Attack on Peace activist in Serbia

In May, four lesbians from Serbia's only lesbian and gay organization, Arkadija, were beaten up in Belgrade. Lepa Mladjenovic is a member of the group and was one of the women attacked. Lepa is a well-known feminist peace activist and has received international recognition for her work on behalf of lesbian and gay human rights. She took part in the million-strong international gay and lesbian pride march in New York in June 1994, carrying the sign "Serbia--Stop the War".

Lepa said of the attackers, "It was the first time I looked at a man's eyes who was ready to kill me for what I am. The three men were very professional in the way they attacked us. It was clear they were trained to kill, and belonged to some fascist gang.

"He knew who I was. He called a dirty lesbian and held me up against the wall for some time, then he said he could hit me in some hallway of the house and kill me. Then he said, ´Go to the mosque, that's where you belong'. (The only Islamic mosque in Belgrade is just around the corner from where he held me.) With an extremely professional move of his hand he grabbed my glasses, broke them in half and threw them on the street, then he did the same to the glasses of Jelena. Jelena cursed him back and he hit her, then threw her on the pavement. The two other killers were mainly there backing him, very professionally too.

"It was clear they had self-appointed themselves to cleanse Dorcol (an old part of Belgrade where the attack occurred). It was clear that our mere presence on 'his land' was producing hatred. He thought he was offending me by telling me to go to mosque, a place where I have already been many times to visit some Bosnian women refugees who found there a shelter. The emotions with which he addressed us was so strong, as if we have killed some of his family. It was clear that lesbians, gays, Muslims, and who knows who else, probably Albanians, Gypsies are all on the same list to him. I wondered about the Muslim people who gather around the area to go to mosque, what is their experience with these killers? He threatened to kill me if I appeared again. I am thinking how many people he already killed in the war in Bosnia or Croatia? How many women has he raped? How many ethnic cleansing atrocities they were part of? What is going to be the next step in the war against me, against lesbians and gays in this town?" Maja was another member of the group. She explained, "Four of us were at a meeting of Arkadija, working with a Canadian lesbian documentary crew, who were making a documentary on lesbians in Eastern Europe. It was the night of May 5, 1995. We had planned before to do the graffiti, when the Canadians said they wanted to film it. So we went outside and just stared writing on wall across the street. We were so happy spray painting, with the women filming and the nice night! We were writing three or four slogans and on the wall, and didn't notice that we were near a cafe in the Dorcol (the oldest part of Belgrade) where young neighborhood criminals gather.

"One man came out of the cafe. He came up to Jelena and took her spray can, and he started calling Lepa dirty words, like ´You dirty lesbian, I recognize you'. I think he was a student and knew Lepa from university, where she gave a lot of lectures. He was not upset because we were making graffiti. It was what we were writing that was the problem for him, slogans like ´This is a lesbian universe', ´This is lesbian graffiti', ´I love women'. We had no idea he was going to get two more guys. We went to the end of the street, and then Lepa left for home. The four Canadians left, and Jelena and I decided to write a few more slogans.

A few minutes later Lepa came running towards us. She told us to leave because some men were coming. She was so frightened. Three guys came up, including the man from the cafe. One guy had a hockey stick, another a paint can. They started calling us dirty lesbians, saying we were dirtying the Dorcol. One took Lepa's glasses off her face and broke them with one hand. He kicked Jelena, who fell on the pavement, and broke her glasses. He kept on kicking her. I felt really bad that I couldn't do anything.

"This was a Friday night and there were at least ten other people in the street. It was at a main street intersection. Nobody, nobody reacted. This is the way Belgrade is now. You can shoot somebody now and nobody will notice. We started walking away from the men. one of them shouted, ´If you ever come back we will kill you!' One of them told Jelena that she should go back to school, that she was being seduced by a lesbian gang leader. They ran after us and spray painted our clothes and hair.

"I was so frightened I couldn't think. Jelena had bruises on her legs. I felt so bad for her, her family had kicked her out when they found out she was a lesbian. Now finally she can come out openly, and she gets attacked.

"The next day I went back to see what we did. Something drew me back to the place. I put makeup on, let my hair down. I was in disguise, trying to be as feminine as possible. Thank god, nobody saw me there. After that, every time we went to an Arkadia meeting we were afraid somebody would come and beat us, throw bombs. It was obvious where we had begun spray painting.

But still it was worth it. It's increasing the visibility of the lesbians. I feel that what we did will open the eyes of a lot of people. It will make us visible, which is why we put ourselves in danger. There are so many lesbians who are lonely, who are thinking they are the only one in the world, and that's why we did it. Because people think our existence is illegal, that we pollute the city."

Arkadija-Labrys, Brace Baruh 11, 11000 Belgrade, Yugoslavia.