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24. May 2022 - News

Remembrance work in the Western Balkans: "An Important Sign of Hope"

The Yugoslav wars happened less than 30 years ago. Peace in the region is still fragile today, but official commemoration is not designed to foster reconciliation. Together with Serbian, Kosovar and Bosnian activists, medica mondiale is developing new, feminist approaches to remembrance work.

About a dozen women are standing in a circle, many appear poised to contribute to the discussion, they are focussed on one woman holding a laptop and showing them the screen.

The wounds are still fresh. There is no family in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia or Kosovo unaffected by loss and trauma from the wars. Many people lost relatives and had to leave their homes.

Nationalism and heroic stories

The general culture of remembrance is not designed to process the trauma. Instead, nationalistic portrayals dominate history lessons and commemorative events. There is hardly any representation of victims from ethnic minorities, and mention of the mass rapes of women and girls would also not fit into the nationalist heroic narratives. So these are often kept secret, and women are excluded.

“One of the greatest challenges for women who have survived sexualised wartime violence is stigmatisation: by society, and also by their own families.”

Mirlinda Sada , Medica Gjakova

The lack of processing is also reflected in politics. Nationalist rhetoric has increased significantly in recent times. Fears of armed unrest are mounting.

All the more important: interethnic cooperation

This flare-up of nationalist aspirations makes it clear how important it is to include inter-ethnic, civil society approaches in remembrance work.

“Interethnic cooperation is particularly important when it comes to dealing with the past. Feminist solidarity has the power to oppose the dominant nationalist and patriarchal narratives.”

Sanja Pavlović , Autonomous Women's Center, Serbia

medica mondiale is fostering this type of remembrance, drawing on exchange, networking and feminist approaches as it works together with seven women's rights organisations: Medica Zenica and Vive Žene from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Medica Gjakova and KRCT from Kosovo and the Autonomous Women's Center, Youth Initiative for Human Rights and Women in Black from Serbia.

“We must work together for a lasting and stable peace in Bosnia and the region. With this we are also sending an important sign of hope to the survivors.”

Jasna Zečević, director of Vive Žene

Exchanging ideas, the organisations are developing educational offers for schools and universities in their countries and developing joint political strategies.