The Creation Of The New Yugoslav Woman – Emancipatory Elements Of Media Discourse From The End Of World War II

Kasja Jerlagić, Pencil drawing

The end of WWII is the period of construction of the new Yugoslav woman who actively participates in the war, educates herself and enters the world of work, whilst the emancipation of women from the shackles of patriarchal culture was one of the “undisputable tasks of the Antifašistička Fronta žena (AFŽ).1 In that period, which saw an historical breakaway from predominantly agrarian economics and a society in which education was mostly reserved for women from the upper social strata, the conditions were met for the education of women on a scale never seen before, and for the launching of a process of modernization, which could not have taken place without a serious disruption of patriarchal culture 2.

This emancipation did not put an end to patriarchy, far from it; but if we look at the women’s media from that period (Naša žena, Glas, Žena u borbi), we see that women are represented and equal subjects: they are combatants, nurses, workers, People’s Heroes (narodni heroji), etc., rather than passive on-lookers. A Yugoslav woman was to be modern and educated, dedicated and determined, “neither a Serb, nor Croat, nor a Muslim,” but rather all three, a Yugoslav. The aim of this chapter is to look at the issues of the magazine Nova žena from 1945–1946 available in the AFŽ archive, and describe the main emancipatory discourses addressing women, outline the argumentative and rhetorical strategies, metaphors and lexical and grammatical elements used to constitute this new Yugoslav woman, as well as to establish links between these historiographic insights and today’s so-called post-socialist moment in history.

1. Entering the Archive

In Yugoslav post-socialism, after all the wars, the plundering of the commons, the ethnic cleansing, rape and the associated historical revisionism, the regime of gender inequality still contests the affixation of feminine suffixes to words denoting occupations, for instance, fighter–fighteress.3 By way of response, the Banja Luka poet Dragan Studen titled his collection of poems Borkinje (Fighteresses), as early as 1982. In the opening poem he speaks through a woman, a fighter, warrior who is addressing us in the future:

We shall write it down in coal
We shall fan the fire
And be remembered
If we step into the picture
Hanging on the wall
Only ourselves we will resemble

We shall never stop
Tossing the soil out of the trench
Lest it smother us

Thickened time
We shall slice into slices
And the hopeless knife
Shall burn in the core

If we step into the picture hanging on the wall
We will remain there
Forever and for evermore

Writing about the experience of women in WWII, some forty years after the fact, he reminds us that “in harm’s way […] is our way out […] in our doom is our survival,” hinting that in the decisive moments of world history people went to fight and die to be able to live. This collection is part of a larger archive on women in the Narodno-oslobodilačka borba (henceforth NOB), and it inspired me to write about the AFŽ archive today, on the semi-periphery of Europe in late-stage capitalism, in post-war, post-socialist countries like today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thanks for the great step forward made by women – peasants and workers, first and foremost – are owed to female organizing under the auspices of the AFŽ. The AFŽ was active from 1943 to 1953, first in the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia (DFJ) and subsequently in the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (FNRJ) and it made possible a wide participation of women in all spheres of People’s liberation struggle. Although the AFŽ initially was not focused on female issues, but rather on harnessing the volunteer energy of millions of women to ensure victory in the struggle against fascism,4 it was an organization which, during WWII and the Yugoslav socialist revolution, undoubtedly influenced the modernizing change that women fought for and won.

If the point of archival research is to find a lived experience in the past in order to demonstrate that what we know and the way we speak and act have not been around since the beginning of time and will not be around till the end of time, and are therefore subject to change, then the archive is not the sum of all the documents it preserves, but an historical framework for the conditions of a statement.5 A reactivation of past statements may offer guidelines on how to set ourselves free from our own archive, “impossible for us to describe”,6 to be able to think and act differently today. The intention is not to “try to restore what has been thought, wished, aimed at, experienced, desired by men in the very moment at which they expressed it in discourse” but to “join [analyzed discourse] in its identity” by understanding it through “a rewriting […] a regulated transformation of what has already been written.”7

The meeting of female struggles from two different historical moments, the present one and that from seventy-odd years ago, is necessary not only for the fight against historical revisionism, but also for thinking of a new kind of political action aimed towards achieving equality for all. The crisis in which we live resembles the one from the 1930s and 1940s, given that the processes of the restauration and rehabilitation of these crises are yet again connecting capitalism, fascism and rising inequality. As we learn from the report by Cana Babović presented at the First State Anti-Fascist Conference of the AFŽ held on 8 December 1942, it was precisely the anti-fascist struggle during the Spanish Civil War, and the position of women in the USSR, where women enjoyed “full equality” and “participation in the economic and political life of the country” that inspired Yugoslav anti-fascist women to start publishing as early as the 1930s:

During the bloody events in Spain in 1936, when our women began their struggle against war and fascism, we saw the emergence of “Žena danas”, a gazette of young anti-fascist women, in Belgrade. The journal had an enormous role to play in the gathering and organising of women. It reached every corner of our country, showed women what fascism had in store for them, raised their political awareness, deepened their hatred of fascism and gave them strength in their struggle for equality. The same role was played by the gazette of Croatian anti-fascist women “Ženski svijet”.8

Although I relied on all kinds of documents available in the digital AFŽ archive, the basis of this research is formed by the journal Nova žena.9 as the first gazette of the AFŽ BiH, the first issue of which was published in February 1945, and the last issue available in the archive, issue 20, in November 1946. As a propaganda tool of the AFŽ and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY), in addition to the subscriptions and membership fees, it was financed through the “selling of collected rags to the ironworks.”10 The journal was distributed to women in villages and towns to help bring them to literacy and attract them to the tasks and the work of the organisation. In early 1946, the journal had a circulation of 10,000 copies, and by July 1947 it had reached 22,000.11

Although it focuses on a short period of time at the very end of the war or the beginning of peacetime, the analysis presented in this chapter examines the fifteen issues of the magazine published in the period 1945–1946, describes how this “new” Yugoslav woman was constituted through media discourse and establishes links between such historical insights and today’s life in the so-called “desert of post-socialism.”12 I was primarily interested in the emancipatory elements of media discourse promised to women by the new socialist era in which the new woman was made. I see these elements, in the broadest possible sense, as the largest scale inclusion of women in the social and political life of the new Yugoslavia and BiH, entering the world of work, gaining rights, learning to read and write, etc.13

What is the relationship between modernization, emancipation and patriarchy in this context? Modernisation was brought to BiH precisely by socialism after 1945,14 through the largest scale education of everyone, especially women, as its precondition. Nova žena unabashedly addresses women as equal subjects and represents them as such: they are fighters, nurses, workers, people’s heroes, etc., not passive onlookers. The entry of women to the labor market because of the demands of urbanisation, industrialisation, reconstruction and construction itself meant a serious disruption to patriarchal culture,15 and one can talk about women’s emancipation from the shackles of patriarchy in BiH and Yugoslavia only in the context of the socialist state.

As for the relationship between the emancipatory and modernising on the one hand and the patriarchal on the other, I see the Balkan patriarchy as a complex of hierarchical values engraved into the social structure of pre-modern, agrarian, pastoral economies and culturally traditional, religious societies in which the dominant role is played by men while women are subjugated in the context of the protective family and household.16. In the early days of the NOB, women started to fill “vacant positions of power” through their participation in the fight, the work of the CPY and the People’s Front (Narodni front, henceforth NF), and through organized work in the AFŽ in the rear.17 In this sense, we can tentatively talk about temporary depatriarchalisation or depatriarchalising potential as a temporary loosening of patriarchal regimentation brought about by a mass organisation of women ready to fight and ready for change, free education, access to the world of work.18 and social mobility within a generation for all, especially for women.

With all this in mind, based on the Nova žena corpus available in the archive, I analyze the role of the AFŽ under the following aspects:
a. The role of the AFŽ in an international context
b. The role of the AFŽ in the struggle against fascism and the struggle for equality (depatriarchalizing potential)
c. The role of the AFŽ in the creation of the new Yugoslav woman through joint struggle and sisterhood of Croat, Muslim and Serb women, and
d. The role of the AFŽ in the process of the largest-scale literacy drive in the history of BiH and in reference to the present moment in the underdeveloped and impoverished post-Dayton BiH, possibly the largest “desert of post-socialism” in which the possibility of social change is hardly discernible, excepting the short-lived protests of February 2014. This can be seen from:
1. The peripheral status of BiH society in relation to the EU countries, and the lack of internationalisation which affects the comparability and visibility of the social demands and struggles in the centre and on the periphery
2. Insufficient collective mobilisation of women in the new post-socialist state, in spite of the proliferation of identity politics and gender mainstreaming which promotes liberal ideas of female human rights, individualism and entrepreneurship and disregards, for instance, the rights of women workers and the unemployed.
3. The lack of a definite relation to fascistoid policies due to the nationalisms enshrined in the Dayton constitution stoked by anti-Yugoslav and anti-communist sentiments which mask the relations of inequality contingent on authoritarian capitalism of the new post-socialist state and are “natural allies” of the Balkan patriarchy (post-socialist repatriarchization)
4. The rise of illiteracy, inaccessibility of education for the broad masses, and generally bad and corrupt education in the country.

