during that entire time?
G: Personally, I didn’t have any problems. I didn’t expose myself and my child was going to school, an exceptional school in the Kaptol area. He had excellent teachers, who received him well, and he was an excellent student, praiseworthy kid, who never had any troubles. But I never had a chance to really start something. I tried to get papers for my mother, however my father’s name interfered with everyone.  They were seeking from me to prove that my father was a Croat. 
V: What’s your father’s name?
G: Rade B.
V: Is Rade a Serbian name?  My father’s name was Rade, but he was from a Catholic family in Split.
G: My husband is a Croat, but he named his son Milos.  I cried over that name because I wanted to call him Luka, but now I am fond of it since I’m used to it. His baptismal name is Luka.  My husband had a friend, someone named Milos, from his army days, and it was completely unimportant to him that the name was truly Serbian.
V: Did you attempt to obtain your mother’s documents from the Italian Embassy?
G: I did, but could do nothing.  She accepted Yugoslav citizenship when she got married, but before that she had Italian citizenship until 1943, but then she had to automatically change to her new citizenship.  Since they lived in Slavonia, in Oriovca, she declared herself as a Croat, since she was Catholic. She had citizenship from NDH.  I thought that on the basis of her papers, I could do something for myself, open a door, however there were no openings.  I couldn’t get the papers at all.
V: Not even for your mother?
G: Well, for her I don’t know. I didn’t try.  Branka told me that it wasn’t a problem, but I didn’t have any nerves left for that kind of humiliation at Velesajma. I was sick of all the rejections and because of that I didn’t want to try anymore.  It all just continues and continues.  She’s over there, and I don’t have any authority, so it’s as simple as not having enough strength anymore.  Amid everything during my stay in Zagreb…the greatest and most beautiful moment was when I heard about some girls who wanted to start something and when I joined them that to me was really something.  I would have gone crazy if I did not meet these girls at the Center.
V: How did you learn about us? 
G: By chance, I learned about you from a Bosnian woman and I can tell you how it happened. She said to me, “Listen, there is something here, some women who want to organize assistance for women who have been raped.  I was over there, but they’re all some kind of lesbians, and I’m not going to stay there.”  I said, “In principle, I don’t have anything against lesbians, nor against homosexuals. Let them live their lives how they choose, how they like, why do I care if they don’t bother me. I’m going to go see what it’s about.”  So Biba and I go the one time, then a second time, then a third and we realize that it’s working, that it’s something good, that a human feels like a human there and that she’s accepted as a human, that no one asks you who you are, what you are, instead they ask if you want to work, would you like to and so on. And that is something that is really wonderful.  I am moving past my sadness because of all of this…I think that I was useful, I think that I was useful.
V: How long did that period of doing nothing last after coming to Zagreb?
G: From September in 1992 until January in 1993. It was late January that I heard about the Center.
V: How did you overcome that period?
G: I was terribly lonely.  A relative, who I grew up with, who was like a sister to me, who I spent my summers with and never had any kind of quarrels, she started to make awful problems for me. First, she begged and begged that I come to her, and when I came, then… “How is it that your child has this name? I can’t call him by this name anymore. People are starting to make problems for me because I have Serbs in the house…” As for me, I was terribly depressed…Christmas passed and my mother’s birthday passed. I wanted to return to Sarajevo immediately after twenty or thirty days, but there were no more bus lines there. I couldn’t find another way to return at all.  I was in a trap.  I didn’t leave the house because I couldn’t go anywhere.
D: What else happened with that relative?
G: I can’t understand those people…No, I can’t understand. I can’t even justify it. I knew that I had to leave and in the middle of January, I found myself out on the street. I have a friend, who at her wedding I was her maid-of-honour.  She is from Sarajevo and I grew up with her.  She lives here. She helped me so much.  She found me an apartment and so on…I escaped from Sarajevo because of the terrible hatred and because of Serbophilism. They brought their own people, employed them there, and created some communities. I thought that in Zagreb it would be different.  Zagreb was always very dear to me; I terribly love Zagreb as I used to spend my summers here.  When I encountered hatred again, terrible hatred, I felt completely defeated. It defeated me terribly and I think that we need to at least try to understand that. The war does everything to people. And friends knew how to provoke me by asking how my little boy had an ugly name, how he’s dark-skinned, how he’s like this or that.  Allegedly saying that only Serbs were dark. Does anyone have a handkerchief? It hurts terribly. This wasn’t the common experience as there were some people who I liked. When I began to work at the Center, it changed my life.  It helped me. The only thing that tormented me during the entire time was that my mother was still over there, all alone, sick and elderly. She is an unhappy, poor woman, whose nature and character had changed in that war. It’s been a year and she won’t forgive me for not coming back, even though she doesn’t want to leave.
