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Focus 93 Reviews and Culture

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Weapon of War, Documentary film.

Weapon of War is the second film in a series of three documentaries about sexual violence used systematically against women and girls.


The normalisation of sexual violence is approached from the perpetrators’ point of view in the context of the decades long conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This uncompromising documentary shows how a war-torn country without an effective and corrupt-free justice system is dealing with systematic human right abuses. We see how the perpetrators of sexual violence adopt different coping mechanisms to come to terms with, and get over, what they have gone through. While some justify their behaviour as a normal response to lack of peace and economic dependence on armed militia groups, others are apologetic and are actively fighting for womens’ and girls’ rights. Femke van Velzen, who attended the screening, argues that DRC’s justice system is failing to protect survivors and initiatives for reconciliation need to be welcomed.

While quite a slow documentary at times, it is very informative and it represented, quite graphically, the reality for perpetrators in countries like the DRC; their daily struggles in integrating into a society where armed conflict is still very present. I thought that some of the testimonies were outrageous, because the perpetrators were, on occasion, not only asking for forgiveness but also “forgiving” the victims. Because this is a documentary with a very specific focus on the lives of the perpetrators, the audience misses the reality of the victims and of the rest of civilian population.Ilse and Femke van Velzen are involved in an educational project, Cinema on Wheels, whereby they use short documentaries to promote the prevention of sexual and gender based violence. These documentaries are screened in public areas in communities all over the country. She advocates for women and girls at local, national and international level.

Reviewed by By Maria Fernandez, SPIRASI.


Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca

Isabel Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing is an account of Europe’s largest and most reviled minority, the Romani.
Fonseca spent four years collecting stories and searching archives in Eastern Europe. The result is a book that is both a historical account of the Romani in Europe and an intimate portrait of a people far more sinned against than sinning. Fonseca paints Romani history in Europe as a catalogue of suffering, some exceptional examples include being enslaved in Romania, expelled on mass by the British crown and destroyed in Nazi death camps. The Romani’s traditional economic niches were those of the travelling trade and craftsman, blacksmith, horse traders and musicians. Niches which were rubbed out by modernisation.

At the time of the author’s fieldwork in the mid 1990s she finds a people facing economic marginalisation, institutional racism and ethnic violence driven by rising nationalism.As the book moves into the present we travel across Eastern Europe with the author. It is these sections of the book that really shine. Fonseca uses her skills at scene setting and characterisation to paint us a complex portrait of modern Romani’s life. On her journey she meets prostitutes, musicians and ‘gypsy kings’ but also Romani journalists, activists and academics, part of an emerging intellectual class.

Facilitated by the freedom of association enabled by the fall of the Eastern Block, Fonseca witnessed traditional leaders and this intellectual class drive an emergent sense of Romani nationhood and increased political mobilisation. It is in these changes that the author saw hope in the Romani’s future.This book is a well written and honest account of arguably Europe’s most marginalised people. For those who wish to get beyond the prejudicial misconceptions and learn about a growing Irish community, this is a great place to start.

Reviewed by Mark Furlong, Comhlámh.


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