Category: History

University of Bologna Student, Fabrizio Parrilli, Defends Master’s Thesis and Graduates

 

University of Bologna Student, Fabrizio Parrilli, Defends Master’s Thesis and Graduates

 

Thesis Excerpt

 

FROM “BROTHEROOD AND UNITY” TO HATRED AND CONFLICT: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE USE OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AS AN “ETHNIC CLEANSING” TOOL DURING THE WARS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA AND IN KOSOVO.

Chapter 2: UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLAINING CONFLICT-RELATED SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Sexual violence against women represents a frightening and horrifying social reality, a global burden, a violation of human rights that cannot be justified under any circumstance and by any political, cultural or religious claim. Unfortunately, it continues to pervade our societies and, in some conflict scenarios, its recurrence heightens and can reach high levels in terms of magnitude, number of victims and scope, to the point of making us feel annihilated.

In both ancient and modern times, the impact of the brutalities of a war environment extends far beyond the number of combatants and civilians who are violently affected. Paradoxically, armed conflicts are fought and won using different methods and techniques: first of all, in battlefields using conventional weapons such as firearms, bombs, grenades, drones and missiles over a protracted period of time; and, in addition, by employing strategic military campaigns as that of sexual violence (in all its nuances and forms). Since military strategies are designed to accomplish some larger objectives, Lisa Sharlach (2000, p.90) asserts that “rape [and other forms of GBV] may even be a shrewder military tactic than murder because rape is difficult to prove, there is no corpse left as evidence, and war crimes tribunals and domestic courts seldom prosecute soldiers for rape”. Susan Brownmiller[1] (1994, p.181) has for long time tried to explain and document the recurrence of sexual violence in wartime, claiming that female bodies have become another battlefield:

“Sexual sadism arises with astonishing rapidity in ground warfare, when the penis becomes justified as a weapon in a logistical reality of unarmed noncombatants, encircled and trapped. Rape of a doubly dehumanized object – as woman, as enemy – carries its own terrible logic. In one act of aggression, the collective spirit of the women and of the nation is broken, leaving a reminder long after the troops depart”.

 

As I am going to discuss and disclose in this chapter, during the wars in Bosnia and in Kosovo, innocent women of all ages belonging in most cases to the Bosnjak and the Kosovo Albanian ethnic groups have been conscientiously and overwhelmingly targeted by “Serbs” (i.e., Bosnian Serbs, Serbian Armed Forces, Yugoslav People’s Army [JNA – Jugoslavenska narodna armija][2], regular and irregular paramilitary groups and militias organisations). It is now well-known and acknowledged that the central aim of Serbian nationalists was to “ethnically cleanse” those territories lost, or on the way to secede, after the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) had collapsed in the beginning of the 1990s. The intent behind the employment of GBV was that of terrorising, weakening, and destroying an entire people because of the value and meaning that women have within certain traditional societies. Since women are believed to represent the centre, the honour and the sanctity of the family and the community, “by destroying the women, attackers are one step closer to wiping out their ethnic enemy”, declare Kristine Hagen and Sophie Yohani (2010, p.17). Here lies the peculiarity of the post-Yugoslav wars: the gross abuses of women’s human rights on a massive scale due primarily to ethnic and gender differences. These two characteristics are precisely what made Bosnjak and Kosovo Albanian women “eligible” for being sexually abused (Skjelsbaek, 2006).

In order to effectively counter the issue of CRSV, it is thus pivotal to understand the reasons behind its occurrence if we want to bring justice for victims, their families and communities, with the hope of helping the international community and national governments to implement further measures and plans on how these crimes are to be prosecuted and how victims are to be recognised as innocent victims of war, and protected thus from further psychological and physical harm, social ostracism and discrimination. However, the issue under scrutiny has only recently become a matter of public discussion among scholars, lawyers, politicians, psychologists, historians, and the whole international community. In fact, victims of CRSV are being ignored by history, despite being an active part of it. Perhaps, one of the reasons why this phenomenon continues to occur depends on the silence of the victims and the taboo for the society that keeps such atrocity hidden and buried.

  • Silence and taboo

“Maybe that’s their [Serbian] way of hurting Muslim women and Croatian women, and the whole female race. Killing them isn’t interesting enough for them anymore. It’s a lot more fun to torture us, especially if they get a woman pregnant. They want to humiliate us… and they’ve done it, too. Not just in my case, either, all the women and girls will feel humiliated, defiled, dirty in some way for the rest of their lives… I feel dirty myself somehow. And I feel as though everybody can see it when they pass me in the street. Even though it isn’t true, no one could know about it. But the humiliation is there”.

  • Sadeta, Bosnian Muslim girl, twenty-year-old at the time of the interview in July 1992 (Stiglmayer, 1994, p.96).

 

The cruelty of CRSV has been largely ignored, understudied, and not acknowledged as being politically and culturally significant until recently; it “has been one of history’s greatest silences” (UN Action, 2011, p.4). According to Ruth Seifert (1993, p. 9), in almost five decades the savagery of CRSV has never been a subject of discussion and understanding: history has usually “placed a cloak of silence over the atrocities committed against women”. Indeed, it took ages to become a priority concern for the whole world.

The callous treatment of women during armed conflicts all over the globe and throughout humankind history reveal the need for the imperative commitment to tackle the problem of GBV once and for all. The paradigm and theoretical shift in the universal understanding of the impact, the documentation, and the conceptualization of CRSV occurred at the beginning of the 1990s[3], exactly when the world came to know about the innumerable atrocities committed during the fratricidal wars in the former Yugoslavia and, to a greater extent, during the genocidal campaign in Rwanda[4]. These events, which occurred just after the collapse of the Cold War system, exposed the entire world to a kind of violence that was considered unimaginable to happen again after World War II’s experience of brutal crimes against civilians and entire communities. But the massive gender-based persecutions that occurred during World War II had been partially obscured.

The discovery of the Nazi concentration camps led the international community to adopt, in 1949, a series of Conventions (i.e., the Four Geneva Conventions[5], which define violations of human rights under three general headings: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide), and, in 1977, the Additional Protocols[6], which establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in wartime:

  • The fourth Geneva Convention is the only one to mention “rape”. In Article 27 (UN, 1949, p.179), it states: “Women shall be especially protected against any attack of their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”
  • Article 76 (1) – Protection of women – of Protocol I (UN, 1977a, p.282) provides that “Women shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected in particular against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault.”.
  • Article 4 (2, e) – Fundamental Guarantees – of Protocol II (UN, 1977b, p.2) prohibits acts that are considered “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault.”

However, in all of them, the act of sexual violence as a war crime, crime against humanity and genocide is not explicitly mentioned; it “is not designated as a ‘grave breach’ but only as a lesser abuse”, claims Miranda Alison (2007, p.82). Rhonda Copelon[7] (1994, p.200) argues that the concepts of “honour” and “dignity” of women used by the Convention and the Protocols are a core problem since they somewhat fail to recognise SGBV as a fundamental crime against women, as a “violence against a woman’s body, autonomy, integrity, selfhood, security, and self-esteem as well as her standing in the community”. Furthermore, this conceptualisation seems to give more weight to the chastity and virginity of women, as well as the traditional social view of “invisible” women within societies, rather than acknowledging a specific serious crime: “[w]here rape has been treated as a grave crime, it is because it violates the honour of the man and his exclusive right to sexual possession of his woman as property”, underscores Copelon (1994, p.200).

Indeed, one of the worst crimes documented in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda was exactly the systematic SGBV that achieved startling levels in terms of number of victims and organisation. Something never witnessed before. According to various data gathered by numerous international organisations (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2008, p.39):

  • in Bosnia, between 14.000 and 50.000 women of all ages were systematically raped, sexually assaulted, mutilated, tortured, in public spaces or in concentration camps (named “rape camps”) until death occurred; or held in domestic and sexual slavery for extended periods, and even forcefully impregnated and released only when abortion was no longer feasible.
  • In Kosovo, the estimated number of sexual abuses fluctuated from 23.200 to 45.600 between August 1998 and August 1999[8].
  • In Rwanda, the number of women victims of SGBV is estimated to have been ten times higher than in Bosnia – between 250.000 and 500.000 – and it happened in just 100 days from April to July 1994.

