The volume we present to the public is one of the results of many years of work by the comrades of the Crvena Arts and Culture Association on the digitization of documents to create an Archive of the Antifascist Struggle of the Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia. The idea of the archive was born in 2010, when we started to research the history of the Women’s Antifascist Front (AFŽ), under the aegis of the project, “What has our struggle given us?” Realizing that the history of the largest women’s organization in our part of the world was by and large unknown to us, we partly turned our efforts to make the archive public into an exploration of a facet of history which has always been, and remains, relegated to the margins. The archive, in its present form, is limited to the materials collected in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but our idea from the very outset was to create a Yugoslav archive – an idea based on the realization that only collective work can open new areas of research and enrich knowledge. In this sense, the archive is ours, it belongs to no one in particular, and therefore it belongs to everyone. It is in process, becoming, and this is precisely what manifests its basic purpose: to publicly and critically think our own past. We would like to extend an open invitation to everyone to contribute materials, editorial work, and otherwise, and get involved in the collective project of making a more comprehensive archive. At present, the archive comprises a part of the archives of the AFŽ, books and periodicals, stenographic notes, minutes and reports, as well as other materials, and it also contains works of oral history, interviews with surviving members of the AFŽ, a history which Yugoslav historiography failed to record.
Archives are usually seen as repositories of objective truth, or spaces of authenticity where history speaks to us. The archive also legitimates professional history as a scientific discipline, concerned with the past “as it really happened” (Ranke), and founded on the critical scrutiny of sources (Quellenkritik). For Derrida, there is no ‘authentic’ beginning of any archive, since any beginning is always already determined by political or scientific authority.1 All archives constitute assemblages of spoken or written words, images and documents, precisely as ‘historical sources’. Access to these sources is restricted, while the state employs scribes or clerks to furnish narratives of state order, legitimacy and continuity. It is not simply that an act of pre-selection precedes the formation of the archive; often it is the wholesale removal of ‘irrelevant’ materials, as in the ‘rubbish dumps’ of discarded ancient papyri, that upon subsequent discovery forms the basis of archival knowledge of the past.
The origins of this particular archive are no different. The decision to establish a central Yugoslav AFŽ archive, and archives in each of the federal republics, can be found in the archive itself. On 20 February 1950, the Central Committee of the Women’s Antifascist Front (CK AFŽ) took the decision the decision to establish a commission for the archiving of documents.2 Republic committees were instructed to start working on “the collection and sorting of historical materials from the history of the progressive Yugoslav women’s movement – dating from before, during and after the war.” The available archival material is incomplete and covers the period from 1942 to 1951, that is to say, from the founding of the AFŽ to two years before its dissolution. The material covering the period of the People’s Liberation Struggle (henceforth NOB) is limited, while the immediate aftermath of the war is covered much more extensively. After its dissolution, the archives of the AFŽ formed part of the Institute for the History of the Worker’s Movement, and were eventually taken over by the Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In spite of several attempts, we have not been able to ascertain if the material was lost or destroyed during the siege of Sarajevo. What we do know is that a process of archiving took place, in the sense of a committal to the archives, of filing and forgetting, whereby the archive was consigned, in Marx’s words, to the “gnawing criticism of mice.”
The filing away was indeed thorough. Thus, as early as 1955, with the publication of the first volume of “The Women of Croatia in NOB”, the AFŽ was replaced by a new subject – “women in NOB”. This marked the beginning of the practice of writing the history of women, focusing on their role in the liberation war by republic or region, but not on the antifascist movement of Yugoslav women, i.e. on the AFŽ.3 Similar publications pertaining to other republics only appeared several decades later.4 “The Women of Serbia in NOB” was published on the thirtieth anniversary of victory over fascism, whilst the Bosnian-Herzegovinian edition appeared in 1977 and was not related to any anniversary. Unlike the Serbian and Croatian editions, it was edited not by the former leaders of the AFŽ, but by (male) employees of the History Institute, Sarajevo (successor to the Institute for the History of the Workers Movement).
No comprehensive history of the mass antifascist movement of Yugoslav women was ever written in socialist Yugoslavia. The history of the AFŽ was by and large dissolved into the history of the NOB, into that of women tout court, and finally into the figure of the female partizanka. The AFŽ thus died two deaths. The first when it was dissolved in 1953, the second in the official memory of the past, where it remained as a spectral trace, the presence of an absence (Derrida), giving way to a new foundational state narrative, which omitted even the People’s Liberation Movement (NOP).5
All historical and scientific enquiry is led by a logic of question and answer, of problematics and the questions that they generate. Such enquiry is itself historically and politically determined. This volume draws on studies of the work and activity of the AFŽ in particular and women in Yugoslavia in general by Lydia Sklevicky, Svetlana Slapšak, Renata Jambrešić-Kirin, Gordana Stojaković and Ivana Pantelić. Its aim is to open a new discussion and to keep this important heritage alive. Reappropriation of this heritage is an important step in arming a new liberation movement in the struggle against patriarchal, fascist and capitalist tyranny.
