AFŽ Activists’ Biographies: An Intersectional Reading of Women’s Agency

Nardina Zubanović, Technical pen drawings


The experience of entering an archive is always an affective experience, an encounter. As Antoinette Burton notes, “history is not merely a project of fact-retrieval (…) but also a set of complex processes of selection, interpretation, and even creative invention – processes set in motion by, among other things, one’s personal encounter with the archive, the history of the archive itself, and the pressure of the contemporary moment on one’s reading of what is to be found there.”1 The process of history writing is always mediated by our assumptions, partiality and position. Faced with the vast array of material contained in the Antifascist Women’s Front (henceforth AFŽ) archive in Sarajevo, I chose to start from the published memoirs, photographs and oral history interviews, in order to establish a possible connection through personal stories, visual objects and sound, which could complement the research on digitalized documents – mainly organizational papers testifying the widespread, capillary work of the AFŽ after WW2. The richness of this archive allows for an affective connection with the stories of the women who were part of the AFŽ, while being aware that the encounter with their voices – or the voices of those close to them - has much to do with our own selection, interpretation and invention, or, in other words, with our own location.2

A figure that emerges prominently is the one of Vahida Maglajlić, the only Bosnian Muslim national heroine, who is remembered by her friends, family and comrades as an extraordinarily generous, lively and free-spirited comrade, a portrait confirmed by her beautiful short-haired photographs circulating on the web. The interview with her youngest brother Alija, in particular, made clear how much of her personality contributed to her activist choices, and also how much she did and how much more she could have done for other women, if she didn’t lose her life in the Resistance.3 It is very uncanny that we can still talk to those who lived Second World War. But we are not going to be able to talk to the people who witnessed the war and the Resistance indefinitely. And so I think that this archive is particularly significant, as a project that is still in the making and that is not closed, as a living archive of one of the most significant grassroots antifascist Resistance movements in Europe during World War Two, whose legacy has been increasingly marginalized and made invisible with the end of socialist Yugoslavia and with the growing hegemony of revisionist nationalist historiographies.

What is also not close – and will never be - is the issue of women’s emancipation, and of feminism, through time and space, and in the post-Yugoslav region more specifically. Through the archive we can find snippets and glimpses of women’s agency and of their long-lasting quest for social justice, freedom and equality during and after World War Two, as in the case of women from the Sreski odbor in Teslić, who asked in 1947 to be included in the reports of the AFŽ magazine Nova Žena published in Sarajevo, after repeatedly sending articles. They also specifically demanded more knitting models and advice on childcare, because that’s what local women felt was most useful.4 Within the dominant interpretative framework of women’s history during socialism, this report, as well as others, could be read solely as an as immediate proof of patriarchal consciousness, and as socialism’s failure to undermine prescribed gender roles.5 As I argue in this essay, however, it is important to look beyond, and to resist reading the complexity of women’s lives in the WW2 and immediate post-war era through simplified narratives about the success or failure of socialist emancipation, or through the presence of absence of authentic agency.6 Through the archive, we can, instead, understand in depth the ambivalence and complexity of that time. It is hard to imagine today the degree of poverty and exploitation experienced by most women across Yugoslavia in the mid-1940s, and how powerful and appealing must have been the newly emerging gendered imaginaries, which associated women’s emancipation to peace, freedom from foreign occupation, literacy, work, and a clean, healthy home. As AFŽ activists quickly learned, however, centuries-old patriarchy could not be easily undone, and was intimately tied to women’s deprivation, such as in the case of a Muslim woman in Visoko in 1947, who said she would have been happy to leave the full face-veil, but had nothing else to wear for the time being.7 Similar details can give a measure of women’s lives and struggles in that time, and help us to understand the contradictions of women’s history in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a history that has been less prominent within the literature on women’s and feminist movements in the post-Yugoslav space, which has itself been in the making during the last two decades.8 By engaging with the AFŽ archive, we get to know the complex, fragmented and uneven history of women’s engagement, and we encounter women who were often the bravest of that generation, or simply those who happened to find themselves in a certain intolerable situation, and tried to do something about social injustice, the persecution of others, and their own survival. Our engagement with their engagement is a way to counter the invisibility of the antifascist legacy, and of its impact on women’s lives.9

In this article, I am reading the experience of the AFŽ through the lenses of intersectionality, that is, through a feminist research methodology that considers gender relations in intersection with other relevant factors of social differentiation such as class, geographical location, ethnicity, age, nationality and sexual orientation.10 I analyse women’s biographical differences within the organization, and the ways in which the AFŽ functioned in fact as a bridge between women of different geographical locations, educational backgrounds, ethnicities, classes and political experiences, promoting new forms of solidarity and new life opportunities against patriarchal oppression, but also reproducing new hierarchies and forms of control over prescribed women’s roles, for instance in the case of veiled Muslim women. Throughout the article, on the basis of different material (archives, oral history interviews, and published sources), I consider how women’s individual stories were tied to the collective framework of gendered “modernity” and “backwardness” promoted by the organization, and how differences among women had a role in the articulation of AFŽ practices dedicated to the construction of modern and emancipated femininities after 1945.

The hierarchical difference between a minority of urban, educated, politicized AFŽ leaders and the peasant and working class women who constituted the rank-and-file base of this organization is characteristic of wartime and post-war women’s mass activism in Yugoslavia. Differences among women are also a key to understand the organization of AFŽ archives across the post-Yugoslav space. As Zagreb historian Lydia Sklevicky has shown in her seminal work, antifascist women’s organizations were hierarchically structured, in a pyramidal way.11 A fundamental distinction existed between the politicized women who constituted the avant-garde of women’s organizations (the “emancipated” or “enlightened”) and the (peasant, working class or uneducated) “feminine masses”. The organization itself was functioning through village or city committees composed of ordinary members, who would then elect delegates to the county and regional committees, which were in turn united under the republican and federal committees. Archival sources are reflecting such organization: next to the representative, agit-prop documents (programmatic statements, speeches given during mass meetings and public occasions, or the press), we find the more reflexive, internal debates, such as transcriptions of central committees and internal reports produced by the local and intermediate cadres of the organizations, who are reconstructing the conditions and problems of a specific area.12 The local, republican and federal AFŽ cadres, therefore, were waging a battle against what they defined as “backward” conceptions of the position of women, encountering fierce resistance from men and party authorities at the local level, but also from women themselves, since very different femininities co-existed and conflicted in Yugoslavia during World War Two and in the immediate post-war period.13 In the next sections, I will explore a number of women’s individual biographies, in relation to gendered imaginaries of tradition and modernity, and in relation to women’s factors of social differentiation within the organization.

