FEMINIST ETHICS AND CONFRONTATION WITH THE PAST
It will soon be fifteen years since our first street manifestation. Our street vigils continue to this day. We are still guided by the moral imperative: Not in our name! Constantly, we have had to express our opposition: over the first ten years, it was against killings, persecution and destruction.
In the first ten years, we lived in a country with state organized crime; in a country that literally denied its criminal reality, a “Serbia that was not at war”. Following the collapse of the dictatorial regime in October 2000, we went through a period of hope and unfulfilled expectations. And, as of the end of 2003, we have been experiencing a period of institutionally organized denial of the criminal past.
The following facts have had a decisive impact on the feelings, ethical principles and political attitudes of Women in Black:
- We used to live in an aggressor state: the Serbian regime is the most accountable for the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, for the war and destruction. The Serbian regime conducted a number of aggressive acts and committed innumerable crimes, the most atrocious of which being the Srebrenica genocide. We now live in a state in which neither the ruling elite nor the majority of the population have renounced to the heritage of the former criminal regime.
- We have always been disobedient: starting from 1991, to the criminal regime, and following 2000, to the authorities that did not radically break up with the belligerent policy and war crimes.
- We have always represented a tiny minority in Serbia: pushed to the margins, stigmatized, labeled and criminalized, we have always been “a shame for Serbia and the Serbian people”, exclusively because of our relentless calls for accountability for the war and war crimes that were committed in our name.
As part of our resistance to the aggressive policy of the Serbian regime and our resistance to the denial of the criminal past, we have been pledging for the dismantling of patriarchy as a system of overall prevalence and domination. In our peace policy, we have decided to be:
Always disobedient to patriarchy: to war, nationalism militarism…
Patriarchy has invented the war, it uses war in order to preserve the order it created. Patriarchy is not a consequence of war, but rather its cause. (Bety Riardon )
We are well aware of the fact that patriarchy maintains its power through the mechanisms of total control, above all by means of sexism, nationalism and militarism. We know that feminism equals resistance to all patriarchal authorities, both in the private and the public sphere. As feminists, we have the obligation to rebel against all patriarchal authorities. In theory and practice, with our minds and our words, we dismantle the patriarchal triad: sexism, nationalism and militarism. As well as all other systems of dominance. For it is impossible to dismantle the patriarchal triad without a feminist analysis and practice. Therefore, feminism both as a concept and in practice is necessarily anti-patriarchal, anti-nationalistic and anti-militaristic.
Always in solidarity with women across all boundaries and divisions
Sexism as a system of beliefs in the superiority of one sex over the other, imposes to women, particularly in times of war and crisis, the obligation to be loyal to the men of their nation and to rally exclusively according to their allegiance to “blood and homeland” In exchange for this kind of loyalty, the male patriarchal brotherhood allegedly provide protection for the women and children. In exchange for “protection”, the patriarchal brotherhood demands silence, approval and even complicity in the violence and crimes, in the name of “the defense of the nation and homeland”.
As feminists, we build up solidarity among women, outside the patriarchal brotherhoods, nations and states; as feminists, we support one another in the resistance against the patriarchal brotherhoods; as feminists, we are building a different world through sororities in peace and non-violence; in loyalty to one another in our dreams about female autonomy and freedom.
Always disloyal to the nation and to the fathers of the nation…
Nationalism as a system of beliefs that one nation is superior to another one, produces fathers of nations who demand that their male and female subjects support them in various forms of national consensus. For example, this can be about “threats to the Serbian nation” or about “a conspiracy against the Serbian people”. The intellectual and cultural elite creates, through its propaganda machinery, the so-called national interests, value systems and moral judgments that justify the humiliation of the others and the different and their exclusion to the extent of complete annihilation.
Therefore, as feminists, we have the obligation violate the imposed national consensuses, because this is the only way we can work for peace.
As feminists, we have the obligation to betray the so-called national interests, because feminism comprises not only the respect of the others and the different, but also the right to define our own interests and needs.
The nationalist ideology and practice reduce the women’s identity to the role of wives and mothers, imposing the obligation to women to bear children for the needs of the nation and the state. Feminism as a struggle for women’s autonomy, as women’s right to a choice, comprises disloyalty to the nation and the fathers of the nation and national interests. These principles are not restricted to countries at war, they are universal.
Always disobedient to the militarists, warriors, heroes, patriots…
Militarism as a system of military supremacy, force and violence, demands from its male and female subjects to support a “justified defensive war” because they, allegedly, “only defended and protected us from the numerous enemies of the Serbian people”. The militarists and the patriots require the women to stick to the heroes and the warriors. It is therefore our duty, as feminists, to reject war as a means of solving problems and to pledge for non-violent conflict resolution.
As feminists, we have the obligation to renounce obedience to their heroes and warriors, because for us, they are murderers.
As feminists, we have the obligation to be anti-patriots in a country that wages a war or exerts violence, or else to define our own concept of patriotism, if some of us care to do so.
As feminists, we have the obligation to desert out of patriotic reasons and to support the men who reject the roles that have been imposed to them – who refuse to go to war or decide to desert from the battlefield.
In the constant process of dismantling patriarchy, in our resistance to patriarchy and in the denial of the criminal past, we have adhered to a few more ethical principles:
- Not in our name: a relentless, public, blatant and vociferous distancing from those who speak in our name, who wage wars or resort to violence; unless we do this, they might think that they have our consent, our approval and even our complicity in atrocities.
- Let us not be taken in, first by our own, and then by others: these are acts of disobedience to the militarists and nationalists in the country I live in, and then to all others. It is imperative to renounce to our own heroes in the first place, bearing in mind that in the area of the former Yugoslavia (and broader) all of us are not in the same position. This is to say that we come from the state that waged the wars; therefore, our responsibility is the greatest, notwithstanding the responsibility of the others.
- Start by cleaning our own courtyard first, or: first of all, I seek accountability for the crimes that were committed in my name: it is a principle of moral autonomy, moral integrity and dignity; only after we have cleaned our courtyard, will we have the right to ask the others to do the same.
- I am accountable not only for my own acts, but for what is being done in my name: I belong to a nation accidentally, whereas they committed premeditated crimes in my name intentionally, systematically and in an organized way. Regardless of whether I choose to declare my ethnic affiliation or not, “the accidental nature of my national existence no longer exists at that point, because the crime that has been committed in my name is a final fact: the ideological background, the character and the dimensions of the crime are such that it permeates my individual identity” (Nenad Dimitrijević).
- A creative rebellion instead of despair: we transform the feelings of rage and wrath against the regime that conducts wars or does not accept accountability for them into actions of civil disobedience; we transform the feelings of shame, humiliation and guilt for the persecution, pain and suffering inflicted to the victims of the crimes committed in our name into acts of solidarity and compassion.
By building a peace policy stemming from the principles of feminist ethics and responsibility, we organized actions against the criminal regime in the past, as well as actions against the denial of the criminal past nowadays. Some of those actions are:
- Street actions: protests, performances, launching campaigns for collecting signatures supporting initiatives against war, mandatory mobilization, against providing assistance to The Hague indictees and their families, etc. Women in Black have so far organized over a thousand street actions, most of which were anti-war protests and demands that accountability for the war be defined.
- Relentless demands for uncovering the truth about the crimes and punishing the war criminals: demands for all kinds of accountability – individual criminal and political, collective moral accountability in the form of numerous legal initiatives, announcements and appeals.
- Visiting hotbeds of crisis or problem areas, which have been proclaimed to be our antagonist: we have been visiting Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, thus violating the national consensus, opposing all forms of homogenization and building solidarity and trust with the women and the victims of the crimes committed in our name.
- Visiting the cites of the crimes that were committed in our name: we have been doing this permanently, both during the war and after it ended. Countless crimes were committed in our name, and although we have not visited all the sites, it is the victims that we always address first, with full respect for the victims’ dignity, acknowledging the crimes that were committed in our name and seeking forgiveness for the inflicted suffering and pain; it is not a symbolic one-off act, but a process of addressing the victim, this process must go on for as long as a justifiable fear is present with the victims (Linda Radzik). It is a fear that the crimes might be repeated. That is why we humble ourselves in front of the victims of the crimes that were committed in our name. It is our moral responsibility, a way for us to build trust among the victims, which is the precondition for achieving just and stable peace.
- Creating new forms of transitional justice: the models of transitional justice that have been applied so far do not provide answers to the complex issues related to the past, nor are they sufficient to bring about a break-up with the criminal past. That is why our feminist approach to transitional justice is a major challenge for the feminist theory and practice. We monitor the trials for the crimes that were committed in our name, we lend our support to the victims’ families, we organize round table discussions, video projections of films about crimes, libraries on transitional justice, etc.
- Constant educational activities: by organizing seminars, workshops and conferences, by organizing testimonies of the victims of war and writing them down as alternative history. The war had been prepared for a long time, many participated in the creation of the system of values and the moral system that paved the way for the war, so that the dismantling of this system, i.e. removing the causes of war, will also take a long time. without a constant moral reflection among the members of the group in whose name the crimes were committed, there can be no different future. Therefore, a considerable part of the Women in Black educational activities are dedicated to this topic.
- Remembering and marking the memorable acts of non-violent resistance to war and the criminal policy in Serbia and important dates related to them – it is an undisputable fact that the Serbian regime constantly generated hatred, wars and violence, but it is also true that throughout that period, a very strong anti-war resistance was present in Serbia. It is also a fact that resistance to the denial of the criminal past is at work in Serbia nowadays.
In spite of this, many of us feminists have not relieved ourselves of the guilt feelings due to all the crimes that were committed by the Serbian regime. The women who were the first to rebel against the war, who launched anti-war, anti-nationalist and anti-militaristic action, who have been uncovering and exposing crimes and building a policy of solidarity over all the boundaries and divisions, the women who to this day have been the most active in opposing the organized denial of the criminal past, those women in particular bear the heaviest burden of responsibility.
Once again, here before you, I repeat to the women with Albanian names, “Forgive us!” For the loss of your dearest, for endless humiliations, for indescribable pain and immeasurable suffering inflicted by the regime of the country we come from. I do this not only out of compassion, solidarity and respect for the dignity and integrity of the victims and their families, but because I believe that it is my and our civil responsibility, that it is part of the trust building process between us and a road along which we can start building a just peace together. It is also a road leading to a feminist ethic of responsibility, to abolishing patriarchal guilt, to caring for one another and taking into account above all our individual, and not collective, stories, to solidarity as mutual understanding and to joint actions against all forms of patriarchy.
/Talk given at the conference Women, Peace, Security, 1st –3rd September 2006, in Struga, Macedonia, organized by the Women’s Peace Coalition (The network of the Kosovo women) and Women in Black, Serbia./