Staying Critical

Posted April 16, 2013

Categories: Blog, Eastern Europe, Featured, Uncategorized

The colonial relationship was reasonably straightforward. The empire dictated terms to the colony, and the colonial administration carried out the orders. Sometimes colonial subjects revolted. Sometimes the imperial agents went “native” and adopted the culture and perspectives of the people they were supposed to be pushing around. But the power dynamic was for the most part quite clear: the rulers issued decrees and the ruled followed them.

The neo-colonial relationship is somewhat more complicated. It would seem that the United States and Japan, for instance, are two entirely sovereign countries that have entered into a mutual security pact. Dig a little deeper and you begin to see certain asymmetries: U.S. troops stationed in Japan but not the other way around, a Japanese constitution written in part by Americans and circumscribing Japanese military policy, an expectation that Tokyo will support Washington’s foreign policy adventures even if they are far from Northeast Asia, such as Iraq. Yet although the Japanese government is certainly subject to pressure from U.S. politicians, it voluntarily embraces these policies.

As a professor of postcolonial studies, a civil society activist, and a multidisciplinary thinker, Biljana Kasic is a keen observer of neo-colonialism, and she finds such relationships both within Croatia and between Croatia and other countries. She understands Yugoslavia, whatever its virtues, as a set of unequal relationships that privileged the northern tier (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia) over the southern tier (Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo). She views globalization as a primary force of neo-colonialism, with international organizations dictating economic and political terms to subject nations.

But she also sees how governments enact policies to control – or colonize – public space. In Croatia, for instance, “some political authorities wanted to fund civil society in order to control or discipline them,” she points out. “There are some good organizations and centers, such as a Center for Women’s Studies, the Center for Peace Studies. But they are not quite independent actors since they rely on state funds, and at the same time the political authorities tend to moderate their more critical political impulses.”

Even the European Union has a neocolonial approach to East-Central Europe, forcing them “voluntarily” to accept a huge number of preconditions before they could enter the regional organization. On the issue of gender, for instance, the EU has emphasized a series of standards related to women’s rights. But the trade-off, Biljana Kasic points out, is high unemployment for women.

To identify and challenge these neocolonial practices, she favors a consistently critical attitude. “I love the idea of being a civilian dissident all the time,” she told me in an interview in Zagreb in October. “This means always being in a position critical toward your government, whether Yugoslav, post-Yugoslav, European, whatever.”

In 2008, in an interview that I append to the bottom, we talked about nationalism, the women’s movement, and Balkanization. This time around, we focused more on the European Union and the prospects of a more emancipatory politics in Croatia and the region.


The Interview


Do you remember where you were when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?


It was a quite important day, and people developed a lot of hope from the eastern part of Germany.

I remember perfectly when I went to Berlin. It was 1991. Women peace activists from Belgrade and Zagreb came together at that time to make a joint peaceful stand at the German parliament. The conflict in Yugoslavia had intensified at that very moment. There was still some enthusiasm around the changes in the former eastern part of Germany, but what I saw at that time was a lot of consumerism. Capitalism was there, clearly: you could see the effects of this imposed capitalism everywhere.  Yet I noticed that people were not so enthusiastic about this capitalist “affair” in 1991. We were occupied with our conflicts here, so I didn’t think much about it.

But very soon I read a lot of articles from my colleagues from post-East Germany, and they were completely frustrated. This capitalism spoiled people’s fun with its unhealthy competition. It created artificial needs and a degree of uncertainty that people became aware of only later. Also it was clear that the post-East Germans faced discrimination: they’d become second- class citizens within united Germany. Berlin, of course, experienced so many changes, and it’s now actually the exciting center of the whole Europe. But other cultural and academic places in the former East Germany, like Leipzig for example, are in a worse situation than before. Only Berlin in a way profited from all this.

