(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
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
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
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
I need a beer to stop my weeping, but I cannot stop
Stasa is giving her radical speech, always disloyal,
– We will never stop crying, she tells me during the
– 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
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
Regional networking on all issues, to build a civil
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:
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