Dealing with the Past, Transition and Democratization
Thursday, February 16, 2012
By: Boban Stojanovic
By Boban Stojanovic
Queeria Center, Serbia
Almost a decade after the last of the country’s wars, violence on people with different sexual and gender identities in Serbia remains a powerful force, manifested in visible (brutal attacks on Belgrade Pride Marches) and less visible forms (institutional homophobia or lack of public critics toward Serbian Orthodox Church homophobia). Far from isolated incidents, such episodes are related to and symptomatic of a/this trend visible in Serbia since the end of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime on October 5, 2000. This phenomenon in Serbia, with parallel trends in region of ex Yugoslavia, must be situated within the region’s particular experience of post-socialism, namely, the unique political and social consequences of the demise of the former Yugoslavia, including the legacy of the Milosevic years and the public discourse on violence and war.
While the countries of the former Yugoslavia have all entered into various processes and projects that fall under the umbrella of “dealing with the past”, the links between past and present gender and sexuality-based violence have largely been ignored. In the running for a better life, democracy, Europe, very often we forget analyze changes in dominant relations in the field of gender and sexuality that appeared during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the nineties and, the ways in which these changes intersect with the processes of dealing with the past, transition, democratization and the implementation of human rights in the former Yugoslavia. In the frame of understanding homophobia in contemporary Serbian society we have to describe and produce an analysis of the factors leading to the alarming rise of sexual violence and homophobia in Serbia traceable since the wars of the nineties.
The current problems faced by sexual and gender minorities are manifold, and direct links to the legacy of war are not difficult to find. In the wars that took place in the former Yugoslavia during the past decade, gender identities and gender roles became extremely polarized, with men perceived as warriors and women as mothers and victims, thereby contributing to a strengthening of the traditional balance of power, social and cultural roles and norms. This patriarchal model of male-female relations, the general impoverishment of society, the recent wave of neo-conservatism and strengthening of clericalism have compounded the negative effects of transition that have characterized the last twenty years of life in Serbia and the region in its entirety, and have contributed to the deterioration of the status of women.
While some of these trends have been well-documented and discussed, others remain in the shadows. For example, the UN Bassiouni Report showed that one in ten rapes or sexual abuses during the wars were the violence of man against man. In parallel, in Serbia and Croatia there is a rise in homophobia, and hatred of gay people who of one’s own accord enter into same-sex (sexual) relationships. In parallel with such phenomena occurring on the battlefield, there is a process of retraditionalization of the gender roles in Serbia and Croatia, as well as a significant change in the public representation of women and men. Women’s rights are constantly brought into question, and one of fundamental women’s rights –the right to abortion– is the topic of an ongoing debate, played out in the media. After the war, one of the biggest problems in the process of democratization and taking the whole region closer to the European Union is related to the acceptance of women’s and LGBT human rights. The human rights of these two groups are constantly threatened by strong nationalist forces that strongly oppose to dealing with the past. The reason for opposing is the alleged conflict of women’s and LGBT rights with traditional values, as women’s and LGBT rights are considered as a "perverting the nation." Such a reaffirmation of patriarchal patterns has also influenced a strong rise in homophobia, frequently manifested in extreme violence carried out against members of the LGBT population. Such violence has direct consequences visible to the whole world: it is not possible to organize a successful gay parade in Belgrade, somebody always gets beaten in Zagreb, while in Bosnia the united nationalist and religious extremists from all the dominant ethnic and religious communities (Serbs, Croats and Bosnians; Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims) prevented Sarajevo Queer Festival from taking place.
The situation in the media scene corresponds to the general situation in society, with smaller outlets struggling to survive in a climate of economic and social crisis. The media’s deep connections with centres of political power and dependence on new riches results in a lack of balanced reporting. Bias, sensationalism and moral nihilism are key problems of the Serbian press, particularly visible in the so-called “yellow press”, or tabloids. This is particularly visible in reporting about minorities where the reporting of crime inappropriately makes reference to the religious, ethnic, sexual or other background of a minority. The print media in Serbia still constitutes a massive violation of basic human, civil and minority rights. Research of the Media Centre in Sarajevo "Representation of women in print media in south east Europe" from 2007 shows that the polarization of traditional gender roles and identity, strengthening the dominant gender stereotypes is reflected in the media. This marginalization of women’s voices in the public sphere, the media make it impossible to hear these voices and prevent readers from looking at women as people with ideas and expertise. This prevents women from participating in democratic debate and discourse. This deprivation of the right to communicate is one of the methods that keep women "in their place" -in the private sphere, with no authority to act as representatives or to speak out as experts. Moreover, the media still ignore gender issues as important topics worthy of addressing. Also, the media do not recognize the need for gender perspectives in their coverage of various social problems. Considering the importance and influence of the media and the methods of their reporting in shaping public opinion, this is a situation that is more than worrying.