Introductory Remarks


Gender studies are undoubtedly one of the fastest growing domains of contemporary cultural and social research. Ignited by early feminist thought, contextualised and given argument by anthropological insights into the logic of the cultural construction of gender roles and relations, theorised and radicalised by consecutive waves of feminism, the study of gender relations now inspires reflection and debate in the majority of social sciences and humanities.

This book bears witness to the multi-disciplinary character of contemporary reflection on the topic of gender. The approaches of social history, historical anthropology, oral history, anthropology and ethnology, sociology, history of literature, political science, and pedagogy, all work together to provide an overview of various aspects of gender relations in Southeastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. In that sense, the present volume shares a number of theoretical assumptions with works originating from the intellectual tradition of feminist gender studies. Thus, ‘womanhood’ and ‘manhood’ are understood as socially constructed and relational categories. The culturally conditioned perception of existing sexual differences enables discursive gender constructions to be presented as prescriptive social models. Furthermore, female and male gender identities are considered here to have no separate or fixed ‘essences’ of their own, no sui generis nature. Rather, they are discursively constituted by a set of dyadic comparisons between culturally determined ideal-typical categories of ‘manhood’ and ‘womanhood’. Thus, while the distinction ‘sex’ - ‘gender’ represents the theoretical foundation of feminist thought and is also the logical precondition of feminist politics, its considerable heuristic capital is preserved even when it is applied outside of such frames.

On the other hand, there are a few issues on which consensus is less likely. First, a non-essentialist approach to gender identities should not automatically imply the non-existence or irrelevance of sexual difference. While it might appear ‘politically correct’ at this moment, the sexual tabula rasa thesis is theoretically unproductive as it renders insight into the constructed nature of gender identities irrelevant. Secondly, the categories of ‘womanhood’ and ‘manhood’ should not be politically reified as theoretical equivalents of the category of social class. There exist profound inter-cultural and intra-cultural differences that distinguish and separate individual women and men. While ‘sisterhood’ might be a powerful discursive strategy for the political mobilisation of women, one should remember that it is an imagined community in the same way as nation or class. Finally, the aim of this volume is neither to deconstruct existing ‘hegemonic theorisations’, nor to defuse corresponding ‘hegemonic practices’. Rather, the intention is to offer social, cultural and historical contextualisation necessary for the understanding both of such practices, and of the ideological criticism that they inspired. In that sense, this volume differs from the many activist works that have characterised gender studies inspired by feminism.

The first chapter looks at the various ways in which historical processes have altered conceptions of womanhood and manhood in Southeastern Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. Gender roles prescribed by traditional peasant cultures were at times gradually, and at others violently modified by modernising nation-states and revolutionary regimes. Influenced by, but at times also influencing these processes were drives for women’s emancipation from the patriarchal ‘gender regime’. Using the example of Bulgaria, Krassimira Daskalova sets the stage for the broad processes during which nationalism reshaped the images and social positions of rural and urban women. Andrej Studen looks at the spatial symbolism of gender identity as developed in the frame of emergent bourgeois ideology in Slovenia at the end of 18th and during most of the 19th century. Ana Stolić follows 19th century Serbian women as they infiltrate the bureaucratic apparatus of the state via one of the central modernising institutions, the school. Three papers analyse the object of modernisation efforts – the traditional peasantry and the institutions of its patriarchal culture. Ljupčo Risteski and Aneta Svetieva explore women’s roles and spaces in Macedonian folk culture. Predrag Šarčević cuts through the dimension of time as he investigates the sexual self-perception of a contemporary Montenegrin “sworn virgin” in an effort to deconstruct a “traditional institution” of Balkan patriarchal culture. In the next two papers, the paradoxical efforts towards emancipation in the interwar period are examined in rural and urban settings. By analysing the activities of the society of friends of arts «Cvijeta Zuzorić», Radina Vučetić highlights the role of social activism in the emancipation of women in interwar Belgrade. Kristina Popova investigates how home embroidery was instrumental for the infiltration of “bourgeois”, and later “communist” ideologies and values from women’s periodicals into village homes. Violeta Achkoska pursues the analysis of the complex effects of socialist “modernisation”. She investigates how campaigns for the lifting of the veils from Moslem women enforced a new feminine image in Macedonia. On the other hand, Petar Vodenicharov looks at the problems in the ideological construction of a combative masculinity in the discourse of real socialism in Bulgaria. In the last paper of this chapter, Andrea Peto proceeds from the biography of Julia Rajk to accentuate the problem of repression in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe and its effects on the social position of women.

In the second chapter the focus moves towards contemporary gender relations in the region. The processes of transition, but also of state deconstruction, ethnic conflict and war create the broad social frame, inside which gender images are reinvigorated, discursively recomposed through the telling of tales, and even unintentionally parodied in feats of international matchmaking. The first two papers highlight the problems of transition by different, yet complementary means. Ulf Brunnbauer investigates the “hard” social facts of transition, reviewing the percentage of representation of women in political institutions, their participation in the workforce, and statistics on unemployment in order to question the consequences of transition for the position of women in the changing societies. Judit Dushku takes an alternative route, using the “soft” sources supplied by oral history in order to arrive at the subjective perception that Romanian women have of transition processes. Daša Duhaček examines the strategies developed by women and feminist activists in their efforts to resist to the nationalising state, its identity politics and war efforts in the era of Milošević. The effects of war on the social perception of gender are probed further by Reana Senjković, analysing the role played by Hollywood imagery in the re-definition of masculinity among Croatian war romantics. The paradoxical, and at times humorous consequences of the interplay of forced socialist modernisation and transition processes are reviewed by Rada Drezgić, who analyses how the depopulation of Serbian villages is countered by international matchmaking. In the final paper of the chapter, Biljana Dojčinović-Nešić inverts patriarchal stereotypes as she looks at how the masculinity of three historical figures is woven into the narratives of contemporary women’s prose in Serbia.

