The outcome of the armed conflict in the former SFR Yugoslavia, between 1991 do 2001, is the violent death of 130 000 persons. Over 10 000 are still classified as missing. Serbia’s officials and institutions have, from the beginning of the armed conflict to this day, with very few exceptions, denied the involvement of the SFR and Serbian armed forces in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have also denied the existence of any war crimes on the territory of Serbia in relation to these armed conflicts.
As an antithesis to the practice of forgetting the atrocities of war, the platform ratusrbiji.rs strives to inform and educate about the existence of secret mass graves, concentration camps and torture, murders and persecution of minorities, forced mobilization, paramilitary units’ crimes, as well as the human rights breaches in the Presevo valley between 1991 to 2001. The platform does this through connecting court-determined facts, official data of state and international institutions, testimonies of witnesses, survivors and victims’ families, as well as public information gathered by civil society organizations in Serbia.
The platform ratusrbiji.rs was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany. The content and opinions featured on the ratusrbiji.rs website are those of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, and may not reflect the official stance of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The anti-war and peace movement in Serbia was made up of a variety of organisations, associations, and the intellectuals opposing the war and especially the politics of the Serbian government during the period of 1991 – 1999 which led to severe breaches of human rights, as well as war crimes in the territory of former Yugoslavia. They were preceded by the citizens’ initiative groups who based their actions on the principles of the policy of peace. Although the anti-war ideas were in the minority, expressed by the pro-reforms, pro-Yugoslav forces (UJDI – Association for the Yugoslav Democratic Initiative) and the intellectual circles, their actions were inspirational to the public and served as the basis from which the movement with peace groups and organisations1was formed at the beginning of the war.
This is how, for example, an action was started in 1989 in Belgrade, in which over 3000 people contractually obligated themselves that under no circumstances would they inflict violence upon a member of any Yugoslav group, nation, or individual.2During the period of 1989 to 1991, i.e. until the beginning of the war, the earlier activities of UJDI, such as their practice of writing petitions as well as the first elections since 1945, gave impetus to networking and foundation of many different associations and informal circles that would oppose the war.
In March of 1991, the Autonomous Women’s groups of Belgrade and Ljubljana issued an appeal “Women for Peace”, against militaristic politics of Yugoslavia. On June 3 1991, The Association for the Yugoslav Democratic Initiative (UJDI) simultaneously held press conferences in 16 Yugoslav cities titled “Death to Fascism – Free Passage to the Citizens”. Likewise, in Sarajevo, a pre-parliamentary session of Yugoslavia was held, consisting of civic parties, organisations, and associations, advocating the peace coalitions rather than warmongering ones. The pre-parliament had initiated the Roundtable for the republicanauthorities and the opposition in Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was active from July 1991 to February 1992, endeavouring to enlarge the circle of players in the process of making a decision to stop the war and current disputes and conflicts by signing a Peace treaty. Aside from these groups, the independent media also resisted the war. The forms of resistance were various and multifold. Some fought by turning their newspapers into independent ones, as it was in the case of “Borba” and “Svetlost”. Others established independent media, such as Radio B92, “Vreme”, and “Republika”.3
The organisations were created spontaneously, as a reaction to the first victims and suffering. Spontaneous, individual acts followed, not only in the towns, but also on the very frontlines. One example is the abandonment of the battlefield in Eastern Slavonia, when the reservists from Gornji Milanovac and Čačak returned to their homes, as are the cases of suicides amongst reservists who refused to partake in such war. From October 1991 until the spring of 1992, around 50 reservists’ revolts occurred; approximately 55,000 reservists took part in these revolts.4
The organisations and civic associations which marked anti-war ideas and movements in Serbia during the war were, primarily, Women in Black (October 1991), Center for Antiwar Action CAA (December 1992), Civil Resistance Movement (1992), and The Belgrade Circle (April 1992). These associations, with their various public actions protesting against the war in Croatia and BH also played a part in raising anti-war awareness as well as establishing a civic sector which opposed the war in many different ways. A large number of young people of Serbia, hundreds of thousands of them, expressed their anti-war stand by refusing the compulsory military service and leaving the country. The anti-war messages of tearing military booklets in a theatre play in the early ’70s really came to life at the start of the ’90s.
