Hidden voices

1.

It’s almost unbearable to read.

Belarus writer Svetlana Aleksijevitj’s book with Swedish title Kriget har inget kvinnligt ansikte (The war doesn’t have a female face, my translation) is a remarkable project that took her years to finish. She has interviewed women all around Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, has loads of cassette tapes where these now elderly women tell their horrifying stories of joining the army at ages 16–18 years and the hardships and terrifying work as snipers, nurses, pilots, military seargents, soldiers, engineers, and as members of the partisans and resistance movement.

Women’s role in the military during the Second World War in Russia has never been highlighted. They continued their life after the war, bearing their sorrows, trying to forget while the victory of the war has been contributed men. Aleksijevitj wants to let them be heard, wants to tell their stories, the choices they had to make, their everyday struggles in the war, in life, as daughters, wives, mothers, and soldiers.

At points I have to put it aside, but then I pick it up again. I’m obliged to listen to these women and what they went through during the war and nine hundred days of siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg) by the nazists during 1941-1944. Swedish journalist Ulrika Knutson writes in her resumé in Expressen last week that if you only read one book this year, this should be the one.

I read it as I am on my way to St Petersburg to speak on a seminar about women creativity. I am shaken.

2.

Nätverkstan has been invited to St Petersburg to speak in connection to the opening of the exhibition Creative Women on October 23, exhibiting Inventions from Swedish women.

The exhibition is an initiative by Tekniska Museet (The Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology) where Museum Director Ann Follin realized when looking through the 55.000 objects in their collection that only 100 of these were made by women. It also showed when looking deeper that of all patent applications in Sweden only five percent came from women.

This raised questions of whether women are less inventive than men? Or perhaps less creative?

They didn’t believe this to be true and put together the exhibition of women inventors, an exhibition that in cooperation with Swedish Institute has toured to around ten different countries raising questions of the role of women in innovation.

The St Petersburg-based organisation Social and Economic Institute  arranges the seminar inviting a Swedish and a Russian speaker. Olga Gracheva gave a very interesting contribution of the NGO Kaykino Creative Projects she just started two years ago with the aim of promoting and develop interest for the rural area around St Petersburg. An amazing initiative.

The women in the book are with me.

The only connection between these two things is that it’s about women and their hidden voices. Women in 1940s and women in 2012.

Swedish Institute supports the seminar and project, host organization in St Petersburg (run by two charismatic women) is the Social and Economic Institute, an institute focussing on educational initiatives, projects, conferences, and exchanges of experiences between women in the world. The exhibition is shown at the Water Museum, a museum examining the role of water with both an educational and interactive part for children and an open part for the public.

Svetlana Aleksijevit’s book ”Kriget har inget kvinnligt ansikte” is translated by Kajsa Öberg Lindsten (Ersatz 2012).

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