I grew up on "feminist milk"
Jelena Djordjevic comes from Belgrade, Serbia ; she is a 23-year old feminist, a lesbian, an activist... She has been fighting violence against women and in particular the trafficking of women for a couple of years. She is an activist from the Women in Black movement in Belgrade and worldwide, and an activist of an organisation working for the promotion of rights for LGTB people.
Elena Djordjevic is one of the few people from Eastern European countries who are participating in the European Social Forum. The lack of participation from Eastern Europe at the ESF is a worrying political issue, which was present during the whole process of preparing for the ESF. Jelena spoke about the problems of coming to the ESF : "This is my first year at the ESF because I never had money to come and to travel to take part in these events. I haven't met anybody from my country because of various reasons - it is hard to get a visa, it is hard to pay for the trip etc."
Jelena could attend the ESF because she recently moved to England : "I moved to England with the help of my parents, I feel I am a privileged person for having the opportunity to get out of my country for at least a while. I moved from my country because I was tired of seeing how slow and weak the changes are. On one hand we have a strong civil society sector that is really active, open and speaks out loud about the problems that exist.. but on the other hand you have the whole structure of the Milosevic regime that still remains in place and you have the evils of the structure that remain in different spheres of our society."
Growing up in an activist family
Jelena got involved very early in women's rights and human rights activism because she was born to a very special and privileged activist family :
"There is a joke that people around me tell me, they say that I grow up on "feminist milk", meaning that my mother had a strong influence on me because she was one of the initiators of the Women in Black movement in Belgrade and she was involved in many feminist organisations working to stop violence against women. I come from a family where the violation of human rights on different levels will be aknowledged and not accepted, and my family especially raised my awareness of our militaristic country and totalitarian regime. Basically, my childhood was coloured by the war on one side, and on another side, by the resistance towards different forms of oppression.
The draining nature of her work
Speaking about her job, Jelena said : "I was working for a couple of years with the government, with the police and with the prosecutors doing education on how to recognise the victims of trafficking and how to respond to the needs of the victims of trafficking. After a couple of years understanding about what kind of institutional mechanisms have been developed and what kind of support is being provided to the victims, I see that there is such a small amount of support.
After a couple of years of work I realised that I need time off to collect my strength and to support myself to be able to offer much more than I can.
Serbia and specially Belgrade is a place that takes a lot of energy and that does not give anything in return. I think that the devastating nature of one totalitarian regime left a strong mark on all of us. For me it is fustrating to see how much time and how much energy it takes and how little we receive in return. So I am facing the situation that many of my friends who are activists for many years are at the point that they do not see a future.. they see that the changes are so slow."
Moving forward, spreading civil society
How do you move forward ? How can you support each other in order to be more effective in the work that you are doing ?
For me, whenever I have silent vigils with Women in Black you are always thinking 'o.k what will happen now when I go to the main square and I speak out loud about the war crimes that happen in the name of my nation ? Who will beat me ? Who will say awful words to me ? It is always this kind of fear. In a sense you feel like being in a getto of the civil society community... but the question is how can we make our voice stronger ? how can the voices of civil society move be heard by everyday people ? For me, it is a question of using a language that everyone can understand, and also being open towards the outside world is important to us, if we want to make bigger changes.