Reakcija Zagrebačkog ženskog lobbyija

 

RESPONSE to the letter signed by the four Bosnian and Croatian women's organizations ("Kareta", "Bedem ljubavi", "Zene BiH" - refugee women's group", "Biser - international Intiative of Women of Bosnia and Hercegovina") dated March 14th, 1993. 

The letter is about the Tour on Rape in Former Yugoslavia, sponsored by MADRE; a women's organization in New York.

FROM: VESNA KESIĆ & DJURDJA KNEZEVIĆ, "Women's Lobby", Zagreb.

 

For quite some time, strange "women and feminist" voices have been infiltrating international women's networks, trying to discredit us, our work and our organizations. At the begining, we thought not to respond to this acusations beliving that global gossiping and fighting between Croatian women's groups would not help neither women, nor would solve problems, and certainly would not help the victims of mass genocidal sexual violence in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

However, the last e-mail "Letter" from "Kareta & Others" sent in March cannot remain unanswered for several reasons. This "Letter" is a clear case study of political  labeling, and accusations for sins that were either not comitted or the things that are not sins at all. Furthermore, they were using a form of argument that undermines their credibility and has only one purpose: to deny people the right to their own way of thinking and interpreting. Moreover, keeping in mind the current rigid political situation in Croatia, the attack from this letter may even put in risk jobs in which accused people are employed..

"Kareta & Others" authoritatively pronounce themselves the only representatives, and  accountable partners to discuss and work on the problem of the war rape. They pathetically stressed their own admittance ("17 hours of work a day, and completely immersed in horror"), as the valuable argument for their exclusive status. At the same time they also express their concerns about the intentions of other groups, those to which we belong to.

There are plenty of vagueness in that "Letter” such as the question of  Who actually wrote it? Some of the signed women’s groups could not have worked "over one year" in March 1993, because they had only existed for a few months at the time of the letter’s writing and distribution. Some of them, such as "Bedem ljubavi" began to work at the beginning of the war in Croatia, but after the initial period when they were mainly saving their own sons from Yugoslav army they turned much too concerned with the political aims of the Croatian Government, such as international recognition of Croatia,  rather then with women, especially women victims of rape, and other forms of violence.
"Kareta & Others" are concerned with the fact that Center for Women War Victims has an "access to Western women's groups that wish to assist the survivors". How should we justify such a "sin"? It is certain that our project which began to work last November, received a lot of attention and approval from foreign women's groups and nongovernmental as well as governmental organizations. We strongly belive that this is because our project is autonomous, non-nationalistic, democratic, and oriented towards feminist and self-help organizing. We have never tried to discredit similar projects in Croatia. On the contrary,  we supplied information about all existing groups to anybody intrested and suggested them to work with any group on the basis of project rather then ideological suitability.

Maybe the fact that many refugees from Bosnia are also included in our group, and some of us also work 17 hours a day - is the "secret of our success".
We don't deny that "Kareta & Others" worked for more than a year to get international media attention, and funding. But what  was their agenda? The first news about the mass rapes, occurred last July after the big Serbian offensive in northern and eastern Bosnia, whose main strategic goal was "ethnic cleansing". Confirmed information were available only a couple of months later. We agree that "Kareta & Others" did a lot of publicity in Western media much earlier, although not always in the way we would support it ( in a sensational manner, using exaggerated and  inflated numbers such as - 200 000 raped women! 30 000 women who were impregnated by the war rapes, etc.). They were using the war rape as propaganda to create a picture of a "satanic" enemy. While they had a right to approach the issue from their own perspective and to express their feelings and beliefs about it, it was wrong and unethical to abuse one of the main working principles: the facts and data about women war-victims must not be manipulated and missused. From the very beginning of our work we refused to connect foreign media with women survivors, and to give our data to anybody, including Croatian government.
Kareta & Others" accused us as groups and as an individuals for being "formed and empowered during the communist regime". Besides the fact that most of us were born and grew up under a communist regime, which is difficult to change now, "Zagreb Women's Lobby" and "Center of Woman War Victims" were formed last November, and the authors of the "Letter" knew that very well. The truth is that we and most of our friends do have a long history of fighting for women's rights under communism, and intend to continue doing that under the present, nationalistc regime.

At the end of the seventies when we started the women's movement in ex-Yugoslavia,  we were accused by the political establishment of "importing decadent bourgeois ideology", and were sometimes brutally attacked. Ironically, now we are being  accused of "national treachery". Even more tragic fact is that just as much the official, "ideologically correct" women's organizations took part in witch hunting during the communism, the new "ideologicaly correct" women's groups are doing the same thing now.
If we would go that far in  accepting their approach, shouldn't we accuse "Kareta" of being the group "empowered during communism"? One of its members, Katarina Vidovic was a candidate on the communist party’s list for the 1990 elections. In addition, Kareta was headquartered in the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia: Karla Marxa Street bb. We and our groups never had such privileges and benefits during communism, but we were never tempted to think of this as significant.  "Kareta" just like everyone else, used the weakness  and  confusion of weakened communist regime, which, in the end, was liberal enough to allow and support funding of "radical feminist groups" in its building and under the cover of the official women's organizations. We are actually glad that our early engagement helped such development.

