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Initiatives for naming streets and public spaces after women in Bosnia and Herzegovina – two years later

October 12, 2023

The initiative ”Peace with a Woman’s Face” that involves 13 women’s non-governmental organisations from Bosnia and Herzegovina and forumZFD initiated a campaign entitled ”100 Women – 100 Streets Named after Women” at the end of 2021. The idea was to make the names of public spaces in our country gender-sensitive. More specifically, in practical terms this meant submitting initiatives for naming and renaming streets after important women to the authorities of every local community that is part of the initiative.
Initiatives for naming streets and public spaces after women in Bosnia and Herzegovina – two years later
© Private archive

The motivation for the initiative stems from research results that have shown that in 12 cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina included in the research, out of a total number of 4,076 streets, only 115 were named after women. This means that only 2.82% of streets were named after women and that women were obviously neglected when naming public spaces that are part of the culture of remembrance and were excluded from the process of memorialisation. The examples given below show the process of submitting initiatives for re-/naming streets and what kind of obstacles occur in case of such initiatives.

At the end of 2021, the foundation CURE from Sarajevo submitted an initiative to the Committee for Education, Culture and Cultural and Historical Heritage of the Municipal Council of Stari Grad Municipality in Sarajevo to name the square across the City Hall after Aida Buturović, who was a librarian of the National Library at the City Hall and was part of the team that tried to save the books from the burning City Hall in the night of August 25/26, 1992, and who was killed on the way home while she was coming back from the burnt City Hall. However, in January 2022, the Municipal Council of Stari Grad Municipality in Sarajevo adopted the decision to officially name the new square across the City Hall ”Square of the First Police Brigade” in the honour of more than 700 members of this brigade that defended the city at the very beginning of the Sarajevo siege. In August 2022, the Mayor of Sarajevo, Benjamina Karić, announced that the City of Sarajevo would put up a memorial plaque dedicated to Aida Buturović. However, as far as we know, after a whole year, the memorial plaque has not been put up.

In June of 2022, the citizens’ association ”Budućnost” from Modriča submitted an initiative to the Department for Spatial Planning, Housing and Utility Affairs and Environmental Protection of Modriča Municipality to name a street after the teacher Savka Mačak who contributed greatly to literacy of persons in Modriča and also worked at the primary school ”Sutjeska” (branch school Skugrić) until 1948. They have never obtained feedback from the competent department as to whether the initiative had been reviewed and whether it would be adopted.

In November 2021, the representatives of the foundation Udružene žene and Helsinki Citizens‘ Assembly Banja Luka submitted an initiative to the Department of Utility Affairs of the City of Banja Luka to name a street after Vahida Maglajlić, a national hero that made a great contribution to the establishment of the Womens’ Anti-Fascist Front in Cazin and Krajina and inclusion of rural women in the social and political life, and after Mira Kesić, for her extraordinary humanitarian work in taking care of orphans. This department forwarded the initiatives to the Academic and Expert Committee of Banja Luka, which was appointed by the Mayor, for review and both initiatives were initially rejected. However, Milkica Milojević, a member of the Committee, insisted on a second voting on these initiatives and they were adopted. The Assembly Committee for Local Communities, Names of Streets and Squares then adopted the proposal to name a street after Mira Kesić, and this decision was also confirmed by the Assembly of the City of Banja Luka in a meeting held in July 2023. Due to issues related to the publication of decisions in the Official Gazette of Banja Luka, this decision has still not become official and has not entered into force. The initiative for naming a street after Vahida Maglajlić has not yet been reviewed by the Assembly Committee, but the members of the association received unofficial information that this initiative might be adopted during one of the next meetings of the City Assembly.

Also, the representatives of the foundation Udružene žene, Helsinki Citizens‘ Assembly Banja Luka, the association Žena i porodica” and Snježana Gvozden, a member of the Assembly of the City of Gradiška jointly launched an initiative that a street in Gradiška be named after Staka Bokonjić, a woman from a local family Čubrilović, who was the first Serb doctor in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The initiative was submitted to the Mayor of Gradiška in April 2023, but there has not been any feedback.