All of us have faced this so-called transition since 1989 as a kind of occupation: an occupation through capital, whose invasion came either violently or in a more peaceful manner through what the Marxist geographer David Harvey has called “accumulation by dispossession.” This “post” in terms of  “post-East” or “post-socialist” doesn’t mean anything anymore other than that. So I’m not so enthusiastic about the idea that all of us are forced to live within a so-called globalized global capitalism. I’m not nostalgic about Yugoslavia either. There are so many things that I didn’t like at all about this brotherly regime. But I’m less enthusiastic about capitalism.


Tell me about how you got involved in the anti-war movement.


It was, in a sense, spontaneous. I just wanted to be with the people that shared the same values, the same ideals that opposed the culture of violence. Since I was one of the activists here in the late 1980s who initiated with other women the SOS hotline for abused women, this was for me a “natural” choice or, in other words, the only choice. If I was against violence against women, then I should struggle against a violent world and its very premises. Violence is always structural, and of course it is against people in general, not only against women. The archetype of civilization is violence, and that is a problem. We can only imagine a non-violent world because it has never existed. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least struggle for an expanding horizon of hope.

So some of us who at that moment set up hotlines against violence against women along with other activists here like Greens and those who belonged to spiritual groups – just a few of them were peace activists at that time — we set up an anti-war campaign in 1991.


And you already had contacts in Serbia, in other parts of the region?


We actually had our feminist community since the 1980s. We just continued to work together against the war, keeping in contact with the autonomous feminist organizations both in Belgrade and in Ljubljana. For some of us it was an issue of ethical survival too.


Were you surprised at that time when some people that you thought of as peace activists or feminists, went off in a different direction?


Yes, it was shock for me at that time. Afterwards, I tried to find the reasons why. More than 20 years after, I realized not only that such huge conflicts and turbulences are a kind of test for people to make their own choices but also that most people unfortunately rely on the choices made by others. Sometimes fear prevents people from taking stands; sometimes it’s a question of anxiety. The main reason is that people usually choose the side that everybody else chooses, and in that sense their nations become their “appropriate” choice: a collective unity that provides emotional and existential shelter.. Or at least they think that this is a choice. After all, being within the mainstream is always an easier option. For me, it was not a surprise, especially here in Croatia. Most people not only thought that Croatia was attacked at that moment, but this really happened at the beginning of the war. So they chose, let’s say, a politics of being aware of their own nation. It was for most of them a condition of emergency.


And do you think that there ever really was another alternative to the nationalist politics that emerged with HDZ and Tudjman in the 1990s? Or, as you said, was this in some sense inevitable given that “this is what most people were thinking”?


Nothing is inevitable. This is an issue of perspective related to the historical moment when nationalist politics seemed to be “only” solution. Thinking back on the positions of the socialist brotherhood of nations, Serbs and Croats and, partly, Slovenians in Yugoslavia had privileged positions. They were leading nations. I’m not going to make comparisons among them: there have been already newly constructed myths of their positions. On the other side for the people in Kosovo or Macedonia, or even the Muslims of Bosnia, Yugoslavia was not a very pleasant country. For a lot of reasons. So in a sense I understand why some people didn’t want to live in Yugoslavia any more. Yes, it was a kind of social contract that emerged out of the revolution and the anti-fascist movement. But it didn’t bring equality for all the nations. We didn’t live in a free society either then or now.


When you think back 22 years ago, is there anything that has changed in your thinking?


Of course I’m getting older, and I passed through a lot of delusions and a lot of transformations. But I knew perfectly well that something was wrong when nationalist politics started to create the political agendas since the 1990s. It was clear to me that they would invent a politics of exclusion towards others within their newly built states, and not only through violent methods. The methods of discriminations took different forms, of course. But that’s another whole issue.

In terms of civil society, I’ve always thought about how to create new spaces that are open and creative enough both for civil activists and citizens themselves.  One of the problems with many funding organizations that came here at the beginning of the 1990s was that they wanted to install their own civil society organizations or even networks — as a kind of their symbolic capital. At the same time some political authorities wanted to fund civil society in order to control or discipline them. That’s why I don’t like to use a word like “non-governmental organization” or to be identified with this peculiar kind of non-governmental society. In a discursive sense, it’s an empty signifier. It doesn’t mean anything, only that you are “non” or “against.” I’d rather think about grassroots activism I love the idea of being a civilian dissident all the time. This means always being in a position critical toward your government, whether Yugoslav, post-Yugoslav, European, whatever. This means creating a sense of one’s own social position according to one’s own ethics.


I want to go back to your point about the politics of exclusion here. Many people have told me that they think that nationalism has not disappeared but has been reduced considerably here in Croatia. HDZ, of course, is no longer in power and is under investigation for corruption. The Croatian Party of Rights only has one representative in parliament. But do you think that the politics of exclusion still operate here?


Certainly. I have no illusion about it. For me, it’s not only an issue of rights or an issue of a legal system. It’s an issue of how people behave toward the citizens of other nationalities.  And the politics of exclusion is everywhere. It operates on various levels, sometimes hidden, and it’s not only against Roma people who are now in the political focus because of European’s Commission’s directives. Everyday life confirms that we live in a nationalist and discriminatory society right now. Of course I know that a legal system that assures normative equality is a step forward. But if you don’t have free media (and here most media is not free), if you don’t have critical and responsible education, if you don’t have professors who transfer free ideas to their students, then you don’t have a free society. But the most problematic issue is the labor market including a high rate of unemployment where there are various discriminatory practices, for instance against women who are pregnant. Such a situation produces precariousness, dependency, and economic and human uncertainty.

I would like to move to a different kind of liberating politics that’s more than just giving people rights such as the freedom of speech, for example: liberating both in terms of conceptual and economic opportunities. We’ve moved from one system, socialism, where we used to live more equally in terms of economic and social rights, to a liberal economy that has pushed us into drastic economic uncertainty, almost poverty. But we still have myths around these other rights that Wendy Brown has written about. We try to educate ourselves to be tolerant, ignoring the material and human conditions under which we live. Injustice is engrained in the system. That’s why I think we should think about a new structure that creates a more just economic system within which we can all live together.


Does becoming a member of the European Union offer any possibilities, in terms of what we might call the politics of inclusion based on rights?


I have no illusions about the EU at all. I just came from Norway, and thanks to their natural resources and wealth, they made a choice not to be a part of EU. I am involved in an international academic research project. A friend of mine who is a professor from Spain told me, “Please, don’t enter the European Union, because right now they are cutting 30% of our salaries at the university.” This is only one small detail of how a new dependency has been created. The EU itself has become a kind of discriminatory mechanism, and it has special rules for its member states, particularly when it comes to the labor market economy. If you are from the Netherlands, there is no problem to find any job anywhere. If you are from Croatia, then you will have to wait—just like people from Poland—a few years to have the same opportunities.  In terms of legal rights and migration policies, there are various obstacles and differences in the sense that the EU differentiates between people and constructs various boundaries.


And yet, so many people here are enthusiastic about the European Union.


I don’t think so. People here are not enthusiastic about anything. We live in a system where nothing functions, where everything is getting worse and worse. So, do we have a proper option?


It’d be nice if you had the Norwegian option, but…


The Norwegian choice depends on oil!


That’s right. If you discover oil off the Adriatic coast…


Yes, and the Swiss option depends on its monetary politics and the money in their banks. So in a sense we have a lack of choices. Yet I think we should have choices.  In this regard I would rather look to people in Latin America, in the Third World, and how they have solved these issues and the methods of struggle they’ve used.


Look to them for what?