 

Despite it is almost impossible to record each case and to rely on such numbers, these estimates reveal the most brutal side of a conflict and how some military operations are so accurately planned and practiced. “Numbers are unprovable”, exemplified Copelon (1994, p.204); while Albana Gërxhi (2017, p.175) highlights that they remain just an estimation rather than real number of victims, on the one hand, because of “the difficult context on which such violence happens”, while, “on the other hand, many of the women victims of violence would not report their experience bearing the shame and most of the times feeling guilty of what experienced”. These feelings are usually accompanied with the possibility of being rejected by the family and the community after admitting the sexual abuse. In its valuable report on the conflict in Kosovo, the Independent International Commission on Kosovo[9] (IICK, 2000, p.91) found out that GBV – in particular rape – “is notoriously difficult to quantify statistically, due to societal inhibitions against reporting”. As underlined by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “Kosovo: rape as a weapon of ethnic cleansing” (2000), the cultural stigma and women’s reluctance attached to rape further complicated the documentation efforts. In the case of Kosovo, HRW was able to discover “only” ninety-six credible accounts of rape, advancing that this figure represents only a fraction of the actual incidents that occurred. According to Zawati (2010, p.141), the conservative nature of the Muslim society was the reason why the cases of SGBV of Muslim women were under-reported and un-reported:

“In Muslim societies, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, women are valued for their sexual purity. Sexual intercourse is forbidden outside marriage, and if a woman has engaged in unlawful sexual acts, even against her will, she will be blamed and judged by her family and society for this victimization. Of course, this attitude is due to customary and traditional values, not to Islamic teachings and rules.”

 

Namely, the testimony of forty-eight-year-old Munerva, a traditional Muslim woman who felt victim of the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign in Bosnia, allows us to comprehend the injurious effects on women of blaming themselves for being sexually abused, which cause them to internalise the feelings of shame and guilt and to keep the experience buried. Munerva was repeatedly raped at home while her three sons and a daughter-in-law were in the house:

“Then they [two Serbian soldiers] brought me to the other room. I squeezed my legs tight together. One of them was with me, the other one was waiting in the living room. I begged him and cried, and I crossed my legs. Then he took out his thing, you know, and he did it and it sprayed on me. When he was done the other one came and did the same thing, but I kept my legs crossed the whole time. When they left, my sons came out and found me in a complete mess. They asked me what happened: “What’d they do to you?” I said, “Nothing.” I couldn’t tell them about it, I really couldn’t tell them about it. I’d rather die than have them find out about it.” (Stiglmayer, 1994, p.101).

 

Given the above, in traditional as well as in modern societies the taboo of sexual violence – of sexuality in general – provokes the emergence of the “culture of silence” that maintains the topic hidden, at the margins of public attention and debate. Hence, it becomes more difficult to discuss it openly and loudly, and consequently to effectively counter the phenomenon. Skjelsbaek (2001, p.228) states that one of the main problems with the reliability of data lies precisely in the feelings that stem from the crime: “shame, guilt, fear and taboos keep victims and perpetrators silent and this poses a great challenge to outside analysts and it is precisely the same feelings of shame, guilt, fear and taboo which make sexual violence such an effective weapon”. In addition, it is quite logical that aggressors decide not to speak out about what they have committed with the fear of being accused of a barbaric crime, branded as criminals and then imprisoned. Likewise, government and military authorities never admit to encouraging the use of sexual violence or turning a blind eye to what happens within the territorial borders of their countries (Sharlach, 2000).

Nowadays, the silence and the taboo that have covered for so long the topic of CRSV has finally been broken, although some social stigmas are still present. Over the past few decades, many scholars from different fields of study[10], activists, advocates, lawyers, journalists, politicians, policy-makers, human rights organizations, and the international community, have become increasingly concerned about this dramatic plight. Notwithstanding, all those actors are accused not to give enough importance and priority to the issue and to come out to the surface “only at the emotional moment when the side in danger of annihilation cries out for world attention”, as declared by Brownmiller (1994, p.182). On the same line of reasoning, Howard Clark (2000, p.158) adds: “‘Something must be done’ was one of the dominant feelings of the 1990s when faced with media images from one ethnic conflict after another and victims crying out for international intervention”. In his insightful book “Civil resistance in Kosovo” (2000), Clark criticises the international community and illustrates how the world woke up too late when the war erupted in Yugoslavia and how the war in Kosovo could have been prevented if the international community had included the Kosovo Question into the peaceful stipulation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) in November 1995[11], and if it had listened to the several warnings of the Kosovo Albanian civil society and its non-violent movement[12]. Zawati too (2010, p.197) contends that the international community failed to prevent and rapidly stop the wars in the Balkans and in Rwanda, arguing that the myriad atrocities “were committed in the face of an international conspiracy of silence”.

Indeed, in the case of the post-Yugoslav wars there were initially few reports of what was happening to women. Seifert (1993, p.9) stresses out the fact that “the Red Cross and other humanitarian relief organizations have for a long time been informed about the existence of rape camps without bringing the scandal to public attention”. As a matter of fact, the first instances of massive SGBV were notified in spring 1992 by Independent Zagreb feminists, “but they were not taken seriously because they did not have a ‘clear national approach’” (Morokvasic, 1997, p.79). According to Mirjana Morokvasic (1997, p.79), “it was only when the nationalists of the warring parties grasped the propaganda value of women’s suffering that rape stories spread all over the media, both local and international”. On the same line of reasoning, Skjelsbaek (2010) suggests that it is highly likely that stories of sexual violence in Bosnia received more attention by the international media because it took place in Europe among white Western peoples. Instead, what appeared to be a systematic attempt at destroying a community[13] through the establishment of concentration and rape camps was publicly reported only as early as August 1992 by Roy Gutman[14], at the time journalist for the American newspaper Newsday. However, unlike in Bosnia where the occurrence of SGBV was strongly condemned, the situation in Kosovo did not receive the expected scrutiny it needed and revealed the lack of attention to women’s and girls’ needs (Kosova Women’s Network, 2011). Also, the IICK (2000) advocated greater emphasis on the gender dimension of humanitarian intervention, denouncing the insufficient attention paid to the use and impact of rape as a weapon of war during the war in Kosovo.

Thence, once the atrocities committed in Bosnia and in Rwanda were reported and revealed to the entire world, they achieved an unprecedented resonance which brought the issue to the global human rights agenda and into the consciousness of the people, leading to profound transformations in legal, cultural, political, and social understandings of the problem. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the culprits could no more be left unpunished. As a result, two “ad hoc” international tribunals[15] were officially set up in the 1990s with the aim of criminalising, for the first time in history, sexual violence in the context of an armed conflict under international law: the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) and the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda). The former represents the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. It was established precisely to prosecute perpetrators for serious violations of international humanitarian law (including mass killings, torture, methodical detention of civilians, rape, enslavement, forced pregnancy, and the practice of “ethnic cleansing”) committed within the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991 (UNSC, 1993c). On the other hand, the ICTR signalled a turning point into the international jurisprudence with the sentence of the “Akayesu” case, in which rape and sexual violence were defined as acts of genocide for the first time in history (ICTR, 2001).

Thus, the tribunals established a legal international precedent by indicting individuals solely for the crime of SGBV. Jefferson (2004) highlights that the great commitment and will of the international community to provide accountability for CRSV crimes indicate the substantial aim to deter similar future episodes. However, both international criminal tribunals received several critiques on account of the failure to meet expectations for establishing accountability and responsibility for the brutalities in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. Accordingly, Jefferson (2004, p.337) claims that “in terms of sexual violence prosecutions each criminal tribunal risks being remembered for what it missed doing, rather than for what it achieved”. There should be no safe haven for all the wrongdoers but, according to the number of individuals accused by the ICTY from 1996 to 2017 (ICTY, 2016), only 78 individuals on a total of 161 had charges of SGBV included in their indictments. Out of the 78 defendants, 32 have been convicted for their responsibility for crimes of SGBV, as defined under Article 7 (1) of the ICTY Statute[16]; and 4 of them were additionally convicted for failing to prevent or punish the actual perpetrators of the crimes, under Article 7 (3)[17] of the Statute. As one may discern, these numbers are shockingly low considering the hundreds of thousands of women sexually abused. “[T]he number of successful prosecutions has been paltry compared to the scale of the crimes”, reckons Jefferson (2004, p.326). Moreover, the tribunals have not given the appropriate support and protection to victims: “[d]uring trials, survivors of sexual violence are reported to have received inadequate witness preparation, and experienced aggressive cross-examination, which left them feeling re-victimised and humiliated” (Bastick, Grimm and Kunz, 2007, p.156). This caused disappointment among victims, women’s rights activists and other actors involved in the prosecution of SGBV.

The ICTY’s jurisdiction was also extended to Kosovo, despite the idea of establishing an international-led Kosovo War and Ethnic Crimes Court (KWECC) as the local arm of the ICTY was soon abandoned due to resistance from Kosovo Albanian lawyers and judges who feared lack of ownership in the future court as well as complications of an additional layer between the domestic judicial system and the ICTY (Amnesty International, 2008). With regard to the conflict in Kosovo, “of the hundreds, potentially thousands, of cases of alleged sexual violence, not a single perpetrator” has been convicted by the ICTY (Kosova Women’s Network, 2011, p.84). The very first conviction for CRSV in Kosovo has been issued by the Basic Court in Pristina in July 2021, against a former Serbian policeman, Zoran Vukotić, sentenced to ten years in prison for the acts of rape and his participation in the expulsions of ethnic Albanian civilians back in 1999 (Gashi and Bami, 2021). In addition, Adam Jones[18] (2006, p.366) points out to the controversy of the ICTY in ruling out war crimes prosecutions of North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) leaders “accused of attacks on civilian targets and other breaches of international law” during the Kosovo war.

The lack of provisions for the protection of women or their unequal application has led to the increasing report of allegations of GBV in wartime and to the adoption of numerous international humanitarian and human rights reports, documents, conventions, and resolutions. Nowadays, CRSV is explicitly and categorically prohibited by international law, and perpetrators are held responsible for committing such crimes. In 1998, amid trials of the ICTY and ICTR, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. For the first time in history, the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, elevated the acts of SGBV (committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population) to one of the most heinous war crimes ever:

  • in Article 7 (1) (g), it is stated that “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” are to be considered as crimes against humanity;
  • in Article 8 (2) (b) (xxii), the same forms of sexual violence as war crimes are labelled “grave breach of the Geneva Conventions” (ICC, 2011, pp.3-6).

 

However, it was not until 2008 with the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1820 (UNSC, 2008, p.3) that forms of GBV can also be recognised as “a constitutive act with respect to genocide”. Furthermore, the UNSCR 1820 (2008, p.3) calls forth States “to comply with their obligations for prosecuting persons responsible for such acts, to ensure that all victims of sexual violence, particularly women and girls, have equal protection under the law and equal access to justice, and stresses the importance of ending impunity for such acts”. The adoption of all these resolutions represents a significant step towards the complete integration of gender concerns within international law and the recognition that CRSV is an abominable crime that challenge, on the one hand, the maintenance and promotion of peace and security and, on the other hand, the protection and safeguard of women.

Although the occurrence of CRSV has not been stopped and continues to be a commonplace, the establishment of the ICTY and ICTR “has subsequently led to a number of symbolic, procedural and substantive victories for both victims and gender justice” (Henry, 2014, p.95), and they “have paved the way for more refined understandings of sexual violence abuses in conflict” (Gërxhi, 2017, p.180). The phenomenon has since then become “a much-discussed subject in personal memoirs, journalistic accounts, films with Hollywood stars and human rights and activist campaigns” (Henry, 2014, p.94). In fact, a variety of movies, books, reports and documentaries on this phenomenon have been released in the past three decades. Recently, on 19th June 2015, the UNGA (2015, p.2) adopted the Resolution A/RES/69/293 which proclaimed the 19th June of each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict[19], “in order to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world and to pay tribute to all those who have courageously devoted their lives to and lost their lives in standing up for the eradication of these crimes.” Furthermore, many CRSV-focused organisations[20] mushroomed over time and started to work together, share knowledge and expertise, provide support and help to victims of CRSV and their families, improve women’s livelihoods and restore their agency, gather precious documentation, to the extent that we have much more information about where these acts happen and who are the wrongdoers. It is worthwhile to mention that the documentation of CRSV (and other gross human rights violations and war crimes) would have never been reported by local and transnational NGOs, the UN, international organizations and the media, if the victims were not able to speak out about what they have gone through. It is only thanks to strong women that we have come to know what happens in certain contexts and situations. As a matter of fact, many international and regional reports draw “their conclusions from the most literal of sources: persons who have survived the atrocities and those who, perhaps not having been raped or tortured themselves, have witnessed the perpetration of atrocities on others”, in addition to women’s visible “scars” on their bodies, emphasises Beverly Allen[21] (1996, p.313-314).

The phenomenon will never be deterred unless and until victims’ stories are spread and heard. “People must hear the horrifying, think the unthinkable and speak the unspeakable”, emphasises Tompkins (1995, p.852). For many, testifying before a court requires great boldness, especially if they know that war criminals and their devotees are still out there somewhere and could still do great harm. Allegedly, when victims of sexual abuse decide to testify at war crimes trials the aim is that of brining justice to them, their relatives, and to all the dead victims. Nicola Henry (2014, p.104) advances the idea that many victims and witnesses do it simply because they perceive to have the moral and civic obligation towards their community and their fellow female peers: “the choice to defy the stigma and shame and confront perpetrators in court may likewise represent a desire to speak on behalf of those who do not have the courage to testify”. Some empirical facts may help us understanding this instance. In his intense study on the ICTY witnesses, Eric Stover[22] (2005) found out that 90% of respondents indicated a moral and civic duty to speak for the dead as the main motivation for testifying.

With the massive occurrence of GBV in the 1990s, there was a conceptual shift of regarding the language of human rights (and therefore women’s rights) that spread more widely and entered into the official vocabulary of major international agencies. The extreme cases of SGBV witnessed in the Bosnian war marked a historical watershed between how the phenomenon was conceived before (or rather neglected) and how it became a pillar of human rights. Henry (2014, p.95) points out that, in the past, “wartime rape has been viewed and treated, at least historically, as abhorrent, incomprehensible and unspeakable, yet at the same time as inevitable, excusable or even laudable”. Instead, since the war in Bosnia, academic, political, legal, cultural and diplomatic circles have moved from perceiving CRSV as an unfortunate but inevitable “by-product of war” resulting from the chaos and violence of war, to seeing it as a military strategy, a weapon of war, of psychological mass destruction, a tool of genocide and ethnic cleansing (Allen, 1996; Clark, 2000; Di Lellio, Kraja, 2020; Gottschall, 2004; Kirby, 2012; Littlewood, 1997; MacKinnon, 1994; Salzman, 1998; Seifert, 1994; Sharlach, 2000; Skjelsbaek, 2001; Stiglmayer, 1994; Tompkins, 1999; Wood, 2006, Zarkov, 2003; Zawati, 2010). At the international level, UNSCR 1820 (2008, p.1) explicitly indicates that in some conflicts “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”. Also, the 2015 UNSC’s report on CRSV states that:

“Sexual violence is not incidental, but integrally linked with the strategic objectives, ideology and funding of extremist groups. It is used to advance such tactical imperatives as recruitment; terrorizing populations into compliance; displacing communities from strategic areas; generating revenue through sex trafficking, the slave trade, ransoms, looting and the control of natural resources; torture to elicit intelligence; conversion and indoctrination through forced marriage; and to establish, alter or dissolve kinship ties that bind communities” (UNSC, 2015, p.24).

