From Witches from Rio to history revisionists


On an article by Mirko Petrić On feminism and nationalism - Zarez, Issue 48 

Vesna Kesić

When an interview with me titled Posttotalitarian subject was published on November 23 on two pages in Zarez, Mirko Petrić reacted to a small part of the interview and published an article of about 3000 words. Following my response to that with almost the same word count - he responded with double the length. If his need to convince me, himself and the world in the concept of “genocide by procreation” and in my “history revisionism - plus a few other things” keeps growing this fast, he could soon start proving that - Feminists raped Croats too - in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have deliberately cynically paraphrased some Globus headlines from 1993 and I will explain this later.

On crime motivation

Responding to his first reaction, I claimed that his discourse and the manner of argumentation (and not he as a person whose victimization he had proclaimed) was patriarchal, authoritarian and nationalist and that the key notion in the article - “genocide by procreation”, where he explains mass rapes perpetrated by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina - is racist and deeply chauvinistic. Despite Petrić’s efforts, I cannot (neither intellectually nor emotionally) understand or accept that procreation, i.e. child-birth, the growth of a population, contributes to the disappearance or genocide of any ethnic group except if one believes in the logic of bloodlines and territory and that the blending of blood of different ethnic groups causes pollution and leads to disappearance. Petrić probably is, as am I (I cannot “malign” him so much and doubt this), familiar with relevant modern theories on nation and nationalism (Anderson, Hobsbawm, Gellner) which speak of the nation as a cultural idea constructed on various types of imagination, depending on the historic, territorial and cultural context. As a construct and imagined community, nations change synchronically and over time. Consequently, proposing the idea that Serbs raped so that the raped women of other ethnicities could give birth to “little chetniks” as the only relevant explanation of the motivation of mass rapes in Bosnia, and then to elevate this concept to the level of a theoretical model does not signify anything else but to accept racist imagination of the nation as a community of blood and territory and the “logic” of the rapists themselves who, I guess, believe that the children born this way will be - not just Serbs, but also “chetniks”, national soldiers. In the deconstruction of the notion of “genocide by procreation” Petrić reacts in this way: “This then is why Vesna Kesić, neither during the time when the mass rapes in Bosnia were perpetrated nor now, could not accept explanations that didn’t see these rapes as products of war and as a common (...) crime of militarized patriarchy against women”. Namely why? Because, Petrić further argues: “She, in her ‘antinationalist’ equidistance to all nationalist ideologies, in order not to face particularly heinous and perverse crimes committed in the name of one of them, rather chose a different explanation on the motivation of those crimes.” Even if I, in good faith, disregard the syntactic nonsense of this crude sentence, the question remains: Which explanation of the motivation of these crimes did I choose? To my knowledge, in this exchange I did not say a word about how I explain or which theories on the motivation of mass rapes in Bosnia and Herzegovina I consider possible. Only Petrić has spoken about that until now: Serbs rape so that little chetniks can be born. To insist on the significance of emphasizing the gender dimension of rape, what I am really doing, still does not mean a discussion about motivations - collective or individual, for it would mean that men rape because they are men, because it is in their “man’s nature” and, to my knowledge, nobody has claimed that in this context. Not only because it is a simplification and absurdity but also because it does not explain anything. (Petrić, however, is right about one thing. I would discuss S. Vranić’s claims that “some feminists” explain rapes in Bosnia as “outbursts of generic hatred of men towards women”, as a “war of the sexes” and “violence of all men against all women”. I claim that I have not found these “theories” anywhere in feminist literature.) The feminist theories that I accept do not perceive anything as “generic”, they always speak about socialization effects and personally, I have always been opposed to the “war of the sexes” concept. “Generic hatred”, whether gender or ethnical, are for me equally fundamentalist and unacceptable as is “genocide by procreation”. Further, who has ever spoken of “rapes as merely products of war” or denied the need to give nuance to anything? Just the opposite, I believe that war and the cruelties of war including rapes, inter alia, became possible due to authoritarian patriarchy, inherent to both socialism and nationalism, and which have become, through these wars and differently perceived nationalisms, militarized and militant. Petrić could have noticed, with a little good will and open-mindedness, in the mentioned Posttotalitarian subject interview and my description of the project Sexism and war: constructs of gender and ethnicity as sources of violence in wars in the former Yugoslavia where the field of research was set (“the real dynamics of field events”), that I hold both patriarchal-sexist and national rhetoric together with their specific (nuanced) explosive interaction and overlapping in the concrete context, as being equally responsible for the motivation and for ethnic and gender violence. However, I accept the charges for equidistance from all nationalist ideologies. Nevertheless, this still does not mean that they are identical or the same “constructs” or that they would equally function in generating war and violence. (Incidentally, can Petrić imagine the use of the notion of antinationalism without putting it in quotation marks?)

