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Who Belongs?

Women, Marriage and




Whittier College, and Clark University, USA

This article examines ways in which nationalism, as a concept, is gendered and the
impact that that perspective had on women in the Balkans during the wars in the
1990s. The impact on women was especially severe, given the number who were raped
or displaced hy the wars. In this article, the authors address the ways in which (male)
nationalist leaders used citizenship and the imagery of women to alter the perception
that the state and society had toward women in general, and to those in ethnically
mixed marriages in particular. Importantly, paying attention to the lives of women in
ethnically mixed marriages can shed light on the dynamics of civil wars, on their
consequences and on the very politics of state-defined citizenship.
Bosnia, citizenship, ethnic conflict, former Yugoslavia, gendered nationalism, identity,
marriage, Serbia

The reality usually proves that regardless of culture and place, women's roles
revert to traditional ones, and nationalistic loyalties are more highly valued
than is gender equality.
(McKay 1998: 356)


It has been well established that war often takes its greatest toll on civilian
members of the society who are often the most innocent victims of the
conflict, primarily women, children and the elderly. The wars that wracked
the Balkans intermittently from 1991 through 1999 are no exceptions.' There

International Feminist Journal of Politics, 6:3 September 2004, 416-435

'^^^ 1461-6742 print/ISSN 1468-4470 online ® 2004 Taylor ft Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/1461674042000235591
are many well-documented accounts o f ethnic cleansing' as well as the social
displacement of the various groups that existed within each country and
which fled in order to escape both the enemy and the fighting. However, we
have discovered that all too often in these accounts the women in these
countries are portrayed only as 'victims'. In fact, the number of women who
were raped or forced to flee their homes can be documented and represent
an important story about the atrocities that accompanied these wars.^ But we
believe that these statistics do not tell the complete story of the impact of the
war(s) on the women in the Balkans, especially those who were products of
and/or who themselves were in ethnically 'mixed' marriages.
One of the points that becomes especially important in dealing with
ethnicity in the Balkans, and which becomes part of the story here, is the
way in which ethnicity and religion became intertwined. For example,
generally in the West, we have come to speak of 'Bosnian Muslim' or
'Bosniaks' to represent a group of people identified by religion, as distinct
from Croats or Serbs, where the ethnic group becomes the critical identifier.
It is also important to note that there is virtually no ethnic difference among
the three groups. Yet, all three have come to take on a distinct identity which
was exacerbated during the wars, and which plays an important part when
dealing with women who chose to marry outside their own group.
Given that, what we propose to do here is to raise a series of questions that
have yet to be answered. For example, what happened to these women when
the wars broke out? Were they forced to take sides - and did they? What framed
their identity and how did they deal with their own issues of identity? How are
the state's concerns about marriage, and thus citizenship and identity, linked
to the causes and effects of state-building as they relate to ethnic conflicts?
We begin here with a brief discussion of the theoretical framework,
specifically how the mainstream of the international relations discipline
within political science has addressed gender in the construction of states,
nations, citizenship and political identity. We examine how 'nationalism', as
a concept, is gendered. We then briefly discuss the literature on citizenship
and its definition and relation to women and marriage. The next section
addresses the implications of these concepts by looking at the role of women
in society and the family in the case of the former Yugoslavia. We then
examine women's responses to the Bosnian war, followed by a discussion of
the impact of the wars on women in ethnically mixed marriages. We believe
that this research will contribute to an understanding of what happened to
women in Bosnia and why, and will also help frame an approach for further
research on the topic of perceptions of women and identity.


IR Theory, the State and Gendered Nationalism

It is not terribly insightful to realize that most of the decisions that affected
women in the Balkans were made by men, a reality that is true in most

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 417

countries. From the nationalist leaders, like Slobodan Milosevic or Radovan
Karadzic, to the 'ordinary' soldiers like Borislav Herak (Fnloe 1998: 50-62),
the decisions that these men made affected women in a number of ways. Yet,
conventional international relations theory makes little provision for, nor
does it attempt to understand or address, that aspect of decision making. As
J. Ann Tickner notes:

Feminist theories, which speak out of the various experiences of women - who
are usually on the margins of society and interstate politics - can offer us some
new insights on the behavior of states and the needs of individuals, particularly
those on the periphery of the international system.
{1992: 18)

In fact, Tickner (1997: 612) also reminds us of the 'potential benefits of

looking at IR through "gender-sensitive" lenses ...', that is, for example,
the ability to define a traditional concept, such as 'security', in broad
multidimensional terms. This, in turn, allows the student of security issues,
such as those that we address here, to raise, but also answer, a different set
of questions than those that would fall within the boundaries of 'traditional'
international relations theory.
Conventional IR theorists take the nation-state as the starting point of
analysis as these are the dominant entities in the international system. In
describing the origin of the modern state, Charles Tilly (1992) asserts that it
was born from war, and that the military was integral to the continued
success of and even existence of the state. It is that militaristic essence of the
state that builds into the concept a gendered perspective, as argued by
feminist IR scholars. Again, Tickner (1992: 43) notes that, 'Throughout the
period of state-building in the West, nationalist movements have used
gendered imagery that exhorts masculine heroes to fight for the establishment
and defense of the mother country'. And in this statement there is an
interesting juxtaposition of two concepts that reinforce the gendered perspec-
tive. On the one hand, central to the evolution of the state, and often nation,
is the notion of 'masculine heroes', which, by definition, excludes women.
Yet, what makes those heroes is defense of the 'mother country', the entity
from which all citizens are born and to whom their loyalty lies. But 'she'
must also be defended by her men. In essence, as V. Spike Peterson (1999:
43, emphasis in original) states, 'Women are linked through the state, through
their fathers/husbands; women are expected to bond only through and with
"their men"'.
The role of sex and gender, therefore, becomes all the more important in
trying to understand the 'politics of national identity'. Leaders may focus on
threats to the nation, whether in terms of declining numbers of members of
the nation, including through immigration, leading to a 'loss of distinct
culture, language and religious freedom', all of which are important to

