Mostar Marches


by Eva Garcia Malkin, United World College Mostar
21st March, 2019


Contacting the Mostarian police was the first step necessary if a march was to happen on the 8th. Making sure that not only would we not get arrested but also that we would be protected was one of the priorities. The authorities agreed; we would get two police officers to escort us from the plaza in front of our school building (Španski trg), through some of the city, to the famous old bridge (Stari Most), and back.
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For a few years now, womxn attending UWC Mostar have planned a march for Womxn’s day. Mostar’s ex-Yugoslav context makes the significance around the 8th particular to its history as a part of the communist block. For the West of the world, Mother’s Day is when mothers and women are appreciated. But during the Cold War, the communist block rejected  Mother’s Day and branded it as a capitalist tendency. Instead, the 8th of March was adopted as a day for emancipation, a day for bringing women into the workforce as equal labourers to men. Time has since passed, the former ‘communist block’ now has countries in, or waiting to be in, the EU. Therefore, this day of emancipation has adopted the tone of the western ‘Mother’s day’. From the 7th to the 8th of March, the streets of Mostar became a stream of flower vendors, and men lined up to purchase roses for the women in their life. For most in Mostar, the day is mainly chocolates, flowers and appreciation.
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Nonetheless, the feminist approach to the day remained subtly visible in the city. From a few days before, ‘Vaginini Monolozi’ (vagina monologue) stickers could be found peeking through the remnants of last election’s posters. These pink and black invites were no bigger than the palm of a hand and their vague, simplistic vagina imagery could only be seen by those looking for it.
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The Womxn’s day march did not employ such a subtle invitation. Students from UWC Mostar gathered outside the Gymnazia building and distributed posters that they had made the day before. Quotes and slogans were painted on cardboard signs. These posters called for the empowerment of womxn and an end to sexual harassment, calling out the oppressive nature of the patriarchy in both English and the local language.
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As the march chanted through the streets, reactions were mixed and abundant. Glares and middle fingers were countered by posters and calls for unity, and ambiguous honks from the cars passing by added to the ruckus produced by the students. The chant ‘Ne želimo koje želimo prava’ (we don’t want roses we want rights) echoed through the building walls, dragging people on to their balconies to witness the chants on the street below.
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Emerging from the passivity of a rose-filled 8th of March were those willing to fight back. Some observers clapped and held their fist as the march flowed past. Some local students had even joined the march from the very beginning, helping us translate our slogans. A man known among the college students for his weekly Wednesday protests joined the procession, calling for youth empowerment.
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The hour-long singing and chanting not only broke the vocal cords of the students but reached the Mostarian newspaper the next day. The headline, ‘Mostarke i Mostarci marširali za bolja prava žen’ (Mostar’s men and women march for women’s rights) went beyond the complicated ethnicity-based identity politics of the country and focused on a feminist march that called for emancipation and empowerment of womxn regardless of their ethnic background. Such a feat felt worthy.

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