V: How do you maintain a connection with your mother?
G: From Grbavica the mail goes to Belgrade.  My friends in Belgrade put my envelopes into another envelope and then send it to Zagreb. Mail delivery between Belgrade and Zagreb has always continued; the service was never broken. 
V: For how long has this continued? I didn’t realize that the post office is functioning.
G: It moves fairly quickly, five to six days at the most.
V: And Zagreb to Belgrade to Sarajevo?
G: It takes a little longer since those people at Grbavica tend to let the mail pile up before they distribute it. It takes around twenty days, sometimes more. It depends. 
V: Who’s taking care of your mother?
G: Jasna, my friend and neighbour, takes care of her.  She comes over, buys what she can for her and helps her.
V: Jasna is a Muslim? Has she written anything about herself, how it was for her living in that Serbian area?
G: No, she didn’t get in touch with me at all, nor did she write. My sister-in-law from Slovenia went to Sarajevo in the summer and spoke with her.
V: This means that your brother lives in Slovenia?
G: In Brezice.  He ran off because his children were obliged to serve the army. He said that he would not give up his children to the Serbian army and since he was living in a Serbian area, he left.
V: When your sister-in-law was in Grbavica, what did she tell you?
G: She was there in July and August of last year. I receive letters from my friends from Sarajevo, also from Grbavica, but they are worthless letters.  You can’t figure out anything from those letters. 
V: Do you think that people are afraid to write?
G: Yes, I think that they still don’t dare to.
V: What kind of letters does your mother write to you?
G: My mother writes letters to me…I wait and wait for a letter and when I finally receive one then I feel guilty about getting it.  There, that’s what those letters are like.
D: Is she angry with you?
G: She’s very angry, bitter and writes nasty letters. She reproaches me for…
V: Why did you decide to go to Sarajevo now?
G: Because I heard that she is really weak now. You know what, maybe it’s my cowardice because I simply can’t stand the thought that my mother might die with some curse on her mouth and that I didn’t do anything for her, that I didn’t help her.  I could not live with that…I’d truly suffer.  I have a strong bond with her and have practically never been separated from her. She was a wonderful mother.  Throughout her whole life, she has been a wonderful mother. She raised my son, and now she has been abandoned. I tried to convince myself that her life is near its end, that she’s had an excellent life and an excellent marriage, and I can also say, a good family and children.  She never had any problems with us and my father was a wonderful husband.  They had money and I think that she really lived a beautiful life.
V: Why did you still decide to return?  Which feeling is that?
G: Well, it simply my obligation, my debt to her. I should probably be thinking about my son first and stay here, but I can’t. Even though I am horribly afraid and I ask myself if I would be able to get on that bus today. That’s how afraid I am.  Nela gave me addresses for women in Belgrade…
V: Stay there for a little while if you are still feeling afraid about getting on a bus for Sarajevo. Or at least gather information in Belgrade about what is happening in Grbavica. Travel from destination to destination, if you’ve already decided. Go to Budapest, stay there awhile and then go on to Belgrade.
G: I can’t.  It will be easier for me to go without stopping because all this waiting is agonizing, all of it is…I can’t. I don’t have the strength, but in essence, I don’t know what else to do, what to expect in my life here.  My son goes to fencing classes. He goes to training, but can’t enter competitions because he doesn’t have Croatian citizenship. He is unlucky. So much effort committed, so much time, so much energy.  It means a lot to him.  When it came time for competitions, he prepared himself and entered the league, but in the end, he was told, “You can’t compete. You don’t have Croatian citizenship.” It was devastating.  He was a visiting student.  That school might possibly recognize him. How and what they will do, I don’t know.  I don’t have an apartment because it is too expensive.  Materially, I am drained. All right, I’m supposed to receive some money, but that won’t be for another eight months and during that time, I won’t have any more money.  When I look at everything at once, I have no idea what to do. I think that I know—I’m going back.
V: Tell us something about your relationship to the group of women here, at the Center. How do you remember the beginning of our activities?
G: Well, in the beginning, I wasn’t really that enthusiastic. We had these two instructors who did not sit well with me, not their method, or the relationship, or their way of talking.  I was full of suspicion about how this was going to work, if it was even going to work, but I had lots of time and the will, so I waited for us to start work in the camps. I thought to myself, “I’ll be able to manage this, the educational part…I can manage it. I don’t have anything else to do.”  However, everything has really changed, especially the quality and method of our work.  The instructors changed with new ones taking their places and we began to feel more positive. I learned a lot there, but I have in fact had a lot of life experiences, which have helped me, too. I have better instincts than brains. The workshops were super.  The ones held by the Englishwomen were especially good.  You could always do something good somewhere. I would love it if the project continues, that it works, that it expands because this is something wonderful. During this time and this environment and amid the hatred, to find so many wonderful women with such strong wills, it’s a great thing.  It gives a person hope that everything is not so terribly dark.
