Feminism and Yu: feminist magazines in Yugoslavia


Only one group of humans have been doomed to a lifetime of housework, child rearing, child care. The other can take a nap and his moods. Svijet magazine was the first to inform me that this is not the natural order of things.

Coverage of Svijet magazine in 1982. (Twitter)

How many times are we able to identify the exact event in time when we adopted a belief or value? I don’t expect often, but I see myself at 11, that would be in the mid-1980s, leafing through the magazine Svijet, feeling like something was wrong, unfair and arbitrary in the fate of women. I had then spotted a strange asymmetry in my parents’ lives: they both worked outside the home, but only one of them continued to work after returning from work, his remaining eight hours being occupied with household chores, planning and caring. for the other four family members.

The working day in communist Yugoslavia was from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., or from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the working population returning to lunch. That consummated, our father retired for his nap, while my mother proceeded with the laundry, cleaning and meal planning for the next day. When my much older sisters came of age, each was assigned a role in domestic labor. By dint of chromosomal distribution, it seemed, in an absolutely non-negotiable way, that a single group of humans were doomed to a life of housework, child rearing, babysitting, and joking around. The other group can take a daily nap and can have moods that the rest of the family will have to work around.

Svijet was the first to inform me that this is not a natural, God-given order of things. Published in Zagreb, widely distributed throughout Yugoslavia, Svijet was the most feminist when I found it, although it’s been around since the 1950s. The coolest women among my sisters’ and mom’s friends read it, and that’s probably what I prompted to take a look. Soon I was spending my pocket money on magazines, and the walk home from school usually ended with a trip to the newsstand. Many things that I have read in Svijet went over my head, but what I understood excited me, and what I half understood made me want to work on it.

Svijet magazine cover, 1969. (Jonathan Bousfield /Twitter)

It looked like a typical commercial women’s magazine – except that between recipes, fashion, home decor, and sewing and needlework there were articles about double shifts for employed women. There were articles on the problems faced by women in the workplace, at school or at university; pieces about solo travel or hitchhiking; coverage of reproductive and other health and women and aging issues; and I even remember an article about a rare creature in Yugoslavia at the time (and its heir states to this day), a lesbian out.

Like the young Croatian sociologist Mia Gonan documents in his 2014 graduation thesis, Svijet made inroads into feminist questioning since the late 1960s. Created as a glamorous plaything for modernist graphic artists of the 1950s, catering to an educated, well-travelled, and ambitious middle class that Yugoslavia did not yet have at that time era, Svijet gradually mellowed and deglossed visually – but what it gave up on visual luxury it more than made up for in luxuriously clever writing, the vast majority of which was by women.

This is where I discovered Slavenka Drakulić. It will be later, when the nationalists come to power in Croatia, declared one of the antipatriots witches who “defames” Croatia, along with Dubravka Ugrešić, Rada Iveković, Vesna Kesić and Jelena Lovrić, but my adolescence fortunately coincided with its most prolific phase of Svijet and To start up. Drakulić was also, I would soon find out, a columnist in the American magazine The Nation.

Svijet that’s where I first read Susie Orbach Fat is a feminist issuetranslated and serialized, and where I first discovered Margaret Drabble, whose The millstone has been smuggled into the section where readers usually expect a romance novel.

I first heard of Patricia Highsmith Edith’s diary because Svijet wrote about it (I had read this, his best book, many years later, in English).

At a Venice film festival, Patricia Rozema created I heard the sirens singand I learned it because Svijet had a correspondent in Venice. (I would move to Toronto, where the movie is set, about 15 years later.)

How old was I in 1987? 13. Svijet was international, outward-looking, broadly socialist but as liberal as they come, and filled with exquisite artistic journalism. He introduced me to Proust, who was not on the school curriculum, and Balzac, who was, but it was Svijet which made him attractive. I still remember the essay on the art of gossip which used examples from several Balzac novels to illustrate its gold standard.

