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At-Home with Lepa Mladjenovic

Again August in Belgrade

Gotov je! 24.09 OTPOR (spraypainted on a wall above an image of a clenched fist)

Belgrade, 9th of August 2000

Dear friends,

There’s always news in the totalitarian regimes, and it seems that the news never changes much. Some feminists are asking themselves if the Serbian regime is going to be one of the last totalitarian regimes in Europe (besides Byelorussia, and...).

Election Campaigns

The local and presidential elections in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have been announced for the 24th of September 2000. The opposition parties believe that they will win over Milosevic, the actual president of FR Yugoslavia, and that we shall get rid of him once forever! But. This means that many people are working in electoral campaign: the opposition parties, the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), women’s groups, students, etc. For example, there are five women’s networks lobbying on behalf of women’s political rights and they are all going at full speed. One is of the independent worker’s syndicate, one of women in media, one from women in political parties, and two are feminist political networks. They are all entering the campaign with the aim of strengthening women as political subjects, using the slogans “Vote of Women - Vote of Difference” and “Be Active.” In addition, the student movement OTPOR (Resistance) is doing its campaign with the slogan “GOTOV JE!” (“He’s finished!”— referring to Milosevic).

Free B92 plans to organize rock concerts around the country and will support all the other independent campaigns, as will the independent media, which along with radio stations have been banned but are active in other different ways.

Opposition parties are predicting that if many people do vote there is a chance to get rid of Milosevic, finally! Therefore the general motto of the campaign is “COME OUT AND VOTE!”

For the election campaign, the Serbian regime is using various methods:

A. Distributing free flour, sugar and oil to the population. This is important in that oil and sugar can no longer be found in commercial shops: the state has taken these goods from the market and is distributing them from its own outlets, making people wait in long queues. Particularly in small towns, these staples are offered for sale during the two-hour periods when the opposition have their street meetings, forcing people to wait in queues instead of going to the opposition meetings.

B. Announcing that all the medical treatments and prescriptions are free: this is a farce because the government and the medical institutions (all under control of the Serbian government) have almost no medicines to give away, and very few procedures can be performed for free in the medical institutions (most of the diagnostic equipment is broken, physicians and nurses are underpaid, etc.). This campaign is supposed to convey the impression to the wider population that the state takes care, while the state is pressing the workers in the medical institutions to do the impossible. There are rumours that medicines will last until the second round of the election and there will be no more afterwards!! There is already desperation among people, and the data indicate that life expectancy has decreased by seven years in comparison to 1990. (Data from the White Book of the independent G17 PLUS Association of Economists)

C. Controlling all the population through widespread police presence in public spaces. Last week I was relaxing with my friend Ria Convents in an open café-bar near the Danube, when at around 8:00 pm, 12 policemen and one policewoman entered and asked everyone to show their ID. Police are entering all the cafés, bars and restaurants constantly these days. (Permits are required for public gatherings in other locations.)

Financial Control of NGOs and Firms

Yesterday financial control officials entered another organization, the Center for Cultural Decontamination. They took away (and left receipts for) two computers in order to confiscate everything on the disks, looking for any facts to be used as evidence against the Center (the use of foreign currency, for example, because since the first embargo in 1992, banks for foreign currency do not exist in Serbia). The financial police are mainly hunting for evidence of “collaboration with the enemy”—primarily US financial donations, etc. The financial police are entering any firm, trade corporations, opposition party offices, kiosks, shops, people working in the black market, etc. The financial audit which started at Women in Black is not yet finished, and one in the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia and the Center for Anti-War Activities was finished last week without much said. Most of the NGOs are now in the process of reviewing all their bookkeeping and other papers. Each one can have problems. For example, every “income-generating project” is practically illegal because those NGOs are not registered for trade activities. It is very important for foreign funders to think about the legal implications when they offer and insist on “income-generating projects.” No one in Belgrade knew about so-called IGPs until foreign organizations came in and pressed for them. I wonder: do they ever ask the groups if they’re registered to sell goods?

The regular police forces also are entering offices of the non-governmental organizations that are working on supporting citizens to go out and vote, seizing printed records and computer harddrives. They have stopped a few concerts. They also harass some of the opposition parties, taking their material, etc. This is a daily activity of the police!

