Zene u crnom
War in Kosovo, Feminist Politics and Fascism in Serbia PDF Print E-mail

The Kosovo crisis is at the heart of the decade-long wars in the former Yugoslavia. The very shallow (mis)understanding of the dead country's destiny is (for those of us who still remember) painfully visible in CNN headlines such as "War in Yugoslavia".

What 'Yugoslavia' is the world talking about today? Is this collective amnesia an intentional trick played on people's memories? It is possible that the use of ‘Yugoslavia’ is unintentional, but it is no less misleading. The 'Yugoslavia' that CNN refers to is the same 'phantom Yugoslavia' that Milosevic would like us to believe is still alive and kicking. 'Yugoslavia' does not exist any more. Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed themselves the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, but have not been recognized by the United Nations. Milosevic's Serb-centric claim to be the rightful 'inheritor' of Yugoslavia is yet unrealized, as Yugoslavia’s seat at the UN is still empty.

Additionally, the Kosovo war is not a war of this self-proclaimed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; it is exclusively the war of Milosevic's Serbia. Montenegro is, in an ironic sense, twice victimized by this war, once by Milosevic's power-system that gives Montenegro the status of a puppet republic and also by NATO when it bombs Milosevic-controlled military forces in Montenegro.

The series of wars in the former Yugoslavia started in 1987.  Milosevic, after his Stalinist takeover of the Serbian Communist Party, in effect the state, he decided to build his power system by Machiavellian manipulation of the communist, totalitarian principle of 'class struggle.' However, he also used the even more lethal principle of 'ethnic struggle.' He used one simple tactic to shape basic social reality and produce power; he fostered antagonism among people—an endless series of antagonisms among Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Bosnians: cultural, historical, ethnic, national and racist antagonisms. At the same time, Milosevic shamelessly claimed to be the only 'true' defender of the 'Yugoslav Idea.’

Milosevic's 'ethnic struggle' principle proclaims itself as non-ideological, as the 'natural order of things,' as the true reality unshaped by any social processes. Its ideological content is well hidden, since it is not represented in the 'battle of ideas.'  Instead, its ideas are Blood, Skin, and Genes. The ideology of the nation's pre-sociability produces, therefore, an even more totalitarian Regime of the Body; exclusionary politics lead to annihilation of ‘the other’ through war, displacement, destruction and death.

Furthermore, the principle of 'ethnic struggle' is based on politically and culturally constructed racist antagonisms. It is racist because race, ethnicity, and nationality are, in fact, political categories – instruments used to define ‘the other' with whom coexistence is no longer possible. That's the reason why the Kosov@ crisis is at the heart of the decade-long drama of the former Yugoslavia. The destiny of the former Yugoslavia was turned towards a series of wars when Milosevic started to orient and strengthen Serbians’ hatred of Albanians as a 'legitimate' feeling and even a 'basic' part of Serbian national identity. When this big, undeniable (as Serbs and Albanians are not of the same 'race') hatred was un-leashed, the resurgence of the series of 'minor' hatreds was imminent and the wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were made possible. Now, the circle of crime came to its starting point.

The series of wars in former Yugoslavia is a result of culturally-, politically- and military-produced hatreds. Milosevic's power system is based on producing, transforming and handling hatreds to serve his purposes. These hatreds are primarily among men. More precisely, the wars in the former Yugoslavia are a series of ill-fated, unsuccessful, deadly and revengeful 'broken brotherhoods.' Tito's Yugoslavia based its hopes for a vital multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-religious federation on one exclusive identity/difference.  Yugoslavia was male-dominated with the slogan of 'Brotherhood and Unity.'

After more than a decade of 'brotherly killings and dis-unifications,' it is more than obvious that former Yugoslav 'brotherhood' was easily manipulated and destroyed to created the politics of 'ethnic struggle.' Encouraging fascist Serbian nationalism, Milosevic (ab)used the Serb's 'trauma' under Tito (and their tragic destiny during World War II), honing it into a lethal instrument to be used against all other ethnicities. Instead of a slow, democratic process of Serb disillusionment with the Shangri-La of ‘brotherhood and unity’ and, especially, with their historical hegemonic position and dispersed population, the reemergence of Serbian ethnic identity was more like an uncontrolled cultural delirium tremens. Since 1987, Serbs didn't know who they were but they were ready to form their identity by hating others, or being by coldly indifferent to others’ destiny. The last decade (and beginning even earlier) in Serbia could be defined as a historical process as the 'transition' from the pro-Yugoslav communism into politically autistic, aggressive, pro-fascist collectivism.

