Posts Tagged ‘american women for international understanding’

June 11, Mostar: Dances of the Balkans

June 16, 2012

June 11

In this era of rock and rap, it is a rare treat to hear traditional ethnic music and watch young people happily preserving the dances of their local regions.

AWIU Balkans Delegation on the bridge at Mostar, June 10, 2012

In Mostar, Bosnia Herzogovina, we were invited to Dzemal Bijedić University, where the President greeted us and walked with us to the Drama Department.  We sat up front, in rows of students’ wooden fold-up seats, and were presented with a rehearsal of a program of ethnic folk dances.  Clad in jeans and tee shirts, 16 young men and women put on five spirited and complicated Balkan dances.  Their complex steps and patterns were precise, and the music kept us tapping our toes.  Merry Lee Eilers



American University, Sarajevo

June 14, 2012

Our visit to American University inspired hope for the long term future of Bosnia Herzegovina. The President, Denis Prcic and three key faculty met with us on a Sunday noon as they were concluding an earlier meeting. The president eagerly shook hands with each of us and explained their educational mission.

Judith Jaikitis listens to the President of the American University of Bosnia Herzegovina

The University, established in 2006, is based on principles of American education. This includes emphasis on multiethnic inclusion, understanding of American law, and principles. Key areas of study are business and econimics, international law, technology, and diplomacy.

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.


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.

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

June 4, 2012

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.


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.


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.


Country Visit # 83 Balkan Delegation First Night–Belgrade Serbia. Dinner at Little Bay Restaurant

June 4, 2012

Balkan Delegation First Night.  Dinner at Little Bay Restaurant

l/r Kathleen Hunt, President, Kathleen Huston, Northern California Chapter Chair, across from other Delegation Members.  Later they went nearby to the Opera to see La Traviata.  The next morning they met with Roma Women (see their post on that meeting)     See all photos


June 3 BELGRADE: Balkan Delegation has arrived!

June 3, 2012

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.