The problem with this discussion lies in the fact that Mirko Petrić, in the manner that suits him, constructs reality, offers “explanations” and then proclaims them to be “historic truths”. On the other hand, when I try to explain and use data to show why I consider his constructs and arguments inadequate and highly ideologized and why I don’t even think about accepting them, not today nor in 1991-1992 or whenever, he then, again, puts his “truths” to use and triumphantly claims that the rejection of them is “historic revisionism”, “emotionality” and everything that comes out of it.

Sexual violence and war crimes

When he occasionally tries to elaborate his concepts, but now on a different level, not defending them beforehand semantically from implicit racism, then it looks like this. Petrić claims that the “genocide by procreation” concept (O.K., “the product of theoretical activities of radical feminist activist” Asja Armanda, and not his) should be further developed theoretically and even try to incorporate it in the legal system, I assume, in international legal law on war and war crimes. Why? Petrić says because of the cases that correspond to such descriptions of crime and that it is a “crime which can only be committed against women and which integrates rape crime and genocide crime in an especially heinous way”. This is why I, and not only I, believe that this is not and will not be possible. Not only because that concept cannot be accepted as a legal or scientific-analytical category due to its racist dimension but also because the entire process of elaboration and evolution of concepts and criminal-law categories of war crime, genocide (together with genocidal acts), crime against humanity and specific crime against women, i.e. against gender (in which rape and other forms of sexual violence and abuse, from forced pregnancy and enforced prostitution to body searches also fall) has gone off in a completely other, I would almost say, different civilizational direction. In the last instalment to this discussion, I mentioned that in the Geneva Conventions from 1948 and 1949 - which came about as a reaction to the Holocaust and to stop future similar crimes - rape and other forms of sexual abuse of women were not stated in the war crimes list (“nameless crime”). However, rape was mentioned in the Geneva Conventions Protocols in the category of “crimes against honour and dignity”, and not as a violent war crime, which nowadays (or back then), we can agree, was not an appropriate categorization. However, sexual crimes against women could be put under the category of torture, violation of a person’s integrity as a member of an ethic group, cruel and inhumane treatment, etc. and tried accordingly. After the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, because of the mass crimes against women in those wars and thanks to the growing and strengthened international women’s movement and its clear defining of women’s human rights, women began to demand and feminist lawyers and theoreticians started to articulate that rape and other violence against women be entered as a named form of crime and that it be treated as a war crime under a special category. These efforts had two directions. The first was to incorporate rape as a crime category in the Statute of the Hague International Tribunal since it was not self-explanatory and since some Governments and experts put up resistance against it. The second direction was that among women’s groups and feminist theoreticians there were numerous and thorough theoretical and political discussions carried on - and this signified the character of future legal formulations and crime descriptions - whether emphasis should be put on “women”, i.e. gender dimension, or on nation, ethnic group, tribe, i.e. “genus” and woman as a member of that group. (These discussions sometimes, although rarely as in the MacKinnon and Kareta’s case, became aggressive nationalistic campaigns against the opposite attitude). The preference of the use of the concept itself was discussed: Whether to insist on the concept of “genocidal rape” - still fundamentally different from the “genocide by procreation” concept which, to my knowledge, was never seriously been discussed by anyone, - where “genus” remains in the centre of attention and consequently in the centre of international criminal law and its elaboration, or to demand that international criminal law treats rape as a war crime against gender, where woman as an individual and as a member of the female gender is at the centre of attention (the so-called gender approach). Finally, rape as a special form of torture was incorporated into the ICTY and ICTR Statutes by the Security Council’s Resolution in May 1993 under the crime against humanity provision. The Statute has four different categories of crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. They are put somewhat in order, although primarily distinguished according to the character of the crime and the group against which the crime was committed. The categories are: a) grave breaches of Geneva Conventions, b) violations of war laws and customs, c) genocide, and d) crimes against humanity. (Incidentally, does Petrić really think that his Copernican revolution has passed unnoticed, starting with the original claim that in my “Hague argument” I use the concept of “rape as a crime against humanity” imprecisely and which probably implies that I have degraded it and belittled it as a crime, so that in the end he himself begins using the concept and my “Hague arguments”. To that extent I believe that my writings have fulfilled their purpose: I have informed and enlightened.)
Going back to the subject. Crimes against humanity are serious crimes especially those that (even traditionally) sanction widespread and systematically committed crimes against civilians. To process rape as a crime against humanity, it has to be committed in large-mass numbers and directed against civilians on the basis of national, political, ethnic, racial or religious background. Consequently, the Hague Statute has finally acknowledged rape as a crime in one section of the international law because of organized feminist efforts. It acknowledged the emphasis of the gender dimension because charges for rape can now be brought even if women do not belong exclusively to the “genus”, but to different political or religious groups. It is possible to institute legal proceedings on systematic and widespread rapes in civil wars, dictatorships and even in Latin American cases where mercenaries of multinational companies rape to “chase off” locals who are in the way of exploitation of local resources. The gender dimension was reached and recognized also because enforced prostitution and forced impregnations are explicitly classified as crimes related to rape. Theoretically, as I have already explained, rapes could have been tried according to ethnicity (or for the “violation of honour and dignity”) under the Geneva Convention which means that “genocidal rape” was already recognized as a crime although it had no name. The feminist explanation as to why there were no such trials and why justice was not universal - rape was not prosecuted at any of the Nuremberg trials, while in Tokyo rape was prosecuted in only one case and the charges were brought according to command responsibility - is: Because the gender dimension of rape as a crime was not recognized, after the wars “justice” as represented and interpreted by mostly men (which is also a gender dimension of justice), was easily “satisfied” by judgments and compensations to states and nations. It was believed that women were already “compensated” as members of nations, and statesmen and politicians traded justice for them “exchanging trials (for rape) for ‘peace’”. The evidence that things are moving in this direction - towards justice for women as well - is the fact that, for the first time in the history of wars and international law, dozens of men have been tried in the Hague Tribunal for rape. After the events that happened on the territories of former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and thanks to the insisting of women on the gender dimension, rape is no longer a “hidden” or ignored crime but it is recognized as both a war strategy and violation of the Humanitarian Law and human rights as well as a crime against gender and as a crime in the function of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Genocide, femicide and procreation