2. Why the Archive? Some Theoretical and Methodological Insights

The Discourse-Historical Approach to critical discourse analysis (CDA) is politically committed to social change,19 and it sees identities as contextually contingent and dynamic moments which are constructed, perpetuated and deconstructed within a discourse, and therefore assume different forms.20 Considering the historical and political context, as well as the earlier research on the AFŽ, I approached the texts via an analysis of the topics as hierarchicalized semantic textual macrostructures,21 topoi as basic argumentative structures of discourse,22 as well as standard tropes such as metaphors and similes. In addition, I attempted to establish the relevance of the emancipatory potential of the day for the present moment in BiH through an analysis of these problems and the discourses attached to them.

In a methodological sense, I see Discourse-Historical Analysis (DHA)23 as a way to show how a reinvented tradition and past are doctored to fit the present moment: the AFŽ propaganda from 1945–1946 responded to the actual needs of women, but that could not have been discerned by reading Nova žena only, it was necessary to read archived minutes of AFŽ meetings too. Our present persistently appeals to tradition, but the AFŽ is omitted from that tradition. Useful in that regard is the cultural-materialist insight that tradition is an element which makes possible the continuity of past and present, but also an intentionally selective version of a shaping past and a pre-shaped present, which is then powerfully operative in the process of social cultural definition and identification. […] From a whole possible area of past and present, in a particular culture, certain meanings and practices are selected for emphasis and certain other meanings and practices are neglected or excluded.24

In researching women’s discourse and discourse about women at a given historical moment, another particularly useful insight is provided by Gadamer’s25 observation that the more complicated the content we need to understand, the more individual elements become relevant, which in turn necessarily makes our horizon of understanding richer and broader. Entering an archive from WWII is important for gaining transgenerational insights into the past of Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Yugoslav women from that period, as well as for examining its interpretative productivity in relation to the problems women in BiH are facing today. Only then can we (tentatively) speak of a fusion of these horizons (Horizontsverschmelzung) which makes possible the actualization of Benjaminesque historiography of the oppressed where, acting in the light of “experience with the past”, a “battling, oppressed class” is the “subject of historical cognition.”26

It is precisely this oppression that remains constant when it comes to thinking and acting after experiencing war and its aftermath, which brought loss, poverty and peripherality, nationalism, unemployment and precarity, and illiteracy, all of which survive to this day. All this together makes it more difficult for women, but also for men, to organize and change their social position, by contributing to the creation of such an oppressed class which loses its combativeness due to its inability to articulate its own position as the subordinated class. In this regard, knowledge about the AFŽ is crucial for a transhistoric fusion of the horizons because it carries the potential to imagine struggle and a different world, precisely because they articulated this position and tried to solve the problems in an organized manner. I attempt to show this through critical analysis of the elements I have recognized as having been emancipatory at the time, and to address them in relation to the present moment.

The task of the historical materialist is to constructively attempt to (re)articulate the historiographic form without returning nostalgically to a past story, recognizing it instead as “a mark, a trace.”27 Only in a rupture, “[w]here thinking suddenly halts in a constellation overflowing with tensions, [and] yields a shock” lies “a revolutionary chance in the struggle for the suppressed past.”28 In addition, archival research is never just “the question of a concept dealing with the past which might already be at our disposal or not at our disposal, an archivable concept of the archive. It is a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow” because the meta-archive and the original of any text exist only “in the times to come.” If we wish to find out what the archive means, “we will only know in the times to come. Perhaps. Not tomorrow but in the times to come, later on or perhaps never.”29 At any rate, the first step is the interpretation of archivalia which “illuminate[s], read[s], interpret[s], establish[es] its object, namely a given inheritance, by inscribing itself in it, that is to say by opening it and by enriching it enough to have a rightful place in it.”30

3. The AFŽ and the New Woman
3.1. The AFŽ and the International Context

The peripheral status of BiH society in relation to Europe is the consequence of internal strife in BiH itself, a country in which the only manifestation of internationalism is geopolitical loyalty to Russia, Croatia or Turkey. This is exacerbated by exclusivist, sometimes fascist political practices of Western Europe and North America, such as the control of the increasing numbers of migrants and workers from BiH and other peripheral countries, the rigorous visa policy, the volatility of the conditions for EU accession and the treatment of the Balkans and BiH as a “case”. Today there are virtually no forums in which women from the so-called first and the third world participate and make decisions on an equal footing, whilst the Europeanization in BiH, conducted via the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the EU Special Representative (EUSR) is nothing but colonization of an underdeveloped Other via the introduction of liberal democracy, privatization of public companies, the so-called free market, economic reforms and austerity. This Europeanization is negotiated with ethnonational political elites only.31

Nova žena in the period 1945–1946 was characterized by a strong internationalist spirit brought to bear on the issues regarding the “East” as well as the “West.” There was quite casual talk of the “brotherhood of Bulgarian people and our people,”32 and the “role played by the women of Albania in the struggle for the freedom of their homeland.”33 In May 1946 we learn that 3,000 apprentices from all over Yugoslavia, “[of whom] 150 [were] from BiH” were accepted for apprenticeships in “the brotherly Czechoslovakia” in order to receive their vocational training over three to four years.34 Many issues featured social-realist narratives, mostly from the Soviet context, which described work enthusiasm, shockworkership and the self-sacrificing nature of the “fair-complected” Russian woman as an embodiment of the partisan promise of post-war life.35

In the August issue,36 we read about the visit of a delegation of Soviet women to Sarajevo referred to as “the joy and happiness we dreamed of for years”:

The raptures peaked when Evgeniya “Zhenya” Zhigulenko – a pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union who flew the aeroplane the delegation arrived on showed up on the balcony. She is an approachable and agreeable woman whom we met a long time ago through Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova and other brave women pilots we read about and admired even as they were just training for the great feats they were to accomplish in the war of people’s liberation. Zhenya greeted us on behalf of the Red Army fighters, on behalf of the women who are now returning from the army to work in fields and factories, to carry out the task of reconstructing the country with as much success as they had in fighting fascism.

Although the purpose of such reporting was to raise international antifascist consciousness and boost morale, such pieces valorized courage, female togetherness and solidarity. Homage to the heroism of a woman who fought in the war and flew an aeroplane to Sarajevo, even though she had to “return from the army to work in fields and factories”, is not something that can be found in today’s media. If she is mentioned at all, it is as a pilot of an airline, not a Red Army pilot. This Stakhanovitesque promise of social mobility achieved by going from a peasant to a kolkhoz leader or a state official, and social care provided to pregnant workers whereby “the future mother feels the care of the collective” is not recognized as newsworthy by today’s media. Joint international mobilisation is present in humanitarian efforts, such as cancer prevention or domestic violence prevention, but joint antifascist fight is and remains a blind spot of today’s media. Work, partnership and motherhood are treated in an individualist, consumerist manner, with frequent appeals to the topos of the “super woman,”37 who is always dolled up, has a fantastic job and education, three kids and a husband, and is able to do (and buy) anything.

