Kosovo War, Feminists and Fascism in Serbia Zarana Papic (Women’s Studies Center Belgrade) [Belgrade, May 20th-August 5th, 1999]
Kosovo crisis is at the heart of the decade long war drama of the late country that used to be called Yugoslavia. The symbolic sign of the scope of immensely shallow (mis)understanding of the dead country’s destiny is (for those of us who still remember) today painfully visible in CNN headlines: “War in Yugoslavia”.
What “Yugoslavia” the world is talking about today? The trick with people’s memory and amnesia is maybe unintentional, but it’s no less misleading. The “Yugoslavia” CNN is talking about today is exactly the “phantom Yugoslavia” Milosevic would like us to take it for granted as being still alive and kicking. “Yugoslavia” does not exist any more. Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed themselves as Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, but have never been recognized by UN. Milosevic’s Serbo-centric claim to be the only rightful “inheritor” of the former Yugoslavia is yet unfulfilled, as its seat in the UN is still empty.
Even more, the Kosovo war is not at all the war of this self-proclaimed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but exclusively the war of Milosevic’s Serbia. Montenegro is, in an ironic sense, a double collateral civilian victim: by Milosevic’s power-system that persists in keeping her puppet-republic status, and by NATO that is bombing Milosevic-controlled military forces in Montenegro.
The series of wars in former Yugoslavia practically started when Milosevic, upon his Stalinist style taking over state-power by taking over Serbian Communist Party in 1987, decided to build up his power-system on machiavellian mutation dynamics of the communist totalitarian principle of “class struggle” into the even more lethal principle of “ethnic struggle”, and it based on one basic social reality-and-power-production force: feed the antagonisms among people - endless series of antagonisms among Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians: cultural, historical, ethnic, national and racist antagonisms. And, at the same time, claim shamelessly to be the only “true” defender of the “Yugoslavian Idea”. It represents itself as non-ideology - as the « natural order of things », a basic/true reality prior to any social act of representation. Its ideological content is well hidden, since it is not represented as the « battle of ideas », but instead, ideas became Blood, Skin, Genes, etc. The ideology of the Nation’s Pre-Sociability produces, therefore, even more totalitarian Regime of the Body: exclusionary politics leads to annihilation of the Other: war, displacement, destruction and death of the Other Body.
Furthermore, the principle of “ethnic struggle” is based on politically and culturally constructed racist antagonism. Yes, racist first, because “race/ethnicity/nationality” today is, in fact, a political category - an instrument of the “definitive Other” with whom life together is no longer possible. That’s the reason why the Kosovo crisis is at the heart of the decade long drama of the late country called Yugoslavia. The destiny of former Yugoslavia was directed towards series of wars when Milosevic started to feed and orient the hatred of Serbians against Albanians as “legitimate” feelings and even as “basic” part of Serbian national identity. When this big, undeniable (as Serbs and Albanians are not of the same “race”) hatred was unleashed, the series of “minor” hatreds were imminent, and wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were made possible. Now, the circle of crime came to its starting point. The series of wars in former Yugoslavia is a series of culturally, politically and military produced hatreds. Milosevic’s power-system is based on producing, transforming and handling hatreds to its own ends. Among men, above all. More precisely, wars in former Yugoslavia are a series of ill fated, unsuccessful and deadly revengeful “broken brotherhoods”. Tito’s Yugoslavia laid all its hopes in multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional federation’s vitality on one exclusive identity/difference, male dominated, principle: under the slogan “Brotherhood and Unity”.
After more than a decade of “brotherly killings and dis-unifications”, today is more than obvious that former Yugoslav “brothers” were the easiest decoy and the most effective tool of destructive politics of “ethnic struggle”. Encouraging pro-fascist Serbian nationalism, Milosevic (ab)used the Serb’s “trauma” under Tito (and their tragic destiny during the World War II) and used it as the most lethal instrument against all other nations. Instead of slowly democratic process of disillusioning Serb’s from the Shangri-La of ideological brotherhood and unity, and, especially, of their historical hegemonic position and dispersive location, their waking-up was more like from a “uncontrolled” cultural delirium tremens: since 1987 Serbs didn’t know exactly who they are but were absolutely ready to find that out through hating others, or being coldly indifferent to their destiny. The last decade (and even earlier) in Serbia could be defined as specific historical processuality, as the “transition” from the pro-Yugoslav communism into the politically autistic, aggressive, pro-fascist collectivism.
