Workshop 4


Women Crossing Boundaries: Cooperation across State and National Boundaries

Mirjana: I come from Seka House on the island of Brač. For us, it is very important to cooperate with the former Yugoslav area and foreign countries, because this is how our project “Seka” came to life, with the assistance of the women form Germany. The whole idea of having a women’s house where we can be together, speak our minds… I think cooperation is important in terms of sharing experiences. 

Ana: Crossing state boundaries is a part of my political and private life. I live in different countries, where contexts are different. I am interested in experiences of others, I want to see what other people are doing, I want to learn, communicate, and cooperate. Why should we stick to one country only?

Ivana: I do not like boundaries. I am genetically tied to so many countries. I lived in Belgrade, Kosovo, Zagreb. My activism is dispensed in all of these countries. I have been living in Holland for the last seven and a half years. The boundaries have been imposed on me. The issue of cooperation is the issue of my life, because I have family everywhere.

Duška: I come from Medika, Zenica. Crossing boundaries is not only crossing state boundaries, but also crossing the boundaries of dogma, understanding, war and domestic violence. We are crossing so many boundaries apart from national ones.

The topic of the workshop “Cooperation across State and National Boundaries” was experiences of cooperating in the areas where, apart from state borders, obstacles to cooperation were the whole context burdened by war, i.e. internal boundaries created in people’s minds as a consequence of chauvinist ideologies and war related violence. Therefore, the main task of this workshop was to revive memories of concrete cross-border cooperation and its analysis in terms of importance, and the consequences of that experience which could be used in future collaborative efforts.

The workshop was divided in four smaller groups, with four participants each, who, each for themselves talked about personal experiences and attitudes toward cooperation across borders. In the end, there was a presentation to the whole group.  

Group I

Everything that was important to one participant was important to all others. In the beginning, everyone found the experience of the Autonomous Women’s House in Zagreb important (first safe house for women victims of domestic violence in the region, founded in Zagreb in 1990). This was their first experience and understanding of work with women who experienced violence. However, when they established links, they saw they were not alone. Then, the experience of training to be able to work on the SOS telephone in Belgrade, founded on the model of Zagreb SOS telephone. The Belgrade SOS Telephone started new initiatives: Women’s Studies, Women in Black, Autonomous Women’s Centre. Seka House on the island of Brač was important because of the absence of conflict and arguments. Continuous cooperation, contact and a permanent international team stemmed from it. The idea for “Women in Black” came from Italy, and resulted in a strong women’s peace group. Then, there was the encounter in Mohacs (Hungary) with women from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, which resulted in maintained contacts. Participants from Bosnia-Herzegovina identified Women’s Group Split as very important. They received support from them and assistance in arriving to Zagreb. These were not concrete projects, but are nevertheless important because of the support and friendship, which later turned into concrete projects. Finally, ZAMIR-net (first electronic network of peace groups, established within the Anti War Campaign Zagreb in 1991) improved exchange and cooperation.

Group II 

This group singled out International Encounters of Women in Black 1993-2000, because it was the first encounter of women from Bosnia and Serbia that dealt with atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, exchanged experiences, knowledge and attitudes. Then, there was the Feminist School 1996 – 2000, with participants from Slovenia to Macedonia, where women were given the opportunity to exchange experiences, talk about national identities. The dialogue between feminists from Serbia and Croatia in Medulin, in 1995, opened up the issue of imposed conflict, personal frustrations and mutual misunderstandings. Before Medulin, similar encounters witnessed tensions and “snaps”. Founding the Centre for Women War Victims, B.a.B.e. and Women’s Studies was noted as important as well.

Participants found the fact that in 1999 a very small number of women from Serbia and Montenegro crossed borders into Kosovo, and vice-versa, problematic. The second problem identified, related to international activism, was that women from abroad manipulated the stories of local women by their non-transparent use for political purposes.

Group III

The distinctiveness of this group was the difference among the stories women told, since they all came from different settings. Barbara, an activist from Slovenia, found feminist gatherings before the war important, as they served as the base at the time of crisis. Another important thing for her, for instance, was when women from Serbia were not invited to the Zagreb regional women’s meeting in 1992. These gatherings were important as a tool for confidence building, which was necessary in order to open up difficult issues, as well as basic communication. Aida, from Novi Pazar remembered peace activism and Women in Black, which enabled her to make contacts with women from former Yugoslavia and substitute her social nationalistic surrounding with a different one. Jill (America, Zagreb) found the fact hat she was in a position to contribute and, at the same time, gain personally from these experiences very important. In short, as Marina Škrabalo, the facilitator of this group concluded, it was important to see other women, to ask “How are you?”, to maintain trust and establish a safety net which would enable mobility and keeping in touch. 

Group IV

Participants of this group found Belgrade protests important, as they gave them the feelings of strength, support and friendship in the streets. Exchange of literature, financial aid, and exchange of information was also noted. These were all important as encouragement, communication and transfer of information from one community to another. 

The mutual position of all workshop participants was that cross-border cooperation brought about:   

  • breaking the feeling of loneliness and pessimism 
  • taking over positive experiences
  • speeding up social change 
  • mobility and restoration of trust
  • parallel documentation, testimonies from other communities
  • victory over fear
  • continuity of dialogue about “different truths”, which served   as a central point of personal trust
  • constructive resistance through books and information

As for the forms of cooperation, some were very formal, others personal and informal. Communication via the Internet, seminars, conferences, publishing, exchange of books, and correspondence all played an important role. Financial aid and support of feminists from abroad was of great significance as well.