That is one of the reasons why there have never been significant democratic alternatives to Milosevic's 'ethnic struggle' war politics. Even the so-called opposition 'men-leaders' took part, each to his abilities, in this 'I-don't-mind-if-you-are-cleansed' game. Since the beginning of the wars in 1991, the only political subjects in Serbia who dared to challenge this deadly game, have been some (now very much marginalized) women politicians and some feminist and pacifist groups. Since 1991, Belgrade's Women in Black were the only ones who raised their voice against the new cultural norms - ignoring, objectifying, extinguishing and hatefully eliminating ‘the other.’ They were the only ones who cared enough and desperately opposed the masculinist hate-based politics of former 'brothers' by saying that "Bosnian, Albanian, and Roma women are our sisters."

Now, as the series of wars since 1991 comes back to Kosov@, its 'birthplace', the pro-fascist collectivization of Serbians under NATO bombs became a widespread phenomenon, its scope extending further then ever, even among people who previously declared themselves democrats, anti-nationalists or pacifists. In these circumstances, indifference to the destruction of ‘the other’ became the most dominant political, cultural, public and private reality of today's Serbia. A ‘we-must-prosecute-traitors’ martial law was introduced to ensure that fear will be thoroughly internalized. Also, martial law paralyzed any significant resistance to the final act of fascisization of the whole public/private world in Serbia; the media continued its denial of ethnic cleansing in Kosov@, and the explicit prohibition of even silent remembrances, not to mention vocal reminders, that Albanians, legal citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, were being brutally cleansed in Kosov@. The seductive Serbian narcissism about being (finally) a victim of NATO bombings clearly shows the real face of all of the previous wars, of the Kosov@ war, and of the political and historical forces that shape Serbia today.

The stages in the long process of fascisization of the symbolic, material and social world in Milosevic's Serbia could be defined as series of structural mutations: from state socialism to state nationalism; from state nationalism to Mafia etatism, from Mafia etatism to oriental despotism; and from oriental despotism to fascisized tyranny. Inevitably, these processes effected citizen-subjects on four identity levels: self-identity, civic/urban identity, gender identity and the identity of ‘the other.’ All four identity levels were under extreme turmoil, under systematically violent and (only seemingly) chaotic and uncontrolled barbarization of inner/outer and public/private cultural patterns.

This systematic production of 'inevitable barbarity' shows to what extent the wars in the former Yugoslavia were a result of a systematic, symbolic production of violent representations and narrations before and during the actual violence. The social world in Serbia was systematically constructed with a discourse that excluded otherness. Tactics towards this end included exteriorization of ‘the other,’ erasure of empathy, denial of tolerance, amnesia about the history of peaceful coexistence. In order for the overall practice of negating otherness, and the consequent tolerance for the destruction of the other’s body to be effective, a foundation needed to be laid. It was prepared through systematic (discursive, symbolic, iconic, etc.) production of a reality in which a consensus for fascist politics and a 'culture of normality' could arise. In Serbia, some of the very effective features of this fascist culture of normality have been legitimized through dominant political and cultural discourse since 1988. The elements of this culture include:

a) all ‘others’ are denominated as 'impossible,' as suspicious, treacherous conspirators against 'Serbian-ness', or as the opposite of humanity – unworthy animals, automatic and obedient collective agents, and other ‘sub-human’ forms.
b) the social sphere experienced a systematic transgression of 'civilized' taboos and their radical media-produced inversion into prohibitions of ‘otherness’ – social norms against peace and tolerance, contact with ‘the other’s’ body, against empathy, cross- border connections, multi-ethnic friendships, mixed neighborhoods, inter-ethnic marriages, and individual emotions.
c) Social life is depersonalization and subject to the violent collective of the Nation, territory, origin, tradition, and culture.
d) Women are the unrepresentative ‘other’ in one's own nation, and the representative ‘other’ and a target of violence in the enemy nation (this is especially apparent in the oversexualization of the other nation). The 'warrior's' male body is emasculated as that of an obedient servant.

The extent to which the fascist cultural, political and psychological (public and private) esprit d'etat has been dominant in the political life of Serbia for more than a decade, is illustrated by the small document entitled I Confess made by Women in Black—Belgrade in October 1998 to mark the seventh year of their anti-war activity:


We Are Still On the Streets 9 October 1991 - 9 October 1998

- to my longtime anti-war activity;
- that I did not agree with severe beatings for people of other ethnicities and nationalities, faiths, races, sexual orientations;
- that I was not present at the ceremonial act of throwing flowers on the tanks headed for Vukovar in 1991 and Pristina in 1998;
- that I opposed the politics of repression, apartheid, massacres and war perpetuated by the Serbian regime against Albanian population in Kosov@;
- that I fed women and children in refugee camps, schools, churches, and mosques;
- that throughout the war, I crossed the borders of the Balkan ethno-states, because solidarity is the politics that interests me;
- that I understood democracy as support to anti-war activists, friends, and sisters: Albanian women, Croat women, Roma women, and stateless women;
- that I first challenged the crimes of the state where I live and then those of other states, because I consider this to be responsible political behavior for a woman-citizen;
- that throughout all the seasons of the year, I insisted on an end to slaughter, destruction, ethnic cleansing, forced evacuation of people, and rape;
- that I took care of others while the patriots took care of themselves.

