Mersiha (left) (Image courtesy of Dr Danica Anderson, with Mersiha’s permission)
A guest post by Dr Danica Anderson
I carry a list of their names
I will name her Mersiha for purposes of protection.
She must have been standing by the tall war weary grey and riddled with bullets apartment building. Otherwise, she would not have been able to unexpectedly show up in Sana Koric’s photo shop located on the ground floor of the building.
The door swung open making the bell ring out aggressively. My back was to her – it is a shield to pitch away the spewing incoherent words that came out her mouth.
It felt strange with Sana standing at her register smoking on her cigarette as if the door being ripped open violently was normal. It was even stranger with Sana calmly greeting her as she would any customer or person- you know the typical question ‘how are you’ but didn’t want to be bothered with any answer.
Sana’s response made me turned around to look at intruder. For a moment, I thought I didn’t hear the spewing incoherent words. But, Mersiha’s agitation was shown with her arms raised and flaying with no apparent target. Somewhere in that moment her eyes locked with mine despite her being imprisoned in her mental illness tirade. Mersiha saw I was listening intently to all she said and all her movements without fear.
I could not but help to see her and this registered deeply upon her.
But, I was questioning internally how this forgotten invisible woman is smothered with precursory greetings and ignored. I wondered hasn’t there been someone who was questioning and curious about her life and how she got into a state. I know in the aftermath of war, the small town- Novi Travnik being invisible meant everyone walks by her as if she did not exist. Or murder her for being lesbian.
By seeing and listening to her, I discovered her collection of spewed incoherent sentences are underlined with an intelligence.
Abruptly, she said, “you do not live here….. I can talk to you”.
In that one extremely touching statement she said to me pointed unquestionably to the fact she was shunned and swirled in an ocean of silence.
I was vulnerably placed in the bearing witness mode in an instant.
I, also, knew if Mersiha could respond to me in those few moments a healing social collective would provide the environment for this woman to accept the trauma she experienced and still endures.
I hesitate with medications since I knew she certainly did not get any with the humanitarian aid agencies nor the money to have meds consistently. My internal witness was chattering that I had no medications to give only my clinical assessment and being a sister to women in need. I already witnessed how lesbians are prescribed more anti-depressants and anti- psychotics which in all likelihood created the mental illnesses in the male medical model. The male medical model is a pathologization another form swearing allegiances for patriarchal authority that rally to save normal as heterosexual.
I knew to expect the unexpected in the region that experienced 100 years of war. Basically, I am in a war zone that never ends the hate and violence. I knew from so many experiences in the killing fields across the globe that knowing their hidden truth can be very costly especially when their hidden truth is liberated.
I learned in each of these experiences that it’s critical to illustrate the importance of bearing witness especially in environments of hate and violence. It allows the survivors to struggle with a vocabulary and relate their herstories to those who stand ready to hear their hidden truth.
I am not talking about testimonies either. Many war women crimes and war survivors encountered the modern day courts and rule of law call for testimony, a word that has its origins of males swearing on their testicles for their allegiances in patriarchal rule. Given the patriarchal and manmade law there is no room for women’s breasts of nurturance and wombs to birth their narratives in order to complete the process of their survival. Her life story is incapable of being repossessed and reclaimed.
The result is that the women survivors live in a dangerous hideout unable to leave and unable to have a coherent, integrated narrative of what happened and continues to happen for her. Women survivors are erased and made invisible in the testimonies since they are without testicles to prove their truths of realities are self-evident.
I looked at Sana standing at her register steadily smoking. I thought of the some twenty Bosnian Muslim women war crimes and war survivors I work with in Novi Travnik. The female social collective is inherent with those women but many were uneducated, older women who lived through WWII and the Balkan War who are certainly strongly steeped in Bosnian male dogma for testicles swearing allegiances.
Sana’s coolly smoking her cigarette and warm greetings to her enables a silence that in the end kills female social collective solidarity. The killing silence is a jailer that has thrown away the keys to the cage. No matter of support, love and care is nurtured and if done it is in a repressed underground passive behavior. My own hidden truth and that of the Bosnian female social collective I work with and love dearly are, also, complicit in this killing silence of women who are mentally and/or physically broken down.
