Conference “Already defined? Ten years since the 4th World Conference on Women – Ten years since Beijing’s Platform for Action”
Berlin, 16th – 19th September 2005
Ethnic fundamentalism in Serbia
After Tito's death in 1980, and especially at the end of the 1980s, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) faced a serious political and social-economic crisis. The ruling elite (the Communists’ League) began to lose the sources of legitimacy of its authority. One ideology was falling apart – the communist ideology which supposedly represented the interests of the working class – and its representatives found a new source of legitimacy in the so-called endangered national interests. This exclusively served as an excuse for the maintenance of power, in which Serbia – the state which is the most responsible for the break-up of Yugoslavia, the state that carried out multiple aggressions (on Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo) was particularly ahead; not only because Serbs were the most numerous nationality in ex-Yugoslavia, but also because Serbia had by itself the largest military force – the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA) – which formerly was the “peoples’ army” of all the nations and nationalities of ex-Yugoslavia, but during the wars (1991 – 1999) became the main means of achieving the expansionist aims of the Serbian regime and so-called “Greater Serbia” project. Slobodan Milosevic, who came to power in Serbia in 1987, used nationalism as a tool to stay in power. The interests of the “nation and fatherland” were not only the tool but also the cover-up for the criminal politics of the Serbian regime marked by robbery, killing, and death squadrons.
The consequences of war in ex-Yugoslavia have been catastrophic. Several figures illustrate this well:
- More than 200,000 people were killed, mostly in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- The total number of refugees and internally displaced persons in Croatia is around 513,000; in 1995 in Bosnia-Herzegovina there were around 1,280, 000 displaced persons and around 1,200,000 refugees; in Serbia there were around 800,000 refugees, while a great number of minorities, mostly under pressure, left the country (around 60,000 Croatians, 50,000 Hungarians, and 300,000 Albanians from Kosovo), almost half a million citizens of Serbia, mostly young people, left the country because of fear of the constant violence and forced military mobilizations, as well as for economic reasons. Most of the Albanian population later returned – around 800,000 – who were then deported during the NATO military intervention.
- In ex-Yugoslavia, more than 4.4 million people have changed their place of residence, around 20% of the total population.
- There are 23,000 missing persons in the region of ex-Yugoslavia, mostly in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
- The indirect economic damage caused by war for the whole region is estimated to be around 125 billion dollars.
The experience of war in ex-Yugoslavia has demonstrated numerous things, including:
- Ethnic cleansing was not a consequence, but one of the main aims of the war;
- Nationalistic-militaristic oligarchies, above all Serbian, then Croatian and other, have waged war against the civil population, particularly against those who are ethnically “mixed” or “impure”.
- Robbery and pillaging in order to confiscate national wealth was one of the main war strategies; criminalization of the whole region which became one of main global centers for human trafficking, drug dealing, and the arms trade. Wealth gained by robbery is being legalized, so that the war profiteers, through the process of wild privatization, are becoming owners of the total national treasure and main partners of the carriers and pillars of neoliberal economic globalization.
- The international community recognized the results of ethnic cleansing and awarded the perpetrators of this monstrous project with state recognition – the case of the Republika Srpska and the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina into two entities.
- De facto ethnically clean states have been created: the newly formed states in the region of ex-Yugoslav were “emptied” of those “ethnically impure” by military operations and criminal undertakings and were filled by various methods of “ethnic engineering” with members of their own nation. For example, today in Croatia 91% of the population is of Croatian nationality, while before the war that percentage was around 77%; in Serbia, the number of members of ethnic minorities, who comprised one-third of the population before the war, has been drastically reduced.
- The ideology of “blood and soil” is dominant in all newly-established states: in elections nationalist forces regularly win. Ethnic distance increased after the wars. Yesterday’s victims are taking on the methods of executioners and conducting ethnic cleansing (i.e. the case of Kosovo and the non-Albanian population).
- In the newly-established states, the process of losing the secular character of the state and the process of clericalization of the entire social life are in effect.
- The forces that instigated war and the justification of war crimes in almost all ex-Yugoslav states (especially in Serbia), have been rehabilitated and returned to power. The Hague Tribunal is nearly the only form of transitional justice – the states extradite war crimes suspects for pragmatic reasons. The political, cultural and emotional climate that produced war survives by the lack of political will for a radical break with the politics of war and war crimes.
