Panel 2


Reana Senjković: Gender Images of War
Institute for Ethnology and Folklore
Wartime as time of referring to stereotypes (for different reasons: political propaganda, psychological, some other…) Gender stereotypes are among those most visible, also most manipulable. The feminine principle is the principle of weak, defensive and peace loving on one side or the principle of dedication, comfort and support on the other. The masculine principle is the principle of strong, offensive, and combative on one side or the principle of initiative and persistence on the other.
The woman presented by the official discourse during the war in Croatia 1991 – 1995(97) entirely belongs to the tradition of presenting a woman as a BEAUTIFUL SOUL WAITING. Her counterpart is a man who is a RIGHTEOUS WARRIOR, who took a gun in his hand to defend all those values traditionally epitomized in the female figure.
When we move away from the official discourse, the image becomes different, especially in the stories told by women soldiers, women who participated in the war and remained unrepresented.
According to narratives by the woman who spent most of the war in military units:
At the time I spoke in masculine form. Long after the war I spoke in masculine form. I would say: “Bio sam (I was…)1”. And then the doctors warned me about it, you know… I didn’t… (…) but I didn’t notice that I was speaking in the male form. And sometimes I would address men in the feminine form. I must have seen them as weaker, some of them. Those that were not in the war. It’s interesting, how, somewhere, you know, in the head… I was ashamed when I realized what was happening. They sometimes warned me about it, they would ask: “How did you address me?” Then somehow… But I wouldn’t say “Look, I see you as a woman, because, you see, I became a man.”
They did not perceive me as a woman at all. One of my friends, an acquaintance from before the war, told me that I was worse then a man. That I was really, you know, he saw me as very tomboyish. Because I… The way you behave, you know. People watch the way you behave (…) But (…) you can’t flirt, it is not a coffee shop when you are on the front line. You are not a seducer. You are not wearing high heels, make up, powder, you don’t have a hairdo. Unattractive… I mean, you know, that’s one crazy and serious…, to think about gender and see genders. You only see people, you don’t see men. It was interesting, once, when my girlfriends saw me off. I paid them a visit, and now they were seeing me off. And my aunts waited for me and said: “Uh, these guys are cute.” I said: “Who?” I glanced at them, you know. Every day I, not at all, you know… It never occurred to me to see that, you know… It never crossed my mind. I didn’t at all… It simply didn’t exist, you know, it didn’t exist.
Not even with hygiene. It’s a bit awkward, at those moments. It’s interesting what happened to me, for example. The monthly woman’s… I never knew when I had it and when I didn’t. And it was skipping too. That’s, that’s interesting, that it skipped. Yes, I remember exactly that for a few months it didn’t come. It didn’t come. (Documentation, scripts Institute for Ethnology and Folklore).
Second example: Croatian autobiographic war prose: Veljko Barbieri, “Who Burned the Corn with Me?” (Journal form Pakrac), 1996, Hrvatsko slovo, Zagreb
  • "As of May 18, my Pakrac journal continues from Zagreb. I had a drink with Ivanjek at Trešnjin cvijet, and then went home, fully armed and equipped. Gordana and Sara at home. Whenever I return I feel certain insecurity with them, as if they are asking themselves have I changed, and how did I come back this time. And I have been coming back the same for the past four years. Further away from everyday problems, bills, school, duties. Although I know it would help my incredibly patient Gordana and my adolescently impatient Sara, sometimes I just don’t have the nerves to listen all the way through about what lies heavy on them” (Barbieri, 1996: 22).
  • "After the biggest success, the breakthrough over Tasovčić and Klepci, the brigade is, unhappily, demobilized in June 1992. There is only a hundred or so of us left, in a tactical unit under Marileo Stančić, chiefs Tonči Mendeš and Mladen Jelavić. Then we got a taste of the real little “Vietnam” – casualties everyday, direct infantry fights in canyons and on hills covered with brush surrounding Popovo polje and approaches to Trebinje. Nurse Vanja Jerkušić was the brightest ray of hope (…), even today, when she is named chief of sanitary unit of the 156th regiment. Half of the tactical unit was in love with her. She returned our love only with courage in retrieving the wounded and the attention she gave at times when pain was unbearable.”