With the further conceptualization of international war law and the integration of the gender dimension in both the law and general consciousness of the people within the International Criminal Court Statute (ICC), rape is, I would say “finally”, being treated as a crime in its own category and does not have to be related to any nation, ethnicity or community. It received the status of crime against gender (almost always against the female gender). This, of course, doesn’t mean that rape cannot also be tried as a part of genocide and crimes against humanity or that charges be brought at the same time for all categories of crime as could be done under the Geneva Conventions and ICTY Statute. At this time I cannot state the details of the mechanisms and formulations of the ICC where rape will be acknowledged as a gender crime and will be tried as one.
Having in mind all that has been mentioned in this text from both a feminist, and I would say, woman’s perspective (this doesn’t mean that all women should agree with this), I claim that the notion of “genocide by procreation” is anticivilisational and will not be seriously discussed either as a penal or as a “theoretical” concept. Taking into consideration all that has been said, with a further detailed analysis we come to the insight that the gender dimension of rape as a crime is completely lost here. In other words, the degree to which it is present in the part where “reproduction” is mentioned is related exclusively to the biological reproductive role of a woman, and is related to “genocide” primarily in the function of nation, ethnicity, etc. Women as individuals are lost as a subject of the theoretical concept which becomes a “genus” while the gender approach sees women both as gender members and as individuals as well. In the words of Rhonda Copelon, this is a crime against the woman’s body, her autonomy, integrity, her being, security and self-respect as well as against her status in the community. (I’m convinced that the priest don Ante Baković is thrilled with the “genocide by procreation” concept.) The concept, in its racist dimension, i.e. a dimension that assumes “ethnic cleanliness”, implies not only that genocide by reproduction “pollutes” the nation but it also labels both raped women and born children which takes us back to the concept of rape as a “crime against family honour and female integrity” and can contribute to the exclusion of women and the mentioned children from society because of their “label and disgrace”, which is more serious than in the case of “same-nationality” rape.
I don’t mind if Mirko Petrić tries to acclaim Asja Armanda’s credits for understanding the “true character” of war rapes on these territories. I even consider it to be slightly touching (I’m not being cynical) although I can’t understand why the members of Kareta or similar organizations are not doing this themselves. I’m afraid, however, that he is sometimes doing her a huge favour due to the combination of ignorance and information received. To claim that the “conceptualization of rape as an invisible weapon of war” - from the title of the publication An Invisible Weapon of War in Former Yugoslavia, (1994) - which summarizes the evidence on war crimes and serves as the documentation holdings of The Hague Tribunal, and which I mentioned in the last article as being “to a great extent the contribution of Asja Armanda”, is utter nonsense. It is more a matter of general knowledge that the concept of rape throughout history as an invisible weapon as well as the widely recognized slogan “Rape is a weapon of war” are from the famous book by Susan Brownmiller Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, first published in 1975. (The mentioned publication - a booklet from 1994 - honoured Susan Brownmiller’s book.) This is also the case with “femicide” which Petrić presents as a “conceptual novum” formed by Asja Armanda. This concept has been widely used ever since the book Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing by J. Radford and D. Russell was published in 1992. I personally admit that I would use it reluctantly because just the same as with “rape by procreation” or “genocidal rape” it emits fundamentalism and essentialism, this time of feminist provenance.