- A so-called negative peace prevails: peace exclusively as the absence of war, as an armed peace (Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are under international protectorate). The current state of “peace” is followed by the increase of economic misery, ethnic hatred, and the strengthening of cleric-nationalistic and cleric-fascistic tendencies.
Which are the characteristics of ethnic fundamentalism in Serbia?
Almost all relevant institutions of the state and society participated and still participate in creating a state of ethnic fundamentalism in Serbia (in the sense of the misuse of religion, ethnicity, and cultural tradition for the aim of maintaining power and establishing social control). They have, through permanent and systematic propaganda, contaminated and still contaminate the political, cultural, and spiritual space by creating cultural models and modes of thinking with disastrous consequences, in the past as well as the present and for the future.
What kinds of cultural models does this refer to?
- Hatred of the Other: above all, against women, and especially against those who step out of prescribed patriarchal roles; cultural racism and chauvinism – hatred against all minorities – ethnic, religious, sexual;
- Demonization and dehumanization of the Other: there are plenty of examples but I will mention just one: “There are people with unpleasant sweat; these are poor Muslims, because of consuming tallow; while we, Serbs, have a wonderful, fine smell…” (Serbian Orthodox Church – SPC - bishop Atanasije Jeftic);
- Hatred of the same who think differently: experience shows that nationalists often hate more those who think differently and are members of their nation, than members of another nation. According to them, they are “inner enemies” for whom exists a very wide spectrum of names: “Serbian residue”, “domestic aliens”, “inner anti-Serbs”, “cosmopolitans of a non-rooted being”. Disloyalty/disobedience to nation/tradition/fatherland/army deserves punishment: to break with the national consensus is an act of betrayal, and elimination of such traitors is a legitimate patriotic act: “all of you should be chased away”, “all of you should be slaughtered, skinned”, “bitches in black bark again… they are pests whose life needs to be constantly embittered”, are the messages from patriotic cleric-fascistic youth groups;
- Worldwide conspiracy against the Serbian nation: the conspirators and the objects of conspiracy change, the enemies change, but the matrix stays the same. Sometimes it is entire nations (Croatians, Albanians on the regional level), sometimes it is ideological systems: “we are attacked by communists, neo-communists, mondialists… they are all against the Serbian people” (Atanasije Jeftic, Serbian Orthodox Church bishop); sometimes it is religious institutions (the Vatican, Jewish lobby, etc.);
- Anti-Western attitude: resistance to the “West,” that formerly exclusively meant resistance to Europe and today is extended to all of Western civilization with a particular emphasis on USA, represents a common place in the theoretic claims of Serbian theologists (Olivera Milosavljevic), expressed in phrases like “Europe is death”, “Europe is heresy, lascivious outlaw”, ”renegade and rake”; Serbian bishops repeat that “Westerners are ill-natured and criminals…” while Americans are “cowards, inhuman, impious…”, all for the purpose of emphasizing the superiority of their own nation: “the Serbs were a civilization before ‘their’ civilization and spirituality above all…”; such claims only increase the nationalistic narcissism and strengthen the omnipresent climate of xenophobia, isolationism, and cultural homogenization;
- Blaming of others and auto-victimization: that is, the continuous condemnation of others and experiencing oneself as victim, perpetuation of the myth about eternal Serbian suffering (“We Serbs were just defending ourselves…”, “Serbs are waging a just war” or “Only Serbs are tried in The Hague”, etc.).
What processes brought about such cultural patterns?
The processes that brought about the increase of retrograde tendencies (besides the abovementioned factors) are the following:
*Retraditionalization: Strict division of gender roles - women as mothers and wives, men as soldiers and warriors; women as reproducers of the nation, guardians of morality, chastity and the nation’s honesty; men as protectors of the home, protectors of the war traditions “of our people;” this is promoted by retrograde conservative secular forces (so-called shadow fundamentalists) as well as religious fundamentalist leaders (open fundamentalists).
*Clericalization of social life – desecularization and mass return to religion: Due to the strengthening of the populist movement in the 1980s, and later the wars, crisis, and poverty, the nineties have brought open desecularization and renewal of religious identification: in 1982 in Serbia, 23.8% of the population claimed to be religious; while in 1993 that number increased to 71.3%, while Orthodox religious identification in 1999 was expressed by 96.7% of the population. This process is demonstrated by claims that “to be Serb necessarily means to be Orthodox” or as the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle preaches, “A Serb cannot be atheist,” by which he is mongering the majority of the religious population against atheists, who in Serbia have become an ever more frequent object of attacks, not only verbal, but physical as well.
*Theocratization of the state – loss of the secular character of the state: The Serbian Orthodox Church becomes a political factor and arbiter, which is in violation of the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of the church and state.
It is also worthwhile to mention that a more serious strengthening of clericalization and theocratization is related to the leadership of the Prime Minister of Serbia, Vojislav Kostunica, who, since coming to power in December 2003, has widely opened space for the transformation of Serbia into a theocratic state. Namely, Milosevic instrumentalized both the nation and church, while Kostunica as an “authentic nationalist” gives to the Church the role of main carrier of the “Greater Serbia” hegemony project.
Which institutions and leaders support the project of ethnic fundamentalism? What are the implications of such propaganda?
Although the agency of united retrograde forces – open or shadow fundamentalists - is intersected, the pillars of this policy in Serbia today can nevertheless be distinguished.
Serbian Orthodox Church – SPC
As the main church in Serbia today, the SPC “gathers together almost all institutions, groups and politicians who were involved in the project of “Greater Serbia” from the beginning (Olga Popovic-Obradovic). The dominant strain within the SPC openly advocates the desecularization of society and theocratization of the state. The model they are following is the Byzantine principle of symphony (accordance of the state religion and a theocratic state: there is one God above, one ruler of the state and one head of the family, and the authority of the ruler and father are divinely legitimated). Critical theologists warn that in the SPC, the heresy of ethnophilia (God is on the Serbian side, even if he is not a Serb – the claim that combines identity of piety and ethnic patriotism) is the ruling ideology.
The results of this are the following:
-The SPC represented a main prop in the conquering wars during the break-up of Yugoslavia: “Where Serbian blood is spilled and where Serbian bones have fallen, that must be Serbian land. He who thinks otherwise is on the enemies’ side” (Bishop Nikanor). Therefore, after the wars, SPC is continuing with the path and practice of the project of “Greater Serbia” and receives great support from the ruling party: “A unique Serbian state has to encompass Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the context of the demands for beginning the restoration of the Serbian people.” (Rados Ljusic, DSS representative, director of the Publishing Institute for schoolbooks of Serbia).
- The SPC promotes criminals as saints and heroes: not only does the SPC fail to condemn war crimes, but has arranged a ceremonial departure, with participation of the Serbian Prime Minister for almost every war crimes suspect before his leaving for The Hague. SPC also blesses killers and warriors: in the recently shown video of the execution of Muslim civilians from Srebrenica (July 1995), the monk Gavrilo blesses members of the notorious paramilitary unit Scorpions. Recent canonization of two war criminals from World War II in Pljevlja (Sandzak – Southwestern Serbia) justifies the evaluation that the SPC not only sanctifies ideological sympathizers of Hitler’s anti-Semitism (i.e. Bishop NIkolaj Velimirovic), but also direct perpetrators of slaughters (i.e. two new saints from Pljevlja).
The only dignitary of the SPC who has clearly and unambiguously condemned the crimes committed “in our name” is Father Sava Janjic, representative of the SPC in Kosovo. He publicly apologized to Albanians for crimes that have been committed and for their suffering, by which he promoted himself as the only true advocate of reconciliation in the SPC.
-The SPC provokes civil war and restores the program of establishing “Greater Serbia”: as is well-known, that program is at the root of wars in ex-Yugoslavia during the nineties. In June of this year, Amfilohije Radovic, archbishop of SPC, with assistance of the Army who provided the helicopter, has set a sheet metal church at the place of sacred objects of members of all confessions in Montenegro since the pre-Christian age; it is a “criminal enterprise which aims to plant a seed of division among members of the Montenegrin population of various confessions” (Milenko Markovic).
