(Photos by Bruce Sterling)
Ohrid, Macedonia -- August 31, 2006
by Jasmina Tesanovic
Again a long trip by bus, to Macedonia this time, the town of Struga on Lake Ohrid.
Thirty Women in Black and a young bus driver. It is his first drive, he is cautious and it is a good thing too, because he saves the lives of several reckless fools in the narrow mountain roads where the speeding fines exceed those in Los Angeles but slow down nobody.
We stop several times, for "a piss and a smoke." We have no local money, Macedonian denars, but we do have one dollar bills. A beer for a dollar, a piss for a dollar? The first one is cheap, the second tremendously expensive for such a rich natural environment with so few people.
This used to be my own country, and my heart still leaps at the beauty of these Yugoslav mountains. Only at the last moment did remember that I had to take my passport to Macedonia. America's Colorado was never this green. My ever-skeptical American friend says: it's pretty here, but I've seen prettier.
Still, Lake Ohrid is astounding even him. He says: this is ridiculously pretty. Green reeds are swaying on the wind and the waves are climbing the shore below our room. The glossy local postcards look dull compared to reality.
An Orthodox monastery stands next to our hotel on the lake. A sign says: in 1942 an illegal Communist meeting was held here. Tito's red star is still on the monastery and the nuns are proud of it. They also make an excellent brandy. My American friend asks how Macedonian-Orthodox nuns could also be revolutionary Marxist atheists. I have no explanation. Nobody is perfect, especially in Balkan history.
A young man comes out of a monastery building, with a lamb cradled in his arms. He tenderly takes God's creature by his ear. The animal looks at him with confidence. The young man plucks up a sharp small butcher knife and with one deft slicing jab he cuts the lamb's throat from ear to ear. I foresee this coming, and I turn my back on the scene of slaughter, trembling from head to foot. My American friend cheerily quotes William Gibson: "Kill and eat!" Someone will have a nice mutton dinner.
I am not a vegetarian, I am not that politically correct. But I do think of a recent story I read about how a Serbian neighbor tried to save the life of an 8 year old Albanian girl captured by paramilitaries in Kosovo. Cajoling the soldier, he pled for the life of this girl, his little neighbor, but the soldier, staring indifferently into the witness's eyes, simply cut the young girl's throat with that same swift livestock-killing gesture. He just did it. And he didn't even have a dinner afterwards.
The first meeting of our network women from Kosovo and Serbia is over, we are all sobbing... fifty of us, a catharsis. Milos, the gay icon from Serbia, who opened the event declared: I was not even born when the repression of Albanians by Serbs started in Kosovo, but I am sorry...
An Albanian activist from Kosova says: even though my brother was killed in that war, now i can talk it with you here.
The pregnant woman cannot speak, an Albanian blonde: my girl will be born in a better world, she wails...
Why do we cry so much, the heat, the guilt, for heaven's sake Jasmina, you are just a scribe, your view is blurred, words are flowing ahead of your brain...
I never believed i would cry in front of Serbs, says the activist who works with Albanian victims of war.
I am 18, I am from Serbia, crimes in my name were committed before I was born, but I am saying SORRY.
We are hugging now, women cheerfully dressing in fancy black t-shirts designed as volunteer work by a top designer from Serbia.
We are all volunteers here, though UNIFEM is present as spectactor. We Women in Black are a war brand, a painful body of memory and guilt and catharsis, a traitors to our nation brand, exported from Israel and Palestine, Nobel peace prize candidates, but at home, hated and and ignored...
An old Albanian activist says, only now am I not ashamed to say I am a feminist...
Her group is called Antigone -- what else? Another moral traitor to patriarchal wars.
One says, I have no words, I just feel good.
Yes, our meeting went well, and it feels great. Now we will work together and make our men and governments feel stupid and small for never managing to do the same for ages on end.
A woman says, maybe now I will have the courage to read my own war diary, after I read yours from Serbia. Especially since I see you here, once again writing feverishly.
I need a beer to stop my weeping, but I cannot stop writing.
Stasa is giving her radical speech, always disloyal, in tears...
- We will never stop crying, she tells me during the break.
- But we never cry for ourselves, I claim.
We are women from regions of stone...
Slavica is saying, SORRY for those children who will never be born... this is a feminine definition of genocide, I guess.
This is a historical meeting. We don't need an Altisari, or any UN official, to explain to us the nature of historical guilt. We know what it is. We lived it.
The pain of the victims is bound together with the weight of the guilt.
We will deliver up the war criminals, but the crime will still surround us until we deal with reality. The word "enclave" is something that UMNIK invented, otherwise we will call each other by names of our cities. We don't want the cities divided, how can we stop it?
Regional networking on all issues, to build a civil society.
Women have to do it, a big responsibility. To explain there were NO "noble causes" to the young people, a truth without ideology.
And in the last day in the workshop on state and security, we Serbian Women in Black readily agree that Kosovo should be independent from Serbia as the Albanian network women wish it. My late mother's words echo in my head: you have no pants on your asses, yet you are giving away what you didn't even earn.
Rada the Serbian activist from Kosovo, a traitor to the nationalists says; they will lynch me there when this gets published.
Good luck Albanian friends, we would all like to split from our states... we women from Serbia will persist: always disloyal to the state of crime.
While we are belly dancing to turbo music, Albanian, Turkish Serbian and Croatian, Igo, dancing on the floor with a glass of wine balanced on the top of her head, officially proclaims: What do we need a revolution for if we cannot dance?
- - - - -
Previous essays by Jasmina Tesanovic on BoingBoing:
- Mermaid's Trail
- A Burial in Srebenica
- Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
- To Hague, to Hague
- Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties
- Floods and Bombs
- Scorpions Trial, April 13
- The Muslim Women
- Belgrade: New Normality
- Serbia: An Underworld Journey
- Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
- The Long Goodbye
- Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
- Slobodan Milosevic Died
- Milosevic Funeral