Women’s agency between “progressiveness” and “backwardness”

Several biographical collections on the lives of female partisans and activists were published during the socialist era, strongly emphasizing women’s bravery, party loyalty and sacrifice for the liberation of the country. In turn, the scholarly works published after 1989 generally dealt with women’s experiences from a gendered perspective, on the basis of the new feminist paradigm of women’s history. While U.S. historian Barbara Jancar-Webster interviewed former partisans for her monograph on women in the Yugoslav resistance, Zagreb scholar Lydia Sklevicky conducted in depth archival research on the AFŽ during World War Two and in the post-1945 era. The general interpretative framework of these work tends to emphasize communist party and state control over women’s mobilizations, documenting in particular antifascist women’s gradual loss of autonomy during the consolidation of the socialist regime.14 The dissolution of the AFŽ in 1953 is read as the ultimate proof of such process.15 While feminist critiques of patriarchal structures during the socialist era are very valuable, the tendency to see women’s interests as inevitably opposed to state and party interests has the result of undermining the subjective break in traditional gender roles represented by women’s participation to the partisan struggle and by their activism within the AFŽ. This dominant narrative also tends to undermine and dismiss women’s agency, especially when it comes to AFŽ leaders. Jancar-Webster writes, for instance, that:

For a while, women communists experienced the power and responsibility that derived from creating and turning the AFZ into an effective service and procurement organization in the rear. When they were called to account and told to turn the organization into a communist-style mass organization, they did as they were told. The women who sacrificed their lives to defeat the invaders and protect their homes were in a very real sense victims of the Party that called them to its standard.16

In the rest of the passage, the author associates women’s lack of autonomy in the AFŽ to women’s powerlessness in socialist Yugoslavia, and to gender violence during the Yugoslav wars, framing Yugoslav women’s lives in terms of constant victimization, from World War Two until the present. In her recent and thoroughly researched monograph, Jelena Batinić has similarly argued that partisan authorities skillfully managed to adapt their language to the daily needs of peasant and illiterate women, while at the same time considering women a reserve army in the antifascist mobilization, and while being unable to dispel traditional gender roles in combat units and in the organization of the mass resistance. Ultimately, her monograph does not challenge existing interpretations of women’s participation to the Resistance and of women’s activism in the AFŽ.17. As a result of such interpretations, AFŽ militants’ biographies, agency and subjective processes of politicization remain under-researched, notably when it comes to leaders and intermediate cadres, who were invested with leadership tasks during World War Two and in its aftermath. Lydia Sklevicky, for instance, explicitly rejected oral history with former participants, who were still retaining public authority at that time: “Most of the women participants, usually the ones who were the high-ranking members of the organization and still held considerable positions of power afterwards, are eager to present their own experiences, visions and memories as the only true version.”18

While these interpretations have the merit of cautioning us against an excessively romantic image of the AFŽ experience, they also ultimately undermine women’s roles as organizational and political leaders, and their different degrees of agency in promoting new gender imaginaries that attempted to establish a “universalizing” discourse of women’s equality across classes, geographical locations and ethnicities. They also conceal that new possibilities for political engagement, education and labor emerged after World War Two, allowing masses of women to undertake different choices, and making possible an unprecedented generational break in women’s self-determination as citizens and workers. As I have shown in my dissertation, new political discourses and practices of women’s activism in the Cold War era had a transnational character and went beyond Cold War borders.19

Patriarchy, or, in other words, male domination within public structures and in the private sphere, certainly did not cease to exist despite the official socialist politics of women’s emancipation. Discourses and practices of women’s emancipation had uneven effects, primarily due to the pre-existing strong household patriarchal traditions and unevenness of women’s lives across the region, but also due to the creation of new forms of social differentiation.20 As different documentary movies have shown, beside the traditional and widespread double burden, women’s experiences of gender (in)equality and social mobility during socialism were very much influenced by their biographical trajectory, and particularly by their education, class and family politics.21 Despite the ideal of Yugoslavia as a classless society, different forms of capital (political, social, economic and cultural) shaped the extent to which women could take advantage of the new possibilities opened to them in the field of education and labor. Moreover, a “wrong” political or religious background could compromize such advancements, while educated women in key positions risked incurring into harsh political repression at times of turmoil, as it happened after the Soviet-Yugoslav split.22

What I am arguing here, therefore, is for a more nuanced assessment of women’s participation within the AFŽ, one that takes into account intersecting factors of social differentiation and their constant fluidity, rather than assuming an immediate opposition between “women” and “the state,” particularly in a context of highly fragmented and decentralized state power. A biographical and intersectional approach also allows us to map the continuities between women’s engagement within feminist organizations and cultural associations in the interwar period, and their leadership within the AFŽ during wartimes and in the post-war era, avoiding a paradigm of absolute discontinuity between «feminist» and «proletarian» women’s movements.23 Another element of continuity, is the interpretative framework of modernity vs. backwardness which read gender relations in rural areas, and particularly among Muslim communities, as an ultimate sign of backwardness and as a result of feudal Ottoman oppression. This framework existed already in the interwar era, and became particularly strong throughout the AFŽ existence in the post-war period.24 Female activists, therefore, found themselves at the crossroads of these contradictions, between different conditions of political engagement, and between different injunctions related to modern vs. backward ways of living. Women’s individual aspirations to education, work and marriage intersected with new forms of collective organizing and new utopian gendered imaginaries. Poverty and social justice were also strong elements of motivation when it came to paths of engagement. In the rest of this section, therefore, I will provide some biographical material that illustrate the complex political trajectories of female activists, particularly for women of Muslim background. I will also provide two examples in which education and class were an important gateway to political engagement, to illustrate how different factors of social differentiation played a role in women’s mobilization. These examples are not meant to be representative of the whole situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina or in the rest of Yugoslavia, also since the available published and archival sources are privileging the perspectives of female leaders rather than the ones of rank-and-file members. Rather, through these case studies I aim to suggest that intersectional and biographical approaches might be productive for new fresh perspectives and interpretations of the AFŽ archival legacy.