Aleksandra Nina Knežević, Digital illustration

When it comes to the participation of Bosnian-Herzegovinian women in international female organizations, we see that they were zealously preparing for the First International Congress of Women, convened on 26 November 1945 on the motion by “comrade Cotton”, the founder and president of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF). The WIDF and Eugénie Cotton are to a great extent absent from Western feminist historiography,38 although the WIDF was the biggest and most influential international female organization after 1945. From its beginnings the WIDF developed a profile of a leftist and feminist organization which gathered communist women but also progressive non-communists from all over the world, including the US, Soviet Union and China.39

When we entered Palais de la mutualite on 2 November, many of us saw the trappings of a great international conference for the first time: long desks at which delegations sat and went through documents and notes, on every desk plates with inscriptions such as China, India, Latin America, the USSR, Yugoslavia, Romania – the names of forty countries, forty nations that want the eradication of fascism, democracy and peace; then there are loudspeakers, spotlights, interpreters who make announcements in three different languages; above the podium a great emblem of the Congress – a dove with an olive branch and a globe. Just before the opening, the hall was echoing with nervous hubbub in several dozen different languages.40

The Bosnian-Herzegovinian delegates participated in these congresses on equal footing and reported about them, which further points to a strong internationalist drive of female organizations and movements with a wider political agenda, female organizations from the so-called Third World, as well as those with a socialist, socialist-feminist or pro-communist orientation. As cold war attacks on the WIDF had a “negative impact on the state and location of, and access to, the WIDF archive and the possibility of gathering materials through oral histories”, the accomplishments of this organization were not inscribed in the collective feminist memory. Because a searchable, digitalized AFŽ archive was not available until recently, the organization, being part of a socialist state structure, saw its feminist potential denied by Western feminists41 while historians and anthropologists who recognized feminism in female socialist organisations in Eastern and South-eastern Europe were labelled revisionists.42 Thus Lepa Perović relates that the preparatory committee of the Congress “included delegates from England, America, Soviet Union, China, France, Spain, Yugoslavia, Italy, Hungerry [sic], Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Brazil, Portugal, Australia, Catalonia [sic], Belgium, Greece, Czechoslovakia and Sweden” and that it decided to “include delegates from the countries which are still not represented” and that “colonies, too, may have their representatives who will be completely independent.”43

3.2 The Fight against Fascism and Attaining Equality

The goals of the Paris congress of women were to achieve co-operation of women worldwide on the following, rather progressive program, which outlines the same issues the AFŽ insisted on during and after the war:
1. Destroy fascism and ensure democracy
2. Prepare a bright future for new generations
3. Give women the rights listed in the International Charter of Women.

As mothers: the right to bear children in a world free from horrors, poverty and war, in which every government will provide them with necessary social and health protection and appropriate housing.

As workers: the right to work in all branches of industry and practice all professions, to receive equal pay for equal work, the right to access vocational education on an equal footing with men, the right to be appointed to responsible positions; the ending of exploitation of women as a cheap labor force and the improvement of working conditions.

As citizens: equality with men before the law and full democratic freedom of expression, the right to vote and sit on judicial councils and participate in government and international institutions. 44

Anti-fascist struggle and the attainment of equality such as suffrage were among the goals in Yugoslavia even before the congress, thanks to the influence of the anti-fascist struggle in Spain and the attainment of equality by Soviet women. According to Cana Babović, who spoke at the State Conference of the AFŽ on 8 December 1942, these two demands represented a key difference between bourgeois feminists and Yugoslav anti-fascists who were jointly active in the “female movement” of the day even before the war broke out in 1941, and eventually led to a schism:

Progressive women of Yugoslavia, that is, anti-fascists, thought that the struggle of women against fascism and war was best lead by gathering and connecting women in a single organization. Anti-fascists joined existing feminist organizations and started the work of all women of Yugoslavia against war and fascism. Among the actions taken by women in their struggle for equality, the most notable was the drive for suffrage which was organized in the entire country, led by anti-fascists and had at the time, in 1939, a distinct anti-war and anti-fascist character. […] The leadership of the bourgeois feminist organizations disgracefully betrayed the women’s struggle, renouncing their own anti-war program so that they would not have to fight fascism too, the two being inseparable. During the great struggle for the right to vote, they were not only passive, they also sabotaged the struggle of the anti-fascists.45

War was close at hand and great numbers of women were left unorganized, so the CPY needed to “mobilize women through the AFŽ to ensure victory in the war as well as to convince women that the victory of the Partisans will mean a brighter future for them.”46 In that regard, the AFŽ was “the most fascinating example of a relatively small group of communists working meticulously on the ground, in wartime conditions, and quickly succeeding in convincing great masses of women to help in partisan warfare in exchange for new rights after the war.”47 Still, the relation of equality between men and women was ambivalent the whole time. On the one hand, it was undeniable that the top echelons of the Party were male-dominated and steeped in patriarchal tradition, as female partisans were wont to say that they “were sent” and “allowed” to do things.48 Such “male politics” were connected with the strict military and political discipline necessary to win the war, which is corroborated by the fact that, in spite of the lip service paid to the equality of women to men in political life and all areas of social activity, at the First Session of the Country Anti-Fascist Council for the People’s Liberation of BiH (henceforth ZAVNOBiH) there were only four women out of 247 delegates: Mevla Jakupović, a worker from Tuzla, Zora Nikolić, a worker from Sarajevo, captain Danica Perović from Banja Luka, head of the XI Division hospital and Rada Vranješević, a student and member of the Central Committee of the AFŽ.49

On the other hand, according to Milka Kufrin, “equality of men and women existed only at the platoon level”,50 which was confirmed in earlier interviews by the few surviving female Partisans in BiH, Stana Nastić from Sarajevo and Milica Stanarević from Banja Luka. By fighting alongside men in the anti-fascist struggle, women won freedom they never knew before and started to actively work on their enlightenment and the improvement of their social position. “Those who quietly put up with all the hardship before the war”, “have been elevated to the rank of valiant freedom fighters”51 determined to never go back “to the old ways”. It is precisely the relation between “the old ways” and “the new” which was changed during the anti-fascist struggle that makes up the dominant topos in Nova žena, whereby it is observed of the old ways:

Let us remember the old ways. In our peasant households it was important for a woman to be strong and obedient. We had to do the hardest work, without any recognition. […] We were illiterate, we had no idea what was happening in the world and what was upon us. They said it was not a woman’s business. It is no wonder then that we are so firmly attached to the struggle. […] That is why we are all united in our struggle for the old ways to never return.52

When it comes to family rights – the “new ways” that were sweeping through social and political life – as early as 1942 the Regulations of Foča (“Fočanski propisi”) were drafted as the first legal act of socialist Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav woman won the right to vote and run for office, civil marriage and divorce were introduced, as well as equality before the law, recognition of the rights of children born out of wedlock, equal pay for equal work, and access to hospitals and kindergartens, all typical socialist demands. It is precisely in Nova žena 1946 9 and 1946 10 1–3 that we read that “children born out of wedlock [had] equal rights as the children born in wedlock”, which had previously been unimaginable, as if “marriage and family, in comrade Kardelj’s words, were too serious institutions for the state to leave them to some other organizations”, and the state organized kindergartens for mothers to be able to work.

The state of female workers’ rights where few women make their living in non-agrarian economy in a country which had just emerged from a war is best illustrated by the 1931 census data. According to the Census, BiH had 1,138,515 women (around 46 percent) and 1,185,040 men, while “84.1 percent of the population [was] made up of peasants living from agriculture, forestry and fishing.”53 On the other hand, Dobrojević54 claims that “in 1951, according to the official statistics, the number of female workers was 90 percent higher than in 1939”, while “the most dramatic rise was recorded in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the number of women in work increased two and a half times.” The post-revolutionary period represented an historical break with the agrarian economy and capitalism of “the old Yugoslavia” and created jobs for everyone, especially women, but it was not without its contradictions. Still, this shift in valorisation of work carried the promise of a new way life never before seen. This is what Vida Tomšić, the first chairwoman of the AFŽ, in her report titled “O radu i zadacima žena na socijalnom staranju” (“On the Work and the Tasks of Women in Social Care”):

As we are trying to build a strong Yugoslavia that could stand on its own feet economically we are facing the great task of creating better life conditions for the broadest working masses […] This is not just about renewing the old Yugoslavia, we are aiming higher. We are trying to create a way of life that never existed in Yugoslavia before. 55

Although the emancipation of women in socialist Yugoslavia did not mean the end of patriarchy or jobs for all women, it did have an enormous positive impact on the attainment of equality and made it possible for masses of women to enter the world of work56 by “aligning the interests of women with the interests of the proletariat”57 during WW II. In addition, the combativeness, anti-fascism, internationalism and political enlightenment working in conjunction helped women organized in the AFŽ, especially in its early years, until 1947, “to think like statesmen first and foremost”, which essentially laid the groundwork for the realization of all the equal rights won in battle.58

3.3 Common Struggle: National Sisterhood and Unity

In her two poems titled “Uz mangal” (“By the Hot Coal Pan”) and “Žena s transparentom” (“The Woman With a Protest Sign”)59 Razija Handžić talks about “Muslim women old and new”. Describing the way they move, in the former poem she says: “In grim garbs and black veils as though in a dream they glide away, like blinded birds, like vestals accurs’d, on they glide on a sunny day”, and in the latter: “to reach the women at the congress, swaying like heavy seas, the one in the veil holding a sign would wade through blood, it seems.”