During 1991-1992, the Center for Antiwar Action organised anti-war protests and were joined by other NGOs, as well as scores of volunteers and citizens. Their most well known anti-war events were: “Negotiations instead of War”, “Peace Walk around the Assembly of Yugoslavia”, July 25th 1991; from October 1991 to January 1992, anti-war rallies were held weekly at the Duško Radović Theatre, collectively known as “The Belgrade Anti-War Marathon”. The rallies’ speakers were journalists, philosophers, sociologists, authors, historians, actors, architects, and the representatives of anti-war groups from Ada, Senta, Temerin, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Pančevo, and other cities in Serbia (“Stop the Hate, Stop the War” – solidarity of the citizens of Belgrade with the citizens of Dubrovnik, October 5 1991; “Candles for all those killed in war”, December 1991).5
Civil Resistance Movement, founded during the first actions against war, had organised the lighting of candles for all those killed in the war in front of the Serbian Presidency building, while also starting a petition against the war, gathering over 70,000 signatures from the citizens around Serbia.
In public spaces, the streets and squares of Belgrade, public events were organised during 1992, sometimes gathering over 50,000 citizens. Some of these events were: “Peace in Bosnia” – demonstrations against war in Bosnia, April 10 1992; the peace concert “Don’t Count on Us” (April 22); “Black Ribbon”, dedicated to the devastation of Sarajevo (May 31); “The Last Bell” (June 14) against the regime’s politics; “The Composers’ Kneeling” (June 14); “Yellow Ribbon” (July 15) against the policy of ethnic cleansing; the peace protest in Hrtkovci, summer 1992; “The Road to Peace” (June 30), as a part of the “Students’ Protest 92”, the biggest post-war students’ protest. Furthermore, the Helsinki Citizens Parliament, in co-operation with domestic and foreign peace groups, had organised the arrival of numerous peace groups from Italy, France, and other European countries. Through these anti-war actions, new associations and organisations were born, permanently engaged against war, such as, along with The Center for Antiwar Action, The Belgrade Circle, Autonomous Women’s Groups and the Humanitarian Law Center (1992), founded by Nataša Kandić.
As noted by Sonja Liht and Slavenka Drakulić, both of whom are distinguished peace activists, the predominance of women in peace movements of different warring parties in Yugoslavia – in Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo – is one of the more prominent features of this conflict. That the feminist movement in Yugoslavia was at the core of the anti-war movement in former Yugoslavia, Serbia also, is clear from the information that the very first anti-war demonstrations were organised by three women’s organisations in March 1991: the Women’s Parliament, the Women’s Lobby and the Women’s Party. The demonstrations were held outside the Serbian Parliament, obviously with little impact on its occupants. These women would become the cornerstone of the anti-war movement which emerged spontaneously in Serbia after the outbreak of the war.
The situation was similar in other Yugoslav republics, too, with women playing an avant-garde role in the peace movements. In April 1991, there was an attempt to create the Independent Alliance of Yugoslav Women (founded in Zagreb), but this organisation could not be activated since shortly after it had been founded, Yugoslavia disintegrated. Communication became, to say the least, very difficult, so this initiative – intended to stop what had ensued – failed.6
Based on several publications and documents, we are presenting a chronological retrospective of the most important activities of the anti-war groups in the period of 1991- 1999, relying mostly on the publication “A Short History of the Anti-War Movement in Serbia 1991-1992”, published by Women in Black:7
The First Ghetto in Serbia, April 17 1991 – This action was organised by a peace movement from Pančevo under slogans “Long live the ghettos! Welcome to the first ghetto!”, “The more of us inside, the more of them are outside”.