- The SPC leads state politics according to its own wishes as well as the demands of the current government: SPC Bishop Jovan, a Macedonian citizen, tried to deny that the Macedonian Orthodox Church is autocephalous, for which he was sentenced to prison according to Macedonian law. Instead of allowing the churches to solve this problem, the Serbian government took the side of the SPC. For example, the Minister for Capital Investment (V. Ilic), in order to gain revenge, decided to ground all Macedonian Airlines flights in Serbia until Bishop Jovan is released from prison by the Macedonian authorities. It is more than common that in official visits abroad, Patriarch Pavle or some of his representatives goes along as a member of the “state delegation” with the president of the state. That Serbia is becoming a more theocratic state and that its civil representatives violate the state’s constitution is shown in the following statement by the abovementioned Minister Ilic: “I am Orthodox, and for me, the word of the SPC’s Saint Synod (church government) and the patriarchs is sacred. After the patriarch, one should not speak and his decisions should not be commented on.”
- The SPC is establishing an ideological, moral and spiritual monopoly in society: Patriarch Pavle represents himself as the most modest in the eyes of people, while he is actually shown to be a real fundamentalist (“I never vote, I do not have a television, nor radio, nor do I read the newspapers”); but he uses his position and faith very well for the purpose of certain ideologies. Before elections, he regularly calls on voters to choose rightwing parties, believing that they can help him in establishing the abovementioned monopoly. For the purpose of establishment of that monopoly, SPC uses the popularity of prominent athletes – the highest church’s honors are granted exclusively to athletes “who publicly profess their own Orthodox faith, and because they are living in accordance with the church’s teachings and help the church.”
- SPC is an important creator of educational policies in Serbia: The introduction of religion in state schools (since 2001) is an act in violation of the Constitution from a legal perspective. From the spiritual-cultural perspective, it is disastrous because Orthodoxy prescribes the total submission of women. Religion deepens ethnic division and distance, favoring the majority church (SPC). Religious classes are the means for converting new believers and for dogmatic indoctrination of the youth. In addition, religion is the only subject in schools that is not subjected to any professional evaluation. Introduction of religion in state schools is profitable for SPC from an economic standpoint as well: the state supports its personnel, all religious teachers receive a salary which well exceeds the average monthly income – another cynical fact in a country where 25% of schools do not have toilets, 50% of schools do not have a telephone, and 40% do not have water!
- The SPC disciplines wayward believers and opposes ecumenism: The case of the traditional “Sausage Festival” in one village in Vojvodina is comic only at first glance. In February 2004, this event (a competition in preparing and sampling of traditional meat products) happened to coincide with the first week of Lent. After the local SPC did not succeed in banning the festival, the bishop in charge, Irinej, ordered the closing of the local church during the Sausage Festival with the order that every 15 minutes the church bells would be rung. All participants of the Sausage Festival and members of their families were punished with a one-year ban from participation in clerical activities. According to the SPC, dialogue with other churches should only occur if it is in accordance with the canonic truth stating that only the Orthodox Church is true, and according to which all others are “renegades”. For them, common praying with others who are not members of the Church or are heretics, even in private homes, is impermissible, as Bishop Artemije has warned.
- The SPC protects pedophiles and thieves in their own company, while organizing street violence against gay and lesbian associations: For the SPC homosexuality is such a deadly sin that the more militant believers organize physical violence against gays and lesbians, as occurred in Belgrade during the Pride Parade in June 2001. However, the SPC’s attitude toward the homosexuality of priests showcases their schizophrenia and hypocrisy: the SPC negates the concrete homosexuality and pedophilic molesting committed by certain priests (such as the cases of Pahomije and Ilarion) by excommunicating from the church those who denounce this behavior.
Additionally, SPC priests receive their salary from the state (250 euros in Serbia, where the average income is around 200 euros), they do not pay taxes, and they are collect enormous amounts of money from charges for religious services (the average price of one service is twice that of the average salary in Serbia), and many of them (i.e. Bishop Filaret) are known for their corruption.
The Army of Serbia and Montenegro
The alliance between the SPC and the Army dates back to the beginning of the wars, when together they justified the wars by the “genetic code of warrior people,” thinking that “a nationally distinguished, nationally conscious and sensitive Serb must be Orthodox, a soldier, and a warrior.” Articles about the SPC are present in every issue of the army’s journal, for example how priests opt for military service because “according to God, it is good to defend the homeland.” They organize common visits to medieval monasteries, and in all the church’s events men who wear army uniforms unfailingly participate. However, it is not only the folkloric element that is significant, but the existence of a very concrete cooperation when recently, for example, the army served the SPC in achieving its expansionist aims in Montenegro by providing the helicopter for setting a church on the mountain Rumija.
