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Red Dawns Festival: Queering solidarity and honoring militant historical memory


"Festival Red Dawns does not advocate a further polarization of genders or "war of the sexes". Instead, the creativity and the mingling of the participants of Red Dawns question the boundaries we take for granted; the isolating boundaries that separate people regardless of our gender."
- Red Dawns festival website

Back in March 2009, I went to the queer feminist festival, Red Dawns/Rdeče zore in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Launched in 2000 by the KUD Mreža Arts and Culture Association -- this being the same year as Ladyfest started in the United States -- Red Dawns pitches itself quite similarily, supporting "women who express their creativity in self-organised ways, capturing the do-it-yourself ethic of constructive rebellion against capitalist consumption."

Creating autonomous women-led spaces has long been a vital part of the feminist movement, and festivals such as Red Dawns and Ladyfest share many common ideals as those emerging from the Women's Liberation Movement of the 70s and 80s. They also do things a little different - for example, bringing a much more queer, or gender fluid, understanding of sex roles and embodiments to the table, and embracing a whole host of multi-media technologies, events and performances.

Perhaps more so than Ladyfests--which count their ground zero as emerging from Riot Grrrl--Red Dawns embraces a cross-generational audience and legacy. According to the Red Dawns website, the title and motto of Red Dawn is taken from Jewish writer Kurt Held's 1941 novel 'Die Rote Zora und ihre Bande'. This children's book followed the adventures of a bunch of orhpans in a Croatian city who break the rules of society, fiercely looking out for each other. They are led by flame-haired Rote Zora.

The daring, witty, anarchist attitude of girl leader Rote Zora first became emblematic for a German leftist militant feminist group who took up the same name. This group were responsible for dozens of arson and bombings attacks between 1977 and 1995 on atomic, gene and reproduction research institutions, sex shops and companies that had businesses in the Third World. In an anonymous interview in the German feminist magazine Emma (1984), one RZ member said:

"Our dream is that everywhere small bands of women will exist, that in every city a rapist, a women trader, a battering husband, a misogynist publisher, a porn trader, a pig gynecologist should have to feel that a band of women will find them to attack them and make them look silly in public."

Zora also means 'dawn' in Slovene - giving a further twist to the festival title by creating visions of a new horizon and sense of possibility. Rdeče zore chose their name because, citing another RZ militant, "until today it seems to be a male privilege to build gangs or to act outside the law... Radical women's struggles and loyalty to the law - there is no way they go together!"

With an annual festival, open to all and held at an autonomous site, Red Dawns provides innovative, challenging, and participatory spaces. Whilst Debi and I were there this year, it was also the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. On the final night, this was celebrated by an all-female choir called Kombinat who sing songs of rebellion from all around the world. They say: "We are not nostalgic. We sing with faith in values such as solidarity, allegiance, heartiness and courage".

What struck me most about this performance, and not just for the amazing talent, was how truly intergenerational the crowd was. The place was packed. And it was soul-stirring indeed to witness people getting particularly excited and emotional when the multi-lingual choir started singing songs from their own countries.

And these are two elements that I think I miss in other third-wave-esque events such as Ladyfest. I miss the connection into a bigger movement of social struggle, encapsulated in memory through things like names, songs, images, and for that proud stance of supposedly old-fashioned notions like "solidarity".

What blew me away about Red Dawns was that it had all the fun and festiness of other queer-feminist festivals, but with none of the historical amnensia.