Sunday, April 02, 2006

On Freedom and the Streets of Belgrade

“Identity is a story about who we are, why we exist and what we want. In order to survive in a cruel world, this story has to be true, based on familiarity with the ground, on a deep insight, on a precise ground-plan. A wrong story can be dearly paid for. It can mislead us; drive us into a blind alley, into death. The ground keeps changing and that is why the story’s preciseness has to undergo constant verification. A story is a map. If the map does not match the ground, we are lost like in a jungle.”

Goran Stefanovski, On our story - Admittance Speech for The Macedonian Academy of Science and Art (“Stories from the Wild East”, Tabernakul, Skopje, 2005)

According to the list done by the centre for democratic culture, only 155 out of 3 783 streets (including Belgrade suburbs) are named after women! In percents it is 4.1%!

Among 155 streets named after famous women, most of which are located in the outskirts of the town, this feuilleton includes a group of 20 women of different professions (writers, scientists, artists, actresses) and political and social commitment (revolutionaries, feminists, nationalists). A part of them is mentioned in this text. Another 12 texts that will be published daily in Politika, will reveal some interesting facts about public and private lives of these women and they will also give an account of European, and first of all Serbian society and its development influenced by historic changes during the 19th and the 20th century.

What at first glance connects the women from this group is the historic period, during which they lived and worked, taking into account almost impossible changes of “Balkan” mentality and exhausting process of creation and recognition of women’s rights. Born mostly during the 20th century, they witness the expansion of socialism and the working class coming to its senses, the rise of feminism and need for women to emancipate, the first signs of “awakening” of a Muslim woman, the October Revolution in Russia, The Balkan Wars and the Second World War, as well as the adoption of socialism in Eastern Europe. There are also those women who are a part of contemporary history which includes period since the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and transition and change of the system from socialism to capitalism and Western model of democracy.

Experience has shown that development and changes in sociopolitical life of one milieu cause changes at all levels of that society. Accordingly, certain streets might change their names at certain moment in the future. Unfortunately, these changes most often happen under the influence of current authorities so that naming of “public areas” does not represent the choice of the general public, but of the “minority” that is leading them, and represents more a political than a public decision.

Goce Delceva street, Novi Beograd
Photo copyright: Hristina Ivanoska .06

Adoption of capitalism is bringing us back to the story of women emancipation. What socialism previously carried out as equality (at least by law, if not by change of mentality) must not be lost. Appreciation of achievements of our own history is much more important than adoption of historic achievements of the dominant West. Belgrade has proved to a certain degree that it confirms this attitude. The last naming of a public area in Belgrade after a prominent woman happened in 2005! It was not a street but a park dedicated to Jelena Santic, a prominent prima ballerina of Belgrade ballet, historian of ballet and one of the leading activists of anti-military movement in Serbia during 1990s..

From the gathered facts about Serbian women that I knew very little about I understood the greatness of their impact and importance for Serbian history and national identity, as well as cultural, social, political and scientific development of this country.

Katarina Ivanovic was the first female artist, and Milica Stojadinovic Srpkinja the first writer and one of the most famous personalities among Serbian people. They both worked in the middle of the 19th century. A little later, at the end of the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century, at the time of the biggest changes and conflicts in the Balkans and in Europe in general, there lived and worked another two contemporaries: Isidora Sekulic and Nadezda Petrovic. Then, as well as nowadays, questions about different identities and principles (national-personal, female-male) were raised. Those were the days when it was not enough for one to create in the name of art, but one was to invest more than that-oneself. At the beginning of the 20th century, The October Revolution in Russia brought the victory of socialism. Clara Catkin and Rosa Luxemburg, the representatives of the Socialist movement in Germany, celebrated this victory as a confirmation that changes in Europe were necessary, but at the same time they criticized Bolshevist model of socialism pointing to the dangers of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. Some of the numerous victims of this regime were also the remarkable writers Ana Ahmatova and Marina Cvetaeva. Sarah Barnard was at the end of 19th century celebrated worldwide as the biggest theatrical actress and a heroine of silent film. Through lives of Zanka Stokic, Mira Trailovic and Maga Magazinovic we will see how drama and dance developed in Serbia in the time of Sarah Barnard and later.

The last text of this feuilleton will be dedicated to the women that I met during my research, and that influenced the development of modern society, like Julka Hlapec-Porpevic, but who have been “forgotten”. I suggest that new public areas should be named after them.

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