International Women’s Day Discussion & Reception at Bitef Theatre

Good evening.  Thank you all for coming to tonight’s event.

In this part of the world, March 8th is International Women’s Day.  In the United States, we don’t celebrate that day per se.  Instead, the entire month of March is designated Women’s History Month.  It is a time to celebrate the achievements of women, and to reflect on challenges that we still face on the path toward true equality.

In the early days of the American nation, strong women tilled the land and helped settle a continent.  They worked in factories, building our economy through the sweat of their brow.  They also wrote some of our greatest classics in literature.  They became abolitionists in the fight against slavery, and suffragettes in the struggle for their own rights.  And they committed themselves to causes overseas, too.

American women have always taken bold action.  You can see their impact here in Serbia as well.  Mabel Grujic, the American the wife of a Serbian diplomat, raised funds in the U.S. and the U.K. for Serbia during World War I.  An American doctor, Dr. Rosalie Morton, tended to the sick and wounded on the Saloniki Front, and went on to found a hospital for women in Belgrade and send dozens of students to the U.S. for medical training.  Helen Lozanic and her husband John Frothingham sent a fully operational field hospital Skopje to provide medical care to Serbian soldiers, and established homes for Serbian orphans after the war.

Shortly after the war, actually ninety-nine years ago this summer, in 1920, long after Thomas Jefferson had written the lines in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” American women finally gained the right to vote.  Yugoslavia would do the same at the end of the Second World War.

We have come a long way since then, in both the United States and in Serbia.

A third of the Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are women, as are a record number of legislators in the U.S. Congress.  Serbia’s Cabinet has an impressive number of female officials, including this country’s first female Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, with women in other key positions of authority at various levels of government.

Having just come back from the Kopaonik Business Summit, I can testify to the fact that this country’s businesswomen an indeed an impressive force.  Women like Jelena Bulatovic from the Serbian Association of Managers and Violeta Jovanovic from NALED are playing leadership roles ensuring that Serbia’s private sector have the skills and the regulatory environment they need to compete in global markets.  I’d like to point out, too, that the top three positions in the American Chamber of Commerce are filled by women – Serbian women.

Looking out on the audience, I see many women from diverse corners of Serbia, active in different sectors of society.  You might have seen some of their faces on the posters downstairs in the club or on your way to this theater, or the videos on the screen behind me as you were settling into your seats.

Some of you with us tonight are alumnae of U.S. exchange programs for students, professors, and professionals.  They spent a few weeks, or months, or years in America and, we hope, came back to Serbia with a new perspective, and maybe a different way of approaching problems.  I’m thinking of people like Ivana Gadjanski, a fantastic young scientist, and Dragana Rodić, who keeps fighting to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in Niš.

We also have judges like Biljana Sinanović of Serbia’s Supreme Court of Cassation.  She has championed efforts to modernize Serbia’s judiciary and make it more efficient and transparent.

Ana Knezevic founded Evo Ruka to advocate for Serbian children with mental disabilities. USAID assistance helped her organization grow.

Here in Serbia, as we rightfully worry about more and more young people looking for opportunities outside of the country, I think it’s important to remember that there is still a vast pool of talent in Serbia’s women — intelligent, talented, and passionate women who make this society a better place each and every day.

The inspiration for this event tonight was one such woman.  She was an innovator, a real trailblazer, someone who sought to expand this nation’s horizons through drama.  I am talking about the founder of the Bitef Theater, and Atelje 212, Mira Trailovic.  She came up with the outrageous idea of bringing the American musical “Hair” to Belgrade 50 years ago.  She was a vital foundation for the wonderful cultural bridge that brings our two countries closer together and reminds us of our common humanity.

Beyond that American connection though, Mira Trailovic, like the musical she produced, embodied the spirit of freedom and maybe even of impatience that continues to motivate so many women today.  They are not waiting.  Instead, they are taking the initiative to take their rightful place in positions of responsibility in business, government, culture, and other parts of society.

So we wanted to recognize Mira Trailovic for serving as an inspiration to women in Serbia and the rest of the world, in the realm of culture, but also in other sectors, too.

To honor her, we dedicated the next installment of our “Vi ste svet” campaign to Mira Trailovic.  If you haven’t seen it, I’d like to show it to you now.  But before we do so, let me recognize and say a quick thank you to Mira’s sister, Olga Milićević Nikolić, who is here with us tonight.

After the film, I’m looking forward to an interesting discussion by our panel on the role of women in Serbian society.  But for now, please sit back and enjoy the video.