Since 1991, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been torn apart. The Serbian regime, headed by Slobodan Miloševic, has instigated hatred, ethnic cleansing and war throughout all the former republics and provinces of Yugoslavia. Throughout this same time, feminists in Serbia and Croatia have worked on peace activism and solidarity among women. While all the nationalist leaders have engaged in words of hatred, and supported ethnically defined national identities and statuses, militarism and killing, the feminist women’s groups have founded anti-war and feminist movements.
Women were the majority of the organizers and participants of the peace movement in Belgrade. Throughout the spring and summer of 1991, the Belgrade Women’s Lobby took part in peace demonstrations, issued weekly calls for an end to bloodshed, and criticized media programs that promoted nationalism and violence against women. After the start of the war in Slovenia the Belgrade Women’s Lobby appealed to the federal government: “We ask that the units of the Federal Army unconditionally withdraw to their barracks. The youth did not go to serve in the military in order to impede the separation of any ethnic group from Yugoslavia. A Yugoslavia maintained by force is useless to everyone” (Belgrade Women’s Lobby July 1991).
By the fall of 1991, feminists dissatisfied with the character of the anti-war protests and they decided to found another organization. The Israeli group Women in Black, that wore black and protested in silence against the disastrous consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inspired the women.
Women in Black made its first appearance in Belgrade on 9 October 1991. In their first public statement the activists defined themselves as an anti-nationalist, anti-militarist, feminist, pacifist group who rejected the reduction of women to the role of mothers: “The work of women in peace groups is presupposed, it is invisible, trying, women’s work; it’s a part of ‘our’ role; to care for others, to comfort, aid, tend wounds, and feed. The painful realization that the peace movement would to some extent also follow a patriarchal model caused a serious dilemma for feminist-pacifists. We wanted our presence to be VISIBLE, not to be seen as something ‘natural,’ as part of a woman’s role. We wanted it to be clearly understood that what we were doing was our political choice, a radical criticism of the patriarchal, militarist regime and a non-violent act of resistance to policies that destroy cities, kill people, and annihilate human relations” (Women In Black 1993).
Another political aim of Women in Black is to strengthen the solidarity among women who have been separated by guns and borders: “We are the group of women who believe that solidarity is one of the deepest values of our existence, that active solidarity between women is the force and the tenderness by which we can overcome isolation, loneliness, traumas and other consequences of hatred. We are the ones who come out in the public with our bodies and our visions of the world without war, rape, violence and militarism” (Women in Black 10 June 1992).
The feminists shifted the philosophy and approach to protesting the war. The statements and writings became more overtly political and analytically feminist.
With the establishment of the more radical Women in Black, a political shift in analysis and naming occurred—Serbian nationalism is seen as a motivating force and the Serbian government is named as the aggressor: “We say that the Serbian regime and its repressive structures (Federal Army and paramilitary formations) are responsible for all three wars, in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Serbian regime leads wars in the name of all citizens of Serbia. This way all the citizens become the hostages of their imperialistic politics” (Women In Black 10 June 1992).
Long before the atrocities of the Serbs came to international attention Women in Black issued a statement calling for an end to war crimes. In October 1991, the Women’s Parliament and the Belgrade Women’s Lobby issued a statement “Against War Crime” in which they listed acts which are war crimes, including: inhuman treatment of civilians, inflicting bodily harm, torture, prostitution, rape, stealing or destroying the property of others, including historical and cultural monuments, and the destruction of cities, towns and villages. They reminded people that Yugoslavia had signed all United Nations conventions and agreements, including the Geneva Convention on war (Women’s Parliament and Belgrade Women’s Lobby 9 October 1991, 21). In 1992 Women in Black called for the naming of war crimes and the prosecution of perpetrators (Women in Black September 1992).
To be continued…
Translated and edited by Rimma Soghomonian.