Women on the front line

Pierre Adrien Brazzini


When are mentioned women in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war, from 1992 to 1995, they are mostly considered as victims. Mass rape, population displacement, ethnic cleansing (improper term since Croats, Serbs and Bosnians are all Slaves) and prison camps have crystallized an image of prey. As authentic as it is, this vision doesn’t obviously cover all realities of women’s lives during this period. According to the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s archives, 5360 of them were engaged in its ranks during the conflict.

These women enrolled themselves by conviction, necessity or risk-taking tendencies. The majority of them has been assigned to these positions traditionally reserved to women: administration, kitchen, infirmary. But in the first months of war, the situation and equipment of the bosnian army was critical; by compensating the necessity, women gained access to fighter’s positions, brought into hand-to-hand fights. Even today, few countries accept to bring their females soldiers in such situations, for reasons that lie midway between moral and tactical needs.

This is portrait of 10 of them, who fought on different frontlines of Bosnia. During the twenty years that followed the war, they were gradually discarded and forgotten. Bosnian are aware of what their society grant to women in general during this time of war: for many, they were those who run the country while the men were fighting. But women who fought are exceptions. Except few official ceremonies and good words, very little assistance was offered. Many of them are unemployed and most do not receive veteran’s pension, while all suffer in different degrees from post-traumatic stress syndromes.

They fallowed their lives, they rebuilt its. Many say their deception and concern about the political situation in the country, still one of the poorest in Europe, and unable to escape the nationalistic division’s game. By there very specific position of women and fighter, they have experienced the contradiction of the bosnian society, and stand the disappointments of these past twenty years. They also speak more generally about the place of women in Bosnian society, where aspirations are very different between cities and countryside, between a modernist ideology (socialist or European type), a traditionalist ideology (muslim or conservative), and all who sail between these two spheres.

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  • Jasmina Suceska Slatina, born on March 21st, 1964, in Foca. She studied physical education at the Sarajevo faculty Sarajevo when war broke out. Cut off from her family, isolated, she enrolled in the army in order to survive.

  • Kadira Palic born in Moševici in 1972. She enrolled in the army after loosing one of her three brothers. She is described by many like “the women who has the bigger balls of all her unit“ and fought in Breda's zone, north of Sarajevo. She wanted to stay in the army, when it became professional, after the war, but couldn't due to birth defect on her hand, she's unemployed since and started a therapy one year ago in order to reduce her syndromes of post-traumatic stress.

  • Ajša Čosić Lutvica born on 15th décembre 1971 in Hrasnica, Sarajevo. She wanted to be in the army even before war. She enrolled the 19th of july 1992, fought all along the war and enlisted after war into the professional army.

  • Sabaheta Cutuk, born July 25th , 1962, in Nemila. She enrolled in the army after losing her first husband. She fought in Goražde.

  • Kadira Palic received this document at the second anniversary of the creation of the army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • Portrait of Ajša Čosić Lutvica during wartime and military document.

  • Esma Drkenda, born on August 17th, 1964, and described by General Bahto, who led the defense in Goražde area, as “the most courageous member of the 81st“. Before war she was engaged into the Territorial Defense, she enlisted the 1st may 1992 into the recently created army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Before the war and the dislocation of Yugoslavia, the military system was based on two component, the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), the federal army ruled by the Yugoslav communist party in Belgrad, and the Territorial Defenses, ruled by each country of the federation. Esma was in the 31th Drinjska Brigade and then joined a police elite group. She was lieutenant but when she enlisted in the professional army, she lost her rank, as many others women. She is now director of Seka House, an association for women and children who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Danijela Rakić, born on June 5th, 1970. She poses in front of the tomb of Emir Carli Bogunic his Fikro unit commander, 104th Motorized Brigade. She fought all along the war and decided to stay in the professional army, after war. Her name is not muslim, her father was orthodoxe and her mother christian. She had to face the hostility of some members of the army, “it was harder to be Danijela in the army than to be a women in the army“.

  • Elvira Plana Sarač, born in 1967 in Sarajevo. She started in a neighbourhood armed gang just before war and she enrolled with her sister when war broke out. She fought until mid-june 1992 when her sister died. Her sister received the "Zlatni Ljiljan“, and Elvira has been transferred on a safe position.

  • Dževada Tataragić Tresno, born on January 1st, 1964, in Foca. She is among the 13 women who received the Zlatani Liljan the golden lily, the highest Bosnian military decoration. Seven of them received it posthumously.

  • Portraits of Jasmina Suceska Slatina during wartime.

  • Žuc is an area above Sarajevo where some very violent fights happened in the first months of the war. This is one of the access in which Bosnian Serbs tried to enter the city. Plave Ptice, «bluebird», the most feminized unit of the army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, won fame in these combats.

  • Sarajevo from Žuc.

  • Esma Rašidagić Merčanić, born in 1965 in Priboj, Serbia. She arrived in Sarajevo when she was 17. Ten years later the war broke out, she enrolled for the country she has adopted.

  • Dinka Tanjo, born October 14th, 1961. She fought all along the war and became lieutenant into the professional army, after war. When she get retired she lost her officer rank and twice 10% of her pension and then again 5 %, without other explanation than “women can't be officer“. She earns less than 200 euros per month and grows vegetables as many people in Bosnia. Dina, her nickname, spent one year in Seka House, an association for women and children who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndromes. She still feels "nervous" or "anxious“ sometimes but she says she now learns to live with. For her the whole women's situation in Bosnia is due to the lack of women's mobilisation.