Laughter, tears and politics


Dialogue - How Women Do It
Seventeen women from Belgrade and Zagreb met from March 17—20, 1995 in Medulin, Istria. The aim was for feminists and activists to exchange experiences, to free frozen feelings toward one another, and to restore women's political dialogue. All participants were members of women's groups with a long tradition of cooperation, who in the course of this war, have been oriented toward the politics of peace, nonviolence, and opposition to war, militarism, and nationalist sowing of hate.
The process of dialogue began with practice in active listening: how to listen without intervening and advancing one's thoughts before the other finishes her story, how to disentangle ourselves from subject matter, interpretation, and a prior judgment and enable women's story to emerge before us. We tried to show that lives in different surroundings create different experiences and different perception of events.
We started well and so we proceeded. We created a discourse on differences. The good will of women to listen to one another and the desire to be heard remained present. We started with questions. Women from Belgrade wanted their sisters from Zagreb to hear and know why some of them were already crying on the bus to Zagreb. Some women wanted their sisters from Belgrade to know why they had decided "never again in Belgrade". We asked one another what we wanted to know and what our mutual expectations were.
The majority of women who took part in Istrian dialogue had met over the last years at various international meetings and conferences. For all our desire for sisterly cooperation and solidarity, these meetings did not always take place without pain or encumbrance. It was necessary to answer some questions. Could we participate there as individuals or as representatives of our groups? The answer: both, depending on how and when. Could we be representatives of our nations? Naturally, no! Are we guilty for what our government's politics perpetrated? Not in the least! But we were conscious of the responsibility for our own political work in our environment.
What if incidents and disagreements sprang up between us? If we hurt one another, that was not our intention. Maybe because of he international "throng" we weren't able to honestly hear and listen. In intensive and concentrated conversation by the sea, it wasn't hard to arrive at consensus: it is useful to constantly validate our own statements and test our impressions. Every disagreement or incident increases distrust and fear, which can easily build up to the level of conflict.
There was discussion about many other things. We heard the stories of women from mixed marriages and their problems with male children who yielded to military call-ups. We listened to stories of families divided by borders, nations, ideologies, of close ones who lost their lives in this war or the previous one, and of the graveyards of friendship. We told one another the stories of our hopes, illusions, delusions, mistakes, fears, and successes.
What was important to us? Women's dialogue starts from personal stories and arrives at the political level. Women's dialogue starts from tears and laughter, from five hours of singing in an Istrian tavern, from the level of "mother/father/I", from childhood and our grandmother's story. Women's dialogue starts from personal stories and arrives at the political level. Women's dialogue begins and returns to our own experience of war, genocide, home, land, nation and then develops into an experience of our political ideas and positions on the questions of Krajina, Kosovo, Jasenovac, Bleiburg, mass rape of women. Then, together, we ask how much do our personal stories determine who we are and how much do we want them to prevail over us? We wonder how to balance between the continuity of the personal history of our ancestors and discontinuity of the political decision that we alone have to make.
Yes, then we ask ourselves the same question together, and we laugh, cry, and sing together and think up new projects: when and how will we include other women in this dialogue, which is as necessary to us as bread (and roses).
In this feminist dialogue of women from Croatia Serbia and Istria, women participated from the following groups: Antiwar campaign, Croatia, Arkadija, Autonomous Women's House, Autonomous Women's Center Against Sexual Violence, B.a.B.e., Belgrade Women's Lobby, Center for Girls, Center for Women War Victims, Homo, SOS Telephone, Zagreb, Zagreb Women's Lobby, Women's Studies, Belgrade, Women's Studies Zagreb, and Women in Black. Sisterly support and organization of the gathering was provided by human rights activists from Istria. For organizational and financial help and mong moral support, we thank women from the Delphi/STAR project.
Lepa Mlađenović and Vesna Kesić
23. 03. 1995. Beograd - Zagreb