Parties and youth movements
In contrast to (the nowadays oppositional) Serbian Radical Party (SRS) - whose president V. Seselj is a Hague indictee, and which advocates a laic version of ethnic fundamentalism (the gathering “of all Serbs, Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Serbs, Muslim Serbs, Serbs atheists” in an ethnically clean state) - a group of ruling parties under the leadership of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) - whose president Vojislav Kostunica is the current Prime Minister of Serbia - gives direct support to the ethno-religious homogenization led by the SPC. DSS appears to be a normal conservative democratic party, which is how it presents itself to the world. However, the reality of the situation is quite different. For example, in an article published in Obraz (Face), a journal of the extreme right-wing youth movement, in 1996, DSS president Kostunica advocated for the rehabilitation of Dimitrije Ljotic, a 1930s Serbian Nazi and prominent quisling during World War II. Kostunica proclaimed Ljotic to be a Serbian patriot. Kostunica’s theoretical model is Carl Schmidt, from whom he learned, among other things, how the state’s interests have absolute primacy over all other interests in society, including the maintenance of democracy.
Therefore, it is not strange that the DSS and similar parties who participate in the ruling coalition (for example New Serbia, president V. Ilic) tolerate (and through means of the security agencies directly induce) extremist youth movements and groups, including those who legitimate themselves as followers of Adolph Hitler. Thanks to the Church, which gives them logistical support, and to the apparatus of the authorities who instigate and direct them, small and insignificant groups have grown to be an important factor on the public scene and have become the medium of street terror against “traitors” of all kinds.
SANU: The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
As one of the pillars of the project of “Greater Serbia” hegemony, SANU still actively works in that direction, representing ideological support to ethnic and theocratic fundamentalism. Most of today’s nationalist leaders in Serbia (from Seselj to Kostunica) are direct intellectual-political products of the Academy. SANU’s character is shown enough in projects of racist population politics whose main authors were members of Academy together with the SPC, conservative doctors, and the media.
How does ethnic fundamentalism affects women’s right to self-determination and the gender order in general?
These processes have disastrous implications for women, particularly in the younger generations. Women in Black has been conducting abortion polls in Serbia for years, where abortion was legalized in 1952. It has been noted that, under the influence of cleric-nationalistic propaganda, the number of women who experience abortion as “murder” and have guilty feelings toward it has increased. Also, the generational gap in relation to the issue of abortion is growing between older women who consider abortion, no matter what their ideological orientation, as a woman’s basic human right since the socialist period, and younger women who, as a result of Church propaganda, are more and more against abortion. Furthermore, the SPC treats family planning, sexual education, and reproductive rights as “blasphemic, heretical, anti-national, anti-Serbian” (Jelka Imsirovic-Kljajic). For the SPC, abortion is “a deadly sin, a sin greater than murder, and women who have abortions are called infant-killers” (Jelka Imsirovic Kljajic).
It is worth mentioning that this propaganda fits into the global growth of all forms of fundamentalism, which demonstrates the interdependence and intersection of fundamentalist tendencies. It is also known that fundamentalists of different allegiances hate each other, but when there is a need to establish strategic alliances against women, especially against abortion and reproductive rights, this is not the case. The most hard-line currents of the Islamic community and the SPC against women’s sexual and reproductive rights are working in harmony and accordance in Serbia.
Some international non-governmental organizations support and legitimate fundamentalist projects. Globally, USAID must enforce the “global gag rule” which the Bush administration passed immediately after coming to power (according to which USAID must not finance any organization or program which “promotes abortion”, or even mentions the word). They regionally act in the same manner: one of the USAID programs on reproductive rights strictly forbade speaking about abortion. The Women in Black Network in Serbia is in opposition to this policy as explained in the following:
- This is political blackmail, as these projects are applied in the poorest regions of Serbia – in East and South Serbia;
- These projects produce division. Women’s groups accept such projects’ conditions in order to sustain the group itself, because they do not have any other sources of funds;
- After autonomous women’s groups reject these projects (those who reject them), they are taken on by conservative medical workers who accept all the conditions and blackmails, which in the long-term influence women’s conservatism, especially that of young women (Svetlana Saric).
