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19. November 2019

"I am Anemone": Foreword by Monika Hauser to Medica Gjakova's book release

The book "I am Anemone" was published by Medica Gjakova on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of medica mondiale in Kosovo. It includes the stories of 24 women and one man who survived sexualised violence during the war in Kosovo. It's the first book of this kind written in Kosovo. In her foreword, Monika Hauser emphasizes the importance of breaking the taboo of silence and giving space to the reports of survivors, so that they can experience appreciation for their suffering and strenght and, ultimately, healing.

"War means violence, terror and destruction. Furthermore, for women and girls, war entails rape, humiliation, and indignity by warmongers and war profiteers. The perpetrators are soldiers, paramilitaries, policemen. Perpetrators are former neighbours, friends, and relatives. Perpetrators are men.

For women and girls, war very often also means being alone and isolated afterwards, being abandoned by one's own family, by the village community, by one's own society.

Women's experiences are lost in war stories

We mostly hear heroic stories in relation to a war, rarely those of the victims, and certainly not those of the women. This means that half of humankind’s history does not occur! Yet it is essential that women's experiences become visible, that women tell their own stories, and that their suffering and trauma, but also their resistance, their strength and dignity, and solidarity with each other get noticed - so that we can consequently appreciate and honour them.

This book fills a historical gap and points out the blind spots of official historiography. The stories help us approach the unimaginable and express our compassion for the victims. However, our empathy must not stop there. We ourselves must feel the outrage that gives us the necessary strength to fight against exclusion and violence today. In Kosovo and worldwide!

Giving women a voice: stories of suffering and solidarity during the Kosovo war

It becomes clear in the stories that women were the ones who ensured the survival of families, they were the ones who had to go back to their homes to organise food in order to do so - well aware of how dangerous that was for them as women in particular!

“On that day of war...”: The storytellers recount their martyrdom in a moving manner. Often the house in which they had grown up in a loving environment and had spent their childhood and youth – sometimes only five minutes away from their hiding from marauding Serb militias – turned into a trap and place of horror. A horror that keeps grabbing them even many years later.

"Suffering makes us close companions": The older women tried to protect the younger ones. How unbearable and terrible that must have been, when they could not do so because they were violated themselves. Yet what precious relationship could evolve once they shared their suffering, finding support in a fellow woman who was able to soothe their own wounded soul.

Life after the Kosovo war: trauma and social exclusion

“I wasn’t worth anything”: Although the family and village community could not prevent the crimes, their behaviour was and is crucial with regard to the way life continues for the women after that, or whether they are doomed to merely survive. The return of women to life, to the centre of community, depends on their community’s support. It is vital that a community avoids making women feel that "they are to blame for what happened to them"; it is essential not to ostracise them, not to isolate them, not to get rid of them as "damaged" parts of the community.

Without support, they remain hopelessly trapped in their trauma, even face the risk being re-traumatised, withdrawing to complete isolation, developing psychosomatic disorders: they might only survive days and nights with high amounts of painkillers.

Patriarchal traditions outweigh empathy and understanding

On the other hand, if communities manage to provide caring help and support to women and show them - through empowering and accepting behaviour - that they continue to be honoured and respected, they are seen as individuals with all their strengths and weaknesses. For many survivors that would have changed everything. They could have slowly learned to accept their fate, and built up confidence in themselves and others, strengthened their self-esteem and developed new courage for life. In order to be able to continue living in their ill-treated bodies, some still would have needed professional help - but the pre-conditions would have been different.

"He found them bloody, lying on the floor ... he hugged them, … thank God you are alive ...". There were supportive fathers and husbands, who were initially glad that their daughters and wives were still alive. How could their survival have progressed if empathy and understanding for their deeply traumatised loved ones had been a priority and not, ultimately, the adherence to patriarchal traditions and structures that exclude and even despise women? Public recognition would have been needed also much sooner after the war to avoid the social stigma that had such devastating effects on women!

'Blame the victim': guilt is sought on the victim, not the perpetrator

In patriarchal societies, many myths have developed around the phenomenon of sexualised violence; they degrade victims of sexual violence and excuse the crimes committed against them. The function of such myths is that perpetrators will be relieved and society, too, will not have to take over any responsibility for these crimes. The attitude of "blame the victim" is such a myth that continuously seeks to blame the victim and not the perpetrator. The fact that such myths exist even in post-conflict contexts is all the more tragic, as they have nothing to do with the reality of the survivors.

However, survivors also often use such myths themselves - such as that a victim must be beautiful in order to have been raped. Such myth then serves as an explanation as to why this happened to them: It creates a coping strategy, which brings them back some sort of predictability and thus control, so as not to have to surrender to a completely unpredictable world.

After any armed conflict, (almost) everyone is a loser. Women in particular are, although they have suffered cruel violence, furthermore marginalised by their own community. This only confirms and contributes to the perpetrators achieving their ultimate goal: the fragmentation of society and repeated traumatisation of the victims. In any case, women cannot be separated from families and communities. Women are a vital part of both!

Book "I am Anemone": take responsibility and contribute to a just society

It is the reports of the courageous storytellers that we owe gratitude to; they make women’s stories visible, both by describing the terrible experiences, and also by stressing the strength with which women have survived and continue to support each other. Last but not least they also point out clearly what women would have needed from their family, their community, and politics, in order to be able to do more than just survive.

At best, this book can help increase understanding among all people, and, although late, take responsibility today and contribute to a more just society. In doing so, the culpable perpetrators would not have reached their goal; humanity would have won."

Foreword by Monika Hauser to Medica Gjakova's book release I am Anemone

 

Related topics

"I am Anemone" – stories of survivors of sexualised violence in the Kosovo war, published by Medica Gjakova

Women’s rights heroine Sofije T.: “I want our voice to be heard.”

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Kosovo: one year war pension for raped women