* * *
What is the significance of an archive that once formed part of the archives of a people’s state, which then disintegrated into separate nation states? What does the archive mean to us today? Thinking one’s own history is the basic precondition and imperative of any critical relation towards the past which pretends to understand the past as something more than and different to its mere remembrance. Those who remember the past by monumentalizing it are condemned to forget it and learn nothing from it, while those who remember by forgetting are doomed to repeat it. By rejecting the history of the AFŽ, we risk marginalizing the whole of its experience and failing to draw the lessons it may offer us today.
1989 represents a turning point and a line of demarcation – democracy begins only where communism ends. This view comes to characterize the entire recent past of this region, in the course of which a “state of immaturity”, in the literal, Kantian sense, has been imposed upon the post-Yugoslav countries and the rest of Eastern Europe. Boris Buden has described this state of immaturity as a “democracy in nappies.”6 which requires tutors who, being adult and knowing the rules of proper behavior, maintain the political status quo by discharging the ideological function of masters of permissible speech and behavior. The rise of historical revisionism after 1989 deprived us of the ability to understand by ourselves the turning points of our own history. Thus the struggle of the Yugoslav communists, the men and women who fought in the Partisan army, as well as the afežeovke (members of the AFŽ), is today in part - the “totalitarian” part – inscribed in an history of defeat, and hence of totalitarianism, whilst an unchained historical revisionism is recorded in the victorious annals, the mythological state-building narratives of new, free, democratic and progressive societies.
What appears as a remainder in this picture is antifascism. Antifascism is one of the few legacies of the Yugoslav past that one is “allowed” to discuss publicly. At the same time, it has been completely emptied of its political charge and content, separated from the actual, lived historical experience, depoliticized and individualized, reduced to the experience of victory over fascism, with the obligatory erasure of Yugoslavism and communism as its constitutive elements, without which there would have been no victory, either in Yugoslavia or in Europe.
What, then, might it mean to return to the heritage of the AFŽ seventy-odd years later, after another bloody war which has left Bosnia and Herzegovina ravaged, plundered and divided? This volume is an attempt to consider this question. It does not pretend to offer final and definite answers, and its intent is ostensibly quite simple – to initiate and open a debate, which is why it does not present an ideologically one-sided representation of the AFŽ. Instead, going beyond the simple patriarchy thesis and the revisionist concept of totalitarianism, it seeks to contribute to the collective knowledge of a movement which still inspires awe. We might say, paraphrasing Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni, that this volume was conceived as a research tool, a compass to help us navigate through the labyrinth of archive materials, but also as an attempt to illuminate the contradictions inherent in the archive, contradictions which are the outcome of historic events but at the same time their driving force.7
In their different ways, the essays seek to examine on the one hand, revolutionary ruptures and, on the other, the contradictions of a moment which marked a historical turning point for women in our region. They question the episodes of a struggle that we must constantly start and accomplish anew. The experience of victory and defeat, past and present, both the AFŽ’s and our own, is a reminder that our new and future struggles and fronts, the battles yet to be won, stand open before us and and testify to the creation of the possible even where every- thing seemed impossible. The revolution took place. Let’s start another one!
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Derrida, Jacques, Mal d’Archive, Paris: Editions Galilée, 2008.|
|2.||↑||Oblasni odbor AFŽ Sarajevo, Dopis Centralnog odbora AFŽ-a Jugoslavije Glavnom odboru AFŽ-a BiH od 3. marta 1950. Arhiv Bosne i Hercegovine, Kutija 9, 317/50, 1950. p. 2|
|3.||↑||The thirtieth anniversary of the AFŽ finally saw the publication of the synthesis, “The struggle of Yugoslav women in the war”; see Dušanka Kovačević, Dana Begić, et al. Borbeni put žena Jugoslavije,Belgrade: Leksikografski zavod Sveznanje, 1972|
|4.||↑||The Montenegrin edition appeared in 1969, the Slovenian in 1970, the Macedonian in 1976|
|5.||↑||See more in: Hoare, Marko Attila, The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.|
|6.||↑||Buden, Boris, Zona prelaska. O kraju postkomunizma. Belgrade: Fabrika knjiga, 2012.|
|7.||↑||In the introduction to their collection of primary sources on the revolutionary movements in Italy after 1968, Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni discuss precisely the problem of presenting archives and oral history, and how one might conceivably represent the complexity of research that is simultaneously within and without the period covered by the book. See: L’orda d’oro 1968-1977. La grande ondata rivoluzionaria e creativa, politica ed esistenziale (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2015).|