418 International Feminist Journal of Politics

mobilize the population to support these leaders and their policies. Impor-
tantly, leaders use feminine metaphors to reinforce threats to the nation:

women are mothers, daughters and wives - symbols of purity, nurturers and
transmitters of national values, and reproducers of the nation's warriors and
rulers, but also victims - vulnerable to seduction, open to physical invasion and
contamination, and symbols of territorial vulnerability and national defilement.
(Mostov 2000: 98)

Moreover, these leaders actively 'encourage women to see submission to

collective goals' of the nation-state through the willingness to accept their
'natural role, and the important contribution to the recovery of traditional
values, and the purest form of emotional (spiritual) satisfaction' (Mostov
2000: 102). As Julie Mostov asserts, '[i]njunctions such as "our" women
should behave this way and "those" women who question "our" way are
traitors or sexual misfits provide back-up to the romantic and erotic appeal
of the nation' (102-3). Moreover, the nationalist discourse of leaders implies
that as 'mothers of the nation', women are to be found in the private arena -
the family. According to Pnina Werbner and Nira Yuval-Davis,

Familial relations thus seem to constitute the 'essence' of national culture, a

way of life to be passed from generation to generation. Equally, however,
training to be a citizen, to respect the rights of others, begins at home. Women
thus bear a double burden of representation as national cultural icons and as
mothers of citizens.
(1999: 14)

It is obvious from this brief discussion that nationalism is gendered when

one takes a social constructivist approach to identity, and 'depends upon
divisions of masculinity and femininity' (Peterson 1998: 47), divisions that
equate with power: 'identity formation evokes gendered power' (Locher
and Prugl 2001: 123-4). Consequently, according to Peterson, 'gendered
nationalism' manifests itself in five particular ways. First, 'women as bio-
logical reproducers of group members' occurs through policies that restrict
contraception and abortion as well as provide material rewards for having
more children. While these policies encourage women from a particular
nationalist/ethnic group to have more children, other policies are invoked to
discourage new members of the (enemy) ethnic group, such as Immigration
controls and sterilization (Peterson 1998: 43). And as we note later, in the
case of Bosnia they contributed directly to rape as a tool of war.
Second, 'women [serve] as social reproducers of group members and
cultural forms' through religious and social norms, laws and coercion in
order to maintain ethnic, religious and citizenship boundaries. 'By enforcing
legislation regarding marriage, child custody, and property and citizenship
inheritance, the state controls the reproduction of membership/citizenship

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 419

claims' (Peterson 1998: 43, emphasis added). For example, until 1948, British
iaw considered a British woman an alien if she married a non-British man,
and until 1981 she could not pass on her nationality to children born outside
of British territory (Peterson 1999: 46). In addition, in such patriarchal
structures, women socialize children in terms of the 'beliefs, behaviors,
and loyalties that are culturally appropriate and ensure intergenerational
continuity' (Peterson 1998: 44).
Third, 'women as signifiers of group differences' focuses on the notion that
women become the 'symbolic markers of the nation and of the group's
cultural identity'. In other words, the view that women-as-nation demarcates
the boundaries of a group's identity, enabling it to be compared to other
groups (Peterson 1998: 44). The need to preserve and promote the nation and
its cultural identity places pressures, therefore, on women to behave in a
certain way (Peterson 1999: 49). Thus, nationalist leaders, i.e. men, are
compelled to oppose those who would challenge the perception of the private
sphere of group identity and reproduction of the members of that group that
emanates from women's role in the family (47).
Fourth, 'women as participants in political identity struggles' means that
women are not just symbols of group identity, but also that they support,
and oftentimes actively participate in, nationalist causes, including nationalist
conflicts. Whether in the form of leading troops into battle or engaged in a
supportive role to feed and clothe combatants, women are involved in political
struggles and conflict, thus complementing women's perceived role in the
private sphere of the family with the public sphere of the nation (Peterson
1998: 45, 1999: 51).
Fifth and finally: 'Women as societal members of heterosexist groups'
refers to the notion of heterosexism, meaning that the existing relationship
is one between men and women, in which the 'childbearing capacity' of
women is situated 'under the control of male-dominated elites, in service to
group reproduction through heteropatriarchal family forms and social rela-
tions'. Importantly, the state structures the form the family takes, reinforced
by the 'beliefs and practices' of people as individuals (Peterson 1999: 52).
In essence, all five aspects of Peterson's conception of gendered nationalism
coalesce around the issue of who belongs, and thus the state's gendered
construction of nationalism - women as symbolic markers of the nation and
as the reproducers of the nation and its future inhabitants. Rather than a
gender-neutral entity, the state is gendered, and gender matters in the process
of state-building and maintenance. Women then become critical in furthering
the goals of the state.



