Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Region Says Thank You: Opening of the Lesbian Reading Room Lepa Mladjenovic in Novi Sad, Serbia, 5 July 2011

                                                            A Statement from the Organizers

"In the full hall of the anarchist Black House in Novi Sad, in the exciting atmosphere full of feminists, lesbians,gay men activists--the Novi Sad Lesbian Organization opened the Lesbian Feminist Radical Antifascist READING ROOM LEPA MLADJENOVIC.

Before the opening of the Reading Room, we watched together the documentary "Hand on the Pulse" about the life and work of lesbian activist and writer Joan Nestle. The idea of founding this Reading Room was kept secret from Lepa Mladjenovic up to the very moment of the opening ceremony! This secret stayed in full confidentiality thanks to our wide responsible lesbian feminist community--this surprised greatly intensified the excitement of the evening for all of us,

During the evening lesbians, feminists, gay men, antifascists read their moving letters, poems and notes addressed to Lepa, their own as well as those from about twenty well known activists from around the world: Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Israel,Canada, Kosova, Germany, Palestine, USA, Scotland and Switzerland.

The idea for founding this Reading Room came from feminist activist Professor Isabel Marcus from Buffalo, USA, and from activists from the Novi Sad Organization, from their wish to give space for honor, gratitude and sisterhood for all that Lepa Mladjenovic has done for the lesbian and feminist community in Novi Sad and elsewhere.

Reading Room Lepa Mladjenovic is a space in which public readings and open discussions will be organized, in which all who are interested in literature about different fields such as lesbian and gay lives, feminism, anti fascism and the peace movement can come to read and use the books. This will be a place where--like our friend Ariane Brunet has written, 'I hope that in this reading room lesbians will think of having a 'story telling night; where questions are asked, memories unfolded, where reading is about listening and where books are written through each other's eyes!' As this is how Lepa has been reading our hearts and souls."

                              In joy and solidarity, activists from the Novi Sad Organization--NLO

                                                                     Lepa's Response

To My Dear Lesbian Community:
I am still in full emotions. Last night friends opened up a surprise night for our lesbian community inscribing in history, Novi Sad is a World.

There were forty of us which seemed like four hundred, stirred up bodies of women, lesbians, feminists, gay men. The avalanche of words around my name! The opening of the Reading Room when I had thought I was just coming there to facilitate the discussion after the documentary about Joan Nestle, "Hand on the Pulse" and lesbian community.

First Marina Amazon of our city and I went to the station and met friends for the bus to Novi Sad. The eight of us had a great time in that bus in the last row; we talked and laughed just like once upon a time during school excursions. Only now we are all lesbians and before we were not, all the difference is in that fact that lesbian desire makes us particular friends whose mere walking down the streets of our society changes its context from its foundation.

In Novi Sad in the yellow yard of the anarchist Black House we embraced a lot! Women from the Lesbian organization from Novi Sad, NLO, are there, their sweet gay friends too, activists of Labris are entering the yard from the two hour cheap train ride, and we are screaming to welcome them.

The film starts, I watch it with full concentration, happy that Jody has made great subtitles in our language, that Sandra, Tijana and Lori have super organized it. I hear again Joan's words in the film, and I think, here is how we arrive from "the wretched of the earth" to winners that march with open arms in their own cities, I think of the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade in New York. We shall come there one day as well...

After the movie and long applause, Tijana comes out, Lori comes out and they say we have a small surprise, I think, ah great, but still we did agree to have a discussion after the movie, women are waiting to say their impressions..but NO!

To my utter surprise, on the stage come out our dear butches carrying a wooden plaque and say, "Today we open the Lesbian Reading Room Lepa Mladjenovic! Uh! yes, that's me, but I am still not connecting with this Lepa. I am silent, excited, it is no joke...but I have a few notes I made while watching the movie and I need to facilitate, what's all of this now? Joyful are my dear friend on the stage. They carry the plaque and tell me to pick it up. The Rainbow flag is flying. I think yes I need to climb those three steps to the stage, probably Melissa Etheridge felt the same while she got the Oscar for music, the legs are trembling even though she also wears flat solid shoes--of course, both of us are butches, while lesbians are whistling and screaming in applause. What an honor. What an honor! I am excited and I can't watch further then Lori, Mirjana, Zoe. I keep myself in the scope of two meters. They give me the carefully designed wooden plaque, and I know all of this is happening for the first time in my life.