Peace Walk, August 1991 – “Peace Walk” was organised in Pančevo, with several hundred people gathering spontaneously. The procession was led by the priests of all denominations in Pančevo. It went to the banks of the Tamiš where wreathes were laid into the river as a symbolic message that the conflicts should cease.
September 21 – 29 1991 – The arrival of the European Peace Caravan to Belgrade was organised by Women in Black. Hundreds of pacifists from a number of European countries came to Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo. In an effort to prevent war, the participants of the peace caravan requested that the authorities start peace negotiations and also supported peace initiatives in Yugoslavia. In Sarajevo, on September 29 1991, Women in Black from Italy organised a protest, with some of the founders of Women in Black in Belgrade participating. A proclamation to all the women of the world was sent from the women’s gathering in Sarajevo on September 29 1991, pleading for ending the war, demilitarisation, and a cessation of co-operation with anyone partaking in war.8
8 September 1991 – A reservist from Valjevo, Vladimir Živković, drove a tank in front of the SFRY Assembly and turned the gun on the Assembly building as a sign of his disagreement with the war in Croatia. He was soon arrested.
Stop the Hate, Stop the War – On October 5 1991, an anti-war event was organised as a sign of solidarity between the citizens of Belgrade and Dubrovnik. A petition was signed, asking to end the siege of Dubrovnik. Five History professors and over a thousand history students of the Belgrade University demanded that Dubrovnik was unblocked. On the very same day, author Milan Milišić was killed in Dubrovnik in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) bombardment.
Belgrade Anti-War Marathon, October 1991 – January 1992 – Every week saw the citizens and anti-war groups that had just been formed gathered at the theatre “Duško Radović” to protest against war. The participants were: “Bosnia Today”, “Fascism and the End of 20th Century”, “Peaceful Bosnia”, “Bosnian Vukovars”, “Civic parties in Serbia and Montenegro on Peace”, “Dubrovnik – the Slave of Its Beauty”… In support of the aspirations to establish parliamentarism, “Parliament” was formed, bringing together numerous political parties.
Candle Lighting, October 8 1991 – February 8 1992 – In front of the Presidency of Serbia building in Belgrade, an everyday anti-war action of candle lighting started. The candles were lit from 8.30PM till 9PM. The action lasted for five months, with slogans “Solidarity with all those opposing war”, and “To all those killed in war”. 72,650 candles were lit. The action was started by Nataša Kandić and Biljana Jovanović, who were joined by many citizens. The Anti-War Movement of Belgrade published a book of epitaphs “The Tomb for Miroslav Milenković” in memory of the bravery of Miroslav Milenković. A mobilised reservist, Miroslav Milenković, was born in 1951. A father of two, civic worker from Gornji Milanovac, committed suicide. He could not endure the abuse from the JNA Major Marko Stupić. Between Tovarnik (Croatia) and Šid (Vojvodina), he had to make his choice: whether he was going to become a ’traitor’, one of those refusing to go to war, or a ’real Serb’ in another, much smaller unit. Milenković stood between those two units and shot himself in the head. A condolence book was placed where all those who came in the evenings to stand over the lit candles in the Pioneers’ Park could write down an epitaph. The Anti-War Movement of Belgrade published a book of epitaphs “The Tomb for Miroslav Milenković” to commemorate this incident.
Civil revolts in Vojvodina – Mass anti-war demonstration in Senta on November 5 and 6 1991. The municipal authorities decided to call for a referendum against war. Republican authorities did not allow for the referendum to be signed and launched criminal proceedings against five demonstrators. This is the beginning of the prosecution of protesters against the war in Vojvodina and Serbia.
Ada, November 07 1991 – Demonstrations by citizens against forcible mobilisation in Ada (Vojvodina). Ada Anti-War Action Centre was established.