The association HO Horizonti from Tuzla launched different initiatives in Tuzla, Lukavac and Gračanica. In Tuzla, the procedure is somewhat different, so that it is necessary to submit a list of potential names to be changed to the Fund, and only then is it possible to propose an initiative to change the name of a street or name a new street. The initiative for naming the promenade in the neighbourhood Stupine after the doctor Hiba Šerbić was submitted in March 2023. However, a reply from the Expert Team for Names of Streets and Squares of the City of Tuzla arrived as soon as in May, stating that it was necessary to obtain the consent of the immediate heirs before forwarding the initiative to other bodies, since less than 100 years passed since the death of Hiba Šerbić. Ever since, the association has been trying to get in touch with her heirs in order to be able to name the street after her. An initiative was launched in Lukavac to name a school after Lejla Bećirović, a former student of the school, who joined the civil protection and the humanitarian association Merhamet when the war started in order to help refugees and who was killed by a shell shrapnel, while she was distributing food to refugees in Lukavac in 1993. The association has also shared the idea of naming streets after women with the informal women’s lobbying group from Gračanica, where only one street was named after a woman. They are jointly trying to relaunch the initiative submitted in 2019 by a city assembly member who proposed that a square, street or bridge at the city centre should be named after a humanitarian, the first midwife and nurse in Gračanica, Katarina Katica Ivanišević, Gračanica’s Mother Theresa, as she was known among the local people. In the coming period, initiatives will be launched also to name streets after the first teachers in Gračanica, Angela Špigl and Hadžihanuma Kurtagić, who contributed immensely to the general and religious education of citizens of Gračanica.

In June 2022,the association Forum žena from Bratunac submitted an initiative to the Municipal Assembly in Bratunac to rename two streets after local women – Milica Topalović, a poet, and Mirjana Đukanović, who considerably contributed to the improvement of the social and political life in Bratunac. The meeting with the representatives of the authorities was not encouraging, since they pointed out a lack of funds and potential issues that might result from changing the existing street names.  

In 2022, the women’s association Udruženje građanki Grahovo submitted an initiative to the  Mayor and Municipal Council of Grahovo Municipality to name streets after Željka Prša, an activist that contributed to peace building and reconciliation of citizens in Bosansko Grahovo, Jelena Bilbija and Boja Ivetić. They have still not received any feedback regarding this initiative. It is worth reminding that Bosansko Grahovo does not have any streets named after women.

In 2022,the women’s association Udruženje Prijedorčanki Izvor submitted a proposal to the Administration of the City of Prijedor to name seven streets after deserving women that contributed to the cultural, social, political and scientific life of this local community. They have not yet received any answer from the competent administration committee.

In April 2022, the women’s association MOST Višegrad submitted an initiative to the Committee for Names of Streets, Squares, Parks and Bridges in Višegrad Municipality to name two streets after Bukica Romano, the last Jewish woman from Višegrad, who left an indelible mark on the history of Višegrad, and Lotika Lota Celermajer, who became a symbol of the new era and values, and the new type of an enterprising and emancipated business woman. At the end of 2022, they received an answer stating that there was no longer a committee of this type at the Assembly of Višegrad Municipality and that the letter should be sent to the Mayor, who, if he found it acceptable, would submit a proposal on the change of streets to the Assembly. However, unofficially, they received discouraging information that there were no funds for changing the names of existing streets.

In April 2022, the Centre for Women’s Rights from Zenica submitted an initiative to the Council of the City of Zenica to name a new street after Sabaha Čolaković, a WWII hero, a member of the illegal resistance movement in Zenica, who courageously fought for the freedom of citizens of Zenica. A reply arrived soon, stating that the initiative would be considered as soon as a regulation on the procedure and criteria for naming or renaming streets, squares, bridges and parks in the City of Zenica was adopted. So far, there have been no new specific data on the status of the initiative.

By providing this short overview, we wished to highlight specific initiatives that were launched, barriers in case of such initiatives, and how important it is to immediately name new streets, squares, promenades, bridges and other public spaces after deserving women, since the process of street renaming also involves considerable funds, among other things. These initiatives do not aim to remove anyone from the public space, but rather to ensure understanding that the public space is a common space and part of the culture of remembrance of a community. We hope that the local authorities will understand the need to correct this injustice and take it seriously, since both women and men should be visible through names of public spaces.

You can support the initiative of naming streets after women in Bosnia and Herzegovina by signing a petition at this link.

Jasmina Čaušević received her BA in Literature and Language from the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade and her MA in Gender Studies from the University of Sarajevo in 2008.

The blog was written for a regional platform on Dealing with the Past. For more information please visit the Column section of DwP website.

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