It is more than that, I would discover later after hearing Mersiha’s story from Sana that “she was a crazed lesbian woman”. I cringed when Sana spoke of what happened to her during the Balkan War. I asked Sana why it matters that this woman is a lesbian when the violence towards women includes all daughters.
To remain authentic to myself and for these Bosnian women war crimes and war survivors I worked on their interpretation because it invariably plays a decisive formative role in who one comes to be, and in how a person lives their own life. The so-called crazed woman according to the women war crimes and war survivors, the woman I encountered in Sana’s photo shop became untouchable – a lesbian that was not allow her to experience the traumatic events in her life without a witness, or her internal witness and she became trapped and warped in mental incapacities.
It matters because the murdering of lesbians sets an environment of terrorization for all women. We have mothers and their lesbian daughters who desperately want their daughters’ sexual agency quiet and unheard of to avoid the courts and rule of law call for testimony. Women need to go deeper given that the alibi or being repatriated back home is the absence of death. It is a quality of knowledge about their traumatic experiences and its relationship to struggle with death anxiety. In the end, it means being an insincere witness to themselves and her. We are unable to witness the violence in silencing lesbian’s reality of living in a world of hate.
To this day no one would want to publicly admit Mersiha is lesbian, it is for a very good reason. Of the few lesbians I have met outside of Sarajevo city, the rural regions have many lesbians who have disappeared or camouflaged themselves. The same alibi is given when I ask where she is. The universal response is – she has been repatriated back home.
The lesbians I searched for are the ‘disappeared’ and most likely murdered and tortured and raped.
I carry the names of lesbians asking authorities (all male by the way) – where did these women go? Novi Travnik’s mayor, a short man in his early fifties told me right after I heatedly stated that these women have disappeared, “I knew we were in recovery when Novi Travnik had a beauty salon. Maybe she will come back and get her hair done.” I will spare you the expletives in my response to him. But, I did say sramota- shame on you.
I ask the towns’ people randomly about the names of women who have gone missing. The same response is given. I walk away with bowed shoulders and in the beginning I would cry but now my female rage, a social justice burns ferociously.
Sana told me Mersiha and her partner traveled to many places before the war. During the Balkan war Sana reported her partner left – abandoned her. It was then, she had a break from reality.
Mersiha left her apartment and the door open. Since it was war the entire apartment was ransacked. Sana did not know where she went only that she was in town. I took this to mean she lived on the streets. It is unknown how her days were spent during the war and up until the time I encountered her in 2004.
After Mersiha left Sana’s photo office, I turned to Sana asking how the women I have come to know allow this happen. I said to make this right, she needs Kolo Sumejia- a social collective and let’s work on that and see about getting her a place to live. Of course, it was more of a demand.
I have a female rage shrouded with female social justice which set up my bravery to ask the small group of elderly women I work with to nurture and heal. I knew I was shaming them- rather I was holding the women accountable for our killing silence which is painful for them and me.
Within few years, I returned to Novi Travnik and there Mersiha was sitting on a bench with an older woman, a friend who now share their apartment together. While it was not a Lesbian partnership it was woman to woman, a female social justice that the women war crimes and war survivors in Novi Travnik do under the radar of male dominated society.
She smiled at me and waved her hand for me to come over to the bench. I walked over and could not help smiling. She introduced me to her friend saying she is better and on medications. I turned to leave and she touched my arm. I turned back and she said, you knew I existed. You listened.
She is the only lesbian I found alive on my list of names. I realized the female social collective did not give me an alibi – ‘repatriated back home’ when I asked after her. I still ask about the other names on my list but it’s been over 18 years now.
What I learned after decades treating trauma across the globe is that I can’t change the world, erase the killing silences or save everyone. My small act, my one response to witness and listen to one woman rippled into a female social collective that ended up healing her and many others. I know it is only one name out of my list of names, one encounter and a dialogue that powerfully heals the experiences from those who have been victimized or subjected to it but, I heard a deeper truth not the killing silence or that alibi that she has been repatriated back home.
