Gordana Rajkov

On 14 June 2022, the founder of Centre for Independent Living Serbia and a member of ENIL’s Advisory Board Gordana Rajkov passed away in her home town of Belgrade, Serbia at the age of 78. Gordana was a key figure in the Independent Living movement and helped introduce Personal Assistance, controlled by disabled people, in Belgrade. Gordana was active at the European level and, having herself benefited from working at the Centre for Independent Living in Dublin, she helped spread the Independent Living philosophy and empower other disabled people around Europe. Her rich life, which included serving as the first disabled Member of Parliament in Serbia, was told in a book Vying for a Choice: Gordana Rajkov – a Life Story, recorded as a conversation with Milica Mima Ruzicic Novkovic, the founder of Centre Living Upright in Novi Sad. Other key figures in the Independent Living movement have sent tributes to Gordana, whose legacy will never be forgotten. 

“Ever since I met Gordana in November 1993, I have thought of her as a wise person. I can’t find a better word for describing her intuition of what I was thinking and feeling, for her ability to explain things to me. We met in Dublin in November of 1993 where she was an intern at the CIL when Martin Naughton invited me to speak at the Disability Pride Parade. She took the time to patiently explain to me what the CIL was doing within the boundaries of EU programs. She saw that I didn’t understand that Martin and his gang were bending the rules maximally to ensure that at least some people got personal assistance for a limited time. I only saw the project’s limitations – not Martin’s genius and courage. She was kind to me and patient. That was her style. That’s why she was such a successful leader in the movement and in politics and such a good friend. 

I remember her courage. She stayed in her apartment in Belgrade during the war despite the daily bombing. On the phone she’d never complain about her situation, the danger she was in, the shortages of food and medical supplies she had to cope with. During the last years, when we periodically checked on each other’s increasing breathing problems, she wouldn’t complain either. She was more interested in supporting the new upcoming Serbian and Balkan leadership in their work of changing society. 

True, her passing is a tremendous loss for us. But let’s be grateful for the years we have had her among us!” 

Adolf Ratzka, Sweden 

“I am one of those who have known Gordana for a long time. We were friends, collaborators, comrades. There are few people who had such energy and commitment to the fight for independent living both in their own lives, but also for independent living of other disabled people, as well as changes attitudes of government institutions and the public towards disabled people. The strength of her spirit and her incredible will to live helped her overcome the many barriers and health issue over a number of years and showed that these barriers provided additional motivation to overcome them and that if there is a will, then there is also a way. 

Gordana is one of the pioneers of independent living in the Balkans, but also in Ireland where, together with Martin Naughton and others, she established the Centre for Independent Living and promoted the philosophy of independent living among disabled people. 

Gordana, just like other activists, icons of independent living and our movement, are a motivation and a source of learning for us who remain fighting for the idea that they lived for and in which they invested a lot of personal potential — that is the only way that we, disabled people, can ensure that the world is a better place to live for everyone.” 

Suvad Zahirovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina 

“Gordana was a great role model for so many disabled people and a true activist within the independent living movement.” 

Vibeke Maroy Melstrom, Norway