 

Moreover, Zawati (2010, p.169) asserts that the high number of rape reports in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda demonstrate that systematic mass rape was employed “as a weapon of war for different purposes, including humiliation, extracting information, political terror, intimidation, ethnic cleansing, and breaking down the morale of the opponent’s civilian population by inflicting physical and psychological injuries on the victims and stigmatizing them and their families”. As I am going to analyse in depth in the course of the thesis, the cases of Bosnia and Kosovo make an exception for the methodical and organised way to deliberately detain, rape and impregnate Bosnjak and Kosovo Albanian women. According to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women report (CEDAW, 1994, p.1), the brutalities carried out in Bosnia “were premeditated, carefully organized and meant as acts to humiliate, shame and degrade the entire ethnic group. They were not just products of the ‘war environment’”. It was not an unfortunate by-product of the conflict, claimed Roy Gutman (1994), but rather the “aim of the campaign” pursued by ethnic Serbs, central to the conquest of the Bosnian territory.

In a follow-up report, the UNGA (1994) further stated that “this heinous practice [abuse of women] constitutes a deliberate weapon of war in fulfilling the policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbian forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and […] that the abhorrent policy of ethnic cleansing was a form of genocide.” With regard to the Kosovo conflict, HRW (2001, p.130) established that:

“Rape and other forms of sexual violence were used in Kosovo in 1999 as weapons of war and instruments of systematic “ethnic cleansing.” Rapes were not rare and isolated acts committed by individual Serbian or Yugoslav forces, but rather were used deliberately as an instrument to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from families, and push people to flee their homes. Rape also furthered the goal of forcing ethnic Albanians from Kosovo”.

 

To conclude, as claimed by Skjelsbaek (2001), the best “coping strategy” to break the silence related to GBV is to speak up about the issue. But in view of the persistent stigma and ostracism faced by victims, many women prefer in fact not to come forward to seek help or to speak out. However, another conceptual shift at the social and cultural level is the fact that women today are less marginalised and discriminated against by their families and communities in comparison with decades ago. The growing awareness and sensitivity towards victims of GBV smashes decisively the sense of embarrassment and shame that has characterised the humankind history. This generates a common awareness of women’s experiences.

Currently, Cockburn (2013, p.435) observes how the technological innovations, the development of social media and the internet make it easier and faster to spread worldwide the news and stories of sexual abuses: these new instruments “bring the news of war immediately to audiences both near to and far from conflict”. A recent powerful event that further changed the conception of victims of GBV is represented by the social media campaign #MeToo[23] against sexual harassment and abuse that, since 2017, has reached every corner of the globe (Seales, 2018). However, Seales (2018) shows that its resonance has inevitably gained greater traction in those countries where the freedom of press and the media is rightly exercised and guaranteed. Skjelsbaek (2018, p.2) praises the widespread share of experiences of GBV and the use of the hashtag #MeToo that “opened up a language, recognition, and an outlet for talking about experiences that had far too often remained inarticulate to those affected as well as their surroundings”. She also finds a similarity between the #MeToo campaign and CRSV by claiming that, in both cases, GBV has been overlooked until silence breakers started to speak up and tell their experiences. Fortunately, survivors like Nadia Murad who are relentlessly speaking out, are changing the narrative and bringing hope for all those who continue to suffer. When silence breakers and their dramatic stories develop on a massive scale the result becomes extraordinary: policymakers and academics cannot ignore any longer the impact of the phenomenon. In fact, as acknowledged by Skjelsbaek (2001, p.228), “it is only by making policy-makers, journalists and lawyers and other analysts aware of the issue that one can stop the tradition of impunity and silence” that has for so long characterised our history.

 

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Zawati, H. M. (2010). “The Triumph of Ethnic Hatred and the Failure of International Political Will: Gendered Violence and Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda”. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press.

 

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[1] For further information, see Brownmiller’s ground-breaking book “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape” (1975).

[2] The JNA was formed predominantly by Serbs and Montenegrins.

[3] Prior to the 1990s, the only occasion where rape crimes committed during a conflict were prosecuted by an international war crimes court was at the Tokyo Trial in 1946.

[4] In 1994, nearly 1 million people (mainly belonging to the minority Tutsi group) were killed in ethnic conflict by the majority Hutu group during a 3-months period, the most rapid genocide in recorded history. For a complete account of the mass rape reports occurred in Rwanda see: Human Rights Watch, (1996). “Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwanda Genocide and Its Aftermath”. New York: Human Rights Watch; available at: http://hrw.org/reports/1996/Rwanda.htm. For a comparative discussion of the roots of ethnic conflict, the mechanisms and motivations that led to genocidal rape, ethnic cleansing and mass killings in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, see Zawati, H. M. (2010). “The Triumph of Ethnic Hatred and the Failure of International Political Will: Gendered Violence and Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda”. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press.

[5] The Four Geneva Conventions are referred to: the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field; the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea; the Treatment of Prisoners of War; the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

[6] The Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions were developed and adopted by States to make international humanitarian law more complete and more universal, and to adapt it to new types of warfare and political contexts which had not previously been considered. Protocol I is related to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, while Protocol II concerns the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts.

[7] Copelon (1944-2010) filed countless amicus briefs in cases heard by the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

[8] Although estimates of the numbers of Kosovo Albanian war-related sexual violence survivors range from 23,000 to 45,600, research mounted by international organizations such as HRW (Federal Republic Of Yugoslavia: Kosovo – Rape As A Weapon Of “Ethnic Cleansing” (hrw.org)), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ((12) (PDF) Sexual Violence Against Refugee Women (researchgate.net)), the UNFPA (Assessment Report on Sexual Violence in Kosovo. UNFPA (phdn.org)) and OSCE (Kosovo/Kosova As Seen, As Told (osce.org)) has been unsuccessful in identifying the real numbers of victims.

[9] The IICK was a commission established in 1999 by the government of Sweden  to examine the events in Kosovo.

[10] Many scholars who addressed the issue of sexual violence in wartime come from the fields of politics, international relations, sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, women’s studies, gender studies, law, human rights.

[11] The DPA signalled the end to the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

[12] During the 1980s and early 1990s a nonviolent resistance movement led by Ibrahim Rugova sought to find a peaceful solution to the Kosovo dire situation and avoid war. More details are found in the next chapter.

[13] Primarily: Bosnjaks, Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs, Serbs, Croatians and Kosovo Albanians.

[14] See: Gutman, Roy, (August 23rd, 1992). “Mass Rape — Muslims Recall Serb Attacks,” New York City: Newsday. Gutman was the first journalist to report on the use of sexual violence in the “ethnic cleansing” campaigns carried out by Serbian military and paramilitary troops against Muslim and Croatian populations. For his courageous and persistent reporting, he won the 1993 Pulitzer Prizes.

[15] The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in May 1993 by the UNSCR 827 and it began its proceedings at the Hague in 1996; and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), established in November 1994. These tribunals were followed by the establishment of “hybrid“ courts in Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor, based on a different model, which are part of the national judicial system but supported by the international community.

[16] ICTY Statute: Part V) INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY, Article 7(1): A person who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of a crime referred to in articles 2 to 5 of the present Statute, shall be individually responsible for the crime.” Available at: Case Law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: V) INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY (Article 7(1)) (hrw.org).

[17] ICTY Statute: Part VI) COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY, Article 7(3): The fact that any of the acts referred to in articles 2 to 5 of the present Statute was committed by a subordinate does not relieve his superior of criminal responsibility if he knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof.” Available at: Case Law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: VI) COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY (Article 7(3)) (hrw.org).

[18] For further information, see: Jones, A. “Gender Inclusive: Essays on Violence, Men, and Feminist International Relations” (Routledge, 2009).

[19] The date was chosen to commemorate the adoption on 19th June 2008 of the UNSCR 1820, in which the Council condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an impediment to peacebuilding.

[20] Some organisations are: Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human rights; Civitas Maxima; Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation; Equator Foundation; IFHHRO | Medical Human Rights Network; IMPACT: Center Against Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence in Conflict; Mukomeze Foundation; REDRESS; Sterk Huis; Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

[21] Allen served as consultant to the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

[22] For further information on the opinions and attitudes of individuals who have appeared before the ICTY, see: Stover, E. (2005) “The Witnesses: War Crimes and the Promise of Justice in The Hague”.