When looking at AFŽ activists’ aspirations towards personal freedom and equality, Vahida Maglajlić (1907-1943) deserves to be recalled.25 The eldest of ten siblings, born in Banja Luka in a respected Muslim family, whose father was the local kadija, or judge, Vahida expressed a strong, lively personality since her youth, when she was first a tomboy and then a highly skilled weaver and tailor. After finishing a girls’ only vocational school, she dreamt of continuing her studies at the teachers’ high school in Zagreb. Her father, however, did not allow her to study further, while her brothers were all studying and specializing in different professions. Her activist brother Efrem, however, started to bring her clandestine left-wing literature, which she would read avidly, secretly from her father, gradually becoming a communist activist. Due to her free-spirited attitude, Vahida quickly abandoned the full face-veil (zar) and even cut her hair short to the dismay of her parents, following the fashion of the times. She had a strong influence on other Muslim women and girls, whom she frequently encouraged to pursue an education, and with whom she organized a number of excursions through cultural associations such as Gajret. Shortly before the war, she became the secretary and then the president of Ženski Pokret, the women’s association in which young left-wing women organized before engaging in clandestine partisan work. The kadija house in Banja Luka became a core site of antifascist activities under Ustasha occupation. Vahida Maglajlić, together with other notable comrades such as Dušanka Kovačević and Rada Vranješević, frequently used the full veil as a device for hiding and for secret meetings with other clandestine fighters. Vahida was eventually arrested and tortured, but managed to escape from the local prison into the liberated territory.26 Before being killed by German troops in April 1943, Vahida was especially engaged with Muslim women in the area of Cazin, mobilizing them in support of the partisan movement. She was elected as part of the The Central Committee of the AFŽ during its first conference in the liberated area of Bosanski Petrovac in December 1942.

The position of Muslim women became particularly sensitive in the post-war era, also due to the complex political position of Muslim citizens during World War Two.27 In the late 1940s, the AFŽ engaged in the campaign against the zar or feredža, a garment which covered face and body, equivalent to today’s burqa, which culminated in several laws against the full face-veil across Yugoslavia in 1950 and 1951, at a time in which “the simultaneous harnessing of religion and liberation of women became a potent symbol of progress and modernity.“28 The veil was strongly Orientalized and negatively associated with the historical legacy of the Ottoman empire.29 A biography that fully showcases the ambivalences of women’s emancipation in the post-war era is the one of Didara Dukazdjini, a seventeen-year-old ethnic Albanian girl raised in a wealthy family in the town of Prizren, who was told by her father that she had to abandon her feredža/ferexhe, the full Islamic veil that covered her head and face when she ventured outside the house.30 The local communist authorities had invited the most important families in town to set the example, in order to establish the new socialist values in the traditional and underdeveloped region of Kosovo.

In 1947 a Party directive arrived, about convincing the most influential people in the city of the necessity for women to take off their veils (…) My father was present in the first of those meetings, and immediately made a decision: his daughter was going to take off the veil. Of course, he did not ask my opinion. My father’s decision seemed to me the most horrible punishment. I was shocked, stunned, with no force to oppose him when he told me that he had given his word to the local Party committee. I cried all night. I was seventeen. I wanted to get married and I did not want to be different from other girls of my age.31

Didara was shocked by her father’s decision. She thought she could not survive the shame of going out “naked” in the streets. Upon deciding that she had to take off the veil, her father also decided that she would enroll in a teacher training course. Three months later, Didara obtained employment as a teacher, since for the literacy campaign, literate workers who could teach in the different villages of Kosovo were in great demand. Two years later, at age nineteen, Didara fell in love with Toša, a Serbian communist militant, who proposed to her: “Communist from head to toe, he did not care at all about the difference in our national backgrounds”32 In order to marry the man she loved, and in order to avoid an arranged marriage with an Albanian man, Didara had to escape from her father’s house, severing relations with her parents for several years to come. She later became a member of the AFŽ, and as “living example” of women’s emancipation, she was sent to different villages to recruit other Albanian women for the activities of the Popular Front. While the case of Didara is exceptional, it is also an illustration of the extraordinary social and political transformations that took place in Yugoslavia in the immediate post-war period, and of the implications they had for women.

The AFŽ archives from Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also from other former Yugoslav republics, indeed testifies of the strong interest for education and improvement in living standards expressed by women of different ethnicities, also as a result of the new opportunities available to them, and as a result of the efforts placed by the AFŽ in grassroots literacy programs, sanitation campaigns and attempts to reduce infant mortality in rural areas. At the same time, campaigns such as the one against the full veil were received with mixed feelings, since they subverted traditional communal ways of life. The fact that women’s illiteracy was widespread in former Ottoman territories such as Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo, enhanced the connection between “backwardess, religion (especially, but not only, Islam) and female oppression” in the eyes of AFŽ leaders.33 The laws against the veil, therefore, was often read by Muslim women themselves as specific threat against their community, reinforcing the separation between Muslim women and AFŽ activists of different ethnic origin. Similar perceptions, for instance, are documented for Muslim women in the Sandjak province of Serbia, who openly described their shame at having to abandon the veil in public.34 In one of the few autobiographies from the region that was translated into English, Sanđak-born scientist Munevera Hadžišehović (born 1933) recalls similarly feelings of discrimination and isolation as a result of her Muslim background, while also noting the support received by the socialist state, first as a promising student, then as a scientist employed by a public research institute in Belgrade, and finally as a single mother in the 1970s and 1980s.35

These biographical accounts of upper class women of Muslim background provide a glimpse of the contradictions and ambivalences that were at stake in the rapid process of social modernization which affected women in socialist Yugoslavia from 1945 onwards, and also allow us to see that a variety of intersecting social factors were affecting individual life trajectories. Two other important factors that led to political engagement were education and class. Young students were highly represented in the antifascist movements, as highlighted by the biographies of other women heroes from Bosnia-Herzegovina, such as students Dragica Pravica (1919-1943) and Radojka Lakić (1917-1941), and student and clerk (for lack of possibility of becoming a teacher) Rada Vranješević (1914-1944). An interesting figure in this group is Sida Marjanovic (born 1921 in Bosanski Alexandrovac near Banja Luka), a former student of the gymnasium in Mostar and of the conservatory in Banja Luka, member of the communist youth and member of the resistance. She worked first as nurse, then as a political worker, and finally she was in charge of radio programs and publications until the Bosanski Petrovac conference of 1942. Afterwards, she was engaged in establishing AFŽ sections on the Kozara mountain in both liberated and occupied territory. During the struggle, she witnessed the death of Vahida Maglajlić and other comrades in April 1943 and gave birth to a daughter in October 1943.36 After the war she was vice-president of the Republican Committee and the secretary of the AFŽ in the city of Banja Luka. She continued to work in the media and became the director of Bosnafilm, authoring several engaged documentaries and successively writing the script for the well-known partisan movie The Battle of Neretva, a battle she had herself witnessed.37 She later became a diplomat specialized in cultural exchanges, and was the first president of the Association of Film-Makers of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Beside teachers and students, the antifascist movement was also joined by women who became politicized through working class circles and trade unions. Due to women’s concentration in the garment sector, textile workers were especially active in the antifascist movement in the interwar period, and were at the head of several strikes.38 A prominent figure in this sense was Judita Alargić (Novi Sad 1917), who got radicalized as a textile worker in the interwar period and was successively occupying important political tasks within the party and the AFŽ during and after the war. She was the only female representative from Vojvodina at the Bosanski Petrovac conference where she became part of the AFŽ Central Committee.39 She continued to be active in socialist women’s organizations, The Union of Women’s Association of Yugoslavia (SŽD) and Conference for the Social Activities of Women of Yugoslavia (KDAŽ), after 1953. Despite her high political position, she kept being interested in the fate of female workers, as proven by her intervention during a 1954 SŽD leaders’ meeting, in which she lamented that women in the garment industry were working in terrible conditions for miserable wages, with no one to take care of their children: “in any other system these workers would strike, but this is a socialist country and people understand the situation. We are however indebted to help them as much as we can.”40

