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Voices in the Shadows

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Voices in the Shadows
Women and VerbalArt in Serbia and Bosnia

Celia Hawkesworth
Published by
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Contents
Introduction I

1. Cultural Baggage I 7

2. Womens Contribution to the Oral Tradition33

3. Womens Voicesin the Middle Ages 63

4. The Nineteenth Century 89

5. The Turn of the Century:New Opportunities:


1900-1914 I23

6. Between the Two World Wars: Modernization 159

7. The SecondYugoslavia: 1945-1991 195

8. Womens Writing in Bosnia Herzegovina243

Conclusion 267

Bibliography 2 73

Index 279
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The rise of the Ottoman Empire
The Yugoslav lands on the eve of the First World War
T h e Yugoslav successorstates

A Cairn (Gomila) 34
Peasant woman fromnear BihaC, Bosnia 43
The first woman nationalgush player in Yugoslavia 52
The curtain embroidered by Jefimija for Hilandar
Monastery 78
The inscription on the small icon given to Despotica
Jelenas son 81
WOMAN, monthly magazine for women, edited by Milica
J d i C Tomid. YearI, 1April 1911, no. 4. 131
Cover of Srphinju, the almanac publishedin Sarajevo, 1913 133
in Irig (1913)
The Charitable Society of Serbian Women 152
Bosnian woman:Mrs Julka Srdid-PopoviC 249
Peasant girl,Bosnia 253

Milica StojadinoviCSrpkinja, Isidora Sekulid 266


Anica Savid-Rebac, Ksenija Atanasijevid
Jelena Dimitrijevit, DesankaMaksimovid
Svetlana Velmar-JankoviC, Alma Lazarevska
I am indebted to the British Academy and the British Council for the
financial support which enabled me to undertake study trips to the
region, and to the Director and Council of the School of Slavonic
and East European Studies for granting me a period of study leaveso
that I could concentrate on my research. I wish to acknowledge the
friendlyassistance I always encountered in the libraries in which
I worked, in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Zagreb. I am grateful to numer-
ous colleagues, both in the UK and in or from the former Yugoslav
lands for all their advice and suggestions. These are too many to list
by name, but they include ZagaGavriloviC in Birmingham, Slobo-
danka PekoviC, Vladeta Jankovid, Nada MiloSeviC-Djordjevid and Zla-
tan DoriC in Belgrade, and Sena Mujid and Ferida DurakoviC in Sara-
jevo. I would also like to mention Dr Wendy Bracewell and Dusan
h v a t i C in London who, in addition to giving me many invaluable
suggestions, have both consistently brightened my professional life;
Professor Zdenko LeSiC,who has been a vital source of ideas and
information, and an unfailing support; SvetlanaVelmar-Jankovid,
whose generous encouragement I haveespeciallyvalued; and
Dr HatidZa Krnjevid, whose penetrating understandingof both Bosnia
and Serbia and professional commitment to scholarship have been
an inspiration to me. Above all, I would like to mention Jasmina and
Biljana LukiC who, with exceptional generosity and warmth, let me
share not only their knowledge and experience, but their Belgrade
home and a little of the lives of Luka and Jelena. Finally, of course,
I would like to thank my own family, who havebeen cheerfully toler-
ant of my preoccupation with this task.
For Christy and Sophie
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While the Central European countries have become steadily more
familiar since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, to most West Euro-
peans the South-East remains one of the least known areas of the
continent. Where the Balkans do have a presence in the Western
imagination, the word may be said generallyto have negative associa-
tions. The whole question of the manner in which the Balkans have
been perceived in the West has been comprehensively discussed by
the Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova, who analyzes how opinions
were formed, particularly by travelers from the West, in various his-
torical periods.1The concept of Balkanization hai entered the Eng-
lish language,with alienating associations of conflict and fragmenta-
tion, and is widelyapplied to the most disparate situations, from major
political events to the trivial organization of local structures. At the
same time, the Balkans have held a special fascinationfor many indi-
viduals over the centuries, as an area of often rugged beauty, with a
bewildering mixture of inhabitants, whose ways of life are at once fa-
miliar and yet refreshingly different. Specialistsin the region are famil-
iar with works concerned with political and ecclesiastical history, stud-
ies of Byzantium and the Orthodox Church, of Turkey-in-Europe and
the Eastern Question, and works about the Second World War and
about the twentiethcentury experience of Communist Party rule. At
the other end of the scale, there are the abundant accounts of travel-
ers to these exotic lands from the seventeenth century onwards.
There have also been studies of basic indigenous social structures, of
traditional culture, and of the effects of Ottoman rule.
The Central Balkan lands constitutingthe country which came into
being in 1918 as The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes,
and was later known as Yugoslavia, have been covered by scholars
with particular thoroughness, and, indeed, it is part of this area that
is the focus of the present study. There is a substantialbody of works ,.

1
devoted to the Yugoslav experiment, and a large and growing num-
ber analyzing the countrys violent disintegration. However,the posi-
tion of women in the Yugoslav lands has only recently become a fo-
cus of attention. The present study is an attempt to draw together
elements of the experience of Iife in these lands from the point of
view of women as it is expressed in works of the imagination, by giv-
ing an overview of the development of literary culture through the
voices and from the perspectiveofwomen.Such an undertaking
represents an innovation also in respect of the cultural history pro-
duced in the region itself, from which, until recently, women have
been strikinglyabsent,womenswritinghaving been underrepre-
sented in traditional anthologies and literaryhistory. By bringing
women into the foreground and looking at their achievements in
literary culture in a new perspective, this study seeksto contribute to
the process of restoring women to the cultural history of the lands
where they too have lived. There is an additional dimension to the
work in view of the present disastrous consequences of emphasizing
heroic patriarchal culturalvalues in the Central Balkans,it seeks to
look into the shadows in order to examine the extent to which there
may exist an alternative tradition.The aim of this investigation isnot
to suggest that such an alternative outlook is exclusivelythe province
of women: on the one hand, acceptance of a mythic version of his-
tory constrains the entire population and, on the other, women have
often been as eager as men to promote heroic values. But an obvious
effect of these dominant values has been to reinforce gender stereo-
types in which men play the active role of defending the homeland,
while women are confined to the passive, private sphere, as nurtur-
ing-and often bereft-wives and, above all, mothers.

Scope of the Volume and Brief Historical Survey


In order to give coherence to the volume, I have focused on one
language group, speakers of the language still most simply referred
to as Serbo-Croat. Since the break-up ofYugoslavia this term has
been used mainly by people outside the territory; in the respective
2
states the language is known as Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian.
(As this book goes to press, dictionaries of Montenegrin have also
begun to appear.) In addition, I have chosen to concentrate on one
set of historical and cultural circumstances: the influences of Byzan-
tine culture and the Orthodox Church, on the one hand, and of
Ottoman rule, on the other. Before the Slavs arrived in the Balkan
peninsula the dominant culture in the area was that of the Roman
Empire, with a complex system of urban settlements, communica-
tions, exploitation of natural resources, and trade routes. The sixth-
century Slav invaders virtually obliterated Roman civilization.* For
the first several hundred years after their arrival in the Balkans, the
Slavslived according to their traditional tribal customs and pagan
beliefs. It was only in the Middle Ages, after embryonic states had
begun to settle into stable structures with some degree of political
and social organization, that a need was felt for the cohesive influ-
ence of European Christian civilization. When this happened, there
weretwo distinctpotentialcenters:Rome and Byzantium. The
emerging Slav states vacillated between the two, according to their
perceived interests. Eventually, geography and the declining power
of the Byzantine Empirein the West resulted in the gravitation of the
Western areas towards Rome, and the increasing importance to the
emerging states in the South-East of Byzantium, Constantinople or
The Imperial City (Tsarigrad). By the time this process was com-
plete, the Western Slavs had taken the name of the dominant tribe,
the Croats, whilethe name of the Serb tribe had spread to the major-
ity of the Slav groups in the South-East.
The original provenance of the Balkan Slavs is obscure. There are
many conflicting theories. But it is clearat least that the racial origins
of all the Slav tribes which eventually settledin the Balkan peninsula
are the same. There was thus no initial objective difference between
the original Slav peoples who later came to be known by different
names. Allof them underwent similar processes of absorption of
indigenous groups, suchas the Celts and the Illyrians, and of earlier
or subsequent settlers, that is, Avars,Saxons,Franks,Vlachs, and
others. Later, the particular admixture of,for example, Italians, Aus-
trians, and Hungarians along the Dalmatian coast and in the North-
3
West, and of Turks, Greeks, and Albanians in the lands under Otto-
man occupation, resulted in different prevailing combinations. But
the Balkan peninsula, like the British Isles, is essentially character-
ized by an inextricable racial mixture of peoples. The distinctions
which in the end came to identify the BalkanSlavs as Slovenes,
Croats,Serbs,Bosnians,Macedonians,Montenegrins,Bulgarians,
and so on, are, then, the result not of race, but of religious and cul-
tural allegiance, and historical circumstance.
Perhaps the crucial aspect ofthe historical experience of the whole
region is its nature as a border-land, with shifting frontiers, forming,
over the centuries, various configurationsfor varying lengths of time.
As throughout Europe, the driving force behind the formation of
kingdoms of Varying ethnic mixtures at different times between the
ninth and fourteenth centuries was territorial expansion and com-
mercial gain.The result was a kaleidoscope of states, jostling between
several powers, subject to the fluctuating influence of the Roman
CatholicWest-notablyHungary and Venice-andByzantium,with
numerous smaller fiefdoms of varying size and importance. With the
penetration of the Ottoman Turks into the peninsula, a relatively

4
stable structure was established in the southern and central territor-
ies, with periods of internal unrest and constant friction along its
borders. As Ottoman power began to wane, the influence of the
Habsburg Monarchy increased from the late sixteenth century on-
wards among the Serbs living in the Habsburg lands, and after 1878
in Bosnia.
Until the end of the fourteenth century, the circumstances of life
for the ordinary population of the region were broadly similar to
those elsewhere in feudal Europe. But when the Ottoman Turks oc-
cupied the territories, they replaced the existing state structures with
their ownnetworkoflocal landholders and provincial governors.
While this ruling structure was, on the whole, benign, leaving the
villages with considerable autonomy inrunning their own affairs, the
development of the social and cultural lifeof the indigenous popula-
tion was seriously affected, being left in the hands of representatives
of the different religious groups whose own level of education was,
on the whole, minimal. In predominantly Christian areas trade and
urban activity were dominated by foreigners, mainly Greeks and offl-
cials of the Ottoman Empire. Even in Bosnia, where there evolved a
large population of local Slav converts to Islam, the general educa-
tional and cultural level ofthe great majority remainedlow. It should
also be stressed that, as a result of successivewars between the great
powers in the region, in which the local population was inevitably
caught up, the moreprosperous and mobile localtraders-the people
with the most education, in other words-were those who tended to
find rehge in neighboring countries, seeking greater stability and
escaping reprisals. This mobility makes it hard to assess the quality of
life in the towns which were most affected by the fluctuations of their
inhabitants. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly the case that the majority
of the population of the whole region was largely confined to the
countryside, where educational possibilities were minimal.As a result,
the traditional social structures of village life hardly changed for 400
years. While urban life developed rapidlyin the course of the twenti-
eth century, the largely static state of the countryside meant that an
increasingly sharp divide developed betweenthe people in the towns
and those in the villages, one which has endured to thisday.
5
The scope of the present work is confined to the territories which
are known today as Serbia and Montenegro (the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia, as this book goes to press),and Bosnia Herzegovina. For
a number of reasons, the Serb population is given the fullest treat-
ment: on the one hand, a large-scale migration at the end of the sev-
enteenth century led to the growth of a prosperous community in
southern Hungary, where conditionsfor the development of culture
quickly evolved in the context of the Habsburg Monarchy. In Serbia
itself, an independent kingdom was established in the nineteenth
century, and educational and cultural institutions were able to de-
velop rapidly from the middle of the century onwards. The rugged
mountainous territory of Montenegro, which was never completely
subject to Ottoman rule, and where a tiny kingdom was founded in
1850, remained largely inaccessible to educational and culhlral in-
fluences from the West, apart from the small communities in the
coastal towns, notably Kotor, which came underVenetian influence,
and the miniature capital, Cetinje, perched high in the mountains.
This predominantly tribal society was deeply traditional,and the lives
of the inhabitants, particularly the women-in the inland areas at
least-remained largely unchanged fromthe Middle Ages until recent
times.3 The lands which constitute present-day Bosnia Herzegovina
have had a complex history: having been an independent kingdom
from the twelfthcentury, threatened continually by the kingsof
Hungary, Bosnia became the western limit of the Ottoman Empire,
forming the border with the Habsburg lands. The population con-
sisted of adherents of the two Christian churches, Catholic and Or-
thodox, and a large group of local Muslims. It was extremely unsta-
ble as a result of the constant friction between the Habsburg and
Ottoman Empires,whichcausedwavesof refigees from different
ethnic groups tomove in and out of the territory at intervals overthe
centuries.
The catastrophic wars at the end of the twentieth century in the
lands that were Yugoslavia offera painful illustrationof the instability
of life in this region. The ruthless struggle for power through the
control of territory which they represent is a vivid reminder of the
violence of European life beforethe present pattern of nation-states
6
The Yugoslav landson the
eve of the First World War

The Yugoslav successorstates

t
SLOVENIA " N

CROATIA

h FEDERAL REPUBLIC
>. OF YUGoSLAVIA
SERBIA

REPUBLIC OF

7
began to settle. The Yugoslav wars of the 1990s have reflected on a
shockingscale the frequent movementsof population that have
characterized much of Balkan history, bringing home to us the mis-
ery and suffering entailed by such violent upheavals. The particular
effects of war on women, subjected over the centuries to rape by in-
vading armies, in addition to all the other hardships of struggling to
sustain the life of their families, has been an important theme in
studies of womenshi~tory.~

of Women
Main Cultural Influences and the Role
The Slav tribes brought with them to the Balkans established beliefs
and customs. Gradually, their gods were adapted to the new Chris-
tian ideas, but the old ways survived in many forms with remarkable
tenacity. To a considerable extent, the Slavs resisted Roman civil law
and continued to regulatefamily and community relations according
to their ancient ideas ofjustice. As is the case with all pagan gods, the
Slavgodswere not grand forces directing the universe, balancing
absolute categoriesof good and evil, but figures evolved from natural
phenomena perceived as significant. The Slavsgodswereclose at
hand, intimately present in all aspects of daily life: in the fields, the
home, and the family. One study of ancient beliefs among the Slavs
in the Central Balkans, by Natko Nodilo, suggests that they are par-
ticularly inclined to preserve such popular belief^.^ A feature of relig-
ious life in the region which Nodilo sees as having had a particular
influence on the survival of ancient belief was Bogomilism, the Chris-
tian heresy that took root particularly in Bosnia, surviving as a wide-
spread phenomenon until the end of the fifteenth century: for ex-
ample,insomeareas-notablyHerzegovina and Montenegro-the
names of the ancient Slav gods have survived in personal names and
the names of traditional heroes. Nodilo cites the exampleof the
close relationship between the gods and heroes of classical Greece,
concluding that this tendency among the Balkan Slavs preceded the
domination of Christianity and Islam. He divides historical popular
culture into two main phases: first, up to the fifteenth century, when
8
the variouspeoples had their own localrulers, and second, the
period of Ottoman rule. In this second phase,the local rulerstended
to be replaced in the popular imagination by highwaymen whose activi-
ties undermined Turkish administration and commerce, and from
that time on the Slav gods were transformed into heroes. Ancient
layers of popular belief may also be traced in traditional songs and
stories, in which patterns of behavior and the characteristics of par-
ticular gods are transferred to the portrayal of individual heroes.
These songs and stories are woven into every aspect of life in the
Balkan villages,forming an intricate web of great cohesive power.
Cultural activity among the small educated elite in the medieval
states in the region varied in intensity, depending on political cir-
cumstances. In the Serbian states, in particular, the influence of Byz-
antium was strong: between the mid-twelfth and late fourteenth cen-
turies, these states were sufficiently stable and prosperous for large
numbers of monasteries and churches to be built, richly decorated
withmagnificentfrescoes. A substantialbodyofwriting was pro-
duced within the context of the administrative needs of church and
state, including biographies of the rulers, reinforcing the main Ne-
manjid dynasty, which dominated Serbian medieval history. On the
basis of these documents, treaties, trade agreements, letters, and so
on, it is possible to buildup a detailed pictureof the lives of the rul-
ing class, in which individual women played an important part. The
last vestiges of an independent Serbian state disappeared in 1459.
After that, monks continued to copy documents and so preserve a
degree of literacy among an element of the population, but it was
not until the great migration of 1690 into Habsburg lands north of
the Danube that the conditions began to be createdfor the renewal
of cultural activity. The focal point of Serbian intellectual life shifted
to Belgrade in the course of the nineteenth century as educational
and cultural institutions were gradually established there. By the end
of the century, many young men-and a handful of women-were
traveling to foreign universities to study and returning with a new,
European outlook. In the twentieth century, cultural trends echoed
those of the rest of Europe. In Bosnia Herzegovina, under Ottoman
rule, the cultural life of the educated elite in the sixteenth and sev-
9
enteenth centuries was carried on in Turkish, Arabic, and Persian.
From the middle of the seventeenth century, writing in these orien-
tal languagesgave way to the new trend of writing in the vernacular,
although the Arabic script was retained until the end of the nine-
teenth century. Thisliterature was known as alhamijado, a corruption
of an Arabic term meaning foreign.
While the development of written vernacular literature was inter-
rupted by the Ottoman occupation, an oral tradition flourished
throughout the territories under consideration. The contribution of
women to this dimension of the regions culture is great and this will
be the first focusof the present study. Afterthat, it traces the written
literature produced by women, from the first modest beginnings in
the Middle Ages and the early nineteenth century to the turn of the
century, when women were able to draw on the energy and experi-
ence of a broad international womens movement. The period up to
the Second WorldWar was a time of energetic intellectual activity for
educated women throughout the Yugoslav lands.However, the
achievements of this generation were largely overlooked in official
socialist cultural and literary history. Afterthe Second World War,in
Yugoslavia as in most of Eastern Europe, we are confronted by a
paradox: the prevailing ideologyheld that the woman question had
been solved with the establishment of a socialist government and
that it was therefore inappropriate to explore the position of women
in social, intellectual,and cultlu-al life. And yet, as has
been discussed
in manystudies ofwomen in the socialistsocieties of Eastern
Europe, the fact remained that women were still marginalized, sad-
dled with the double burden of employment and domestic work,
their position in practice often being less favorable than that of
many women in the period between the wars. It was not until the
1970s that women were again able to question the marginal role to
which their creativity had been consigned, and it is possible to trace
the beginnings of a new, alternative, consciously womens voice in
literature.

