Blogbox | Sexual Violence

In memory of Marte Tunaj

How we betrayed her quest for justice.

It is the year 2019. The war ended in the year 1999. And would you look at the Facebook statuses! It seems like our politicians required a testimony in front of a foreign congress somewhere to hear, after 20 years, the suffering caused by war crimes in our own backyard.

And you ask how our politicians can have the nerve to rise and shout “justice,” while ‘till yesterday they were employing people who have stood accused of wartime rape in state institutions?

I don’t know. But maybe the question is completely wrong. Because this is not an issue of “having the nerve.” For our politicians, every policy is made in accordance with the moment that suits them to remain in power. For them, power implies wealth and the freedom to purchase ties, for example, with public funds. Did you think it implies responsibility?!

And naturally, with the employment and appointment of war criminals in state institutions they continue today as well while shouting their “demand for justice” for civilian war victims. With their prideful howls in the political chorus on Facebook and before the cameras, they continue to underestimate the fact that, first and foremost, they were the ones who denied justice to civilian victims of war in the past 20 years.

Without any bit of shame, they want to sell us the fairytale that the state of Kosovo, that they — as the unwavering captors of the state — have sought justice for civilian war victims during the past 20 years. They say that there has been no domestic or international justice for war victims of Kosovo. Why? Who did YOU demand this justice from? When? Where were we, since we didn’t hear about this? Where were you to bring domestic justice?

And as such, the question “Where were you when I fought in the war?” will become “Where were you when I demanded justice?” Very soon, they will start to quarrel with one another. In fact, they have already started to lie to us about who demanded justice first. NONE OF YOU!

In the last 20 years, our “heroes” in power, who come and go, and giggle before local and international cameras, have never demanded justice for civilian war victims, nor provided it to them. They evaded justice themselves whenever they could. That they did.

The survivors, or the relatives of civilian war victims, they did demand justice, and in return, they were silenced with a big slap. Calls for justice have many faces. And many names. Some are no longer among us.

I remember Marte Tunaj. Do you remember her? She fought for justice.

She opened a road that was cut short, breaking all taboos of our patriarchal (= manly, heroic, patriotic) society regarding wartime sexual violence crimes, crimes that our politicians (Isa, Alma) did not even have the courage to name for what they were in the inauguration ceremony of the “Heroines” memorial (which was “not” dedicated to women who were raped during the war, but some other time more about this). Systematic rape = weapons of war = war crimes. That’s it.

Mrs. Tunaj’s fight was cut short, because her voice did not awaken the people and her political class (although the latter is not asleep, it is simply living its sweetest dream, to our detriment, to our anguish).

Delayed justice is justice denied. This is a recognized legal principle.

Marte Tunaj fought for justice and fought for the truth.  Although the man accused of raping her, Miloš Jokić, was sentenced to jail in 2000, he was subsequently acquitted upon a retrial in 2002. She will never get the justice she deserves*. During the war crimes case, Tunaj said:: “I want everyone to listen to me, including my husband, my family and journalists.”

What did we hear?

She also said, prior to her death: “I am now 65 years old, and I receive a pension from the state for the amount of 96 euros. I closely follow the debate around women who were raped during the war and it saddens me to see people speaking with prejudice against this category.

“I am surprised by, and very concerned about discussions in Parliament and in the government about whether or not these raped women should be paid.  It is truly shameful for this government and these institutions that 15 years after the war, they still discuss whether or not they should give financial support to women who were raped.”

But there were discussions. The law was approved in 2014. Marte Tunaj passed away in 2016. The application process was opened in 2018. Delayed justice is justice denied. This is a recognized legal principle. And justice in the form of recognition, for Marte Tunaj, was delayed.

Mrs. Jahjaga, our former president, was the only one to visit her family and pay her respects after her death. State institutions did not express their condolences to her family by paying a visit, let alone by giving them 15,000 euros (as they gave to the Daci family when their son, a former deputy minister, passed away). Mrs. Jahjaga was the only one who supported and united with non-government organizations that worked tirelessly to raise their voice, publicly and globally, demanding justice for families of the victims and for survivors of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo.

But even after all their struggles and hard work, state institutions learned very little from them. And today, women and men who were victims of wartime rape, despite having found the courage to apply for the status recognition as civilian war victims (if they’re able to do so: The law excludes those who were raped by military forces after June 1999 — do you wonder why?), continue to be denied recognition for insignificant reasons, after waiting for months on end for their case to proceed and for a decision to be reached.

And while they — the ones who actually have the power to go through such a battle — might contest decisions that deny their status in the courts, the law will expire. Yes, laws expire. The women (and men) who were victims of wartime rape were given only five years to apply to have their status recognized.

Five years. Imagine. Just five years.

After 20 years of loneliness, of physical and mental torture that comes as the result of war trauma and post-war social victimization due to traditional factors, only five years are given for wartime rape victims to find the power, courage and will to apply to have their status recognized. How many cases will fail to be concluded within this deadline?

Yes, Marte Tunaj spoke. And so did Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman. The question is: What did we hear?

The massacred are called martyrs, and wartime rape is called war contribution.

What about those who were silenced to the point that they do not dare to speak? This is violence. Post-war violence. And this violence should have deafened us so much, so much that it has screamed for the past 20 years, in solitude. But the state (the one that we achieved with so much difficulty) wasn’t there to listen to them.

On the contrary, people were silenced with the cultural fist of the power that has transformed memories of victims into a marathon of memorial construction for heroes, into a competition of who can post the best heroic graveyard photo (and why not, with hand at heart, like Kadri, Fatmir and the others) on Facebook.

Until when? Until they no longer can. And they will be able to for as long as we allow the suffering of these people to be poisoned with banal heroic language, in which the massacred are called martyrs, and wartime rape is called war contribution.

