Workshop 2


Remembering: Personal Chronologies and Chronologies of War

The goal of this workshop was to collect personal experiences from women of the region during the wars; those completely personal as well as those relating to specific forms or women’s organizing, and to compare them to the “official history”. First, women listed certain events, which each of them remember as crucial for their own surroundings in the period of transition, collapse, war and aftermath of the war in former Yugoslavia. Then, following the established chronology, they drew their own “river of life” from 1990 to 2000. Each participant was allowed three personally important events from that period. The result of the workshop is the composition of a mosaic of personal memories of women, memories which are not recorded in official memory. The second result is the creation of a “parallel” historic document about the war in this region, from the perspective of women’s experiences.

And while chronologies of the “official history” can be taken as representative, although incomplete, since this was not the purpose of the workshop, personal memories, accompanied by very personal facts, such as mother dying, or giving birth to a child, bring about an entire parallel personal history unknown to the public. In the “known” history the women listed well known events which made their way into all official histories --- for example: 1990 - first multiparty elections in the republics of former Yugoslavia; 1991 – establishment of the so called “Republic of Srpska Krajina”, Croatia and Slovenia declare independence, the war in Slovenia, beginning of war in Croatia, peaceful pullout of the JNA from Macedonia; 1992 – Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina recognized internationally, beginning of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina; 1993 – Croatian-Muslim (Bosnian) conflict; 1994 - Markale  (shelled open market in Sarajevo), demolition of the bridge in Mostar; 1995 - “Flash” and “Storm” in Croatia, Srebrenica, The Dayton Accords; 1997 – civic and student demonstrations in Belgrade; 1999 – ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and NATO bombing of Serbia. In the “unknown history”, women state events such as first recognition of war rapes, first encounters with raped women, inception of peace-building groups and campaigns (Centre for Women War Victims in Zagreb, SOS telephone in Belgrade), creation of a local peace-building e-mail conference (Zamir) that enabled the communication of peace-builders from the region, first encounter and dialogue between feminists from Croatia and Serbia, international encounters of women in third countries during the wars, illegal border crossings, communication with the assistance of foreign women’s groups, etc.)

Here are several impressive descriptions of personal experiences from that period: 

  • 1992 - I am in refuge; I cannot enrol my child in school.
  • 1993-94 – the Centre happened to me, a place where I could feel that not everyone will die, that something will come out of all that.
  • 1994 – life in Zagreb becomes very cruel for children refugees. My child was afraid how he would speak Croatian. In order to get him enrolled in school, we baptised him.
  • My husband arrives from Sarajevo for the first time, and we send our child off to America. We are afraid since we live in a mixed marriage.
  • In 1995 we go to Canada. We had it rough there, we had problems finding jobs, we did not know the language and we lived an asocial life...
  • It is very important for me to share this with you. I have not cried for 10 years, so if I start now, it is important to me. In the 1990s, there were rallies, protests and people explaining why we could not be together. I remember black, green and white berets, masks, barricades. The majority people would set up their own barricade, we were cautious of each other. Aprils are very important to me. On April 4th, my daughter went to buy shoes and could not come back all day; the war started. First rivers of buses, people leaving Sarajevo. Police transporters, darkness, no water and food, queuing for water and food and running, just running. It was neither bad nor good. I would have never found out how persistent I am if it were not for that. On November 28, 1992, I went to Vitez. April '93 - slaughterhouse in the streets, HVO and BiH Army fighting each other. Seven raped women and girls. June '93 – feminism, war, life, conflicts, joining MEDIKA...

At the end of each workshop participants would gather into larger groups, comment jointly and evaluate the working methods and the results produced.

The main problem of the workshop “Personal Chronologies and Chronologies of War” was maintaining the balance between personal and political events, to make sure that the personal stories are still relevant and illuminative of an era. “High emotional risk” has been noted, since this workshop included personal traumas and confessions and, therefore, required that the participants take responsibility for the story they tell. 

The work was further aggravated by fear of re-traumatization, because it was hard for participants to remain only at the cognitive level of remembrance. The second, not least less important problem was the participants’ fear of hurting someone else by telling the story of their own hurt feelings.

The specificity of this method was that apart from being political it was also therapeutic. The facilitator of one of the groups, Duška Andrić-Ružičić, from Medika, concluded in the end: “It is a fact that the war affects us still and it will continue to do so for a long time. There is still a need for the CWWV, Medica, and other similar counselling centres. This is a gathering of strong women who participated, but who also have the right to feel pain… I would consider this exercise as a way to collect history and data… to be seen, to be known…