Panel 1


Vesna Kesić: Gender Dimension of Memory – Gender Dimension of Conflict and Reconciliation
CWWV was founded in 1992, in the midst of a bloody war still raging in Bosnia and a time of fragile truce imposed in Croatia mostly by the so called international forces.  Its mission, or the Centre’s policy, as we called it was to “support and assist women regardless of their ethnic identity or any other differences” --- as it is written in the Letter of Intent in 1992.
But, I remember that very soon after we had founded the Centre we concluded that we had given it the wrong name. Under the impression of everything that was happening at the time, we too focused on “women victims”. However, after the first visits to refugee camps in the Zagreb area – and we worked in twenty or so camps with thousands of women – we have realized that women are victims of violence, both war violence and peace time violence. But women also know a thousand ways to survive. Not only survive, but resist war and nationalisms that ruled in the countries of former Yugoslavia and brought to power the regimes that rushed into war back then.
During one of the peace conferences held in Geneva in 1993, we concluded that supporting women victims of wartime patriarchal violence should be our primary obligation in a situation where women are suffering. However, we also concluded that we could be doing it until the end of our lives and the end of time, without significantly changing anything related to the foundations of relationships in society, especially in the case of gender distribution of power and influence. We held this same distribution largely responsible for the wars in former Yugoslavia. So the policy of the Centre reflected itself accordingly, in supporting and assisting women victims of war violence, but also in changing the social status of women and empowering women and advancing women’s human rights.
In the refugee camps we distributed humanitarian aid, founded self-help groups, organized counselling sessions, social work, legal and other forms of assistance.
At the same time, the Centre’s activists – at one point more than forty women, and I stress, regardless of their ethnicity or any other identity, including the refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina who had undergone training for counselling and social work at the Centre – led numerous public and political battles, resisted nationalism, misogyny, abuse of women victims of war, and hatred. We denounced militaristic war violence against women. At the same time, both the Centre and other women’s groups, firstly the Autonomous Women’s House, a close partner to the Centre to day, resisted the increasing domestic violence, social, political and economic discrimination and marginalization of women.
The Centre had initiated, taken part in organizing or participated in some of the first regional encounters of women from similar anti-war and feminist groups: gatherings in Zagreb and Novi Sad, and the Peace Conference in Geneva in ’93. In Istria we organized the first post war dialogue between Serbian and Croatian feminists. We were asked and we helped organize the first meeting of women from all parts of Bosnia, in 1996 in Sarajevo. We regularly participated at many gatherings of women from the region, often held outside of the region.
At the Vienna UN Human Rights Conference in 1993, we testified on women’s sufferings in our region, within the NGO Forum that hosted the first tribunal against violence against women. This conference was the birth place for the “women’s rights are human rights” thesis, which completely altered the relationship of international and humanitarian rights in relation to women. It is precisely such re-definition of human rights that led to, for the first time in history, naming wartime rapes war crimes and crimes against humanity, in The Hague Tribunal Statute. For the first time the Tribunal brought verdicts for participating in, enticing or not preventing the war crime of rape.
We also participated at the 4th UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. This Conference brought many documents that have a significant impact today on the status of women’s rights and the changes in national legislature of the Republic of Croatia. To shorten my story, CWWV, and other women’s groups that make up one of the strongest networks in civil society, the Women’s Network of Croatia were maybe the first and loudest voices for reconstruction of the civil society in Croatia after Croatia’s independence. Back in 1995, The Women’s Ad Hoc Coalition put forward numerous demands for changing the legal and social status of women. In the end, we introduced the term women’s human rights into public discourse, the term that changed the patriarchal discourse of a “woman victim”, “woman that needs protection”, or just sexist language about women. All of these are still present both in the legislature and the political rhetoric, and to some extent in the language used in the media.
I would like to go even further into the past and establish that feminist initiatives that appeared in the former Yugoslavia in the late 70s, with a few dissidents, were the first swallows of civic society. Their attitude was to act outside of the established system of state sponsored mass organizations which substituted civic society with the Women’s Alliance, dependent trade unions, the Socialist Alliance and similar organizations without real influence on state policy.
During the war, women’s organizations were among those rare ones that kept communicating and created networks by crossing ethnic and state boundaries. Women lead peace initiatives and confidence building initiatives, peace communication and all those things that are today, at least declaratory, recognized as values opposing nationalism, chauvinism, exclusivity, and lack of dialogue.
