Serbia and Montenegro: A feminist approach to dealing with the past and transitional justice

Staša Zajović
Paper prepared for the Women in Black International Network Conference, Jerusalem/Israel, August 12th – 16th 2005.
The role and accountability of civil society – transitional justice: aims, processes, dilemmas, obstacles; Specific features of Serbia in dealing with the past and transitional justice; Women in Black and actions against denial of the criminal past; A feminist approach to dealing with the past – why we insist on a feminist approach; Project development; Experiences from fieldwork.
Women in Black from Belgrade began their activities in October 1991, as an expression of their deepest rejection of the war politics of the Serbian regime, which is the most accountable for the wars in the former Yugoslavia. We built our feminist antimilitaristic policy by visibly resisting war, in public manifestations of non-violent resistance: by channeling anger, turning bitterness into action and transforming fear, guilt feelings and despair into public political discourse and action.

The resistance of Women in Black to war, nationalism and militarism has gone through various phases over the fourteen years of our existence. It has been manifested on manifold levels: emotional, ethical, political-activist, educational and aesthetic. In the course of nearly fourteen years of our activities, we have developed a feminist peace policy, based on clearly defined ethical principles. The first and fundamental principle of the Women in Black peace policy, streamlined into concrete acts of non-violent resistance and civic disobedience, “Not in Our Name” was primarily directed at the Serbian regime, the generator of war and war crimes, addressing the community in whose name crimes were being committed (the Serbs) and the victims of those crimes – people of other nationalities (in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo). The ethical and political principle “Not in Our Name” embodied then, as nowadays, a permanent breach of the national consensus on the issue of a “ just, defensive war” in response to “threats to the Serbian nation” and the global conspiracy against the Serbian people, i.e. of all the myths that instigated and sustained war. For us, it was of crucial importance that both the instigators of the war and the perpetrators of war crimes should know this, because we were aware of the fact that, without insistently reiterating our stance, they might have thought that they had the general consent and approval for all their wrongdoings, which have not yet come to an end. However, it was far more important to us that the victims of the crimes should know this, because “my accountability at that time simply derived from a common identity with the perpetrators of collective crimes. I accidentally belong to a nation, yet the crime was consciously and systematically conducted in my name. Hence, my accidental national allegiance becomes annulled by a conscious intention and action of those who proclaimed my national denominator to be the reason for killing people whose national denominator is different. The accidence of my national existence stops at this point, because the crime that has been committed in my name is, in a sense, a final fact: the ideological grounds, the character and the proportions of the crime are such that they penetrate my individual identity” (Nenad Dimitrijević). In brief, both during the war and now that armed conflicts are over, it is our permanent aim to dismantle the cultural patterns, the ideological systems and the values that generated war, that justified and are justifying war and war crimes.

The role and accountability of the civil society in overcoming the criminal past and achieving transitional justice

From the very beginning, Women in Black, as an integral part of civil society, particularly of the segment that was active in organizing non-violent resistance to a belligerent regime resorting to war crimes, have taken as their starting points the following:

Civil society, as the autonomous organizing of citizens, plays an important role in the process of overcoming of the criminal past.

Civil society has the obligation and the responsibility to exert permanent pressure on the state institutions in order to expose the crimes and punish all the organizers, commanders and executors of war crimes.

Civil society has the obligation and responsibility to permanently campaign against the impunity of crime – because the denial of crime encourages continuation of the political, cultural, spiritual and emotional climate that generated war and justified war crimes – that poses an obstacle to achieving a just and permanent peace, as a vital precondition for the development of civil society.

Civil society should assume responsibility for justice, because the institutional legal system frequently does not serve justice (which is usually achieved by creating an alternative legal system – alternative courts, people’s tribunals, and women’s tribunals – so that justice wouldn’t be turned into a lynching and headhunt.

And finally, civil society has the obligation and responsibility to create and exercise various forms of transitional justice.

What is transitional justice?

Transitional justice is a cluster of institutions, moral, legal, political and social processes, measures and decisions that are established and implemented in the process of democratic transition, i.e. transition from criminal / dictatorial regimes toward democracy (N. Dimitrijević).

It comprises the following:
  • Criminal sanctions;
  • Non-criminal sanctions, wherein the civil society itself plays a major role and bears substantial responsibility;
  • All forms of accountability: individual, collective, moral and political: all the mechanisms of providing reparation and rehabilitation to victims.
Transitional justice is a permanent process – the creation of new forms of accountability, because the forms of transitional justice that have been created so far do not provide the answers to all the intricate issues related to the past, nor are they sufficient to bring about a break with the criminal / wicked / negative past.

