Feminism in SFR Yugoslavia


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
Republika Srpska
Feminism is one of the most controversial movements today, with many people supporting it and just as many hating it. Such a widespread movement couldn't have passed by SFR Yugoslavia. In fact, Yugoslavia had one of the most developed feminist movements in the Communist bloc. Yugoslav feminists were mainly concentrated in cities, mostly in Belgrade, but in places like Zagreb and Ljubljana as well. Although they frequently mentioned the role of women in the World War II in Yugoslavia, most Yugoslav feminists were not Communists. The government did not really look too kindly upon the formation of these movements. They wanted to solve the issue of women's rights within the Party. The Communist Party proclaimed in June of 1948 that women should be raised and imbued with a socialist spirit. Both the 8th and 10th Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia highlighted the need for increased participation of women in the public life. From 1945 to 1977 around 240,000 women received degrees and by 1978 34,7% of the Yugoslav work force were women. From 1951 the government also started supporting abortions so the number of abortions rose. Despite their efforts to expand the role of women, the Communist Party itself was dominated by men. In fact, from 1948 to 1952 percentage of women in government agencies dropped from 19% to 13,07%. Also, most of the illiterates were women.

The first feminist meeting in Yugoslavia happened in 1978 in Belgrade. It was an international meeting called "Drug-ca žena" organized by Žarana Papić. Feminists from Italy, France, America and the UK also attended this meeting. By this time, a feminist group already existed in Zagreb and they inspired a psychologist Sofija Trivunac to start a feminist group in Belgrade. Some of the initial members were: Sonja Dreljević, Žarana Papić, Lina Vušković, Vera Smiljanić, Vuk Stambolović, Irena Čolanovic, Jovan Ristić, Ljiljana Guzina, Maja Korać, Lepa Mlađenović, Vesna Dražilović, Mirjana Milosavljević, Danka Šekularac-Jesenska etc. This group was much more informal than the Zagreb group which was connected to the Sociological Society. This group organized many meetings that discussed issues such as Christianity, patriarchy, Communism, gender, language etc. These meetings were organized around a round table so that every participant could be equal. Belgrade feminists prided themselves on being much more devoted to practice than Zagreb feminists that prioritized theory. Some of the influential Zagreb feminists were: Rada Iveković, Slavenka Drakulić, Jelena Zupa, Biljana Kašić etc. In 1982, something important happened. A woman, Milka Planinc, became the President of the Federal Executive Council, basically the PM of Yugoslavia. Despite this, the Yugoslav feminists launched several attacks on the Communist regime, calling Communism an anti-woman movement, which led to the government condemning feminist meetings. Eventually the interest in feminist meetings started to wane and by 1985 this Belgrade group stopped holding regular meetings.

1985-87 would be crucial years in developing this Yugoslav feminism, also known as Yugofeminism. First, a new feminist group was started in Trnje, a part of Zagreb. This group mainly attracted younger women. That same year, a first feminist group in Ljubljana was formed under the name Lilith. Sofija Trivunac founded the first centre for feminist therapy in 1985 in Belgrade. In Serbia in 1986, Lepa Mlađenović also started her own group "Woman and Society". 1987 saw the formation of a first lesbian group in Ljubljana Lilith LL. However, 1987 also saw the radicalisation of the movement with misandrist rhetoric making regular appearances. Feminists criticized Yugoslav men and that Yugo women can't find civilized men and how men perform worse than women in education. 1987 also saw the First Yugoslav Feminist Meeting in Ljubljana. Three more would follow in Zagreb, Belgrade and the last one in 1991 in Yugoslavia with the slogan "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Ljubljana". Yugofeminists also started SOS lines for abused women and children, first one appearing in 1988 in Zagreb, with Ljubljana and Belgrade following in 1989 and 1990 respectively. In October 1990, Serbian feminists formed their own political party ŽEST, an acronim meaning Žene (Women), Etika (ethics), Solidarnost (solidarity), Tolerancija (tolerance). They also created Women's Lobby and a Women's Parliament. As the 1990s were the decade of war, feminists found themselves split on the issue. Both Croatian and Serbian feminists formed anti-war groups, Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb and the Centre for Antiwar Action in Belgrade. However, there were those that identified with their nation and supported the war leading to a split between feminists. This split was much more noticeable among Zagreb feminists indicating that more Croatian feminists supported the war than their counterparts in Belgrade. Indeed, Serbian feminists would struggle with finding their place in this new, more nationalistic Serbia. Their anti-nationalistic rhetoric quickly turned to anti-Serb rhetoric and a view of only Serbs as the aggressors.

But this is after SFR Yugoslavia dissolved and it is also beyond the scope of this forum so I will stop here. Now, I have used both feminist and non-feminist sources when writing this. I have tried to be as objective as possible and I hope I managed to do so.
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