Despite all that, those efforts are mostly forgotten today, marginalized, erased from the collective memory. Therefore, despite the developed civic society initiatives, those values and processes seem to be imposed upon us by the pressures from the International Community, Europe, economic interests and other external forces we abide to because we are “small and weak”. In the women’s memory and the memory of women’s groups something else is inscribed. And that “something” is what this conference and this edition of the Collected Papers entitled “Women Recollecting Memories” are about.
One could say that women’s groups, even feminist groups exist today without bigger problems and resiliencies. We even managed to get the space at the City Hall, as well as auspices of the City Council Chairwoman, Morana Paliković, who is, in a way, one of us. The number of women in representative bodies is significantly higher. We receive city and state subventions. However, at the level of real political decision making, both women and women’s groups remain marginalized, and their history is erased, their memory of the recent past remains unrecorded. That is why neither Croatia, nor, I would say, other countries in the region, are building their sovereignty and membership in global processes on their own efforts and tradition, but rather, as foreigners often observe, on the basis of colonial memory import.
Women were never included in peace talks, although UN documents such as the Platform for Action from Beijing and the Security Council’s resolution 1325 recommend it. The Resolution demands, among other things:
  • An International Commission to determine violence against women in war
  • Including gender expertise and women experts in the issues of gender at all levels and all aspects of peace keeping and peace building operations
  • Revision of all training programs for resolving conflict and peace building from a gender perspective
  • Filling the gaps in international and national legislature when it comes to protecting women in armed conflicts and post-conflict situations
  • Increased access to media and communication technologies for women, so that gender perspective and women experts have more influence on public discourses and important political and social decision making.
  • Systematic gathering and analysis of information and data including the gender perspective and specific gender sensitive indicators in creating public policies, programs and services for women in armed conflicts and post conflict situations.
Women’s project of reconstructing memory starts from the premise that dealing with the past and memory significantly influences the processes of transitional justice, facing the past, reconciliation and truth seeking, and inasmuch, in creating conditions for permanent peace and democratic development of the region. All this especially applies in transitional and post-war societies.
Women’s project of reconstructing memory deals with the gender dimension of public memory and the policy of erasing and forbidding memories. Furthermore, it deals with the influence that such reduced and suppressed memory has on contemporary life and facing the past, at two levels: individual and collective. The methodology of women’s work on the past always starts from individual memory. But does it remain there? The important point to research is also how gender dimension works in mechanisms and constructions of creating nations, ethnicities, national and ethnic identities, and the multiple relations between nation, nationalism and war. The processes of political transformation are engendered processes. When transition is implemented in the context of nationalistic movements, ethnic conflict arise that might explode in brutal wars during which the ethnic and sexual violence interweave and become dominant forms of violence, as was the case in former Yugoslavia.
The achievement of political and social stability in this region is constantly sought at the expense of forgetting and repressing instead of developing an active “remembrance policy”. And not only when it comes to women. Symbols, as we know, as well as the symbolic order, express and sublime the substance of historical relationships, among others the power relationship between sexes and genders. Erasing or annulling these symbols – just like the erasure of all symbols in the 1990s in Croatia that stood for socialist and Yugoslav past, among those even streets and monuments dedicated to or named after women antifascists - brings a society and individuals in a voiceless state and possibly deep social traumatization of one part of the society. The continuity of repressing women’s history is reflected even in the post war situation, after the nationalistic regime lost power and some of the antifascist symbols returned and there was public criticism of demolition of antifascist monuments. At the same time, none of the streets or monuments dedicated to women have been restored into public memory.
Gender, age, class, profession, subcultures and regional identities, they are all criteria for differentiation and identification. Depending on their current or dominant definition those categories are also the basis for social action. On one hand, the role of gender specific differences should be recognized, acknowledged and researched in the construction and presentation of national identities. But at the same time, it needs to be shown that women too participated in national, social and political processes. Women were victims of ethnic conflict, but women also played an active role in resisting wars and ethnic conflicts.
And to conclude, there is an overwhelming need to research and rebuild the gender dimension of remembrance and public memory, as well as the role of women in peace building, because they have been excluded from that memory, and therefore from the current social processes.  Lasting peace, reconciliation, and facing the past cannot be achieved in the former Yugoslav countries without women taking part in those processes. If for no other reason, then because women and women’s groups bear memories of continuous peace building efforts.

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