Sandra Ljubinković, from BELGRADE, SERBIA, Age 40, Living in Amsterdam
When asked to describe herself Sandra states the she will never fit in and that can be considered as one of her best qualities.
She describes herself as passionate, playful, genuine, free spirit, traveler, vagabond, enjoying life and experiences in all its forms knowing that we are more than just our bodies, thoughts, emotions, concepts, desires. Her deep commitment to work with women from all walks and spheres of life and access the unconditional Being that is our endless potential.
It is so natural to want to share our joy, discoveries, insights, and perspectives with others, especially if they are struggling, having a hard time, or experiencing hopelessness and confusion. Our intention to help, to whatever degree it is oriented in true compassion, can be honored and held near.
As for many other women in Balkan, war has left quite an impact in her memories. She says that she cannot forget the atmosphere in the beginning of 90’s, so electrified, divisions, where my father was protesting with nationalists and I was on the other side with students and anti-war opposition.
I stand for all the women seen and unseen. Heard and unheard. I learned to be strong within my softness. And soft within my strength because I wanted to find a balance within it all, emphasizes Sandra.
Both her family and friends were supportive and they walked back then with me and most of them still do. The best part of my activist journey is having friends to whom I could turn to, who mirrored me, who cried with me, who laughed with me, who were silently sitting with me and who hold space for me. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of people who make you happy, but there will be special ones, the ones who always energize you, who are there through thick and thin, the ones who, when you’re in their company, the day seems brighter…those whose haikus makes you laugh, those with whom you laugh from the belly, those who are genuine, tender, honest, bold, ridiculous, funny, those who can just BE with you…
The project that Sandra will always remember is “Until the Violence Stops” which was a campaign done by Anti Trafficking Centre, the organization she was leading at that time. Everything was special about this initiative (2006) because there was a dedicated and passionate team of ATC at that time with 500 volunteers involved in the campaign including 70 volunteer senior citizens of Belgrade who passionately engaged in the campaign and outreach, Media campaign “Biram DA kazem NE-Dok Nasilje ne prestane” set the new standard in social media campaigning in Serbia, raised half million euros in pro-bono services, raised funds for the oldest shelter for battered women in Belgrade and involved the top actresses from Serbia and the region who performed “Vagina Monologues”. I remember this initiative, she states, with big pride and joy and it always puts a smile on my face.
I think that ‘equal women’s rights’ in Serbia today are under threat under the shrinking civil society spaces. I would say that that ‘closing space’ is not a passing trend, but rather the current and future reality of our political, social and economic landscape. This requires us all to think differently, understand more deeply how our systems are broken, and intentionally apply a human rights lens to our work.
1. the cumulative impact of formal and informal state interventions to control civil society, as well as lack of state action to defend activists and protect rights, has a disproportionate impact on the political voice of women, LGBTIQ people. Existing discrimination within society not only affects their experience of civil society restrictions, but also makes them easy targets for state crackdowns.
2. The varied application of legislation and polices in Serbia are not neutral bureaucratic tools, but mechanisms for the state to silence critical voices and reinforce the social status quo—which is characterized by the systematic political marginalization of women and LGBT people.
3. Most significantly for women activists, women- led organizations, and women human rights defenders, the use of sexualised violence to silence or intimidate them is a virtually universal experience.?
She is a looking forward activist of more the 20 years of experience and she considers herself to be happy and lucky! All moments are happy ones (even though at times they seemed desperate ones). I’m grateful for all the moments as they shaped me into the being I am today. The happiest moments are the one where there is connection with activists I’m working with, where there is genuineness, gentleness and care for each other’s hearts and souls.!
Empowering women means to hold presence for another. It is a great gift to offer and a skill worth practicing. We are so used to thinking about life as a problem to be solved that when we hear of another’s suffering, we are not fully present and instead become preoccupied with figuring out how to respond. We think we have to say the right thing, fix her or find a solution for her.
It means when you felt safe to share what was in you – uncensored. When you felt received. Completely. No judgments made. No need to be anything but you, right there & then. No fixing. No hurry. No hiding what was uncomfortable. But also: your joy, your happiness, your learning not overtaken by someone else’s experience. And do you remember what happened, when you were feeling held in this way? We find release. Release of pent-up emotions. They were allowed to flow through us. And when life energy, flows through us, our natural flow is restored.
But we are so prone to wanting to fix. To solve, to reframe, to take pain away, to build on the other’s story, to know what needs to happen, to decide what is best, to intuitively know what is going on, to share in the pain, to self-identify with the situation, to bond over heartfelt stuff, to relate to the other based on the stuff that they are going through in that moment. It’s what we were taught to do.
But we also have this ability to hold space. Which leads to release, healing and learning – from within. It leads to magical transformations. If we can let it happen.
With our understanding deepened and our skills practiced, we bring potency to that space, and transformations happen more easily. Presence creates spaciousness around the contractions of life. Presence is an intelligence that creates enough room for life to move and evolve, uninterrupted.
Sometimes I become so mesmerized by the goal, the destination, the future, the ‘place you should be’, that I forget the present ground, the place where I stand, the place from which I will take the next step, the place where life is. You forget that you are breathing now, that the journey is made only of breaths, moments. You forget your own presence, so solid, so trustworthy, so constant amidst the constant change of the journey. The destination has become more important than presence, and you have become lost in time. Joy is not a place you reach. Joy will not appear magically on the completion of your journey. Joy lives only in presence. Joy’s home is called Now. Joy is there in every step taken or not taken. Joy is there in the sense of being alive, the belly rising and falling, the pounding of the heart.
So, this is where I am today: not forgetting that joy is walking with me, I’m working with extraordinary and dedicated feminist practitioners, activists and community healers, creating space for work deeper with personal/inner dimension of activism. Attending to the personal and inner aspect of our experience is essential for an activism that is both effective and sustainable.
I’m also offering space for Sustaining Resistance/Activism through introducing tools which support more skillful inter-personal work in our groups and networks, and enable ways of organizing which exemplify the values we want to realize in the world.
I’m part of the network of global practitioners who continue to create spaces of renewal and empowerment for activists who are part of women’s movement and other social justice movements, who will continue to share knowledge and best practices.
I’m working on ‘Holistic security’ on the politics of self-care and care among activists- where urgency of sustaining communities and movements in shrinking civil society spaces: in queer, feminist and anti-racist work self-care is about the creation of community, fragile communities, assembled out of the experiences of being shattered. Activists reassemble themselves through the ordinary, everyday and often painstaking work of looking after ourselves; looking after each other. This is why when we have to insist, I matter, we matter, we are transforming what matters. Women’s lives matter; black lives matter; queer lives matter; disabled lives matter; trans lives matter; the poor; the elderly; the incarcerated, matter. For those who have to insist they matter to matter: selfcare is warfare.
I have two favorites quite which I would like to share with you:
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” —Maya Angelou
“I break up with what harms me. I break up with what has warned me that it is no good for me. I break up with devaluing my deepest desires.
I break up with energy suckers. Time leachers. Joy depleters.
I break up with the thinking that keeps me doubting my talents. My creations. My unique way of working. I break up with boredom, and instead push through it into depth. I break up with what refuses me as I am, as I am learning to be.
I pair up with the platforms that give me space to strut my stuff. I pair up with those who have my back. I pair up with those that don’t need to take from others but know how to live in reciprocal exchange.”