[23] The movement began in October 2017 when The New York Times printed the first allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and rape committed by the famous film executive Harvey Weinstein. He was accused by dozens of women and was fired from his own company inside a week. Some days after that, actress Alyssa Milano suggested on Twitter that anyone who had been “sexually harassed or assaulted” should reply to her Tweet with “Me Too”, to demonstrate the scale of the problem. Half a million people responded in the first 24 hours.

 

 

About Fabrizio Parrilli

Fabrizio Parrilli25, Master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna, Italy. My areas of interest are mainly focused on international issues, contemporary history, protection of human rights, political and cultural dynamics. I love travelling, discovering new cultures and having fun. My motto is live, love, laugh.

E-mail: parrillifabrizio@gmail.com

University of Bologna Student, Paul Azemata Amune, Publishes Paper in Global Studies

 

University of Bologna Student, Paul Azemata Amune, Publishes Paper in Global Studies

 

Populism and the Rise of Xenophobia among Italians toward Immigrants

 

Abstract

Over the years, like other parts of the European Union, Italy has experienced a sharp increase in the number of immigrants entering its territory. Immigration becomes a keenly contested topic. This paper focuses on understanding people’s genuine real-world concerns by briefly identifying three specific areas that could logically explain how Italians perceive immigration. They include security, identity, and jobs. The far-right populist politicians and the media have exploited these concerns as they continue to fan the flames of fear. This has consequentially led to several incidents of intolerance meted out to immigrants and other minority groups such as Muslims and the Roma community creating an atmosphere where these minority groups are perceived and treated as intruders. Empirical data have shown that immigrants contribute to the economic growth of Italy. They also show that immigration does not increase the crime rate and likewise does not pose a threat to the social fabric. Multiculturalism beyond integration is proposed in this paper to enhance the peaceful co-existence between the minority groups and the Italians.

 

Excerpt

In the wake of an Italian government coalition in 2018 between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League saw the rise in violent attacks of foreigners. An anti-racist organization, Lunaria quarterly report, captures the number of racially motivated attacks against foreigners. The report states that the violence against immigrants has risen sharply in Italy, tripling between 2017 and 2018. It counted 126 physical attacks, particularly on migrants in 2018. It previously recorded twenty-seven racially motivated attacks in 2016 and forty-six in 2017 (Tondo 2019). Tondo (2019) noted that in the first two months of Matteo Salvini, (former Interior Minister well known for his anti-immigration rhetoric) entry into government, Lunaria 2018 figures recorded twelve shootings, two murders and thirty-three physical assaults against migrants. There was an instance that occurred shortly after the government instalment in 2018, involving Soumayla Sacko, an agricultural worker and a trade unionist from Mali, he was shot and killed in the southern Italian municipality of San Calogero (Robertson 2018). His death triggered a mass protest in Milan, in which protesters recited anti-racist slogans and posters read “Lega e Salvini assassini” (The League and Salvini are murderers).

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Phoebe MacAdams, Poet, Educator, interviewed by David Garyan


Phoebe MacAdams (photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Phoebe MacAdams, Poet, Educator

interviewed by David Garyan

 

DG: You were one of the founding members of Cahuenga Press, which has the wonderful distinction of being “owned, financed and operated by its poet-members,” as the website says. Can you talk about how it all started, how things have changed over the years, and some of the new projects you’re taking on today?

PM: Cahuenga Press started as an idea of Harry Northup and Holly Prado. It was born out of a desire to have creative control over our poetry and to be able to determine when and how we publish our books. Harry and Holly asked me, Bill Mohr, James Cushing, and Cecilia Woloch to be part of the project, and so originally, the Press consisted of three men and three women. Bill Mohr and Cecilia Woloch are no longer with the press and Holly Prado passed away on June 14, 2019. Recently we asked Jeannette Clough to join us, so we are now two men and two women.


Cahuenga Press in 2016: Me, Harry Northup, Holly Prado, James Cushing (photo by Celeste Goyer)

Harry wanted to form the press to allow individual freedom for the poets involved, for the press to be self-sustaining, which it is, and to publish at least one book a year. For Harry, “there is also the personal connection with the poets whose work I admire and respect, and to be able to share common goals in poetry: continuity, memory, hope.” Holly wrote she wanted “to keep alive and make visible an attitude toward poetry that’s serious, lyrical, irrational, skillful, thoughtful: to encourage poetry that respects both feeling and intellect, the muse and keenly-studied language.” I wanted to be part of a poetry family, where each member supports each other’s creative freedom and process. I was glad to have the burden of seeking publication lifted. It is a great gift.

Our poetry styles are very different, yet we come together with total respect for each other’s work. We get together regularly to read new work to each other, share food and talk. We are a creative family. Once a year we gather at my house to have a publication party for our new book, The house has a large backyard and there is a raised area, like a grass stage. We sit in the back around tables to hear new work. We usually have 70-90 people who gather to listen, eat and buy books. All the proceeds from the books go back to the Press, along with our contributions. With Covid, of course, we have made adjustments. Our last publication party was on Zoom, and we are now meeting on Zoom, but we continue. We hope to meet again in person this spring.

There have been changes to Cahuenga over the years. Bill Mohr is a full-time literature professor at Long Beach State, and Cecilia Woloch now publishes her work with BOA Editions and other presses, so they are no longer part of Cahuenga. The four of us continued for many years. After Holly died, Jeannette Clough agreed to join us. We are gathering in person less now because of Covid, but we stay in touch by e-mail, by Zoom and on the phone. Our next book will be Tangled Hologram by James Cushing which will be out this spring (2022).

The Cahuenga family is intact.

As Harry said (and made t-shirts for us with this on it):

“Nothing Stops Poetry!”


Cahuenga Press July 2021 (photo by Ron Ozuna)
Jeannette Clough, James Cushing Me, Harry Northup

DG: Before moving to LA, you were part of the Bolinas scene. A recent article in The New Yorker even quotes an untitled poem by Ellen Sander that mentions Lewis MacAdams:

I swear to God
Me and Angelica
w/Juliet
met a diabetic monkey
in a tree on Hawthorne
in the Sheriff’s yard
and if that is not as good
as Tom or Bob or Lewis or Joanne or even Bill can do
You Can Kiss My Ass

In this respect, how was the LA scene different from the Bolinas one, both on a social and creative level, and did you find that you settled in quickly, or did it take some time to adjust?

PM: Lewis MacAdams and I moved to Bolinas in 1970 to be in the country and to start a family. We had friends in Bolinas: Tom and Angelica Clark, Joanne Kyger, Duncan and Genie McNaughton, and others. It is a beautiful rural community in Marine County on the Coast an hour north of San Francisco, built along the Bolinas Lagoon, a large body of water home to a variety of birds and other critters. We rented a house at the end of Nymph Road overlooking the Pacific in upper Bolinas, the Mesa. My two sons, Ocean and Will, were born there. Bolinas was unincorporated and its governing body was the Bolinas Public Utility Board, which determined who and how many people could get a water meter and build a house. Lewis got involved with local politics and was on the BPUD. I worked at the school.  It was the first time in my life I had been part of a community that truly controlled itself. The whole community rallied to prevent a big county sewer system from being built in Bolinas which would have opened up the town to massive development. We fought this and won, designing a sewage treatment system based on a series of ponds. There were incredible people in town, and the brilliant scientist and ecologist Peter Warshall helped design the sewer project.

View from Mt. Tamalpais

The other defining moment in Bolinas happened in 1971. In dense fog at 1:45 a.m. on Jan. 19, two massive Standard Oil Company tankers met in a catastrophic collision in San Francisco Bay, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Bay. The oil spill drifted toward Bolinas and the entire town turned out to try to keep the oil out of the Lagoon and to save as many birds as we could. With logs, hay and anything we could get our hands on, we kept most of it out and spent days cleaning birds. It brought the community together. The complete story of this time can be found in Orville Schell’s The Town that Fought to Save Itself (Pantheon Books, 1976)

Bolinas was a community of poets, artists, rebels, and visionaries who gathered to make a forward-looking living space. We organized poetry readings, walked to each other’s houses to read and talk. We’d meet downtown for coffee and donuts, or at Smiley’s, the local bar.

