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Date: Fri, 13 Jan 1995 14:02:38 -0800 Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
Date: 5:36 PM Jan 13, 1995
From: Maggie Helwig <>

Birth, nationalism and war

By Stasa Zajovic, Women in Black, 13 January 1995

Belgrade - In the late eighties, with the consolidation of nationalism as the state ideology in Serbia, the propaganda directed against women grew stronger. It is well-known that in periods of acute crisis, economic depression or marked repression, women are called to turn back to "home and family"; they are referred to as "angels of the home hearth", as idea mothers, as faithful wives ... Such propaganda, among other things, aims at postponing or preventing social tensions, outbursts of social discontent caused by mass lay-offs of working men and women. Women are the first to be fired; it is demanded that they hand their jobs over to men. At the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties, when over half the businesses in Serbia were suffering severe economic losses, preparations began for mass lay-offs, mostly of women.

Partly for that reason, in early 1990, demographers and physicians, whole-heartedly supported by the regime- sponsored mass media and institutions, offered some "very interesting legal proposals concerning women". Some of these projects must be singled out for their cynicism and underestimation of women.

Projects devoted to wives and mothers

In February 1990, Ivan Knatjer, a physician and self-proclaimed demographic expert, proposed "legal innovations designed to help the reaffirmation of the family". He suggested the imposition of taxes on unmarried or divorced men and women over the age of thirty. According to him, the tax should consist of 10 per cent of the salaries of these unfit persons. The goal of the project was to "prevent the disastrous decline in birth-rate in Serbia"; it is not clear why it is so important whether children are born within or outside marriage. This "expert" also suggests that "persons who refuse to accept matrimonial duties voluntarily should be forced to do so".

Knajter wished above all to win the favour of women. He stated: "Once she is married, the wife would be considered employed, with all social security benefits. The marriage would be her work-place". He forgot to specify, however, who would provide a salary. Social security, special state funds, labour unions, the husband, or perhaps just the collective "father of the nation" on the Stalin model? In the end, he reveals another argument to justify the project, apart from the "disastrous decline in birth-rate": "This proposal would open many new jobs" -- for men, of course, men who would only later be mobilised and sent to the front to defend the mother-nation; while women, in the meantime, would give birth to cannon-fodder.

Maternal mobilisation: saving the nation from extinction

The development of nationalist propaganda may be divided into two phases, although they are constantly intertwined. The first phase started as early as the middle of the eighties. It consisted of the preparation of various projects aimed at the "suppression of the white plague" (i.e., the non-Serbian population, in particular the ethnic Albanians). The second phase was of propaganda about child-bearing for patriotic reasons, that is, for the enhancement of national security.

At the beginning of the first phase, demographers asserted that the birth rate in central and eastern Serbia, as well as in Vojvodina, was dropping at an alarming rate, while in Kosovo it was rising. At this time, demographers did not explicitly use ethnic criteria but talked about the issue in territorial terms. The imbalance was explained either by economic factors or by changes in the system of values. As a solution, mostly administrative measures were offered, the "ideal family - three child" model was popularised, and so on.

The demographic discourse -- in accordance with the expansion of nationalist ideology -- soon acquired a repressive, racist character. All bills proposed since January 1990 h{ve resorted to the "ethnic principle". The January 1990 Resolution on the Renewal of the Population, as well as the May 1990 amendments, suggested a double population policy -- pro-natality for Serbia and Vojvodina and anti-natality for Kosovo. It was immediately clear that the double policy was being used, first, in order to spread nationalist hatred, and second, as another instrument of patriarchal separation of, and discrimation against, women on an ethnic basis. Feminists of Belgrade expressed their protest and indignation in an open letter: "Coercive measures of population policy are applied in countries where human rights are violated daily, where the state deliberately encourages ethnic and racial intolerance. The introduction of coercive management in the already poor network of gynaecological facilities in Kosovo is impermissible, since the right to medical service is a fundamental, not an ideological, issue. Such repressive measures will not bring about the 'desired' results, nor can they serve as a substitute for changes in the economic, social and educational spheres. If women really enjoyed the opportunity and the right to choose, the population problem would not exist. Instead of administrative measures of population policy, the differences in demographic development should stimulate the creation of conditions in which women will win their reproductive rights".

Official documents started multiplying, among which "The Warning", issued in 1992, should be singled out for its neo- Malthusian, racist character. Nine "significant" national institutions composed this document. The ruling party, the Socialist Party of Serbia, adopted "The Warning" at its congress as one of the three official documents.

"The Warning" openly points to the "threat" that minority peoples pose to the majority; that is, since "Albanians, Moslems and Gypsies, with their higher birth-rate, deviate from rational, humane reproduction, they threaten the rights of other peoples". That is to say, women of these peoples (and not men, on this point) participate in the "general conspiracy against the Serbian people"; they bear children, it is claimed, for separatist, fundamentalist reasons, and thus Serbian women should bear children for patriotic and moral reasons. "The will to bear children should be mobilised".

