June 4 BELGRADE: Women in Black, US Embassy, Law School Debate–Reparation for women?

June 4th – We began the day with a visit to Zene u Crnom Beograd (Serbian for “Women in Black in Belgrade”).  Although we were scheduled to meet with four members of the organization, we were  greeted instead by a young man (who happened to be dressed in black), who introduced himself as “Milosh” and as one of two male members of Women in Black in Belgrade. Although the four women never made the meeting, Milosh was able to “pinch hit” for his colleagues, offering a thoughtful and cogent presentation of the central mission, goals, and activities of Women in Black, which we peppered with questions about  obstacles they were facing as well as the progress being made.  Milosh enumerated four specific goals as: (1) Justice for what is considered to be Serbia’s instigation of the previous decade of war as well as justice for the victims of  war crimes  (2) establishment of security for women in Serbia  (3) Movement toward a secular society free of all forms of  religious fundamentalism, seen by this group as the seed of division, aggression, and ultimately violence and war.

The main mission of Women in Black in Belgrade is to remember and to remind people of the tragic effect of wars in the past decade and to ask for forgiveness, which they  see as theirs as well as Serbia’s  obligation, as the instigators of war, to the rest of the former Yugoslavia.

Activities  include the holding of vigils, where all members dress in black, the color of mourning, at places where war crimes were committed and in memory of the victims. Women in Black meet with the family of the survivors in an effort to heal the relationship with all people of the former Yugoslavia.   Another activity is to go to the proceedings of the special court set up by the Hague for war crimes in Belgrade.  The Women in Black attend the proceedings with the intention of writing what happens in court on their website.  They also write a Shadow Report, an alternative to the government’s report on the implementation of the UN Resolution of 2000, written for women, peace and security in post-conflict countries.

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In the afternoon we visited the American Embassy in Belgrade.   Ambassador Mary Bruce Warlick  began by giving us a warm and personable introduction to the life in the foreign service she shares with husband, who currentlz serves as US Ambassador to Bulgaria.

Ambassador, Mary Bruce Warlick

Ambassador Warlick

In her discussion of the work of the Embassz, the Ambassador emphasized its main focus as being on its  support of  Serbia’s efforts to enter the European Union.  This will take time, the Ambassador stated, particularly given the continuing difficulty Serbia has in accepting Kosovo as a separate republic.  Along with building a viable relationship with Kosovo and its other neighbors, Serbia also needs to continue to build its democratic and economic institutions to standards of the European Union; however its economic and democratic strength are  in turn dependent on its relationship with Kosovo.   Serbia’s desire to become a member of the European Union is a hopeful sign  in spite of this difficult relationship.  Ambassador Warlick feels that the recent movement of Croatia toward full membership in the EU ( it is finishing accession negotiations and will be joining the EU next year)  can  also serves as a goad and inspiration to Serbia.  In March Serbia  received  “candidate status”, which marks the start date for acession talks.  The talks will be emphasizing its relationship with Serbia, which will put further pressure on its willingness to make concessions in its attitude to Kosovo.

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In the evening, we went attended a debate given by law students at the University of Belgrade, who are part of the Open Communication Network, a debating project initiated at the University of Belgrade, which established a network of universities in the Balkan area, who participate in the project.

Milan speaking at the University of Belgrade

University of Belgrade Law School

The network was established to encourage the development of civic discourse, democratic methods of communication, and parliamentary debate among young people.  Our delegation had the treat of being the  private audience for four students, experienced in traveling in competitive debates, who were  quite delighted to practice their debating skills with us.  The  argument they chose for the occasion was  whether or not to introduce a system of monetary reparation to set right the economic inequality of women in Serbia.  One side, representing the government, argued that women should be given a monthly allowance as payment for the losses they have suffered through the unequal social system.  The other side, representatives of the people, vehemently argued against this, stating that this is demeaning, serving only to get men off the hook as the oppressor, and allowing them to act as the benevolent patriarch, but only in the end  serving to maintain a system, where women continue to be seen as the weaker “other” rather than as an equal and as a partner.   The twelve of us served as the audience to the debate.  We were asked at the end to vote for the side we agreed with.  Hands down we voted for the people!  After this we all went out for drinks and dinner at a nearby restaurant on a famous cobble stone street well known for its old town atmosphere and  Serbian music.

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