There is a link between nationalism and citizenship, as it is the essence of

who belongs in the nation-state that determines who is, and can be, a citizen.

420 International Feminist Journal o f Politics

While nationalism focuses on the past - 'myths of common origin or culture' -
citizenship is about the future - 'common destinies' (Werbner and Yuval-
Davis 1999: 3). But, how exactly is citizenship defined? The starting point in
much of the literature on the definition of citizenship is the 'full membership
in a political community and that community is generally defined as a
national political community' (Meehan 1991: 126). The work of T. H. Marshall
underlies much of the literature on citizenship as he foeused on citizenship
as an evolutionary process that begins with civil rights, then political rights
and finally, social rights. Civil rights are those defined as 'equal access to and
equal protection by the law', such as freedom of speech; political rights
include voting, holding public office and other forms of political participation;
and social rights refer to 'benefits of the welfare state' (Meehan 1991: 126).
Yet, to understand fully the development and evolution of citizenship one
must recognize that not everyone within the state/nation is considered a
citizen: inclusion and exclusion delineates who can claim citizenship and is
related to divisions along ethnic, racial, class and gender lines (Vogel 1991:
62; Yuval-Davis 1991: 61). Thus, the debates within states about who belongs
tell us much about the stakes states have in state-building (Meehan 1991:
126-7). In essence, citizenship is a contested concept - and a socially
constructed one at that (Lister 2000: 38; Siim 2000: 31). For the state, who is
a eitizen infers obligations/duties and rights (Assiter 1999: 41; Peterson 1999:
46). Moreover, citizenship involves the division between the public (political/
economic) and the private (individual relations) spheres (Werbner and Yuval-
Davis 1999: 2; Yuval-Davis 1991: 63).
These rights and obligations indicate equality as these are presumably the
same for all members of the political community (Vogel 1991: 62). And yet,
in Europe and the United States, in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, who gained political rights, and hence, citizenship, was very much
a 'controlled process' related to rights to property (Parry 1991: 172). This, in
effect, gave citizenship to men. Therefore, a woman's social rights of citizen-
ship were defined by her relationship(s) (Vogel 1991: 77). Thus, there is, as
Yuval-Davis astutely notes, the 'dualistic nature' of women's citizenship: they
are 'included ... in the general body of citizens of the state and its social,
political and legal policies; on the other hand, there is always ... a separate
body of legislation whieh relates to them specifically as women' sueh as
prohibitions on voting and holding office, maternity leave, ete. (Yuval-Davis
1993: 626). In the conception of 'republican motherhood', as espoused by
theorists as far back as Aristotle, what women had, instead, was 'indirect
citizenship' - as wives and mothers, women provide important services to the
larger community by supporting their husbands in their role in promoting
the common good of society, and educating their sons to be good citizens
(Vogel 1991: 69). It is evident, therefore, that there is a gendered aspect to
the constructed citizenship: woman as citizen-mother. She is a citizen in so
far as her duties and obligations are to produce and educate future citizens
and to subordinate her identity and citizenship to the male head of the

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 421

household. Her citizenship rights are directly linked to those duties and
obligations.^ All of these constructs are directly relevant in the case of the
former Yugoslavia: women in general in Yugoslavia and, specifically, women
in ethnically mixed marriages.


Tickner (1992: 43) asserts that, 'The collective identity of citizens in most
states depends heavily on telling stories about, and celebration of, wars of
independence or national liberation and other great victories in battle'. This
assertion can be supported directly in the case of Yugoslavia. In Serbia, for
example, Slobodan Milosevic's construction of his version of 'Serb identity',
and a Serbian state, played a major part in shaping the wars involving Serbia
from 1991 through Kosovo in 1999. Milosevic articulated his ideas clearly in
his speech at the Field of Blackbirds in June 1989 commemorating the 600th
anniversary of the battle of Kosovo. Consistent with Tickner's assertion about
the role of'stories', it is important to note that many of the details surrounding
this battle of 1389 have long-since been lost. What is known is that the
fighting was intense with heavy losses on both sides. However, over time a
mythology grew up about this battle, which became important to the notion
of Serb identity but also to the notion of the 'masculine hero' who had to
defend Serbia and, by implication, keep it pure.'*
At the time of the speech, Milosevic adopted the slogan that 'Serbs win
wars, but lose the peace', a reference to the fact that no formal Serb state
was created after either world war (Woodward 1995: 92). But, more important,
in that speech Milosevic played upon the myth of Serb victimization from
the time of the Ottomans through the Tito years. And it was that same 'myth'
of victimization that encouraged the men of Serbia to assert themselves as a
way of gaining back power and reconstructing the state. And often that
assertion was directed against those who were least able to fight back - the
Yet it is also clear that women were central to the mythology. As Branka
Andjelkovic (1998: 240-1) notes, 'the nationalist discourse in the former
Yugoslavia was redefining women's roles in line with traditional patriarchal
expectations.' And in the case of Serbia particularly, she identifies '[T]he
redefinition of women's roles away from the socialist "working women"
toward the newly resurrected "mother of the nation"'. In other words, the
redefinition of the Serb state and with that, Serb nationalism, depended upon
a revised concept of the Serb woman specifically tied to family and pro-
Importantly, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia clearly affected women's
positions in society. In theory, one of the major tenets of the communist/
Marxist ideology was the advancement of all people, regardless of gender.
Hence, in many of the countries in the Soviet and Eastern bloc, women were

