Panel 5


Mojca Dobnikar: Memories of Women’s Organizing
Image No. 1, year 1987. Small office on the 4th floor of an old building. Posters all over the walls. Two office desks that have long lost all their varnish, chairs, none resembling each other. You can barely sit on them. Locked cupboard than can be opened without a key. Seven, maybe eight women, up to maybe 35 years of age. Two of them taking notes. One talks to her neighbour all the time, whispers something to her, the other smiling, although trying to keep a straight face. Two are talking a lot, one of them waving her hands. Others jump in occasionally. One sits quietly in the corner and observes the scene. The discussion is loud. With some imagination you could almost see the ideas bouncing and the energy rising constantly. After an hour, in comes a young man wearing leather trousers, hair all tangled up and dyed purple. “We have a meeting”, he says, “please wrap it up.” Most smile at him, they know him well, he is from the organization that lets them the space for their weekly meetings. – The meeting in September 1987 resulted in the first Yugoslav feminist gathering in Ljubljana in December of the same year. 
Image No. 2, spring 1990. Office of 20 m2 in an old building just beside the railway tracks. A train passes by every half hour and interrupts the conversation for a minute or two. Little less than 20 women of different ages. They are passionately discussing about starting a self-help group. They are in the middle of a conflict they have been unable to solve for the past month. Half of them are advocating for a group for all women who suffered any type of violence. The other half thinks there should be more groups for women with different experiences of violence. Arguments keep going back and forth without foreseeable ending. The mood is bad. Some women are sad. Some are angry. Some remain cool and keep giving arguments. After two hours one of them gets up and says she has had it and she is going home. The meeting ends without an agreement. Half a year later, still in 1990, some of those women start a group for self-help and leave the SOS telephone line, where the mentioned meeting took place. Some simply disappear. Others keep working the SOS line. Today, SOS line is the largest women’s organization in Slovenia. 
Image No. 3, summer 1991. A 34-year-old woman just returned from a meeting of the SOS line. She took home some folders – half of the SOS’ archives. Some other women took the other half home. Two days have passed since the war started. They took the folders because they weren’t sure if they would be able to enter the building where SOS has its office. As she enters her apartment, the phone rings. She picks it up. “Hi, how are you?” greets the voice of a friend from the former shared country whom she hadn’t heard from in over a year. She is glad to hear from her. They talk for a long time. The friend asks if it true, what they are saying that the war started in Slovenia? She asks because the media in her country are saying it’s all lies. She is thankful for being able to tell the truth. She is thankful for being able to talk to her. She is thankful because she can feel that support among women will overcome and surpass everything that will happen in the uncertain future. – What she felt then, she still feels today.
Image No. 4, the end of 1993. A big room in the old building that used to be army barracks. Paint is falling off the walls. An old heater in the corner producing more smoke than heat. It’s winter time, it’s very cold. Ten or so women sitting in a circle, wearing coats, some even gloves, some blowing into their frozen palms. Should we hold a press conference? We could organize an exhibition of the works of woman A. Maybe woman B would like to read her poems, and woman C might play something on her saxophone. Why wouldn’t we call woman D to tell us about the lesbian conference held this weekend….? But what would we say, who are we, who is organizing it? Come on, let’s make it the Women’s Centre. The women are full of ideas and energy.  But they are carefully listening to each other, they don’t cut each other off, they talk, they are talking things over, agreeing and disagreeing, but never forgeting to listen to each other.  – From autumn 1993 to spring 1994 there was a public event for women held almost every week in the Women’s Centre in Metelkova street. In the years to come, although with less events happening, it remained the women’s space, Women’s Centre. It was the first space in Slovenia, open for women, all women, only. This is how it was until 2001, when the group which took over the management of the building seized to exist, and the other group working there decided to rent a new, better, nicer venue from the city. It abandoned the old venue to an alternative X group. So Ljubljana is once again without a public women’s space. 
Image No. 5, summer 1995. Almost 200 women and their children from 18 countries at a big international camp lasting 14 days. Women from Bosnia-Herzegovina arrive 7 days late due to problems encountered at the border. They are out of the country for the first time since the war started. They brought with them special coffee pots and cups. “Do not ask us about the war”, they say, “we came here to forget about the war for a week at least. Have coffee with us instead.” At a special dinner in a big tent they speak about the war in front of the audience consisting of more than a hundred women. Many are crying. Some leave the tent, as they cannot bear to listen to the painful stories any more. And the women from Bosnia-Herzegovina remain standing, strong in their pain, thankful for a peaceful cup of coffee. – The big camp was organized with the financial assistance from Germany. There were seven women in the organizational team. They were paid for their work, some of them working with women for the first time. Three of them are still active in women’s groups. 
Image No. 6, autumn 1999. The campaign “What’s the matter, little girl?” happened to Slovenia. 220 billboards, 50,000 small posters, 40,000 post cards, 50,000 business cards, all bearing the same message – violence against women is impermissible. Four women organized the campaign, three from NGOs and one from the Office for Women’s Politics. The money for the campaign, which could sustain some of the Slovenian women’s groups for at least a year, was not easy to raise, but possible, nevertheless. There were about 20 funders, domestic and foreign. Everything was organized from the Office for Women’s Politics, and the manager of the Office was a member of the team. – The Office for Women’s Politics which changed its name into Office for Equal Opportunities in the meantime, will most likely be abolished in June this year. 
Image No. 7, autumn 2002. A new, bright office of 70 m2, with large windows, its own toilet and small kitchen, all on the third floor of a new building occupied by NGOs exclusively. Almost thirty women are present at the meeting. Nine of them are employed in the organization, others are volunteers. The budget of the organization celebrating its thirteenth anniversary equals the budget of the Office for Equal Opportunities. Women are talking loudly, cutting each other off, yelling, not listening to each other. One of them became a problem. Some think she should not be working for the organization any longer. Others think that after 13 years of working in the organization, 10 of which as a volunteer, she should be told openly of the shortcomings of her work and that she should be given a chance to remedy them. The one in question, after two hours, unlike any she ever experienced in numerous women’s groups she was active in over the past 18 years, simply says: “Please stop. I am leaving.” 
P. S.: Of course, this is my very personal view of women’s organizing in Slovenia. In the 18 years, since the first women’s group started working we managed to cross over to the “non-governmental” organization category, financed from the state budget and implementing various, but mostly social projects. In those same 18 years we managed to forget something really important – that women’s groups cannot be the service for “the women out there, not belonging to groups”, but that they can survive only if women working in them work on themselves and support each other. Maybe the coming of age will bring in itself a turn. I hope so.

Panel 1

  Vesna Kesić: Gender Dimension of Memory – Gender Dimension of Conflict and Reconciliation

Panel 2

  Reana Senjković: Gender Images of War

Panel 3

  Tea Škokić: Remembrance as a Place of Self-Understanding

Panel 4

  Mojca Urek: Why do We Tell Stories: Using Stories in Psychosocial Work

Panel 5

  Mojca Dobnikar: Memories of Women’s Organizing

Panel 6

  Eva Zillen: We Need to Make Sure That Ten Years Work is Not Forgotten

Panel 7

  Slavica Stojanović: Women Between Đinđić and Sugar