Alternative solutions. Of course, there are emancipatory movements everywhere. There are also great theorists, like Walter Mignolo or Arturo Escobar, people who do decolonial studies. Why should we think only in one way? Why should we think that the capitalist system is the only choice for the whole world? Or, that democracy means only capitalism, that is, rights for individuals and freedom for capital?  We are in a panic that if we don’t enter the European Union everything will be a disaster. But I don’t think so. We should feel free to expand our way of thinking. We are still humans.


It seems that so many people in this part of the world are fixated on the North—whether the North is the European Union, or the North is the United States. And the association with the South is not simply geographic. It’s also historical, because of the association with Yugoslavia’s role in the Non-Aligned Movement. Can people here in Croatia and throughout the region rethink the whole relationship with the South so that it’s not just the old Non-Aligned Movement?   


I think so. There is a new generation of activists here in Croatia. For the last few years, they’ve held a well-known festival: the Subversive Festival. It’s a kind of festival of theory. Every May a few thousand people, including theoretical activists and critical thinkers, join this festival. It is just amazing!

Two years ago we had a roundtable on decolonial theories and emancipatory practices. It’s a prestigious festival. Tremendous theorists from around the world come here every year, like Tariq Ali, the editor-in-chief of New Left Review, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Saskia Sassen, Samir Amin, and also many young people from the former East. So, in a sense, I think this kind of theoretical articulation of alternatives, social and cultural, has already started. And I myself wrote some articles on how we are much more closed to the countries in the South than the countries in the West: not only in terms of economy or geopolitical contextualization, but also in the terms of how we’ve also been colonized throughout history and how we have been neo-colonized through new regimes of globalization.


Let’s talk for a moment about the women’s movement. Initially you said you were more critical now than you were four years ago, and I’m curious what you meant by that.


When I say that “I’m more critical now,” it means also toward women’s engagement nowadays. We have various initiatives here. There are some good organizations and centers, such as a Center for Women’s Studies, the Center for Peace Studies. But they are not quite independent actors since they rely on state funds, and at the same time the political authorities tend to moderate their more critical political impulses. When I say that I’m more critical, it means in terms of the politics of gender mainstreaming. This was also in a way invented by European Union laws as a kind of controlling mechanism toward its new member states. Yes, we have rights, and we have the hyper-normativization and hyper-institutionalization of the women’s agenda. But the life of women and the position of women is getting worse than even a few years ago. In Yugoslavia, women used to live much better although patriarchal socialism was very effective. However, we have to deal with many paradoxes.


Can you give an example?


On one hand we have the whole gender mainstreaming mechanism for the implementation of women’s human rights. On the other hand, most of the women are deprived of their rights. Without economic independence women cannot be free. We have, for example, an ombudsperson for the equality among sexes. We have a committee for equality within our government. So, we have everything in terms of institutionalization. But when it comes to the labor market, women lose their jobs on a huge scale. They have been excluded from the realm of work, and many have lost the chance to work, including the younger generation of women.  There are so many examples of this. Women really should be angrier than they are.


So the unemployment rate among women is very high.


It’s very high. This is one of those hidden laws within the European Union, that it’s better that women should work part time so that they can be at home with their children. And this trend is precisely against women’s human rights and women’s emancipation. The laws follow the new liberal economic trends. In terms of women’s freedom and women’s lives, it’s terrible. It means that women are going to be much more dependent on their husbands or partners, and their job choices and whole conception of their lives are going to be reduced.


In the United States, there are lots of debates within the women’s movement on feminism, post-feminism, Third Wave feminism. But at a practical level, I’ve noticed that many of the things that my generation took for granted are no longer being taken for granted. For instance, many women in the United States are taking their husbands’ last names. Many are very happy about the idea of staying at home and raising children and not entering the workforce, or entering the workforce only part-time. Many of the traditional things that were scorned by my generation, such as a very expensive wedding, are now being embraced. And, ironically, many of the women who are doing these things call themselves feminists. They’re not rejecting feminism. They’re reinterpreting it.