10
Women at theMargins of History and Culture
In order to begin to understand the particular nature of womens
experience in this part of southeastern Europe, and to establish a
frame of reference for the individual topics of this study, we need to
bear in mind the general socialand cultural contextof womens lives
in the region. There are three main componentsin the cultural heri-
tage of the Balkan lands: the influence of the Orthodox Christian
Church, with its Byzantine background; the presence of Islam in the
particular form it took in the Balkans; and the basic social structure
of the zadmga-the patriarchal extended family farm, which set the
basic pattern of life in most of the countryside, at least until the Sec-
ond World War. The general tenets of Christianity and Islam in rela-
tion to women are too familiar to be repeated here. The zudruga has
been extensively studiedby sociologists and anthropologists. Forour
present purposes, it is enough to say that it varied in size from two or
three families (the head of the family and his son/sons with their
wives and children) to a maximum of20 couples. The basic principle
was that, while the male members never left the common home,
women entered by marriage, and were thus disadvantaged from the
outset by their lack of blood-ties tothe family unit. The organization
of the household was hierarchical, with every member having a defi-
nite rank, determined by age and sex, the sex criterion being
stronger than the age criterion: all males were superior to any of the
womenfolk, particularly in regions with a fighting tradition.6 The
word of the head of the family was law, although it was possible for
him to be removed if he proved unequal to the task. The duties of
the appointed top7 woman-usually the heads wife-were to make
clothes for herself, her husband and children, and any widows in the
household, to distribute tasks among the other women, and to en-
sure that all the needs of the household and workers in the fields
were met. Several studies of the system focus on the mechanisms for
reinforcing the domination of the male-oriented group over its fe-
male members: for example, in public the man must be seen to as-
sert his authority by walking in front of his wife, or riding the only
donkey while the women carry heavy loads.* Other symbolic mecha-
11
nisms of this kind include seating arrangements on ceremonial occa-
sions, and the frequent custom of the women of the household kiss-
ing the mens hands or, insome places, washingtheir feet.9
I suggest that, whatever the private reality for individuals at various
times, all these cultural influences have tended to reinforce an un-
stated but pervasive public perception of womens inferiority:under-
lying the three elementsalready mentioned, the womenof the
southern Slav lands share the common Judeo-Christian heritage of
European women which has been thoroughly exploredin numerous
studies of womens history published since the 1970s. There is wide-
spread agreement that the views of women in European culture
which have dominated its history are largely negative, and that they
have hardly changed since the days of the ancient Greeks, Romans,
and Hebrews. In common with other historical and cultural surveys,
this study finds initial justification
for this view of the roles of Ortho-
dox Christianity and Islam in the Balkans in the fact that accounts of
their history typically do notmention women,not even as a category,
let alone as individuals who have playeda rolein the development of
the regions religious life. Women in the region may thus be re-
garded, as has been documented in so many other historical and
cultural works, as having slipped out of history, living somehow out-
side the world of masculine achievements.
That women have been systematically neglected in the presentation
of the history of this area was highlighted in an important article
published in 1989, written by the Croatian feminist historian Lydia
Sklevicky, and memorably entitled More Horses than Women. The
pressing issue it raised was that: If generations of women and men
are socialized through their processof education to believe that
there were no women in the history of their nation(s), they are so-
cialized in the myth of aZZ$mmve patriarchy.O Through her work in
reassessing conventional accounts of womens rolesin the history of
the Central Balkans, Sklevicky contributed greatly to building confi-
dence among younger scholars,and thus giving momentum to a new
focus on women in their work. Nevertheless, the process of establish-
ing womens studies on a secure footingin southeastern Europe has
so far proved dikult. This is the result of a widespread tendency,
12
among educated men and women alike,to dismiss a focuson women
as a laughable irrelevance. The word feminist remains highly p r o b
lematic, even at the end of the 1990s. Funds for gender-based re-
searchwerethus hard to come by,even beforeviolentconflict
erupted in the Yugoslav lands. Nevertheless, easy access to informa-
tion about feminist movements and theory in various Western socie-
ties,combinedwith the activitiesof the feminist groups founded
since the late 1970s in the main urban centers of former Yugoslavia,
and of a few individual journalistsand academics, began graduallyto
influence younger generations of women scholars. In the course of
the 199Os, despite the war, womens studies courses were set up at
the Graduate School of the Humanities in Ljubljana, and as extra-
curricular subjects at the universities of Belgrade and Zagreb. Such
courses were given a new urgency by the recognition that the new
democracies created in East and Central Europe since the collapse
ofCommunismhaveapredominantlymaleface:womenhave
tended once again to be marginalized in these transformations, at
the same time as losing some of their basic human rights. In addi-
tion, most strikingly in the area under consideration, the economic
and political crisis accompanying the period of transition has been
marked by a deep-seated nationalism which tends to foster ideas of
women as reproductive instruments for providing the nation with
sons.
The present work seeks to make a contribution to the growth of
gender studies in southeast Europe. It does not, of course, pretend
to provide a definitive account of womens contribution to verbal art
in these lands, but it offers a framework for further study. The gen-
eral approach adopted draws on some of the main achievements of
womens studies, particularly in the Anglo-American tradition. But it
is hoped that the survey will also attract the more general reader,
interested in broad questions of the construction of gender, and of
social and national identities. By highlighting the existence of a ne-
glected alternative tradition, to some extent counterbalancing the
prevailingpatriarchal, aggressive ethos currently dominating the
region, I believe that this study can contribute also to strengthening
the platform of all those, women and men, who do not subscribe to
13
the dominant values of the region in the late twentieth century, but
who feel that theyhave no legitimate or audible voice. Womens
groups were
particularly prominent in anti-war campaigning
throughout the former Yugoslav lands, endeavoring to maintain links
across the boundariescreated by the variousnationalistprojects.
One interesting instance of such links is a volume of letters between
a group of four women, based in Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Berlin
and, later, Paris, exchanged by fax from the beginning of June 1991
to the end of November 1992. The collection is a particularly elo-
quent expression of the unbelief, resistance, and refusal to be in-
cluded in the nationalist projects responsible for the war experi-
enced by large numbers of people on all sides throughout the h o s
tilities. It describesprotestcampaignsinitiatedinall the centers
where the writers found themselves at various stages, practical meas-
ures to counteract the restrictions on movement and communica-
tion, and, above all, a spirit of defiance and the will to overcome all
obstacles put in their way. It is to be hoped that, by highlighting such
cooperative values, this bookmay offer the general reading public a
different image of the region to that which has dominated the media
in the last decade ofthe twentieth century.
I have mentioned the important role of the oral tradition through-
out this region. As we shall see in more detail inthe chapter dealing
with oral tradition, since the majorcollectionsweremade in the
nineteenth century, this tradition has been classified according to a
broad division into the epic or heroic and the lyric mode. Since the
beginning of the process of liberation from Ottoman rule, the epic
songs, sung predominantly by men and concerned, at least ostensi-
bly,withhistoricalevents,have been privileged over the timeless,
more private concernsof.the lyric songs.As womens creativitytends
to be associated with this lyric mode, it is inevitable that it too should
continue to be marginalized,in the same way that women have been
in the culture taken as a whole, until such time asit is accepted that
the epic and .the lyric can. coexist peacefully as a necessary dialogue
between two basic world-views, and, above all, when it is recognized
that neither mode should be exclusively associated with one gender
or the other. I believe that just such an apprehension lies at the heart
14
of a remarkablework by the Serbian poet Desanka MaksimoviC which
appeared in 1964.12 Having begun to write in 1919, she was the first
woman poet to gain wide acceptance in Serbian literature, and she
did so largely by writing verse generally perceived as expressing a
recognizably female point of view. This volumeis unlike the rest of
her work in that it confronts the dominant mode directly, not as a
clash of perceptions but, as she puts it explicitly in her subtitle, as a
dialogue, a Conversation withthe Law Code compiled by the four-
teenth-century Serbian ruler Tsar DuSan. MaksimoviC took DuSans
Code as her starting point in writing what amounts to her own very
personal bookof laws, seeking not justice but forgiveness and under-
standing for many human weaknesses,injustices, and sins. In the
context of the mainstream tradition of Serbian literature, dominated
by the male voice, this work seems to me to have the same startling
quality as some of the brief articulations of a female perception that
break suddenly into some of the traditional epic songs known to
have been sung by women. The present study seeks to bring such
perceptions out of the shadows and to give them a new centrality,
complementing the dominant tone.Prompted by Article 10 in
Dugans Law Code, On Heretics-And should aman be found to be
a heretic, living among Christians, let him be branded on the cheek
and exiled, and should anyone hide him, let him too be branded-
MaksimoviC wrote the following poem, which may be read as a com-
mentary upon all absolutist ideologicalsystems:

For Heresy
I seek understanding
for the heresy that is spreading
in the territoriesof Your kingdom
that fromit dates the worldsbeginning,
for the heretic who states that before his birth
there wereno fires or volcanoes,
no moonlight, or sunlight,
no woods scattered with frost, no snow,
that the riversof history began
but yesterdayto foam and roar.

15
For the nobles who insist
that therewas no gently before their time,
nor golden chalices,
nor monasteries.
For all whoare short-sighted
and narrow-minded.
For the young who think that mankind
and thebeauty whichtheir eyes behold
began only when they cameto the world,
that no oneever loved like them,
that thegreat festival of human life
began onlywith their arrival.
For everyones childish
and heretical thoughts.13

Notes
1 Todorova, Imagining theBalkans.
2 Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth,22.
3 See Milich, A Stranger S Supper.
4 See particularly war as a recurrent theme in Anderson and Zinsser, A History of Their
Own; Vickers, Women and War.
5 Nodilo, Stara vjeraU Srba i Hrvata.
6 Erlich, Family in Transition, 32.
7 Rihtman-Augustin, Struktura tradicijskog mSQenja; Todorova, Myth-making in Euro-
pean Family History, 39-76.
8 Erlich, 236.
9 Denich, Sex and Powerin the Balkans, 252-53.
10 More Horses Than Women,68-75,69.
11 IvekoviC, JovanoviC, Krese, and LaziC, Briefe von Frauen iiber Krieg und Nationalis-
mus.
12 MaksimoviC, ISeek Clemency, 7-38.
13 Ibid., 16.

16
You should nottrust a woman, a snake,
or a cat, even when they are dead.
Women and land can never be kept.
Never lend your wife, your gun, or your horseto anyone.2
A house does notrest on the earth, buton woman.
If Im going to hell, Id prefer to go on a young filly rather than an
old mare.3

One useful gauge of prevailing attitudes in a culture is provided by


proverbs. The first strikingfeature of the collections of proverbs con-
sulted for the purposes of this study is the fact that they tend to con-
tain a separate category labeled Women. This endorses the widely
acknowledgedobservationunderlyingmuch recent research into
womens historythat, while men areseen as defined by class, occupa-
tion, nation, or historical era, women have traditionallybeen viewed
first as women, a separate category of beingn.4 It is an equally com-
mon observation that this perception is in marked contrast to the
reality of womensown experience of their individuality. Against the
background of the social and cultural history briefly outlined in the
Introduction, this chapter aims to consider in more detail the par-
ticular nature of the public perception of women in the region and
womens own acceptance of the role assigned to them. Having sur-
veyed in broad outline the regions history,I want now to turn to the
meaning that has been given to that history and its implications for
women.
It should be stressedat the outset that, among the various cultural
groups in the region, one set of meanings-that pertaining to the
Serbs, which also includes the Montenegrins-has been elaborated
more extensively than any other. This is because of the particular
circumstances of Serbian history touchedon in the Introduction. As
the Serbs tend to see their history as forming the clearest pattern, it
17
is this pattern which will be considered in most detail. The implica-
tions for neighboring groups of so developed a sense of identity are
obvious and an awareness of its assumptions is therefore equally im-
portant for understanding their situation.

