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Letter from a woman peace activist in Serbia

War Resisters' International is in contact with women peace activists in the former Yugoslavia, who are feminist, pacifist and anti-nationalist in ideology. They have been campaigning against war and ethnic cleansing throughout the decade, at great personal risk and sacrifice. We preserve their anonymity.

March 28, 1999


OUR SISTER WRITES:

Information about the atmosphere here

Information in the media is being controlled by the Army Chief of Staff : there's intense euphoria due to the shooting down of a super sophisticated aircraft, the F117. Everybody in the media, in the street, in the air-raid shelters (where I have never been to, but I which I hear stories of) is celebrating this. We could call this "homogenisation/ patriotic unity/ victimisation mentality/ uniformity" or so on. The slogans, songs and orders that can be heard all the time go something like: "the enemy/criminal/aggressor's forces can inflict human and material damage, but they cannot destroy the spirit of our people, which loves freedom above all things". This can be heard two or three times on Radio Belgrade / Channel II. Then this is followed by epic poetry on the Battle of Kosovo (l389), with hymns to "Kosovo, sacred land", with songs used in World War II by the Partisans, with old words and new ones, everything devised to exacerbate nationalistic feeling, patriotism, avoiding words which might bring calm and sensibility.

Today's concert in Republic Square

Organised by Belgrade's Mayor's office and mainly by SPO (the Movement for Serbian Renovation, Vuk Draskovic). We have not attended, we didn't feel like being present in such confusion, but the slogans are more eloquent: "Belgrade is willing to fight and to win", "Better war than agreements", "The Army has its own way to fight, we fight singing out", "All for one, no one will beat us", "They won't be able to hurt us", "Not a step back, we'll never surrender", "We're willing to lose our lives, but we'll never lose Kosovo", "If we have to die, we'll all die together". Not a word on commitment, on people's suffering regardless of their ethnic origin: for instance, some singers ask for a minute of silence "for our own victims/casualties". Patriotic songs and some rock songs, religious chants, the burning of USA flags, cries such as "Serbia, Serbia!" It was exciting to see so many people out in the street, but more than sad to hear what they were saying, the messages they were communicating. It is said that these type of demos will be held daily. We have the feeling it is a manipulation. At the same time, a group of people from the "rom" (gypsies) ethnic origin have manifested their loyalty to the State opposite the USA embassy and some other people using the slogans "We give our lives, but never Kosovo", "Kosovo is Serbia", with resentful reproaches to the Albanians in Kosovo. The rationale of the oppressed has been clearly adopted despite being amongst the strongest; it is outrageous. On TV it is the fifth time in these days that they show the film "The Battle of Kosovo". TV programmes are almost exclusively like this.

Conversation with our friends in Kosovo/Pristina:

I was trying to get through on the phone for several hours and finally succeeded. I was lucky. I listened to horrible descriptions. I'll try to reproduce them.

"Nobody dares to peep out of their home doors. Yesterday I opened the door for five minutes and I felt intense fear. Nobody who wants to live dares to go out in the street. There's almost no communication in the city the phones are almost all out of order. There's little food and I ask myself: Till when?".

"Close to my house there was a bombing. Broken glass everywhere. I'm trying to mend what I can. I can't sleep. Part of my family moved somewhere else. I'm here, guarding our house."

Looking after her father, who has heart disease (she's a Medical student). "I look after him and repair the windows. He asks me: What do people say? What do they think will happen? And I couldn't utter a word. Then only mutual words of consolation."

I sunk once more, like thousands of times before in these wars, in the war hierarchy: It's nothing what we are going through here, compared to what you are going through over there.

"Groups of men walk in the streets, people who were set free from imprisonment, paramilitary groups, who knows... They break into houses, pushing people out of them, kidnapping, massacring... There's almost no food left: we have 50 kg of flour (numerous family)". Then a man says, with resignation: "I don't care a damn if they come. I can do nothing".

I'll quote something someone said these days: "In the sky, NATO; on the ground, Milosevic".

What can I say now when in today's concert normal people were taking part (two singers, Rambo and Bajaga, who in former years always spoke for peace; one of them, Rambo, took part in the concert we organised in April 1992 "For Sarajevo").

Again, testimonies from people in Pristina: "I've run out of tranquillisers, I have run out of medicines for my heart disease. What will happen to me, then?" She, who has always encouraged me, given me consolation, hope, now her voice is broken, she only says thank your for the call, almost about to break down crying.

"This is a sinister area. There is no help from anywhere. Criminals can do now what they wish, they are allowed to".

My moral and emotional imperative (even if this sounds pathetic) is to spend hours and hours to get through to Pristina. This has had a "result" this morning because all the time before it was impossible.

"Now I see that this type of experiences are impossible to transfer. I have seen so many displaced people, and refugees, here. I always thought I understood them, but now I can experience what they went through. Why haven't I left? Why have we waited till the last moment? Where can I go now? I know I can't go anywhere, but I've packed a bag. Though I have some food, I cannot eat. This may be my last night at home..."

Asking about everybody in Belgrade and she, who overcame the ethnic walls, also tells this: "Inside the buildings, inside private homes, the neighbours, Serbs and Albanians, talk, they have agreed: if the police come, we will defend you (say the remaining Serbs) and "if the UCK come, we will defend you" (say the Albanians). Fear and terror have drawn them together".

I cannot speak of what I haven't felt, but I know that for me, for us, it's been of great value. We are such a small ghetto. Again the alarm. We fixed Radio "Free Europe". In Pristina there is no electric light since last night.

The alternative support and communication network has given us the following information:

Vrnjacka banja and central Kraljevoparte:

People are deeply afraid of being called up again. There have been many. Coffins of reservists who died in Kosovo are arriving.

Sandzak (southwest of Serbia, inhabited mainly by Muslims):

"People are leaving, everybody wants to leave. Those of us who remain feel nervous, terrorised. The police take all the private trucks and other large vehicles, but people are more afraid of paramilitaries". In Radio Free Europe they have just said that in Kosovo the number of murdered people, executed people, not only by military and police forces but also by paramilitary groups, in Pristina amounts to 200, but the figures are really unknown, the number of refugee people is increasing, it is now of half a million.

Montenegro:

The political atmosphere is completely different: you can see it just by having a look at the newspapers (I had the chance to read one yesterday), because their content is totally different (as it is known, Montenegro has not announced a state of war). However, there are innumerable signs pointing at the fact that internal conflict is imminent. Today the supporters of the radical Serbian party have held protests against "the Westerns" in Podgorica, which has affected people deeply. Today 3,000 refugees from Kosovo have arrived in Montenegro. Dragan Soc, Justice Minister in Montenegro, has rejected publicly the summons to forced mobilisations and he said, "each person must decide what to do according to his own consciousness".

Things are worse and worse, Phase II has begun. No comment. You have more information than we do here, but we know that this plot by local and global militarists limits our political space dangerously and soon there will be no space for us (how can we attack global militarism without attacking local militarism; how can we denounce the bombings without denouncing the massacres, the repression, the horror lived by people in Kosovo and that this NATO intervention has made things worse for them, because now, I repeat, we have " NATO in the sky and Milosevic on the ground".

For the time being, our human ghetto is maintaining itself, with mutual support. Your support will reinforce us, it means a great deal to us.

I send you a warm hug of friendship and tenderness.

YOUR SISTER

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