Or yet another example: aren't the real "profiters of communism" organizations like "Bedem ljubavi", which moved into the offices and took all the property of the ex-socialist "Conference for social activities of women"? This is what we end up doing when we start accusing people without taking into account the context in which events or facts exist.
"Kareta & Others" keep on repeating that rapes in Bosnia cannot be extricated from the context of the whole war in Bosnia. We certainly agree with that. But again, what is the "context" which they try to emphasize? They seemingly, deny all other interpretations and understanding of this tragic phenomenon outside the nationalistic one, and under the state-imposed ideological slogan: "We are the victims, they are the aggressor". Everything else--for instance, the legimate feminist approach, in which war rapes are viewed from a historical and global perspective (without denying that the purpose of mass Serbian military rape is genocide)--is forbidden because it differs from the single approved truth. Therefore "Kareta & Others" continually preach about the "historical uniqueness" of those rapes, although it is, unfortunately, known that around 700 000 German women were raped after the fall of Berlin 1945, and that around 400 000 children were born out of these atrocities. Many more other cases in history and all around the world can also be cited. Who will ever know how many women were raped by Nazis in the former Soviet Union. Approximatley 1 000 000 children were born as the result of rape. We also know of mass rapes in Korea, the Philippines, Nicaragua, etc. Why are the “authorized” Croatian women's and feminist groups so indifferent to these facts?
Somehow, women are the specfic victims of all wars, and rape is a universal weapon, which is always "strategically" used against them.
Why do "Kareta & Others" continually repeat the facts that mass rapes happened in Croatia too, when such (massive genocidal) rapes have not been confirmed by independent monitors? We are happy that such crimes did not happen during the war in Croatia. Is this also our sin? Obviously, some facts and interpretations are not welcomed in Croatia, where absolutely no independent media exists, and where people who don't want to accept the only and official truth are easily accused of being traitors, or, paradoxically, for being silent.

What was the real purpose of the letter sent by "Kareta & Others"? We think it was only to create controversy that would make any free discussion impossible, even outside of the country, and place home-grown lies and accusations without argument around the world. Maybe also some private resentments and vanities are involved. But, no matter how deep these resentments are, they should not have been made into an "international" incident. The accusations against Vesna Kesić, for being a porno-magazine journalist, and Djurdja Knezević, for being a director of the Museum of Communist Revolution, are intresting in that sense. Here as well the “Letter” is not using accurate facts. For instance, the museum’s actual name is "The Museum of Revolution of People of Croatia", and Djurdja Knezević became its director only during the transition form communism. So, she could not be a corrupted communist director of the state museum, as the "Letter" suggests. As  a director, she wanted to reconceptualize and rename it into the "War Museum". At least some people from "Kareta" should remember that she organized the comparative exhibition of "totalitarian political design", communist and fascist. Neither communists, nor nationalists liked this exhibition very much. It is not too much to mention that now this Museum, which despite everything was a monument of the antifascist appraisal of the people of Croatia, no longer exists, in any form. This is the Musem that stood in the middle of the Square of Victims of Fascism, which was unfortunately renamed the Square of Great Croatian Men immediately after Tudjman's electoral victory.

As for Vesna Kesić being a "porno-journalist, even occasionally editor". "Start", as everybody in Croatia knows, was a magazine illustrated with pin-up girls, something like "Playboy", "Esquire", or the German "Stern". It was much more known and accepted as the only liberal, life-style oriented magazine, not only in ex-Yugoslavia, but in all of Eastern Europe. Being under much looser ideological control and censorship than the rest of the press, "Start" was always on the edge of scandal. It was banned many times for political reasons because it attacked all sort of taboos, including sexual ones. For a long time (till the mid 1980's) "Start" was the only available forum for Yugoslav feminist writers, or for any topics outside party and state policy. Also, for a long time, it was the only one which was open to  international public figures where interviews with internationally known feminists like Shere Hite, Gloria Steinem, Daccia Maraini, and articles about the women's movement, gay and lesbian movement, and reports from Greenham Common were published. Even about  pornography itself was written critically. At least one of "Kareta & Others" should know this, because an article of her's was also published in "Start".
Pornography is pornography: we don't want to quarrel about that. But there is no doubt that it had a different function in ascetic, indoctrinated socialist society, "totalitarian" as the authors of the "letter" call it, that now, in "free" and "democratic"  Croatia. And now pornography is everywhere, even on the state-owned and controlled television. We never noticed "Kareta and Others" complaining about that or about new conservative tendencies such as initiatives to criminalize abortion.
Ironically again, during the same period when Vesna Kesić was an editor at "Start" (and after the multi-party elections), the pin-up girls finally disappeared from the magazine. Several issues afterwards, instead of naked women's bodies, the bright white smiling face of the Croatian cardinal appeared on the cover. This was symptomatic of all the recent political changes in Croatia. Soon after that Vesna Kesić resigned from her post of an editor in chief.

How far would any of our organizations get in helping women if we were to spend our time throwing around personal accusations? How can any of us profit from counting up whose fathers and boyfriends joined which armies and whose brothers emmigrated to escape proving their allegiances to the Croatian state?
These are some facts and images missing from the "Letter" to the "MOTHER COURAGE" tour sent by "Kareta & Others". We hope these facts that give to the present and past reality more depth than the authors of the letter provided.
Narrowing our historical memory, and selecting only the facts that we like are the first step to totalitarian thinking. At least we have learned that from our recent history. So, "what was the real intention of the Letter?" is still the question to be answered.


Vesna Kesić and Djurdja Knezević, New York. 21st of April 1993.