The Emergence of a Serbian National Identity


AU peoples depend for their sense of identity on their interpretation
of the particular story they tell as their history. In every culture
elaborate systems are developed to process historical information, to
form it into a pattern, and to interpret events to fit this pattern. The
political vacuum left among the indigenous populations by the Ot-
toman administration between the late fourteenth and early nine-
teenth centuries in the Balkans offered fertile ground for the elab-
oration of a sense of identity, which crystallized in the course of the
nineteenth century. Its main characteristic, emphasized in the cir-
cumstances of resistance toOttoman rule at that time, was the stress
on a sense of difference from the alien rulers and their supporters,
an insistence on Christianity rather than Islam, a spirit of defiance,
and a sense of the intrinsic value of the indigenous culture. Serbian
history was seen to fall into a pattern with three main phases: the
glorious days of the great medieval kingdom; the catastrophe of the
Battle of Kosovo in 1389, which marked the beginning of Turkish
oppression; and the long centuries under the yoke, characterized
by resistance and ultimate liberation. The whole Kosovo myth which
has evolved in connection with this interpretation of history is an
exceptionally potent force in the region and is therefore worth
dwelling on in more detail.
Little is known of the battle itself, but the first reports suggested
that its outcome was not decisive. However, it was guaranteed signifi-
cance because both the Serbian ruler, Prince Lazar, and the Turkish
sultan, Murad, were killed. From the outset, sermons, eulogies, and
hagiographic writings of the time reflected a common purpose: to
counteract the prevailing pessimism followingthe death of Lazar and
to offer somehope to the Serbian people. Thismeant that the battle
18
itself and the death of the ruler had to be interpreted in such a way
as to reflect a pattern of martyrdom as redemption and a guarantee
of ultimate, eternal victory. So concerned are the earliest accounts
with strengthening the cult of Lazar that they do not mention the
death of Murad. In his study of the Kosovo myth? Thomas Emmert
suggests that the change came as more than 300,000 Serbs moved
into the mountains in the decade following the fall of Constantino-
ple in 1453: The figure of Murads assassin found a home in the
culture of the exile, where his courageousdeed could inspire respect
and enthusiasm for continued resistance to the Turk. In this culture-
the patriarchal Serbian village-the epic tradition developed its own
periodization of history. Everything revolvedaround the great events
which were seen to be important turning points in the life of the
nation. In this traditionKosovo became a crucialturning point in the
popular consciousness and served as the dramatic watershed between
independence and servitude.6All the components of the myth were
present in the history of the Slavs published byMavro Orbini in
1601. This work played an important role in the spreading of the
myth: a version ofit was translated into Serbo-Croat and published in
St Petersburg in1722from where it reached the Serbian population
in southern Hungary and eventually all other parts of the Central
Balkans.Thisversionincludedalsoscenes and personalities not
found in Orbinis original, but which were familiar to the author of
the Serbo-Croat version fromthe popular oral tradition.
From this accountof the evolution of the story, it is clear that, since
the facts of the battle itself were recorded only in sketchy and con-
flicting reports, from the very beginning the way the story was told
was shaped by a need to interpret such facts as were known. Its func-
tion was to satisfy a number of different needs-social, cultural, and
emotional-at once shared with the rest of the community and indi-
vidual. Over time, the songs associated with the Battle of Kosovo be-
gan to gather around a set of ideas or imaginativekernels. The
prominence of one or other of these ideas fluctuated according to
the perceived needs of the community, as interpreted by the individ-
ual singer. The oral epic songsin general-and those about the Battle
of Kosovo in particular-have been eloquently described by Svetozar
19
KoljeviC as providing the Serbs with both a way of %oming to terms
with history and a means of getting out of it.8 To have transformed
defeat into a source of pride and dignity is a triumph of the human
spirit, an extraordinary achievement.And undoubtedly it has served
the Serbs well whenever great demands have been made on them-
one might mention their resistance to the Habsburg armies in the
First World War and to the Axis powers in the Second. This fact of-
fers some insight into the prominence that this group of songs has
had over all the other cycles of songs in the Serbo-Croat oral narra-
tive tradition. Theother cycleshave functions ofvariouskinds-
aesthetic,moral,comic,dramatic, or generallyentertaining-but
none of them has proved as effective as the songs associated with
Kosovo in engendering a sense of patriotic allegiance, of commit-
ment to a national cause. The first important aspect of the myth is
that it makes the battle the decisive one in the popular conscious-
ness, marking the downfall of the Serbian Empire, the definitive de-
feat of the Serbs. And yet this catastrophe, this definitive defeat, has
been transformed into a triumph, a cause for celebrations on a mas-
sive scale to mark its 600th anniversary in 1989. The idea of Kosovo
has become deeply rooted at the center of many Serbs sense of
identity and self-esteem, having a significance beyond the reach of
reason. There would seem to be two key factors: one is the notion of
the participation of a Cllristian God in the outcome of the battle.
The defeat is presented as Gods judgment on the self-seeking, frac-
tious local lords whohad so weakened the Serbian stateby their own
quarrels before the battle that defeat was inevitable. In addition,
many key aspects of Christian belief havebeen woven into the story,
such as the idea of Judas-like betrayal by a nobleman close to the
Prince which sent the innocent Serbian ruler to inevitable death, the
image of the Last Supper on the eve of the battle. These associations
add depth to the myth. But arguably the crucial factor, which can be
grasped and appropriated by every individual, is the central idea of
confronting overwhelming odds,the notion of willing sacrificefor an
ideal, the idea of choice. The quintessential expression of this cen-
tral idea comes in a song entitled The Downfall of the Serbian Em-
pire. In this song the Serbian Prince Lazar is visited on the eve of
20
the battle by a messenger from Godand asked to make a choice be-
tween the Kingdomof Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven. If he
chooses the Kingdom of Earth, he will win the battle, the Turks will
be slain, and all the Christians will survive. If, on the other hand, he
chooses the Kingdom of Heaven-symbolizing the enduring values of
justice and righteousness-although he and all his men will be killed,
in dying they will earn eternal life. The irrationality of Lazars inevi-
table choice has an extraordinarily compelling power: the sense of
inner pride and dignity, the expansion of the spirit it offers cannot
be argued away, denied, or contradicted.
The elaboration of the myth was an integral part of the struggle for
liberation from Ottoman rule and the emergence of the independ-
ent states of Serbia and Montenegro inthe nineteenth century. What
is important is that the universal values contained in the Kosovo
idea were appropriated as specific to the Serbian nation, and that its
heroic, epic ideals became the core of the Serbs sense of national
identity. The process of adopting the mythic version of their past as
the national history was made the more straightfonvard in that the
populations of these territories were largely homogeneous: the clas-
sicworkof nineteenth-centurySerbian literature, The Mountain
Wreath by the Montenegrin prince-bishop Petar Petrovit-NjegoS, of-
fers a vivid account of prevailing attitudes to local converts to Islam,
suggesting in powerful verse that only their elimination can guaran-
tee the survival of the Montenegrin people. The virtual absence of
any physical trace of Ottoman rule in the territories that made up
the states of Serbia and Montenegro in the second half of the nine-
teenth century is striking. In such a context it was possible for the
mythic version of Serbian history described aboveto become rapidly
established as the single truth, and invested, in addition, with a com-
pelling moral dimension: any questioning of its truth was seen as
tantamount to a betrayal of the most sacred national values. One
crucial factor should beborne in mind in discussing this process:the
men who led the uprisings in Serbia and became the leaders of the
new state were themselves villagers, whose education and cultural
experience were, initially at least, largely confined to the oral tradi-
tion. Thus, for example, the first nineteenth-century Serbian ruler,
21
Milos ObrenoviC, was illiterate and, while efforts weremade to intro-
duce as rapidly as possible politicaland cultural institutions basedon
those of the Habsburg lands,the general level of education available
to the majority of the population until the end of the century was
extremely low. The situation in Montenegro was still more extreme:
there the mountainous terrain continued to prevent the develop
ment of more than a few small urban centers, and the culture of the
population at large remained deeplyrooted in traditionalvalues well
into the twentieth century. In such circumstances,the cultural frame
of reference which became identified withthe independent states of
Serbia and Montenegro was coherent and cohesive.
The situation of the mixed population of Bosnia Herzegovina had
always been more complex, and when the Austro-Hungarian Monar-
chy took over administration ofthe temtory in 1878, and the centu-
ries of Ottoman rule there came effectively toan end, the population
had to adapt. Catholics tended naturally to look to their immediate
neighbor, Catholic Croatia, for their cultural models, while the Or-
thodox population looked to Serbia. The Muslim inhabitants were
left to come to terms with their specifk situation, onlygradually
evolving a sense oftheir own identity and pride in their Islamic heri-
tage. Needless to say, this heritage was at the very least problematic
in a culture dominated by ideas of liberation from alien,Islamic rule.
Speaking the same language as their Catholic and Orthodox fellow-
countrymen .and cut off from the cultural centers of Islam, they too
tended to look to their immediate neighbors, the Serbs and Croats,
for their educational and cultural models.