422 International Feminist Journal of Politics

given chances to advance and progress, both in terms of their education and
professional opportunities. Yet, the reality belied the assumption in the case
of Yugoslavia. While women had equal rights to vote, to education, to hold
office, ete. the reality was that: 'Hidden discrimination was the trademark of
socialist Yugoslavia' (Andjelkovie 1998: 236). Women tended to be found in
the low-paid professions, and they were underrepresented in the higher levels
of career hierarchies. But, according to Andjelkovie, the faet that the rate of
women employed was high 'was taken by the Yugoslav authorities as a
parameter of development. This was generally seen as a proof of complete
emancipation' (236).
Andjelkovie also deseribes a pattern that emerged within Yugoslavia that
helps explain the undermining of women's advancement as well as reinforcing
the changing perspeetives of women that became so important later on.
Through the 1980s, as the economic and political/soeial situation in Yugosla-
via started to erode, it was the women who felt this most deeply. She notes
that during this period: 'The worsening of women's position was determined
by three factors: by the eollapse of the Yugoslav state, by a new nationalistic
understanding of political life, and by the newly introduced market economy'
(Andjelkovie 1998: 238, emphasis added). But she also adds that sinee that
time, the foeus of many of the feminist groups, which eould have been of
greatest help to women, eoneentrated on women as victims of war. While
this area is important, taken from a different perspective it means that the
feminist groups that had been working to improve the economic and political
situation of women have also 'become the victims of nationalist ideology'
Silva Meznarie and Mirjaba Ule (1998: 196-201) make another important
point about women in the former Yugoslavia and the roles they played, that
is, that progress for women in any 'developing' society is premised to a large
extent upon the need for an ordered eivil society . Such a society started to
erode in Yugoslavia in the early-to-mid-1990s, a process that accelerated
after 1991. Concomitantly, as the GDP of Yugoslavia fell behind that of other
countries in Central and Eastern Europe, so too did the status of women as
measured by a drop in the literacy rate and an inerease in unemployment.
Thus, as Andjelkovie (1998: 238) notes eorreetly, '[T]he eollapse of the state
and the beginning of the war in Croatia and Bosnia deeply disrupted the
soeiety'. Since progress for women often depends upon the guarantees pro-
vided by a stable eivil soeiety, one result of this disruption was the undermin-
ing of the role of women and, specifically, a reversal of any gains that women
had made economically and professionally. However, another result was that
women took refuge in the family and the role they played within the family,
either because they wanted to or because they felt they had to. Again,
aeeording to Andjelkovie (238), 'With the disintegration of the state the
family was seen as the only hope and refuge. The family, as an ideal model,
never really lost its power in traditional Yugoslav society'. This change played
into the hands of the nationalist leaders who reinforeed the importance of

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 423

the societal values at the expense of women. Because the role of wife and
mother beeame exaggerated, the assumption was the propagation of the
values of the dominant ethnieity.
Darius Rejali (1998: 27) has a slightly different perspeetive. Rejali writes
that in ' "protecting their women" from their enemies, Balkan men have
found an ethnie eause to fight and die for'. This reinforces the notion that
women need to be protected by their men; what it does not address is why
then so many of those same men resorted to raping the women of the 'other'
ethnie groups.
Here the work of Cynthia Enloe is instructive. In her piece 'All the Men Are
in the Militias, All the Women Are Victims', Enloe foeuses on one of those
men to explain how nationalism beeame gendered, and what that meant for
both the men, as well as women, in the Balkans. Although she foeuses on
only one man, Enloe also offers an important caveat when she notes that not
all women ean be considered vietims nor ean all (Serb) men be assumed to
be among those militias who perpetrated the attacks (Enloe 1998: 52). This,
in turn, underscores the importance of understanding national identity and
what it meant for the men, but also the women, in the Balkans. This does not
mean simply focusing on the women as vietims but rather understanding the
origins of the eoneept of identity and the ways in whieh women, especially
those who were products of or in mixed marriages dealt with some of the
choices that they had to make.
Clearly, one of the most important and enduring byproducts of the disinte-
gration of Yugoslavia was the end of a single multiethnic state to be replaeed
by the ereation of and desire for ethnically 'pure' states.** Propaganda was
used to further the goal of the nationalist leaders in their eonstruetion of the
new state, sueh as Milosevic in Serbia and Franjo Tudjman in Croatia, by
reinforcing the idea that anyone who was not of the dominant ethnie group
posed a threat to the economic and political well-being of the state; by
inference, anyone who was in an ethnieally mixed marriage was then
implicated.' These nationalist leaders viewed the state as having a stake in
marriage, identity and citizenship: who was a eitizen, who belonged?^ One
result was that the role of women changed as these eoneepts and ideas
beeame more gendered. For example, when the war in Yugoslavia erupted,
Croatian President Tudjman asserted that Croatia's dire situation resulted
from 'women, pornography, and abortion', and stated that those women who
have abortions are the 'mortal enemies of the nation' (98). Tudjman was not
the only voiee blaming women for the unfolding events in Yugoslavia.
Serbian Patriarch Pavle stated that the low birthrates in Serbia resulted from
'women's selfishness' (98).
These leaders further linked the role of women in having more children to
the needs of inereasing the numbers in the military (Turpin 1998: 11). As
Obraad Kesie (1999: 201) notes, '[t]he Serbs and Montenegrins have a saying
that a perfect family has three sons - one for the Church (God), one for the
army (state), and one for the parents (progeny)'. Eurther, the firing of a rifle