That’s the reason why, among other things, there have never been significant democratic alternatives to Milosevic’s war-politics based on “ethnic struggle” against all. Even the so-called oppositional “men-leaders” could not help themselves and took part, each to his abilities, in this “I-don’t-mind-if-you-are-cleansed” game. The only political subjects in Serbia who dared to challenge this deadly game, since the beginning of wars in 1991, were some (now very much marginalised) women politicians and some feminist and pacifist groups. Belgrade’s Women in Black were the only ones who, ever since 1991, raised their voice against the new culture of normality - of ignoring, exteriorising, vanishing and hateful eliminating the Others. They were the only ones who cared enough and desperately opposed the masculinist hate-politics of former “brothers” saying: “Bosnian, Albanian, Roma women are our sisters”.
Now, as the series of wars since 1991 came to Kosovo as its proper “birth place”, the pro-fascist collectivization of Serbians under NATO bombs became an overall phenomena, reaching in its scope further then ever, even among the previously declared democrats, anti-nationalists or pacifists, and therefore, made indifference to the destruction of the Other the most dominant political, cultural, public and private, fact of reality of today’s Serbia. The “happy-to-persecute-traitors” new marshal law, promptly introduced to make sure that fear will be thoroughly interiorised and will paralyze any significant resistance to the final act of fascisation of the whole public/private world in Serbia, the media legitimated the denial of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and the explicit “taboo” on, even silent remembering, not to say speaking out loud, that Albanians, rightful citizens of F.R.Y, were being brutally cleansed from Kosovo, and the seductive Serbian narcissism over being (finally) a victim of NATO bombings, shows ever so clearly the real face of all previous wars, of Kosovo war, and of what politically and historically became Serbia today. The stages in the long process of fascisation of symbolic and material social world in Milosevic’s Serbia could be defined as series of multiple structural mutations: from state socialism to state nationalism; from state nationalism to mafia statism, from mafia statism to oriental despotism; from oriental despotism to fascisized tyranny. Inevitably, these processes were heavily situated on four identity levels: self-identity, civic/urban identity, gender identity and the identity of the Other. All four identity levels were under extreme turmoil, under systematically violent and (only seemingly) chaotic and uncontrolled barbarization of inner/outer, public/private cultural patterns.
This systematic production of “inevitable barbarity” shows to what extent the wars in ex-Yugoslavia were a result systematic symbolic production of violent representations/narrations before and during the factual violence. The social world in Serbia was systematically constructed as the discourse of excluding the Otherness: the exteriorization of the Other, the erasure of empathy, the denial of tolerance, the amnesia of history of living together. In order to be effective, this over-all practice of negation of the Otherness, and consequently, the tolerated destruction of the Other Body had to be prepared through a systematic (discursive, symbolic, iconic, etc) cultural production of various levels of reality upon which the consensus on fascist politics would arise as specific “culture of normality”. In Serbia, some of the very effective features of this fascist culture of normality were legitimated through dominant political/cultural discourse ever since 1988: a) all Others are denominated as “impossible”: suspicious, treacherous, conspirative against the “Serbianhood”, or as the very negation of humanity, an unworthy animal, automatic and obedient collective agent, etc. b) the social world went through a systematic transgression of “civilized” taboos and their radical inversion (media produced) into taboos against the Otherness - against peace and tolerance, against contacts with the Other Body, against empathy, cross-connections, multi-ethnic friendships; mixed neighborhood, inter-ethnic marriages, individual emotions, etc. c) the depersonalization of the social life: the violent collectivity of the Nation, territory, origin, tradition, culture, etc. d) women as the unrepresentative Other in one’s own nation, and the representative Other and the target of violence of the enemy nation (the over-sexualisation of the other nation; the emasculation of the “warrior’s” male body as obedient servant, etc.
To what extent the pro-fascist cultural, political and psychological (public and private) etat d’esprit has been dominant in the political life of Serbia for more than the decade, shows the small document, entitled “I Confess” and made by Belgrade’s Women in Black in October 1998, on the occasion of the 7th year of their anti-war activity: