Panel 3


Tea Škokić: Remembrance as a Place of Self-Understanding
Institute for Ethnology and Folklore / Centre for Women’s Studies Zagreb
The first part of my expose relates to the importance of reminiscences about ourselves, to the fact that reminiscences are not merely memories, but rather a direction for future activities, because they either store our identities or hide certain new ones.
So, to answer the question “Who am I?” the fundamental question of identity, or at least the question which destabilizes our temporary identities implies having stored personal perceptions of who we were yesterday. Our perception of the present and personal existence lies in our knowledge about the past. Thus, we inscribe “into ourselves” different “images”, almost since the moment we realized our own existence, as well as what others were telling about us. And vice versa, each answer about the past is an answer of the present, the moment in which we speak, our present image of who we were before.
Following the idea presented by Marianne Gullestad’s, Norwegian social anthropologist, that there are three periods which are depicted in autobiographic narration, we can also accept three periods depicted in our reminiscences. The present in which we write, talk, think about ourselves, the past in which everything important to us as an individual happened as well as the historic context of an individual, everything that happened (up until the moment that we speak about it) around us, other people and events which determined our actions as we did theirs. Precisely this historic context determines memories as part of the identity discourse, because it is through our memories that we form our moral principles, and they will be determining our actions in the future. At the same time, as a permanent mental process, reminiscence changes through social interaction, enables our existence and self-understanding. 
Our memories reflect the paradox of identities. As much as identity is our uniqueness that verifies itself in sharing with others, at the same time it enables us to recognize ourselves as those similar to them; the same battle happens in our memories. Deriving from different images, often contradictory and divided, they do reflect the coherence of a person. By remembering fragments of personal life we relate a number of otherwise unrelated events and experiences from different periods we lived through. In other words, we feel both as an object and as a subject in our own memories. As an object because we remember ourselves from some bygone times, as if it were not ourselves any more, we treat ourselves critically and judge ourselves. We are a subject because through memories, subsequent living or re-living, we construct from the beginning. Self-definition, or should we call it self-redefiniton is always linked to the community. 
Memories are a medium, just like a message. In memories one stores cultural symbols, they reflect social relations and convey knowledge. For Maurice Halbwachs, a French sociologist and philosopher, memories in a broader sense do not belong to an individual: They come from outside. He states that our ability to invoke memories emerges from belonging to a certain social group and is related to memories of other people, “with the entire material and moral lifetime of a society we belong or belonged to”. If we assume that the community we are talking about here is a women’s community, present here, than the value of this gathering, which is even by its name - “conference” – related to the past, lies in the fact that we have the freedom to question our memories, both personal and those belonging to the group. Because the whole image about each and every one of us is represented in the part of the image about ourselves that is in turn yet another part of the memory of the group we belong to. “Our memories are placed in the mental and material space of the group”, says Paul Connerton.
In the already mentioned context of three periods, this gathering is the present, which can help us to reconstruct ourselves, but also our conventions, assumptions, discursive forms and actions. 
What is it that we remember, what do I remember?
Peaceful construction of identities in our present memory is accompanied by fluent narration about the past. It is the crises and traumas that bring in transformative turning points, that are especially carefully stored in our memory. There are many ways to deal with such situations. Sometimes we “forget” them because we are not ready to deal with them. Sometimes we truly barely remember unpleasant events, most often because of the “silence” that accompanies them. Contrary to that, remembering a trauma can “rebuild” a person, give her a new motif for life or incite collective organizing. Talking about traumas, in any event, enables recognition. It means that all those who lived through the same trauma will recognize and support her, even if it is “inscribed” differently in their memories. War is such a crisis. Memories about it are different, but a joint experience of war will emerge as a stigma. In the end it is the link that united us during the past ten, twelve years regardless of where we were geographically. The efforts we put in organizing ourselves at the same time provided protection from repression which surrounded us. It also provided protection to the women who did not have this privilege of knowing and being able to act. Opening up the space for some other person to remember herself outside of the created nationalistic collective patriarchal pattern is what I find especially valuable in our feminist activities. We enabled her to remain true to herself, which she defined herself, and thus ensure continuity of her own existence regardless of how this image might seem incoherent. 
Now I will turn to the historic context in which I remember us.
Bowing to the collective identity, which in the case of Croatia was founded on national identity, was a way for most women to preserve their own identity and find the link to the rest of their community. Group identities were adopted as self-explanatory, without the need for personal deeper analysis. 
By pushing women to the sidelines from crucial political decisions of a country in war makes them a passive political subject, but also a reified group over which violence and intimidation is carried out. The rhetoric of nationalism uses gender stereotypes such as motherhood, compassion and feminine patience to that purpose, but without real intention to include these women in the decision making processes and governing. Every possible individuality of the woman is erased and she is called upon only as the co-sharer of the collective women’s identity. It is a way to separate the collective and the individual experience of war and victimization and to implement into women’s memory the joint ideological framework within which the events experienced receive form. However, a group’s experience of war is not one and unique story which its members adopt passively. The individual experience is important. 
In 1996 I conducted a research on the influence of war on women’s identities. One of my collocutors was from Bosnia, accommodated at Rosa house, run by the Centre for Women War Victims, which cared for the refugees. 
The personal narratives of women I talked to are conceptions and imaginations of both themselves and others/society. Although it is not possible to clearly divide between collective and personal experience, talking about everyday life, as a space susceptible to the ideology of power centres, created individual visions about the role in society. That is why it was important to fill the space we were building with different truths, always subjective but promising personal freedom, the right to different reminiscences and the right to act personally. The therapeutic effect that talking about a happy past has should be emphasized.
Renata Jambrešić Kirin stressed that masculine and feminine experiences in testifying differ with respect to the notion of personal suffering as voluntary sacrifice. While men in their narratives often name themselves as warriors and are happy with the changes in the political sense, the women’s discourse is nostalgic, they remember the past and mourn it. By remembering the war, my collocutors discovered new processes of identification. Each of them had built a personal strategy for keeping the balance between personal and group identity, the latter always partly adopted because of the surroundings. Nevertheless, it is interesting that within the narratives of everyday life in war emancipatory effort of self-identification stands out. Each narrator discovered a new part of herself, personal fears and ways to overcome them. The experience of war mobilized in each of them certain dimensions of identity. The feminine discourse I recognized was at the same time solidary with the rest of the group and nostalgic. It seems to me that in that period we were the only oasis for nostalgia often called Yugonostalgia in the pejorative sense. 
Women peace activists, working during the war, involved in different women’s groups have been stigmatized as enemies of Croatia. As Biljana Kašić stated, the culture of non-violence that they developed was a result of the physical-emotional need. By organizing public demonstrations, and creating new networks of women’s solidarity with victims of war violence, women peace activists created a space for resistance to the destructiveness of war. Often they were the only place where women could find help in small local communities. However, the pacifist discourse was not able to completely elude the cliché of general women’s solidarity, peacefulness and sacrifice. The history of women’s activities in the past decade is marked with dilemmas, debate, divisions to left and right, powerful and powerless, young and old. Each of us brought in her own personal visions, desires, and needs, and went home with frustrations, weariness and fear. This too is part of our memories.  Insisting on charming cookies of sisterhood I consider the defeat of a discourse which advocates difference. Difference of our identities, memories, activities. 
Finally, turning to myself completely, I like to think of us as tired but energetic nomad women, who recognized alternative approaches to conflict solving, crated movements and public space in which we existed as a challenge to the dominant understanding of what society is and should be. At least that is how I remember it. I find it encouraging that we did not “can” our activities and feminisms in the untouchable shell of the only legitimate truth, like so many autobiographies written by generals.  Because memories are, as I stated in the beginning, an open door to the future. The more there are and the different they are the richer our future is.

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