This last quote points at the contradictions of the socialist system when it came to addressing class and gender inequalities, something of which female activists were deeply aware. In the next section, I will consider how ethnic and class differences among women were tackled by the Antifascist Women’s Front in the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially when dealing with women living in rural areas. I will also look at the differences between socialist ideals and social reality, namely at the tension between the idealized model of the new socialist woman (literate, working, politically active) and women’s widespread illiteracy and political passivity. Again, I am interested here in an intersectional reading of women’s agency, and at the ways in which differences in class, ethnicity and education shaped the discourses and practices of the AFŽ.

Sunita Fišić, Ink drawing

Socialist ideals and social reality: AFŽ activists’ work on the ground

In the post-war era, antifascist female activists were still motivated by the strong militant ethos that emerged during the antifascist Resistance. The values of constant activism and self-sacrifice for the liberation of the country had led to the partisans’ victory, also largely thanks to women’s political participation. Mass mobilization, therefore, continued to be seen as a necessary tool to reconstruct a devastated country and to strengthen the so-called gains of the revolution, namely the radical transformation of class and property relations against political and class enemies. After 1945, following the Soviet model, Yugoslav leaders were increasingly radical when it came to the propagation of class struggle on a national and international level, and this eventually led to contrasts with the Soviet leadership. The Soviet-Yugoslav split of June 1948 enhanced this radical stance, at least in its immediate aftermath, when Yugoslavia found itself isolated internationally, and in need to mobilize the population in support of its authorities. The late 1940s and early 1950s, therefore, were times in which a high degree of political mobilization and social control was promoted by the authorities, with “passivity” figuring as one of the greatest sins when it came to the political realm. Politicized female leaders, generally raised in urban areas and more educated than the vast majority of the female population, with a long experience of militancy since the interwar period, carried on the ethos of self-sacrifice and constant political mobilization, and were keen to propagate their values among “the female masses.”

So, what was the idealized image of the socialist “new woman” propagated by the AFŽ and how was it enforced on the ground? What were the activists’ expectations and how did they meet with the reality of women’s lives across the country, particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina? The women’s press, with its agit-prop character, can give us an idea here of such projections and imaginaries. One significant editorial by Bogomir Brajković, published in Nova Žena shortly before the liberation, appealed to the Croatian women of Bosnia-Hercegovina, stating that many of them had already joined the partisan struggle, while another part of the Croatian community had trouble to follow the right political path. The editorial explicitly stated that Croatian and Muslim women were on the same level of backwardness than Serbian women in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but that Serbian women has managed to elevate themselves in the course of the partisan struggle. Serbian women were characteristically more prominent in the struggle in Bosnia, also due to their harsh persecution under the collaborationist regime of the Independent State of Croatia of which Bosnia was part.41 Croatian women from BiH were invited to join the struggle in order to elevate themselves as well, following the example of Croatian women from Croatia, who strongly contributed to the Resistance in Istria, Lika, Slavonia and Dalmatia. Croatian women were explicitly invited to establish a sisterhood with Muslim and Serbian women, in the name of the common victimization suffered at the hands of a common enemy (the occupying Axis forces and the local collaborationist forces).42 On the one hand, the AFŽ magazine was attempting to alleviate ethnic conflicts among women, and to act, as Jelena Batinić writes, as a “transethnic mediator,”43 promoting what will be officially defined as the doctrine of “brotherhood and unity”. On the other hand, ethnic divides had to be taken into account when designing strategies for women’s interethnic mass mobilization.

Differences among women, however, were not only shaped by ethnicity, but also, more importantly, by their degree of political awareness, which also often overlapped with ethnic belonging, as in the case of Croatian and Serbian women mentioned above. In a Nova Žena editorial from 1946, the writer reflected on the fact that women had become a true political force. Still, many of them could not be considered antifascists, to the distress of the most engaged activists who attempted to mobilize them. The author argued that depoliticized women had to be approached with understanding and care, since even those who were passive or behaving in an oppositional way had also been victimized by fascism. Their stance was mainly due to ignorance or to the negative influence of family members, especially in the case of peasant or working class women. Only a few women were to be considered authentic “enemies” (neprijatelji), and these were collaborationist women of loose morals, or class enemies, mainly women who had lived off the work of others in old Yugoslavia, and wanted to turn back time to pre-war conditions. The article also summoned antifascist women to show less “sectarianism”, especially when it came to Serbian female activists, who showed mistrust towards Muslim or Croatian women who had acquired political responsibility.44 Class struggle was supposed to supersede existing ethnic hatred and divisions, with women being invited to jointly mobilize for the common good. At the same time, political awareness had to be shared among women of different political orientations, in the attempt to gain the sympathy of female citizens who had been at the margins of public life.

The late 1940s witnessed a truly capillary effort on the part of the AFŽ to create the preconditions for women’s activism through mass literacy campaigns, as well as through massive recruitment in voluntary labor brigades and in the new industrial labor force. AFŽ members were also engaged in the creation of welfare structures for orphans, maternity clinics, and in the opening of crèches for female workers and their children. By sharing cultural, economic and political capital among so-called backward women, AFŽ leaders aimed to expand the socialist regime’s legitimacy among women, and to make use of women’s work for purposes of reconstruction and mobilization. Yet, the weakness of political “cadres” at the local level was very often apparent, and so was the fact that the organization could not reach and involve all women – especially women in rural areas – across the country. Despite their socialist ideals, which strongly emerge in propaganda material such as the women’s press, AFŽ leaders were deeply aware of the difficulties in changing women’s position. During a plenum of the AFŽ’s Republican Committee of BiH held in March 1948, prominent Bosnian leader Dušanka Kovačević lamented that the organization had not managed to reach all women, especially in villages, due to the gap between urban and rural realities. Kovačević explicitly stated that the organization had to take into account, and make use of, peasant women’s agency:

Comrades, what I notice in this meeting is the relation towards the peasant woman, some comrades said that peasant women are illiterate, that they are not skilled, and so on. We cannot talk like this, comrades. We cannot talk about the inability of peasant women, we cannot and won’t listen to that, it’s not possible to always put the issue in terms of ‘if we would have more urban women, more teachers, it would be easier’. See instead what we should do. We want to make political cadres out of peasant women. The peasant woman showed during war what she was able to do, she gave a lot during the war, she is a big patriot of our country, and she needs knowledge. This is our debt towards that woman and we can help her. We should struggle to raise more village cadres. 45

