Feminism, Nationalism, and War: The 'Yugoslav Case' in Feminist Texts

By Batinic, Jelena | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Feminism, Nationalism, and War: The 'Yugoslav Case' in Feminist Texts


Batinic, Jelena, Journal of International Women's Studies


Introduction

In the last decade, what was known as Yugoslavia disintegrated through a series of wars. (1) These wars are known worldwide for their brutality and for the tragic 'privilege' of imposing the notion of 'ethnic cleansing' to international political discourse. In the Western media, they were often represented as just another phase in everlasting, ancient - even tribal - ethnic tensions, and this representation often merged with an Orientalist discourse of the Balkans. (2) The situation in the former Yugoslavia also became central to numerous feminist texts. Different ideological, cultural, and theoretical assumptions, as well as dependence on different sources, influenced the emergence of different feminist approaches and analyses, and initiated debates and divisions among both local and Western feminists. The remarkable presence and lifespan of this topic in Western feminist publications was due to the fact that, with the case of Bosnian rapes, the issue of systematic, mass rape in war made an unprecedented br eakthrough into the international political arena. For women and for feminists around the world, the effects of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the discourses that surrounded them, had undeniable transnational importance. For the first time, rape in war found its place on the international agenda and in legal and human rights discourses; it was a crucial moment for feminists to try to make critical interventions into these discourses and to struggle for a feminist reconceptualization of violence against women. Some feminists, like Cynthia Enloe (1994), optimistically claimed that this case opened a new era of international political consciousness - the era in which "the construction of the entire international political arena [would] be significantly less vulnerable to patriarchy." (3)

Given the transnational significance of this case, it is important to examine critically the ways in which feminists represented the gender specific violence in the former Yugoslavia, both in terms of its conceptualization and its function in making political claims. Also, given that nationalism in the former Yugoslavia became a destructive and forceful state-supported ideology, and that nationalism-driven wars incorporated gender-specific atrocities, it is equally important to examine the feminist representation of war not only in the context of mass rapes, but also in the broader context of the relationship between feminist and nationalist discourses. The study of feminist reactions to these wars and political engagement with them, as represented and produced by feminist texts will help to understand how a certain type of feminist political subjectivity was constructed in the context of ethnic wars of the 1990s. The specific examination of these texts, I argue, reveals much about the maturity of both the f eminist theoretical apparatus and activism as they face the challenges of a complex late modern ethnic conflict and its gender specificities. It reveals much about the still existing weaknesses and - to use Enloe's word 'vulnerability' of feminism to the "affective nationalist" discourse. (4) Finally, it reveals the pervasiveness of Orientalist patterns in representing the non-Western world, to which some feminist approaches remain susceptible.

This paper presents a study of feminist representations of the situation in the former Yugoslavia. I have decided to look at feminist texts that were generated in response to the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, (5) which appeared in both the feminist popular press and scholarly publications in English. By focusing on the ideological plane, seen in terms of narrative structures available for speaking and perceiving one's experience, I seek to examine the feminist representation of the conflict of Yugoslav nationalisms and within Yugoslav feminism itself. Narratives are produced in the space where various discourses transpire, compete, and/or converge. …

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