Kristina LjevakKristina Ljevak

Human rights in the year that ends and the unstoppable power of change sparked by brave women who spoke up

The state of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina is best manifested in the fact that Ivan Begić, a younger generation opposition politician in the Republika Srpska, decided to retire from political life after an intimate sexual video of him with a same-sex partner was posted and shared online. I do not know if Begić changed his mind in the meantime, in fact, I was not even aware of his existence before the video, but attempts to discredit anyone because of their sexual orientation are unacceptable.

It is equally unacceptable that in this country, with respect to politicians and their actions, sexual orientation seems to be the only controversial thing – as it immediately takes the spotlight off the scandals with ventilators, the icon, and the industrial oxygen, as well as off the fact that Sarajevo Canton, for example, received vaccines so late that Širokača and Mihrivode neighbourhoods formed expert teams that know everything about immunisation – that it’s deadly, for starters.

To a certain extent, it is encouraging that the terror to which Begić was exposed was condemned by many citizens; one of the most appropriate and expected reactions came from the Organising Committee of the BiH Pride March that stressed the outing blackmails and threats that the LGBTIQ community faces and the fact that revenge pornography and blackmail constitute criminal offences.We would like to see this nauseous event, that raised the need for psychiatric help for the victim of the blackmail, serve as a basis to his party colleagues, primarily the mayor of Banja Luka, to reconsider the decisions on (non)organising a pride parade in this BiH city. We would like to see them show their LGBTIQ fellow citizens that they are not alone and that the Begić case deserves all the sanctions it can get.

Speaking of the BiH Pride March Organising Committee, it is noteworthy that the second BiH Pride March was successfully organised in this long, painful, pandemic 2021 – not of the same scale as the first one, but confirming the persistence of the fight for human rights of LGBTIQ persons. Members of the BiH Pride March Organising Committee received the Goran Bubalo Peace Award this year presented by the Network for Building Peace. The awards were also presented to activists Nihad Suljić and Indira Bajramović, and to the Peace Education Hub. This award is named after a man who left us too early and who was uncompromisingly and extraordinarily dedicated to building peace and a better society. We truly need such builders and when they leave, they leave behind desolation, not just emptiness.

The coronavirus pandemic has served as an excuse for a range of human rights violations. Instead of getting the right to health services, we got excuses. At the beginning, instead of finding effective strategies for virus prevention and control, we locked our fellow citizens over the age of 65 in their homes. Let them die until something is resolved – and keep them locked up as confirmation that the government is doing something. I sincerely hope that one day all those who made such a decision will be held accountable, just as they should be held accountable for delaying immunisation in a country that fought COVID by welcoming international humanitarian aid, starting with protective masks donated by Chinese kids!

The pandemic has further aggravated the lives of women, from burnout on the front lines, whether as workers in the service sector or healthcare, to increased violence against women due to drastic changes in life circumstances. Women get killed all over the region just for being women, while femicide is still called a crime of passion and is being lumped into general crime news. We still pretend not to see everything that led to femicide, thinking domestic violence is an intimate matter, and we respect other people’s intimacy, which is best demonstrated by the Begić case.

Most noteworthy in terms of human rights is the start of the revolution sparked by Belgrade actress Milena Radulović, who reported her acting teacher for sexual abuse and then went public with that information. This event from the beginning 2021 marked the year to a great extent, as it served as encouragement to other women who shared thousands of their testimonies about traumas of sexual violence and harassment on the Nisam tražila page.

The latest event at the Theatre Festival in Brčko testifies to the unstoppable power of change that was initiated thanks to brave women who decided to speak out. In 2021, actress Danijela Štajnfeld also reported her colleague Branislav Lečić for sexual abuse. The Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges – the fact that Lečić utilised to keep insulting Danijela and all those who disagree with him. Despite that, the managements of the Theatre Festival decided to invite him as member of the jury. The epilogue was that almost all theatres withdrew from the festival competition, which confirmed that we truly are witnessing a new age.

The new age also implies struggles for the rights to natural resources. Only natural resources remain as something we have not managed to completely waste yet, therefore, an organised struggle is of prime importance to prevent that from happening. The work of members of the Coalition for the Protection of Rivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina to ban the construction of small hydropower plants on BiH rivers is of inestimable importance. What brings the biggest hope at the moment is the environmental uprising in Serbia, which has mobilised an unexpected number of people on the streets. Undoubtedly, some other struggles and desires merged into the fights for nature, and it would be ideal if they spilled over the borders.

Nature is the last line of defence, says activist Lejla Kusturica for a reason.The best confirmation is the activism of the Kruščica women who once succeeded in defending their river with their own bodies. That was the first time. They have to continue their struggle, but that continuation is also a confirmation that victories in the struggle for nature will also be some of the greatest feminist victories. My friend, the Belgrade writer Đorđe Miketić, posted a photo of his 90-year-old grandmother on Facebook, who came out to protest. I hope that such scenes will be not only motivating but also binding in the coming year.

Kristina Ljevak (born 1980 in Sarajevo) is a journalist and editor who has been working for domestic and regional media for twenty years. She is dedicated to the affirmation of independent culture and art in Zvono Association. She has also been collaborating with numerous organizations whose work deals with human rights, the fight against discrimination and fostering a culture of remembrance. He is a feminist and LGBTIQ+ activist.

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