Candle lighting in Pančevo, November 12 1991 – November 1995 – Anti-war action of candle lighting was held every Saturday and lasted up until the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, in November 1995. This action had evolved into a symbol of the peace movement of Pančevo. Every Saturday meant there was a demilitarised zone, where the newspapers “Vreme” and “Pančevac” were handed out. These actions led to the establishment of the Civic Action Pančevo, led by Ljiljana Spasić.
Referendum against War, December 5 1991 – The referendum against war was started in Belgrade: an action of collecting 100,000 signatures. The action was started by the Civil Resistance Movement, with the help of other Belgrade’s pacifist groups. 55,000 signatures were collected.9
December 21 1991 – As part of the continuous military campaign of both military and civilian authorities in Serbia against the war protesters in Kragujevac, lists of deserters and reservists refusing mobilisation were displayed in public places. This was seen as a call for lynching. The largest revolts of reservists and deserters happened in Kragujevac (7000, 2000, and 200 reservists) and Knjaževac (5000), with revolts occurring also in Niš (400 and 450 persons), Aranđelovac (67), Topola (200), Valjevo (600), Čačak, Gornji Milanovac (700), Smederevo (700). Vojvodina saw protests in Stara Moravica (83), Trešnjevac. In 1991 and 1992, 140,000 people were forcibly mobilised in Serbia, 82,000 of them from Vojvodina. 25,000 people from Vojvodina, mostly Hungarians, took refuge in Hungary. About 100,000 young men escaped the authorities forcing them to go to war, with 10,000 of those criminally charged.10
10 Rimtutituki, January 1992 – At the Pink studio, a single was recorded, “Listen, ’ere” (Slušaj ’vamo), with the chorus “Peace, peace brother, peace” (Mir, mir brate, mir). It was recorded by the band Rimtutituki, and published by Radio B92. The song was used in the anti-war campaign. Several days before the war in BH had started, Milan Mladenović, Zoran Kostić Cane, Srđan Gojković Gile, and a few other Belgrade musicians raised their voices against war and mobilisation.
In March 1992, without having any permission for public performance, they packed their gear into a truck and started circling the streets of Belgrade performing live and spreading slogans such as “Peace, brother, peace”, and “Helmet accepted, brains rejected” (Ispod šlema, mozga nema). They were giving out leaflets and badges to passers-by.
Civil Resistance Movement’s Declaration, February 29 1992
“Knowing that in Yugoslavia there are no ethnic, or national, or political, or confessional, or interest majorities, and that the largest minorities are dedicated to fulfilling their professed goals – national states, and that national goals do not exist as such but are determined by the manner in which they are obtained, simultaneously demonstrating the permanent goals of the largest minorities, we are convinced that every man has the right to life, freedom, equality, and happiness, and thereby we establish
The Civil Resistance Movement that will advocate for the rights of:
Persons from nationally mixed families
Persons who declare themselves regionally
Persons belonging to national minorities in Yugoslav countries
Persons of Yugoslav nationality
Persons belonging to the Yugoslav peoples living outside their home countries
Persons who are not nationally decided or declared and
Persons who do not equate national cause with national reason.