The consequences of fundamentalism on the gender order are clear at the level of population politics, characterized by the following elements:
In the mid-eighties: demographers were still led by the territorial principle – the decreasing birthrate in some regions of Serbia (central, eastern, and Vojvodina) and the increasing birthrate in others (Kosovo) and the misbalance of demographic growth were interpreted through economic factors as well as cultural (change in the system of values). But at the end of the eighties, the ethnic principle was introduced, a demographic approach that assumes an administrative, repressive, racist character. Since then, almost all legal proposals have brought in the ethnic principle.
Resolution About the Restoration of the Population
The Serbian Assembly passed this Resolution in January 1990. Since May 1990 the Resolution and its amendments propose double standards in population politics: pro-natality in Serbia and Vojvodina and anti-natality for Kosovo. The SPS has adopted this Resolution in 1992 as a congressional document, which was later supported by nine national institutions including SANU and the SPC. It literally says that “Albanians, Muslims, and Roma, with higher birthrates, deviate from rational, human reproduction, which affects other people’s rights” or “it is part of the general conspiracy against the Serbian nation” because women of the mentioned nationalities allegedly give birth for separatist, fundamentalist reasons, so that “Serbian women should give birth out of patriotic and moral reasons, and that is the reason for mobilization of the will to give birth”, etc.
The abovementioned propaganda did not bring about the desired results (a decrease or increase in birthrates).
What are the aims of such propaganda?
- degradation of women, reduction of their identity to the role of mother and wife
- condemnation of women, whether they give birth or not; they are characterized as self-centered, selfish, emancipated
- division of women on an ethnic basis: divide, and then rule!
- amortization of social discontent: mass dismissal of workers, among whom the first are women
- prevention of women participating in the public sphere and the democratic processes: women’s organizations are suggested to take on the role of service to the state and “not to engage in politics,” to calm social tensions (those who oppose – feminists - are traitors…)
- diversion of public attention away from key issues, such as war spending, difficult social situations, criminal privatization, etc.
Coinciding with the period of wars in the nineties, the basic claims were:
- Giving birth has not only the purpose of preserving the nation from dying but also a function of national security and defense: “The last Serbs will defend themselves in 2091 at Kalemegdan fortress. This last encounter could happen before that day…” (Marko Mladenovic)
- Gynecological clinics should become some sort of “recruitment centers”: “For every Serbian young man who is killed, Serbian mothers must give birth to one hundred soldiers” (Rada Trajkovic)
- Cult of heroic mothers/militaristic colonization of women: they should give birth for the salvation of the fatherland
- Giving birth is a function of the defense of national territory: “We have to preserve our territories and holy lands (Kosovo, Sandzak), for if we continue this way, the emptied space will be filled with Albanians, Muslims…”
Measures that the SPC resorts to for the purpose of easing the “reproductive tragedy and reproductive Holocaust” are, among others:
- “Medals for fruitful mothers” – for women who give birth to four or more children;
- Reproductive tourism - aiming to increase the birthrate, they suggest importing Orthodox Ukrainian women.
Misuse of the right to conscientious objection
After October 5th 2000, the SPC has called for the introduction of “conscientious objection for Christians in the workplace”, that is, the call for doctors and medical staff to not perform abortions. The Holy Archpriest Synod (particularly after 2000) demands that “Communion should be forbidden to doctors and midwives who perform abortions, until they repent.”
New maternal-patriotic mobilization:
An academic from SANU (M. Mladenovic), with a great deal of support from the SPC, Ministry of Religion, Ministry of the Diaspora of the Republic of Serbia, a good part of the media, nationalist demographers, and scientists, suggested the following:
· limitation of the right to abortion (which he calls “womb infant killing”): the banning of women’s right to decide – a doctors’ commission and the women’s husband should decide instead; it is interesting that private clinics can perform abortion with “respect to law regulations”!
· Single men and married couples without children should pay a special tax: the rate of the tax would depend on yearly incomes. The tax could also be imposed on married couples with one child if their financial incomes are outstanding.
To the authors of these projects, it is completely irrelevant if they are realized or not, the most important thing is that they are given space for the promotion of cultural models and opinions that degrade and accuse women, and turn the whole population into hostages of medieval patterns.