There are no ready-made models that could be transferred mechanically – all existing models are combinations of various forms of transitional justice. It is, therefore, necessary to create new models of transitional justice – such is the attempt to adopt a feminist approach to dealing with the past. Creating new forms of transitional justice, such as gendering justice or a feminist approach to transitional justice, pose a major challenge to the feminist theory and practice.

The aim of transitional justice is to achieve the following:
  • Confrontation with the criminal past;
  • Removal of the remaining representatives of the criminal regimes – nowhere have all proponents of the former regimes been removed, but the process of dealing with the past depends on this;
  • Exposing the ideological justification of the crimes – dismantling the mechanisms that led to crimes greatly determines whether those will reoccur or not;
  • Opening up possibilities for the citizens to reject the systems of values that generated war and war crimes, and removing the instruments, actors and consequences of mass violence from public and social life (Nenad Dimitrijević).
  • Enforcing the rule of law and democracy, etc.
What are the dilemmas in transitional justice processes?

Criminal sanctions: Whether to put on trial the proponents of the criminal regimes or not? Who should criminal prosecution be applied to? Should it be exclusively applied to the organizers of crimes or to the executors as well? Should the trials be restricted to criminal acts in the area of human rights, or should they comprise corruption and mismanagement of the economy? E.g.: The Permanent People’s Tribunal considers that the category of victims of crimes against humanity comprises not only persons who have undergone torture, who have been killed or have disappeared, but also those whose dignity has been violated.

Non-criminal sanctions: Exposing the truth about the criminal regime without criminal charges: in order to fulfill the process of reconciliation and to build democracy, it is best to proclaim a general amnesty and to leave the past behind. All these issues give rise to arguments, controversy and disputes.

What are the biggest obstacles to the administration of transitional justice in Serbia?

The process of transitional justice in Serbia has barely begun. The criminal sanctions established by the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia – The Hague Tribunal – represent a new form of transitional justice. Due to the fact that the process of lustration has not been carried out either in Serbia or in the other states of the former Yugoslavia, a very small number of trials for war and war crimes are under way before the domestic courts. Other forms of transitional justice – non-criminal sanctions – such as committees for truth and reconciliation, lustration, reparations / restitution / compensation, which are only some of them, are either completely disregarded, or practiced exclusively under the pressure of external factors for pragmatic reasons and not out of a genuine need to overcome the criminal past. Here, I have in mind the institutional level, because the situation in the civil society, and especially in its segment to which Women in Black belong, is diametrically opposed to it.
  • The character of the former regime influences the selection of the model of transitional justice: Nenad Dimitrijević considers that there are two types of criminal regimes: the first one did not rely on the loyalty of its subjects, but rather exclusively on violence and repression (for example, The Soviet Union in the period of Stalin and his terror against the unlike-minded); however, the internalization of the distorted system of values, its norms and institutions was never effectuated among its subjects – these are criminal regimes (a similar situation occurred in Latin America). In the second case, the subjects become benevolently integrated into the regime, i.e. there exists a real consensus between the regime and its subjects in a criminal venture (Nazi Germany and Serbia during the Milošević regime). In this case, the issue is not the moral accountability of all the subjects of the Stalin regime, the dispute (guilt) being restricted to the regime officials. Dimitrijević depicts such crimes as collective – acts committed by a considerable number of members of a group, on behalf of that group and against individuals identified as the target, on the grounds of belonging to a certain group (Albanians, Croats, or Muslims, in the case of the Serbian regime). What else constitutes the moral accountability of the subjects of these two types of regime? Voting in elections, public support, refraining from action in situations where it may have been possible to act, internalization – there is a social consensus after the war on the causes of war, the facts, the consequences of war and war crimes of the distorted system of values, etc.
  • The society is seriously polarized over the issue of its past: for example, in Serbia, the vast majority of people insist on the Serbs as the exclusive victims, while a tiny minority insists on the Serb guilt and responsibility for war crimes; in Serbia, the vast majority of people insist on their own truth, their victims, their suffering, etc.
  • There is no social consensus after the war regarding the causes of the war, the facts and the consequences of the war and war crimes: in the case of Serbia, it is not only a matter of serious disagreement over the interpretation of facts, but of outright denial of the facts, i.e. war crimes. Combined with the so-called legalism that was dominant in the pro-Milošević power structure, this absence of consensus has had disastrous consequences.
  • There is no democratic society: The dominant spirit in Serbia is that according to which we (the citizens) are subjects and not full-fledged citizens. Serbian society is of a rather pre-civic, non-democratic type.
What are the “specific features” of Serbia in confronting the criminal past and in the process of transitional justice? Serbia’s “specific features” could also be classified chronologically:

Phase I: State organized crime and denial of reality: The regime of Slobodan Milošević is the most accountable for the war and war crimes in the area of the former Yugoslavia, having committed several aggressions (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo). Not only was Serbia involved in all those wars, but the Serbian regime also provided enormous financial, logistic, military, police and all other forms of assistance and support to its satellites, i.e. to the Serbian quasi-states in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serbian regime is responsible for countless crimes, the most massive of all being the Srebrenica genocide (in July 1995, when over 8,000 civilians of Bosniak nationality were killed). During the time of the wars and crimes (1991-1999), a blatant denial of reality was expressed through the regime slogan “Serbia is not at war”. The first armed conflicts that that took place on the territory of Serbia were the NATO air strikes in the spring of 1999. Of course, the regime media, “and those were the most numerous, did everything in their power to conceal that past, while it was still the ongoing present. They resorted to all possible techniques in order to mystify that present and make it seem distant, inaccessible and unintelligible” (Snježana Milivojević).

The strongest anti-war resistance – the largest number of rebellions against war – the largest number of war deserters: throughout the war, the most massive resistance to war and the regime's war-mongering policy was organized in Serbia; the largest number of forced mobilizations for war took place in Serbia, but they were also confronted with most resistance; rebellions against war were staged for miscellaneous reasons and motives, but their proportions and frequency presented a very powerful potential: it is estimated (because neither the regime of S. Milošević nor the new authorities ever disclosed the actual number of war deserters) that over half a million men refused to go to war or fled the theatres of war.

Phase II: The period after the fall of the regime (October 2000) – a period of great, unfulfilled expectations: The new authorities did not break from the politics of the previous regime. Namely, the parties that constituted the new coalition government (18 of them) were extremely heterogeneous and highly embattled over the issue of the belligerent past, their sole unifying factor being resistance against the regime. This constantly hindered the minority among them who would, from launching a decisive crackdown on the remainders of the former regime and a confrontation with the consequences of the criminal past.

When one of the proponents of this minority current began undertaking concrete measures in this direction, he was assassinated – that was the Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Đinđić, killed on March 12th 2003.

A single fact is sufficient to reveal the continuity of the authorities: until as late as 2002, the most powerful stronghold of the previous regime – the Army – protected the most wanted among the war criminals, the most accountable for the Srebrenica genocide – Ratko Mladić, who is still on the run. Other fugitives from The Hague Tribunal were also hiding in the barracks of the Yugoslav Army.

After the toppling of the regime, the international community offered Serbia great chances for transition from a criminal regime toward democracy; however, those chances were never used. The ill-preparedness of the new authorities to seriously attempt to break with the criminal past was manifested in the following facts:

Although the Committee for Truth and Reconciliation, an internationally recognized mechanism of transitional justice, was established in FR Yugoslavia in 2001, its aim was not to find out the truth, but rather to moderate it, and even to ideologically justify the belligerent policy of the former regime. This prompted the majority of the respectable members of the Committee to resign. De facto, the Committee does not exist and has not published a single report so far. While its functioning has not even been provided for by the state budget, a decree on providing financial assistance to The Hague detainees and their families was passed in June 2003. This form of rewarding war criminals means protracting a climate of impunity, depriving the victims of their dignity and also denying the future, etc.

Phase III: Institutional and organized refusal to confront the past – institutional and organized denial of the criminal past: The period following the assassination of Prime Minister Đinđić to now. What does it consist of?

The rehabilitation of the representatives of the Milošević regime, especially after the elections of December 2003, as a direct outcome of the absence of political will to break with the belligerent policy of the former regime. The proponents of the Milošević regime have been appointed to important positions, such as, for example, The Security Informative Agency (BIA) and for this reason the secret files, crucial for overcoming the criminal past, have not been opened. The actual government pursues a policy of institutional support of war criminals in the form of providing ample financial support to war crimes suspects indicted by The Hague Tribunal and to their families. All the efforts of civil society to abolish such a shameful legal act have failed. The rewarding of individuals accused of war crimes by businessmen/warmongers and their political representatives has become a matter of prestige and a manifestation of patriotism. Huge amounts of money are at stake, measured in millions of euros, in a country where the majority of the population lives on the brink of poverty.

The denial of the criminal past by the institutions (in the form of mechanisms for rejecting accountability: moderating, minimizing, justifying, drawing parallels, finding symmetry, etc.) influences public opinion. “Denial of crime is not a private state of mind – it is not a logical individual matter, but a feature that is incorporated in the ideological facade of a state” (S. Cohen). Or, “What we here presently refer to as the policy of remembrance is not only the individual memories of people, social actors and the community, but a consciously guided social procedure” (S. Milivojević). Furthermore, the claim that the actual government is a continuation of the Milošević regime and that it resorts to a total mystification of facts and reality can also be confirmed by the explanation given by Predrag Marković, Chairman of the Assembly of Serbia, regarding the rejection of the Declaration on Srebrenica: “Srebrenica is not part of the territory of Serbia.” Research carried out over the past two years shows that the number of citizens literally refuting the facts is on the rise: A survey conducted by the agency Strategic Marketing revealed that in 2001, 70% of the citizens believed that Sarajevo had been besieged for over 100 days, whereas in April 2005, barely 50% of the citizens are aware of that fact, while only 16% see it as a criminal act. Furthermore, less than 50% of the respondents believe that the events in Srebrenica, or genocide, really ‘happened’ and only 16% of the citizens consider that to be crime. Resentment directed at the activities of some segments of the civil society, such as Women in Black and similar organizations are increasing, so that “Those who uncover the crimes are seen as the main culprits and extremists. Those who speak up about the crimes are treated as criminals” (Biljana Kovačević-Vučo). That is why the state permanently attempts to vilify Women in Black and other groups, accusing them even of organizing prostitution and other forms of abuses, subjecting them to constant financial inspections, etc.

Cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague in the form of the so-called voluntary surrender is effectuated exclusively under international pressure, so that the authorities themselves justify the handing over of the war crimes suspects as a pragmatic policy, aimed at obtaining international loans and by no means at condemning war crimes. “Societies with a problematic past, such as ours, hail the intervention of the international community, which enables them to pack up their complicated past and forward it to others: they express their reservations concerning what happened, they send it to the given address and say: we have nothing to do with this, because the trial is organized elsewhere and it is their job and responsibility” (S. Milivojević). This is the attitude assumed by those who “do not meddle in politics” whereas the “patriotic” segment of the nation, which is predominant, sees The Hague Tribunal as “part of the international plot against the Serbian people”.

The strengthening of fascistic, clerical nationalistic and clerical fascistic tendencies and organizations, particularly among the young: the judicial organs ignore them, failing to implement the existing laws banning the dissemination of religious, national or racial hate propaganda, while political leaders assume a neutral, or even a benevolent attitude toward the intensified incidents and physical assaults against those who are different (in the religious, ethnical, sexual or political sense). A considerable number of neo-nazi groups glorifying Hitler have recently appeared and Women in Black are a constant target of their attacks; the most severe physical attack took place on July 10th, 2005 during the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, organized by Women in Black in the central square of Belgrade. The rise of anti-Semitism can also be explained as a consequence of the institutionalized revision of history – equalizing fascism and anti-fascism, wiping out the anti-fascist heritage in Serbia, leaving out the Holocaust, the Srebrenica genocide and Auschwitz from school textbooks; no one was present on behalf of the state institutions at the commemoration on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The panel discussions organized at state universities by the above-mentioned clerical fascist and neo-nazi groups are not only not subjected to criminal prosecution, but are also institutionally treated as an “expression of pluralism”, as “academic license” and “divergence of opinion” and not as criminal propaganda, etc.

The diminishment of the secular character of the state – the interference of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in state affairs, particularly with the educational system, has an extremely negative influence on the process of confrontation with the past, in view of the fact that SPC was one of the generators of nationalistic hatred and a pillar of Milošević’s war policy and is currently one of the main sources of support to the actual authorities in denying the criminal past. Presently, the SPC glorifies the individuals who have been indicted by The Hague Tribunal and there are indications that Tribunal fugitives are hiding under the auspices of the Church.

The absence of consensus even on the civil scene in Serbia around the issue of the accountability of the Serbian regime: the “soft” current, which is prevalent, insists on multilateral responsibility (relativity) and the “hard” current – insisting on the culpability of the Serbian side, on collective moral responsibility (“cleaning one’s own courtyard”). Women in Black, as a network that conduct their activities throughout Serbia, are part of the “hard” current, i.e. primarily requesting accountability for the crimes that were committed in our name, before all others. This is the principle of moral autonomy and moral legitimacy, expressed through the ethical principle of Women in Black “Let us not be deceived by our own or by others”.