424 International Feminist Journal of Politics

follows the birth of a son, celebrated by both Montenegrins and Albanians.
A good mother is one that produces sons for the nation (201). Thus, leaders
who promote policies to increase the birthrate reinforce the gendered aspect
of nationalism in that a woman's role as producer of children for the nation
is the 'highest calling' (Mostov 2000: 99).
Moreover, given the multiethnic nature of Bosnia, rape became an especially
powerful tool used against women during the war.^ The rape of minority
women was not only a way for men to assert superiority over women, but
impregnating them was seen as contributing to a growth in the population
of the majority group. In those cases, not only were the women humiliated
and forced to bear their conquerors' babies, the assumption was that the child
would be of the ethnicity of the father rather than the mother.'" For example,
women who became pregnant as a result of rape by Serb soldiers and
paramilitary troops were told that their offspring would be considered Serb.
Some Croat and Muslim women who were raped were told that not only
would the child be considered Serb, but so too would she be (Hughes et al
1995: 519). As Human Rights Watch reported, a Bosnian rape victim stated
that '[i]t was their aim to make a baby. They wanted to humiliate us. They
would say directly, looking into your eyes, that they wanted to make a baby'
(Thomas and Ralph 1999: 208). Such rapes committed during war are a means
to signal to the enemy the fact that their women had the enemy's children
instead of their own, and 'that their women are worthless' (Nikolic-Ristanovic
1998: 236). Further adding to their humiliation and victimization, the raped
women who gave birth to the enemy's children were often rejected by their
husbands, thus these men seemed to believe this signal (Nikolic-Ristanovic
1998: 236). As Jennifer Turpin (1998: 5) notes, 'because women are viewed
as symbols of the family, and the family as the basis of society, the humiliation
for women giving birth to the enemy's children symbolizes the destruction
of the community'.
Consequently, as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, women's role in the
society and the family began to change. As the nationalist leaders began to
promote national and ethnic identities - and a particular notion of the state
and citizen, women's gender identity became vulnerable to redefinition. The
next section focuses on how, in the context of the redefinition of women's
role in society, women responded to the war.


Women in general faced particular challenges during the Bosnian War,

including being forced to make choices about whether to stay in their villages,
towns and cities, or to leave. This dilemma was especially acute for women
in mixed marriages who might have been accepted prior to the war, but who
were shunned by both ethnic groups during the war. Their range of choices
was even more limited.

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 425

Some women left Bosnia voluntarily; for example, Bosnian Serbs went to
Serbia proper. Others were forced to flee as refugees following the ethnic
cleansing campaigns of the various ethnic militaries. The use of rape, men-
tioned in the previous section, was a means to force people from the opposing
ethnic groups to leave, in effect, a form of ethnic cleansing. Other women
resisted the nationalistic calls of their leaders, instead choosing to engage in
anti-war protests and the formation of interethnic women's groups. Finally,
others actively supported the war efforts.
This section focuses on the women who stayed: both those who supported
the nationalistic policies as well as those attempting to resist the state-
building efforts of the nationalist leaders seeking to create ethnically 'pure'
states. The section also discusses what happened to the women in ethnically
mixed marriages, as these women faced even more difficult challenges, given
the ethnic identity focus of the war and the subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia.
Like some men in the region, many women actively supported the national-
istic policies of their leaders. Several all-female military units formed, first in
the Krajina, the area of Croatia with a Serb majority. During the swearing in
ceremony in December 1991 for this first unit, women said the oath, 'We will
fight against all the Serbs' enemies under the protection of God.' Serbian
women were not the only ones to form all-women units, as there were also
such units in both the Croatian and Muslim-dominated army in Bosnia. In
all cases, these women were depicted as patriots and warriors in the media.
Kesic (1999: 189) argues that these women 'were defeminized and portrayed
as modem-day Amazons whose exploits become legendary'.
While there were supporters, many women also resisted the leaders' nation-
alistic policies and calls for war. In 1990, members of the Yugoslav Women's
Party, ZEST, protested in Belgrade, Serbia, against the 1990 census over
identity choices which required women to give either their father's or
husband's name. ZEST also called for the demilitarization of Yugoslavia and
gave their support for the Mothers' Peace initiative in the Serb and Croat
republics (Mladjenovic and Litricin 1993: 115).
As Yugoslavia began to fall apart and war loomed in June 1991, women's
groups in many of the republics held anti-war protests. In addition to these
protests, women tried to form cross-republic alliances {Pitter and Stiglmayer
1993: 21). Mothers, concerned about their sons being sent off to battle,
protested the war, but faced being called traitors. Urban women, in particular,
either got their sons out of the country or hid them (Nikolic-Ristanovic 1998:
Yet, over time, as the fighting between the various ethnic groups increased,
the women's groups no longer cooperated. Serbian feminist groups divided
over Serbian war policy (Pitter and Stiglmayer 1993: 21), and feminists from
all republics found their gender identity subsumed under their ethnic identity.
For example, Slavica Jakobovic, of the Croatian group Women's Help Now,
stated that she 'couldn't watch the suffering and destruction of my country
so I feel firstly a Croatian' (Pitter and Stiglmayer 1993: 21). Thus, the

