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Kosovo Glocal: We’ll write our own history


I was recently invited to speak at a conference in Prishtina about activism success stories, like the HPV vaccine campaign and the project of writing women into Wikipedia. In the middle of my otherwise calm speech, where I shared many wonderful experiences, I declared: “We’re all going to die!” It was ironic, particularly saying that amidst success stories. But there was a point, people often struggle to come up with what could be worse than death.

Every child who has seen the Disney film “Coco” knows that being forgotten is worse.

Exploring the Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, similar to some traditions in the Balkans — Requiem Masses, All Saints’ Day — the animated film deals with the important topic of death after death. That is, the permanent death of the soul that occurs when there’s no one left among the living to remember us.

The always unfulfilled promise of eternal life

New technologies once promised eternal life for all. The opposite now seems to be the case: oblivion multiplies exponentially day by day. I will try to explain what I mean with the example of “Digital Majority,” a project I launched with literary editor and peace activist Ana Pejović. The project holds the utopian idea that women will ultimately become the majority in the digital world.

As soon as they were created, the internet and other contemporary technologies began to promise democratization, while open-source repositories like Wikipedia seemed like something imaginary — for knowledge to be free and available to all. But that’s not how things turned out, even though everything is within our reach. There’s a great tweet in Serbian that says something like: Despite the fact that the entire knowledge of the world is at your fingertips, that we can learn languages and programming and ancient history, we go online and argue with random people instead.

I first logged onto Wikipedia in 2002 during an IT class. Although I did some basic training, I never used to post anything. Around 91% of Wikipedia editors are men, while only 8% are women or non-binary, a quiet minority. Even though women read more than men online, they make up less than 47% of the readership on Wikipedia.

The reason for this is relatively easy to see — there is little content that speaks to us.

It’s a man’s man’s man’s world

Women aren’t writing, aren’t getting written about, and there’s not enough content that they find interesting.

Only 17% of Wikipedia biographies are about women. Of these, 41% have been nominated for deletion due to a supposed lack of relevance. Who are they not relevant enough to? To Wikipedia community members, 91% of whom are men. With this huge gender gap Wikipedia loses much of its credibility.

This asymmetry means Wikipedia cannot represent itself as objective, neutral or as the biggest repository of knowledge in the world, though technically it still is. Wikipedia has been compromised by the fact that those participating in the democracy of discussing, voting, writing, deleting are 91% men.


Despite gender inequalities and gender-based violence, the global ratio of women to men is almost equal: 101 to 101.8. So, offline, at least, we still exist.

Wikipedia is a major test of online democracy and the founders know it; the organization has facilitated a number of studies and campaigns on the topic. One of them is Gender Gap, a project aimed at reducing gender inequality in the editing community. While politicians vie for power before elections, women fail to see they’re losing a race that has implications for our eternal life. We’re a digital minority without even realizing it. Day by day, we become less visible. And that’s bound to continue until we’re all gone, along with our accomplishments.

Humble steps towards victory

“Digital Majority” had humble beginnings. We started out by adding 25 women’s biographies to Wikipedia, choosing women we had sufficient information about. We were supported by Nevena Rudinac and Ivana Madžarević from Wikimedia Srbije, who offered us free training. Around two dozen women and a young man responded to our public call. Others joined as we went, having heard about us through friends. Soon enough, the list grew to include 140 women.

Many women we write about are still alive. You know what they say? “I’m not that important, there are many more important women.” So we then add those “more important” to the list. So far we’ve edited more than 250 articles, half of what we’ve planned to do so far. But that’s just one part of the story.

SInce ChatGPT has started using information from Wikipedia, the situation has become even more urgent. Given AI and the machine learning processes,  if women aren’t on Wikipedia today, we’ll be nowhere to be found tomorrow.

It’s not enough if we exist only on social media, in local newspapers, and in the city or national archives. If those are the only places our stories are recorded, we will disappear. Even worse, we’ll disappear within our own lifetime. “We’re all going to die!” doesn’t sound as scary with that in mind. Women will disappear before we die.

We choose whom history will remember

We started out by covering histories of the women who were active in peace and anti-war movements throughout the 1990s. We want it to be known that not everyone was in favor of war. Not only that, but some individuals, often women, risked their lives to stop the wars. These were artists, academics, activists, politicians and, especially, ordinary women.

Mothers lay down in front of buses to stop them from taking their children to the frontlines; three women, architect Sonja Prodanović, reserve Major in the Yugoslav Army Neda Božinović and Colonel Marinka Romanov Arneri of the Military Medical Academy met with Chief of the General Staff of the Army Veljko Kadijević, to discuss and prevent Dubrovnik’s isolation. Belgrade University students — including Olga Kavran — went to Croatia, where they negotiated with local Serbs to end the war.