Women in Black: actions against the denial of the criminal past

While the war lasted, our aim was to confront the present – to confront the unfolding of ‘history’, i.e. the criminal policy of the Serbian regime. Acts of confrontation comprised open, live action and remembrance. Until October 2000, state organized crime was in effect. After the toppling of the Milošević regime, and especially after the assassination of Prime Minister Đinđić (March 2003), the responsibility of Women in Black, as well as of that part of the civil society that campaigns against the denial of the criminal past, has become more complex: there has been no break with the criminal past, the state repression is no longer ‘active’ as it used to be in the period of the Milošević regime, yet the society has become more intolerant and their unfulfilled expectations of the new authorities have produced a high level of apathy, frustration and political abstinence. Let me enumerate the ways and models of confronting the past and actions against the denial of the criminal past:
  • Street actions: protest, performances, collecting signatures, requests for conscientious objection (against the Bill on providing assistance to the war crimes indictees, etc). It is hard to establish a precise number of such actions (although Women in Black have been meticulously recording an alternative history), but over the long 14-year period it certainly exceeds one thousand.
  • Permanent demands that the truth about the crimes be revealed / demands for responsibility – (individual, criminal, moral, political and collective), support to the requests for founding the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (as of 1992), request for founding an international court for the war crime of war rapes, launching the legislative initiative for the incrimination of the denial of genocide, the latest in a series of such initiatives being related to the Srebrenica genocide, etc.
  • Visiting trouble spots – traveling through the so-called hostile countries (Croatia, BH, Kosovo) as an act of breaching with all forms of national consensus and all forms of uniformity, as a concrete expression of the policy of women’s solidarity and mutual trust.
  • Visiting the locations where the crimes were committed in our name: both during the war and afterwards – those are acts of admitting the crimes that were committed in our name, asking forgiveness for the atrocities committed and the suffering inflicted, compassion for the pain and solidarity with the victims of the crimes, respecting the victims’ dignity – this concrete policy of building trust and friendship was manifested through very frequent participation in commemorations on the occasion of the anniversaries of the committed crimes, above all through frequent visits to Srebrenica, where the most massive of all the crimes – a genocide executed in the collective name of the Serbs – was committed.
  • Remembering and marking acts and important dates from the history of non-violent resistance in Serbia – against war and the criminal policy of the Serbian regime: demanding the alteration of names of streets and public places, although mostly in vain, we have not given up trying.
  • Actions against the daily fascization of the society: the everyday exclusion of the others and the different, against the policy of collective identity based on hatred against the others and the different – all these being among the most serious consequences of the absence of confrontation with the criminal past.
  • Educational activities: organizing seminars and workshops throughout the country, organizing the victims of war to testify, recording memories and testimonies in an alternative history. The greatest part of our extensive publishing activities is actually devoted to this issue.
Dealing With the Past – A Feminist Approach

In the beginning of 2005, the educational project “Dealing With the Past – A Feminist Approach” was launched. As part of our systematic educational work, it consists of a large number of educational activities, the contents and form of which are constantly being diversified, in accordance with the participants’ needs and wishes, as well as depending on the insight of the initiators and coordinators of these activities regarding the existing problems and challenges.

As coordinator of the project, let me first clarify this point: this is not a matter of denying or reconsidering the existing methods of dealing with the past and of transitional justice, because these models and methods are extremely important both for our theory and for our actions. Simply, the feminist approach is complementary to the existing methods and models – it enriches and diversifies the existing models inasmuch as it attempts to create new ways of dealing with the past, new forms of admitting the criminal past and new models of transitional justice. “With this venture, we are ‘inventing’ a feministic dealing with the past. It is not systematic, it is not supported by a firm methodology and it is more like patchwork than a causal analysis.” (Adrijana Zaharijević)

How did the project unfold?