Bosnian Female Collective; a Human Geography
In Novi Travnik, Bosnia Herzegovina, I created the female social collective with the Bosnian women war crimes and war survivors. The women named the social collective Kolo Sumejia. Sumejia is from the Quran, a female martyr. The Ahmica-Vitez grandmothers and the Kolo Sumejia are the female social collectives where I would learn how they heal trauma and witness their grief and our own grief at the same time.
Only a few kilometers away from Novi Travnik is the village Ahmica-Vitez, the site of war crimes. Similar to Novi Travnik, a street divides the Ahmica Muslim enclave from the Croatians. 150 elderly and mostly women and children to infants were slaughtered in the Muslim morning call to prayer. The war crimes here at Ahmica-Vitez was done by Croats not Serbs.
The human geography of the Balkan War and war crimes would have the grandmothers out in the field with their livestock which saved their lives but not their children and grandchildren.
If you drive another five kilometers away from Novi Travnik it is startlingly to the point of disbelief since Travnik is one of the most beautiful places in Eastern Europe. Travnik is smacked in the middle of Mt. Vlasic’s soaring cliffs. One road is the only entrance and exit that leads to Mt. Vlasic. Blue Waters rage down from a stout Tower with stone walls witch’s castle and flows underground and then emerges above ground into Travnik. Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand drank coffee at the Blue Waters café in 1914. The Mosque has its minaret on the wrong side due to the raging blue waters that roar through the town.
Mt Vlasic serves as the backbone of the town, actually the protector of the town. And the thousands of internal displaced people (IDPs) – refugees in their own country would flee to Travnik.
During the Balkan War (1991-1993) over 5,000 women- IDPs, refugees and those from the rape camps fled to Travnik. Snipers were able to kill some. The women talked about how their mothers and grandmothers’ covered up their windows and knew how to outlast the sieges and sniper kills to the market via their wood stoves and their fermented and home canned goods.
In other words, after three world wars -100 years of war – intergenerational trauma conjures up the survivor skills not thriving skills. It also conjures up the women’s silence on their own daughters’ sexual agency, not just Muslim women but, especially, if lesbians or haven been raped.
The rape survivors knew from before the war how Travnik was geographical situated to protect IDPs – refugees. We do know in the Balkan War rape camps held elder women- mostly educated with doctorates and/or held high positions with a majority of Muslim young women. There is talk that many of the educated women were lesbians but it is never spoken about or referred to in most media and research.
From my kolo informed trauma work not just in Bosnia but across the globe, lesbians’ trauma events and trauma response comes from their unassimilable experiences since their commitment to the truth of their realities is a journey with the ultimate difference-the otherness of living and otherness of death.
Two outstanding elements stood out for me in the literature about these rape camps showing the killing silence; no mention or few children of rape were born and no mention of Lesbian women. The extremes of what women endured and lesbians are not in the written historical accounts and if chronicled it is rare. The otherness of women’s lives, their sexual identity and sexual agency cannot efface the gynocide (mass murder of women). But it does demand a repossession of her witnessing her loss and suffering when she recounts the experience of otherness, separation and loss.
Since, there is no mention or witnessing lesbians among the 5,000 women rape survivors and refugees I decided to detail traces of their lesbian lives at the local communities I found myself in. Even the UN statistics did not have Lesbians enumerated and they were most likely folded into the women category. Of course it is fine to have lesbians noted as women – true women who in my tacit knowledge is our first mother who had to be lesbian and all women have the capacity for parthenogenesis (self-birthing).
While the women category for Lesbians is accurate what occurs with this specific exclusion is how violence against lesbians in the former Yugoslavia and in the Balkan war and rape camps is excused and not held accountable. It is a killing silence- a gynocide given a green light to this very day.