The newly-formed parties joined the appeals of demographers, physicians and state institutions. Almost all the parties failed the democracy test with relation to women; their statements are imbued with military language. The program of the Association of All Serbs of the World, published a proclamation before the first multi- party elections in which they stated that "in these difficult times for our state, not bearing children ... will be considered treason". In the same vein, the leader of the Serbian Popular Renewal insisted that "to equalise children born out of marriage with those born in it constitutues a form of special war against the Serbian people".

Nationalists are fond of speaking about honesty, going back to roots, mediaeval idylls; thus the 1990 program of the Serbian Renewal Movement states that one of the goals of its policy is "the restoration of the family, the return to tradition, ensuring conditions for an honest living. The Serbian Renewal Movement will place its capabilities at the service of the renewal of the Serbian character, striving for the flourishing of those virtues of the Serbian man that will soon become part of the Serbian moral code".

Feminist replied to these Serbian politicians worried about the extinction of the nation by suggesting that "they examine the model of parthenogenetic procreation (conception without sin) and clone themselves into innumerable Serbian copies. It may be assumed the young Serbian foetuses will be immediately christened, then incited and trained for hatred and war against the numerous enemies of the Serbian people".

Moral condemnation

Generally, this propaganda is filled with moral condemnations and hatred of women. "The Warning" accuses women of not having children$k{ut of "conformism and selfishness". Marko Mladenovic, an official demographer, in one of his famous operatic statements about the "biological death, the gangrene, the tragedy", reveals the age-old desire to usurp women's procreative power: "Our man does not have children because happiness for him means having fun, a car, or a summer cottage. This is egoism". Then this enraged militarist joins cradles and guns together: "How to save Serbia! In 15 or 20 years there will be nobody to work, give birth and wage wars!"

The Church enthusiastically joined in the chorus, with the Orthodox Bishop of Zvornik and Tuzla proclaiming that "today many Serbian women kill their children by abortion. Feminists are in favour of killing unborn children. Fortunately, they have nothing to do with the being of the Serbian people".

The Church also envisages natural punishments for women who do not bear children: "Women who bear children," claims Bishop Nikolai in a widely-distributed street poster, "seldom get cancer. And the more children they have, the more they are immune to this horrible disease. Spinsters and women who prevent childbirth are by more than 40 per cent more often afflicted by cancer, particularly breast cancer, than women who have children".

Patriotic mobilisation

The father of the nation, this time embodied in the president of the republic Slobodan Milosevic, in his "historical speech" at Kosovo Polje in 1989 declared, "If we are not very good at working, we are excellent at fighting". This was the beginning of the actual preparations for war. He had chosen a place that is both the legendary "cradle of the Serbian people" and the site of a great collective defeat, to proclaim that the offended honour of the fatherland would be revenged by military raids. "We must not forget that once we used to be an army -- large, brave and proud. Now, six centuries later, we are once again fighting and more battles are ahead". At Kosovo Polje as well, the cult of the heroic Mother Jugovic, the mother who offered all of her sons to death, was born. The cult revived as the war got underway, with nationalists demanding that maternity hospitals become recruitment centres: "For each Serbian soldier who fell in Slovenia, Serbian mothers must give birth to a hundred new soldiers".

It was no longer enough to bear children in order to prevent the extinction of the nation. Now, sons were needed for the defense of the fatherland and the struggle with "enemy peoples". Marko Mladenovic calculated precisely the "enemy's" advance, concluding that if childbearing continues at its present rate "the last Serbs will defend themselves from the Kalemegdan fortress in the year 2091. But this last battle may also happen earlier, having in mind pessimistic prognoses". He later made another calculation, with an unmistakable admixture of racism, that "in the Balkans there are nations multiplying at the pace of rabbits, with ten or 15 children per family. In fifty years they will reach Belgrade".

Propaganda is not restricted to mass media. Institutions, lavishly supported by the state, with names like the Fund for the Protection of Mothers and Offspring and nothing to offer but repressive measures, keep springing up every day. The misogynism of the demographers and physicians can even make them forget the official line that "unjust sanctions are to blame for everything", leading them to state that "poverty and sanctions are not to blame. We used to be even poorer than we are, and still our predecessors had seven or eight children" ... "Sanctions and war cannot be an excuse ... During our 35th Gynaecological Week we ascertained that the reasons why women do not have children are 85 per cent egoistic, 26 per cent masked egoism, and only 8 per cent economic" (which appears to add up to 119 per cent).

This was too much for the president of the republic, who had to remind them that "sanctions are killing our unborn babies". This is one more example of the way in which, in militarist societies where it is assumed that "maternity is the counterpart of war, or war is the symmetrical complement of maternity", the language and rituals must be the same.

Since June 1993, the Church in Serbia has given the Mother Jugovic medal to mothers with four or more children. In 1993 they awarded 16 gold and 14 silver medals. Unsatisfied with the performance, they admonished, "In earlier times, mothers were able to send as many as nine sons to the emperor's army, so that they could fight for the freedom of the country and of their Orthodox faith. We have such mother today, too, but very few".

Serbian women bear increasingly few children, and Serbian men are increasingly unwilling to go to war.