A brief description of the development of the project through several phases:
  1. A seminar (end of May 2005) in Belgrade that consisted of interactive lectures with the following topics: Theories of responsibility: Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers; On culpability and responsibility (Gesine Schwan, Ralf Giordano, Nenad Dimitrijević, etc.); feminist practice and the theory of responsibility: from the ethics of care to the ethics of civil responsibility, on women's international tribunals for war crimes; On the ethical principles of the peace policy of the International Network of Women in Black, on women's solidarity against war, on feminist-antimilitaristic responsibility for war, on models of dealing with the past – on the models of transitional justice, on the consequences of denying the criminal past for the legal system, the system of values, and the future; On the link between the current resistance to dealing with the past and the resistance to modernization in Serbia since the 19th century; on the mechanisms for avoiding responsibility – on the resistance to The Hague Tribunal in Serbia, on the responsibility of civil society in dealing with the past; on a feminist approach to dealing with the past.

  2. This phase consisted of interactive lectures given by the most renowned women in Serbia, who bring together two criteria: theory and practice, academic and activist, i.e. the women who have launched a number of antiwar actions, uncovered war crimes, launched legislative initiatives and written relentlessly, and who are by profession philosophers, historians, lawyers, philologists, political scientists and sociologists, and who have, ever since the beginning of Women in Black, either been part of our activist core, or have lent us permanent support and are our very precious allies and friends. They are: Daša Duhaček, Borka Pavićević, Biljana Kovačević-vučo, Nataša Kandić, Latinka Perović, Sonja Biserko, Snježana Milivojević and, of course, the founders and activists of Women in Black: Lepa Mlađenović, Staša Zajović and the new, younger generation of activists, workshop coordinators in the project: Adrijana Zaharijević, Nađa Duhaček, Hana Ćopić, Tijana Popivoda, Tamara Belenzada and Marija Perković. These young activists and theoreticians have contributed tremendously to the realizations of the goals of our activities.

  3. In this, as well as in the third phase, thirty-odd women activists of the core of Women in Black in Serbia and Montenegro participated in the activities, in order to acquire knowledge and skills that could be further applied. Therefore, these phases, and the second phase in particular, were dedicated to instruction and training. In the second phase, emphasis was put on workshops / practical training (What is dealing with the past? From the role of victim to the role of responsible citizen, Myself and responsibility, How to serve justice – on the models of recognizing the criminal past, On transitional justice, Women’s solidarity and dealing with the past, etc.) and there were also a few lectures (on the media and dealing with the past, on the feminist approach, etc.) In brief, all the activities were a combination of workshops and lectures.

  4. Conducting workshops in several regions of Serbia and Montenegro – two cycles of workshops / lectures have been carried out so far (in southern Serbia and in Vojvodina), the following cycle being scheduled for the end of August with the participation of women activists from all parts of Serbia, but predominantly from Sandžak (south-western Serbia), as well as from Montenegro. Experiences from our activities so far will be presented later.
  5. Apart from the above, an important part of this educational project is also the reader Dealing With the Past – A Feminist Approach, published by Women in Black. The reader, consisting of 230 pages, was published in April 2005 and it represents a compilation of texts by domestic and international authors on topics that are relevant to the topic. The reader is divided into three thematic parts: 1. From victims of war and violence to subjects of peace and international justice, 2. Culpability and responsibility and 3. On the models of dealing with the past – on the methods of admitting crime.
Why do we insist on a feminist approach to dealing with the past?
  • Because the existing theories on dealing with the past do not specify gender differences. We faced an enormous deficit of research regarding this matter and have decided to grapple with the new challenge.
  • The creation of feminist theories and practices is not only a challenge, but also a creative resistance to the patriarchal history that, in periods of crisis and wars, reduces women exclusively to the role of victims, martyrs and sufferers, only to be further victimized, subjected and taken advantage of for the purposes of nationalistic and militaristic policies.
  • Feminism as a concept and practice that rejects all patriarchal authority, both on the private and on the public level, was extremely important in our analysis of war, nationalism and militarism: the wars waged by the Serbian regime in the area of the former Yugoslavia (1991-1999) were waged in the name of the entire nation; therefore, non-violent rebellion against all those who waged wars and committed crimes In Our Name is a moral imperative of feminist policy and feminists have an 'obligation' to break with all forms of national consensus, especially if they live in countries that wage war or support wars and aggression, but also in the countries that are victims of aggression, at least in the area of the former Yugoslavia, because part of the so-called national consensus is oppression and control over women.
  • The feminist strategy in dealing with the past is that of alleviation of guilt feelings and breaking free of them: because of all the atrocities committed by the Serbian regime, it is those women in Serbia who were the first to rebel against the war, who launched anti-war, anti-nationalistic and anti-militaristic campaigns, the women who are also presently the most active in building a just peace, who feel the greatest responsibility and also experience the strongest guilt feelings, pain and suffering. As feminists, aware of the fact that the production of guilt feelings is one of the generators of patriarchy, open to admitting the controversy – guilt feelings because of what was done in our name, with a feminist approach to this extremely important issue, we wish to enrich the feminist ethics of care – caring for one another, developing and appreciating friendship among women is an active women's peace policy.
  • Women's contribution to peace building, reconciliation and confrontation is invisible: it is almost exclusively seen as motherly care for others, as guilt, sacrifice and as part of the prescribed patriarchal role of caring for others. In this way, we remain within the framework of patriarchy, which can be overcome if the contribution of women is also understood in the key of the ethics of civil responsibility – the feminist approach sees women as accountable citizens.
  • Overcoming the invisibility and marginal position of women in the process of confrontation with the past and in peace building is not only the responsibility of feminists, but also means rectifying the injustice inflicted upon a vast number of women who participated in the non-violent resistance to war, in the process of reconciliation and peace building – the feminist approach comprises the act of recording the continuity of women's presence in the resistance to war and patriarchy. In Serbia, nearly all the anti-war and anti-nationalistic initiatives (not necessarily of feminist character) were launched by women and this must be recorded in history.
  • Confrontation with the past is an act of feminist solidarity, not only as an act of understanding of the Other and different woman, but also of launching and carrying out joint actions, not only against denial of the criminal past, but also against a policy of exclusion, clerical nationalism, clerical fascism, xenophobia and homophobia, which are gaining momentum in Serbia.
What have we arrived at so far in the course of the project? What have some of our experiences in fieldwork revealed?