You are totally right. It’s also happening here in a way. Liberal feminism served an important function with the suffragette movement and even with the working-class movement at the beginning of last century. Now it tends to go in a totally different direction. We can’t take any rights for granted. That’s why I think we should articulate the issue of rights within a much wider scope: in terms of economy, in terms of justice and human opportunities, in terms of fighting existing geopolitical power.

I don’t want to speak about post-feminism, because it’s also a kind of attack on the idea of feminism. Feminism makes sense only if it is a movement for social change. If it doesn’t think about social movement, if it is not a liberating movement, then it doesn’t make sense anymore. There are so many great feminists right now in America who also criticize liberal feminism, like Nancy Fraser (who a couple years ago wrote a great article called “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History” that goes in this direction) or Judith  Butler, or Wendy Brown. And then there’s Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of my favorite feminists, who comes at feminism from a totally different perspective, from the post-colonial perspective and the concept of subalterns. We should insist on revitalizing feminism, on transforming feminism according to the radical meaning of what it means to be feminist nowadays.

In Latin America, for instance, there is a huge movement around liberating feminism. They say, “We are not going to speak about liberal feminism anymore, because it functions along with the market economy. We should really speak about liberating feminism.” In that sense, we should speak once more about women’s lives, about social change, about justice for women of different backgrounds, about how to make a kind of collaboration with others who belong to underprivileged social groups. And we should revitalize left movements and once more think about class issues.


Even compared to four years ago, there seems to be a rising new left movement here in the region, not only here in Zagreb but in Poland, in Bulgaria. Why do you think this is emerging now? Is it just a question of a new generation? Or do you think that there are structural reasons for why the new left is emerging?


I think you are right to point to structural reasons. Yes, every generation has a right to bring in new fresh ideas, and has a right to have their politics of hope, because there is no sense to live in this world without any hope for a better future. That’s why we have this alternative globalization movement (not an anti-globalization movement but an alter-globalization). But it is not a coincidence that this movement coincides with this rather rude financial capitalism, enormous poverty and suffering around the world, and the general sentiment that we have to follow the trends of banks, finance capital, and corporate institutions.

So in that sense it comes from both sides: that the young generation is actively engaged in their own future and that the last 20 years of economic liberalism has been a delusion.


I’d like to ask you about LGBT issues, which has emerged as a litmus test for the EU. Do you think that for LGBT the situation has improved at all?


In Croatia, ever since that first gay pride parade, which I attended here in Zagreb, the situation for LGBT persons has gotten better.  Young people can now speak more openly about these issues. But in terms of peoples’ feelings and attitudes, if we don’t have a different educational approach in the long term it will be difficult. I teach feminist theories and I also teach queer theories within academia, and I’m aware of how difficult it is to change one’s own ideas and how people should struggle against their own prejudices. It will take time. But thanks to some very good lesbian, gay, and queer activists here, something has changed a little bit in the last few years. This is at least something good.


Last three questions. When you look back from 1989 until today, on a scale from 1 to 10, from 1 being the most dissatisfied, to 10 being most satisfied, how do you feel about all that has happened here in this country?


Well, roughly, I would give a 1 or 2.  Although I don’t think that it is really measurable.


And then same period of time, same scale, your own personal life from 1989 til today.


My own personal life? I’m still very critical and I’m still an activist. So I will not give up. I’ve learned a lot during these years.  Yet I really lived better during socialism, even though I have a higher position right now [laughing] as a university professor than at that time. So, two, not more than that. Life is a kind of sweet risk.


And then looking into the near future, when you think about the prospects for the country, scale from 1 to 10, 1 being the most pessimistic and —


Low, low, low, low. The same number.


Zagreb, October 15, 2012


Interview (2008)


I am a professor at the university here in Zagreb where I teach postcolonial studies. In my previous life, I did research into communist and socialist history after World War II. I was also active in the feminist movement here.