This speech testifies that AFŽ leaders were aware of the potential of peasant women’s agency. Creating cadres in villages, however, appeared extremely difficult, since the most talented activists often moved from AFŽ cells to local institutions, preferring to work for the People’s Liberation Front than among women (an issue also analyzed in depth by Sklevicky).46 Oftentimes, notable male party members resisted the wives’ participation in the work of the organization, and opposed the work of the AFŽ at the local level.47 The reports from the town of Vareš, for instance, well exemplify similar phenomena.48 Generally, local peasant AFŽ members were village housewives, with three or four years of education, who had become politicized during the war, due to war losses and involvement of family members. Their political level, however, did not always appear satisfactory, particularly when it came to leadership skills. In a list of biographical sketches of AFŽ members who attended a political course in Sarajevo, many students were described as inadequate to take up a cadre position (rukovodilac). Inadequacies most often stemmed from lack of education, or limitations due to personal character, which made leadership difficult (“tiha”, “šutljiva”, “voli intrigirati”, “ne voli da diskutuje”, “nedisciplinovana”, “nije dovoljno bistra”, “prilično zaostala, skoro je skinula zar”). Women who were too young, too old, or in bad health were also considered unable to direct the local section, and so were those with unconventional morals (“nesređen porodični život”). Many candidates showed potential for political work, but needed help and further learning and studying. Generally, but not always, there was a correlation between years of schooling, willingness to learn and the possibility of being selected as a local leader. The ideal new female village cadre, thus, had to be outspoken, disciplined, hard-working, willing to learn and willing to help others.49

Seen these difficulties in creating local cadres, and in order to bridge the gap between urban and rural realities, AFŽ leaders placed a great attention towards education and transformations in overall living standards, seeing an immediate connection between women’s emancipation and social development in village communities. A speech by AFŽ president Vida Tomšič sent by the Central Committee (Centralni Odbor) in Belgrade to the Republican Committee (Glavni Odbor) of BiH in September 1948, for instance, stated that women’s backwardness was a legacy of old Yugoslavia, and that’s what made work among women so important. Talking in her name and in the name of other AFŽ leaders, she stated:

We have to teach our woman to hate her inequality (neravnopravnost), still hidden in thousands of cases behind the feredža and other, though less visible habits, we have to liberate the masses of our women from the superstition, various predjudices and so on..Equally, through the work of our organisation we need to clean, paint, wash our houses, throw out the medieval customs, put the beds inside the houses, teach women how to keep the place clean and maintain the basic hygiene conditions (…) we cannot imagine the construction of socialism without, at the same time, raising the aspirations to improve the life of our working masses, in particular those in villages.50

The need to promote women’s education, as well as hygienic norms, was also related to the very high rates of infant mortality across the country, and to the socialist state’s aspiration to provide its citizens, and especially women, children and war invalids, with social protection and assistance. A great part of AFŽ work, therefore, consisted in educational activities that had the aim to propagate new daily habits and to raise the living standards of the population. The faith placed by prominent AFŽ activists into peasant women’s agency and ability to improve their daily lives is perhaps best illustrated by the biography of another notable figure active in the organization, namely Rajka Borojević. A teacher and partisan from Herzegovina, she took shelter with her husband and two children in rural Serbia during the war, and felt indebted to the local peasant population. After founding the Vitaminka food processing factory in Banja Luka, together with her husband, she moved to the village of Donji Dubac in the early 1950s, and started her first workshops with peasant women in 1954. Later she founded the Dragačevo weavers’ cooperative, which employed 420 women in the early 1960s.51

A member of the plenum of the Central Committee of the AFŽ in the late 1940s, Rajka Borojević had already led cultural-political courses for peasant women in Banja Luka. During the plenum in Sarajevo mentioned earlier, she reported on such courses, describing the program designed for female villagers. The women attended conferences, visited children’s homes, a home for invalids as well as many factories, where they met “many female shock-workers about whom they had heard previously, but without believing their stories when they were told at conferences”. The villagers also saw how books and newspapers were printed, and were taken to the theatre, the cinema and various political events. They were also “placed in the different homes of the best activists, so that they could see how to cook, how to raise children, something that is lacking in the villages.”52 Borojević also discussed issues of schooling and the situation in the orphanages, which she invited AFŽ activists to visit in order to provide war orphans with the love and warmth they missed, since their parents had sacrificed themselves for the liberation of the country. A similar combination of pedagogy, ethics of care and solidarity is present in Borojević’s later biographical account of her work in Donji Dubac in the mid-1950s, where she recalls the difficulties she faced when starting the first workshops with local peasant women in the Serbian countryside. The author recalls her feelings when she arrived for the first time in the village after the war:

I am especially glad because once again, like during the war, I feel closeness with these people. I’m thinking of how I could help them. This idea is not new. I have it since the war days. I brought it here - as a promise to myself. I am the closest to women. They are increasingly coming to see me. Coated, dressed up as during a holiday. They entrust me with their difficulties. I advise how best I can. I show them household tasks, I talk about the care and upbringing of children. I realize it all happens in bits and pieces.53

The rest of the diary retells Borojević’s encounter with local customs and superstitions, detailing her daily struggle against peasant women’s lack of hygienic norms when it comes to childbirth, childrearing and daily living. It took Rajka Borojević a long time to convince local husbands that they course would be beneficial for their wives. The activist even publicly denounced one of the husbands who had beaten up his wife for taking part in the course, through an article in the Belgrade daily Politika (she, however, omitted his name, threatening him that she would have revealed it if he would do it again). Her classes in Donji Dubac included a theoretical part (hygiene of the home, women’s hygiene and sexual education, first aid, childcare, alcoholism, food, etiquette) and a practical part (cooking, serving, preparing preserves, making soap, dying textiles, knitting and sewing, collecting aromatic and medical plants, beekeeping, cultivation of raspberry, handwork, singing).54 Women walked several miles from various surrounding villages to attend. From the village, they were even taken to study visits in Belgrade, where they went to the cinema for the first time in their lives, and later to Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Kumrovec (Tito’s birthplace) and Zagreb. In the early 1960s, the Dragačevo weaving cooperative was launched, to increase women’s economic independence in the community. Women’s position in the village gradually improved, and in 1967, the newly founded House of Culture even hosted the finals of the “best husband” competition, during which women openly assessed the most respectable prospective mate, as shown in the original documentary from that time.55 The building itself had been funded with self-organized “best husband” parties in the surrounding villages. 56

Rajka Borojević’s activism, which started within the AFŽ and continued well beyond the demise of the organization in 1953, well exemplifies the combination of utopian imaginaries, collective values and individual aspirations which animated left-wing leaders in their attempt to emancipate women – especially village women – across Yugoslavia. A number of women who had come out of the partisan experience embraced socialist values and strived to improve women’s position, particularly from a social and economic perspective, in line with the idea that overall social progress had to be achieved also through the improvement in women’s conditions. While elements of social control and top-down emancipation were present, AFŽ activists were also aware of the situation on the ground, and of the gap between socialist ideals and reality, which they tried to bridge as best as they could, sharing social, economic and cultural capital with other women.