In addition to the ‘minor’ conclusions that have been presented in the previous passage, let me present some more that are related to particular topics and issues that emerged during our fieldwork:
  • First, we have to confront the truth, i.e. the facts concerning the crimes that were committed in our name, and only afterwards can we deal with those concerning others; in this way, we bring about the strengthening of moral autonomy, moral integrity and dignity: only after we have cleaned our own courtyard, shall we be able to ask others to do the same, i.e. having confronted the crimes committed in our name... it will be possible to seek accountability for other crimes;
  • We have to understand various levels of responsibility and their role in the process of confrontation (individual/criminal, collective, moral, and political responsibility);
  • The rationale of seeking responsibility is also responsibility for the future/building a future with the aim of establishing a just peace, democracy, rule of law and a civil state;
  • An imperative element is catharsis, i.e. sobering up regarding the past and dismantling the myths, cultural patterns and systems of value that led to the war;
  • Solidarity also means recognizing the suffering of others, above all of the members of other nations and building trust with them;
  • This is the way to strengthen and empower women, creating women's solidarity for peace, etc.
From the role of victim to that of accountable citizen or 'to be a feminist means refusing the victim role’
  • Patriarchy has always attributed the role of victim to women – to be a victim means to reject civil responsibility for the crimes that were committed in our name;
  • Patriarchy imposes the victim role to women – the greater victims we become, the less we are responsible and active citizens;
  • By assuming responsibility for ourselves and making decisions in our own name, we become accountable and active citizens;
  • Nationalism and militarism emphasize the image of the woman/victim, they thrive on it, base their power on victims, on their obedience, on the control they exercise over them, thus preventing them from becoming aware of their own power and changing themselves, changing the world around them – therefore resistance to patriarchy, to nationalism/militarism removes the causes of war, etc.
Caring about others as a choice and not a duty – a feminist ethics of care
  • Caring about oneself as being aware of one's borders and needs, because rejection of oneself provokes bitterness, anger and discontent;
  • Caring about oneself – transforming anger and bitterness into acts of autonomy and creating space for public engagement;
  • Caring about others – not only about others from one's own family, but also about the community and humankind, but also becoming aware of the ways this care is abused for belligerent aims is an important point of the feminist ethics of care;
  • Resistance to exploitation in the form of housework – which is invisible, unrecognized and unpaid – that can be manifested through boycott or strike is a legitimate form of the feminist/pacifist engagement;
  • Caring about others ought to be a shared responsibility and not only one that is borne by women – when caring about others is divided power, women can engage in public affairs, i.e. the prevention of war and building of peace;
  • Caring about others as dividing power (within the household and in the public sphere) empowers women and strengthens civil responsibility.
Accountability or ‘I am accountable not only for my own acts but for what is being done in my name’
  • Most of the women that participated in the workshops/attended lectures feel accountable for the wars and all that was happening in the area of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990's, both those who were not active in the resistance and those who were;
  • There is a marked confusion in drawing the line between guilt and responsibility: guilt cannot be collective, whereas responsibility can; guilt is something we feel concerning a concrete act, whereas accountability is assumed, therefore, it is something that we can control and opt for;
  • We can assume responsibility for the acts of others, for something that others did in our name... or 'I happen to be Serbian, but they intentionally committed crimes in my name...' Our field activities have confirmed the importance of insisting on collective moral and political responsibility: through comparative dynamic exercises, a high degree of coincidence was remarked in the so-called collective affective states that most people are inclined to, in order to shun responsibility, as was the case in post-war Germany and Serbia today.
Women’s solidarity – dealing with the past – resistance to fascism in our everyday lives
  • Disobedience to all forms of patriarchy: war, nationalism and militarism – patriarchy is defended and nourished by a lack of solidarity, by nationalism and militarism, by the exclusion of the others and different and the aborting of solidarity as recognition of others and the different – that is why feminist theory and practice are inherently antinationalistic and antimilitaristic;
  • Rejecting the policy of imposed identities, primarily ethnic and religious, developing a pluralism of identities, but not in order to shun responsibility, because the war crimes were committed in the name of the entire (Serbian) collective, but as an alternative to the dominant policy.
  • Resistance to the fascization of the society that is manifested through the strengthening of clerical fascist, neo-nazi and similar tendencies and groups;
  • Joint action against the denial of the criminal past, against all forms of relativization of responsibility and war crimes;
  • New forms of discrimination and exclusion of minorities have been observed: besides the existing resentment toward the Roma population, growing resentment toward the Chinese population, present in our country for economic trade reasons, is also felt. In spite of the benefits they offer, because Chinese products are the cheapest and most accessible to the underprivileged, the majority of the population thinks that the Chinese are 'taking away our jobs'. In addition to the existing forms of discrimination against minorities (ethnic, religious, sexual and ideological), another form of discrimination has emerged, as a consequence of the clericalization of society: resentment towards atheists.
How to serve justice or designing new models of transitional justice, or ‘We are not guilty, but all of us are responsible...’
  • In the course of dynamic exercises and interactive lectures, the majority of participants opt for criminal sanctions, or, to an even greater extent, for non-criminal sanctions (lustration and education). The responsibility of civil society concerning the issue of transitional justice is emphasized, and collective responsibility – both moral and political – is clearly recognized. Namely, a large number of people, i.e. a predominant portion of the society, were involved in generating war and creating the conditions that led to war, so that the dismantling of the causes of war is bound to be a lengthy process. Women show a particular interest in an alternative legal system – such as women's tribunals, aware of the fact that the institutional legal system does not serve justice and does not provide answers to the complex questions concerning the past.
The project has so far attracted an even greater interest of women than we had expected, a greater degree of readiness to deal with the gravest issues together, in a country that has enormous problems not only regarding its past, but also regarding its present and its future.