I do know that lesbian human geography before the war and during the war and in the aftermath is a continuous hell. Yet, something did change in the aftermath of war when I and the Bosnian women war crimes and war survivors acknowledged that she exists along with a female social collective that committed to witness her life and their lives. The killing silence is eliminated with the female solidarity and collective that allowed for witnessing her existence, her trauma while being in sisterhood.
Similar to the geographical extreme contrast between the Ahmica-Vitez, Novi Travnik to the mother town Travnik’s beauty, Travnik gives the impression of not being scarred or severely wounded from the century of wars. But the hidden truth are women’s suicides by flying off their dreary apartment buildings to their deaths. This occurred in Novi Travnik-actually everywhere in the aftermath of the war. The killing silence had their suicides classified as accidental.
At the very least, Novi Travnik’s ghetto like aftermath fits it’s an ugly munitions factory – a target during the Balkan War. The ugly munitions factory is where Mersiha worked as an engineer. Her human geography and environment are the backdrops of smudged soot colored apartment buildings before the war and after the war. The buildings’ acne are the grenade impacts creating craters accompanied with millions of bullet holes that make no pattern- bullet holes are pitched in every direction. The environment and backdrop of the buildings is why I never saw Mersiha standing near the building when she stormed into Sana’s photo shop.
I realized how the environment and human geography of hatred and violence camouflaged Mersiha physically and also spoke of how blindness is entrenched in the killing silence.
One half of the town is Muslim and the other half is Croatian. Actually, the main street is the dividing line where Croat soldiers and snipers would lean out their windows and shoot at the Muslim population. How she survived the snipers in the surrounding hillsides killing anyone attempting to go get food is unknown. The Croatian side looks like another town in Eastern Europe- unscathed and plugged into the western world where funding and clean up was done in about 5 years. Not so, for the Muslim side. A cup of coffee on the Croatian side is about $2.00 but on the Muslim side 50 cents to a dollar.
Since the homosexuals are the preferred male gender it stands to reason that most lesbians and women are the hardest hit in the century of wars. This is made possible with the governing entities and military to include the International criminal court for Yugoslavia tribunal. The latter, blames the feminists for their advocacy of women’s sexual agency. This did not stymie the use of public space and talk about the trauma endured by lesbians. Lepa Mladenovic, Serbian feminist activist wrote to Women in Black group Joan Nestle:
“From the beginning of wars in this region from ’91 I felt that I have to invent Ten thousand ways to let my lesbian desire breathe. At some moment during the last 8 years it was not easy for me to put in words how do I feel when making love with a woman and in the back there is a radio with the news of war. Killed, or expelled or other fascist acts. In my room, I would not be able to stand up from the bed, leave the desired bodies and switch off the news, also because I thought the respect to the killed I will show by not switching off the radio.”
However, homosexuality was the door that opened to public awareness for the former Yugoslav provinces Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia in 1977. According to Tajana Greif, an author (LL25- History of Slovenian Lesbian movement) and LGBTI activist reported ““It is only after that that homosexuality was able to enter public discourse and public space.”
Notice that Bosnia Hercegovina is not listed. The Balkan War genocide and gynocide to rape camps forms a denial narrative by not listing in the statistical women categories lesbians. In fact, there is perhaps a shred of historical narratives or some witnessing that declares lesbians were targeted in the bloody war.
Lepa Mladenovic resisted the temptation to push away the news on the radio and to not fall into the killing silences. Instead Lepa reconstitutes the lesbian desire to breathe and make love with a woman, a witnessing of her own trauma along with many lesbians in the radio broadcast that most likely did not cite lesbians. What mattered was that Lepa knew from the concrete details that in the women category was the lesbian category.
Dr. Danica Borkovich Anderson founded and directed The Kolo: Women’s Cross Cultural Collaboration (The Kolo: WCCC) focusing on intersecting women’s collaboration, representation, and advocacy for social justice to halt violence against women internationally and nationally. The Kolo: WCCC promotes and provides women’s trauma counseling, treatment, and gives the opportunity to “train the trainer,” preparing lay persons to facilitate the ongoing work. The Kolo: WCCC presents a feminist perspective coupled with cross cultural practices that enable women in war torn regions, such as Africa (Sub-Sahara), Afghanistan, Bosnia, India, and Sri Lanka to become self-sustainable in their communities.
