June 8th, Ambassador Moon, American Embassy, Sarajevo

June 12, 2012

Like the American Embassy in Serbia, the American Embassy in Bosnia-Herzegovina is focused on working with leaders and organizations in the country to promote civil society, improve government, justice, and the economic system in order to help ready Bosnia for eventual membership in the European Union.  Ambassador Moon spoke of the great difficulty the tripartite government, established through the Dayton Accords, was having working together, and that only very limited progress was being made in governance or strengthening civil society.  However he spoke with considerable enthusiasm for the work the embassy is doing with young people in Bosnia, in particular its exchange programs and small grants programs.  He also recognizes the work  women NGO’s are doing throughout Bosnia but laments the lack of government recognition or support of the work they are doing.   He openly expressed his frustration with the gridlock in government but shared that although the going was  slow, he had hope in the inevitable democratization  and positive change in all sectors of society  with the accession of the new generation.

See the Delegation in Pictures through June 8


June 8th, “Mothers of Srebrenica”

June 12, 2012

After our meeting with Women for Women International today, we had the honor of meeting with

Kathleen Hunt, President (r) with Munira Subasic, President Mothers of

, the president of  “Mothers of Srebrenica” along with four women from her organization.  Mothers of Srebrenica was formed in 1996 after the Srebrenica massacre by a group of mothers who along with thousands of others were  brutally affected by the tragic event.  There are 8,116  Mothers of Srebrenica.  Every one of them  has lost a family member in the massacre.  Most of them have lost a number of family members, and some as many fifty to sixty members of their extended family.  The grim statistics:  10,701 men.  5,070 women and 1,042 children murdered.    The main focus of Mother”s Srebrenica is to find and identify the victims and to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes.

Along with their pain and outrage though, they spoke of their love and pride in their children, how important it was for their children to  be free from hostility and hatred, but instead go on with their lives.    They spoke proudly of their children, how many of them had gone on to be doctors and lawyers and teachers and writers.  “The hardest thing in the world”, Munira said, is to live life hating someone.”  Although it is important for women as mothers to speak out against all violence in the world, it is also important to bring up our children to be aware of the existence of violence and fight against it, but along with this to forgive and emphasize the possibility for goodness and healing in the world.

Mothers of Srebrenica is an internationally respected and recognized organization.  Certificates and awards from countries and dignitaries from around the world lined the walls of their office we met in.   Our meeting though was heartfelt and very human.  They spoke to us as women and mothers sharing their hope and strength as well as their pain.  We left each other with a deeply felt sense of connection and the beginning of friendship.  Munira shared her e-mail and hopes we can continue to stay connected.  We will.

DIANA CRUSE AND SHIRLEY DOCKSTATER–Report on the House of Human Rights

June 12, 2012

We start the day through iron doors into a dark hallway with traces of shelling on the cement floor, up a flight of stairs where we emerge into a house of light, the newly remodeled House of Human Rights of Sarajevo.  Sun floods into a high white room where a long cherry table and red chairs await our meeting. Everything here feels fresh with new possibilities.
Seated with us around the table are Berina from Cura (tsura) Foundation, a feminist organization of young women, and Jadranka who spoke to us of her involvement in Women in Black, Care International, Cure and Roma women.  They informed us of services available: Library, Legal aid office which has already processed over 10,000 cases, cancer support program (medical insurance does not exist), and Lesbian and Gay issues.
Jadranka tells us one way Cure has reached a gender insensitive public and govt. is through a yearly festival called “Pitchwise”, educating the public through clever posters lectures, music ,movies and dance. They have to spread their message through the back door.  “It is dangerous, to be a feminist in our patriarchal society. On paper our gender equality laws look good, however, there is no political will to put them in practice.” adds Dubrovka Kovacivic of CARE international, an organization which works for women’s economic empowerment. Care believes that women’s empowerment comes through education of skills, human rights, entrepreneurship, and a supportive international community.
Diana Kruse and Shirley Dockstader

Diana Kruse with her Serbian Cousin at the Serbian Cathedral in Belgrade

Thursday, June 8th – Meeting with Seida Saric from Women for Women International, Sarajevo

June 9, 2012

Met with

Seida Saric Women for Women, Serbia

, Director of Women for Women International in Sarajevo.  Women for Women started in Sarajevo in 1994 and moved on to establish branches in seven other post-conflict countries: Rwanda, Kosovo, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The delegation was particularly interested in learning the types of training Women for Women offers women in Bosnia. Seida outlined for us a wide range of training programs, including training in life skills, English, computer skills, (pragmatic) education on women’s human rights, technical skills (i.e.keymaking, upholstery, painting homes, weaving, tailoring, planting, and  agriculture) as well as businesss and entrepreneurial training (i.e. bookkeeping, financial planning, promotion, and grant writing).