On October 9, 1998 at 6:30 p.m. in Republic Square, we will make our nonviolent resistance to war visible.
We Are All Women In Black!

Women in Black

Taking the form of an extraordinary political public and private narration, this unique document testifies to the complex interplay of the continuity of the violent culture against otherness in Serbia and the importance of exceptional ethical mobilization of individuals and political subjects. The uniqueness of this document lies in its 'discursive loneliness.' It is one of the rare public statements that strongly opposes the culture of exclusion. Moreover, this document clearly shows that for years the dominant taboo in the political and social life in Serbia has been the taboo against respecting ‘the other.’ Exclusion is a 'virtue' and including ‘the other’ is a 'crime.' Its discursive loneliness shows the hidden effects of tolerance for violence against ‘the other,’ and points to the invisible destruction of Serbia's personal and social fabric.

Therefore, the expression 'I Confess' in the Women in Black document shows a fundamental inversion of dominant fascist social codes and, at the same time, articulates a political sensibility that demands individual responsibility and public action. It shows how the intertwining of the personal and the political/historical in traumatic times could become an articulate, albeit marginal, feminist political action with powerful symbolic potential. It makes us aware that in times when the culture of violence and exclusion becomes the 'legitimate narrative,' there is an exceptional need for the ethical mobilization of the subject, for continuous self-reflection and self-narration.

Another document, made by Belgrade's Autonomous Women's Center against Sexual Violence during the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is another example of feminist resistance to internal fascisization processes. It speaks against the 'new' obliviousness towards ‘the other,’ indifference about the fate of Kosovar Albanians, the 'narcissistic homogenization' of many Serbs during the NATO bombing, the denial of the crimes organized against Kosovar Albanians before and during the NATO bombing, and dominance of violence in the culture, which is aggressive towards anything that is foreign, western, un-Orthodox, non-Serb, mixed, civil, and civilian. This document is not only a testimony of the political and psychological effects of the NATO bombing, but it is a testimony of the reality under the martial law introduced on the day when the bombing started, as the structures of the state aimed to paralyze every possible resistance to its ethnic cleansing politics.

Autonomous Women's Center against Sexual Violence

Activity Report during the War (from 25 of March - 24th of April 1999)

After the first night of bombing, March 24, martial law was declared. Overnight, fear became a fact of life... the activists of the Women's Center decided to start calling women to ask them how are they, to give them support for overcoming fears. For the previous six years, the work of Autonomous Women's Center was based on ethical principles which include that service is given to women when they ask for it, when they call or come to the Center. Wartime fears blurred the borders of private and public and therefore we transgressed our principles of work. Every woman became a possible client, at least for a moment. Connecting with each other, calling on the telephone, and asking women how they feel became legitimate activities of the Women's Center. Once again, women's solidarity inspired many women. That is how we started active telephone support for women to overcoming fear.

Active Phone Counseling. Counseling phone work is based on the feminist principles of psychological counseling as well as on the experiences of therapists at the Medica Zenica Women's Therapy Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina who worked with women in fear of the war in Bosnia.

The Fear Counseling Team decided to actively call women for different reasons. First, because in a war, women are less mobile and do not often leave their homes. Second, women often feel their homes are the only safe place. Most of the times, the Women's Center pays the telephone bill for the counseling. This is a very important factor in times of war, during which poverty increases.  Women cannot relax enough to talk about themselves if they know they cannot pay their bill.

Documenting Feelings of Fear. Since its foundation in 1993, the Autonomous Women's Center against Sexual Violence, has believed in anti-war, anti-military politics, in multi-nationality, and in spreading solidarity with women from the other side of the front line. In the present situation, the Women's Center is documenting women who are in afraid of NATO bombing and the entire war situation, as well as women's feelings in Pristina and other parts of Kosov@, who experience particular processes of fear, terror and pain.

Documenting Calls. In the first 25 working days, five counselors gave 378 telephone counseling sessions to women from 34 towns in Yugoslavia. The statistics collected by the Women's Center show that 232 counseling phone sessions were done with women in Belgrade and the rest with women in other towns including towns in Vojvodina, Sandzak, Montenegro and Kosov@.  87% of the calls were initiated in the Center.

Documenting Statements of Fear The Women's Center is documenting all types of fears and forms in which the fear manifests — in one’s body, dreams, behavior and thoughts. From the statements, it is easy to conclude that life of every woman has changed, that emotional states change very often during a day, and that the most dominant emotions are desperation and anxiety as well as tendency to survive and to adapt to the limited conditions of life.