  • “In spring 1993, on my way to Stravča, I met a chubby blond girl, who was on her way to a distant military village in Konavle hills on foot. We took her into the hum wee. I am “Rugged Cliff”, she said in a seductive voice. “It turns me on most, when I am doing it with a soldier between the rocks”. “Rugged Cliff” was wearing a uniform, although she was not assigned to any of the brigades. She wandered from unit to unit, hoping to put out her inextinguishable thirst.”
  • “On a different occasion, just before “Flash”, in April 1995, the special police forces unit from Pakrac found themselves in the company of three girls. They had a few drinks, danced a bit, and then it was time to move on to the exposed and dangerous sites near Čaglić and Subotska. The girls accompanied them. In the darkness of fortified trenches the girls were their night queens, supple as heavenly texture, the well of carnal inspiration before deadly danger and enemy. The scandal broke out the next day, when the girls returned to Lipik, completely naked, in the early morning hours. Naked and proud, filled with sensual pleasure." (Barbieri, 1996: 99 and 146-147).
  • "Despite the rooted views, war is, although full of destructive emotions and instincts, maybe the strongest incentive for love. In a life drama of suffering, where the boundary between life and death is almost invisible, it is the lifesaving sanctuary, the healer of all wounds. In a world in which death is an everyday matter and rarely just a threat, love raises itself above the bloody everyday occurrence, surpassing at times even the unquestionable wartime sanctity, the wartime friendships (…).
  • “In a world of powerful instincts, there are often sparkling erotic charges, all boundaries are falling, the body comes closer to stars. Eros and Thanatos, the sensual ascension and the shadow of death, stick to soldiers’ bodies in licentious catacombs of lust. The instinct to survive, when you are proving to yourself that you are alive, and that nothing has defeated you yet. (...).”
  • “Love and lust, birth and death, all fixed archetypes interweave in the whirl of war with incomparable strength. The former is permanent and unforgettable, the latter momentary and burns fast. But neither can hide their astral, spiritual and bodily particles which build up the deadly military spirit and universe. The affectionate and spiritual ascension, the quivering emotions and ripping of the body in sensual elixirs of gun powdered saltpetre. The desire, the immortal desire to live, does not stand contrary to heroic surrender to the ideal of freedom. As long as there is this desire to overcome one’s own surroundings, by overcoming one’s own bodily inhibition and personal moral principles, a soldier’s love is a condensed immersion into the adventure of the unknown, in the world of dramatically dangerous, but seductive values. The fundaments of such, almost mythological, understanding of love and sensuality can also be found in the soldiers’ desire to re-find the weary strength which renews life over and over again, in which emotions and body always find the right way, in returning to one’s own spirit and body, in the bliss of permanent affectionate and erotic beginning. The thunder of feelings and instincts against the thunder of cannons and grenades. A soldier’s love thus overcomes death fields and becomes united in a joint struggle against vanishing. It lives as an ever present battle against a form of war, in which, for noble goals, one wages war with delight, but with life-saving affectionate hope that we will free ourselves of the dead time and place which annihilate and kills". (Barbieri, 1996: 145-147).

Panel 1

  Vesna Kesić: Gender Dimension of Memory – Gender Dimension of Conflict and Reconciliation

Panel 2

  Reana Senjković: Gender Images of War

Panel 3

  Tea Škokić: Remembrance as a Place of Self-Understanding

Panel 4

  Mojca Urek: Why do We Tell Stories: Using Stories in Psychosocial Work

Panel 5

  Mojca Dobnikar: Memories of Women’s Organizing

Panel 6

  Eva Zillen: We Need to Make Sure That Ten Years Work is Not Forgotten

Panel 7

  Slavica Stojanović: Women Between Đinđić and Sugar