Waging wars after peace agreements on the Balkans – gender perspective


Boro Kitanoski – Peace Action, Macedonia

Proclamation to the Serbian friends

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

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
, and they
should be modest and devoted to God and the family because without
them they can be neither young girl, neither mother.

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

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.

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’.

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

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?

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

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.

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.

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
, 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.

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.


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.


prijateljima Srbskim,
translated from Serbian language by me

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

– Queeria and Zene u Crnom, Beograd

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