In the 1980s, in Yugoslav civil society before the war started, we had a great moment here, especially in Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia. A lot of things were flourishing, in an echo of the famous liberal years of the late 1960s. It was a very motivating time to live here.

When the war started, I immediately joined the anti-war campaign. We set up peace initiatives here. We really supported each other in terms of communication and collaborative work across boundaries. We invented a new email system. We supported refugees. We held anti-militaristic actions. We set up a lot of initiatives like the Center for Women War Victims and the Women’s Human Rights Initiative. We worked with conscientious objectors and deserters. We were not a huge group of women. We belonged to a sub-movement that opposed not only misogynistic policies but war activities. As a result of a Quaker initiative, we held one of the first conferences on women, politics, and peace here in Zagreb. It was an amazing thing to do in this city. We were more of an ethical voice perhaps than a real movement since there were no more than 100 of us.

In 1996, I founded the women studies program here. We wanted to theorize, to create a sort of political discussion around what happened to us as women, and as men. Before that, there had been no time to reflect since we were busy supporting people and refugees. Afterwards we were able to reflect on what balkanization and Yugoslavia meant for us – in terms of division, national partition, and nationalistic attitudes. We organized a famous women’s art exhibition: Women Beyond Borders – in 1997 or 1998 here in Zagreb. It was part of an international exhibition, and it showed how women could close the borders and offer different messages to people. Being active from my point of view means combining art activism, political activism, and theoretical activism. From my perspective, theory can’t be outside of activism. It can’t be just a theoretical reflection of yourself. You have to offer a message to the world. We still don’t have the time, or the social and ethical paradigms, for this kind of reflection. The new paradigm of imperial globalization doesn’t offer us any idea of how to live.

We have a women’s network here. It puts various proposals forward in public and argues against certain policies, for instance Catholic church policies that continually feed the organic concept of nation, of pure Christians. But we still need some real political analysis, as women and men, as liberal in the positive sense. We need to have a different and positive approach to nation. We don’t yet have a real political analysis of what is happening to us. There are gender equality bodies at the local, regional, and state levels and they are pushing for gender equality. But most don’t know how to do this.


In the 1990s, the nationalists took the women’s issue as their own through the concept of demographic renewal. This was invented in 1993 by the Tudjman regime. It only partially succeeded, but it succeeded at the political level. It promoted a theory of the organic nation, the nation as an organic body in which each member should feed the national body. The priority became: how to feed this national body with new Croats. This concept of demographic renewal, inspired in some sense by the Nazi ideology, was supposed to pass easily through the Croatian parliament. But it did not pass in full because some women supported by the feminist movement here were against it. We did a huge campaign. We lobbied the international community, and some embassies supported us. I don’t want to exaggerate our role but we at least made our voices heard. And we found that the international community could be supportive of an alternative concept. One sign of our success was that we received letters from our own embassy saying, “How dare you accuse our government of this!” The legislation was passed, but in a softer way, in a half-liberal way, not totally misogynistic, not totally nationalistic.

During wartime, the paradigm that functions most naturally is the aggressor-victim paradigm. All other ideas are subversive. All other ideas betray the nationalist paradigm. Within this paradigm, leaders see women as victims. Unfortunately, many women accept this. And they support Croatia as a victim state. In that sense, it was fascinating for us to go outside of this paradigm and promote a peace agenda. For this reason, we wanted to be national betrayers or dissidents. We wanted to have our own women’s community beyond the boundaries of nations. When we supported women who were Bosniaks or Serbs, we were told that we were not sufficiently patriotic. During war time, we didn’t have a very developed civil society. Rather, it was a kind of resistance, a kind of emancipatory thought within misogynistic, patriarchal national paradigms. We got lots of support from different organizations from abroad – peace, women, Quaker. We felt welcome in an international community that was also stateless. We felt very powerful. It was an amazing time. Even now we are nostalgic for this.