 Sexual heatmap- “But something proverbial hit the fan when the press release included the fact that there were early and consistent reports that antidepressants could change sexual orientation from homosexuality to heterosexuality. Impossible we were told. You will lose all credibility making these claims.
The first report of this effect is tucked away in the very first English language article on the discovery of the antidepressant effects of imipramine by Roland Kuhn. Imipramine we now know is a potent serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Kuhn was a country doctor, more a psychotherapist than a psychopharmacologist. He was conservative in attitude. His explanation for what was going on was that some homosexual behaviors stemmed from depression and relieving this helped “normalize” other behaviors. He didn’t celebrate the issue but he may have been pleased – in line with dominant thinking at that time.” https://rxisk.org/the-sexual-heatmap-2/
 Saving Normal- “Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life as ‘part mea culpa, part j’accuse, part cri de coeur’.Frances’ arguments about the dangers of inflating psychiatric conditions and psychiatric diagnosis are persuasive – maybe more so because he honestly admits to his own role in developing such an inflation. He is keenly aware of the risks of diagnostic inflation ‘because of painful firsthand experience’, he writes. ‘Despite our efforts to tame excessive diagnostic exuberance, DSM-IV had since been misused to blow up the diagnostic bubble’. He is particularly concerned about the exponential increase in the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in children, writing: ‘We failed to predict or prevent three new false epidemics of mental disorder in children – autism, attention deficit, and childhood bipolar disorder. And we did nothing to contain the rampant diagnostic inflation that was already expanding the boundary of psychiatry far beyond its competence.’ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reclaiming-childhood/201407/review-saving-normal-0
 “In ancient Rome, two men taking an oath of allegiance held each other’s testicles, and men held their own testicles as a sign of truthfulness while bearing witness in a public forum. The Romans found a word to describe this practice but didn’t invent the practice itself. Other primates had already been doing this for millions of years. Two male baboons who cooperate with each other by forming aggressive alliances against other baboons frequently fondle each other’s genitalia. This behavior has nothing to do with sex but it’s a social ritual that primatologists call a “greeting.” The behavior of ancient Romans and male baboons can be explained by the Handicap Principle, an evolutionary theory according to which the most effective way to obtain reliable information about a partner’s commitment in a relationship – whether a political alliance, a romantic relationship, or a business partnership – is to impose a cost on the partner and assess the partner’s willingness to pay it.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/games-primates-play/201112/testify-comes-the-latin-word-testicle
 I do want you to know that “Novi” translated from Bosnian means new in English. The reason for naming it Novi Travnik is due to the mother town named Travnik located about five kilometers away.
 The Serbo-Croatian word kolo is very old and is most likely older than Sanskrit. The kolo original meaning is the wheel and the Slavs call their round folk dances- kolo. It also means to be in a circle. I selected this word to evade the patriarchal symbols and return to the true meaning of the circle.
 The ethnic divides in former Yugoslavia: Croatians are Catholic, Serbians are Serbian Orthodox and Muslims are Bosniaks.
 The Ahmići massacre was the culmination of the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing committed by the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia’s political and military leadership on Bosniak civilians during the Croat-Bosniak War in April 1993
 “The seizure of Jajce appeared to confirm the Serbian leaders’ determination to press forward with their offensive, despite pledges to seek peace and to stop fighting for control of wide areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina where Serbs were a minority before the war. In Jajce and the surrounding county, Serbs accounted for 19 percent of the population of 45,000 people in the 1991 census, with Muslims accounting for 39 per cent and Croats 35 percent.