The following is a partial list of statements of fear that we have documented:

"I am in horrible fear." "I fear the night." "I am afraid to go out further than the grocery shop."  "I don't go out."  "I sleep at my friend’s house."  "I cannot concentrate."  "I am sensitive to every sound."  "I am afraid of my brother being mobilized."  "When the sirens start, I feel nauseous."  "I have lost 4 ki­lograms; I broke down psychologically."  “Every night that I go to the shel­ter, I feel bad."  "When I see soldiers on the street, I shudder."  "I feel like I dropped out from my life; everything has changed."  "I am worried about my future."  "I am constantly taking sleeping pills."  "I sleep all dressed up."  "The Children in the shelter are very disturbed."  "At my workplace, men have started to drink intensively.”  "I am nervous."  "I am not afraid of death but I am afraid of sudden sounds."  "It is killing me that I cannot work anymore."  "My emo­tional state changes every hour."  "I threw out the TV set; I cannot listen to that language anymore."  "My neighbors are spreading apocalyptic gossip all the time."  "I am nervous.  I go from the shelter to my apartment three times in one night." "I feel like leaving this country forever; it is so nauseating."  "New fears are coming."

Documenting Statements about Survival Mechanisms.  The Fear Counseling Team of the Women's Center takes an active role in supporting the survival mechanisms of women and their positive experi­ences. Supporting healthy behavior, feelings and thoughts is the main form of the active support of women.

The following is a partial list of statements about survival mechanism that we have documented:

"I am feeling good.  I have gone through one war already; I know the rules"  "I am concentrated and rational and I have enough information."  "I feel good.  I am supporting other women."  "I am cleaning the house all day."  "I am walking around town all day."  "I spend hours on e-mail."  "I have planted many plants."  "I am taking my children to the hills."  "We are hugging all day."  "I am taking sleeping pills, and they work for me."

Documenting Statements by Kosovar Albanian Women The Fear Counseling Team called women and activists in Pristina and throughout Kosov@ during the first two weeks after the NATO bombing began. Women of Serbian ethnicity stated their fears of the bombing.  The women of Albanian ethnicity, in addition to fears of bombing, had much stronger fears of Serbian officials, army and police ("of green, blue and masked men"). After the first two weeks many Kosovar Albanian women said they had been forced to leave their homes by soldiers who had machine guns and spoke Serbian. After that, they were forced to go with their families to buses or trains that took them close to the Macedonian border. Some of them have called us from Macedonia to tell us that they are alive and healthy.  From some of them, we heard stories of the humiliation and terror that they had gone through in the meantime.

The following is a partial list of statement by Kosovar Albanian Women that we have documented:

"I am terrorized."  "Strange silences horrify me."  "We are sitting in the dark every night.  I cannot sleep or eat, but I have coffee and cigarettes."  "We don't get out of our homes at all, not even during the day."  "I don't know what to tell you or what to think.  I am still alive."

Workshops About Feelings

In the first month of the bombing, the Women's center has organized four workshops entitled ‘How Do We Feel?’ The exchange of negative and positive experiences has been of paramount im­portance for the participants. It allows them to realize that they are not alone in their fears and to be supported for their positive feelings.

The Autonomous Women's Center against Sexual Violence continues its active telephone sup­port for women and will continue to issue re­ports and analysis of the data obtained.

The Fear Counseling Team: Biljana Maletin, Bobana Macanovic, Bosiljka Janjusevic, Lepa Mladjenovic, and Sandra Tvitic

These examples of feminist political resistance to the inner processes of fascisization of political life and the minds of people shows the extent to which the 'normality' of excluding and eliminating ‘the other’ has become the dominant pat­tern and the specific normative standard of public and private life in Serbia. During the 77 days of NATO bombing in Serbia, we witnessed and experienced a ‘new’ 'state of war' that aimed to make each individuals interiorize the fear of state violence and par­alyze us in every cell of our bodies. The organized oppression in which violence and fear are so strongly intertwined and affect every level of our realities created an atmosphere in which the in­strumentalist threat of overall terror forc­ed us towards a very precise goal: auto-fixation on 'our' victimization by the NATO bombing. The introduction of martial law in Serbia had as its primary aims the marginalization of political resistance, the fascisization of 'ordinary' people – even some 'democrats,’ and the cleansing Albani­ans from Kosovo.

Therefore, the two months of the state of war in Serbia could be defined more accurately as a state of fascism. Fascism is, in fact, a very active process. Citizens’ cooperation is constantly invoked to normalize its codes. It makes an opaque but powerful de­mand for every individual, for every political subject, to share its norms so consensus/silence about the annihilation of ‘the other’ is reached, and the collaboration becomes 'forcefully voluntary.'

Belgrade, May 20th-August 5th, 1999


2006-2012. Women in Black - Belgrade. All Rights Reserved.
Designed by e-Srbija