Revolutionary ardour, struggle, unity and literacy drives were highlighted through “the new”, while the valorisation of individual suffering and sacrifice in the struggle against fascism was transformed into a matter of national importance.60 Of national importance for the new Yugoslavia were also “equality and co-operation between all the nations and Croat-Serb sisterhood”, while “for the tradition-bound Muslim women […] joining and working for the AFŽ meant a new life.”61 Still, an analysis of Nova žena indicates that it was upper-class Muslim women like Vahida Maglajlić, “the only Muslim (Bosniak) People’s Hero”, her mother Ćamila (kadi’s wife) and her whole family in Banja Luka who led the way in spreading the ideas of the NOB and the AFŽ among women of all faiths. 62 The interpellation into the modern and educated “Yugoslav” woman was conducted through the ZAVNOBiH ideology, according to which she was “neither a Serb, nor a Croat, nor a Muslim” but all three at the same time as a Yugoslav, and all three groups were fighting fascism together. Zealous work on building the unity of women in BiH regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliation during the NOB was necessary to massify the AFŽ to two million members not only through discourse but through unified anti-fascist praxis as well.

Through the prism of today’s ethnically divided BiH, this simultaneous interpellation of Serb, Croat and Bosniak (Muslim) women seems nothing short of incredible, as do the words of Dušanka Kovačević, who legitimized this unity by invoking their joint struggle for freedom:

For the lives of our children, for the peace of our homes, to make sure killing and slaughtering should never return, we joined hands. The unity of Serb, Muslim and Croat women shall explain to the world where our strength to fight and our belief in triumph comes from. At the Congress, Serb, Muslim and Croat women will talk about their children who are liberating the country together, about the work they do together. About Serb women who collected seed for a burnt Muslim village, about Muslim women who brought gifts to hospitals and died for freedom in concentration camps. Our unity will be the women’s most beautiful gift to the Congress, to our young country, her happiness and future. 63

In the same issue, a piece by Jela Bićanić “Muslimanke u borbi” (“Muslim Women in the Struggle”) touchingly describes the suffering of Mrs Maglajlić, the kadi’s wife and the mother of the people’s heroine Vahida Maglajlić, whom “they locked up, furious about being unable to catch her son. But nothing could break this mother whose three children fell in combat, and the fourth is now in a concentration camp. She is still cheerful and believes in our victory. ‘When we come to Banja Luka, I shall lead the celebratory kolo’, she often says, ‘and I’ll be wearing three red stars by my heart!’”

During the first autumn of our people’s struggle Ajša Karabegović left her hometown. In the free territories she displayed exemplary commitment in nursing our fighters at the hospital in Jošavac. Chetnik criminals have cut her wonderful spirited life short.

At the same time, a mass action to help the Partisans was underway. Raifa Čorbegović smuggled hand grenades in a pram, under her baby.

The mother of the Sarač sisters had to see her daughters shackled by the fascist, yet she kept smuggling leaflets and ammunition in and out of Banja Luka.

In these quotes we see the rise of a new Muslim woman who subverts patriarchal culture by smuggling leaflets under her veil64 or grenades in her pram in order to build a new BiH in Yugoslavia. Just like her neighbors, she proudly sent her children to war, relishing the newly-forged brotherhood and unity of our peoples. The topos of sacrifice and courage is intertwined with love, which serves as a justification of the sacrifice:

As long as we love one another so!” [Mrs Maglajlić] said directly. “That is why we have no regrets. Five of my children are fighting. Three of my fighters have fallen. And I am not crying. Mothers of heroes do not cry.

In the article “One su pale za slobody” (They Fell for Freedom) in the same issue it is stated that Vahida Maglajlić “gathers women, brings Muslim, Serb and Croat women together in a common struggle. Vahida’s sincere and proven love of people opens up the hearts of bereaved Serb mothers, who accept her as one of their own.”(Nova žena 1:14, 1945). Anti-fascism, both professed and lived, has always been averse to nationalisms, which now employ historical revisionism to rehabilitate former fascists and collaborationists in the cultural and political mainstream after the wars of the 1990s:65 at the Congress of Serbian Women alone, these women “indicted those who, in the name of ‘Serbness’, have killed tens of thousands of Serbs in concentration camps and dungeons”, who “have killed the finest sons of Serbia or turned them over to Germans” and “stoked hatred and killing among the fraternal peoples of Yugoslavia” (Nova žena 1:14, 1945). By condemning these practices in the strongest possible terms, Nova žena purposely created an ideological matrix for building a new unity on the experience of suffering on all sides:

The women of Bosnia and Herzegovina have put in great effort and made great sacrifices. The enemy spared no one. […] Ustašas slaughtered Serb children, chetniks found their “revenge” in the blood and screams of Croat and Muslim civilians.66

At the first county conference of the AFŽ held in the county of Bihać it was said that “after the presentations, many women, old and young, Muslims, Serbs and Croats, talked about their labor, their struggle, their suffering, about the crimes of the occupiers, of ustashas and chetniks”, that they were “meeting freely for the first time in [their] lives to decide their own fate” and that they were “happy to participate in the political life of their people.”67

Joint labor also strengthened the unity of women of different ethnic backgrounds:

The property of A. Mešić, the enemy of the people, has been planted with maize for our poor. A hundred acres of land is to be hoed and moulded! Serb, Muslim and Croat women are stepping up one by one, old and young, peasants and city women.68

The strengthening of the unity of people, as the new political Yugoslavness, on the wings of the struggle against fascism, went hand in hand with the recognition of all ethnic and religious particularities through which unity was built on the basis of the pain and horrors of the war in which women, too, participated actively. The article “Hrvatice Bosne i Hercegovine” (Croat Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina)69 states that “Croat women must realize that the NOB is the fulfilment of the centuries-old aspirations of Croats” and draws a parallel between the struggle of Matija Gubec, “the immortal leader of Croat peasantry”, against the nobility in the Peasants Uprising of 1573 and the NOB, as both conflicts had elements of class struggle. In this strategy of recontextualizing or equating the struggles of the Croatian people in the last five centuries with the NOB, the NOB becomes a reflection of “the centuries-old aspirations of Croats”, something “the finest Croat patriots have given their lives for throughout the glorious Croatian history” (Nova žena 1945 2:3). Thus the Croatian goals are equated with the Yugoslav goals, as opposed to the ISC (Independent State of Croatia) ones, because the ISC is “a monstrous criminal creation.” The biblical metaphor of a blind man in the dark whom Jesus bade see, quite easy for the broadest masses to understand, was used to say that the (Croatian) people “has been blind so far”, meaning in the ISC period, but “has come to see now” through the NOB.70

Yet, such reports of unity were actually addressing the lingering problem of nationalism, about which we can find out more not so much from the magazine itself, but rather from the minutes of meetings of the AFŽ’s Sarajevo and Banja Luka county-regional (sreski, regionalni) committees. Nova žena wrote, in cushioned language, about priests “openly hostile to the NOB” who nonetheless had “great influence” on women as one of the reasons why many Croat men and women remained outside of the NOB.71 But from the minutes of the AFŽ meetings we learn that the situation on the ground was far more severe and that the magazine served as a tool of propaganda that responded directly to the problem of nationalism and religious divisions. From the minutes of the Okružni Odbor of the AFŽ Sarajevo held on 25 November 1945 we find out that the influence of the clergy among Croats was extremely strong, that “nuns rip down Narodni Front’s posters” and that “in the Croat village of Čajdaš, many balls were cast into the blind box” which the priests refer to as “the faith box”. We also learn that “few Serb women in the municipality of Zaborac turn out for meetings” and that they “do not want to mingle with Muslims at all, especially those from across the Drina”, but also that “chetniks obstruct the women’s work” – just before the elections they “distributed flyers and opened fire, so that women are afraid to engage in work.” From the minutes of meetings of the Okružni Odbor of the AFŽ Banja Luka we also learn about chetniks threatening to “cut off the hair of women who go to vote”, and that “this is what happened in the districts of Piskavica, Prnjavor and Srbac.”72

It was clear that 1945 was a crucial year; these articles were published in February, when the war was yet to end officially, but it was obvious enough that the Narodni Front with Josip Broz at its helm would emerge the victor. Because there is no research from 1945 about it, it is thankless work speculating about how common people felt at the time and whether they sidelined their ethnic background and affiliation in favor of the new Yugoslavness. Yet, in these articles we glean significant ideological interpellation of common people into Yugoslavness, buttressed by the common experience of suffering under fascists, and by the desire to build a new, better life.