The best book about Bolinas is an online book: Dreaming as One: Poetry, Poets and Community in Bolinas California 1967-1980 by Kevin Opstedal. This wonderful history is filled with many photos of the time.

(www.bigbridge.org/bolinas.htm)

Our marriage began to fall apart, and eventually, Lewis and I separated. Bolinas is a beautiful place, but it never felt like home to me, and while I figured out what was next, I moved to Colorado, where my mother lived. Eventually, Lewis and I decided that we needed to live closer together for the sake of our two sons and I moved back to California. I settled in Ojai, which a friend told me was Southern California’s version of Bolinas, a wonderful tip. I immediately felt like I belonged in Ojai. My kids went to Elementary and Jr. High School there. However, as they got older, Ojai began to feel too small—not enough going on for two teenage boys—and so we moved to Los Angeles, an hour and a half away. Ojai was close enough for me to visit, and my kids went to a great school—Harvard-Westlake, where Lewis was teaching creative writing.

Living in Los Angeles was hard for me at first. I felt that I had no community.

Then, in 1988, Harry Northup, who was a well-known Los Angeles poet and who had run the reading series at Gasoline Alley since 1986, asked the poet Bill Mohr and me if we wanted to take over the reading series. Gasoline Alley was a coffee shop on Melrose Avenue, and Bill was a long time Angelino. He was very active in the literary community. Thanks to Bill, I met many poets who came to Gasoline Alley to read. I began to feel part of a creative community again. Of course, L.A. is spread out, so no walking to people’s houses for coffee and talk, but we drove to be to be together. The LA literary community is tightly knit, thanks largely to Beyond Baroque, which is the center of the city’s poetic life (see question 6). In 1989, Harry Northup, Holly Prado, James Cushing, Bill Mohr, Cecilia Woloch, and I came together, creating Cahuenga Press. We were a creative family.

Lewis continued to be deeply involved in politics and started an organization called Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR), whose goal is to bring back the LA River. This became an enormous project with many successes, and before he died, the city named a park along the river after him, The Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park. He is considered a local hero for his efforts on behalf of the river.

I am grateful to be part of the literary community of Los Angeles, but not involved in city politics. I taught for 26 years at Roosevelt High School, a large inner city high school in Boyle Heights (East Los Angeles). It was a job I loved up to my last day. (See question 7 below for reflections on that.)

I have been fortunate to live in literary communities: San Francisco, Bolinas, Boulder and now LA. Of them all, I feel most at home in Southern California.

DG: In Aram Saroyan’s 1998 collection, Day and Night: Bolinas Poems, there’s a work, “For Lewis MacAdams,” that must surely hold a special place in your consciousness, and I will quote all of it:

I can always count on you and Phoebe
To invite a few extra people
To any party we give. You two are the social couple
Here in Bolinas, we well as the mysterious,
Weird, insane, glamorous, captivating, delightful duo

You both just naturally are. And we count on you
To be. You’re into politics, too.
And Phoebe knows poetry. A poem of hers on giving birth
Is in today’s new issue of The Paper.
Last night you both were here for my birthday

And our housewarming combined. So were
A couple of other people I know only
Slightly. No matter. You know them perhaps slightly
Better than I do, and in that there is comfort.
The two of you are great at parties.

Phoebe threw a small toy at me at one point

Last night. I don’t know why she did it, and I know
I won’t ever know. She just did. You brought me
City Money, your first book, inscribed to me
with the words “Hell’s Bell.” I tell you,
I don’t need to understand. The two of you
Are perfect, that’s all. And if it’s perfect mystery
Or perfect insanity, all the better.
We love you.
Keep that in mind, will you.

What were the emotions you felt upon first reading Saroyan’s poem, written years after all the events, and do you take trips down memory lane often, or are you somewhat glad that the joys—but also the difficulties—of youth have been celebrated and overcome?

PM: When I read this poem, I laughed out loud. What a romantic interpretation of Lewis and me!

First of all, I have to admit that I have no memory of this party or of throwing a small toy at Aram. I wonder why I did that? Aram and Gailyn bought a wonderful house on Hawthorne Road on the Mesa, the upper section of Bolinas. It was nestled in among trees in a street off the main road. They were old friends and I was very happy that they were able to buy a house and settle in it to raise a family—Aram to write his poems, and Gailyn to paint her paintings.

To characterize Lewis and me as “glamorous, captivating and delightful” is such a stretch of the imagination from where we were at that point—Lewis and I were actually hanging on to our marriage by our fingernails. It was not very long after the time of this poem, I think, that we finally separated and then eventually, divorced.

It’s true that we did sometimes bring people with us to gatherings. Once a group of poets arrived in Bolinas, the secret got out and folks headed to the Bay area to visit. Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley stayed with us for a while, Franco Beltremetti came out, along with Anne Waldman, Jim Carroll, Bill Berkson, Joe Brainard, and various others. Some stayed and took up residence in Bolinas, others went back to New York, Boulder, or wherever they lived permanently.

The great social couple in Bolinas was actually Bob and Bobbie Creeley. They had bought a marvelous California farmhouse on Terrace Avenue, the road that joined downtown Bolinas to the Mesa. In the middle of their kitchen was a big round wooden table surrounded by chairs. There folks would gather and talk endlessly while Bobbie filled up coffee cups. The conversations around that table were a source of inspiration, joy, and comfort. When it got too hot inside, we all went outside and sat in chairs on the grass.

Joanne Kyger also held court in her house, a kind of glorified three-room wooden shed until she and her husband, Donald Guravich, built a beautiful large studio room in the back of the property. Joanne could talk to anyone and conversations at her house were an endless delight. The walls were covered with paintings. The surfaces were filled with all kinds of tchotchkes: Buddhas, little statues, candles, incense, small paintings, blessings of various kinds, all fascinating, all Joanne.

If we got tired of being in people’s houses, or people needed to go to bed, we would go downtown to Smiley’s bar and continue.

It was a time of world class talk!

Bolinas was filled with amazing people, and it was a beautiful place to live. I will always remember walking downtown on Terrace Avenue surrounded by nasturtiums and monarch butterflies; or standing on Ocean Parkway, the road overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and watching the waves coming in one after another, sparkling in the sunlight. There was much to love.

However, in all this beauty. Bolinas never really felt like my spirit’s home. When Lewis and I split and my life fell apart, I did not stay in Bolinas. I went to Colorado Springs to be near my family while I got myself back together. Finally, Lewis and I decided that we needed to be near each other for the sake of our sons. Lewis had moved to Los Angeles, and I moved to nearby Ojai. As I said earlier, a friend told me that it was Southern California’s version of Bolinas. As soon as I arrived in Ojai, I felt like my spirit was home. Though I am now based in Los Angeles, I visit Ojai frequently and still feel at home there.

My son, Ocean, lives in San Francisco with his wife, and their three children. They were both born in Bolinas and his wife’s parents are still there and so they spend a lot of time in Bobo, as we call it. When I go up to the Bay Area to visit, we often go up to Bolinas for the day. Though I am living happily in Southern California, I feel great tenderness for Bolinas.

Lewis always felt his home was Bolinas. This spring, the family and close friends will gather to bury Lewis’ ashes in the beautiful Bolinas Cemetery on Horseshoe Hill Road.

Bolinas will always be part of us.

DG: If you had to choose one poem you wrote in Bolinas and one in LA that you’re particularly proud of, which two poems would they be, and why?

PM: These two poems are very different and far apart in time in my life. I wrote the first one, Happy Birthday Bolinas, in the late seventies when I was living there with my two children and with Lewis MacAdams. It embodies a kind of mystery that is still challenging to me. I have loved this poem for years and I am still not certain about the meaning of it, if we can talk about meaning in a poem beyond the poem itself.

 

Happy Birthday Bolinas

for Joanne Kyger

Good morning, Joanne. This country is two hundred years old.
One green car. One white car. One convertible.
The heart is a muscle, the heart is a door.

Dream 1: I am in a concentration camp. I am on the beach. The water is black. I am standing by the wire. I am talking to someone outside the wire. We are standing face to face talking. There is no difference between life outside and inside except for the wire. I am in the apartment of the commandant. I strip in front of an empty bed. I get in and make love to the air.

