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Waging wars after peace agreements on the Balkans – gender perspective

Boro Kitanoski – Peace Action, Macedonia

Proclamation to the Serbian friends

SERBIAN MAN. Your Serbian virtue must be loyalty. Be loyal in the Orthodox Church to the God of your Holy Ancestors. Be in the St. Sava’s patriotism loyal to your Fatherland. Be in household responsibility loyal to your family. Without God, without a Fatherland, without a family, You are nobody and nothing. So, keep your orthodox faith, defend your Serbian Fatherland, and take good care about your family.1

Although it looks like a text coming out of the middle age Europe, this exception is a part of the Proclamation to the Serbian friends, published in 19952, and promoted ever since, by one Serbia based right wing group called “Obraz” (Cheek). Later on, Obraz addresses male Serbians as: a Priest, Soldier, Police officer, a Peasant and a Worker. Each of them with proscribed qualities: The Priest is a servant of God, keeper of the national sanctities… and the very life of the Serbian fatherland depends on him. The Soldier is the basic frame of the Strong Serbian State. The Policeman raises his strength from his faith in the God of Justice. The Peasant is the foundation of the Serbian household social order, he needs nor communists nor democrats, he only needs Justice and Truth. The worker is advised that his work has a meaning only if he raises a family and straightens a nation… Women are not included in the mentioned professions, but still, Obraz proscribes desired qualities for them as well. All of them are included into one category – Serbian woman, and they should be modest and devoted to God and the family because without them they can be neither young girl, neither mother.

I choose to start this text with the proclamation of Obraz from Serbia for a couple of reasons:

1. Obraz started as a mysterious organization linked with the Serbian military, church officials and highest political figures (today’s prime minister of Serbia V. Kostunica was one of the writers in their newspaper in the ‘90s). Soon Obraz became very visible and influential organization with local branches all around Serbia.

2. Its proclamation seamed colorful and directly speaks about the expected roles of Serbian man and women in order to be considered as ‘good’ or ‘friends’.

But, Obraz is not a Serbian specialty. More or less directly spoken, I find the same proscribed roles in most of the Balkan countries, especially in ex-Yugoslavia post-war societies. Just by a simple reading of the proclamation we can notice that all of the proscribed roles in the society are considered as positive only if they can be nationally useful. For the good of the nation. A men should be: loyal (to god, church and fatherland), strong, brave, just, they are the back-bone of the family and keepers of the national sanctities. A woman should be: modest and devoted to god and family, since the physical existence of the nation depends on her womb. She’s ‘good’ and ‘a friend’ as long as she fulfills the proscribed national duties.

But, no matter how ‘well connected’ Obraz-like groups are, they are far from being influential enough to be a major factor in the Balkan societies. Still, we can see many aspects of their ‘program’ being in realization all around the Balkans. The problem of strong fixation of gender roles and their militarization is far more deeply rooted in the Balkan societies.

Where does this kind of fixation comes from?

The militarization of Balkan societies (and not only them) is done in strong correlation with the gender roles. Gender roles are the foundation of the big war system. The positions are fixed and very little space is available for fluctuations. The rise of nationalism of the ‘90s was developed in strong correlation with militarism and gender division. Men are soldiers, defending the country and the holy justice, women are mothers and sisters, weak, often raped, expelled from their homes, in need to be protected and defended. Masculinity and femininity were completely defined through nationalism.

Boys are raised to be soldiers. They are the sacred keepers of the nation’s borders. In it’s book ‘What does every orthodox boy needs to know’, the Serbian Orthodox Church also proscribes that the young boy should ride a bicycle and play with guns and weapons.3 And let’s not forget that the war itself is considered as the necessary action for the creation of the state and threat of war as the keeper of the state’s independence. It is pretty obvious who has greater rights on controlling the state formed in that way - those that fought in wars.