3.4 Mass Literacy Campaigns

When it comes to features that distinguished BiH from other republics of the SFRY, it must be said that BiH had the highest rate of female illiteracy at the time, second only to that of Kosovo and Macedonia. Due to the customs and traditions of the Ottoman Empire, women in BiH, especially Muslims, but also rural Christians, were much more isolated from public life, including education.73 A wide range of rights and the visibility of female fighters may have played the most important role in the mobilization of young, educated women and workers. Still, they cannot take all the credit for the movement’s massive two-million membership. According to Mitra Mitrović,74 “for the first time in their lives, peasant women were appreciated for their everyday work – stitching, cooking, planting, grinding the grain for more people than just their family.” With this cohort, which comprised the majority of women at the time, education and literacy drives played a major role in their mobilization.

The People’s Liberation Movement (NOP) created a new figure of a woman in BiH, bold, combative and determined. Those who quietly put up with all the hardship before the war, have been elevated to the rank of valiant freedom fighters. The doors of people’s government, schools and courses have been opened to women. Thirsty for knowledge, they have started to learn.75

In a society in which education was reserved for women from higher social strata, conditions were met for mass education of women as a precondition for modernisation.

“We should launch a proper campaign against illiteracy,” said comrade Olga Kovačić. “Not a single child in our villages, towns and cities, not a single woman shall remain illiterate.”76.

On page 20 of the first issue of Nova žena, just before the masthead which reveals that the issue was printed in Sanski Most, there is an editor’s note: “Dear comrade, you are holding the first issue of the gazette of women of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Broad masses of our women wish to learn, to become enlightened. They demand the press, they demand answers to the many questions which interest them.” Here – and in subsequent issues, too – we see insistence on mass literacy, especially female literacy, which followed other emancipatory efforts.

The second issue is dominated by an article titled “Bosna i Hercegovina neće ostati nepismena” (“Bosnia and Herzegovina Will Not Remain Illiterate”)77 from which we find out that the occupation found the country in a state of great backwardness, to which people were “until recently, mostly resigned.” In the same issue it is stated that “according to 1931 data, the state of literacy was as follows: in Bosnia, 31 percent are literate, and 69 percent illiterate. In Herzegovina, 34 percent are literate, 66 percent illiterate. The illiteracy rate is disproportionately higher among womenfolk. In Bosnia, 39 percent of men are literate, in Herzegovina 55 percent, whilst in Bosnia and Herzegovina only 15 percent of women are literate.”78 It is also stated that 12,500 adults learnt to read and write behind the front lines during the struggle. The magazine writes about this enthusiasm and the idea of progress for all walks of life using lyrical yet folksy language:

The force of the uprising filled the masses with an enthusiasm for culture. Until recently mostly resigned to their backwardness, the young and old, women and children all wished to learn to read and write. Pen and paper have become part of our fighters’ combat kit. […] A girl knits socks, sings songs of struggle straining to embroider letters on a towel, kerchief and socks. A little shepherd tends to his flock, engraves his first letters into a spindle and a water bottle, asks every fighter he meets for a pen and paper, to teach himself to write. Girls and women keep their favourite book of songs and stories of struggle in their bosom. Literacy becomes mandatory, at the front and in the rear. An illiterate nurse, writing her first letters, shouts: “I thought this was much harder, I thought I was never going to learn …” A woman from Podgrmeč teaches herself to write using her son’s tablet. Even old women in the region of Podgrmeč are wont to say: “It is a sin to remain illiterate in this day and age.”

The credit for spreading literacy primarily goes to the popular movement which “took illiterate Serb, Muslim and Croat women to a literacy course, so that together they may learn to read and write.”79 The alarming illiteracy rates necessitated that those who were able to read and write teach those who were unable. Bringing people to literacy was a volunteering effort, and every woman shockworker engaged in reconstruction was expected to “find a comrade who will devote her free time, strength and love to introduce her to books.”80 In the same article, young members of the AFŽ and Young Communist League say that “we must learn if we want to teach,” because “pen and paper will teach us to appreciate the rights we have won and help us understand our freedom and equality, to learn the duties of a free, upstanding citizen” and also “put us at liberty, as new mothers, to raise our children for a rich, happy life in a new, born-again Yugoslavia.”81 From the minutes of the first meeting of the educational arm of the Central Committee of the AFŽ, held on 23 November 1945, we learn that in the interest of effectiveness four sub-sections were formed: a sub-section for the liquidation of illiteracy, a sub-section for political education, a sub-section for general education and a sub-section for courses.

“Illiteracy” is a metaphorical enemy, and as such needs to be “liquidated”, a “campaign should be launched” against it (ibid.), and we need to “arm ourselves with knowledge”. Literacy courses and press readings were organized at get-togethers in each hamlet and village where “the press is read in groups”, “the radio is listened to collectively”, and there were “mobile libraries” as well as “NF reading groups.”82 In addition to the AFŽ’s social affairs section, in charge of children’s homes and homes for the disabled, a propaganda section in charge of campaigns, radio and press, as well as an education section in charge of bringing youth and adults to literacy were growing stronger in BiH, which made literacy a precondition for the construction of the “new” woman:

Then the 60-year-old Zlata Halić signed up for the course and sent a message to other women: “Shame on all the young women who aren’t signing up. I’ll be the first to go, though I’ve got one foot in the grave, I want to die literate.” Darinka Tasić from the village of Bijela […] learnt all the letters in eight days. This is a wonderful example which show how new free women amaze with their work, just as they amazed with their heroism in battle.83.

4.1. The Significance of the AFŽ Today: Ethno-Capitalism, Repatriarchization, Illiteracy

Although subjective, as becomes a qualitative analysis, what has been crucial for me is reading the archive as an exercise in critical literacy. It is important especially because of the generations for whom historical revisionism by ethno-national-capitalist elites has literally blocked all socialist and anti-fascist horizons. After the destruction of the SFRY and the emergence of new nation-states, the knowledge and experiences of the Yugoslav NOB, in spite of their contradictions, have been completely neglected and revised through neoliberal, anti-communist narratives. I will try to unpack these claims by describing their interaction.

In spite of the proliferation of identity politics and twenty years of so-called gender mainstreaming, which promoted liberal ideas of women’s human rights,84 individualism and entrepreneurship, today there is very little “basis for collective mobilization of women”85 unlike in the period of creation of the new Yugoslav woman. In spite of all the limitations and stages of Yugoslav modernity, it must be said that patriarchy survived in the SFRY, especially in the private sphere86 where, for instance, domestic violence remained a taboo into the 1980s.87 This was never completely solved, in spite of the efforts undertaken by feminists in the 1970s,88 and the representation of women in Yugoslav film in the late 1980s was such that it recontextualized the women’s demand for the benefits of socialist modernity, such as employment, as insufficient motherhood.89 “Killing the actual woman was preferable to letting the traditional ideal of the woman as a mother die,”90 and Badema, the “bad mother” from Ademir Kenović’s film Kuduz was ultimately killed by an ethnically conscious man who kills “for our cause”, who is “a hero, not a criminal”, which, according to Jovanović, foreshadows the 1990s wars that brought ethnic homogenization and spelt the end of socialism, for which they needed repatriarchization.

The post-socialist period saw a stricter division between two “seemingly separate, but in reality networked and interdependent spheres of productive and reproductive labor” which have been “hierarchically reorganized.”91 Reproductive work was naturalized through repatriarchization as exclusively women’s, whilst ethno-nationalism and the Dayton division of the country as desirable affiliations in the new capitalist society further galvanized these relations. According to Močnik:92

In tightening the control and discipline, whatever tools are at hand will do: religious ideology, ethnic loyalty, traditional values, the renewal of the patriarchal family, the resurrection of traditional patterns, “retraditionalization” – all of these are new modes of socialness coerced by contemporary capitalism.