This essay provided an intersectional reading of women’s position within the AFŽ, arguing for the need to further explore women’s social differences in order to understand the complexity of women’s positions within the organization. The paper strives to overcome dominant interpretations of AFŽ organizational dynamics, which mainly focus on the opposition between women’s and state’s interests, and discusses instead the individual biographies of some key activist figures (Vahida Maglajlić, Didara Dukazdjini, Sida Marjanović, Judita Alargić and Rajka Borojević), in order to show the importance of women’s subjective aspirations to equality, freedom and social justice, and the ways in which they were translated into collective political engagement. As I argue in the paper, the AFŽ was not only an instrument of political mobilisation and social control, but also a mean to exercise solidarity and care, by sharing cultural, political and social capital among women. AFŽ leaders, who were generally educated, politically experienced and whose engagement was embedded in the revolutionary ethos of the partisan Resistance, strived to promote their values among illiterate, apolitical women, and to bridge the gap between urban and rural words. Hierarchies between politically active and passive women were established, especially when it came to Muslim women, who were specifically singled out as backward and forced to abandon their veils. Nonetheless, because of peasant women’s contribution to the antifascist struggle, their social and political agency was recognized, while ethnic and religious identities were not seen as fixed, but as something that could be gradually transformed through education, knowledge and political engagement. AFŽ activists themselves had experienced these transformations, and were keen to provide similar opportunities to other women.

Among AFŽ members, therefore, there were fundamental differences in terms of ethnicity, class, political background and education, as well as different degrees of political and social agency. Yet, the organization encouraged women to cross boundaries, from the city to the countryside and back, across national groups and across class differences. AFŽ activists propagated the socialist ideal of women’s equality and emancipation against all odds, through alphabetization courses, courses about hygiene, voluntary work brigades, and various means of local mobilization. The AFŽ archive testifies of the richness of such capillary activities, since the reports from the ground are extremely detailed and precise, providing a precious source for women’s history. The archive material can help us reconstructing differences between communes, regions and republics, so that in fact the AFŽ archives can be used to compare women’s conditions across the unevenly developed Yugoslav federation. The archive also allows us to study how federal directives on women’s emancipation were translated and negotiated at the local level. Women’s individual life paths and stories, as shown in this essay, are another crucial theme that deserves to be explored further, through a combination of archive material, oral history, memoirs and secondary literature published during the socialist era. While the memoirs, biographies and compilations of stories on female partisans that were written during socialism are generally dismissed as ideologically biased and hagiographic, they can nonetheless provide useful historical information on the dominant values and imaginaries of that time. I will conclude this essay with a last passage from Rajka Borojević’s autobiography, which makes clear the value of memoirs for historical research, and highlights the utopian values that animated AFŽ leaders:

The Belgrade – Bar railway will also connect these villages to bigger centers. The highway Belgrade – Titovo Užice will be half shorter than the one going through Kragujevac. Roads, railways, houses, schools, power lines…they go further and further, deeper into the hills and in the former remote areas. The time will come when a stranger will wonder if Dubac really was a remote village. The villages are changing faster and faster. These ones as well. The electrification already changed them so much. And in the villages, inevitably, what is new is replacing the old. It’s now possible to reach Busenjači by walk, only with half an hour walk, that’s right. I sing and I remember those very, very had travels and the hard work. There were way many. That is the destiny of pioneers. But the fight for the new, and for the better, is beautiful! New women are really blossoming, and that’s why I am happy.57


