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The Women's WORLD Program in Italy:

Memory and Culture in the Life Histories of Kosovar Women

In 1999, the Associazione Orlando and Women's WORLD began a partnership project to develop an oral archive, using cassette tape recorders, that would preserve the memories and culture of Albanian women and enable them to be heard in the rest of the world. The project was originally designed to focus on women in Albania, women in Kosovo, and Albanian women who had emigrated to Italy. Once the war broke out in Kosovo, however, emphasis shifted to preserving the experiences of women there. The purpose was not to make a collection of journalistic testimonies about the war, but to record the memories of what existed before the war and eventually be able to put the life histories of Kosovar women in the context of the life histories of other women in the region. The project was based on the principles of using local consultants to shape its design, and representing different ages, religions, educational levels and ethnic groups.

All this took place in the context of a larger project organized by the Associazione Orlando's Library and Documentation Center to set up six women's centers in areas of Kosovo that were particularly hard hit by the war (Prishtina, Peja, Suhareka, Mitrovica, Skënderaj, and Gjakova), in order to respond to the needs of widows and victims of sexual violence. These women's centers provide health, legal and economic services, offer job and skills training, and support income generation projects. They are places where Kosovar women can meet informally to develop their own organizations and a stronger public voice.

The oral history project was funded (at a very low level) by Women's WORLD and the Associazione Orlando, and most of the work was done on a volunteer basis by Luisa Passerini and her graduate students at the European University in Florence. The Archive of Life Histories of Kosovar Women will be set up in 2002, and will consist of tape recordings as well as transcriptions of the interviews with Kosovar women from different ethnic groups: Albanian refugees in Albania, Serbian refugees in Serbia, and Roma refugees in Italy. The project will conclude with publication of a book of the testimonies in Giunti's Astrea series. Enrica Capussotti, an Italian researcher, described the experience of those who worked on the project:

We had the idea of being a sort of medium through which women from Kosovo could talk about their lives, their experiences, and their cultural traditions. Following the idea that culture was central in contemporary conflicts, we thought of the importance of giving space to different cultures and memories in a context dominated by the war and by the closing of any pluralistic space.... We started with the idea of giving voice to the women of Kosovo, but quite soon we discovered how much collecting testimonies was about ourselves and our position in respect to ongoing conflicts. The exchanges that produce the interviews have become an important political space in which to experience solidarity as well as tensions and disagreements. Therefore the book that we are planning will be a testimony of intersubjectivity, documenting our own as well as the interviewees' forms of subjectivity.