The contemporary capitalism which we have in BiH today as a species of the so-called authoritarian capitalism 93 typical of all ex-Yugoslav countries whose captains are mostly profiteers of the 1992–1995 war ensured the division of assets through ethnic cleansing and subsequent privatization. It ensured the return of patriarchy, which established continuity with the legacy of the colonial, agrarian, pre-socialist era. As was the case before WWII, the collusion of institutionalized religion and ruling elites in the new post-socialist era in which power is evenly distributed between the clergy and ethno-capitalists, society has been retraditionalized94 and gender roles and relations repatriarchized, which goes hand in hand with the rising poverty and unemployment.

I base the repatriarchization hypothesis on the depatriarchizing potential of the socialist period, which is at odds with the present rise of misogyny, discrimination, exploitation and violence95 as integral parts of the process of restauration of capitalist relations. Within these relations, social reproductive labor is “classified as non-labor, not worth a mention,”96 which endangers women’s economic self-sufficiency and puts them “in a position of complete or partial dependence on their families […] reducing them to the level of socially and politically disenfranchised subjects, that is, second class citizens,”97 which says something about intergenerational solidarity as opposed to state intervention in the field of care. Today, it is precisely this type of unpaid labor that the feminist critique of the so-called care economy98 sees as further facilitating the exploitation and devaluation through the hidden “sexual contract”99 of patriarchal capitalism.

“Anti-communist revisionism has become the dominant way of remembering socialist Yugoslavia”, which in turn “conveniently coincides with the neoliberal economic measures of the new political elites. 100 Theorists today speak about the so-called post-fascism of the elites in contemporary practices of the new liberal capitalist states reflected in racism, homophobia, the abolition of workers’ rights, media manipulations, bureaucratic apparatuses which crush dissent within institutions and hate-mongering campaigns against dissident groups and individuals. In such a world, a woman solves problems by “buying the product”, while unpaid domestic labor and motherhood, ideologized as “natural”, in fact create invisible surplus value for capitalism. While class inequality within all groups deepens, especially among women, an organisational effort is missing because the left cannot articulate these contradictions and the struggles attached to them.

Discourse after the 1992–1995 war in BiH has permanently broken up the former sense of togetherness among women by producing solely Bosniak, Serb and Croat victims, and there has been little effort to turn the experience of war into a common experience of suffering on all sides. This wartime suffering has been exacerbated by post-war suffering embodied in the experience of transition and the precariousness of life in what used to be a common economic and political space, and is now two entities and a district in BiH. Except for the handful of left-leaning feminists with a class consciousness, who do not merely follow the liberal agendas of the numerous women’s and human rights organizations, we do not have a single political voice attempting to gain the trust of masses of women by simultaneously calling on Serb, Bosniak and Croat women to stand up for their rights as enemies of the rising ethnonationalist fascism. Such interpellations inherent in referring to all women in BiH, Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks, as Bosnian and Herzegovinian (just as they were once referred to as new Yugoslavs), remain, unfortunately, marginal and unorganized. Seeing that they are not articulated in the program of any political party, they remain outside of discursive practice, as their introduction is considered too risky for the ruling Dayton order.

Last but not least, when it comes to education, the results of the 2013 census indicate that, 70 years after WWII, not only has illiteracy in BiH not been eradicated, at 2.82 percent it is also highest in the region, compared to 1.9 percent in Serbia and 0.8 in Croatia101.

Of the 89,794 illiterate persons in our country, 77,557 are women. The living experience of the Dayton order, which has been furthering ethnic exclusion and isolation for over twenty years (this is also shown by the census results – both entities are to a great extent ethnically homogeneous),102 renders impossible any large-scale effort to organize women that would work towards a state-sanctioned policy of promoting literacy and education for women, especially those from rural areas, and those of advanced age 103.

With all of this in mind, we see that the changes and efforts made by the AFŽ during WWII were emancipatory, especially for the women who had previously never enjoyed any kind of privileges – peasants, workers, youth. Whilst most of this legacy has been completely destroyed, some remnants of it can still be barely discerned, smothered under the wave of robbery and privatization. In a patriarchal ethno-capitalist hegemony that is today’s BiH, led by nationalist parties as the main political actors backed by EU agencies, tradition cherry-picks a past to match the manufactured present, in order to create a sense of continuity. Rada Vranješević and Vahida Maglajlić do not figure in this past, especially not at the same time. The AFŽ Archive represents, if nothing, a counter-hegemony in response to these regimes by introducing into discourse powerful actors, women of all social and ethno-national backgrounds, who organize, charge at the enemy, work and build and change the existing social relations.

5. For Some Future “Grand Times”

How to “write down in charcoal” to “fan the fire”, to remember these struggles not as a “picture hanging on the wall” in which we are stuck “forever and forevermore”, but as fuel for the active mobilization of today’s women, now that most female veterans and fronties (AFŽ members) are deceased, and the knowledge of the struggles is absent from the public sphere, as well as everyday life. Insights into transgenerational, suppressed knowledge shed light on the battles won by the women of the day riding on a wave of revolution, but these discourses need to be reactivated by placing them in “a homogenous and empty time” into a time “which is fulfilled by the here-and-now”, otherwise “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious.”104 Writing about the great organization and movement that is the AFŽ requires great effort, first and foremost because of the unavailability of the main actors and archives, as well as because of the complexity of the relations within and around it. The AFŽ’s influence was greatly weakened, especially after the directive of the Central Committee of CPY from January 1944 when the CPY dissolved its internal hierarchy.105 In the article titled “Za čvršću povezanost među odborima AFŽ-a” (“For a Closer Connection Between the AFŽ’s Committees”) (Nova žena 6:9-10, 1945) we see a trend of abolishing the organizations internal hierarchical structure and submitting to the Narodni Front, that is, people’s liberation committees joined by the so-called “progressive women.”106 The article begins with a generalization that it is “natural that every organization made up of living beings should expand and develop”, heralding the end of the AFŽ and its marginalization in relation to the NF.107 The decision is legitimized in the article via claims that the “strict submission of the lower-level [AFŽ] committee to the higher-level one has started to separate women from the people’s movement as a whole” and that the organization had become “too cramped to receive new female anti-fascists” so “instead of closed, cliquish AFŽ committees, broad people’s committees (NO) are being created now.”

It was precisely Sklevicky108 who wrote in most detail about the vertical mobility of women, the ambiguity of the AFŽ’s tasks in relation to the NF and the phasing out of direct work with women; in the latter two she saw the end of this organization in 1953, after which the AFŽ remained “at the margins of the text of history.”109 With the women’s organization evidently lacking “autonomy of the goal” and the “latent fear” of “feminist deviations” in parts of the Party ranks, it was clear that the revolutionary zeal of the AFŽ and its depatriarchalizing potential,110 discernible from Nova žena, would not last long enough to carry out total depatriarchization of either Bosnian-Herzegovinian or Yugoslav society, both of which, in fact, needed “more socialism.”

Today there is no broad-based participation of women in everyday political, social and economic life in BiH, and nobody articulates why female engagement would be necessary in the first place. We see similar observations in the closing speech given at the Plenum of the Central Committee of the AFŽ Croatia by the chairwoman Cana Babović, who said “that we have got nothing in particular, nothing specific, some issue to fight for as women, is a different matter.”111 Women fighters recognized the meaning of Yugoslav national unity forged in the anti-fascist struggle. They had won the battles for literacy, education and equal pay, putting socialist and feminist ideals in practice as much as they could. The Yugoslav woman, who had won her emancipation, equality and access to the world of work by fighting Nazi Germany and traitors shoulder to shoulder with her comrades-in-arms, knew that she was the backbone of the struggle, and that she must be the backbone of the new society forged in battle:

So Croatian, Slovenian, Montenegrin, Bosnian, Dalmatian, Macedonian, Voivodinian and Serbian women parted ways, each went to her homeland overcome by the joy of living in such grand times, working on the large part of the effort to build a new life. And in each of their souls a decision was solidifying, unshakeable as a vow: we, women, have been the backbone of the NOB, the backbone of the superhuman effort of our peoples to free their motherland, but from now on we will be the backbone of her magnificent reconstruction, of her happy future.112

This cache of the AFŽ media texts from the end of WWII reveals a promise of a socialist revolution with a profusion of emancipatory opportunities for women of all classes, ages and ethnic backgrounds, especially for the great majority of unemployed, poor women who can only be further exploited by capitalism. To write about that which cannot be suppressed in the AFŽ’s experience is to reclaim it through contemporary socialist and feminist political practices as the Blochian principle of hope in which social utopia creates awareness of and abolishes human and female misery. It is to reject and resist the status quo in which feigned nationalism laced with patriarchy has been masking mass exploitation under ethno-capitalists for two decades now by producing kids for war and unpaid labor. To “fuse the horizons” from an historical distance is to repoliticize the status quo by providing a “meeting point” for some future grand times where we will able to organize for struggle. The knowledge about these horizons represents an alternative history crucial for understanding future social struggles for a more egalitarian society, for resisting not only the capitalist mode of production but also the production of “kids for war” which reverberates in the verses of the contemporary Sarajevan poet Dijala Hasanbegović:113

I’m not giving you kids
for war:
I’m telling you with my palms facing upwards
palms sticky from the acrid yellow cords
which the cutthroats shall never cut.