Dream 2: There is a car machine, stripped down. There is a driver somewhere. A voice says, “Now you have to make another one.” The second car will be identical to the first.

A death’s head.

Dream 3: I go out of my house to the pre-shamanistic exercises. We do splits standing on our hands in preparation for the shaman movie. I am awkward. The woman teaching is a shaman. She has silver discs on the tops of her hands and on her palms.

O Great Tongue, do not abandon us. Our conversations make a difference.
All I want out of life is to live in the grace of the Holy Spirit.
The tone was honest and the words fell about in the length.
The song is resilient. The song is a muscle.
Birds fly over, grass moves in the breeze.
Rational Mind, you are so stupid here in the morning, in the gentle aching
where the door is open and the view is clear.

—from Sunday, Tombouctou Press, 1983

 

The dreams are in dream time, and trying to explain them means that I am using my “limited Rational Mind.” But doing so, I would say that dream 1 refers to a division—inside and out—but that really the two are one. Each side of the division is identical. Dream 2 might be telling me that I will have to remake my life (which I did do, in fact, when I left Bolinas) A Death’s Head? Well, these days, that is everywhere, isn’t it? Dream 3 has always been Joanne to me. She was the guiding spirit of Bolinas, our Soul, our singer, our healer, magical, full of silver discs, our teacher.

Dreams are woven into Joanne’s poetry, one part of her constant chronicling of spirit, and so they are here. These dreams are still meaningful to me, a message from some deep consciousness which I am still musing on.

Poetry was serious business in Bolinas, where the Tongue reigned supreme and where conversations were our lifeblood. What a joy it was to walk from one house to another to talk, then go down to the beach and talk some more, maybe eventually end up talking in Smiley’s, the local bar and hang out. Conversation was the coin of the land.

Bolinas was a place of a kind of magic, magic of song. It was a lovely time, and this poem brings it all back to me.

The second poem The Large Economy of the Beautiful, is the title poem from my selected poems which came out in 2016, published by Cahuenga Press.

 

The Large Economy of the Beautiful

I am wearing my birding hat
and crazy paraphernalia:
binos and bottles, little notebooks and pens
as the cars whiz by on Highway 1.
today I have learned about Syrinx, nymph
beloved by Pan,
also the throat muscle and cartilage of bird song.

the Black Skimmer moves along the top of the water
trolling for fish,
the California Cormorants stand on the sand
drying their wings

willet, whimbrel,
dowitcher and plover
yellow feet, red bills
Great Blue and Snowy White

at night the shapes of birds move differently:
wings calling

us to rise from our daily difficulties
and sing ourselves into form

—from The Large Economy of the Beautiful, Cahuenga Press 2016

 

Here, the mystery is birds. My husband and I are birders, an activity we began after we retired in 2011. My husband takes exquisite photos of birds. The bird life in Los Angeles is a treasure. We live in Pasadena, and are among them. They sustain me in this city and have led us to wander to Mono Lake, to Arizona, to Colombia. I love to be with their movement, their song and calls, their wonderful names. They give us beauty and give us wings within. I have come to them here in this big city and they are everywhere—the world of the urban wild.

This poem speaks to this joy and also to all the stuff that birding entails. You see birders with the equipment mentioned, binos, bottles, also birding hats, scopes, etc. There can be a lot of paraphernalia involved! Birders tend to be a gentle, joyful lot, how not to be in the presence of such beauty.

And this Los Angeles brought to me—the nymph beloved by Pan, birds and joy.

DG: In your poem, “these joys are temporary,” there’s a powerful metaphor about freedom, and I would like to quote the work in full:

over 100° today, yesterday 106°
when I didn’t go to hear Dana Gioia at Vroman’s,
having read his poems on line;
“new formalism”—why would you do that?
tie yourself up in old rhythms, smother
the exuberance that Walt won for us.
today I contemplated pictures at Avenue 50 Studio,
brave images of violence in Mexico
where artists who talk about killings are punished by death.

we are fortunate to walk these streets in any meter we choose
then come home to
turkey salad, jumbo artichokes, heirloom tomatoes,
frozen blueberry yoghurt.

The first line of the last stanza seems to imply that while poetry today is fortunate enough to have the possibility of making greater connections with the real world, it instead chooses to further distance itself by adopting tradition instead of innovation. Would this be a correct assessment of how you feel or is something else going in the poem?

PM: My poem, “These Joys are Temporary/And I Praise them,” was written on a very hot summer day in Los Angeles. Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena’s famed family bookstore which opened in 1894, had scheduled a reading of Dana Goia. Dana Goia is part of a school of poetry known as New Formalism. New Formalism is a movement in American poetry that has promoted a return to metrical rhymed verse and narrative poetry on the grounds that they are necessary if American poetry is to regain its former popularity. Along with Goia, some of its adherents are Timothy Steele, Maelyn Hacker, and Mark Jarman. This poetry is radically different from the work of any of the poets I grew up with and considered my mentors and teachers:  Ted Berrigan, Frank O’Hara, Alan Ginsberg, Bob Creeley, Joanne Kyger. The poets that I love take their inspiration in the poems of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams—poems with vitality and surprise, poems that are rooted in the speech of America. They are free, wild, and full of energy. They are not constrained and imprisoned by a set of metrical patterns or rhymes. I find that anathema to the spirit of modern American poetry.

Which is why, in my poem, I ask “why would you do that?” Why would you “tie yourself up in old rhythms, smother/the exuberance Walt won for us.” Walt Whitman opened up the verse form for us all—blew it wide open with his free verse. Free verse for a free country. I feel this is a great gift to American poets, and to the world. To return to strict rhythms and rhymes of the last century is going backward. It’s un-American!

The afternoon I did not go to hear Dana Goia read at Vroman’s, I instead went to a small gallery near where I live—Avenue 50 Studio. There was an exhibit of past political violence in Mexico, where I read that artists in Mexico who talked about the killings were punished by death.

The line “we are fortunate to walk these streets in any meter we choose” refers to a double freedom: the freedom artists have in this country to talk about anything they wish without fear of governmental reprisals, and the freedom American poets have thanks to Walt Whitman to write in free verse, “any meter we choose.”

I end the stanza with a description of the delicious foods we eat in California summers. The poem is part of a series of poems that I entitled “Small Dinners.” My plan was to anchor the poems in our summer food, a kind of love poem to the incredible wealth of fresh produce that we have in California.

So, after lines of appreciation to Walt Whitman and our literary legacy, the poem ends with a more grounded appreciation of the glorious fruits and veggies of our state, great temporary joys.

DG: With Bill Mohr you coordinated the Gasoline Alley reading series on Melrose Avenue. Can you talk about those years, some of the people who read/attended the events, and why programs like this are important not just for LA writers, but for poetry in general?

PM: When I started coordinating the Gasoline Alley reading series with Bill Mohr in 1988, I did not know many poets in Los Angeles. Bill (founder of Momentum Press, editor, poet and scholar) knew the literary scene well and because of him, I met many of our local poets: Suzanne Lummis, Ron Koertge, Laurel Ann Bogen, Steve Kowit, Jack Grapes, Amy Uymatsu among many others. This was a weekly series and we hosted a great number of poets in the course of running the series for two years. It was a wonderful way to get to know them. I would read their work in order to do introductions before the readings, and became familiar with a lot of the LA poets as they came through the doors of the coffee shop.

Hearing poets read is important—to really understand the beauty of poetry, it must be heard, and live readings are essential. It is a joy to go to a local coffee shop, and over a latte, hear some of the best poets in California. It is also a chance to get to know them, to talk with them afterwards, and in this sprawling city, to feel part of a community. There have been many reading series in LA – from the wonderful Aloud series at the Central Library’s beautiful Mark Taper Auditorium, sponsored by the Library Foundation, and the longstanding series, Library Girl, at the Ruskin Theater in Santa Monica organized by Susan Hayden, to the series at tiny Battery Books in Pasadena curated by the LA poet Steve Abee. All of these are a joy and you often get to hear poets whose work you don’t know well, so it opens you up to new voices.