Whatever may be the fate of Yugoslav states and no matter how many countries are formed within Yugoslav territory, all of these persons must be recognised as:
Persons who must hold multiple citizenships of all these countries simultaneously, which cannot be denied to them, nor can it be taken away, persons who are not subject to conscription and war conflicts between these countries so that they cannot be engaged not even as volunteers, with the exception that these countries are attacked by a third party. The Civil Resistance Movement will advocate that all these persons, regardless of the liaisons between the countries they simultaneously belong to, along with the European Union, are given the same rights as any other citizen of a country within the European Union. February 29 1992.”11
(Nikola Barović, Primož Bebler, Goran Cvetković, Zlatijan Čučkov, Milovan Đilas, Dimitrije Đurić, Emir Geljo, Zdravko Grebo, Jasminka Hasanbegović, Guner Guner Ismail, Vane Ivanović, Rada Iveković, Nikolai Jeffs, Zorica Jevremović, Biljana Jovanović, Nataša Kandić, Suzana Kiranđiska, Nada Kokotović, Mario Kopić, Maruša Krese, Vaska Kulić, Radmila Lazić, Sonja Liht, Shkelzen Maliqi, Mihailo Mihailov, Vladimir Milčin, Ilinka Mitreva, Rasko Močnik, Dragomir Olujić, Josip Osti, Borka Pavićević, Enver Petrovci, Branka Šarkić, Ljiljana Šarović, Svetlana Slapšak, Jasmina Tomovska, Jelena Trpković, Lino Veljak, Staša Zajović, Janko Zlodre, Milena Zupančić…)
Don’t Count on Us, April 22 1992 – An anti-war rock concert was held at Belgrade Republic Square, attended by around 55,000 people.
Trešnjevac, May 10 1992 – In the North Banat village of Trešnjevac, in the Kanjiža municipality, an action against conscription was held. The women of the village decided to collectively resist their sons, husbands, and fathers being taken to the frontline. The women working at the local health centre started organising a peace meeting. The meeting’s speakers were: Nenad Čanak (leader of The League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina), Andraš Agošton (leader of the Democratic Party of Vojvodina Hungarians), and Bela Csorba, after which the women decided to organise their lives round the Zitzer pizzeria. The same afternoon, 92 tanks with guns at the ready were positioned around Trešnjevac. The demands proposed to the authorities were the following: the withdrawal of the conscriptions, the return of the already conscripted reservists; general amnesty for those who fled the country because of the drafting; the establishment of a Peace Committee. The locals were providing the people with food, and soon, more food was being sent from all parts of Vojvodina. In the evenings, they had guests – political leaders, but also artists, authors, actors, and singers. This was when “Zitzer Spiritual Republic” was established, a spiritual community for all those who wished peace “without borders, territory, belongings”, but in which citizens would have “unlimited rights limited only by the unlimited rights of others”. They even adopted a constitution for this republic, with presidency, an ambassador, and a human rights committee. New “officials” were elected monthly. The emblem of the “Spiritual Republic” was made up of the symbols of their constant beliefs – a trianle of billiard balls around the “Zitzer’s” speciality, pizza. The anthem was Ravel’s Bolero, there was no flag (“so as not to be put in a position to have to erect it”), and the citizens of the Republic were free to use whichever language they wished. A permanent action was started, called “Words are our only weapons”. Soon, the people of Trešnjevac were joined by the deserters from Temerin, Ada, Stara Moravica, Mali Iđoš. Women in Black immediately expressed their solidarity with the non-violent protesters in Trešnjevac; a relationship of trust and support was made. This is also clear from the fact that Women in Black, with the support from the Trešnjevac’s citizens, held two gatherings of the International Network of Women in Black there (1993 and 1995), as well as numerous seminars and workshops.12
Artist against war, May 30 1992 – In Belgrade, in front of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, several hundreds of dramatic artists protested against war and expressed their sympathy with the victims by holding a one-hour silence.
