How to burn witches?


Slobodna Dalmacija, May 17, “Twilight zone” p. 5


The persecution of unfit “witches” is one of the rare common traits of modern Serbia and Croatia. The selection of the “witch” label represents an indicative self-denunciation of a community which recognizes the threat of its patriarchal totems; the woman-mother and the woman-homeland in an “antithesis of the idealized woman’s image”

 Zlatko Gall

Croatian witches are flying once again over media space even though it was believed that the bonfire stake of media condemnation had effectively “cleansed” their mortal bodies and purified their tainted souls. The indirect motive for this new “flight” of the, as it was believed, entirely “grounded” witch squadron, was Vesna Kesić’s article “Confession of a Croatian Witch” originally published in “The Women’s Review of Books” and then conveyed in Nedjeljna Dalmacija in its “Profile” section. This was, of course, received with quite the attention on the part of the Croatian press as evidence of “anile activities”, a new kind of language mongering, gossiping, and denunciation of Croatia and – especially in Branimir Donat’s weekly columns in Večernji list – as evidence of a wider feminist anti-Croatian conspiracy(!). The fact that the quoted text from Die Tageszeitung that columnist Donat refers to so angrily had nothing in common with Vesna Kesić (or Lovrić, Drakulić, Ugrešić...), but rather reflects the attitude of the author of the mentioned article, did not present any greater problem to him. After all, once the stakes has been fairly splashed with gasoline, anyone could light the fire. Even an old man with matches.

On both banks of Drina

However, perhaps Donat’s analogy could be a nice instruction for research into the witch syndrome. Incidentally, witches exist on “the other bank” of Drina, at least according to the prominent media. Vesna Pešić has been, as sociologist Žarana Papić reports in Vremena on May 10, “persistently politically satanized”, and her “civic and political orientation was, from the beginning, disqualified as something repulsive, foreign to the national being, almost witch-like” (underlined by Z.G.).

Why is the persecution of their own witches one of the few common traits of modern Serbia and Croatia? Is this because of the related “frame of mind” of patriarchal politicians from the Balkans with their primitive macho view of the world where the woman is considered to be the basis of national offspring?

Vreme states that the Serbian “political community in power needs women in politics only when they are in the function of something” and offers arguments for the case of the up to recently media divinization of the political activities of Mirjana Marković-Milošević or Biljana Plavšić. Vesna Kesić wrote in the mentioned essay that: “Women here are often, colloquially, called ‘cunts’. Just as it was in ‘totalitarian communism’ back then, so it happens in ‘democratic nationalism’ today. The continuity reflects itself in the fact that very few prominent individuals or organizations have the need to publicly react.”

Is finger-pointing at witches the result of feeling threatened by the surge of little women into perhaps the last refuge of male phantasies – politics and war?

Male chauvinism

Vreme claims – yes. Žarana Papić sees typical “male chauvinism” in the example of the latest demonization of Biljana Plavšić and not of some other leaders of Bosnian Serbs and “hawk-like” support of the war. For her, this also represents the evidence that “women are meant to have only supporting roles in the Serbian political milieu”. Because, as Papić says, “of all the pathological and mad political ideas and actions which have been heard and seen on the Serbian political scene over the past years and months, he (Milošević – note by Z.G.) has pointed his finger at the one articulated by a woman...”

Responding to the rhetorical question about the reason for the demonization of Croatian witches, Vesna Kesić says: they are women, they dare to be eccentric, curious, competitive and independent, and she claims that: “This is probably what irritates this deeply patriarchal, heroic, collectively misogynist and nationally homogenized local community beyond their tolerance.”
Have Croatian (or Serbian) witches been demonized just due to their “long tongues” and because they expressed dubious political theses in their own countries and because they cast aspersions on their own democratically elected political orders or perhaps for the visceral intolerance between the sexes? Individual and collective, liberal and conservative and finally, male and female?

“Sexless” witches

The choice itself to label someone a witch tells us a lot about the community which has picked this particular slander. Pierre Riffard defines “witch-craft” as a “conscious or unconscious, voluntary or forced state (...) in which a person is completely responsible for his/her acts, directed against society, with a purpose and means designed to achieve harmful effects similar to magic ones”. But witch as a slander is, due to the chain events, indicative of the “self-slander” of the community which pins such a label. Namely, it is understood as a diagnosis for a society closed in its own collective values, a society which is paranoid towards otherness, xenophobic and – primitive.

Witch is a logical denunciation for an environment which does not tolerate feminist (or simply female) individuality and self-confidence which “overthrows” the pedestal of the Mother, for a community which considers a woman to be a totem-object and which is ingrained with patriarchal heroism. Incidentally, Jung also states that a witch is not just a “projection of male anima”, i.e. the projection of a primordial female aspect which still exists in human unconsciousness, but also an “anti-thesis of the idealized image of a woman”. Then, why not women-mothers and women-homelands also...

Finally, the latest “diagnosis” by a high-profile Croatian politician with at least a dozen political functions, about the Croatian witch as a “sexless” being who should be addressed with “it” instead of “she”, is symptomatic for the roots of this witch hunt.

Not with standing the formal crime and the fact that the folk expression “balls” often denotes a character trait rather than private anatomical parts. Then why not the demonized witches also!