Donna Harati

Donna Harati (Women in Black in Serbia): Donna spent the 2007 and 2008 summers working in Zambia with Project Concern International, and helping a peer mediation program for at risk youth in Zambian schools. Donna also taught English in Mauritius through Learning Enterprises. At the time of her fellowship, Donna was pursuing a degree in Cultural Politics with a focus on social justice from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. While at university, she also worked with incarcerated adults and court adjudicated youth through Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice. After her fellowship, Donna wrote: “I was faced with questions I did not know even existed. If my experience in Serbia taught me anything, it was that being complacent is simply not an option.”



Greatest Memory Associated with WIB

30 Jun

During our first week in Serbia, one of WIB’s activists passed away in Leskovac. The death came suddenly and unexpectedly and greatly affected WIB members. Shortly after the funeral, Stasha came to us with a long list of network members she wanted us to interview on camera. She explained that it was important to document the stories and experiences of the members in order to always have recollections of the people who have been a part of the organization. Although we knew from the beginning that our time here would mainly revolve around a video project, we weren’t sure if we would be making a documentary or short video stories, but we are now set on interviewing as many people as possible to build up WIB’s video archives. WIB has members who are skilled in video editing etc who will take over once we leave. So far, we have interviewed a dozen members and anticipate conducting around 30 interviews in total. It’s a project that really excites me and rarely feels like “work” since we basically have interesting and stimulating conversations with gracious network members who have had amazing experiences- not too shabby.

Last week, we interviewed two high level academics who have been involved with WIB since the beginning. Although pretty much everything they said was fascinating to me, I wanted to share their answers to the question, “what is your greatest memory associated with Women In Black” with you.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSE_Mu9hvrw

At the time, it was striking to me that they both essentially had the same answer to the question even though they were being interviewed separately. Looking back at the clips though, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. The experience was so powerful and truly showcased the bravery of WIB members. Since I spend so much time in the office with WIB members doing somewhat mundane things like drinking coffee or scheduling interviews, I forget just how brave these individuals really are. As Professor Dulic explained, WIB members really served as the “guinea pigs” or “punching bags” of Serbia for a time as they went against all the prevailing nationalist, militaristic, and fascist tendencies. Yet, as Professor Vodinelic pointed out, WIB members never contemplate giving up- they get back up and persevere, and that’s why they’re still here today.

On another note, I wanted to touch on a comment Professor Vodinelic made about the “tacit support” of the police. The relationship between WIB and the Serbian police is complex and ever-evolving, I doubt I’ll come to fully understand it before I leave, but I have picked up some insight from talking to various WIB members. As Professor Vodinelic explained, the police were much more sympathetic with the opposition than with WIB in the early days- to the point of being accomplices in inciting violence on the demonstrators. Today, a good number of police officers accompany WIB to every demonstration/protest. On the surface, the reason is “protection”, and some members have said that the police have recently done a good job of keeping troublemakers away. However, the police also film every WIB activity. They claim that it’s to protect WIB by having footage of any incident that may occur. Stasha and others have no doubt that the police are actually filming to monitor the activity of the group. The activists I spoke to stressed that they don’t have a problem with the officers as individuals, and they actually have developed relationships with some of them where they feel comfortable joking around with each other. Nevertheless, I think most WIB members would be hard pressed to consider the police allies although perhaps they don’t consider them enemies as they did before.

police

Police at a WIB street action in mid-June. Police are always present at WIB street actions. The relationship between police and WIB is complex.

Posted By Donna Harati

Posted Jun 30th, 2009

206 Comments

  • Donna Harati

    July 1, 2009

     

    Thanks for the comment, Iain- interesting question. The women here, despite all their bravery, are often dismissed as “crazy hairy-legged lesbians”, so I think the fact that they are perceived to be mostly women makes it easier for them to be undermined on the basis of traditional conceptions of what a woman “should” be like and how she should act. However, it’s important to note that WIB Serbia is the only WIB chapter that counts men as members and is open to men being involved. I think this is a great move on their part as it really embodies the idea of solidarity and inclusiveness that WIB strives for. I will try to write more about that soon.

  • Helah Robinson

    July 4, 2009

     

    I’m having trouble loading the video with a slow internet connection, but your analysis was very insightful. Perseverance is key and the women of WIB are admirable and an inspiration. I think your last comment is also a very important point to keep in mind, both for other WIB chapters and other women movements endeavors around the world. Efforts to improve women’s conditiosn, for example, require understanding, cooperation and inclusion of men if they ever want to succeed. Very good point and I look forward (as always) to future posts! 🙂

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