Yesterday, the United Nations International Court Tribunal at the Hague sentenced Radovan Karadžić to 40 years in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide. For those who do not know who he is/Balkan War history, Karadžić is one of the Bosnian Serb leaders who masterminded and conducted the mass execution of thousands of Bosnian men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia in July 1995. In reaction to the news of Karadžić’s sentencing, right wing nationalists protested in the streets of Belgrade last night. It was not surprising that nationalists marched in Belgrade, as Karadžić is a revered figure for many ultra nationalists. It also happened to be the anniversary of the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Belgrade. Nor was it too surprising when the Prime Minister of Serbia in response to the verdict said that there would be retribution if anyone committed acts of violence and aggression against Serbs living Bosnia- something reiterated today by Serbia’s Minister of Security. All of these reactions were rather standard nationalist bravado.
While right wing nationalists marched on the capital, antifascist activists- many of whom I consider friends and colleagues of mine- took to the streets for a counter rally. As a researcher and fervent anti-war/militarism and anti-fascism activist, I wanted to join them. I wanted to be in the middle of the action and to report back what I saw. I was reading reports from activists saying that the police were not letting the counter protesters (antifascists) walk to the square. Instead, they were allowing the right wing nationalists to march freely. I wanted to see all of this with my own eyes. In the end, though, after talking with my family and my partner, I decided not to go due to safety concerns.
To say that I was worried for my safety feels like a betrayal to a lot of the work that I do in my scholarship. A large part of my research as a transnational feminist scholar is to undo particular narratives that the West perpetuates about the Balkans. Namely, that the Balkans, and Serbia in particular, is an unsafe place with a dark history of war and genocide. This is partly true. The former-Yugoslavia was the site of one of the most recent armed conflicts in Europe. It is also true that there were many terrible atrocities and human rights violations committed in the 1990s during the break up of Yugoslavia. That being said, the Balkans is a rich compilation of heterogeneous and diverse populations with multiple perspectives. To only talk about the nationalists marching last night is to only show one part of complex regional politics and history.
My work does not sanitize the violence and bloodshed of the Balkan Wars. What it does do, however, is to challenge outsiders to think beyond the stereotypes and narratives of the Balkans, and to see the interconnectedness of global politics and international relations. When I talk about last night and my wariness to join in the counter-protests because I was afraid of violence, I also need to talk about the fact that I am a queer woman, from the United States- a place that bombed Belgrade in 1999. And yesterday was the anniversary of that bombing.
When I talk about feeling unsafe around ultra nationalists in Serbia, I also need to talk about how my identity markers as a queer feminist living in Belgrade puts me (and countless other queer feminists here) in a precarious position. As I’ve written about before, it is not always safe for feminist anti-war activists in Belgrade. That being said, homophobia and nationalist/fascist violence is not unique to Belgrade, Serbia. One can simply look at the recent Donald Trump rallies in the U.S. to see parallels between nationalists here and there. Nationalism and populist fascism is alive and well in the world, and we do not have to go far to find it.
With all of this in mind, I decided to go out today and do some follow up research on last night’s events. I wore a full face of makeup and a dress, because I felt the need to hide behind heteronormative assumptions about gender and sexuality as I poked around Belgrade. Like I’ve said before, for me, when I dress “high femme” it very much feels like a drag performance, and to some extent an armor to hide my queerness when I feel more exposed and vulnerable. That being said, presenting a femme look comes with it its own set of complications and vulnerabilities (as I experienced this when a peeping Tom looked into my dressing room this afternoon and when a boy who could not have been more than 11 whistled at me on the street).
Today I was channeling Vicky (the might-be-evil future stepmother) from the 1961 version of The Parent Trap. I always had a crush on Vicky and her cool and calculative demeanor.
Maybe I wanted to channel her nerves of steel today, or maybe it is because my hair is getting really long and really big. In any case, I am doing a contemporary twist on a vintage-inspired look.
The dress was $10.00 from Forever 21 last season, tan silk scarf is from Istanbul, shoes are Zara, tights were my mom’s. Alex always says I’m the “queen of layering” so I deconstructed my outfit so you can see all the layers going into my look.
Forest green jacket is Forever 21 (this look sans coat reminds me of Taneem), and as I’ve said before, the fleece overcoat is from the street market in Belgrade and was 20.00 Euros.
I wore my hair natural, and it is getting LONG. Anyone know of a good gender-neutral and queer friendly hair salon in Belgrade? I also wore a full face of makeup. Makeup specs in the photo description.
Me in Trg Republike taking a selfie this afternoon. Everything was calm, the sun was out, and things felt like normal. It is utterly surreal to think that just last night there were hundreds of nationalists gathered here to protest the sentencing and to also remember the U.S. bombings of Belgrade.