Lepa Mladjenovic

Autonomous Women's Center Against Sexual Violence



  for the conference on women after wars

in South Africa

20 - 22 of June, 1999

Lepa Mladjenovic


Making feminist politics among women of two sides the front lines

If one lives in a fascist state it is not surprising news that the other

state who does not want to collaborate with a fascist one refuses

visa to the citizens of the fascist one. So I was refused visa. I

want to send my warm words of greeting to women who are in

similar and different situations as mine, working in the war and

post war zones.

I am a feminist from the region of Former Yugoslavia where the

war started in 1991. I have a Serbian name and live in Serbia,

which means that inside of pro-fascist Serbian regime it is a

privilege, which means that I live in a state Serbia whose

government has started four wars in the region (with Slovenia,

Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and last year Kosovo). I have

as well in the three months of spring lived a war of bombing of

NATO over the town and a country I live in and at the same time

witnessed, from afar, the state ethnic cleansing of Albanian

population in Kosovo by Serbian police and army. Kosovo is

300km away from Belgrade, a town where I live, and is still a

region of the state named FR Yugoslavia (one part of the former


This time I wish to make few short notes about the last 9 years of

anti war activism as one of the WOMEN IN BLACK AGAINST WAR

in Belgrade, and one of the feminist counselors of women survivors

of war and male violence:

  1. insisting on constructionism

The war in former Yugoslavia did not start because people hated

each other, but because the hatred was manufactured by the

states. The notion of nationalism as well as racism is a

construction. It is racism that constructs race, and hatred against

women that constructs inferiority of women, and hatred against the

ethnic other that constructs nationalism.

It was always important for some of us to follow the line of Simone

de Beauvoir, the First Lady of Constructionism, and to insist in our

work that nationalism does not come from the soil and blood but

from the state power, that hatred against women is not embedded

in women's body but in patriarchal order, that racism is not inside

someone's color of a skin. I know that Ten Thousand questions

rise for this thesis, but some of us in the international feminist

resistance believe in it.

In my case it means that twenty years ago, during the times of

Former Yugoslavia, I choose to declare myself as nationality :

Yugoslav. At that time there were about 8% of us who chose this

artificial political national belonging. At that time it was said that

there were 22 ethnic communities in Former Yugoslavia and

'Yugoslav' was not one, it was the name of the state where all 22

ethic communities lived. After the Army under Serbian orders

started the war in 1991 and Former Yugoslavia broke down in six

states I was put in the situation to take Serbian national identity.

"Your name is Serbian, and therefore your nationality as well" -

that was a statement. I politically refuse this argument. I am a

feminist lesbian from Belgrade.

 2. gender is not enough to oppose the war

Sentimentalizing women has always been part of peace

movements. Usually we hear that women are peace keepers and

life savers. Mothers have been depicted as anti-war agents in

many wars. In the case of former Yugoslavia we have seen that

gender of mother as resisting force is not enough. From the 1991

on, Mothers in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina usually

came out with the argument of demanding lives of their sons.

Most of the times what happens: The moment mothers organize

protest and demand life for their sons the army chiefs immediately

come in the scene to respond with their father language. The

generals then try to convince mothers that there is something

beyond the reach of mother's language, that sate and army

contain secret they are never able to understand, and that

mothers have first of all duty toward the nation and the state, and

then toward sons. In this case both sides remain inside the so

called -biological roles- and men always win. The courage of

women to come out in the streets is either glorified or minimized.

Unless women who are in the role of mothers do not develop clear

political position of their resistance , the sole being mother cannot

oppose the state's logic of war , on the contrary most of them, in

case of Serbia and Croatia were afterwards used by the same army

fathers for the aims of defending the nation.

3. taking care of oneself as much as others

When we desire to communicate and reach women of the other

side of the war zone, and that was the aim of many of us feminists

form Former Yugoslavia all through the time of wars... it is

important for us to discuss, among others, following issues:

- the position of victim,

- the feeling of guilt,

- the privileges to be named

the position of victim

Here is an example: during the months of April, May and June

some of us lived 77 days under the NATO bombing of state FR

Yugoslavia, while at the same time the regime announced the

Marshal Law and was carrying out their state plan of ethnic

cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo, inside the same state and under

the time of bombing.

The questions I posed for myself were:

- How do I resist the role of victim if fear is constant

everyday feeling that emerges from other women, from sounds of

bombing, from state news, from darkness in the streets.... How

can I overcome fear which leads me to erase from memory the

Other which suffers? Is not the principle of trauma that implies

that one can think only of oneself in the traumatic experience? Is

not in that moment Serbian state the agent that using NATO

bombings tries to construct me into the role of victim bigger than

any other victim? Why? In order that regime carries on the

killing-cleaning plans? Am I a victim or a complice?

How do I transform the feeling of fear in organizing support for

myself and the others?.

the feeling of guilt

- Not many, but few of us feminists in Belgrade, ask, how

one resist the feeling of guilt if one knows that Serbian regime in

the name of citizens of Serbia therefore me, forcefully expels the

citizens of the same state, but of different, Albanian, names out of

their homes? Has not the history of women's experience shown

that guilt feeling has been the burden for the Other? The guilt of

Whites toward Blacks, the guilt of West toward East or South? That

too much guilt blocks action. Is guilt feeling the outcome of

political responsibility or is still the pressure of old interiorized

patriarchal system?

How do I unable myself to look through my guilt feelings and

transform them in the language of solidarity?

the privileges to be named

- How one makes visible for oneself the privilege one has, in

my case, of a woman of Serbian name in state of Serbia? For

women it is the position of victim which is more familiar. I am

witnessing at the moment the stories women tell how NATO

bombings was horrifying experience, and it was, while the same

women do not mention the privilege they have not to be ones who

were objects of ethnic cleansing ever since '91. On one hand

patriarchy makes all women disprivileged and on the other in this

case the Serbian state makes people with Serbian name a 'chosen

people from heaven'! How to name privileges and not feel guilty?

How to name privileges and not use it to erase the suffering of the


How do I identify privilege, pronounce it, and how do I deal with

the privilege and transform it in the useful tool to be shared with

the others?

Therefore in the Autonomous Women's Center Against

Sexual Violence where I work as a counselor and in Women in

Black Against War, a women's peace group, we are trying to

develop the feminist politics of taking care of ourselves as much as

of others at the same time. All during he 77 days we have called

and asked women "How are you", women of Serbian names,

women of Albanian names, when the word Albanian was not to

be heard in public. After the 77 days of bombing ended, activists

of our Center went to visit Albanian refugees, Serbian refugees,

and we are now collecting experience of women of different social,

ethnic and war backgrounds in one book.

Some of us believe that if we are to work toward the aim of

inclusion of everyone in equal rights and therefore work toward

overcoming the concepts of minority and the Other, we need to

work on taking care of oneself and others equally. It includes

questions about solidarity in the wartime, about children we take

care of, students we deal with... Once we slip into discourses of

-'ours' being more important and better then the 'other' .... child,

woman or man, black or white, mad or rational... that is the end

of the idea of civil society. Some of us believe in beauty of

exchange among different as the political principle which will then

put into discussion privileges, victims, guilt feelings, complices....

Is that not working toward end of patriarchy?

 June '99