Black Ribbon, May 31 1992 – “Black Ribbon”, an anti-war event was held in Belgrade. It was organised by the Civil Resistance Movement, joined by: Centre for Anti-War Action, Civic Action for Peace, Women in Black, Women’s Lobby, Republican Club, Helsinki Citizens; Parliament, Peace Movement Pančevo, Philosophical Society of Serbia, Sociological Society of Serbia, Serbian Youth Forum, Serbian Youth Union, Trade Union Independence (Nezavisnost), and political parties: Serbian Renewal Movement, Democratic Party, People’s Peasant Party, Reform Party of Serbia, Serbian Liberal Party. The participants protested against the aggression towards BH, the devastation of Sarajevo, as well as other towns and villages in BH. About a hundred thousand citizens carried a black ribbon 1300 metres long, from the Palace Albania to Slavija Square, as a symbol of compassion and mourning for the victims of war. A message was sent to the citizens of Sarajevo: “We are with you”, as well as a warning that in Sarajevo, people are no longer dying only of bombing and snipers, but also of famine, and that children, the sick, and the elderly are in the most vulnerable groups, so it was demanded that evacuation of those endangered was organised, as well as delivering of food and medicines.13
Against ethnic cleansing, June 1992 – The representatives of the Civil Resistance Movement, Women in Black, the Belgrade Circle, and journalists went to Hrtkovci, a village in Srem from which Croats were being expelled and their property destroyed. Thanks to the persistence and pressure of the mentioned organisations, the bullies from Hrtkovci were arrested.
The Last Bell, June 14 1992 – Biljana Jovanović testified about this event in her book “The wind blows to the south and turns to the north” (Vjetar ide na jug i obrće se na sjever), Biljana Jovanović, Maruša Krese, Rada Iveković, Radmila Lazić, Edition The Apatrides (Edicija Apatridi), Radio B92, Belgrade 1994.
“On 14th, at the National Library, I get into the largest truck. Staša and I are calling the citizens through a PA system, a young man is ringing a bell; at the ’Pionir’, we stop, this is where Women in Black and others meet us; the motorcycle police turn up, then some plainclothes… An argument starts – we are only to go to the Assembly on foot, we can’t go by truck through the city, the truck hasn’t got licence plates, we try to pull a trick through 92, like, the truck did start from Kalemegdan, and yes, it did go through the whole city ten minutes before us, from the main point, the National Library, and we’ve just heard that it’s on its way to the Assembly, here, it’s on the radio; their radio stations are, of course, much better, we reported the whole thing, yes, but without the licence plates you are obstructing traffic, but we’ve asked for the traffic to stop during the demonstrations, the truck is not allowed.
Guv, one of the policemen told me, I would have let you, but the law is the law. I got onto a truck, the Women in Black gathered in the back, and I told the driver: Let’s go slowly, they can’t do anything to us. The driver started driving without saying a word. He was blocked by the chief one from the 29th (central city police) in plainclothes and was pulled out; he told the driver, we are going after you, we won’t even touch the organisers. The truck was abandoned. We continued on foot, about a hundred of us, toward the Federal Assembly. We were ringing our little bells, keys, rattlers, and were yelling beneath the windows: Belgrade, wake up! Belgrade, shame on you! From the Takovska street, on the corner, when the gathered masses saw us, an applause started; bells, alarm clocks, little bells, rattlers, keys; then a group arrived from Kalemegdan on foot. The third truck was left in front of the National Library, surrounded by cops, and Jelena and Nataša came last. The bells, the keys, the Go away, shitheads speeches of the city’s politicians who joined us by the end, and finally, still, the Sidran’s poem, Nightmare (Mora). And then, with the keys and the bells, three times around the Milošević’s Presidency, eye to eye with the guards in body armour.”14
Yellow Ribbon, July 15 1992 – A protest against discrimination and threats to the members of other nations was held in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade, organised by the Centre for Anti-War Action and the Civic Alliance of Serbia, led by Vesna Pešić. Several hundreds of people attended. The dominating slogan of the protest was “I am Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Atheist.”
January 1995, the foundation of CZKD: Established during the wartime and transitional devastation, the Centre had managed to evolve into a resistance institution. January 1 1995 marks its opening with “The First Decontamination’, in the belief that nationalism, xenophobia, and all other forms of violence can be questioned in the same way that they are developed – through culture, art, and public speaking. Since then, the Centre for Cultural Decontamination has been an institution of critical thinking and the affirmation of the right to rebel, without separating human rights and justice, art, culture and truth. Since its foundation, CZKD has organised thousands of various programmes: plays, performances, exhibitions, concerts, public discussions, film screenings, workshops, seminars, conferences, lectures and complex performance experiments. CZKD is a place of political and cultural dialogue, a public space of both criticism and affirmation. The Centre was run by Borka Pavićević15, a playwright, from its very foundation in 1995 till her death in 2019.