—Translated by Mirza Purić


1 Sklevicky, Lydija. Konji, žene, ratovi. Zagreb: Ženska infoteka, 1996. pp. 25.
2 Ibid. pp. 135.
4 Jancar-Webster, Barbara. Women and Revolution in Yugoslavia: 1941–1945. Denver: Arden Press, 1990. pp. 122.
5 Foucault, Michel. The Archeology of Knowledge. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 1972. pp. 128–129
6 Ibid., 130.
7 Ibid., 152.
8 Babović, Cana. “Organizaciono pitanje AFŽ” report presented at the First State Conference of the AFŽ, 8 December 1942, Archive of the Anti-Fascist Struggle of Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia, accessed on 20 September 2016.
9 The magazine Nova žena was mostly published in Sarajevo, but several issues were published in Belgrade. The first issue was set and printed in Cyrillic, whilst the subsequent issues used both Cyrillic and Latin alphabet. It was the official gazette of anti-fascist women of BiH. Issues 7, 11, 15, 16 and 19 are unavailable and were not included in the analysis.
10 Glavni Odbor AFŽ-a BiH, “Okružni Odbor AFŽ Sarajevo Zemaljskom Odboru AFŽ-a – Zapisnik sa sastanka Okružnog odbora AFŽ-a Sarajevo održanog 24. i 25.11. 1945” Arhiv BiH, Sarajevo, box 1, 13/6, 1945. What was probably meant is “scrap iron” (translator
11 Glavni Odbor AFŽ-a BiH, ‘Materijali sa Drugog Kongresa AFŽ-a BiH održanog 12 – 13 jula 1947’, Arhiv BiH, box 3, 1543/109, 1947.
12 Horvat Srećko and Štiks Igor, Welcome to the Desert of Post-Socialism. London: Verso, 2015.
13 Pantelić, Ivana. Partizanke kao građanke: društvena emancipacija partizanki u Srbiji, 1945-1953, Belgrade: Institut za savremenu istoriju, Evoluta, 2011
14 Sklevicky, Lidija. Konji, žene, ratovi, Zagreb: Ženska infoteka. 1996. pp. 134.
15 Ibid., 135.
16 Halpern, Joes, Kaser Karl, and Wagner, A.Richard. “Patriarchy in the Balkans: Temporal and Cross-Cultural Approaches” in: Household and the Family in the Balkans, ed. Karl Kaser. Graz: University of Gratz Lit Verlag, 2012, pp. 49.
17 Dugandžić, Andreja and Jušić, Adela “Intervju sa Stanom Nastić,” Arhiv antifašističke borbe žena Bosne i Hercegovine i Jugoslavije, accessed on 21 November 2016,
18 This was the case with my parents, who were born in BiH in the early 1950s in rural poverty, but were able to study in Novi Sad and Sarajevo, find appropriate jobs in Bihać and become middle class in Yugoslav socialism.
19 Fairclough, Norman. Language and Power. London: Longman, 1989
20 Wodak, Ruth, De Cillia, Rudolph, Reisigl Martin and Liebhart, Karl. The Discursive Construction of National Identity. Edinburgh: EUP, 1999, pp. 3–4.
21 Van Dijk, Teun. Elite Discourse and Racism. London: Sage, 1993, pp. 33.
22 Žagar, Igor. “Topoi in critical discourse analysis”. Školsko polje Vol. 20 (5/6) (2009), 47–75.
23 The Discourse-Historical Approach (DHA) tries to minimize the risk of excessive subjectivity on the part of the researcher. This subjectivity is also subject to inclusion or exclusion, and to act through triangulation, its fundamental constitutive principle, on the basis of the widest possible variety of information, methods, theories, background information, etc. In this regard, DHA attempts to “integrate much available knowledge about the historical sources and the background of the social and political fields in which discursive “events” are embedded” (Wodak 2011, 65) in order to “denaturalize the role discourses play in the (re)production of noninclusive and nonegalitarian structures under certain social circumstances” (Wodak 2015, 2). In doing so, this Critical Discourse Analysis or Critical Discourse Studies method sees discourse as connected with other semiotic structures and material institutions which jointly reproduce society through semiosis as the process of signification.
24 Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979. pp. 115.
25 Gadamer, Hans, Georg. Istina i metoda. Sarajevo: Veselin Masleša, 1978
26 Benjamin, Walter. On the Concept of History.
27 Chowdhury, Aniruddha. “Memory, Modernity, Repetition: Walter Benjamin’s History”. Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary 2008 (143), 36.
28 Benjamin, op.cit
29 Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. pp. 27.
30 Ibid., 67.
31 Majstorović, Danijela, Vučkovac, Zoran and Pepić, Anđela, “From Dayton to Brussels via Tuzla: Post-2014 Economic Restructuring as Europeanization Discourse/Practice in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Journal of Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 15(4) (2015), 661–682
32 Nova žena, Arhiv antifašističke borbe žena Bosne i Hercegovine i Jugoslavije, 8: 5, 1945.,
33 Nova žena 8: 17–18, 1945
34 Nova žena 14:12, 1946
35 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., pp. 119.
36 Nova žena 5:6, 1945
37 Majstorović, Danijela and Mandić, Maja. “What It Means to Be a Bosnian Woman: Analyzing Women’s Talk Between Patriarchy and Emancipation” in Living With Patriarchy—Discursive Constructions of Gendered Subjects Across Public Spheres, ed. Danijela Majstorović i Inger Lassen, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011; 97; Majstorović, Danijela. “(Un)Doing Feminism in Post-Yugoslav Media Spaces”. Feminist Media Studies 16(6) (2016), 1093–1108
38 De Hahn, Francisca “The Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF): History, Main Agenda, and Contributions, 1945–1991.”
39 Writing about some of the reasons for such exclusion, de Haan lists the accusations of pro-Soviet activities made by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1949, when the influence of the WIDF started to weaken, and the focus of Western feminist historiography shifted mostly to liberal feminism and gender (author).
40 Nova žena 12:5, 1946
41 Funk, Nanette. “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(4) (2014), 344–360.
42 Bonfiglioli, Chiara. “Revolutionary Networks. Women’s Political and Social Activism in Cold War Italy and Yugoslavia (1945–1957)”, PhD thesis, University of Utrecht, 2012).; Ghodsee, Kristen. “Untangling the Knot: A Response to Nanette Funk”. European Journal of Women’s Studies 22, no. 2 (2015), 248–252.
43 Nova žena 8:5–6, 1945
44 Nova žena 8: 5–6, 1945
45 Babović, “Organizaciono pitanje AFŽ”.
46 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., pp. 114–116
47 Katz, Vera. “O društvenom položaju žene u Bosni i Hercegovini 1942.-1953.” Prilozi 40 (2011), 138.
48 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., p. 106.
49 ZAVNOBiH, dokumenti 1943-1944, vol. I, (Sarajevo: IP Veselin Masleša, 1968), 58–63.
50 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., p. 99.
51 Nova žena 1:6, 1945
52 Soja Ćopić, Nova žena 1:7, 1945
53 Brkljača, Seka. “Bosna i Hercegovina u prvim godinama Drugog svjetskog rata od 1939. do 1941. godine,” in: Bosna i Hercegovina 1941: novi pogledi : zbornik radova, ed. Husnija Kamberović (Sarajevo: Institut za istoriju, 2012), 16
54 Ivana Dobrivojević, “Od ruralnog ka urbanom: modernizacija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine u FNRJ 1945–1955” in: Identitet Bosne i Hercegovine kroz historiju: zbornik radova, ed. Husnija Kamberović, Sarajevo: Institut za istoriju, 2011, 19.
55 Nova žena, 5:4, 1945
56 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., p. 2.
57 Ibid., 122.
58 Ibid. 117.
59 Nova žena 12:27, 1946
60 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., pp. 117.
61 Ibid., 116.
62 Duganžić, Andreja and Jušić, Adela. “Intervju sa Alijom Maglajlićem,” Arhiv antifašističke borbe žena Bosne i Hercegovine i Jugoslavije, accessed on 21 November 2016.,
63 Nova žena, 1:6, 1945
64 Rada Vranješević also used a veil to smuggle illegal post although she was not a Muslim.
65 Radanović, Milan. Kazna i zločin: snage kolaboracije u Srbiji: odgovornost za ratne zločine (1941-1944) i vojni gubici (1944-1945) (Belgrade: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2015); Čović, Bartul. “Povijest pišu gubitnici”. Novosti, accessed on 10 September 2016.
66 Nova žena 1:6, 1945
67 Nova žena 1:19, 1945
68 Nova žena 5:13, 1945
69 Nova žena 1945 2:3–4
70 Ibid.
71 Nova žena 1945 2:3-4
72 Glavni Odbor AFŽ BiH, ‘Okružni odbor AFŽ-a Banja Luka - Izvještaj o radu Okružnog odbora AFŽ-a Banja Luka od 26.11.1945.’ Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Box 1, 118/1, 1945.
73 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., pp. 27–31., Popov Momčinović, Zlatiborka, Giomi, Fabio and Delić, Zlatan. “Uvod: period austrougarske uprave,” in Zabilježene – žene i javni život Bosne i Hercegovine u 20. vijeku, ed. Jasmina Čaušević. Sarajevo: Sarajevski otvoreni centar and Fondacija Cure, 2014., pp. 24–26.
74 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., pp. 142.
75 Nova žena 1:6, 1945
76 Nova žena 5:5, 1945
77 Nova žena 2:7, 1945
78 Nova žena 2:7, 1945
79 Ibid.
80 Nova žena 5:13, 1945
81 Nova žena, 5:13, 1945
82 Glavni Odbor of the AFŽ BiH, ‘Okružni odbor AFŽ-a Sarajevo Zemaljskom odboru AFŽ-a - zapisnik sa sastanka Okružnog odbora AFŽ-a Sarajevo održanog 24. i 25.11. 1945’, Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, box 1, 13/page number missing, 1945.
83 Nova žena 5:13, 1945
84 Helms, Elissa. Innocence and Victimhood: Gender, Nation, and Women’s Activism in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013
85 Kaneva, Nadia. “Mediating Post-socialist Femininities: Contested Histories and visibilities,” Feminist Media Studies 15 (1) (2015), 12.
86 Dunja Rihtman Auguštin, Etnologija naše svakodnevnice. Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 1998
87 Majstorović, “(Un)Doing Feminism in Post-Yugoslav Media Spaces”, 1096.
88 In the 1970s, Yugoslavia saw the arrival of the second wave of feminism, encouraged by the student protests of 1968. In 1978, the international conference “Drug-ca – Žensko pitanje. Novi pristup?”. (Tovarish/Tovarka – the Woman Question: New Approach?) The conference was the first tumultuous appearance of feminists on the public scene in the socialist Yugoslavia. The focus on the woman question and the problem of the sexual division of labor was highlighted by the prominent slogan of the confederation: “Proleteri svih zemalja – ko vam pere čarape?” (Workers of the world – who washes your socks?). The topics included patriarchy, the intersection of feminism and Marxism, feminism and psychoanalysis, as well as identity, sexuality, language and the invisibility of women in culture and scholarship. Also discussed were the everyday lives of women, discrimination in the public and private sphere, women’s double burden, violence and the survival of traditional patriarchal roles; Čaušević 2014.
89 Nebojša, Jovanović, “Bosanski psiho: Kuduz, rat spolova i kraj socijalizma”. Sarajevske sveske: Da li je Balkan muškog roda 39/40 (2013), 156–175.
90 Ibid., 167.
91 Burcar, Lilijana “Iz socijalizma natrag u kapitalizam: repatrijarhalizacija društva i re-domestifikacija žena.” Dva desetljeća poslije kraja socijalizma. Zagreb: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2014, pp. 114.
92 Močnik, Rastko. “Dvije vrste fašistoidnih politika”. Novosti, no. 677 (2012)., accessed on 20 August 2016.
93 Dolenec, Danijela. “Prema reartikulaciji otpora ekonomskom liberalizmu”. (2016), accessed on 10 October 2016.
94 Popov-Momčinović, Zlatiborka. Ženski pokret u Bosni i Hercegovini: artikulacija jedne kontrakulture. Sarajevo: Sarajevski otvoreni centar, Fondacija CURE and Centar za empirijska istraživanja religije u BiH, 2013.; Leinert Novosel, Smiljana. Žena na pragu 21.stoljeća – između majčinstva i profesije (Zagreb: Ženska grupa TOD, EDAC, 1999), 18.
95 Marina Blagojević, “Mizoginija: nevidljivi uzroci, bolne posledice” in Mapiranje mizoginije u Srbiji: diskursi i prakse, drugo izdanje, ed. Marina Blagojević (Belgrade: AŽIN, 2002), 31–55.
96 Burcar, “Iz socijalizma natrag u kapitalizam: repatrijarhalizacija društva i re-domestifikacija žena”, 114.
97 Ibid., 115.
98 Folbre, Nancy. Who Cares? A Feminist Critique of the Care Economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2014.
99 Pateman, Carol. The Sexual Contract. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988.
100 Krašovec, Primož. “Svi anti-komunisti su tigrovi od papira”. accessed on 20 September 2016.
101 Arnautović, Marija. “Popis u BiH: Nacionalnost važnija od pismenosti”, 30 June 2016. accessed on 13 September 2016.
102 As for the ethnic structure by entity, there are 74 percent of Bosniaks in the Federation of BiH, 22.4 percent of Croats and 3.60 percent of Serbs. In the Republika Srpska there are 81.51 percent of Serbs, 2.41 percent of Croats and 13. 99 percent of Bosniaks. In Brčko District there are 42.36 percent of Bosniaks, 20.66 of Croats and 34. 58 percent of Serbs (Arnautović 2016). More at:
104 Benjamin, op. cit.
105 Jancar-Webster, op. cit., p. 148.
106 Sklevicky, op. cit., p. 120.
107 Ibid.; Jancar-Webster, op. cit.
108 Sklevicky, op. cit., 121
109 Ibid., 113.
110 Although they had rights, women in the SFRY started to exercise them only in the 1960s. Katz (2011, 154) argues that “the equality of men and women […] rested more on the laws than on some crucial change of relations in everyday life. The Bosnian-Herzegovinian woman started to exercise her rights won in the 1940s only in the 1960s, when society started to achieve more substantial economic progress.” In this regard we may also talk of some thirty years of depatriarchalizing potential.
111 Sklevicky, op. cit., pp. 122.
112 Nova žena 5:5, 1945
113 Dijala Hasanbegović, “Djeca za rat”, accessed on 10 September 2016.