Women and Language


One characteristic feature of womens heritage in these lands is re-
flected in the fact that in Slavonic languages, asin ancient Greek and
Hebrew, the word for woman is the same as the word for wife. It is
worth observing that on the eve of the United Nations Conference
on Women held in Beijing in AugustSeptember 1995, one commen-
tator observed that the explanation for the feminist movementin the
22
Westwas the fact that there were not enough available husbands.
Had there been enough men for them to many, ran the argument,
Western women would have been content to be wives and had no
need to be women.9 When one reflects that it is not possible even
to make this reactionarystatement in Serbo-Croat, because women
are simply assumed to be wives and haveao acknowledged role in
society if they are not, it is easy to understand something of the role
of language and unspoken attitudes in determining cultural percep
tions. It is precisely the assumptions which are contained in language
and give meaning to experience which are the focus of this study.
Since Foucault, the relationship between power and language has
acquired,a central place in contemporarythought. Feminist thinkers
have also devoted much attention to the question of language in
relation to the subordination of women. A characteristic formulation
is that of Deborah Cameron: The problem is that men control the
processes by which meanings are encoded in language and therefore
language represents only male experience, excluding female mean-
ings.1 Recent work in countering the essentialism of some feminist
approaches of the 1970s has found the consideration of particular
points of convergence and divergencewithFoucaultparticularly
fruitful in reaching a less simplified view of womens situation, chiefly
by focusing on specific circumstances.llIn this section I explore the
particular way in which I believe attitudes to women wereencoded in
the Serbo-Croatian language at the time it was standardized in the
nineteenth century. As far as the position of women is concerned in
all these territories,the impact of the new circumstances of emerging
nationhood is crucial. We have seen that their role at the center of
the home was clearly defined within the framework of the traditional
social structures which provided the basic organization of life for the
majority of the population from the MiddleAgesonwards.While
they were undoubtedly viewed as inferior to men, women were in-
vested with a positive value in traditional society which recognized
the interdependence of women and men and in which the concept
of motherhood was particularly powerful. The survival of traditional
village communities well into the twentieth century and the collec-
tions of oral traditional culture offer abundant material for observa-
23
tion of the norms of behavior established for both women and men,
which were fixed through ritual and custom and through the songs
that accompanied all social activities. The growth of nationalism in
the nineteenth century modified these traditional patterns by offer-
ing men new opportunities for action and investing such public activ-
ity with new value. Womens central role in the private sphere then
acquired different associations, the concept of motherhood now
assuming crucial significancefor the future of the nation.
Inorder to explore the question of the expression ofpower
through language in relation to the region under discussion, we
need to consider the particular circumstances in which the Serbo-
Croat language was established as a creative medium in the nine-
teenth century. The codifkation of the language was carried out in
the first half of the century by both Croats and Serbs, who signed a
joint agreement on the standardization of their common languagein
Vienna in 1850. The essential work was done in Serbia by a man of
peasant origin, Vuk StefanoviC KaradZiC, whobased his grammarand
dictionary systematically and exclusively on the language of the vil-
lages. It is important to bear in mind that it was just at this time (the
first half of the nineteenth century) that the Serbs were engaged in
an-ultimately successful-struggle for liberation from Ottoman rule.
This context was bound to be reflected in language use, particularly
in viewof the Romantic insistence on the importance of the lan-
guage of the common peopleand the fact that the standardization
was based on the language of the vigorous oral traditional literature:
stories,proverbs,spells,riddles, and, aboveall,song. As we have
seen, the tradition of singing in this regionis divided into lyric songs,
usually sung bywomen-and therefore alsoclassifiedaswomens
songs-and narrative, epic or heroic songs, sung on the wholeby
men. Given the circumstances outlined above, both historical and
cultural, it was inevitable that a special valueshould be placed on the
heroic songswhich became suchan active agent in emphasizing the
virtues of resistanceto the Ottoman Turks,faith in the Christian
cause, and the inevitabilityof ultimate liberation. By contrast, the
womens songs, concerned with more universal, enduring values,
are timeless and notsusceptible toenlistment in a patriotic cause.
24
The lyric songs accompany all aspectsof the life cycle, on the indi-
vidual and communal level: from births, deaths, and family relation-
ships, to seasonal work on the land and all aspects of local ritual.
Theyprovide the essentialaesthetic experience of the villagers
throughout their lifetime. In the second half of the century, writers
in the new standard language, with all its potent associations with
village life, used the verse forms and diction of the lyric songs to ex-
press some of the concerns of European Romanticism. At this time,
therefore, the lyric mode, with its insistence on personal, private ex-
perience, may be seen to have coexisted on equal terms with the
values of the epic, creating a favorable environment for the devel-
opment of rich and varied poetry concerned with a wide range of
themes. By contrast, when the first women writers began appearto in
Serbia in the nineteenth century, they tended to favor rousing, pat-
rioticverse, far removedfrom traditional timelessritual and re-
sponses to everyday experience. In the circumstances in which they
were writing, seeking to participate fully in the historical moment,
such women tended to avoid modes of expression which could be
associated with a feminine perspective. These women had absorbed
the dominant ethos so completely that concern with the world of
their personal emotions seemed trivial, unworthy of their new sense
of their own dignity. We may therefore conclude that by the time the
oral tradition began to fade out in the face of increased opportuni-
ties for education and the growth of towns, the scope for the creative
use of language for women was limited. While it was acceptable for
male Romantic poets to use lyric forms,for a long time women poets
tended to be treated differently: if they wrote directly about their
own emotions, their work was immediately labeled feminine, with
all the negative connotations of a culture in which manly qualities
wereparticularlyprized.Considerableenergy and timewerere-
quired to reestablish a literary vehicle for a distinct womens voice,
one whichcouldexpressindividualfemale experience, uncon-
strained by public expectations.
One of the aims of the current study is to examine the extent to
which, in the context of a dominant nationalist ideology, women
have been trapped in a fundamentally male perception of their
25
history, culture, and identity. I suggest that, while the tradition of
oral lyric song had existed until the nineteenth century side-by-side
with the epic, after that time,althoughaspects of itsstylewere
adopted by individual poets, the oral lyric tradition itself tended to
be marginalized and seen as inferior. I believe that this came about
because of the particular circumstances of nineteenth-century na-
tion-building in southeast Europe, in which the epic tradition-and
historical songs in particular-were favored. Once the concern with
the private realm of experience had been appropriated by individu-
als who molded it to express their own individual personalities, the
anonymous collective voiceof women as a countemeight to the epic,
heroic mode began increasingly to beseen as of interest only to eth-
nographers and folklore specialists, and as no longer capable of in-
forming mainstream culture. For all these reasons,the associations of
phrases such as feminine style and female voice were therefore
loaded with meaning when they were applied, almost inevitably, to
each new woman writer to achieve public recognition, well into the
twentieth century.
It is my contention that the mythic interpretation of history, while
imposing constraintson all membersof society in the region, consti-
tuted a particularburden for women. The nature of that burden may
be observed in the case of the first significant Serbian woman writer
of modern times, Milica Stojadinovid. Whenshe began to writein the
early nineteenth century, she had evidently completely internalized
the role laid downfor her as a Serbianwoman. Indeed, she was seen
as such an embodiment ofthis role that the word for a Serbian
woman-S@&$z-withwhich she signed her first published poems
soon became inextricablyattached to her name, and she is known in
literary history as Milica StojadinovidSrpkinja. In my opinion, there
is little doubt that her most important work is the diary she wrotein
1854 which also includes some letters to friends and fellow writers.As
we shall see in greater detail in Chapter 4, the diary and letters are
written in a fresh, lively, and at times witty style which suggests a real
literary talent. It is therefore greatly to be regretted that Stojadinovid
did not take this aspectof her work more seriously;no doubt she saw
it as the musings of a mere woman and believed that her true voca-
26
tion and duty were to write rousing but mediocre patriotic verse.Her
wholehearted acceptanceof her role as a Serbian womanas defined
in the prevailing culture therefore had the effect of suppressing her
real talent and confining her to the margins of literary history.
The publicly accepted model of womanhood, as it was understood
and accepted by Stojadinovid, is clearly expressed in a survey of the
history of Serbian women published in the first issue of a magazine
called Serbian Woman which appeared in Sarajevo in 1912. The
author is a certain Olga Kernid-PeleS from Trebinje in Herzegovina.
I quote almost the complete text becauseit seems to me to encapsu-
late the interpretation of Serbianhistory and womens role in it
which I am seekingto describe:

Serbian Woman

From time immemorial,the Balkan lands have been bathed in blood. Their po-
sition as a peninsula betweentwo large, different worlds, between twocontradic-
tory cultures, has made them an eternal battlefield, wherethe sound of clashing
weapons and shattered lances never ceased.
The shores of the peninsula were plundered by pirates. Its soil rang with the
hoofbeats of Alexander the Greats Bucephalus,it was trampled by the armies of
Xerxes, Pompeys legions celebrated their victories there.
Throughout human history, the Balkan peninsula was the stageofendless
bloody changes, stormy games of fate and great strugglesfor hegemony. The bat-
tlefield of east and west.
With the sixth century, it became the condition of life of our Serbian history;
it became the center of our homeland.
The plow started to furrow through the exhausted, bloodsoaked fields, white
flocks to graze in the fresh green meadows, and the sound of the shepherds
flute began toecho over it,together with rich songs from young girls throats.
That was the time when the peace-loving Slav peoples mowed south, under
pressure fromthe Mongol hordes, seekingpeacefd, happy harbors, a fruitfill, fer-
tile homeland.And the warlike agitation ceased immediately,for the Slavs sought
happiness in labor, tothe sound of the pale and the kzvdn~m,~* with song and mu-
sic, withthe plow and hoe. Gentleand peaceful, they wishedto live in peace withall
their neighbors. They greeted all guestswith bread and salt, no matter who they
were. The Serbs were of that blood, thattribe, and at the end of the sixth and be-
ginning of the seventh century they covered a large part of the Balkan peninsula...

27
And just as the whole Slav nation was clearly differentiated from the Latin,
Germanic and Asiatic peoples, so the Serbs as a tribe stood out among the other
Slavs.
Peace-loving, but decisive, ambitious and self-willed, the Serb cared above all
for his honor, lovingjustice and truth. He was unused and unwilling to be en-
slaved; nor did he show himself to others otherwise from what he was. Honest,
sincere, reliable, faithful to hisfriends, for whom he would spill his own blood.
Ever vengeful to his enemy, he was also magnanimous and patient. For honor
and liberty, hisown life was never too high a price to pay.
Family life was sacred to the Serb, his wife was his support, his honor, and in
this the Serb competed with the powerful Roman, for the Romans werethe first
and only people in their day to care for the family and give women an honor-
able place in the family and society.
In the tradition of Serbian history, Serbian womanwas thus always an impor-
tant member of the family, and in this way she had significant influence also on
public life.
The Serbian people were not able to lead their lives in their homeland in
natural unconcern for the rest of the great world. They too had to raise their
heads from the plow, to rouse themselves fromtheir pastoral peace and defend
their borders, to stop their enemies from ravaging and burning their hearths.
The power and might of the Arabs swept through Europe. The Balkans were
the fint victim, and the Serbs the only bulwark. At arms, dayand night, with no
pause or rest. In blood and slaughter, they struggled, fought, suffered for the
holy crossand golden liberty.
They rose to eagles heights, theygrew and advanced to the extent of mighty
DuSans empire. Then at Kosovo they broke their spears and buried freedom for
many long years, bowing their heads beneath a foreign yoke. But again their
strength grew, they shook themselves, and rose to wear a royal crown!
A l l of that entailed great sacrifice, violent, bloody battle.
The whole history of the Serbs is written in blood, but in it there are also
golden words, and those golden words in Serbian history are the shining names
of Serbian women.
In earlier times, Serbian women were peacefill, they wrote their love of their
homeland and their shepherds life with their embroidery needles in the living
patterns of their traditional motifs. By the hearth, beside the cradle, a woman
was the happy spirit of her home. The people sang about her in their songs and
swore byher name.
Andwhen the bloodytimes of battle and slaughter came, the woman
steppedout of her familycircle. She accompanied the armies to battle,
tended their wounds, fed the wounded heroes with white bread and gave
them red wine to drink. The people immortalized her in the song about the
Maid of K O S O V O . ~ ~

28
Mothers would see their sons off to battle with song, encouraging them, em-
boldening them, bequeathing us the eternal symbol of the Mother of the Jug-
viCi,14 and beside her then as today there were countless others.
And how wisely and thoughtfully did Serbian women wear the royal crown
and help the armies under their rule-we have examples in Queen Milica, the
Lady Rosanda,and Princess Jerina.15
And how ready were Serbian women to sacrifice themselvesfor the sake ofthe
homeland may be seen in the example of lovely Mara, the daughter of Prince
Lazar, whomarried Bajazit, the son of her peoples enemy...
And when the Serbian people, in the darkness of their enslavement, took to
the green hills to avenge their honor as highwaymen, then too Serbian women
played their part. They wouldclothe and equip the men, bring them food, hide
them in the woods, say nothing and in their homes nourish their hawks of sons,
their doves of daughters and runtheir houses as though they weremen ...
Our traditional songs bear living witness to the way Serbian woman loved in
the confines of her home, her family, among her kin and friends ...
And in our modern, enlightened times, Serbianwoman has remained true to
the peoples traditions, stepping out beside her people, caring for their honor,
loving her homeland.
Many a Serbian woman has earned her peoples gratitude through the gifts
of her mind and heart, her generous hand, with bequests and by the pen.
Today too they stand in the first ranks in the cultured world. In science, in
art, in carrying out important callings, youwill find Serbian women ready,
conscious and agile, so that the world must admire them.
And here is this first issue of a journal plucked from the heart of Serbian
woman, her first hot tear illuminated by her quick mind, her first thought filled
with the fire of warm love of her homeland, her first wish imbued with living
hope, it is being dispatched to all the cherished regions of the brotherly Serbian
nation, to bear witness that in the future also Serbian woman will step out in
honor and pride, caring for her faith,loving her people, and that, by her
hearth, by the cradle, with her spindle and cooking pot, with her book and pen,
she will know how to protect her honor, nurture her strength, character, the
pure, fresh lifeof workand sacrifice for the sake ofher Serbian people.
Serbian Woman,therefore, go forth with the sacred, great idea of enlighten-
ing and strengthening in the first place the Serbian family, and then Serbian s ~ .
ciety and thehomeland, all imbued with holy faith in God and hopein a happy,
enlightened, industrious future, and from you, dear people, Serbian women
shall hope for love and response.16