Pressure on Student Movement and Journalists

Police brutality on the streets against students from the OTPOR (Resistance) movement by police is continuous and systematic. Every week, some 30-80 young people from different towns in Serbia get beaten up and taken to the police to be investigated for their street actions, for which the OTPOR is known. The policy the OTPOR has is that they are horizontally organized, refuse to have leaders (that’s why so many get beaten up!), and have actions against Milosevic in about 40 towns in Serbia. In the town of Novi Sad, the “Resistant Mothers” group was founded to support their OTPOR children, and they have their own support activities. Some of “the mothers” have already been taken to the police for investigation.

There are only five independent papers left (three daily and two weekly) in Serbia, and the three daily papers depend on the state institutions which sell them paper. This means that the state has made it almost impossible for independent newspapers to buy printing paper. As for the TV: no independent TV is left, and only one radio station with a very small broadcast range, Radio Index in Belgrade, that few people can receive.

Filipovic Miroslav in courtThe news is also that one journalist, Miroslav Filipovic (of the independent daily paper DANAS), was sentenced to seven years of prison under military law for “conspiracy and state spying” because he reported events from the war in Kosovo of last spring, especially the testimonies of Serbian soldiers. This is another of those acts of intimidation, like the killing of independent journalist Slavko Curuvija last spring.

Flora Brovina Is Still in Prison

Flora BrovinaAs you might remember, the Albanian Kosovo feminist Flora Brovina was caught last spring during the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and taken to prison with a 12-year sentence. We are sending her journals and instant coffee.... If anyone wants to send postcards of solidarity and support for her, write to:

Flora Brovina
KP Dom Zensko odelenje
12000 Pozarevac
FR Yugoslavia

The human rights NGOs report that there are still 1,077 Albanians held in Serbian jails, there are 340 missing Serbs and over 2,300 missing Albanians from the last year of war. (Data from: Albanian Prisoner Advocacy List - Prisoner Pals The Kosovo.) The fact is that citizens from Kosova with Albanian nationality cannot enter Serbia with their IDs, while citizens from Kosovo with Serbian nationality can.

Poverty as Isolation and Human Rights Abuse

In a recent poll conducted with citizens of Serbia over the phone, which means those who do not have phones are not counted, this is what was found:

  1. One average salary in the month of May was the equivalent of 370 kilograms of bread (about 85DM or US$43)
  2. About 85% of those who answered the questions said they live worse then 10 years ago.
  3. On the question “Do you have enough money for food?” 30% of the telephone respondents said “NO.”
  4. On the question “Do you have enough money to buy clothes?” 71% of them said “NO.”
  5. More than 56% of them said they hadn’t bought shoes in more than two years.
  6. As for vacations, 47% of them had not gone on vacation in the past three to eight years, and only 12% went on vacation last year. (It is important to note that 10 years ago, more than 80% of the population went on vacation, and probably more than 90% of those who have telephones did so.)
(Interviews and telephone research by NIN, on 22 of July 2000.)

Women in Black holding a vigil (and a banner) in Serbia

Good News We Are Making Ourselves

The most important news is activities to educate women about the elections and political rights. Apart from this, women’s groups are continuing their projects.

The lesbian group from Belgrade, LABRIS, is planning the Second Lesbian Week for October 2000 (see schedule at Women in Black are on vacation. The SOS Hotline is organizing a collective painting of their office!

There was also another important event last week: the party for the Roma Children’ Center moving into their new flat. (“Roma” is a term for Gypsy people, who live throughout Eastern Europe as third-grade citizens—see European Roma Rights Center.) Let me remind you that this group was founded by two Roma feminists, one Kosova Roma woman, two white activists, one African man, and one gay man. So the party was full of so many different people, it was an incredible feast: young techno girls from the Feminist Theatre Group, all with shaved and coloured heads, plus Roma young activists from the Bibia-Roma Women’s Group, plus a few radical feminists of the older generation, SOS Hotline experts, lesbians, Roma women, middle-aged activists, gay and hetero men, which means people of many colours (African, Roma, White).... We danced all night, and as well giving homage to our friends from Kosovo who could not be with us by dancing their famous beautiful Albanian dance, the shote, we danced to music from Latin America, Africa, Greece, Serbia, and then many different Roma dances from Russia, from local Roma fairs and from Bosnian Roma, then rock and soul...........


Text © 2000 Lepa Mladjenovic.

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