Civil Society, Feminism and Institutional Changes

  • Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 10)


As demonstrated in previous chapters, economic hardships and the widening of social differences resulted from the introduction of a market economy, rapid privatization and war. Combined with a renewed traditionalism and masculinity crisis and an upheaval in the traditional gender structure in the institution of marriage, this led to negative consequences in marital relationships. In addition, the widening of the gap between poor and rich countries, ethnic conflicts and war, as well as related migration, led to the commercialization of women’s bodies and the expansion of the sex industry in general, and prostitution, in particular. Thus, the costs of changes, in terms of deterioration of interpersonal relationships and violence, seem to be high in all four countries, with people from Serbia and Macedonia being in the worst situation, since they were additionally affected by ethnic conflicts and militarism.


Civil Society Domestic Violence Sexual Violence Battered Woman Roma Woman 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 161.
    Women’s organizations existed before the Second World War in Macedonia as well but they were not as strong as in Serbia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia (Bozinovic, 1996:112–115)Google Scholar
  2. 162.
    Najcevska also stresses that women, who felt excluded from official politics tended to compensate for their exclusion through their activism within NGO’s (interview, 1999). However, it seems that traditional gender stereotypes played some role as well since women themselves chose to as members of political parties. Also, as Blagojevic points out, by accepting “the women’s victim story,” women’s groups accepted traditional gender roles (Blagojevic, 1998:26).Google Scholar
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    Interviews with Tatyana Kotzeva (Bulgaria) and Mirjana Najcevska (Macedonia). Also, Blagojevic points out that the move from volunteer to paid work was a special challenge for the women’s movement in Serbia and it speeded the process of transformation of feminist activism into a profession (Blagojevic, 1998:31). This latter was also noticed in other post-communist and some Western countries. For example, as Lang points out, both East and West German women’s movements have metamorphosed from overarching movements into small-scale professionalized organizations (NGO-s) (Lang, 1997:102.)Google Scholar
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    Feminist panels, meetings and other events with participation of feminists from Western countries have been organized in Belgrade on a regular basis from 1975 to 1992 when the war and international isolation of Serbia prevented from continuing.Google Scholar
  5. 165.
    Although the Association of Hungarian Women has the same origin, and was the first Hungarian women’s organization established as an NGO after the political changes, its impact on further development of women’s groups in Hungary was less than the impact of similar organizations in Bulgaria and Macedonia.Google Scholar
  6. 166.
    The exception is the Association of Women of Yugoslavia who never accepted cooperation with autonomous women’s groups. This was a consequence of its complete political instrumentalisation and loyalty to the ruling party, who considered all NGO’s its enemies. Paradoxically, even the former communist party’s official women’s organization was more friendly toward feminists. For example, I was invited to make a presentation about domestic violence at one of the last meetings of the official Yugoslavian women’s organization held in 1989. Other feminist activists were invited as well and in conclusion, there was an assessment that changes of laws regarding marital rape and domestic violence were necessary. However, the worsening of situation in Serbia as a whole made the achievement of these conclusions much less realistic at the end of 1990’s than 10 years earlier.Google Scholar
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    Kotzeva explains this trend by the fact that the establishment of NGO’s in general has been seriously hindered by the re-emergence of nationalistic and regional politics. She also considers that in the context of a weak ‘pro civil society’ ideology, during the first years of transition, rare women’s organizations were elitist, their influence in society was very constrained and their mobilization role was slight (Kotzeva, 1999:88).Google Scholar
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    I took into consideration only those groups which are clearly established as NGO’s. Thus, the groups which are parts of political parties and trade unions were not considered. However, the given numbers should not be taken for granted, since, especially in Bulgaria and Hungary, it was difficult to make a clear distinction between different forms of women’s organizations. Determination of the precise numbers was especially difficult since different sources use different criteria and as a consequence give different information.Google Scholar
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    For example, in Macedonia there are organizations of Albanian, Serbian, Walach and Turkish women, while in Bulgaria and Hungary there are only Roma women’s groups.Google Scholar
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  16. 176.
    At the end of 1980’s and the beginning of 1990’s there were several political women’s organizations in Serbia (Women’s Lobby, Women’s Party and Women’s Parliament). Since the beginning of the war in the former Yugoslavia, “pure” political projects were replaced by anti-war activism concentrated in the activities of Women in Black, in which women from almost all women’s groups took part. As stated by Blagojevic, it seems that unsuccessful attempts in preventing the war resulted in women’s organizing in order to resist the war (Blagojevic, 1998:25). Later on, almost all women’s groups were involved in some kind of political struggle against Milosevic’s regime, resulting in its end in 2000.Google Scholar
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    They found the model for their activities in the countries where the Women in Black network was established previously, such as Italy, Israel, Spain, Germany and USA.Google Scholar
  18. 178.