1 Antoinette M. Burton, Archive stories: facts, fictions, and the writing of history. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005, 7-8. 
2 Chiara Bonfiglioli, “Nomadic Theory as an Epistemology for Transnational Feminist History” in Iris van der Tuin and Bolette Blagaard, eds., The Subject of Rosi Braidotti, London. Bloomsbury, 2014.
3 Andreja Duganžić i Adela Jušić, “Intervju sa Alijom Maglajlićem,” Archive of antifascist struggle of women of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia, accessed on October 6th, 2016.,
4 “In our opinion, at least one of the issues to be dealt with in the section dedicated to our village should relate to the interests of our comrades living in villages: housekeeping, generally on women mothers and children, washing, cooking possibilities feasible for them. From the conversation with our comrades we found out it would be desirable that the Nova Žena publishes various sewing patterns and other things useful for it. (…) Comrades like when the children are being written about. One mother says: impatiently I look forward to each new Nova Žena because there are very useful advices about children. Following the advice from Nova Žena, I liberated my children from gilt , so harmful for their gentle organism. Our comrades wonder, how i sit that much is written on other counties, but nothing on Teslić, nothing, as if we were sleeping. We sent few articles for the New Žena, but until today nothing about us came out“ Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH, ‘Sreski odbor Teslić Zemaljskom odboru AFŽ-a – povjerenstvo za štampu’, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 3, f. 1178/1, 1947.
5 In anthropological terms, patriarchy defines societies based on the domination of men over women and children, in terms of authority, property and labor. Historically, families in the Balkans are patrilineal and based on male authority over the extended household. In more recent times, the term patriarchy has been strongly re-associated to Balkan societies after the emergence of new nationalist regimes and after the gendered violence occurred during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Socialist regimes in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, in turn, have often been defined by local feminist scholars as a form of “state patriarchy”, in which the state exercised control over women’s productive labor, while being unable to transform men’s control over women’s bodies and labor in the private sphere (see notably the works of Žarana Papić and of Mihaela Miroiu on Romania). Such critiques, however, were also often read by Western scholars through pre-existing Cold War stereotypes, and gradually crystallized in what Kristen Ghodsee and Kateřina Lišková define as “common knowledge”, namely a range of simplified, dominant claims that are reinstated almost ritually when dealing with women in state socialism and state socialist women’s organizations in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Such claims had the result of denying the possibility of women’s agency under the regime of allegedly homogeneous state patriarchy. See Kristen Ghodsee and Kateřina Lišková, “Bumbling Idiots or Evil Masterminds? Challenging Cold War Stereotypes about Women, Sexuality and State Socialism”, Filozofija i društvo XXVII (3), 2016, 489-503.
6 On this discussion about the (im)possibility of women’s agency under state socialism, see Nanette Funk, “A Very Tangled Knot: Official State Socialist Women’s Organizations, Women’s Agency and Feminism in Eastern European State Socialism,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 21, no. 4 (2014): 344–360. Kristen Ghodsee, “Untangling the Knot: A Response to Nanette Funk,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 22, no. 2 (2015):248–252. Francisca De Haan, et. al. (2016), “Forum: Ten Years After, Communism and Feminism Revisited”, Aspasia, 10
7 “In relation to taking off the veil the situation in our conty is not exactly perfect. There are comrades who took it off and those who want to do it, but cannot for now, since they have nothing to wear. They do not have money to buy it immediately, but they will try to get something. They are saying that they want to look with their own eyes” Republican Committee of the AFŽ BiH, ‘Sreski odbor AFŽ Visoko Zemaljskom odboru AFŽ-a – mjesečni izvještaj za oktobar i novembar’, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 3, 1290/1, 1947. Similar cases of women bringing up the lack of other garments are mentioned for other locations, which makes us wonder if women found class-based reasons to avoid the changes, seen that the opposition to such measures was also strong among women themselves, see later in this essay. 
8 Fabio Giomi, “Introduction” in Aida Spahić et al. Women Documented. Women and Public Life in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 20th century. Sarajevo: Sarajevo Open Center, 2014. Gorana Mlinarević and Lamija Kosović (2011) Women’s Movements and Gender Studies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Aspasia, Vol. 5, p. 128-38. 
9 On the concept of engagement, see Adriana Zaharijević, Pawning and Challenging in Concert: Engagement as a Field of Study, Filozofija i Društvo, XXVII (2), 2016.
10 Texts on intersectionality are numerous, but for an introduction, see Helma Lutz, Maria Teresa Herrera Vivar and Linda Supik (eds)., Framing intersectionality: debates on a multi-faceted concept in gender studies. Burlington: Ashgate, 2011.
11 Lydia Sklevicky, “Emancipated integration or integrated emancipation: the case of post-revolutionary Yugoslavia” In: Angerman, A., Binnema, G., Keunen, A., Poels, V. & Zirkzee, J. (eds.) Current Issues in Women’s History. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.
12 On this, see also Lydia Sklevicky, Konji, Žene, Ratovi, Zagreb: Ženska Infoteka, 1996.
13 Chiara Bonfiglioli (2014), Women’s Political and Social Activism in the Early Cold War Era: The Case of Yugoslavia, Aspasia, The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women’s and Gender History, vol. 8, pp. 1-25. 
14 Barbara Jancar-Webster, Women & revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, Denver: Arden Press, 1998. See also from the same author, “Women in the Yugoslav National Liberation Movement” in Sabrina P. Ramet (ed.) Gender Politics in the Western Balkans. Women and Society in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Successor States, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. Lydia Sklevicky, Konji, Žene, Ratovi. See also from the same author “Emancipated integration or integrated emancipation: the case of post-revolutionary Yugoslavia” in A. Angerman, G. Binnema, A. Keunen, V. Poels and J. Zirkzee, eds. Current Issues in Women’s History, London and New York, Routledge 1989
15 For a critical discussion of this narrative, see Jelena Tešija, “The End of the AFŽ – The End of Meaningful Women’s Activism? Rethinking the History of Women’s Organizations in Croatia, 1953 – 1961”, Master thesis, Department of Gender Studies, Central European University, Budapest, 2014. 
16 Jančar-Webster, Barbara “Women in the Yugoslav National Liberation Movement,” 85. Emphasis added.
17 Batinić, Jelena, Women and Yugoslav Partisans: A History of World War II Resistance, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
18 Sklevicky, “Emancipated integration or integrated emancipation”. Emphasis added
19 Chiara Bonfiglioli, Revolutionary Networks. Women’s Political and Social Activism in Cold War Italy and Yugoslavia (1945-1953), PhD dissertation, University of Utrecht, 2012.
20 Rory Archer, Igor Duda, Igor and Paul Stubbs, eds., Social inequalities and discontent in Yugoslav Socialism, Farnham: Ashgate, 2016.
21 See notably Sanja Iveković’s documentary Borovi i jele (2002), as well as Želimir Žilnik’s Jedna Žena, Jedan Vek (2012) and, earlier, Vera i Eržika (1981).
22 Jambrešić-Kirin, Renata Dom i svijet: o ženskoj kulturi pamćenja. Zagreb: Centar za Ženske Studije, 2008.
23 Emmert, Thomas A. “Ženski Pokret: The Feminist Movement in Serbia in the 1920s” in Sabrina P. Ramet (ed.), Gender Politics in the Western Balkans. Women and Society in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Successor States. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.
24 Ibid. See also Pamela Ballinger and Kristen Ghodsee, “Socialist Secularism. Religion, Modernity, and Muslim Women’s Emancipation in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, 1945-1991”, Aspasia 5 (2011): 6-27.
25 See notably Mila Beoković, Žene heroji. Sarajevo: Svjetlost, 1967. For other biographical accounts on Vahida Maglajlić, see Himka Maglajlić-Hadžihalilović, Zapisi o Vahidi Maglajlić. Banja Luka: Glas, 1973. and from the same author Rođena za burno doba: životni put narodnog heroja Vahide Maglajlić. Kragujevac: Decje Novine, 1977
