June 3 BELGRADE: Balkan Delegation has arrived!

June 3rd

Balkans delegation member Magda Sharkasi (center) meeting with Roma women Leaders Serbia 6/3/12

Met with Lepa Mladjenovicand six Roma activists  this  afternoon!

The Roma community with whom they are dealing,  are refugees from  Kosovo who fled to Serbia as a result of the war. In spite of the language difference and need for translation, we very clearly experienced the sense of frustration and disappointment each of the activists faces in their daily work with Roma mothers and children, families who live in poverty in “contained settlements” and face continued ridicule, hate and discrimination from most of  the “white” culture.  What keeps these activists going is their hope in the small but important changes they see –  especially in the spirit of the young people and the slowly increasing attendance of the Roma children in school. Four out of six of the activists also  work as pedagogical assistants in the schools, which just recently have begun to have inclusion programs for Roma children along with the regular special ed students in the classrooms.  The teachers and counselors  among us of course had much to share in our discussion both during the meeting and continuing into our conversation during lunch.

Lepa Mladjenovic

After the meeting Lepa spent time with us at Kalamegdan Park.  While it was fun for a while,  the music at the  terrace restaurant where we had drinks was too loud for serious talk, so we  invited Lepa back to our hotel lounge to go deeper into our conversation.  It was a wise move, because once in the  lounge of the hotel, we settled in for her deeply personal and moving recounting of the events of the wars, a heartbreaking series of events, complex and riveting, filled with specific reenactments of what the people, and especially the women faced –  the stoking of the hatreds before the war, the chaotic spinning out of control, the chain reaction of hate spawning more hate.disillusionment and fear, and finally, not the resolution of the pain, but only an end to a physical war, which lingers on in the psyches of the culture.

Lepa is one of the founders of the Autonomous Women’s Center in Belgrade, which originated as a crisis center and hotline in the middle of the war.  She also co-founded Women in Black in Belgrade, an off shoot of the original Women in Black, which began in Israel in protest against the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

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