In the 1970s, Beba Hadzic organized controversial women’s dinners in restaurants in her hometown of Srebrenica. The dinners were not controversial because of the content of the conversation, but merely because women were having social dinners without male escorts. Thirty years later, Beba is still pushing the boundaries of social and political convention to advance her vision of social justice.
Beba, Director of the Bosnian women’s organization Bosfam (Bosnian Family), initiated the Bosfam presence in Srebrenica when she noted that Bosniac (Bosnian Muslim) women who traveled from Tuzla to Srebrenica to see their former homes were afraid to move in the almost entirely Serb-populated town. After visiting their houses, they would wait outside together for the UNHCR bus to pick them up, sitting for hours even if it were raining. Beba, who often says that her guiding rule is to “do something rather than just talk,” identified a straightforward solution and opened up her newly repaired home to these women. She told them that they could come in out of the cold, eat together, and just talk.
Through these discussions and talks with other women displaced from Eastern Bosnia, Beba decided that part of Bosfam’s mission would be to help Bosniac women to re-conceptualize their roles in family and society. Often having lost husbands, sons, and brothers, women must take on new responsibilities and, in some cases, learn how to live for themselves rather than for their families. According to Beba, women should get the support they require as widows and grieving mothers, but they should also receive support to carry on their lives as individuals who can actively re-build Bosnia. This entails not only changing women’s perceptions of themselves, but also changing societal perceptions of women’s roles.
Beba has not stopped at helping only Bosniacs, however. She recently explained to me that she regularly provides assistance to a Serb former colleague who lives in a collective center in Srebrenica and is without employment, a husband, or children. Some Bosniacs living in Srebrenica have criticized her for this; why provide ten Bosnian Marks to a Serb when there are plenty of Bosniacs who could use the money? Beba’s response is that peace will only take root when people realize the primacy of human need rather than the consolidation of ethnic constituencies. Politicians in Bosnia often use humanitarian assistance as a tool to build and maintain popular support, while Bosfam provides assistance to address the consequences of war and to erode the politically-driven solidification of ethnic blocs.
Indeed, Beba refuses to quietly participate in civil society-building activities that she feels only wear a mask of ethnic reconciliation. Last week, for example, Bosfam co-organized the first multi-ethnic party that has occurred in Srebrenica in over eight years. Held at a local hotel following a week of summer festivities, the evening was to include a multi-ethnic fashion show exhibiting dresses and outfits hand-made by Bosfam members, a joint Bosnian and Serb folk dancing presentation, live music, and an awards ceremony for those who had co-organized the evening. The week of festivities and the crowning party were described by most attendees as a success, but the evening was somewhat marred by ethnic politics. While many prominent Serbs from Srebrenica came to the party, the Serbian folk dancing ensemble opted not to come, and a Serbian award presenter similarly did not show. Beba, who had optimistic expectations for the first multi-ethnic evening in Srebrenica, was saddened by the reality. For her, the nice speeches and smiles were not enough; she wanted to see more multi-ethnic presentations. Reflecting on her disappointment, Beba commented that she had survived the war, but must now survive the peace.
Despite suffering a minor setback in this instance, it is certain that Beba will do more than “survive the peace.” She will continue to fight to achieve her vision of a just peace.
Posted By Marta Schaaf
Posted Jun 17th, 2003