–How and when have you discovered or came to know about the Independent living movement?
As my parents died when I was very young, I stayed on my own and I practiced independent living style almost all my life, without thinking whether it has some particular name or philosophy behind it. First information about independent living movement I got in mid-eighties from newsletter published by Adolf Ratzka, as at that time I was a president of Muscular Dystrophy Alliance of Former Yugoslavia.
Practical experience and knowledge I gained when I came to Ireland in 1992 to work with Dublin Centre for Independent Living. There I found out that there is a name and the whole philosophy for the things I believed in and already practiced every day. The experience and knowledge I gained in Ireland, working with many disabled people including Martin Naughton, Peter Moor, Mick McKabe, Florence Doughall and others, was great motivation for me, and when I get back to Belgrade I initiated the setting up of Centre for Independent Living Serbia in 1996.
–Which areas of Independent living are you especially interested in?
I have two big interests in independent living area: first is empowerment of disabled people, strengthening our capacities for self-representation and advocacy. Second one is provision of personal assistance service in Serbia, the goal I am fighting for more then 10 years. Both things are very important for me, as to start something new and make a change you need individuals and small groups with vision and enthusiasm, but if you want this change to last, to be sustainable, you need to have it in a system. Of course, even when you get it in a system (like right to have paid personal assistant), you still need strong disability activist as a »watching dogs« to guard what we have achieved and make sure that the independent living philosophy is not diluted.
That is why I worked a lot in disability awareness educational activities while fighting for including personal assistance service in the law, as one of guarantied social support services in Serbia.
–In your opinion how could ENIL activate young disabled persons to become activists of the movement?
To day when in many countries young disabled people enjoy much more rights and have better conditions for practising independent living style, it is not easy to motivate young disabled people to join the movement. They have right and they have much more opportunities to live as any of their non disabled peers, to go to school, to do some work, to set up their own family to live the life of their own. And this is fine, this is what we have fight for all these past years. But the work is not finished jet! Now when independent living is more and more mainstreamed in society, there is a serious threat that our philosophy will be diluted and »abused« by people who accept the IL language but still staying in their old traditional medical approach to disability.
It is crucial therefore that we make young disabled people aware of that process, to teach them and explain the importance of keeping the ownership of the independent living philosophy and the language, setting it as a challenge for themselves to join the movement and protect the achievements we get so far. For that we need gathering, training, seminars, panel discussions in which young activist will have the opportunity to meet with IL leaders who has being involved and gave significant contribution to the Independent Living Movement. They will have the opportunity to tell their individual stories which could inspire young disabled people strengthen their understanding and commitment to the philosophy of independent Living and motivate them to become activists in the movement.
–Could you tell us something about yourself, like for example what are the areas of your interest in your free time or when not working on the areas of Independent living?
Things I like the best to do in my free time are meeting friends, spending time together, laughing, singing, making jokes, spending time with my godson. I very much like to travel, to explore new places, to meet new people. Books are also my favourite ways to relax. I very much like to read, to use my imagination, to learn. Unfortunately, I have less and less time for any of these activities that makes me happy and in accordance with myself.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
When I think about my achievements, I could talk about my professional achievements and expertise I gained, about my work in disability movement, my political engagement as disability activist and member of Serbian Parliament.
But the achievement I am the most proud of are people – my friends and peers in disability movement who inspired me, who have taught me, who trusted me. The thing I am the most proud of is the marks that I left in the lives of my colleagues, disabled people with whom I shared my knowledge, my experience, and my beliefs. My disabled friends to whom I brought the idea of independent living philosophy and who were open-minded and brave enough to embrace the philosophy and make significant changes in their lives. To day they live free life, make their own choices, and this is the greater wealth I have.