Rape is a message

Sometimes it is really difficult to grasp what Petrić wants to say (it’s no wonder that readers are calling him up) and with what he wants to, for example, prove that his writing has “fulfilled its purpose of fighting against suppressing various ideological standpoints of unpleasant ‘details’ (...) and the fight against the culture of forgetting the recent past”, a discipline in which I have been, as he claims, “fairly engaged” using manipulations, imputations etc. I believe that he is stronger in that discipline. In the manner which I have already mentioned - if it is not his historical “truth”, then it is the suspicious act in avoiding justifying and explaining his constructs followed by (“deliberately or unintentionally”) manipulating and (mis)using the data I state as contra arguments to his theses. When he recapitulates the past course of the discussion (which is very questionable as I would prefer that my thoughts and theses speak for themselves), he very cunningly, for example, holds back that I stated the documented examples of mass rapes perpetrated in recent history (250 000 women in Asia during World War II in Japanese “pleasure camps”; around 800 000 German women during the World War II final operations out of which 400 000 children were born, “genocide by procreation”; four million registered cases of various forms of sexual abuse, including enforced prostitution perpetrated by Wehrmacht soldiers in the Ukraine, etc.) because he had explicitly claimed that Serbian rapes in Bosnia (“genocide by procreation”) were unique and historically unprecedented and a “monstrous form of genocide which didn’t even come to mind to German Nazi soldiers”. I claim that this was a case of the demonization of one nation and about hate speech which served as nationalist war propaganda during the war. Is it possible that Kareta, a “radical, highly articulated feminist group”, and which has been providing information to M. Petrić during this time and which wants to influence the articulation of concepts within international law and the world’s reception of sexual war crimes, did not know this data? Or are they deliberately concealing them? I have written about this several times already; the first article being Rape is a message which was published on January 6, 1993 in Profil in Nedjeljna Dalmacija. Petrić also, in his recapitulation, holds back the fact that the Report by the UN Commission of Experts claimed that raped Serbian women were the second most numerous ethnic group after Muslim women who were victims of both Serbs and Croats. I have stated this data because it is important for the analysis of the “genocide by procreation” concept which sets the order of the crimes against women in order to point out the existence of a “unique crime committed only by Serbs”. Just as the data from the Commission of Experts - which Petrić also conceals - that “sexual violence in special rape camps”, a concept close to the “genocide by procreation” one, occurred on all three sides, is equally important. Petrić only accepts and uses as an arguing point the unquestionable fact that the victims were mostly Bosniak women and that the perpetrators were mostly Bosnian Serbs. I have mentioned the well-known fact, one that people who deal with this issue know very well, of 120 documented cases of pregnancies (unlike the 30 000 cases stated by MacKinnon who was given the information by Kareta). Petrić, in addition to understanding the reasons for “exaggeration” also discusses drawing conclusions on the basis of documented numbers. In general I agree with such an attitude, but we did not use numbers for manipulation as Kareta and similar groups did. And this did not happen only in 1992, when there was a need to “attract the international public’s attention” but also in 1993 and later. In one of their circulars - a wanted list against me and Đurđa Knežević, they speak about: “over 250 000 - 200 000 raped and exterminated (exterminated is the term they use, author’s remark) women in Bosnia and 50 000 in Croatia” in “genocide in these two countries and we will never hear about them”. This is not an “understandable” exaggeration if one takes into account that the total estimated number of victims is around 10 000 - 15 000. Petrić suggests that I ask myself why 120 women were subjected to forced impregnation and further asks how many forced impregnations and systematic rapes have to be perpetrated in order for me to accept the “genocide by procreation” concept as a specific form of crime perpetrated by Serbs against non-Serbian women. And what will it take for him to consider that number of 120 women includes women of all three nationalities and that the data came from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Republika Srpska?