Muslims and Croats were among the refugees streaming into Travnik today down the only road not blocked by Serbian troops, a dirt track used by Jajce’s defenders to run supply convoys through the mountains at night. A BBC reporter said that the refugees were arriving in Travnik, 20 miles southeast of Jajce, covered in mud, wet from heavy rains, and limping with fatigue after spending most of two days on the trek. The reporter, Alan Little, said in a radio account that some refugees reported that Serbian fighters opened fire on the refugees from positions overlooking the road. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/31/world/30-mile-refugee-line-is-seen-in-bosnia.html
 Bosnia-Hercegovina continue the onslaught of omitting or excluding Lesbians- “Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo Open Centre, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights organization, documented 23 cases of hate speech and incitement of violence and hate and two crimes and incidents motivated by prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the first three months of 2016. The reaction of authorities to these incidents is generally inadequate. There was no progress in police investigations into the 2014 attack on a film festival that Sarajevo Open Centre organized.
In its annual progress on Bosnia and Herzegovina published in November, the European Commission highlighted the failure of authorities to amend the constitution, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and to implement rulings by the Constitutional Court. The report also identified inadequate legal protection for LGBTI persons and the failure of authorities to protect adequately the rights of minorities and to ensure media freedom.” https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/23/human-rights-watch-country-profiles-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity.”
 Wendy Wheeler’s The Whole Creature Book-Wheeler argues that art and culture advance through intuited embodied knowledge. Tacit bodily knowledge- our genome and thousands of generations of ancestors’ lived experiences. https://books.google.com/books?id=LFDEK8QyNhkC&pg=PA102&lpg=PA102&dq=Wendy+Wheeler+tacit+knowledge+definition&source=bl&ots=DL4so92U3e&sig=ACfU3U1vLriIQlHrx0kcc6JIaOSVpSTlGw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwia-9ymgrrgAhXpr1QKHff9AWsQ6AEwAnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=Wendy%20Wheeler%20tacit%20knowledge%20definition&f=false
 “It’s a theme as old as science fiction: A world without men. The story is a familiar one: lesbians living together in an all-women utopia, loving, raising families and their own food. No men are needed, even in the creation of children. There’s a word for creating children without men: parthenogenesis, but it’s never applied to humans. Parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, is defined as reproduction without fertilization. It occurs naturally in some plant and insect species. It does not occur naturally in mammals, but like many other procedures developed in modern medicine, it can now occur with the assistance of scientists.” https://www.liveabout.com/parthenogenesis-do-we-need-men-anymore-2170724
“The newspaper article unfortunately mentioned that such children would have to be daughters (it would have been interesting to see whether or not any sons were claimed, but, if so, they could not possibly be parthenoforms). Ultimately, 19 women presented themselves along with their daughters as examples of “virgin birth.” Eleven of these did not profess that no father existed, but were under the mistaken impression that the search was for a hymen intact after conception (but long since broken in birth). The remaining eight pairs were examined by Balfour-Lynn (1956), who blood typed mothers and daughters and found antigens present in six daughters that were absent in their mothers, clear evidence of genetic differences. In another pair, the mother had blue eyes and the daughter brown eyes, indicating genetic differences. In the single remaining case, “Mrs. Alpha and daughter,” there was apparent genetic identity in blood groups and several other genetically determined traits including electrophoretic analysis of serum. The probability of such a close match between a mother and daughter produced by heterosexual reproduction was less than one chance in a hundred (P < .01).” http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/thoc/virginbirth.pdf
 In my book Blood & Honey: The Secret Herstory- Balkan Women War Crimes and War Survivors, the narratives of Bosnian women war crimes and war survivors.
 Challenging Bosnian Women’s Identity as Rape Victims, as Unending Victims: The ‘Other’ Sex in Times of War “Still, while the ICTY‟s view of the use of rape in the Bosnian war was groundbreaking and lauded as a great success by many feminists, Engle argues that on some level the ICTY, influenced by feminist thinking, has inadvertently functioned to limit the narratives about women in war, denying much of women’s sexual and political agency (Engle, 2008, 942). Engle contends that many feminists treated at least some women as victims only, rather than as people capable of political and sexual agency during the war (Engle, 2005, 780). My research was prompted by the recognition that many important narratives of women’s agency in times of war have become silenced and ignored” https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1027&context=jiws