July 13 1995 – The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights warned both the international and domestic public that the conquest of the protected zone of the Srebrenica enclave by the Republic of Srpska Army showed signs of grave violations of the Geneva Conventions, as well as genocide.16
August 1995 – Following the Storm operation and the crimes of the Croatian army, a large number of Serbian refugees from Croatia arrived to Belgrade, but for many of them, Belgrade was a forbidden city, due to police redirecting the refugees’ lines towards Central Serbia and Kosovo. A certain number of organisations led by Women in Black went to meet the refugees moving along the Belgrade – Zagreb motorway, offering help – water, food, and clothing. Likewise, several organisations, such as the Humanitarian Law Centre and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights were providing free legal aid to refugees from both Croatia and BH since the beginning of the war.
From 1996 till 1999, Women in Black were publishing a magazine for anti militarism and conscientious objection “Objection” (Prigovor), and after 1999, they started a much more organised work on the Network for the conscientious objection within which a number of gatherings were held. It is estimated that about 150,000 citizens, army conscripts, had left the country and went abroad, not wishing to participate in the war. It is also estimated that the total number of war-induced emigration is up to 380,000.17
During the war conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1991, Serbia started conducting state terrorism against the Albanian community in Kosovo. This led to a non-violent resistance in Kosovo, but also it led to a series of solidarity actions of the anti-war movements from Serbia. One such example of a non-violent response of the Albanian population in Kosovo to the repression of Serbian authorities was the strike of 7000 miners in November 1988, while in February 1989, when the autonomy of the Province was abolished, 1200 of them went on a hunger strike.
Here are just some of the actions:
– Days of Sorrow – during February and March 1990 – Thousands of people were leaving lit candles in their windows and on their balconies. They would stop work and join the five- minute walk downtown to reminisce about the violence of the republican and federal security institutions over the citizens of Kosovo.
– Stop the Violence (1991) – In Pristhina, a thousand women stood in silence for a one hour protest.
– A peaceful burial of violence (June 13 1991) – Between 40,000 and 100,000 people took part in this non violent action, when a coffin inscribed with the word “Violence” was put into the ground. In addition to the daily half-hour general strikes organised by the unions, the protesters walked the streets of Kosovo, rattling their keys and saying: “These are the keys with which we will unlock our prison.”
– The building of parallel structures – Serbian policy of “ethnic cleansing” had its start in the Kosovo’s educational institutions. Serbian regime introduced ethnic segregation in schools in 1989, which by the next year had resulted in closing some of the Albanian speaking schools. At the beginning of school year 1991/92, Albanian students prevented from attending classes organised peaceful protests in their schoolyards. The police reacted forcefully to these protests, resulting in a number of injured citizens.
– In January and February 1992 – In Kosovo, parallel schools were organised in private flats. At the University, Albanian teachers were getting fired en masse. Approximately a thousand professors and 27,000 students had to leave the University of Pristhina in 1991. At the start of the 1992/93 school year, Albanian students were forbidden access to the campus by the police. The Independent Students’ Union of the University of Pristhina began with peaceful protests with a clear, non-political goal: unconditional return to universities and colleges. For weeks the demonstrations continued in front of every school, until subsequently the parents and teachers organised a parallel school system with 20,000 teachers and 300,000 students.18
– 1997, The Humanitarian Law Centre opens an office in Pristhina. The HLC remained in Kosovo during the NATO bombing, even when the ICRC, OSCE and the international media left, reporting from the field on war crimes and gathering evidence to prosecute them.