In her remembrance of Jelena Šantić and the moment women laid their bodies down in front of the building of the Yugoslav Ministry of Defense to protest the Kosovo War with their bodies, Štefica Ivljev wrote:

I hear a voice: “Get up, woman — or else we’ll take care of you!” They push, shove and drag me around; I tell them to get their dirty hands off me. My body rises, but my soul is still down there on the ground. I stand up. Under my feet, my fellow activist Jelena Šantić claws into the scorching asphalt, becoming one with it as she lies prone. It’s boiling hot. I tell her to get up, but she says she won’t. The police stomps on us and removes our bodies from the asphalt. 

I tell Jelena this is all in vain because they will grab and break her before they throw her away. She’s going to get hurt. They’re always stronger than us. I get down to touch her, begging her to stand up. “They’re gonna crush!” She cries: “I’m not getting up! If they wanna crush me, so be it…” Two officers grin: “Oh, it’s you!” They seize her frail body, pick her up. They lift her like an object and put her down by the curb, beyond the shade of a nearby tree everyone runs towards. “Oh, it’s you!” meant “We know you.” They identified their opponent.

Many refused to learn or teach hatred. It was ballerinas and university professors, nurses and schoolteachers, workers and housewives, mothers, grandmothers, lesbians and soldiers. But where are their stories recorded? This unwritten history is full of defeat, dread and deaths that ended the search for freedom and peace. Lydia Sklevicki told us the bitter truth: There are more photos of horses than of women in history textbooks.

We remember criminals’ names, but women’s?

Seven women in the central Serbian village of Trešnjevac started the longest anti-war protest of the 1990s in the region. Most people in the surrounding areas have never even heard of the place.

After more than half of village men were drafted into the military in May 1992, the women decided to do something. Klara Balint, Veronika Gazdag, Eržebet Kanjo, Laura Kavai, Ildiko Bata (née Mesaroš), Ester Pekla and Gizela Teslić organized a protest outside the village school.

They had four demands: an end to conscription, the return of conscripts, a general amnesty for war deserters and the creation of a League of Peace.

On May 10, 1992, after the protest started, Trešnjevac was swiftly surrounded by Yugoslav Army tanks, their guns facing the village. Word got out that they were loaded and ready to attack in case of unrest. According to the locals’ count, there were 92 tanks.

And so the Spiritual Republic of Zicer was born — the longest protest against the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia. Not all fairy tales have happy endings though. This protest of ordinary women, villagers and workers was not enough to stop the conflict. You can read more about the Trešnjevac protest on Serbian Wikipedia here.

At the conference in Prishtina I asked the attendees if they’d ever heard of Trešnjevac. Only one person raised their hand. I told him he doesn’t count because it was Darko Šper, a journalist from the Independent Journalist Association of Vojvodina who has made at least two documentaries about the Trešnjevac protest and other demonstrations that were organized across Vojvodina. His films are proof that some people opposed the war and fought for peace. I know these movies by heart, frame by frame. The most memorable part is a scene where a mother says, “Why do only our children — children of workers — go to war, but not the politicians’ children?”

This is a woman’s world, this is my world

For the sake of women and the efforts that inspire us, but also for the sake of us who got the hang of writing and editing articles on Wikipedia, I wanted to tell this story in Prishtina as well.

This fall, in cooperation with organizations from Montenegro and Kosovo, we’ll try to encourage others to find more important stories and women so that we can save them from oblivion — so that we can share all strategies of anti-war and anti-violent resistance.

Hopefully, we can build communities based on solidarity, collective work, mutual support and shared knowledge.


Some of us have children, while others are students — either here or at prestigious universities abroad. Sometimes there’s an exhibition you have to arrange or you’re saving up for your summer vacation, but we’re enduring. Some of us are good at writing, some of us don’t know English, some of us sometimes have a sick kid or a tight schedule because of tests. But we all pull through.

It all started with a list and willingness to do something; now we’re joined by a large number of individuals and organizations. There’s too many to list but I’ll mention some anyway: forumZFD, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, museum90, the European Fund for the Balkans, Reconstruction Women’s Fund, the Local and Regional Development Center, Anima, Befem, Crvena, Združene…

Women from across the region reach out to us about where to start, how to join. We patiently answer their questions, offering encouragement and sharing knowledge.

And my blood flows, through every man and every child

Women’s lives are inseparable from the lives of everyone. However, women’s names and stories are often left untold. But they will be told. Besides learning about the past, we learn about the present. Above all, we learn how to endure. By means of writing and telling stories, we build a community.

We offer support to each other, but we also talk and laugh together. We thought it was going to be just another project, but we’ve managed to build a community based on care, ethics and accountability.

Today, we’re friends — we travel the region together, telling our story. This fall we are spreading the initiative in Montenegro and Kosovo with the goal of initiating new authors and receiving new articles so we can write a new page of our common history.

It’s not only about Wikipedia anymore. Real-life discussions matter, but so do social media, podcasts, scientific papers, books, films and stories. We want to believe that we can change the world little by little by inscribing women — ourselves — into history. Today, there are multiple ways forward, but hey — ladies first.

We’ll write our own history

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