I am writing this while I remember all those who because of this heroism cannot speak for themselves and shout: No, I did not give my sons for Kosovo. They came, took them from my home, killed them and made them disappear. No, I did not sacrifice myself in the war. They raped me in my home. No, I did not become a martyr. They massacred me in my backyard.

No, I did not see justice in 20 years, because in the last 20 years, you have not listened, all the while you (Hashim) kneeled before memorial plaques on graves of Serbs, who call Albanians terrorists. Meanwhile you (Hashim) invite former servants of Milošević to give speeches just the same as Milošević used to, in Kosovo.

Meanwhile you (Ramush) consider the violent expulsion and deportations of our people during the war as a road to a “picnic in Bllacë.” Meanwhile, you inflate the veterans’ lists and state prosecutors are forced to flee into exile because of you, like we were once forced to flee from Milošević.

According to you (Ramush), even children had weapons at hand during the war. Meanwhile, you barely voted on the law recognizing victims of wartime sexual violence as civilian war victims, after talking a lot of bullshit in the process and failing to vote for it initially.

No, I did not see justice for 20 years, because for 20 years you have paraded your expensive cars, had fun in your expensive houses, took vacations at St. Moritz, sat your ass on leather all day, all the while our women are being ordered to bring hygienic gloves from home when they go to get mistreated, offended, discriminated… pardon me, to give birth at the hospital.

Not least because history taught us to fool ourselves with political heroism. We are yet to have a person (Albin is sadly not that person either) among us who goes into politics in order to take us out of the darkness that is this heroic fraud.

Not least because for you, justice as a concept is but potential political bargaining. An opportunity for you to exchange your big words and small actions with a king’s chair and some business deal. An opportunity for you  to continue to grow on the back of others’ pain.

It is the year 2019. The war ended in the year 1999. It is clear now,  it ended only for you!

But why did she need courage in peace? This is a question that we are all evading.

The wounds of the war will not be cured by memorials. But in Kosovo, where manly memorials are ubiquitous, our history is in urgent need of a memorial for a woman, with a face, not an anonymous woman, but rather one with a first and last name so as to cure, if it isn’t already too late for us, the younger generations from the historic violence against women and the systematic discrimination against their memory among this nation.

Kosovo needs a memorial that registers into the conscience of society the memory of women who were victims of wartime systematic sexual violence, so as to teach the younger generations about what war really is.

Kosovo needs a memorial that honors the memory of a woman who, despite being faced with harsh traditional social norms, challenged the patriarchal culture in the country, and even when everyone else expected her to collapse in the shame that is dictated to her experience of the war by the Kanun (traditional Albanian set of laws).

She rose and said: “I want everyone to listen to me, including my husband, my family and journalists.”

I need a memorial of Marte Tunaj at the best possible location in Prishtina. However, it has to be a memorial that does not offend her experience of war nor her courage to fight for justice with language of patriarchal heroism and glory.

But, why did she need courage in peace? This is a question that we are all evading.

However, facing this question and finding the answer to it would bring justice to many women. The truth is that she needed courage to speak because the fist of the Kanun does not spare women from “moral” shackles, even in regard to their wartime suffering.

History asks of women to jump from cliffs, to be mured up in castle walls so as to give form to the manly “honor.” And as if that is not enough, they even ask her to continue to breastfeed, to raise lion-hearted sons.

Do you get this? History teaches us that if you’re not a hero, you’re nobody. How many memorials did we build for civilian war victims in the last 20 years?

Marte Tunaj challenged this culture, particularly amid the collective silence, and that was very brave. And this bravery, with the respect that it deserves, must be honored by giving her a place in history, to serve as an inspiration for future generations.

When will they build a memorial that serves as the voice, the face and the name of the wartime experiences of a woman, two women, hundreds and thousands of women in history, who were faced with injustices inflicted upon them by foreign enemies during wartime, and by their own homeland traditions during peacetime?

What about naming a street? What about naming a school? What about having one page in a history book, one book in which women have faces, names and voices?

How will we apologize? I don’t think we can apologize to the ones who are no longer with us.

Will we ever speak about our politicians’ irresponsibility and failure to provide justice for civilian victims of war during all these years? Because justice takes many forms. And one of the forms of justice that Kosovo could have provided during the last 20 years — and Kosovo has not been prevented in this regard, despite Serbia’s position in relation to the crimes that it committed in Kosovo — is financial support and psycho-social aid for victims of war, not least by recognizing their legal status.

But this was so delayed that many women did not manage to partake in it. So, never say that it is never too late for justice. Of course it’s too late for the ones who are no longer with us. Will someone ever apologize to their relatives?

Will someone be held legally responsible for the fact that in the last 20 years, thousands of civilian war victims have faced a systematic denial of their elementary rights for rehabilitation, reintegration and equal participation in social life?

Naturally, first and foremost one has to feel responsibility in order to apologize. Who do you expect to feel responsible amid so many stout-hearted men?

What about us, as a society, for allowing these degrading parades? How will we apologize? I don’t think we can apologize to the ones who are no longer with us.

But making a memorial for Marte Tunaj is the least we can do to apologize to the younger generations for the way we treated women in our society, and to inspire them to be better than us and not to forget, even after centuries have passed, what we forgot a couple of days after the war ended, and every day through centuries — amid all the wars, we silenced the war of women against the Kanun.

Have we been silent for long enough?

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

This article was originally published in Albanian on DialogPlus and has been re-published here with permission.

* Correction: This article was updated after publishing to clarify that Miloš Jokić was subsequently acquitted at retrial. The version of the article originally published only referenced the original verdict, in which Jokiq was initially found guilty and jailed.