– NATO Bombing, 1999: The biggest wave of anti-war sentiment in Serbia, which affected, the broadest strata of the population, happened during and immediately after the NATO bombing, in the first half of 1999. Immediately after this war campaign, spontaneous protests of citizens broke out in the streets of Kruševac, Leskovac, Čačak, Valjevo, Užice, and other towns, clearly demonstrating the anti-war attitude and demands for social change. Even while the bombing was still going on in 1999, these movements resulted in the establishment of the Civic Parliament of Čačak (September 4, 1999) and then the Civic Parliament of Serbia, led by Verica Barać, who will later lead the Anti-Corruption Council founded by the Zoran Đinđić’s Government of the Republic of Serbia.19
The literature on (post) Yugoslav anti-war movement, which in this text is only territorially limited to Serbia, is still insufficiently researched – although rich in examples of expressed sympathy, creativity, and above all, different manners of empathy towards that which was marked as different and/or antagonistic. This really is not the place to choose the representative voices of those who were laying the foundations to continuing the battles for peace, protection of human rights and freedoms, as well as democracy in a society still not fully recovered from the wars of 1991-2001. This is why we would like to recommend two studies on the faces of resistance. The first one is the book by Bojan Bilić, “We Were Gasping for Air – (Post) Yugoslav Anti-War Activism and Its Legacy”.20
Drawing on the empirical corpus collected during his many years of field work, Bilić claims that the (post) Yugoslav anti-war organising cannot be understood unless the complex geometry of (inter) republican co-operation and resistance in the socialist Yugoslavia is taken into consideration. (Post) Yugoslav anti-war endeavours claimed and fortified the social networks created through student, feminist, and ecological engagement. Thus defined anti- war actions throughout the former Yugoslavia were later employed to create symbolic, social, and material capital which enabled the founding of the present day’s non-governmental organisations dedicated to the protection of human rights, transitional justice, and peace education. This was the first sociological study to follow the development of the anti-war movement in former Yugoslavia, from its very beginnings in the alternative engagement of the socialist period, up until the emergence of the professionalised NGO sector. Bilić’s book is the key to understanding the politics and intellectual life in the countries of former Yugoslavia in 1990s and beyond.
The other book we recommend is the collection of interviews and analyses of thirteen persons involved in the anti-war movements in Serbia, Croatia, and BH, compiled by journalist Boris Pavelić under the title of ’’When the Heads Are Dancing: the Bright Side of the Nineties’’ (Kad glave igraju: Svetla strana devedesetih).21In the preface, the author calls the mission of these people “wonderfully doomed”, describing the reasons behind the peace activism of Borka Pavićević, Radomir Konstantinović, Drago Hedl, Staša Zajović, and others as: “in the best sense possible, extremely unmodern: the motives of inner morality, human solidarity, and compassion for victims, the motives not concerned for advantage or gain of any kind. Furthermore, anyone who had pursued such motives knew they would be stigmatised as traitors, with or without the prefix ’arch’“.
Finally, there are two interesting critical insights of Bojan Bilić’s into the legacy of the (post) Yugoslav anti-war movement, in Serbia as well.22Although he notices a significant amount of symbolic capital of the post-Yugoslav civic engagement, he is of the opinion that the anti-war movement was perpetually characterised by the necessity to be founded on a regional (Yugoslav) model and the difficulty to put that model into practice. Likewise, between the hammer of the disapproving public that considers them “traitor” (or, increasingly, technocrats) and the anvil of the state apparatus, the activists has spent much more time to co-ordinate their personal ambitions and character traits. Still, Bilić emphasises that, having learnt from their predecessors, the youngest post Yugoslav activists have started to reconstruct the common cultural space. Although quite rudimentary, these initiatives represent a refreshing step back from the tightly positioned “players of the civil society”, where the civil society is an unpenetrable elitist circle for professional advancement, rather than an inexhaustible source of critically oriented social energy.