    At the time of the survey three autonomous women’s studies centers were active (Belgrade, Novi Sad and Subotica). The Belgrade Women’s Study Center was established in 1992 as the first women’s studies center in Serbia. Later, the Belgrade Center became one of the best-developed women’ studies grassroots initiatives in Eastern and Central Europe as a whole. Also, since 1999, Gender and Culture have been taught as a postgraduate program, within the Alternative Academic Network in Belgrade. The development of women’s and gender studies in Serbia is also reflected in numerous publications, i.e. journals and books that are hardly comparable with the small amount of published work in other countries. Women’s and gender studies as well as feminist activism periodicals include Zenske studije (Women’s Studies), Temida journal on victimization, human rights and gender, Profemina journal on women’s writing, Femisticke sveske (Feminist Notebooks), SOS bilten (SOS Bulletin), Zene za mir (Women for Peace), and Zene protiv rata (Women against War). Also, only Serbia has a feminist publishing house (“94”), which publishes books about women (including books about domestic violence, sexual violence, incest and women’s human rights). Articles published by feminist academics have a significant place within general academic journals as well, especially in those dealing with sociology, literature, criminology and law.Google Scholar
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    It is worth mentioning that this University as a whole, and the Program on Gender and Culture in particular, was initiated and established from outside I-Iungary, i.e. from USA.Google Scholar
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    For example, White Ring and Association of Hungarian Women were established already in 1989, and Belgrade’s Women’s Lobby and two SOS hotlines for battered women and children were established in1990.Google Scholar
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    Answers about research as an NGO activity should be considered cautiously, since, when answering questions about research, some organizations (especially victim support organizations) obviously had in mind sporadic analysis or their own (nor so regularly collected) statistical data.Google Scholar
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    During NATO bombing of Serbia, they offered psychological support by telephone to the number of women from different part of Serbia, including Albanian women from Kosovo while the telephone lines were functioning. Because of the circumstances, this time they did not wait for women to call them but instead called first and asked women how they were doing and tried to empower them. (S.Stanimirovic “Radionicc protiv straha”(Workshops against fear), Glas, 9 September 1999, p.6).Google Scholar
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    These initiatives and trainings are very important since experiences of organizations from the capitals were disseminated through them in other parts of the country, and served as an inspiration for the establishment of new organizations.Google Scholar
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    Total number of organizations in Table 5 differs from total number in previous tables because the question about feminism was posed only to representatives of women’s organizations, while all other questions were posed to other (male-female) organizations which deal with violence against women as well.Google Scholar
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    At the time of the survey the opening of third SOS hotline in Macedonia was announced by theGoogle Scholar
  32. 192.
    The Centre established Domestic Violence Legal Clinic in Hungary, which, at the time of the survey, women’s group Iskra (Bitola). was unique in the whole region.Google Scholar
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    The program has been functioning for several years in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine. Bulgaria joined it in its third phase (1998–2001). As stated in Animus information leaflet, it is not accidental that Bulgaria joined I,a Strada at exactly this moment. Bulgaria became one of the leading origin countries for trafficked women and in 1998, women’s NGO’s became developed enough to deal with delicate trafficking issues.Google Scholar
  34. 194.
    Both Animus and Nadja Center also support women from other towns who turn to them. Sometimes, even when they have a similar organization in their own towns, women feel it is more confidential to call an organization in Sofia. It is understandable since in a small town people know each other very well so that women are afraid of being recognized and prefer to stay anonymous.Google Scholar
  35. 195.
    At the time of the survey, several local women’s organization, offering help to victims of violence, just started to work.Google Scholar
  36. 196.
    The records are usually handwritten which additionally makes use of them difficult.Google Scholar
  37. 197.
    In the time of the survey, Ombudswoman from Hungary had plans to start it as well.Google Scholar
  38. 198.
    Such organizations are Women’s Research Center-Nis, Group for Women’s Rights-Belgrade, Society for protection of mental health of families endangered by war-Novi Sad, YUCOM-Center for Women’s human Rights-Belgrade, Women’s Center-Uzice, “Luna”-Vrsac and Center for non-violent conflict resolution-Nis.Google Scholar
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    Bulgaria: Roundtable on fight against trafficking of women kicks off, the Message received through on April 20, 2000.Google Scholar
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    P.Finn “Hungarians Say ‘Stop’ to red-light Districts Officials Befuddled By New Prostitution Law”, Washington Post Foreign Service, March 12, 2000.Google Scholar
  41. 201.