It was mostly feminist. He even had a column regular Gloria Steinem a year, I guess written in English specifically for Svijet then translated. There was a certain tension in Yugoslavia between the official ideology of communism and feminism which only really emerged in the 1980s, at the time of the ideological thaw and the economic crisis. The woman question was presumed resolved in communism with the introduction of a ‘classless’ welfare state. And many problems indeed have been. The Communists created a state-funded kindergarten-to-university education system, a free point-of-entry health care system, they nationalized infrastructure, housing development, and mining. resources, they industrialized the previously rural and illiterate society, which ultimately created middle-class stability, effectively the first the region had seen in its history, and a 45-year period of peace. Abortion was legal and safe, and there were no outrageous gender pay gaps, although pink industrial ghettos, for example the textile industry, did exist.

But the domestic sphere remains feminine. It would never have occurred to the people who built the country to think that equality meant equality in the division of labor in the home. He did not calculate. The partisan Amazon, a woman who can do everything a man can, who was the essential element of the popular movement for liberation and post-war reconstruction, also performed in an exemplary manner all the domestic and education of children.

The woman question was presumed resolved in communism with the introduction of a ‘classless’ welfare state. It would never have occurred to the people who built the country to think that equality meant equality in the division of labor in the home. He did not calculate.

As Yugoslavia was collapsing, as I turned 20 and entered university, the feminist epicenter moved to Belgrade. (Svijet at that time was kaput; newly independent Croatia appealed to different media.) Somewhere in the mid-1990s, I signed up to attend classes at the newly formed center for women’s studies funded by foreign NGOs (it was the only way ) and that too changed my life. Various other women-focused NGOs emerged within the fragile civil society in Serbia under the economic and Milošević sanctions. Daša Duhaček was one of the founders of the WSC, a philosopher based in Belgrade and specialized in Hannah Arendt. Among its instructors, the Center included people like Zarana Papic, Jasmina Lukic, Marina Blagojevic, Lepa Mladjenovic and Branka Arsic, now a professor at Columbia University and author of books on Emerson and Thoreau, at the time one of the few people in the world who knew the first thing about Deleuze and could teach him. Belgrade Center for Women’s Studies is where I first met the legend who Ann Snitowa New York second-wave radical feminist and co-founder of the Network of East-West Women who for years, before online shopping, sent free books on demand to women in transition countries through the Network’s Book and journal project.

The feminism of the ethno-nationalist and war-torn 1990s found itself in the anti-war camp, and therefore even more marginalized than before. While during communism it was considered somewhat bourgeois and western, during the nationalist era, feminism was too yugo, too international and socialist. The small anti-war group in Serbia called “Women in Black” was particularly hated in the 1990s and still is. I can’t explain why a dozen silent women wearing the color of mourning incite such rage. Take a look at What happened a few years ago, when Daša Duhaček, then a professor at my alma mater, the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Belgrade, was about to open a lecture by Serbian WiB guest speaker Staša Zajević. Or this recent counter-protest – something that follows them frequently now – by fans of Bosnian war criminal Ratko Mladić in central Belgrade.

When NATO began its bombing campaign due to Serbia’s war in Kosovo, it was time to leave Belgrade and return to my parents in Montenegro. There wasn’t much going on in terms of feminism in Montenegro, so I sent the daily’s art editor Vijesti some press clippings and started a series called Introducing Feminist Thought. He was up for it, and the series ran every weekend in that otherwise dark post-NATO summer of 1999. I was soon to move to Canada, and when I came back in 2003-2004 to renew my visa, there were already important feminist figures in life, like Ljiljana Raicevic, the founder of the first Montenegrin shelter for women fleeing domestic violence and – the scandal involving local potentates was about to explode – sex trafficking. Next time I looked, around 2016, Montenegro had a bunch of grassroots organizations and NGOs, and feminists had a place at conference tables and in the media. There is even an ecosystem of gay rights activism now, which inspired me to write about lesbian and bi women in Montenegro for M/s. magazine (founded by Gloria Steinem…international ties continue to intertwine).

Whether the position of women in South Slavic societies has improved significantly since the 1980s is certainly a conversation to be had. I think there is still so much to do, especially in my own country, Montenegro. But for all these roads to be paved by the women who have gone before us, that’s half the job done. Feminism is here to stay.

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