In the three papers that make up the last chapter, interest shifts towards ways of treating gender in the teaching of history. In the first paper, Katarina Kolozova reflects on issues of power and authority in the transfer of theories of gender from “West” to “East”. In her brief overview, Jasna Bakšić-Muftić points to the problems faced in introducing the teaching of gender history to a society seriously damaged by war. Michael Mitterauer concludes the volume by investigating various innovative approaches to the presentation of gender roles in the framework of teaching gender history.

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As befits an historically minded project, the present Volume has a rich history of its own. It is the result of the enduring cooperation of three institutions: the Department for Southeast European History, University of Graz, the Balkanistic Seminar of the South-Western University of Blagoevgrad and the Association for Social History from Belgrade.

The first informal discussions of possible forms of future cooperation began during the Round Table at Bansko, organised by the Balkanistic Seminar of the South-Western University of Blagoevgrad in February 1995. The International Colloquium on Historical Anthropology held at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade in October 1996 was the next step in cooperation. It resulted in the volume on historical anthropology (Miroslav Jovanović, Karl Kaser and Slobodan Naumović (Eds.), Between the Archives and the Field. A Dialogue on Historical Anthropology, Belgrade-Graz: Zur Kunde Südosteuropas, Udruženje za društvenu istoriju, 1999). It was published in Belgrade in April 1999, at a tragic time during which the language of guns and bombs spoke louder than the language of reason. Despite the grim setting, the cooperation survived, and even broadened its scope. During a meeting held on September 14, 1999, at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, the Austrian and Serbian sides decided to publish, in collaboration with the Bulgarian partners, several thematic volumes devoted to Southeastern Europe. These ideas evolved into a conference on childhood in the Balkans, held in Vienna on January 21 and 22, 2000. Prof. Karl Kaser, head of the Department for Southeast European History, University of Graz, organised the conference with the kind help of the Austrian East and Southeast European Institute, which hosted the event, and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education and Research, which provided financial support. It became clear at that moment that a new framework was needed for the multiplying results of such collective efforts. It was provided by the project "History and History Teaching in Southeast Europe. Creating Additional Materials for Teaching Southeast European History" in August 2000, supported by the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Division for Coordination of Aid to CEEC & NIS, as well as the OSCE. The initial idea once again came from Prof. Karl Kaser, who at present directs the project. The main partners are The Centre for the Study of Balkan Societies and Cultures, University of Graz, the Association for Social History, Belgrade, (headed by Prof. Milan Ristović, History Department, University of Belgrade), and the South-Western University of Blagoevgrad / Balkanistic Seminar (headed by Prof. Kristina Popova). The basic aim of the project is to offer teachers at secondary school level, as well as university teachers and students much needed additional and/or alternative teaching materials and readers in Southeast European social and cultural history. By focusing on shared key topics such as childhood, gender and family relations, the alternative materials and readers resulting from the project also intend to accentuate the often neglected common traits of the cultural heritage of Southeast European countries. The aims and approach of the project are best illustrated by its first results – two companion volumes on childhood. The first volume, (Slobodan Naumović and Miroslav Jovanović, (Eds.), Childhood in South Eastern Europe: Historical Perspectives on Growing Up in the 19th and 20th Century, Belgrade-Graz: Zur Kunde Südosteuropas, Udruženje za društvenu istoriju, 2001), represents the "The Academic Publication Project (APP)". In the framework of the overall project, the APP provides topic-focused academic readers, as well as scholarly background for the other project branch – "Creating Additional Teaching Materials Programme" (CATMP). The English and regional-language editions of the reader (Milan Ristović and Dubravka Stojanović (Eds.), Childhood in the Past: 19th and 20th Century: Additional Teaching Materials for Secondary Schools, Belgrade: Udruženje za društvenu istoriju, 2001) represent the first outcomes of CATMP.

The project entered its second phase with the Conference "Gender Relations in the Balkans", held on December 15th and 16th 2000 in Blagoevgrad. Drafts of the texts that form the initial core of this book were read and discussed at the Conference. Furthermore, the overall frames for both the academic and the additional teaching materials volumes on gender relations were discussed and agreed upon. The volume in its present form documents both the advantages, and some of the perils of building bridges between different disciplines and scientific milieus.

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Finally, the editors wish to express their deep gratitude to all those without whose goodwill and help the publication of this book would not have been possible. We wish to thank Prof. Wolfgang Höpken for his permission to print a shorter version of Reana Senjković’s paper, which will appear in the volume he is editing on Remembering Wars, Coming to term with Wars in South Eastern Europe; Julie Mostow and Rada Iveković for their permission to publish the paper by Daša Duhaček; South-East Europe Review for the permission to reprint the paper by Ulf Brunnbauer; Elena Tacheva and Ilia Nedin for their permission to reprint the text of Judith Dushku, originally published in Tya na Balkanite (She on the Balkans); and Oto Luthar for his permission to publish the translation of Andrej Studen’s paper, originally published in Slovenian in Historični seminar: Pot na gromado. Der Weg auf den Scheiterhaufen. The Road to Pile. Special thanks are due to Daniela Grabe for all the energy and initiative she invested in innumerable missions across the region, while taking care of the organisation of the project. Finally, without the financial support generously provided by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Division for Coordination of Aid to CEEC & NIS and OSCE, the project as well as its results would not have been possible.

Slobodan Naumović, Miroslav Jovanović

Belgrade, December 19th, 2001