And now, Lori is announcing one more part: the warm rain of words of love and respect is falling on all us like a thousand stars. Women come out one after the other reading letters of their own and of lesbians from around the world. my friends come one after the other in front, excited in a gala mood, prepared. I stand near each one of them and still I think I didn't know anything about this, I was in the bus with them all! I tell myself, stop wondering, be here and now, breathe, listen to all these most wonderful words addressed to you, tears are pouring, where are the napkins. Tijana brings a new pack of yellow serviettes, it will be enough. How did you find this Palestinian friend of mine, Rauda Marcus, and Laurence Hovde, and Igballe Rogova heart is beating. I hear that the Reading Room was plotted by Isabel Marcus, Lori Stankovic and Mijana Benic while they were eating good food in Nov Sad a few months ago. An international Lesbian Conspiracy--that means your friends are writing the most beautiful letters how they love yo and respect you and then friends are reading them to you while you least expect it! Sisterhood is flooding like a waterfall through our bodies, we applaud each other. Svenka Savic comes out and says, you and Stasa Zajovic are visionaries. I breathe and embrace her and remind us all how many times she saved me when the media would not put the female form of 'psychologist' in front of my name and I sent them to Dr Savic for a little consultation! Slavica Stojanovic comes out with a big bouquet of white field flowers. Ah yes, I remember Melissa from the previous scene, I throw the flowers to the women in audience. The next time we shall open in the a similar manner, the archive or theater or Internet cafe with the name of some of us here.

After many wonderful words that made me use the yellow napkins many times, we moved to the Reading Room. Four competent butches were waiting to glue the plaque saying Reading Room to the wall. My lesbian-schwester Bo says, sisters, give me a beer and I will keep this plate pressed to the wall to be sure it's glued, all night if needed. Queen Latifa and Sandra from Macedonia are assisting with smiling applause. Books, brochures, leaflets are carefully lined up. Touch of a woman's hand on the bookshelf. There is shy Adorjan Kurucz, courageous gay activist in proper black boots always ready to run away, as he has had to do more than once--the author of this brilliant design on the plaque. I think how many years of the feminist movement, the lesbian movement, how many years of commitment and love is needed so that one little room with a few chairs and one table becomes a Reading Room with a name? [emphasis mine] Later on, in the bus I think how this Reading Room can become a place for fueling hope, making a difference, a Hope Hot Spot.

Dear friends, at the end of the reading, I succeeded in opening my body to feel you all. Three of us stood on the stage while the applause lasted, and I watched one by one your brilliant eyes, heard your applause, the sound from your dear hands was roaring stronger then the sound of hatred a few weeks ago during the Split Pride March. That old fear was leaking away through the tears down my face while I watched the love in your faces as the applause lasted and lasted. It is still here in my body, look how many we are, we can do all, we can do much. I have never felt like this in my life, all  the lesbian movement is with us. Standing there in front I watched slowly those of you leaning on the bar in the back of the room and those sitting in front. I embrace your words, I love my lesbian feminist gay community: we came here with full hands, we have changed our cities and this country is not any more as it was because we reacted to it together, kissed by the sun.
                                     Yours, Lepa Mladenovic from the Reading Room


  1. I just want to support my lesbian sisters in Serbia. You are inspirational and in all our hearts. Living as I do in very beautiful , gay friendly Brighton, I recall the struggles we've had here in the UK. Many of us will never forget that there are many oppressions against us still to be challenged around the world.....we will never be complacent, despite our freedoms here. xx

  2. I met you in Brighton Joan. You are for me the most important lesbian icon of my generation.....a description you probably, modestly reject ! However, I have been following your blog since the Brighton Lesbian Conference, and I would love you to send my support to your brave friends in eastern europe.
    Wish I was so courageous. xxxx