Women in Black
drawing by Nancy Spero


The jubilee Tenth Conference of the International Network of Women’s Solidarity against War / Women in Black Network has been held in Novi Sad. The Conference was held in The Park Hotel, where 233 participants from 16 different countries were accommodated (from all the countries in the area of the former Yugoslavia, several European countries, the USA and Israel). In addition to this number of women, over twenty activists and theoreticians from Novi Sad and the surrounding area took part in the Conference, so that the total number of participants exceeded fifty. The Conference began on 23rd August 2001 in the evening, and ended on 26th August in the afternoon.

The Conference was held in the form of plenary sessions (panels) and work groups (workshops). The plenary sessions were translated simultaneously into all the official languages of the conference (English, Italian, Spanish and the local languages of the central part of the former Yugoslavia), while the workshops were consecutively translated into one of these languages.

Five plenary sessions and twenty workshops were held (with 14 topics, and some workshops were divided into two or three groups) and one press conference. Two peace performances were also part of the program, the second of which took place on the central city square in Novi Sad.

The introductory plenary session consisted of two parts: during the first part, Ivone Deutsch and Stasa Zajovic spoke about the purpose and the context of the Conference (the tenth anniversary of the Network). This was the first meeting of the network that was being held after the fall of the dictatorship. Nada Bregun, the mayor of Novi Sad, who was herself very close to the women’s movement for years and a prominent anti-war activist, greeted the Conference. No previous conference had ever been addressed by a representative of the authorities (or were they ever given the opportunity to do it).

The second part of the first workshop was dedicated to the women and men activists of the Network and those who had been close to the Network, who died over the past few years. Those are Neda Boñinoviƒ (one of the founders of Women in Black-Belgrade, passed away shortly before the beginning of the Conference), Hagar Rublev (one of the founders of Women in Black in Israel), Jelena Šantiƒ (anti-war activist from Belgrade), Dejan Nebrigiƒ (activist for the rights of sexual minorities and yearlong member of the male support team of Women in Black) and Biljanan Jovanoviƒ (writer and anti-war activist from Belgrade). Later that evening, the performance Language Babylon, reaching across the borders, took place in the vicinity of the hotel.

The second plenary session was held on 24th August. The Panel was dedicated to the history of the movement of Women in Black. The following women spoke: Yvonne Deutsch (about the origins of Women in Black in Israel), Margherita Granero (about the beginning of the international policy of Women in Black and the building of bridges among women, especially those in crises-affected areas), Stasa Zajovic (on the ethical principles and methods of work of Women in Black, both of the Belgrade groups and generally), Yollanda Roullier (on the spreading of the International Network of Women in Black); in the second part of the session, nine women from different countries and regions reported about the influence of Women in Black in the local, regional and global plan, giving information deriving from their own experience.

In the afternoon, the first series of workshops was held. The workshop Solidarity-exchange-humanitarian aid threw a light of the contradictions between the distribution of humanitarian help in the areas of crisis and the essential ethical concept of solidarity that Women in Black adhere to as one of the key principles of feminism and anti-militarism.

The workshop The Road we have left behind: from Antimilitarism to Feminism – from Feminism to Antimilitarism was dedicated to the research into the connection between anti-militarism and feminism, and the empowering of women for the ideas and actions that are directed against militancy.

The workshop Peace Activism: From Opposition to Creation of Alternatives focused on the summary of past activities. During the first years of their existence, Women in Black denounced war and violence, and then became involved in the process of shaping alternatives to the dominant authoritarian-patriarchal order, a process in which women from the countries of the former Yugoslavia were particularly active. This kind of involvement had an avant-garde quality in some of its aspects, and the activities on changing the mentality go on, because in spite of political changes, the majority of the population still thinks within the inherited framework of patriarchal categories.

The workshop Experiences of cultural, ethnic and feminine identity opposed to globalization was dedicated to the exchange of experiences and opinions of the participants coming from western countries and those from Serbia and other countries of the Balkan region. Western experiences, that were related primarily by the Italian women (some of whom had been direct eyewitnesses of the events in Genoa) cast a light on the destructive and deteriorating consequences of globalization on all spheres of life, from education to the level of protection of civil and human rights. On the other hand, experiences of the countries that are embarking in the transition process are marked by fears of a renaissance of totalitarian movements and orders (in that sense, particular attention was paid to the neo-Nazi movement Obraz as the avant-garde of a possible rebirth of fascism in Serbia). This workshop was held in three different groups, which tacked the subject in different ways and put emphasis on different aspects. One of them focused on the processes of global militant processes in society, both in areas of crises and in developed countries, where unemployment (as an effect of the new technologies) is concealed by means of the so-called peace/humanitarian interventions in critical zones. Besides the danger of neo-fascist movements, the dangers of all other forms of fundamentalist exclusiveness were revealed (for example, opposition to sustainable development).

The workshop Fascism around us dealt with recognizing fascism in our everyday lives, about the relations between ethno-nationalism and fascism (in the form of chauvinism, anti-Semitism, etc) and with the possible ways of opposing fascism in our surroundings. Due to the structure of participants, who were predominantly from Serbia and the area of the former Yugoslavia, the discussion was limited to the situation in this area.

