“We should be united, we should work together because one person alone does not have the power. We should have an international connection.” Hajra Catic, President and Founder of Women of Srebrenica Association.
As ten women whose ages span decades gathered around a living room coffee table at the meeting house of the Women of Srebrenica, nervousness and curiosity filled the room. The youngest activist in the group, Iltezam Morrar from Budrus, Palestine, and the slightly older Leila Sheper from Bosnia’s Dosta! movement, were quiet at first, showing respect and humility for the decades of protest and resistance campaigns initiated by the women of Srebrenica. At first, the elder Srebrenica women seemed skeptical at the idea of learning something new from these two young activists. The variety of experiences around the table seemed worlds away from the reality of the mothers who all lost their husbands, sons, and male relatives during the Srebrenica genocide that took place in July 1995.
After a round of brief introductions, each woman launched into her work and her role in nonviolent struggle.
Leila Seper of Dosta! explained her organization’s structure, strategy and tactics. “Protests are effective, but behind them you must have a really good strategy: you must know how to target your message, including to those in the authorities,” she emphasized.
Leila explained how Dosta is decentralized with a loose formation of leaders and members. The movement does not have a concrete goal or particular time-based objectives beyond raising awareness among Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens and encouraging citizen participation and nonviolent action. In many ways, this presents a challenge for the movement’s active members — it makes it difficult to measure success, and it makes retention of active membership challenging. However, as Leila explained the diverse campaigns that Dosta has undertaken, it became clear that perhaps a loose, decentralized and leaderless movement offers a camouflaged strategy that other movements can learn from.
Dosta’s use of new media in raising awareness has given the movement an identity and reputation among young citizens as well as security services. Morrar, who is currently studying in Sarajevo, commented, “I’ve seen Dosta! logos all over Sarajevo, a spray painted logo which features an open hand, but I didn’t know what it signified.” This is a common branding strategy among youth movements – the symbol itself is public, but participation in campaign design and access to core individuals is available only to those who wish to be active and get involved. Dosta’s strategically targeted collaboration with police ahead of particular campaigns ensures that local government entities are made fully aware that the movement is nonviolent. This strategy to influence state security forces was common among past movements such as Otpor! In Serbia and Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
Like many recent nonviolent resistance movements that have utilized symbols or colors that resonate for citizens, including Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Burma’s Saffron Revolution and Serbia’s Otpor movement, Dosta uses an easily recognizable symbol – an open hand with the shape of Bosnia and Herzegovina imprinted in the center, the text represents one word: “Enough!”
As Leila continued, it became clear that it was not only the “brand” that inspired young people to participate in Dosta, but also the newness of such a movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dosta’s ad-hoc campaigns and speedy mobilization is gradually introducing citizen activism and responsibility to a post-socialist, post- conflict society.
Iltezam gracefully launched into her experience in the nonviolent campaign against the construction of the Israeli separation barrier that would run through the village of Budrus in the West Bank in occupied Palestine. The screening of the documentary film Budrus, over traditional Bosnian coffee, made everyone realize the power and determination behind Iltezam’s young and delicate frame. In what seemed fluent Bosnian language, Iltezam translated subtitles of the Arabic/English/Hebrew language film for everyone while also offering deep context. They watched intently as Iltezam, only 15 years old at the time of the struggle, displayed strategic thinking, discipline and courage.
Iltezam modestly offered credit for the film’s creation to those activists who were documenting each protest activity. “The BBC and other mainstream media wouldn’t cover it. So all the activists who were present brought their own cameras and filmed everything,” she explained.
Like the civil rights movement in the United States, as well as many other movements throughout history, activists are forced to record, frame and transmit their own story when traditional media won’t. Today, social media is becoming a powerful tool for sharing information. The world witnessed the power of technology and social media most recently during the Arab Spring. And in 2008, Burma’s Saffron Revolution made mainstream news headlines thanks to underground video journalists who took great risks to document arrests and police brutality targeting peaceful protestors, mostly Burmese monks. The film, Burma VJ, illuminates the work of those citizen journalists.
We were all inspired by Iltezam’s first-hand account of nonviolent action in Budrus and her role in the struggle. She shared how her family’s tradition of nonviolent resistance is a feature of her upbringing, and she discussed the long history of nonviolent resistance among Palestinians.
In just one morning, we were all transformed and united by the stories of nonviolent action within our societies, and a great deal of our inspiration came from the fact that it was women who played key leadership and organizing roles in each of the struggles the women represent.
Written by Heather Frederick and Vanessa Ortiz
Photos: Kendra Spangler