It should be borne in mind that this text was written at the time of
the Balkan Wars, whenit was natural enough that the prowess of the

29
Serbian people as warriors should bestressed and the accepted,
processed account of their history foregrounded. Nevertheless, as a
piece of writing which is essentially a statement of pride in therole of
women in both history and contemporary achievements, the extent
to which its author accepts the secondary, supportive role assigned
them is revealing. One curious detail is perhaps particularly worthy
of attention: in the short paragraph describing the modern, en-
lightened times, the author uses the phrase stepping out beside
her people, as though women were not in fact an integral part of
the people, but somehow outsidethem, playing a secondary, suppor-
tive role. Is this not a true reflection of the way in which women in
this culture, as in so many others, are also perceived to be outside
history?Where named individualcharacters are known and men-
tioned, as in this text, they occur in a limited number of clearly de-
fined roles, and, strikingly, several ofthe named individuals in such
accounts are in fact fictitious figures from the oral epic tradition.
What is of particular interest, I believe, is the discrepancy between
the realachievements, the educational, cultural, and intellectual
status of women of the generation of the author of this text and her
acceptance of the mythic account of her peoples history. This dis-
crepancy vividly illustrates both the pervasive power ofsuch interpre-
tations and my contention in this study that it has represented a spe-
cial burden for women in their search to find their own voice to ex-
press their own personal experience.
What is more striking stillis that after all the advances of the inter-
war period, when a considerable number ofwomenachieved a
prominent position in the intellectual lifeof their country, they were
still unable to exert any influence on the accepted, generalized ac-
count of their role: it remained possible for them simply to be ab-
sorbed into it. An illustration of this is provided by the following
brief statement, an account of the contribution of women to Serbian
literary culture, which appeared in an anthology of Serbian women
poetspublished in 1972. The volume was dedicated toIsidora
SekuliC, one of the few women writers ofthe period between the two
world wars to be acknowledged in the literary canon. The volume
opens with some tributes to SekuliCby six established writers and
30
critics, including the novelist and academician Dobrica cosid, who
was president of Yugoslavia (1993-94) at the height of nationalist
fervor and theBosnian war:

In our history, in our collective inheritance and memory, the hero-woman has
stood firm; the woman who has identified her destiny with that of our father-
land ... The arches of our history have stretched from the Mother of the
JugoviCi to the exploits of women revolutionaries and Partisan heroes, from
the nun Jefimijal* to Isidora SekuliC, from the young GojkoviC girl19 to our
contemporaries-in the span of these arches, Isidora SekuliC has a place visible
from afar: she has entered our culture in her ownway, honorably, endur-
ingly.20

When we come to consider the work of Isidora SekuliC in Chapter 6


it will become clear that there is nothing in her writing, or in her
own intellectual status or interests-those of a sophisticated individual
widely read in many different cultures-to justify the extraordinary
juxtaposition of her name with those of fictitious characters from the
oral tradition. As it could not have occurred to cosid to make such
an analogy between Sekulid's contemporary male writers and even
the greatest of the legendary heroes, I believe that the degree of con-
formity to a pre-ordained pattern expected of women was far greater
than for their male compatriots and that it constituted the trap or
burden I am seeking to describe.
As we look at the specific achievements of women in the area of
verbal art in these lands, I believe that we shall find a range of ex-
perience and its expressionthat is altogether richer, more individual,
and more original than is suggested by the pervasive perception ar-
ticulated by Dobrica cosid.

Notes
1 VukoviC, Nar0dn.i obifaji, vemanja i poslovice kod Srba, 272.
2 StojiEiC, Sjaj rargovora. Leksikon Srpskih narodnilt izreka,
185.
3 VukanoviC, S@& narodnx? poslouice,66-68.
4 Anderson and Zinsser, A Histoty of T1m.rOrun, m.
5 Emmert, Serbian Golgotha: Kosovo, 1389.

31
6 Emmert, 82.
7 Orbini, I1 Regno degli Shvi.
8 KoljeviC, TIEE@ in tlw Making, 320.
9 Quoted in Z ~ E Guurdian ( A q p t 1995).
10 Cameron, Fernininn and Ling7dstic T h q , 116.
11 McNay, Fmuault and Fmnin.ism
12Traditional musical instruments.
13A character from the epic songs connected with the Battle of Kosovo. See Chap
ter 2.
14 As above.
15Medieval historical figures. See Chapter 3.
16 KerniC-PeleS, 13.
17 'Uznarod' in the original.
18 One of the few women in medieval Serbiato have written poetic texts. SeeChap
ter 3.
19 Another character from the oral tradition.
20 RadovanoviC, Antobgija slpskilr psnikinja od Jefimije do danas. See Chapter 7.

32
A lovely young lassie once asked
Of the blacksmith in her home town:
"I beg you, withall your great skill
To forge me ahero of gold."

When I was a maidin my mother's house,


I lived like ahen fed on corn!
But when I married my sweetheart,
The very first morning he cursed me!
The second day his mother reproached me:
"If you weregood, you wouldnot have come!"
The third day I left hishouse,
And found for myself another!

This chapter is concerned with two main areas of interest: the por-
trayal of women's roles in the oral traditional literature, and what
may be concluded about the contribution of individual women sing-
ers to the tradition. The corpus for the first part of the investigation
is provided by the shorter lyric songs, whose singers are generally
unknown and which, in any case,do not vary greatly fromone singer
to another. By contrast, the second section will focus on the some-
what longer ballads and those epic songs known to have been re-
corded from particular women singers.
It was clear as soon as systematic collections of songs began to be
made that they fell into two broad categories: first, songs sung, gen-
erally in groups, to accompany different activities and aspects of vil-
lage life, and second, those sung by known singers to an attentive
audience and taking the form of stories. As we have seen, because
the songs in the first group tend to be sung by women and those in
the second are, in the main, concerned with heroic actions, the ini-
tial distinction made by Vuk KaradZiC-the most important collector
33
in the nineteenth century-was between womens songs and heroic
songs. This terminological imbalanceis both interesting and typical:
there is a pervasive sensein which the things that women do and sing
about are perceived asqualitatively different from the actionof
men. The categories were later redefined as lyric and epic, which
are more neutral terms, but something of the underlying distinction
remains, and with it the relative valuethat tends to be associated with
each genre.
The vast body of short lyric songs fulfills severalfunctions in village
life: a first group marks the seasons of the year and associated ritu-
als-songs greeting the arrival of spring, rain songs, carnival songs,
and so on, and their Christian adaptations, suchas Easter songs and
Christmascarols;asecond group consistsofsongs to accompany
communal tasks, such as harvesting or spinning; finally, athird group

A Cairn (Gomila)

34
is made up of songs marking the crucial stages in individual lives-
wedding songs, lullabiesand laments, toasts,and songs to accompany
dancing. In all categories, some of the songs contain echoes of an-
cient pagan ritual and mythological beings; these traces of many dif-
ferent layers of belief give them a particular resonance. They may
thus be regarded as reflecting an inclusive attitude to historical ex-
perience, a means by which the community may recall its past and
keep elements of it alive. Where events brought frequent, abrupt
interruptions to a steady historical development, the traditional oral
literature absorbed the new with the old, preserving layers ofthe past
in increasingly mysterious, barely decipherable codes which hint at
other experiences, other levels of existence. The same is true of the
epic songs, but since it is of their nature to describe extraordinary
events, these longer songs are less part of the fabric of everyday life
than the lyric songs.
There is an additional distinction to be made, betweenthe shorter
lyric songs and the longer narrative songs sungby women, first iden-
tified in the nineteenth century as in-between songs or songs on
the borderline, and later as ballads and romances. This will be
discussed in more detailbelow.

Lyric Songs
Being so much a part of daily life, the shorter lyric songs have a
common purpose: to strengthen the bonds of family and village life,
to root individuals firmly in the community. In so doing, they estab-
lish clear guidelines of acceptable behavior and warn against devia-
tions. Their material tends to be generalized, and where characters
are named they are given typical names, which do not refer to a spe-
cific individual,or else characters are simply identified by their func-
tion in the community, as youth, maiden, mother-in-law, and so
on. The ballads and epic songs, on the other hand, describe unusual
destinies: they are tales of individuals who have in one way or an-
other stepped outside social normsand so earned a place in the col-
lectivememory. In keeping withthis distinction, the shorter lyric
35
songs are less subject to change. Thisis in part because their brevity
makes them more easily memorized and reproduced, but also be-
cause in many cases their ritual function requires that they retain
exactly the same form. Theymay indeed be considered communal
in origin, because their original composers have been obscured by
the passage of time and they have acquired their established form
through centuries-long use by innumerable performers, manyof
whom are, in any case, groups. It is partly for this reason that the
short lyricsongshave been accorded far less scholarly attention
than the longer forms. Once their function in the village year has
been described and some attention given to the time, place, and
manner of their collection, scholars have not seen much more to
analyze. The scant attention they have received contrasts strikingly
with that givento the epic songs, for which the bibliography of
both local and foreign works is substantial. Two scholars in par-
ticular have contributed to an understanding of the nature and
function of the lyric songs: Vladan NediC and, more recently, Hat-
idZa KmjeviC, who has taken on the task of highlighting the imbal-
ance which characterizes scholarly attention in respect of the lyric
and epic songs.
NediC was the editor of the standard anthology of lyric songs, and
he introduced a precise system of categorization into their discus-
sion. The first group he identifies contains songs which convey a
pagansense of life, and includes ritual songs accompanying the
seasons, the largest number being sungin spring and summer, when
there were numerous rituals associated withthe phases of the moon
(often connected with the appearance of particular flowers). There
is a separate category of devout songs,in which NediC includes both
mythological and Christian content, a group of work songs, and-
the most numerous category-love songs. The last category he identi-
fies is ofparticular interest for our purposes: his family songsgroup
includes two sub-groups: soldiers songsand songs about men who
have had to go far away to find work. These two groups highlight one
way in which the destiny of men in the villages is differentiated from
that of women: as with the heroic songs,theydescribe a lifeof
action, to which the womens only possible response is to lament
36
the mens departure and anxiously to await their return. It is worth
noting that, while the hardships entailed by this male destiny have
often been highlighted, the potential pain of the womans position
has not been given much attention: it is the inevitable fate of young
girls who marry that theywillmove, often considerable distances,
away from their families, and of mothers that they will have to watch
their daughters leave. Whilethere are many songs which describe the
misery of a young girl being married against her will, such destinies
are so commonplace that NediC evidently did not feel it appropriate
to accord them a special category.
HatidZa KrnjeviC, whoseimportant work in endeavoring to give the
lyric songs more prominence was begun in the 1980s, stresses the
intrinsic significance of the lyric tradition in the contrast it offers to
complement the epic:

Should the role that lyric folk song plays in our lives, in the broadest sense, be
overlooked? After all, it is an organic part of human life, an art form that ac-
companies human actions from birth till death, from lullabies to lamenta-
tions. Oral lyric song contains the reality of everyday life and work, an entire
galaxy outside the interests of epic singers. It also touches deeper layers of the
human psyche: it has given form to mans primevalfear and impotence in the
face of the miracle of the elemental energy of nature, and the mystery of the
cycle of birth and death. Lyric songs do not speak of the glory of epic heroes
from the past, they mold the inner life of human emotions and situations,
both permanent and significant for all people and through all times. Lyric
song is a form of the single universal language of humankind-as Erich
Fromm defined the forgotten language of symbols ... What would our oral
tradition be like if it contained only the monotonous sound of heroic hyper-
bole of the epic songs without the soft lyric melody that sings of both the
beauty and the tragedy of mans short stay on earth? Heroic times are the
past, the lyric is alwaysthe present.3

This statement goes to the heart of our concerns in this book, not-
ably the way in which the lyric songs have been marginalized pre-
cisely because they deal with the everyday, whereas their role in giv-
ing meaning to the everyday should be both celebrated for the aes-
thetic dimension it thereby introduces and analyzed to reveal the
nature of that meaning. It is precisely the distinction that KrnjeviC