Every woman receiving training services through Women for Women has a sponsor.  The Sponsorship program is administered from a central office in Washington, DC.  Sponsors donate $30 a month: $10 in cash for expenses and $20 toward the training program.  Sponsors exchange letters, monitoring the progress of their sponsee.  Seida pointed out that many of the sponsors for the Women for Women are American women, but that out of the eight countries mentioned above, Bosnia attracts the fewest sponsors.  Seida’s sense of this is that because of Bosnia’s superficial appearance of “normalcy” in spite of the tragedy it has suffered, there is a common misperception that Bosnia’s problems have begun to be solved since the ending of the war.  There is often a lack of understanding of the poor economic status and government support of women until they visit Bosnia and see up close the seriousness of women’s situation.

Seida hopes to maintain a relationship with AWIU and to be available as a resource for women and NGO’s we have met with on the current delegation as well as for women we encounter on future delegations.  She is also interested in exploring projects we may be interested in pursuing with her as an organization.

Thursday, June 7 A Poignant Ride to Sarajevo

June 9, 2012

Traveling between Srebrenića and Sarajevo today, we passed through a story-book land with  lush green pastures, grazing flocks of sheep, hay stacks shaped like Hoo Doos, and forested rolling hills. 

Hills near Srebrenica

In the villages two-story houses with red tile roofs cluster closely together, homes sheltering families whose laundry hung on balconies,  garden paths lined with flowering rose bushes, and people working in their small vegetable gardens.

Village between Srebrenica and Sarajevo

  But –  30 feet away from a living home, and surrounded by overgrown weeds, is a house hastily abandoned 17 years ago.  Window glass and curtains long gone, black gaping window-holes like the hollow eye sockets in a skull.  Once the residents in this neighborhood had been long time friends.  Now, by chance of ethnicity, some live on, while others have become the hapless victims of an ages-old cycle of violence and revenge.  Such tragedy, on this horrific scale, can never happen again.

Merry Lee Eilers, Balkan Delegation 2012.

June 6th, 3 to 5 PM Meet with BOSFAM

June 8, 2012

Visited BOSFAM this afternoon and finally met the legendary Beba Muhic, the founder of BOSFAM.

Munira Beba Hadzic

Beba told us her story, how her life as a schoolteacher with a home, family and friends, car, shoes and a dentist suddenly collapsed when she was ousted by  the paramilitary during the wars and told to leave her home in Srebrenica.  She offered a poignant story, how she was  forced to leave without shoes, separated from her mother and sister, imprisoned from some time, then released. Although she never clarified what happpened to her husband, his destiny must have been the same as the other Moslem men  at that time.   Ultimately Beba was taken to Tuzla, where in time she found the strength to begin to reach out to other women, who survived the massacre of the husbands and children.  Together she and the women began to form the beginning of BOSFAM.  Beba”s thought was to utilize what the women she worked with knew to do, which was handicrafts.  She found that the women, by working with their hands, making rugs, clothing and other handicrafts began to open up,  tell their stories, and speak of their pain.

When we met with Beba, we were able to look at the wonderful and colorful work her women do. The brilliant rugs were spread out for our viewing.  It became a fashion show as we also tried on for each other their beautiful crocheted and knitted sweaters and shawls, necklaces, and caps.  Most of us ended up “donating” to BOSFAM and left with our loot. The next day we had another chance at their market in Srebrenice, where again we told each other how beautiful we looked in their wares.  Again we “donated” to their cause and left in delight.

BOSFAM is represented int he US by the Advocacy Project.  In March the delegation and other members of AWIU met with Ian Guest, Founder and Executive Director.  BOSFAM is one of several groups the Advocacy Project supports.  During our meeting, we viewed some of Bosfam’s products particularly a handsome large hand woven wool rug which Ian had carried from Bosfam through his travels in Europe and back to the office in Washington.

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June 6 – Roma Women for a Better Future

June 8, 2012

We are now in Tuzla and  have spent the morning meeting with Roma Women for a Better Future. The director of Roma Women For A Better Future, Indira Bajramovic,

Indira Bajramovic, Roma Leader

is currently campaigning  in Sarajevo as the first Roma woman ever to run for parliament in Bosnia Herzogovina.   Larisa Kovacevic, her administrative assistant, acted as moderator and translator for our meeting.  Roma Women for a Better Future  is in a stronger position as an NGO than the Roma NGO’s we met with in Belgrade for several reasons.  First of all the Roma population it is dealing with have lived for centuries within Bosnian borders, and while they are often marginalized, their treatment is more one of indifference and neglect rather than the hatred and ridicule that the Roma population as recent refugees fleeing from Kosovo, suffers in Serbia.   The Roma in Tuzla live in homes and although poor, do not suffer the same isolation and depth of degradation of the Roma in Serbia.

Indira, who is well known by other NGO’s in the area for her devotion and work for the Roma and who has written and spoke extensively about her work and the areas of injustice she has encountered,  has recently been encouraged to run for parliament by her colleagues, and is currently campaigning on a well-developed  strategy for the improvement of the lives of the Roma, based on the work she has been doing in the past ten years.

