Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War's End Means Women of Sirogojno Can Make Sweaters Again Luxury Garments Meant Prosperity for Yugoslavian Villages

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War's End Means Women of Sirogojno Can Make Sweaters Again Luxury Garments Meant Prosperity for Yugoslavian Villages

Article excerpt

THE BALKANS WAR never reached this faraway mountain village in central Serbia, but the women who live here longed for peace as much as anyone.

With the fighting over and U.N. economic sanctions - and now U.S. sanctions - against rump Yugoslavia suspended, dozens of these women have returned to doing what they do best: hand-knitting wool sweaters that before the war enjoyed a worldwide reputation and helped transform this region into an economic wonderland.

Thousands of other women, in snow-swept houses sprinkled across the Zlatibor Mountains, are hoping to pick up their knitting needles soon, too, encouraged by the arrival last week of 10 tons of yarn from Iceland.

"I don't know why the sanctions were imposed, but I am sure we women and children were not guilty," said Jasminka Starcevic, one of the lucky ones who picked up six pounds of yarn from the new shipment, the first since U.N. sanctions were suspended. "We had the good life. We had almost everything, and now we are lucky if we can survive."

For 30 years before the war, about 2,500 women passed the harsh winter months knitting elaborate sweaters in the warmth of their kitchens and living rooms. Their work was part of a communist-sponsored jobs program intended to halt the migration of peasants to big cities.

The local women made good money - as much as $50 for a large sweater coat, or about half the average monthly wages in Serbia - and they were able to do it without neglecting their traditional household duties. As a result, hundreds of families stayed put.

"When I first started, we used to have to walk (10 miles) to pick up the wool," said Starcevic, 33, who has been knitting for 15 years. "Now they have a bus. Three of us in my house are knitting, including my 70-year-old mother-in-law and my 15-year-old daughter."

The beautifully crafted garments, which carry the trademark name of the village, were favorites of the Japanese royal family, Italian designers and exclusive Alpine ski boutiques. Top models sold for more than $1,000 in Japan and were considered one of former Yugoslavia's most prestigious exports.

But the international sanctions imposed three years ago brought all of that to an end. …

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