Author of the article

is a full professor in English linguistics and cultural studies at the Faculty of Philology, University of Banja Luka. She has published over thirty articles on representation, ethnicity, gender, discourse analysis, media and film, as well as three monographs: Diskurs, moć i međunarodna zajednica (Discourse, Power and the International Community) (2007, Filozofski fakultet, Banja Luka), Youth Ethnic and National Identity in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Social Science Approaches (2013, Palgrave, London) and Diskursi periferije (Discourses of the Periphery) (2013, Biblioteka XX vek, Belgrade). She has edited three conference proceedings: Living with Patriarchy: Discursive Constructions of Gendered Subjects Across Cultures (2011, John Benjamins, Amsterdam), U okrilju nacije: konstruisanje nacionalnog i državnog identiteta kod mladih u Bosni i Hercegovini (Under the Wing of the Nation: the Construction of National and State Identity in Bosnian-Herzegovinian Youth) (2011, CKSP, Banja Luka), and Kritičke kulturološke studije u post-jugoslovenskom prostoru (Critical Cultural Studies in a Post-Yugoslav Space) (2012, Filološki fakultet, Banja Luka). She has produced and directed two documentary films: Kontrapunkt za nju (Counterpoint for Her) (2004) and Posao snova (Dream Job) (2006). She has taught at and visited many institutions of higher education at home and abroad, co-founded the BASOC (Banja Luka Social Centre) and as an activist she fights against nationalism and historical revisionism, for social justice and workers’ issues. She tries to live her life and raise her son in line with the principles of feminism.