26 Žene Heroj, 216-218.
27 Hoare, Marko Attila, The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History. London: Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd, 2013.
28 Socialist Secularism, 12.
29 For a discussion of Islamic veiling in Bosnia-Herzegovina in a long-term historical perspective, see Andrea Mesarič, “Wearing Hijab in Sarajevo. Dress Practices and the Islamic Revival in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina”, Anthropological Journal of European Cultures, 22(2), 2013: 12-34.
30 Malešević, Miroslava, Didara. Životna priča jedne Prizrenke. Beograd: Srpski genealoški centar, 2004.
31 Didara, 39.
32 Didara, 47.
33 Socialist secularism, 16. 
35 Hadžišehović, Munevera, A Muslim Woman in Tito’s Yugoslavia. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003.
36 Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH, ‘Centralni odbor AFŽ-a Jugoslavija Glavnom odboru AFŽ-a BiH – biografije narodnih odbornica, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 7, 2526/5, 1949. Her short biography is contained in a list of women activists in national committees from December. I could only find the date of birth and a few indications on her life online. I am also collecting biographical information from the following books: Himka Maglajlić-Hadžihalilović, Rođena za burno doba: životni put narodnog heroja Vahide Maglajlić. Kragujevac: Decje Novine, 1977. Dragoje Lukić, Rat i djeca Kozare, Narodna Knjiga 1984.
37 Sida Marjanovic, Na Neretvi… Sarajevo: 1950.
38 Lagator Špiro and Čukić Milorad, Partizanke Prve proleterske. Beograd, Export-press, 1978. Kecman, Jovanka Žene Jugoslavije u radničkom pokretu i ženskim organizacijama 1918-1941. Beograd: Narodna knjiga, 1978.
39 See the biographical portraits collected by Gordana Stojaković
40 “In any other system these workers would go on strike, but this is a socialist country and people understand the situation, and it is our duty to help them as much as one can.” Beograd, Arhiv Jugoslavije, fund 354: kutija 1: Zapisnici i stenografske sa sastanaka upravnog odbora i sekretariata SZDJ i sa savetovanja SZDJ 1954-1961. Zapisnik 6.3.1954, p. X/3.
41 See: Jancar-Webster, Women & revolution in Yugoslavia, and Batinić, Women and Yugoslav partisans.
42 Serbian woman, whose immeasurable sufferings were recorded by the great Croatian poet Vladimir Nazor in his poem “Orthodox mother”, is giving her hand to Croatian and Muslim woman and wants them to mutually cure the wounds afflicted by the common enemy. And patriotic conscious Croatian women looks at the Serbian and Muslim women as her sisters. This sisterhood, consecrated by the innocent blood of numerous victims, all Bosnian-Herzegovinian women must guard as sanctity.”Nova Žena, br.2, 5, «Hrvatice Bosne i Hercegovine».
43 Batinić, op.cit., 218.
44 Nova Žena br.6, p.15, «Pitanja, u koja treba da se udubimo».
45 Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH, ‘Zapisnik IV Plenuma Glavnog Odbora AFŽ-a održanog u Sarajevu, 13 marta 1948. Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 5, 2912/32, 1948.
46 Sklevicky, Konji, Žene, Ratovi, 120-121; 137.
47 Bonfiglioli, Women’s Political and Social Activism.
48 In the regional organization in Vareš, one big mistake is related to the fact that the comrade who is also a head of a Committee lives the Party life in the local organisation, where she dedicates all her time, and because of it her work in our Regional AFŽ section is neglected (..) In Vareš, the wife of the member of the SNO refuses to work in the AFŽ and she is happy to point that out everywhere“ Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH, ‘Zapisnik 1 October 1950’, ”. Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 8, 4288/?, 1950. The situation in Vareš was described as organizationally very weak in another report, which lamented that wives of party members and notable personalities were avoiding work, and that their husbands justified it. The influence of the Catholic Church, moreover, was said to be most important for local women than any conference by the AFŽ or Popular Front. The wife of a local secretary, for instance, constantly attended Catholic masses and stayed away from AFŽ meetings due to some personal antipathy with a local activist, even if they were both partisans during the war. Muslim party members were also not allowing their wives to take off the veil. Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH, ‘Sreski odbor AFŽ Vareš Oblasnom odboru AFŽ-godišnji izvještaj o radu’, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 8, 91/1, 1949.
49 Some of the less successful students, for instance, were described as follows: “D.B., Bos. Dubica, born in 1923, has 4 years of elementary education, vice-president of the County AFŽ Committee. Though she is young and has all the conditions to develop, she did not show particular interest for studying. She does not feel responsible and is not disciplined in work. If she is to be named head, she would have to be familiarized with these mistakes. Thus far, she was not politically elevated and needs to read and learn more.” Successful students were described along these lines: “N.D., Mostar, born 1918, has 4 years of elementary education. She has all the preconditions to be independent director, head, she is familiar wit the AFŽ work, and is eager to know more about it. Disciplined and shows the will for studying harder. She takes the correct attitude in relation to political events. Has comradely relation to other comrades and is willing to help them. ” The County Committee of the AFŽ Sarajevo, ‘Glavni odbor AFŽ BiH Oblasnom odboru AFŽ BiH – karakteristike polaznica političkih kurseva’, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 9, 352/6, 1950.
50 Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH, ‘Centralni Odbor Beograd Glavnom Odboru AFŽ Bosne Herzegovine’, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 5, 2051/1, 1950.
51 Rajka Borojević, Iz Dubca u svet (Beograd: Etnografski muzej, 2006), first edition 1964. See also Natalja Herbst, ‘Women in Socialist Yugoslavia in the 1950s. The Example of Rajka Borojević and the Dragačevo Women’s Cooperative’, in Roswita Kersten-Pejanić, Simone Rajilić, and Christian Voß, (eds.), Doing Gender-Doing the Balkans. München, Berlin, Washington D.C.: Verlag Otto Sagner, 2012. See also the recent artistic project on Rajka Borojević curated by her granddaughter Ana Džokić, Taking Common Matter into Your Own Hands (last accessed 19.10.2016).
52 They saw many firms and factories, they saw many women udarnice that they earlier only heard about, but did not believe when they were mentioned at the Conference. They saw how books and newspapers are printed. They went to theaters, cinema, manifestations, reading groups, tea-parties, etc… They were put into the houses of our most advanced activists and were thus able to see how to cook, raise and educate their children, and to learn everything that our village still lacks.” Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH , ‘Zapisnik IV Plenuma Glavnog Odbora AFŽ-a održanog u Sarajevu, 13 marta 1948, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 5, document number missing/7, 1948.
53 Rajka Borojević, Iz Dubca u svet, p.7.
54 Rajka Borojević, Iz Dubca u svet, 39.
57 “Pruga Beograd—Bar primaknuće i ova sela većim centrima. Auto-put Beograd—Titovo Užice biće upola kraći od onog preko Kragujevca. Putevi, pruge, domovi, škole, dalekovodi. .. prodiru sve dalje, sve dublje u brda. U nekadašnje zabačene krajeve. Doći će vreme kada će se došljak čuditi: zar je Dubac bio zabačeno selo? Sela se menjaju sve bržim tempom. I ova. Koliko ih je već izme-nila elektrifikacija. I u selima, neminovno, staro u-stupa mesto novom.Pešačim lrema Busenjači. Tačno je tako — samo pola sata pješačenja. Pevam i sećam se onih vrlo, vrlo teških putovanja i teškoća u radu. Bilo ih je mno-o-o-go. To je sudbina pionira. Ali —lepa je borba za novo, za bolje! Zaista niču nove žene. I zato sam vesela.” Borojević, Iz Dubca u svet, p. 223.

Author of the article

is a Lecturer in Gender & Women’s Studies at University College Cork. She received her MA and PhD in Gender Studies from Utrecht University. Between 2012 and 2017 she held post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Edinburgh (UK), the University of Pula (Croatia), and the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna (Austria). Her research addresses gender and women’s history from a transnational perspective, with a specific focus on the former Yugoslavia and Italy. She recently completed a monograph titled Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector (I.B. Tauris, forthcoming 2019).