    It is worthwhile mentioning that after the NATO bombing, the prospects of the state’s acceptance of any NGO initiatives became poorer than ever. Although the government was hostile toward NGO’s before the NATO attack, after the bombing, NGO’s were openly called traitors and terrorists allegedly paid by NATO to complete the destruction of the country. However, the changes which occurred in October 2000 opened a more optimistic perspective for changes in that regard.Google Scholar
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    At the time of the survey, Serbia was an exception in that regard, but at the time of writing this book, cooperation between the Government and non-governmental organizations was much better there as well. Cooperation developed especially regarding sex trafficking.Google Scholar
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    “EU urges Yugoslavia to tackle illegal immigration”, Reuters, ltd, Message received through on April 11, 2001.Google Scholar
  44. 204.
    As Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall says, many women involved in the 1960’s women’s movement in the US came from the civil rights movement and the New left, so that their aim was “to build a mass movement to end segregation and discrimination based on sex” (Rowbotham, 1992:259).Google Scholar
  45. 205.
    This is not unusual having in mind that during communism violence against women, especially domestic violence was among the most hidden violations of women’s human rights. In addition, Western experiences regarding violence against women were among the first Western feminist experiences that women from post-communist countries became familiar with.Google Scholar
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    Interviews with Virginia Zaharjeva an Tatyana Kotzeva (Bulgaria), Maria Adamik and Elekes Iren Borbala (Hungary), Biljana Bejkova and Mirjana Najcevska (Macedonia) and Vesna Stanojevic (Serbia).Google Scholar
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    Also interviews with Virginia Zaharjeva (Bulgaria) and Biljana Bejkova (Macedonia). In Serbia, Blagojevic points out the positive exception regarding media presentation of feminist activities on violence against women. The same may be applied to other countries. As argued by Blagojevic, it may be that it confirms a well-known fact that problems arise when women begin to gain power, while dealing with problems considered marginal is still seen as acceptable (Blagojevic, 1998:40).Google Scholar
  48. 208.
    Before changes violence against women was seriously discussed only in Serbia, which is not strange bearing in mind Serbia’s earlier openness toward the West as well as the fact that the women’s movement and feminist ideas, including those developed by feminist scholars just in the field of law and victimology, started already in the 1980’s.Google Scholar
  49. 209.
    However, some positive examples are found in Bulgaria, where Sofia municipality has provided a buildings for both shelter (Nadja Center) and Center for rehabilitation of women victims of violence (Animus). Sofia municipality also supported Animus in giving it an opportunity to advertise its activities on public places. In 1998 Animus received official permission to put stickers of the help-line in the public transport (Annual Report of Animus Association, 1998:34).Google Scholar
  50. 210.
    For example, few years ago Serbia had three shelters but two of them had to be closed recently because of lack of funding. Although foreign funding of NGO’s in Serbia was always poor, for some time women’s groups managed to cover their expenses and continue their activities thanks to the solidarity of women’s groups from different countries. After the NATO bombing funding became even more limited and selective than earlier, often negatively affecting the activities of women’s victim support organizations. As already mentioned, the situation improved again after the changes in 2000.Google Scholar
  51. 211.
    Anna Bethlen, counselor for women’s issues in the Ministry of Social Affairs-Secretariat for Women (Hungary), who is also a volunteer with NANE, gave a good example of this. In the interview conducted on May 1, 1999, she said: “I think that Government does not have a real interest in our actions - it was their obligation toward international bodies to establish that department and they did it because of that. So we have to fight a lot to be visible. We are now on a lower level than we were before the most recent change of Government. Now we are a department with less competence than before. Our staff was changed too, so we now have new people who do not know the problem very well. We have seven persons who are professionals but they are not trained to deal with women’s issues. We also have a fund for helping women’s NGO’s but it is seven million forints and that is too little for us to help in an effective way and it makes our actions ineffective. And we have a very limited function so that we do not have a real impact on solving women’s problems. Because of that, I made a proposal for the establishment of a special state institution, which can help NGO’s dealing with violence against women. Also, this institution would deal with the reactions of state bodies (court, police) to violence against women and help finance organizations that can provide help to victims - urgent help, psychological help, legal help, help to get access to the social system, etc. This institution is also going to deal with raising awareness of women victims, who do not know how to reach those who can help them, and it should build a network of both governmental and nongovernmental organizations.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Criminological and Sociological ResearchBelgradeSerbia

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