This project, which is only one part of the extensive activities that Women in Black is carrying out concerning dealing with the past, continues and will be developed in accordance with the participants' needs, as well as other requirements and conditions.


*Beristein C., Reconstruir el tejido social, Icaria/Antrazyt, Barcelona 1999.
*Jaspers K., Die Schuldfrage, Piper, Munich, 1985, Serbian translation Pitanje krivice, Free B92, Belgrade 1999.
*Cohen S., State of Denial, Serbian translation Stanje poricanja – znati za zlodela i patnje, Samizdat B92, Belgrade 2003.
*Milosavljević B., Pavićević Đ., Tajni dosijei, (Secret Dossiers) Center for Anti-War Action, Belgrade 2001.
*Suočavanje s prošlošću – feministički pristup, (Dealing with the Past – A Feminist Approach) edited by Adrijana Zaharijević, Staša Zajović and Tamara Belenzada, Women in Black, Belgrade 2005.
*Wiesenthal, S., Recht, nicht Rache, Ullstein, Frankfurt-Berlin 1988, Serbian translation Pravda, ne osveta, Svijetlost, Sarajevo 1989.
*The Healing of Nation, Justice in Transition, Cape Town 1995, Serbian translation Zalečenje nacije, edited by Alex Borein and Janet Levy, Samizdat B92, Belgrade 2000.
*Snježana Milivojević, “Mediji i suočavanje sa prošlošću” (“The Media and Dealing with the Past”), lecture organized by Women in Black, Belgrade, April 2005.