Serbien: Janja Bec

Listen, talk, reflect, and trust.

— Janja Bec

Janja Bec was born in the multicultural environment of Vojvodina. She started working as an engineer, but continued studying and obtained a Ph.D. in sociology at Zagreb University. She left Yugoslavia in 1992 and lived in Germany. A Serb, she wanted to help the Muslim victims of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1995) and, thus, started campaigns in support of children and victims of the war. She assisted Bosnian refugees in Slovenia. Committed to helping women recover from war traumas and preserving the memories, she started writing books on the basis of her experience.

A Bosnian woman who met Janja Bec at the Refugee Center in Maribor, Slovenia, in December 1995, was surprised: Janja was a Serb and she was listening to Muslim victims of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia and Herzegovina! The Bosnian woman came from a village near Kotor Varos. In the spring of 1992, Serbs slaughtered her son and father-in-law, and her mother and sister were burnt alive in a mosque. She asked Janja if Serbs knew and felt sorry for it. Janja answered that it was taboo to talk about it in Serbia, but she was working to break that “conspiracy of silence.” In 1997, Janja published “The Shattering of the Soul.” It contained ten stories of Bosnian women and it was the first book by a Serbian author that acknowledged the genocide against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She discussed it in conferences, schools, and universities. The feedback she got from survivors and students gave her energy and motivation to go on. In Serbia, she taught for the first time after 15 years in 2004, in Novi Sad and Kragujevac. At the end of a lecture in Novi Sad, a girl expressed a widespread point of view: “Yes, but everyone did that.” It is a sentence that sums up a long process of relativization. Another girl was sensible enough to add a significant part, “Yes, everybody committed war crimes, but this was genocide.” The trials of the International Tribunal in The Hague have already confirmed the massacre of about 8000 Bosnian Muslims in the “United Nations safe” area of Srebrenica in July 1995. The girl who spoke first tried to react: “But . . .” The other girl immediately interrupted her, “There is no ‘but’ after genocide.” Janja thought she could answer that Bosnian woman she met in Maribor at last, “Yes, there are people who feel sorry for you.”