Magazine article The Nation

Five Women Who Won't Be Silenced; Croatia's 'Witches.' (Slavenka Drakulic, Rada Ivekovic, Vesna Kesic, Jelena Lovric and Dubravka Ugresic)

Magazine article The Nation

Five Women Who Won't Be Silenced; Croatia's 'Witches.' (Slavenka Drakulic, Rada Ivekovic, Vesna Kesic, Jelena Lovric and Dubravka Ugresic)

Article excerpt

"Croatia's Feminists Rape Croatia!" read the headline in a December 1992 issue of Globus, a nationalist weekly that some Croats call a revolverblatt because it spends so many words shooting at enemies. The story went on to tell about five "witches" who, to make names for themselves as political dissidents, covered up the rapes of Bosnian women and shamed their country by talking about press censorship in Croatia to international human rights monitors.

The article took as its point of departure last year's 58th Congress of International PEN, where U.S. delegates had protested that because of war in the former Yugoslavia and conditions of wartime censorship, the organization should not hold its next Congress in Dubrovnik, Croatia, as planned. Globus asserted that this threat to Croatia's prestige had been engineered by five women writers: Slavenka Drakulic, Rada Ivekovid, Vesna Kesid, Jelena Lovrij and Dubravka Ugresid. The article kicked off a scandal that now, months later, as International PEN meets in Croatia, continues to make headlines in Central Europe. The story, involving the manipulation of International PEN for nationalist purposes, reveals much about the state of Croatian culture.

The Globus article included a chart on the five women, noting their ancestry (proving they were not of pure Croatian blood), political affiliation, occupation and address. A lot of the information was wrong, as was the crude characterization of their politics. They were accused of suppressing information about Serbian rape camps, though both Drakulic and Kesic had written about wartime rapes. They were said to have described these rapes as crimes of men against women, not crimes of Serbs against Bosnian Muslims and Croats. They were attacked for being published too much abroad, reading foreign literature, complaining a lot and having a bad attitude:

Almost without exception, they were little girls of communism! Girls from the families of informers, policemen, guards in prisons, diplomats, high Party and political functionaries. The few among them who, in spite of their theoretical position and physical appearance, did succeed in finding a marriage partner, chose something according to the official Yugoslav(*) standards: a Serb from Belgrade by Rada Ivekovic, Serb (two times) from Croatia by Slavenka Drakulid, and Serb from Croatia by Jelena Lovric. It would be immoral to mention these facts were it not, when one looks at it now, altogether a matter of systematic political choice rather than accidental love choice!

What was this all about? Surely not PEN. I attended the 58th Congress in Rio de Janeiro and was present at all its public discussions; at none of them were these women even mentioned. But there are plenty of other reasons that Croatian patriarchs and patriots might find the "five witches" objectionable.

Slavenka Drakulic, an essayist and contributing editor of this magazine, is an outspoken feminist whose essays published in The New York Times and The Nation provoked much ire in some circles for their lack of a sufficiently nationalist world view.

Rada Ivekovid comes from an old diplomatic family (one of her sins) and is a scholar of Indian philosophy. Because she was born in Croatia and her husband in Bosnia, they are no longer citizens of the same country and cannot live together anywhere in the former Yugoslavia, so they live abroad, the worst sin of all.

Vesna Kesic is not only a journalist but an activist in the Zagreb Women's Lobby and the Center for Women Victims of War, which does rape counseling on a non-nationalist basis, also a sin.

Jelena Lovric, a distinguished political columnist known for her fearlessness in pursuit of a story, was the first journalist to be hauled into court by the new government; she received a six-month suspended sentence for accusing a government official of corruption.

And Dubravka Ugresid has a character flaw: She makes jokes about everything, even nationhood. …

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