426 International Feminist Journal of Politics

nationalist propaganda of the leaders in the various republics also succeeded
in transforming 'women's identities as mothers to those of citizens of a
nation-state' (Nikolic-Ristanovic 1998: 234).
Importantly, interethnic rape became the focal point for differences between
women of the various ethnic groups, and ended up as part of the nationalist
ideology that stressed the threat to the nation from other groups. In Croatia
(and Muslim-controlled Bosnia) women's groups that asserted that rape was
'a universal act of violence by men against women' were considered to be
helping the Serbs since they did not focus solely on ' "Croatian" and "Muslim"
women as the victims' (Kesic 1999: 195). For example, a Croatian women's
group, Bedem Ljubavi, was commended while the women of the Zagreb
Women's Lobby were considered to be 'disloyal and morally suspect' (195).
Moreover, the Croatian press did not hold back in attacking women who
criticized the 'nationalistic manipulation of rape'. In a December 1992 article
entitled, 'Croatia's Feminists Rape Croatia', Globus, the Zagreb daily,
denounced five feminists as witches (199), using a highly gendered term to
condemn these women.
It is evident that women faced challenges in terms of negotiating their
gender and national/ethnic identity in the republics of the former Yugoslavia.
While attempts were made to form cross-ethnic alliances and promote
interethnic cooperation, in the end, national and ethnic identity overrode
gender identity. This is particularly pertinent to the questions of women
who were in ethnically mixed marriages. The following section attempts to
understand some of the challenges faced by these women.


Women in ethnically mixed marriages faced significant and unique challenges

regarding their ethnic identity, as well as the identity of their children, when
the wars in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia, erupted. To escape
and protect themselves and their children, they often fled their villages and
towns in Bosnia only to encounter criticisms from members of their own
ethnic groups."
Thus, looking at women in ethnically mixed marriages allows us to begin
to address some of the issues raised earlier about the role of women in the
former Yugoslavia. In general, the concept of 'mixed marriages' is indicative
of an understanding of a woman's life and her choices in terms far broader
than a narrow nationalist definition. It also suggests that women have choices
and that they can see themselves playing a societal role more than just
reproducing on behalf of the country, or of serving as a symbol for which
men can fight.
Intermarriage prior to the war occurred in both urban and rural areas,
although the data show that intermarriage was higher in urban areas. The
reason for the low incidence of intermarriage in rural areas compared to

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 427

urban areas can be found in the perceived high 'social costs in terms of
opposition from the respective families and the general community' (Bringa
1995: 149). In the decade prior to the war, census data indicate that in Bosnia
(rural and urban areas), mixed marriages accounted for 18.6 per cent of all
marriages (Enloe 2000: 142). Other data suggest a number as high as 27 per
cent of all marriages in Bosnia before 1991 (Bringa 1995: 151). Within
Sarajevo, the most cosmopolitan of the cities in Bosnia, in 1991, 34 per cent
of all new marriages were mixed marriages (Enloe 2000: 142).
Importantly, the census data were the means used to indicate ethnic/
national identity, particularly as such an identity was indicated on a man's
Yugoslav People's Army identity card. People of mixed parentage often chose
'Yugoslav' to indicate their identity (Bringa 1995: 27). Yet, a child's ethnic
identity came from the father, as the child received the surname of his or her
father (21).
In the end, leaders clamoring for ethnically pure states were confronted by
the issue of women in mixed marriages. As Enloe (2000: 142) notes:

Yugoslav feminists pointed to these intermarriage rates throughout the country

precisely because this reality made controlling women's identities and residences
so frustrating to militant nationalists: the politics of marriage are always close
to the center of any patriarchal nationalist movement.

