Sent: Tuesday, August 03, 1999 9:33 PM
Subject: Lepa Mladenovic: Caring at the same time
Autonomous Women's Center Against Sexual Violence, Belgrade
For the Conference on Women After Wars
in South Africa
, 20 - 22 of June, 1999
CARING AT THE SAME TIME:
Making Feminist Politics Among Women of Two Sides the
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.
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).
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.
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:
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
feminist lesbian from Belgrade.
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
mothers have first of all duty toward the nation and the state, and
then toward sons. In this
case both sides remain inside the
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.
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...
important for us to discuss, among others, following issues:
- the position of victim,
- the feeling of guilt,
- the privileges to be named
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?
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
killing-cleaning plans? Am I
a victim or accomplice?
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
How do I unable myself to look through my guilt feelings and
transform them in the language of
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.
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
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 the 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.
questions about solidarity in the wartime, about children we take
care of, students we deal
with... Once we slip into
-'ours' being more important and better then the 'other' ....
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?