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Elisabetta Zavoli | The phoenixes of Bosnia

Baščaršija is the ancient turkish district of Sarajevo’s downtown, whose square is commonly called “Pigeons Square”. This is the beating heart of the touristic renaissance in the Bosnian capital. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina,18/05/2012

Rape as a weapon of war. Between 1992 and 1995, during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, abuses by soldiers were not just a “side effect” of the conflict. Bosnia’s war was also fought on the body of women and girls: a lot of violence and rapes, in fact, were explicitly ordered by the officers as part of the strategy of ethnic cleansing taking place in the region. In those years, thousands of women, the estimates range from 20 to 50 thousand, were abused.

Twenty years after the outbreak of the conflict, what are the wounds that still remain open? Have the Hague International Court and local courts been able to give an adequate answer to the thousands of men and women demanding justice? Or is there a need for a different form of justice?

The project, promoted by several local associations, in order to create a “Court of Women”, already provides a first answer. It is actually a superpartes initiative involving “Women in Black” of Belgrade (in the role of project leader), the “Centre for Women’s Studies” of Zagreb and Belgrade, the “Centre for Women victims of war” of Zagreb, the “Network of women in Kosovo”, “Soul Kotor” of Montenegro, “Mothers of Srebrenica” and “Women for women” of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Court, which will have jurisdiction over the territory of former Yugoslavia, wants to propose a different model of justice, as opposed to that of traditional courts. A court that might place at its core women and their stories: not only to tell acts of violence, but also to provide spaces for dignity, listening and the recognition of loss. A court that focuses on victims and on survivors.

With my work, I would like to document the first steps of the “Court of Women” and understand what could be the possible developments. I have interviewed the protagonists of this initiative in order to raise their hands about the path that led to this initiative and their expectations. I have also met women who were raped and have had the chance and the courage to tell their experience and the strength of going ahead and be reborn. Eventually, I had the chance to talk with some young girls who volunteers in associations that deal with violence on women: they are strong and eager to re-construct Bosnia and Herzegovina; they aims to overcome the hates that have divided their parents, but at the same time, they have to deal with a country which has high rates of unemployment and severe economic crises.

I am not interested in making a political speech or discussing on the claims of those who have suffered major or minor wrongs during the conflict. At the heart of my work there is solely and exclusively women: Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian regardless of ethnicity. With this reportage I want to talk about the role women are playing in aiding each others to overcome the lack of justice of these 20 years after the beginning of war.

I would like that my work could be considered a tribute to their strength in facing war’s aftermath and in working for the construction of new Bosnia.

Nusreta Pestek is a 48 years old woman from Sarajevo. She lost her husband on 1993 during the siege of Sarajevo so she remained alone with two children: one daughter of 4 years and one son of 11 months. During the siege, they have endured starvation and cold but they managed to be alive. Now she volunteers at the association “Education builds Bosnia” founded by General Jovan Divjak. She receives, from the State, a monthly pension of 500 Bosnian marks (about 250 euro) as a victim of war. She is a self-taught in painting but during the last three years, she made a lot of oils portraying glimpses of the old Sarajevo that she sold to people from Sarajevo now living in diaspora. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15/05/2012.
On top of one of the hills surrounding Sarajevo, there are still ruined buildings from which serbian snipers used to shoot the city. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 12/05/2012.
Photo portrait of Asra Ramic at primary school, in 1978. She was shot to death by a schoolmate at the age of 20, few months after the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo. She had got a daughter of six months old, who was grown up by her mother Mina. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 17/05/2012.
Mina Ramic is 67 years old. In 1992, she was down the street of her district together with her husband, her daughter Asra and her grandaughter Aila of six months old, when a classmate of Asra shot her to death. So, Mina has grown up her grandaughter, who now is 20 years old and studies journalism. Her husband died of old age and she receives a monthly pension of 500 Bosnian mark (about 250 euro) as a victim of war. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 17/05/2012.
Medals for civil valor donated to Milorad Batinic, a Bosnian historian of Sarajevo who, during the siege, has been guide and interpreter for NATO forces. During the war, he met generals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic and other commanders of paramilitary groups responsible for violence and raping on women for purposes of ethnic annihilation. At the national court in The Hague, on May 16th 2012, the process for war crimes to General Ratko Mladic has begun. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15/05/2012.
Vildana Muslic, a 23 years old woman from Ilovac, has studied Law in Sarajevo. She is the coordinator of “Youth Center” and the president of “Counsil of Youth” in Ilovac. The Center caters for children and adolescents who don’t know how to spend their time and who don’t have places of gathering. Some of the children have psicophysical problems. Ilovac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 16/05/2012.
A picture portraying Ivona Letic’ s father, sat with the puppy, with some friends in the late ’70s when Bosnia and Herzegovina was under Yugoslavia Federation. At that time, Bosnia provided a great example of integration among different ethnicities and religions. Lukavica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 14/05/2012.
Ivona’s tatoo representing a swan. Ivona Letic is 24 years old and lives with her mother. She lost her father when she was 4, during the first year of war. They received a popular house as victims of war. They were of Visoko a small town in the west region of Sarajevo, but mother and daughter moved in Sarajevo to ensure that Ivona had better education. So, she attended the Faculty of Interior Design and she is interested in designing the interior of the houses for victims of war, most of whom have disabling impairments (loss of limbs, post war trauma …), but she didn’t find any kind of job. She is a volunteer of association “Education builds Bosnia”. Lukavica, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 14/05/2012.
Vedrana (on the left) and Berina (on the right) are feminists and activists of “Fondacija Cure” which means “Girls Association”. They take part in the constitution of “Women’s Court” together with other associations from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia which work for women’s rights and the recognition of war crimes against women during Balkan’s war. “Fondacija Cure” organises every year the “Pitchwise” Festival, which is a cultural event made by women and for women. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 17/05/2012.
The remains of what was called the “Rainbow Hotel” is surrounded by new buildings. The rainbow hotel was on the dividing line between districts controlled by Serbs and others controlled by Bosnian militias. The city of Sarajevo was crossed by a multitude of these lines of separation on which snipers faced one another and ordinary citizens died in search of food, water or wood for heating. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 12/05/2012.
Nuna Zvizdic, 59 years old. In 1992 she took the decision to do something for women victims of war, so she founded Bosnian association “Zene Zenama” which means “Women for women”. Five years after the end of the war, in 2000, she began to work with feminists Zarana Papic of Belgrade and Biljana Kasic of Zagreb, in order to build “Women’s Court”, involving associations for women on the whole territory of former Yugoslavia. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 18/05/2012
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