The plenary session on 25th August was a panel discussion with the topic Local, everyday and global militarisation. The speakers were: Haifa (Israel), Gordana Siljanovska (Macedonia), Nora Ahmetaj (Kosovo), Annalisa Comuzzi (Italy), Concha Martin (Spain) and Bojana Genov (Croatia). The Italian representative spoke about global militarization that is primarily implemented by NATO and about the resistance that the feminist and pacifist movements in Italy have manifested so far. Concha Martin spoke about militarism in Columbia. Two women’s organizations are opposing the escalation of militarism (which is particularly brutal in the escalation of violence of paramilitary formations): the OFP – The Women’s People’s Organization and Ruta Pacifista – The Pacifist Women’s Path, which use the symbols and methods of Women in Black. They reject every form of militarism. Their lifes are in serious danger. Nora Ahmetaj pointed to the very high level of ethnic homogenization in Kosovo and the rudimentary level of civilian society in Kosovo. This caused the lack of resistance among the majority Albanian population. The representative of Croatia warned of the ethnocentric character of the Croatian armed formations, which are currently threatening to conduct a military putsch. The representative of Israel warned – speaking from the standpoint of the Palestinian ethnic community – of the yearlong military oppression over the Palestinian population on the occupied territories and asked the participants to exert pressure on the western governments in order to force Israel to withdraw its army from that area. Speaking about the escalation of conflicts in her country, the representative of Macedonia expressed an absence of critical distance toward the policy of the Macedonian government and limited her criticism to Albanian paramilitary formations. Her talk provoked embittered polemics of a number of participants.

The workshop Ethnic homogenization and (dis)loyalty to the state was dedicated to discussion concerning the concepts of belonging and pluralism of affiliations. These concepts define the process of construction of personal and group identities (ethnic identities are only one of the possible affiliations). Light was cast on the civilian duty that is contained in a critical attitude toward the state in the process of confrontation with the crimes that were committed in our name).

The workshop Generating enemies: What are we defending? What are we defending ourselves from? How are we defending ourselves? Concentrated on raising awareness of the manipulations that led to wars in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Particular attention was paid to the responsibility (both individual and collective) for the ethnic homogenization that made possible the militancy of the newly formed states in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Similar opinions were heard in the workshop that was held at the same time, with the same topic.

The workshops The Policy of Militarisation through non-governmental organizations (international and local) or the creation of the civilian society was divided into two groups. The adverse circumstances in which civilian initiatives and non-governmental organizations function in countries in transition were elaborated: often, they are exposed to pressures and dictates coming from international organizations. Some foundations create satellite non-governmental organizations that pose a threat to the very idea of civilian society. In the evening, a very successful performance was held on Svetozar Miletic Square, entitled We Create Peace.

The first plenary session on 26th August was a panel discussion with the topic Militarization, Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking. The speakers were: Aida Petroviƒ (Montenegro), Selma Hadñihaliloviƒ (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Sandra Tvitiƒ (Serbia), Lovorka Marinoviƒ (Croatia) and Nadeñda Mitanovska (Macedonia). The coordinators pointed to the worrying dimensions of sexual exploitation in the crisis affected areas. Sexual exploitation and women trafficking are directly connected to the militarization of society in these areas (primarily in the Balkan countries), where, in addition to regular armies, various paramilitary formations also plat an important role. They can be labeled as the key feature in the chain of illegitimate trafficking and prostitution.

The workshop Macedonia-discussion on the current situation was in the focus of the participants’ attention. It began with a video projection of a film brought by the Macedonian delegation. In that film, the conflicts in Macedonia are interpreted partially (and with obvious propaganda aims) as a consequence of the escalation of Islamic fundamentalism. Although the Macedonian representative disassociated herself from the partial interpretation of the conflict in Macedonia in that film, it gave rise to feverish, and even dramatic polemics. Still, the dramatic tone did not challenge the fundamental principle of respect for the participants of the Conference. It turned out that criticism of attitudes does not threaten the personal integrity of those who advocate different opinions. The workshop revealed the full scope of the danger of rallying with any form of militarism and submerging in the ethnic homogenization of one’s own community.

The workshop There is place for all of us: Lesbian existence and neo-fascism focused on the latest wave of homophobic violence in the host country (and that violence coincided with similar tendencies in the world, which are, as a rule, linked to the ideology of neo-fascist movements).

The final plenary session was dedicated to consideration of issues related to the future activities of the Network. Luisa Morgantini (Women in Black-Italy, Deputy to the European Parliament) spoke about the spreading of the movement and about the concrete experiences of the Italian movement in direct non-violent actions in the Middle East (these actions are organized by Women in Black from Italy together with the Israeli and Palestinian feminists/pacifists). All the participants of the conference supported the appeal proposed by the Macedonian women. That appeal calls the international community to fulfill its obligation of disarmament of armed formations in the Macedonian territory, and to help displaced persons to return to their homes. It was agreed to accept the proposal made by Women in Black-Belgrade, according to which the action Women’s solidarity against war: End to the armed conflict in Macedonia will be held on 5th September. Women in Black from London proposed that on the same date, the twentieth anniversary of the women’s peace camp Greenham Common should be marked, which was also accepted, so that the protest against violence in Macedonia and the above mentioned anniversary will take place at the same time. By uniting the two occasions, Women in Black demonstrate their rejection of the role of passive victims of militant and sexist violence, as opposed to active non-violent organizing against all forms of militarism, both local and global. Women in Black from Italy proposed the marking of the anniversary of the massacre in Southern Lebanon (in the camps of Sabra and Shatila), which was accepted. Also, de-Balkanization of the Conference was proposed and approved. The next Conference of the Network will be held at the end of July 2003 in Italy.

Report made by: Stasa Zajovic
Belgrade, 29th August 2001.

Site Last Updated: August 22, 2001 -for site information

Women in Black