At our meeting were three Roma mothers, who participate as members of their programs, who spoke very positively of the help their children was getting through this organiyation.  Also present was  the principal of a nearby elementary school along with one of the teachers in the Roma inclusion program in her school, who acted as a translator.  This is a very successful Roma organization in the sense that they have been able to effect significant changes in the lives of the Roma women and children who use their services.  Although the schools in Bosnia and Serbia are now required to have supportive staff, i.e. school psychologists and “pedagogical assistants” along with inclusion programs for Roma children, many schools, in spite of their newly introduced services, suffer from resistance of Roma mothers to the school program and poor attendance and performance by the Roma children.  This principal in contrast has created a model program with excellent Roma attendance as well as academic motivation and performance.  In describing her involvement in the program it became apparent that the excellence of the school program could be in large part attributed to her devotion to the parents, children, and teachers of her school along with her warm and supportive presence throughout all aspects of the school’s program.

Roma child being educated in Model School in Tuzla

Larisa was open in stating that she is not  interested in money for her organization as much as learning of opportunities for business training, i.e. grant writing programs, financial planning, communication skills for leaders in her organiyation as well as job training  in hairdressing, cooking, etc. for the Roma mothers she is working with. Although Larisa was not familiar with the NGO’s we met in Belgrade, she has worked with NGO’s in Belgrade and was interested to learn about and reach out to the Roma organizations we met with.   Larisa  will be staying in touch with us by e-mail and skype to continue our relationship and network building and will be sharing information gathered with Indira on an ongoing basis.

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June 5th – Quotes and Suggestions from the Deputy Chair of Serbian Parliament

June 7, 2012

Gordana Comic ( “Comeech”)

Serbia Deputy Assembly leader, Gordana Comic

was originally  a physics professor at  a university in Novi Saad, but as a professor was not permitted to participate in politics.  She left her professorship to enter politics, joining the Democratic Party in 1989.  She just won her 5th “mandate” (election) to Parliament. She serves as the Deputy Chair the current session of Parliament. With great humor and seriousness she shared with us how as a woman in a so-called man’s world, she goes about the business of effecting change.  Her advice:

Learn the rules, use the rules, change the rules.

Everyone is an ally.  Identify the support you can get to change the rules.

I don’t worry about thinking out of the box.  I just think there is no box.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Dare to be naive.  First they ignore you.  Then they laugh at you.  Then you win.

When we travel to another country, we share space with each other, but as we have different histories, we do not share the same time.   However we share the same history. the day we decide to do something together.

Follow the cognitive dissonance around you.  Learn to hear  it.  Comment on it.  Show the illogic, how you can’t have it both ways.

Serbia was built on a crossroads of empires,civilizations, cultures, and ideologies.  For the first time we are no longer at the crossroads.  The crossroads have moved east to Central Asia.

Gordana informed us that by law it is required that one-third of Parliament’s membership be women. To guarantee this, party rosters are required to have every third candidate on its list be a woman.  When later in the conversation, one of our delegates asked Gordana for suggestions to strengthen the position of women in our legislature, she suggested that we could perhaps implement a similar system.

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June 5 Meeting with Deputy Chair of Parliament

June 7, 2012

Gordana Comic

We met with Gordana Comic, Deputy Speaker of the Serbian Parliament today.  It was an amazing encounter with a brilliant, charismatic, and yet warmly accessible woman.  And two of our members sat in the seats of Parliment to imagine the role of an assemblyman.  30% of Assembly members are female.

Shirley Dockstater and Kathleen Huston in Serbian Assembly Room in Belgrade

At the US Embassy we met with ambassador Mary Burce Warlick who provided information and insight into the US relationship with Serbia.

Meeting with Ambassador Mary Burce Warlick US Embassy Seribia

Before leaving the Embassy we joined Ambassador Warlick for a photo opportunity.

AWIU Delegation in Belgrade Serbia Meeting with Ambassador Mary Burce Warlick

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June 6, 2012

When you want to make a meaningful contribution to the world, it is a serious matter.  The AWIU delegations are about learning and connecting.  It’s part of the plan to work locally and impact globally.

The Balkan Journey to Understanding delegation was over a year in the making.  Barbara Rubio, Chair, Virtual Chapter 1 and Gayle Morin, Chair, AWIU Delegations Committee

Barbara Rubio, Chair, Virtual Chapter 1

Gayle Morin, Delegation Leader Balkans

have been studying the Balkans and making important connections with local women and organizations in the 6 countries for the trip.  Learn more about Barbara and Gayle and their many interests and skills.  When they return to the US they will oversee the important continuing connections and education of members and others.  Please REGISTER with AWIU if you would like to learn of future presentations and informative sessions on the delegation.  Want to follow the Blog? Three steps, 1. click About on the right, 2. Click like on the page and 3. Click Follow.  You will be notified of new posts.

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