Educational system. History classes should be re-named into – war history. (At least in schools in which I studied.) They are filled with (male) soldiers described as heroes, detailed articles about battles and stories that describe the neighboring nations as enemies waiting for the right moment to attack us. They directly speak of neighboring nations (Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians, etc.) as historical enemies, expansionists, just waiting for the right moment to attack. History proves that ‘they’ have always been like that. Years of this type of teaching creates nothing but irrational frustrations in young people’s minds. Try to combine this frustration with the rest of the social environment: poverty, not being able to travel abroad – sometimes because of poverty, mostly by being trapped by visa regimes. I graduated high school in ’95, and I was in the first generation that was not trained to shoot with a rifle during high-school. But I still remember the problems I had with my teachers during high school (and even on college later) for having long hair and wearing earrings. Long hair and earrings were not male enough.

Religious organizations. Often they are considered as one of the sources for strict fixation of gender roles. I think their influence is overestimated. During the wars, the religious organizations became fully operational in the big national war projects, acting in symbiosis with the political and army elite. Milosevic and Serbian Orthodox Church didn’t had much mutual sympathies, but it never stopped them to work for the same nationalistic goal. Religious communities grabbed the role of justifying the war (In 2001, the Archbishop of Macedonian Orthodox Church tried to persuade the religious Macedonian public that fighting in defensive war – aren’t they all defensive? – is not in contrary with the Bible. One similar attempt was made in an article published in Serbia saying that killing the enemy in defensive war is not a murder in Bible sense of the word, but still, it may prevent the soldier from becoming a priest later4.). The role of religious organizations in militarizing the societies is very obvious with many examples on the Balkans. Although they are influential and present in the public life, they are not to be blamed for everything. Even during the big rallies held on Tito’s birthday in Socialist Yugoslavia (when religious organizations had very little influence on public life), men on rallies were in uniforms, holding weapons, while women were mostly with flowers and shiny clothes.

Military. Either as conscript system, either as a professional army. It provides a perfect shield for the masculinity – uniform. We prepare our male citizens all of their life to respect it and to dream of becoming a part of it one day. In some communities on the Balkans, serving the military term is considered as proof of masculinity. Even as a preposition for a male to get married. Our greatest history heroes were soldiers. The true keeper of the social order and a typical male club. There are no doubts of the male character of the military, even if women serve as solders in some occasions. Women in military during wars on the Balkans were always described in a special way. They were either mothers fighting alongside with their sons or brave women that left their children home with their parents (never with their husband) and came to defend the country, the nation and justice. It often had a very specific message towards other men: if women are brave enough to join the military and go to war, why can’t you? Maybe war isn’t that scary after all. On the other hand, deserters, conscientious objectors, and all other that refused to join the war, or escaped, were often described as women. Or as gays, which also has the same intention of emasculation. Macedonian traditional folk songs are full of stories of women that fought in the national liberation struggle in the past. Many of them even as commanders of guerilla units. But they were all dressed as men and no-one knew that they were women. All these songs end by the discovery by the soldiers of the true sex of their commander. None of them speaks on what happened later. We can assume that that was the end of the guerilla career for those women.


All our societies are organized in a way of preparing for the war. Preparations for wars enhances the militarization of gender roles and their fixation – through narratives, laws (written and unwritten), propaganda, falsification of historical events and the repressive apparatus, all proscribing the division of national duties of male and female. Balkan is a mixture of highly militarized societies coming out of ethnical and/or religious wars. Everything is subordinated to the national cause. People too. The tanks and soldiers are not on the fields, but there’s another type of war that continues. The national and religious trenches in which people live still exist. Demography was always a great deal for the Balkans. Percents of population and rise in number of one ethnical community is considered as a great threat for the other. In some cases (like post-war Macedonia), even some human rights (lingual rights, educational rights, consensual elements in decision making, etc.) are linked with the percentages of representation of ethnical communities in some area. This leads to the demographic war that never stops. And another great nail in fixed gender roles. It becomes a matter of national duty to be heterosexual and to raise children. Of course - in bigger numbers than your neighbors. It puts women in a role of merely breeding children. And if that’s not enough, than the brave men will take care of the problem in the next war.


1 Proglas prijateljima Srbskim,, translated from Serbian language by me

2 My estimation, I couldn’t find exact date of the proclamation, but I’m pretty sure it was published in the middle or late ‘90s

3 ‘Drugi’ – Queeria and Zene u Crnom, Beograd


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