Nationalist leaders denounced mixed marriages in a variety of ways. For

example, in Bosnia in 1994, an edict issued by the Reis-ul-Ulema, Mustafa
Ceric, called 'on all Muslim women to give birth to five children each and
condemning mixed marriages as a betrayal of one's faith and culture' (Kesic
1999: 201). Moreover, as Enloe asserts, '[f]or those militaristic nationalists
who were intent upon breaking up the former Yugoslavia, militarized rape
became a means for responding to their demographically frustrating lack of
control of women that had been produced by intermarriage' (2000: 142).
While we think of women in ethnically mixed marriages as suffering the
greatest consequences, it should be noted that men in such marriages also
faced violence from members of other ethnic groups. For example, during the
conftict between Bosnia's Muslims and Croats in 1993, Bosnian Croat soldiers
targeted Muslim men who were married to Serb women (Bringa 1995: 151).
This further illustrates the dilemma facing those who, before the wars, entered
into a relationship that was then-accepted, only to be condemned once the
wars broke out and sides had to be taken.'^
Not only did women face rape and violence from men of other ethnic
groups as noted earlier, women in mixed marriages faced domestic violence
from their own husbands. As Lepa Mladjenovic, of the Serbian women's
group Women in Black Against War, noted, soldiers returning home often
raped Serbian women in mixed marriages. She states that '[t]he man uses his
nationalistic hate as an instrument of violence in the family' (Pitter and
Stiglmayer 1993: 20).

428 International Feminist Journal o f Politics

As a result of the violence directed against women in mixed marriages,
many fled. Many of these women opposed the Serb nationalist policies in
Bosnia as well as the rest of Yugoslavia. Their only option, however, was to
go and stay with relatives in Serbia proper as a means to protect their
children, and many did so at the outset of the war in 1992. These women did
not fare well:

Serbian authorities and local Serbs working with international aid organizations
viewed these women as 'belonging to their husbands' in Bosnia and thus refused
to consider their requests for protection and assistance independently. If their
husbands were not ethnically Serb, the women were especially mistrusted and
denied benefits. If their husbands were Serbs, the women were still assumed to
be willing to return to Serbian-controlled parts of Bosnia.
(Mertus 2000: 22)

Moreover, as Maja Korac (Korac 1999: 198) notes, the citizenship of refugee
women in mixed marriages could only be passed on to her children if she
gave up the ' "improper" citizenship inherited from their father'. In this way,
the 'particular intervention by the new nation-states [was] intended to return
"women traitors" to their nationally important role as bearers of culture or
to exclude them from the ethnic-national collectivity and the nation-state'.
In the end, women in mixed marriages faced violence from men of other
ethnic groups, and their own husbands, as well as disapproval from members
of their own ethnic group.


We hope that we have begun an important discussion on the link between

state-building, national/ethnic identity and gender identity, a seemingly
neglected research topic in the broader study of international relations. How
women, particularly those in ethnically mixed marriages, negotiated their
gender identities, as well as their own and husband's ethnic identities during
the Balkan wars, poses an interesting research question. Many of the beliefs
and conjecture that were raised anecdotally about women and mixed mar-
riages tend to be supported by the data that we have been able to find thus
far. Moreover, as we have demonstrated, how leaders' nationalist/ethnic
policies influenced the negotiation of such identities as Yugoslavia began to
disintegrate, is particularly striking. Clearly, the Balkan wars forced the issue
of ethnic identity, especially within the republics of Bosnia, Serbia and
Croatia, while at the same time making a direct link to gender identity in the
attempt at state-building.

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 429


While they are far from definitive nor can we generalize from them, case
studies can offer interesting insights into the actual women whose stories are
hehind the data. The book, Women, Violence and War: Wartime Victimization
of Refugees in the Balkans, by Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic, uses a number of
case studies to support its points. Many of those stories are of women in
ethnically mixed marriages, and the synopses of their situations as presented
in this volume support our assertions.
The following case offers another story of a woman in a mixed marriage.
While not meant to be defmitive, it is illustrative of the dilemmas women in
mixed marriages faced."
Tanja is a woman in her mid-to-late 30s who left Sarajevo late in 1992 or
early 1993 with her then-young daughter in order to escape the war. She fled
first to Germany and then came to the United States where she is now a high
school science teacher. Tanja is an educated woman who was a doctor in
Sarajevo; she is also a Serb who was married to a Croat. Her husband did not
leave with her, but in the belief that the war would not last long, stayed in
Sarajevo. It would be a number of years before he was able to join his wife
and daughter in the USA.'"
A conversation with Tanja offered a number of important insights into the
construction of identity. First, Tanja felt that age is an important determinant
of identity. For example, those Croats, Muslims and Serbs who were alive
during World War II had different experiences that, in turn, shaped their own
identities than did those who were born after the war. The Croats were aligned
with the Nazis during the war and occupation of Yugoslavia, while the Serbs
were more closely tied to the communists. Those distinctions influenced the
perception that the groups had of one another well after the war.
She also noted that an important distinction needed to be made between
those who lived in the cities, especially Sarajevo, and those who lived in the
more rural villages. In the former, the people tended to be more educated and
sophisticated and, based on her experiences, their identity was tied more to
being a 'Sarajevan' than a Serb, Croat or Muslim. Within Sarajevo, mixed
marriages were the norm, with many people not even willing to accept a
single identity. Rather, here the distinction was drawn based on those who
stayed in the city, versus those who left and were seen as 'traitors' for doing
so, regardless of nationality. Her perception was that there was an animosity
toward those who left because everyone was seen as important to protect and
defend the city, but that this was not based on nationality.
Tanja also noted that there was a difference between Sarajevo and the rest
of Bosnia. Her sense was that Sarajevo fostered a feeling of inclusion and
support for all groups, whereas outside the city Bosnia was more segregated
which, in turn, contributed to the growth of nationalism and the 'ethnic
cleansing' that resulted. She also noted that there are a number of ex-patriot