V: Why didn’t you like the first instructors?
G: I was bothered by the relationship.  It was as though we were going to be meeting patients and personally, it got to me because I am also a refugee.  All right, I knew that they weren’t patients, but rather women who had lost everything. Some of the things that we learned were good, but in comparison to the new ones, they were inferior.  I told myself to let them say whatever they wanted because I knew what I was going to do and how to do it…
V: What kind of relationship did you have with the foreign instructors?
G: The women from abroad again had a different approach.  They haven’t experienced what we have.  What we are doing is something that no one has done outside of here.  They can help us with some things, but they don’t recognize the core of the problem because rape in the family and during times of peace is something else.  In essence, our primary problem is not rape; the primary problem is a destroyed life, people without citizenship, and people without a tomorrow, without anything. Their life, all at once, became dark…they have nothing…where to now? They were able to help in some way, but we understood it the most when we started to work there.
V: Did you work with women who were raped?
G: There was one woman, Azra, from Prijedora, an older woman, who eventually left for America.  She was raped, quite brutally, in every which way…with a gun and this and that, and in front of her husband’s eyes.  She didn’t want to tell anyone her story.  She turned to me, which I took to be an encouraging sign. First, she spoke to me in private and then later in front of the whole group, she told her entire story.  Owing to her age, it seems to me that…she left in the end with a sense of peace.
V: How did the group relate to her and how did you work in the group?
G: The group accepted her quite well. Azra was an extraordinary woman…she had some bad moments and you needed a lot of patience with her. The other women did not expressively react instead they talked.  They related to and understood her.  There were no open conversations or statements among them in relation to that, in fact, they didn’t want to comment.
V: Do you have the impression that this woman was helped because she told her story in front of a group of women?
G: I think that it did because in the past she did not want to talk to anyone about it, and then she started to talk to me. Several times we sat privately on a bench in the camp and talked and then she slowly began to open up to me.  The first time we talked, she said to me, “I’ve been through everything,” and then the second time she said, “If you knew….” I simply moved at my own pace. At the end, she told her entire story in detail in front of everyone.  She was even the head of the group for a while. She had a way of animating everything.  She knew how to be happy, knew how to tell good jokes, stories from her youth and for a time, she maintained a good atmosphere in the group for us after telling us about what happened to her. There are moments when everyone is silent and we wonder what to do next, and then Azra always steps in and says, “Come on ladies, what’s wrong? Let’s hear how you’re doing, what you have to say…” It was super. In the end, she left for Chicago.
V: How does her husband behave towards her?
G: Very normal. I had also asked her how Dedo reacted to that. She said, “He feels badly, poor soul.” He is old and a diabetic, a lot older than her. Her never reproached her; he simply didn’t speak about it. She’s illiterate you know, but a very smart woman. She doesn’t even know how to sign her name, but she has all the wisdom that one finds among the village women and she waited for how and when to assess things on her own. And she acted quite wisely.  One must actually respect her.
D: Have you said goodbye to the women in the camp?
G: Yesterday I told my women that I was leaving.  I thought about not telling them, but that would be cowardly.  They started to cry so much that it couldn’t be stopped.  Of course, then I started to cry and that couldn’t be stopped either. And then we began to remember our beginning, how there was only six or seven of us then.  We told them that they will be getting two new girls, who might be better than us, and that they shouldn’t be scared and worried. Besides, four of them are leaving for Germany, Puskarica is going to California in a month, and so our group in some way was worried.  These new young women are going to join our work on Tuesday. This way I am somewhat calm, but I just feel badly that I won’t be there to send them off.
V: What were your experiences working with the group? I don’t think that anyone here has ever done this type of work.
G: It was excellent and we came to those same conclusions just yesterday. Here, look, they say nothing good…furniture, cars…this is nothing important to you. What is important is when we are in a group like this, when we are talking, when we have feelings of compassion for someone, when we have someone to cry with, and someone to laugh with. That is really good. I was skeptical in the beginning, wondering if it was going to be all right with these people with so many concrete needs. What can I do for them, poor me, what can I give them besides addresses of places to seek money…but I’m not talking about that. They said, “We come here an hour earlier before you do, gather around and wait for you.”  I think that they feel that this is a place where someone worries about them a little and provides them company, and most importantly, that they have friends. And they, themselves, say, “The only thing that is valuable in this world is friendship.”



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