Activism against fundamentalist tendencies and practices
Since the beginning of their work in 1991, Women in Black has campaigned against all forms of fundamentalism, above all against the one that is dominant in Serbia. We have done this in the following ways:
- By street actions: organizing street protests, sometimes even in front of the place of the SPC’s government.
- By initiating actions against the racist law proposals of population politics.
- By lobbying other non-governmental organizations against the introduction of religion in state schools – which did not succeed, and for which responsibility mostly lies with civil society which, for largely opportunistic reasons (such as not wishing to offend the SPC) did not show enough resoluteness. In the case of the Minister of Education of Serbia’s proposal (September 2004) that Darwin’s theory of evolution should be banned from schoolbooks, Women in Black initiated a huge campaign which was joined, in just one day, by about one-hundred non-governmental organizations; due in large part to this pressure, the Minister had to resign.
- By continuous educational work with women across the whole country, especially in dealing with the issues of reproductive and sexual rights, a feminist approach to demographic politics, and fundamentalism; followed by the publication of feminist educational materials.
- By widening the Network of Women’s Solidarity against all forms of fundamentalism, both regionally and internationally, etc.
What are other responses and alternatives?
- We should permanently oppose theocratization of the state, demand secular character – the separation of church and state. This means that religious communities should not interfere in state affairs and that religious communities’ representatives cannot comment on state affairs as church officials but exclusively as citizens. For example, Bishop Amfilohije has the right to speak out about public and state affairs exclusively as a citizen and not as a church official, though he constantly does this, violating the secular character of the state. In addition, religious communities must not have an influence on the formation of educational programs; state schools and public services must be protected from infiltration by religious groups. Religion should be organized exclusively in religious institutions.
- Permanent insistence on the secular character of society: state affairs must not be arranged in concordance with religious principles. Religion is the private matter of every person, so it is inappropriate to emphasize one’s own religiousness in the public sphere or to even consider it as an advantage, which is the case today in Serbia concerning believers of the majority religion.
- Strengthening of global women’s networks against fundamentalism, mutually supportive and solidary coalitions beyond all state, ethnic, religious divisions and borders: Women in Black has been active since the beginning of their work in these networks, above all in the global anti-fundamentalist networks “Women Living under Muslim Laws” and “Women against Fundamentalism.” The idea and practice of feminist solidarity means common work against all forms of oppression, exclusion, etc., in short – fascism.
- Clear identification of fundamentalist strategies: there are various responses to the politics of exclusion and repression, these responses can come from the extreme right wing, or the left wing. We must not confuse diversity as choice with diversity as supposedly authentic cultural traditions, as something imposed and homogenous. For example, female genital mutilation and other oppressive practices against women, cannot be justified in the name of the false right to choose. It is necessary to demystify this approach to the issue of cultural differences and particularities, or as our sisters from WLUML would say: “We must never forget that ‘difference’ can also be misused by the forces of the extreme right, from Nazism to apartheid, from the Protestant Southern fundamentalists in the USA to Islamic fundamentalists, because they are exclusively about anti-women practices and ideologies. If we do not name this properly, we are walking the thin line above the abyss that fundamentalists are opening under our feet.” Therefore, it is necessary to unmask the misuse of human rights discourse to which fundamentalists resort in the aim of gaining international support.
- To unmask fundamentalist mechanisms as well: besides that these mechanisms falsely represent themselves as keepers of faith and tradition, Marie-Aimée Hélie- Lucas warns us that fundamentalists now want to “represent themselves as protectors of the poor against the rich, as the Third World against the West, as people’s movements against capitalism. Their only target is internal democratic opposition, those who oppose their theocratic projects, their projects to control of all aspects of society in the name of religion, including the educational system, legislation, etc. When fundamentalists come to power they silence and physically eliminate opponents – equally as fascists do. As fascists, fundamentalists psychologically and physically eliminate the ‘inferior’: ethnically and religiously different, homosexuals, lesbians…and women are closed-in ‘where they belong’ – in straightjackets. It is not about the clash of civilizations, as Bush and Bin Laden are trying to persuade us. In today’s world it is about the clash between fascists and antifascists – above state, ethnic and religious borders.”