430 International Feminist Journal of Politics

communities, generally in larger cities, throughout the United States made
up of those, who fled the war. Many of those, like Tanja, are in mixed

Joyce P. Kaufman
Department of Political Science
Whittier College
PO Box 634
Whittier, CA 90608, USA

Kristen P. Williams
Department of Government
Clark University
950 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01610, USA


1 These include the Slovene and Yugoslav-Croatian wars of 1991, the war in
Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992-5 and the war in Kosovo in 1999.
2 See, for example, selected articles from Lorentzen and Turpin (1998); and also
Ramet (1999) and Mertus (2000).
3 Lister (2000: 55). The issue for many feminist scholars and others is whether
citizenship and its concomitant rights should be gender-neutral or gender-
differentiated (debate between equality and difference): in other words, are
women different by virtue of being able to have children and play the predominant
caregiver role and thus their citizenship rights should reflect that, or should
conceptions of citizenship be gender-neutral? Lister, (2000: 51): Siim (2000: 6).
4 The details of the battle and the origins of the mythology surrounding it are
described in detail in chapter 4, in Malcolm (1998: 58-80).
5 One way that men asserted their power was through rape. Rape is used as a
means of signaling to males of other ethnic groups as well as reinforcing
masculine and feminine roles-gender identity.
6 As Lenard J. Cohen (1993: 51] notes, 'Throughout Yugoslav communist history,
interethnic rivalry was viewed by some party leaders more as an opportunity
than a danger'.
7 During the period of state-building following World War II, Tito perceived ethnic
divisions as a danger to the state (particularly given the ethnic conflicts that had
occurred during the war between Croats, Muslims and Serbs). To overcome the
ethnic divisions, Tito sought to create a federal structure under the control of a
single party, as well as to foster a Yugoslav identity. Over time, the recognition
of continued ethnic divisions led to constitutional changes in the 1970s that gave

Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams/Who belongs? 431

more consideration to the various ethnic groups, but Tito continued to assert the
need for a Yugoslav identity in light of the fact that many children were the
product of mixed (interethnic) marriages. See Cohen (1993: 26, 32).
8 As Nancy F. Cott (1995: 108) argues, 'the state is actively involved in creating
social and civic statuses for both men and women through legal marriages -
therefore actively involved in forming and sustaining gender itself.
9 Nihada Kadic, a member of the Croatian women's group Tresnjevka, stated 'raping
a woman is a message from man to man, warrior to warrior' (as quoted in Pitter
and Stiglmayer 1993: 20). Thus, rape in wartime, while a clear assertion of male

is also a ritual act of male bonding in the most primitive sense, a ritual of
marking territory and desecrating the enemy man's 'property.' The man who
is not able to defend his 'property' is humiliated and his masculinity is
(Kesic 1999: 193)

As Enloe asserts,

if military strategists (and their civilians, allies or superiors) imagine that

women provide the backbone of the enemy's culture, if they define women
chiefly as breeders, if they defme women as men's property and as the
symbols of men's honor, if they imagine that residential communities rely on
women's work - if any or all of these beliefs about society's proper gendered
division of labor are held by war-waging policy makers - they will be tempted
to devise an overall military operation that includes their male soldiers'
sexual assault of women.
(Enloe 2000: 134)

10 This assumption about the child assuming the ethnicity of the father rather than
the mother flies in the face of established Catholic and Jewish doctrine, for
example. In both cases, the assumption is that the child will accept the religious
and ethnic characteristics of the mother in the belief that the mother is known
while the father can be questioned. Hence, the lineage goes through the mother.
11 As Maja Korac notes, women in ethnically mixed marriage were often seen as
'traitors' to the state's cause of creating an ethnically based state.

The state's promotion of divisions along ethnic-national lines is easily

translated into popular discourse in which 'women traitors' are stigmatized.
This is commonly accompanied by the women's rejection by her family,
creating a situation where women suffer all the more.
(Korac 1999: 198)

12 It is interesting to note here that Tito himself was a product of a mixed Croat-
Slovene marriage.
13 One of the authors of this article was introduced to Tanja relatively early in the

432 International Feminist Journal of Politics

development of this research. She subsequently asked for an[d] had the chance
to meet with and interview Tanja to talk about her experiences. That conversation
provided some interesting insights as well as sparking some ideas that are
reflected in this article. We hope to have the opportunity to interview other
women from the former Yugoslavia who are or were in ethnically mixed marriages
so that we can build our body of information.
14 In response to a question posed by one of the authors, Elissa Helms of the
University of Pittsburgh noted that children, especially young ones, often stayed
with the mother, despite the patrilineal structure of the Balkans. But she also
noted that mixed marriages in Bosnia tended to be secular/atheist, suggesting
that the children were often brought up without a religious tradition per se.


This article is a revision of papers originally prepared for presentation at the

2002 and 2003 International Studies Association Annual Meetings. The
authors would like to thank Brooke Ackerly, Francine D'Amico, Cynthia Enloe,
V. Spike Peterson, Wallace Thies and J. Ann Tickner for their comments on
earlier drafts, as well as the comments of anonymous reviewers associated
with the International Feminist Journal of Politics.


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