In general society, most Croats who used to announced themselves as pure Croats are now embarrassed and don’t know what to do. The idea of a pure nation disappeared. It has broken down through the destruction of the illusion of state sovereignty. In the economic sphere, it is clear that we are a colonized country. The decisions come from Brussels, not Zagreb. All elements of sovereignty are dispersed. For the people who considered themselves as pure Croats; they know full well that this idea collapsed in a very short period, and they are disappointed.

In university, in the classes on the sociology of politics, the students have never heard anything about nationalism or theories of nationalism. They want to be part of a desirable nation. They get angry when I ask them about the concept of Croat nationalism, whether it is primordial or constructed. Most say that it is primordial, but they don’t want to belong to this primordial nation. They would rather believe that the nation is an open conception rather than something that relies on blood and soil. Yet they also feel a sense of unfairness, because they still think of Croatia as victim.


The term Balkanization has had a very negative meaning, especially during wartime. It had both male and female aspects. On the male side, balkanization embraces elements of wildness, of aggression, of primitive “natural” guys who fought each other and who killed each other. On the female side, there is what Edward Said pointed out about the “oriental,” that it is unreliable in terms of negotiations, just like women, with whom you never know where you stand.

During Tudjman’s time, Croatia had a very autocratic, male type of politics. But Croatia was also a victim, and therefore female. From the EU’s point of view, Croatia was not disciplined enough. This was connected to generals who were not willing to prosecute war criminals. Tudjman always said Croatia belonged to Europe, that Croatia was the last Catholic country. Christianity was reduced to Catholicism here; no one thought the Orthodox were even Christian. To join the EU, we had to give them a clear message – we would deal with criminals and be nice to Serbs.

Post-colonial theory is quite new for the whole region, not only for Croatia. When I came to postcolonial theory – it was more for my own writing and thinking. But then I found that this theory is much more applicable here than some other theoretical approaches – because it challenges concepts of nation, of history, of space, of boundary. It offers concepts of in-betweenness, of hybrid identity. It offered clues on how to deal with historical trauma, how to deal with socialist history. It helps us explain Yugo-nostalgia. It’s difficult to explain the new migration without using concepts of hybridity.

Post-colonial representation is also very helpful in understanding the use of women’s bodies. Women in colonial contexts are treated as uncivilized, without authentic voice. This is how it feels to be colonized – it means not to be understood. Many Bosnian women who were raped came here or were in camps in Bosnia. Women from the West gave us financial support to support these Bosnian women because they didn’t understand Bosnian women. They gave us money because “you understand them because you are ‘other’ as well – you are as ‘uncivilized’ as they are.”


When I think back to the Clinton era, America was perceived very positively by both genders here. Throughout the 1990s, even in 2000, most of us perceived America as really a liberal emancipator in terms of gender. We had fruitful cooperation with U.S. women who came here and supported us a lot. The Global Fund for Women is one of the most powerful women’s foundations in the world. It is sensitive, understands politics in the world. So many ideas in terms of theory, the women’s movement, the peace agenda, we took from American initiatives, networks, and individuals. The image of America was very positive – in the political world and also in civil society.

But especially after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, and because of this strange American foreign policy, the whole image has changed radically: within public opinion, within political parties, and especially within civil society. Americanization means rights now occupation, militarization, and colonization. It is very negative. All that political capital connected to the image of emancipation has been destroyed. American policymakers could consider this very seriously. We had a great connection with the U.S. embassy back then. They listened to us and gave us a lot of support. Then after Iraq, some of our organizations, especially women’s organizations, refused to take any funds from the U.S. embassy. We never tried to get any money from them. They wanted to give us money, and we didn’t take it. I feel very bad about it, and I hope it changes. The embassy also didn’t like it.

It’s important not to have a homogenous image of Americanization as we had of balkanization in the 1990s. We shouldn’t have these simplified images of balkanization or Americanization. We need a more dispersive and deep analysis to deconstruct both, one coming from below and signifying colonization and the other coming from above and signifying occupation.

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