From Letica to Petrić and back

Petrić launches his campaign for the defence of the historic truth pointing out that it was caused by my statement that we, the women from antinationalist groups, even though we insisted on the gender dimension of rape: “did not deny the role of mass rapes in ethnic cleansings in Bosnia”, because it would be, as I said “nonsense”. He considers this to be “a response to accusations of ‘genocide revisionism’ which can be found (only in footnotes and letters to the editors for now) in American feminist publications and which aren’t known in Croatia...” Petrić, you are wrong, completely wrong. Although I am familiar with the letters and footnotes Petrić reminds me of, I had something completely different on my mind at that moment: the notorious Witches from Rio case which culminated when Globus published an article under the headline Croatian Feminists Rape Croatia on December 11, 1992 and which, unlike the letters and footnotes, is well-known to almost everybody. In that article, the Globus “investigative team”, alias Slaven Letica, ingeniously combined the case of the alleged opposition of five female journalists and writers to the organization of the International P.E.N. Congress in Dubrovnik and the accusation that the same five women were telling the world that they consider that “WOMEN and not Croatian and Muslim women on the territories of former Yugoslavia were raped (!)”. This all led Letica into the history of journalistic dishonour. In my last response to Petrić I did not deal with “what I was really thinking when I said”, because it could have been irrelevant. However, Petrić’s last article started a coincidence which wasn’t really a coincidence. All his accusations and theses - the negation of genocide, the use of the “euphemism” ethnic cleansing, declaring that war is “universally a man’s business” while it is actually about “Serbian fascist rapes” etc. - are identical to Letica’s but of course formulated in a less scandalous and moronic manner. Petrić concludes his plaidoyer for “historic truth” and Kareta’s pioneering services with the accusation that members of “antinationalist” (his quotation marks) feminist groups tried to obstruct the revelation of truth about the victims and the character of mass rapes in Bosnia to the world and even that they tried to prevent the publishing of testimonies of victims of sexual violence. This is a serious accusation. Also, he “do(es) not understand that somebody who has connections around the world and influential status in international feminist publications doesn’t help sisterly feminist organizations”. The Globus investigative team wrote about that in this way: “‘Croatian’ feminists have been concealing before the world the Serbian raping of Muslim and Croatian women in Bosnia and Herzegovina even though they had access to the widest media and were able to alarm the international public a long time ago!” (subtitle). The slanderous and insulting nature of the Globus article has been proven in court. This gives me the right to assert that Mirko Petrić’s words are slander and that he lies when he states his claims.