The oldest series in Los Angeles is at the venerable Beyond Baroque, which was founded by George Drury Smith, who started publishing a magazine at a storefront in 1968. It is now housed in the old Venice City Hall on Venice Blvd. Beyond Baroque is the heart of Los Angeles’ literary life and going to the reading series on Friday night is like going to church. It’s a sacred space, as well as a place to meet friends, hear great poetry and find books in Beyond Baroque’s bookstore. One of my fondest memories of Beyond Baroque is the night that Ed Dorn came to read. He was dying of pancreatic cancer at the time and this was his last reading. After he had finished the entire audience rose to its feet and gave him a standing ovation, very unusual for LA audiences. Tears were shed.

Poetry readings are always important, but particularly in LA, where we live so far apart. There is no walking to someone’s house to read a few poems in LA. Beyond Baroque, for instance, is an hour’s drive from my house in Pasadena, so readings bind us together. They make us family.

That said, we are (hopefully) just coming out of a two-year pandemic when all live poetry readings stopped happening. Beyond Baroque had its first in-person reading this March. Many of the reading series moved online to the Zoom format. Zoom kept poetry readings alive for us and I am eternally grateful for Zoom. It is not a perfect format. It is an odd feeling to read your poems facing a screen where you are looking at yourself and little squares of a completely quiet audience which wiggles its fingers to show its appreciation. However, in spite of its difficulties, Zoom has some advantages over live readings. I have been going to more readings than ever, readings in Ventura or Ojai that I don’t always get to. And the readings are attended by people all over the country and the globe. I am hoping that many venues will continue to have an on line option along with their live readings.

As Harry said, “Nothing stops poetry” and nothing stops poetry readings, either!

James Cushing at a Cahuenga Press Reading

DG: For many years you taught English and Creative Writing at Roosevelt High School, before retiring in 2011. How did teaching in this setting influence your writing?

PM: I started teaching at Roosevelt High School, a large LA Unified school in East Los Angeles, in 1986, not long after I moved to LA. I had gone to and taught at private schools my whole life and I wanted a change. When I went to the Roosevelt campus, I loved the warm friendly atmosphere and the principal, Henry Ronquillo. I was hired on the spot to teach English in the Magnet program. When I started at the school, the student population was 5,000. It was one of the largest schools in the country and had a student population about the size of the population of the town of Ojai where I had lived before coming to LA. I was overwhelmed by the size, but somehow the school worked. The principal supported his teachers and many innovative programs. I loved teaching at Roosevelt until my last day in June of 2011.

I met my husband, Ron Ozuna, at the school. He taught in the science department and his colleagues decided that we were meant for each other, and kind of threw us together. It worked! We were married in 1995, with my principal and a lot of Roosevelt teachers at the wedding. Ron and I taught in an interdisciplinary program together and started outdoor education at the school. We took many students for weekend trips to Catalina Island and Mono Lake, and other outdoor programs. They loved it, and so did we.

Teaching is more than a full-time job. We worked from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, then came home to grade papers and plan lessons for the next day. Naturally, the big issue for me was how to find time for writing. I decided that I needed to incorporate my teaching life into my writing. I taught creative writing for many years and when I assigned writing to my students, I wrote along with them. I began to write poems that would help me figure out what I was doing in the classroom.

So much goes on in a week.
July 29, 1996, I watch the news:
a bomb at the Olympics,
the crash of TWA flight 800.
We talk in class about roundness
and the spirit of the bear.
My students write poems
in the Japanese garden.
We discuss the Puritans,
sin and virtue.
I wonder about my mole,
do I have cancer?
I collapse with stress, sleep, recover.
So much goes on in a life, and

what is teaching, anyway?

One poem became many. After reading 1968, by the poet Ed Sanders, a wonderful journal history in verse, I decided to keep a poetry journal for one year, to see if I could answer my question in a meaningful way. I did this for the academic year 2001-2002. I wrote as I moved through my day, in my conference period, after school, etc. One advantage of teaching is the generous vacation time, during which I could edit my work. Eventually, that collection of poems became a book, Livelihood, which was published by Cahuenga Press in 2003. It is a book that I treasure, filled as it is with memories of a profession that I loved.

To date, it is my most popular book.

DG: What are reading or working on at the moment?

PM: On March 11,  2019, the World Health Organization declared the Covid 19 epidemic to be a pandemic, and on March 19, Governor Newsome issued a stay-at-home order for California. I began going out only to go to grocery stores—covered with a long raincoat, a mask, and gloves. We did all the disinfecting that was recommended and lived inside our house.

I kept a journal of the events, and kept up with friends and poets on Zoom. However, little by little, the atmosphere of the pandemic began to affect my creative life. I was taking enough precautions so that I was not particularly afraid, but there was a prevailing atmosphere of dread. In addition, the entire country had to listen to the lies and appalling misinformation of our president. That bothered me particularly. The sense of honesty and dignity that I had grown used to during Obama’s term had completely disappeared. Everything that I held dear in our American government was being chipped away. Words meant nothing to the president. I felt myself in a kind of despair and the daily onslaught pushed me inward, into a protective cocoon.

Happily, after Biden’s win, things began to be better. We all got our vaccines and boosters and began to venture out into the world again.

My creative life, however, did not recover so quickly. For many months. I did not write poems, but kept writing in my journal.

As I began to feel a bit more hopeful, I looked over my journals and realized I had a substantial record of my spirit’s life. I have always loved day books that track one’s mind and heart over time. I love Holly Prado’s Weather, a wonderful chronicle of her life day by day, and I love A Day Book, by Bob Creeley. I decided to take the essence of the journals that I was keeping and distill them into what I called snapshots—snapshots of my inner life. I started with my journal that began in July of 2019 and began pulling out what seemed significant to me. It is progressing little by little—we will see how it goes.

It feels like a project that sustains.

 

About Phoebe MacAdams

Phoebe MacAdams was born and raised in New York City, but has lived in California most of her adult life, first in the poetry community of Bolinas in Northern California, and then in Ojai in Ventura County. She has been active in the Los Angeles literary community since her move here in 1986. She is a founding member of Cahuenga Press, a poets’ cooperative press (1989-present), with the poets James Cushing, the late Holly Prado and Harry Northup, and recently Jeanette Clough. Its goal “is to create fine books of poetry by poets whose work we admire and respect; to make poetry actual in the world in ways which honor both individual creative freedom and cooperative support.”

For two years, Phoebe ran the Gasoline Alley reading series on Melrose Avenue with poet Bill Mohr. She taught English and Creative Writing at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights for twenty-six years until her retirement in 2011. She has published seven books of poetry: Sunday, Ever; and with Cahuenga Press, Ordinary Snake Dance, Livelihood, Strange Grace, Touching Stone, and her most recent Cahuenga title, The Large Economy of the Beautiful, New and Selected Poems. In 2017, Beyond Baroque Books published Every Bird Helps: A Cancer Journal.

According to Amelie Frank, “What she reports back to us from her daily pilgrimages should give us hope: truth and beauty are at hand everywhere we look and always just as we need it most.”

She lives in Pasadena with her husband, Ron Ozuna.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955), a poem by Willis Barnstone

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Artist: Willis Barnstone

 

With his creation formula E=mc2Los Alamos makes a bomb nuclear.
He shares the fear.

 

About Willis Barnstone

Poet, religious scholar, and translator Willis Barnstone was born in Lewiston, Maine, and earned a BA from Bowdoin College, an MA from Columbia University, and a PhD from Yale University. An intrepid traveler, he taught in Greece at the end of that country’s civil war and in Argentina during the “Dirty War,” and was in China during the Cultural Revolution. He later returned to China as a Fulbright Professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

The author of more than 70 books, Barnstone has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, including From This White Island (1959), China Poems (1977), The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets (1996), Algebra of Night: New & Selected Poems 1948–1998, and Life Watch (2003).

He has also published numerous translations from Chinese, Spanish, French, Latin, ancient and modern Greek, and biblical Hebrew, including a complete translation of the New Testament (which he translates as the New Covenant), as well as memoirs, religious studies, children’s literature, and songs.