37
makes between the respective roles of the heroic and lyric forms
that is the main concern of the present study.
The portrayal of family relationships in South Slav oral poetry-with
particular emphasis on the position of women-is dealt with in a valu-
able work by Elka Agoston-Nikolova.* It represents a new approach
to a familiar body of songs,5 which is both refreshing and illuminat-
ing. Much of Agoston-Nikolovas attention is devoted to what she
sees as the inherent conflict characterizing the place of the woman
within the patriarchal family: on the one hand, she is an outsider,
coming from another family or clan, on the other hand, she em-
bodies the reproductive life-giving force that keeps the family to-
gether. ,She is inferior to men in physicalprowess,yet superior
when in touch with the mystery of life. She is at once weak and
strong, simple and mysteriously complicated.6 Women are of
primary importance as both subject and object-the life force ensur-
ing reproductiveness of the clan and at the same time the valued
object of posse~sion.~ As Agoston-Nikolova sees it, the main con-
flict stems from the fact that the woman is foreign-her loyalty to
the family has to be proved. Women coming from outside are a po-
tentially disruptive element in that they may cause tension between
family members,particularly brothers. She draws attention to the
hierarchical structure of norms in South Slav culture, where kinship
ties are the foundation of the unity of the family and the folk.
Blood-ties represent the strongest bond: wives, no matter how loyal
to the family, are placed on a lower level than other female family
members.8 As if this were not enough to make the new wifes posi-
tion difficult, there is in addition a prevailing belief in South Slav
culture-expressed in many of the traditional proverbs-that women
are not to be trusted; they are seen as easily beguiled and intrinsically
deceitful.
Agoston-Nikolova stresses the central role of women in Balkan Slav
oral traditional poetry, but suggests that they tend to appear in one
of two conflicting roles: the mother who sacrifices herself for her
child or the treacherous wifewhobetrays her husband. Agoston-
Nikolova points to an important early example of the double stand-
ard still familiar in our ownday:Whyis it that throughout the
38
patriarchal culture represented in Balkan Slav oral narrative poetry,
women transgress codes and are therefore severely punished, while
the male heroes are never punished for their amoral behavior but
are gently set ~traight?~
Agoston-Nikolova considers various family relationships as they are
presented in the songs, focusing on the mother as the central figure
in the lyric songs of the Balkan Slavs. She stresses that the mothers
ties withher daughter are particularly close:the degree of the sorrow
of parting from a mother on marriage may be gauged from the fact
that lament songs sung at funerals often form part of the wedding
ceremony, too. Another important relationship is that of brother and
sister, which offers scope for emphasizing the primacy of blood-ties,
the security of the clan againstintruders from outside.
There is an important sense in which the lyric songs may be de-
scribed as active, in their role in shaping an ideal orderly structure
of life, and in their function as a wayof rethinking and recreating
reality. As we have seen, this function has been discussed in relation
to the epic songs by Svetozar Koljevid,lo and described as a way of
coming to termswith history:the epic songsmay offer a way of corn-
ing to terms with the major events of history, but it is the lyric songs
which deal with the enduring effects of those eventson the daily lives
of ordinary people. As such they provide the essential context for
absorbing the more dramatic themes.
I should now like toturn to my own investigation of the lyric songs
for the purposes of this study and to describe my main findings. In
the context of the familiar roles imposed on women by patriarchal
societies in general-and by the zudrzlgu system in particular-I was
looking for evidence of conformity to those modelsand possible de-
viations from them. The overwhelming sense I derive from a thor-
ough reading of the lyric songs collected by Vuk KaradZid is of the
constraints ofeverydaylife and the various means devised by the
imagination for escaping them. The most radical forms of outlet
are, for men, heroic action and, for women, magic. Apart from those
extremes, it is striking that the great majority of the songs deal with
love, set in the period betweenadolescence and marriagewhen
there isstillscope for dreaming. Altogether, the uncertainty sur-
39
rounding love and marriage, the possibility of choice,introduces an
element which contrasts withthe stability of family life. Several songs
describe a young woman exercising real choice, which it is hard to
imagine ever being possible in real life: for example, Girl for Sale
tells of a girl who rejects all her wealthy would-be purchasersin favor
of a clean-shaven, comely youth with nothing to offer apart from a
green apple.l2 Dreamsare within the reach of all young people,but
in reality choice is strictly limited by parental will: many of the songs,
including some ofthe finest ballads, describethe tragic end of lovers
whose parents have selected a spousefor them who is not the choice
of their heart. It is striking that the opposition comes almost invari-
ably from mothers, whose role is central in the wholetradition,
whereas fathers play very little part-male characters have numerous
roles in the tradition: they can be kings, knights, warriors, heroes,
faithful servants, master-builders, outlawsand bandits, and brothers,
but they are rarely seen as fathers. Female characters, on the other
hand, are generally designated by their relationship to a man: as sis-
ter, wife, sweetheart, daughter, and, above all,mother. The emphasis
on this unsettling stagein the lives of young people, as they prepare
to change their status from offspring to parents of the next genera-
tion, serves to highlight the stability of the family unit as a factor of
control in an individuals life.The desirability of such stability isun-
questioned, but thereis sufficient evidencein the songs of individual
unhappiness within the family to suggestthat the reality was often far
from the harmonious picture presented by the tradition as a whole.
Thus, some songs describebad relations between sisters,the torment
of marriage to a drunkard, betrayal by a brother or aunt, and,worst
of all, a faithlessmother.
It is certain that one of the main, if unconscious, aims ofthe tradi-
tion is cohesive: by emphasizing the value of communal life and ac-
tion, it strengthens the bonds on which the social structure depends.
The songs depict an intricate web of social norms and expectations,
operating on many different levels of experience and covering all
aspects of the life of the community. The image conveyed by the
songs, particularly those sung on occasions of collective endeavor-
whether to accompany work or to mark the seasons of the year-is
40
thus one of harmony, of a community sensitive to and in tune with
both its individual members and the natural world. But the unspo-
ken obverse of this picture is the implication of constraint: an indi-
vidual seeking tofollow her or his own path is inevitably seen as o p
posed to the community and therefore a threat. As Agoston-Nikolova
stresses in her study, the arrival of an outsider in the form of a new
bride introduces just such an element of threat: she must be con-
trolled and absorbed into the existing community as rapidly as pos-
sible so that the threat of disruption may be neutralized.
Once she has been absorbed into the patriarchal family, or when
she reaches a certain age within it, the young woman may express
her individuality through her ability to perform the role allotted to
her. And there is scope in the world ofjoint endeavor even for the
expression of superiority: in several songs, young men and women
are shownworking together, with the girls outdoingthe boys.
A typical example is A lad and lass compete in harvesting, in
which the young man cuts 23 stooks of corn and the young woman
24. At dinner, the young man drinks 23 glasses of wine, the girl 24.
When in the morning the white day dawned,/The lad lay, unable
to stir or raisehis head,/while the lasswassewing fine embroi-
dery.13 Such prowess, however, does not afford the young woman
any real advantage and she is obliged to rely on her wit, as shown
by another song in the same group,14 in which the boy promises
the girl a flock of sheep if she outdoes him, while if he wins the girl
herself will be his prize.The girl cuts 303 stooks to the boys 202, but
when she asks for her sheep, he replies that she has nowhere tokeep
them. The girl respondsrealistically-in keeping with the words of an
English folksong, my faceis my fortune, sir, she said-that she has a
green meadow in her fine hair, water in the clear springs of her
black eyes, and shade enough under her eyebrows. The woman is, in
other words, left to relyon her appearance, her guile, and her intel-
ligence rather than on the acquisition of material possessions. Many
of the shorter lyric songs offer examples of womens limited oppor-
tunities for the expression of individuality. For the most part, how-
ever, they emphasize the homogeneity of the group, its collective
function.
41
42
The main paths open to individualsfor the expression of their free
will, as illustrated in the lyric songs, are heroism, magic, and love.
This last category includes unsentimental sex-there is a substantial
body of erotic song in the tradition. These songs are generally de-
scribed as womens songs, asfor example the volume of translations
Red Kn,igltt.15Much has been made of the role of the women singers
of such songs in subverting socialnorms-while the songs themselves
are certainly subversive,it is more likely that they were composedby
male singers as a kind of wish-fulfillment, depicting the way they
would have likedthe village womento sing.
In this scheme, storiesof heroism and magic are clearly outsidethe
realm of the everyday; they express what may be seen as archetypes
of qualities to which ordinary mortalsmay only aspire. The question
of the supernatural femalecharacter-the vila or nymph inthe
South Slav oral tradition-is a particularly fascinating one. Since there
is no equivalent male spirit, it would seem that the vila came into
being to express what may be termed a female principle in South
Slav culture which acts as a counterbalance to the emphasis on the
archetypal manly virtues of heroism and physical prowess. One of
the most intriguing aspects of the phenomenon is the fact that, while
real women were confined to tightly controlled roles, with very lim-
ited freedom of action, the vila, embodying the unrestrained female
spirit, hasabsolutepower.But, of course,sheexistsonly in the
imagination. Another-unanswerable-question is that of the origin of
the songs: who composed these stories of unlimited female power?
Can they be interpreted as either an instinctive desire for balance,
evenhandedness, or even vengeance?Or are they simply an acknowl-
edgment of the fearsome power of sexuality and, by extension, of
women?
In the shorter lyric songsthe power of the vila is frequently enlisted
for some quite innocent purpose: the song The vilas blood-sister
describes a young girl granted exceptional beauty by a vila, who
crowswith delight ather handiwork.16 The notion of blood-
sisterhood isitself an interesting concept: the idea of blood-
brotherhood among men is widespread in South Slav culture-
generallyto guarantee support in dangerous exploits-butblood-
43
sisterhood betweenpowerless women would be of less obvious bene-
fit to either party. Except,that is, when it enables an earthly being to
tap into the potency of a magical one. This song also seems to sug-
gest that some womens beauty isexperienced as so powerful, indeed
dangerous, as to be supernatural. In another song, The maid and
the vila, a young girl is concerned about her sweetheart who is out
in the rain in his fine clothes, but the vila stretches a silk tent over
him to protect him. Thisis a rare example of an ordinary girlfinding
an ally in a cause in which she would otherwise be powerless. Several
songsembody extreme instances ofwish-fulfillment,suchas The
Suns sisterand the tyrant pasha,* in which the pasha sends for the
strange girlwhosemagicalbeauty he has heard about, but she
thwarts him by summoning three thunderbolts from her sister, the
Sun, her cousin, the Moon, and her blood-sister, the Morning Star.
Sometimes the girls have no magical power as such, but are seen to
be in league with natural forces, such as thunderbolts, in a way that
implies that women have mysterious otherworldly connections. On
the other hand,a wily man can use the excuse of the vilas power to
explain his idleness: The bitten shepherd cannot guard his sheep
because he has been bitten by a vila, abetted by his mother and his
aunt, with both of whom she is-naturally, due to her female nature-
in league.19
Apart from the exceptional case of the vila, the world of women
evoked in these songs is generally one of strictly dictated behavioral
norms. The young girl has no appreciable status in her own home
and little scope for her energies, other than to help around the
house and property. Some songs eloquently evoke this boredom, in
which the girl dreams of independence and economic power. There
are hints that it may have been possible for some to acquire at least
the elements ofliteracy: in one song, a lover of manyyearsan-
nounces that he is to marryanother because she is taller and prettier
and has all sortsof skills; however,she cannot read, so he asks his old
love to come and help her learn! There is a dubious moral message
in this song, as the long-standing mistress has four illegitimate sons.
Does this mean that learning-that is, stepping outside strict behav-
ioral norms-is equated with loose living? Until marriage, the young
44
girl is more or less a commodity, to be offered to the most appropri-
ate suitor, often an older man. The brides role is essentially to bear
sons and keep house, and she is often the target of her husbands
irrational humors. This pattern is constant across the social hierar-
chy, as may be seen in onesong which consists of a conversation be-
tween two apparently privileged women comparing their essentially
similar experiences: their lords may kiss them when they will, but
they mayjust as readily strike them.The most terrible curse that can
be pronounced on a woman is one that also sums up her social posi-
tion: may she not bear a male child and, if she does, may he go to
war and only his horse return. Many songs itemize the functions a
wife is expected to fulfill-providing a dowry for the benefit of the
whole household; bringing water and wine to her husband as he
works; or holding his horse as he prepares to depart for battle. One
song offers an extreme account of a womans common fate: in A
husband more compelling than a motherFOthe young wife has been
separated from her mother for nine years and finally sets out to visit
her. On the way, the news is brought to her of the death of one of
her two daughters, then that of her two sons, and, finally, of her hus-
band. She returns home, where she dies of grief, without ever having
seen her mother. This song encapsulates a womans torn allegiance
between the home of her childhood and her new family, and her
utter dependence on others for her happiness. A gentler evocation
of womanslot is reflected in a song advising people not to give flow-
ers to married women because they have no time to care for them-
only young maidens will be able to put them in water. Hard as a
womans life may be, however, the songs are far from painting a re-
lentlessly dark picture. On the contrary, there are many whichdepict
happiness in marriage, sexual fulfillment,and contentment, even as
an abducted bride.
All in all, these lyric songs of varying length offer a remarkably
complex and many-faceted account of village life and interpersonal
relationships which constantly slips through the web of social con-
ventions and constraints to give a sense of individual personalities
and destinies. Many short songs are, in effect, little ballads, which
together cover a vast range of themes and emotions.
45
Ballads and Romances
The large group of longer narrativesongsgenerallydescribed as
ballads and romancesdeservesspecial attention. While the same
basicstorymay be played out by characters with different names
from song to song, they are nevertheless about named individuals
whose destinies are unusual and memorable and felt to be worthy of
beingimmortalized through song. Manyof the balladswerere-
corded in Bosnia Herzegovina and have a Muslim frame of refer-
ence. But while such songs originated in a Muslim context, they have
been absorbed by the wider Bosnian population. Among the mixed
population ofthis region there may thus be seen tohave been a
sense of sharing in a commonculture. It was one of the songs in this
category, The Wife of Hasan-Aga (Hmunuginicu), that first caught
the imagination of Europe, initiating a sustainedinterest in the oral
traditional poetry of the South Slavs. It is therefore of considerable
interest that, with some notable exceptions, these songs are notgiven
greater prominence in anthologies and studies of the tradition. Why
is it that songs concerned with action, withhistoricalevents, and
their interpretation shouldreceive so much more attention than
songs which may be equallydramatic, but whose focus is the tensions
and conflicts in relations between individuals? Answering this ques-
tion is one of the main concerns of this study.
The reaction of mid-nineteenth century Western Europe to the
South Slav songs is instructive. The first prominent figure to respond
to the publication of the ballad The Wife of Hasan-Aga was Goethe,
and the attention of such an outstanding poet did much to stimulate
widespread interest in the tradition. But several commentators con-
firm that it was the lyric songsand ballads which appealed toGoethe,
and notthe songs of heroic action.
There is little doubt that more hasbeen written about The Wife of
Hasan-Aga than about any other song in the South Slav oral tradi-
tion: there have been articles in many languagesand a whole volume
of essays has been compiled to cast light on this song, which is short
and has an incomplete, fragmentary quality.21 There are many rea-
sons for the enduring interest the song has stimulated,one of which
46
is precisely its sketchy, unfinishednature, which allows scope for the
listeners imagination.The central conflict in the song is provided by
the relations between a husband and wife and the constraints set
upon their spontaneous affection by socialcustom. As Hasan lies
wounded in his tent near the battlefield, he is tended by his mother
and sister. Buthe wants his wife,although he knows that the customof
his society willnot permit a woman unrelated by blood publicly to visit
a man in such circumstances. Irrationally, but deeply hurt by her fail-
ure to attend him, Hasan sends word to his wife that he is divorcing
her and that he should not find her at home on his return. His wife
has no say in the matter and, despite her pleas, her brother arranges
another marriage for her and comes to take her away. As she passes
Hasans house on her way to the wedding, her children come run-
ning out and ask her in. It is when she sees her baby that her heart
breaks and she dieson the doorstep of what had been her home.
The song suggests,rather than describes, a deep bond between two
individuals,whose spontaneous expression is curtailed by the de-
mands of social custom and as such it identifies an enduring tension
between society and the individual. Furthermore, there is an under-
stated dimension of social history in that Hasan and his wife come
from different social strata, with the wife belonging to a somewhat
higher level-thismayalso account for the speed withwhich her
brother arranges the second, more advantageous, match for his sis-
ter. In addition-andmostimportantly-itevokes the potential for
catastrophe inherent in such human qualities as pride and defiance,
attributes whichmay be deemed heroic in another context, but
which are misplaced in interpersonal relationships. This is, of course,
the kind of tension that lies at the heart of much classical tragedy.
The song may thus be seen to offer a dense texture with resonance
on several different levels of human experience. It has lent itself to
expansion and adaptation into different media, suchas drama, and it
could well form the basis for elaboration into a novel. This raises a
central question of this study, that of the status of the heroic mode
on a scale of values as they are reflected in the most complex and
potentially subtle literary form,the novel. Tales of heroic deeds have
their place in fiction, of course. But it is arguably the pages describ-
47
ing intricate human relationships in Tolstoys War and Peace that
lodge in the imagination, rather than the accounts of battlefield ac-
tion. I want to suggest that this difference of emphasis is also re-
flected in the contrasting heroic songs and lyric ballads.
The otherballad that has secured a privileged placein anthologies
and school textbooks is Omer and Merima-here again, the names
of the protagonists bear witness to its Muslim origin-an archetypal
tale of thwarted love and ensuing tragedy which hasbecome a stand-
ard theme in West European culture. There are many songs with
similar subjects in the South Slav tradition. Generally speaking, in
these songs the focus is on the young couple and their personal tra-
gedy, so that the reasons for their being denied permission to marry
are not emphasized there is rarely an objective barrier suchas a family
feud of the Romeo and Juliet type, or different ethnicity, although
this does occur. As a rule, the obstacle is simply that the bride pre-
ferred by the grooms parents can offer a more substantial dowry. The
songs focus initiallyon the young man, sincehe and his family are the
active agents in the drama. Objection to the marriage of the young
mans choice is then embodied in the mother, who is the appropriate
channel of communication for such domestic matters. In the majority
of songs, the young man declares his firm attachment the to girl of his
choice, no matter how superiorinbeauty,height, and wealthhis
mothers choice may be, maintaining thathis determination to follow
his heart is unassailable. One can imagine at this point that had the
father been the one to try to impose his will on a stubborn son the
outcome might be quite different, with the son continuing to assert
himself and defy his father. As it is, however, the mother is able to
wield an irresistible weapon by reminding her son of his duty to the
one who gave him life and fed him withthe milk of her breast. Faced
with this agonizing conflict of loyalties,
the son must acknowledgethe
imperative of the ultimateblood-tie and the superior force of his
mothers claim. He therefore agrees the to marriage of her choice, but
once he has fulfilled his obligation by going through with the cere-
mony, he once more feels free to follow the dictates of his own heart,
either killing himself or dying of grief. His death is followed by that
of his true love and the strength of their affection is acknowledged
48
by nature as the plants growing on their respective graves entwine.
The different ethos characterizing heroic songsand lyric ballads is
starkly revealed by the fact that in the former, when a son is faced
with the choice of responding to his mothers private plea for him to
stay by her side rather than go to battle, where he is sure to perish,
and of acceding tothe public demand for obedience to his countrys
call to arms,the mothers claim hasno force.
In addition to the songs function as effective vehicles of commu-
nal bonding and determinants of behavioral norms they have an-
other, purely aesthetic, purpose in the life of the village. In this di-
mension, a particularly important part is played by flowers, which
also symbolize the close bond between human life and the natural
world. The sense of an aesthetic dimensionis cultivated, above allby
women, in all aspects of the life of the village-particularly in the in-
tricate embroidery that decorates the traditional costume-and tradi-
tional singing is a vital part of this.
One othergroup of songs deservesattention: these are songs which
developed on the basis of the lyric tradition but in an urban envir-
onment, particularly in BosniaHerzegovina.Althoughtheyhave
lost their association with womens singing, they should be men-
tioned as they were originally part of that tradition. They are of
particular interest, however, because, in the different cultural envir-
onment ofBosnia Herzegovina, their intense lyricism does not
necessarily mean that theycarry connotations of femininity.
These songs are known as smdalinke, from the Arabic word suzuda
(black, black bile) bywayof the Turkish smdu (love). The word
acquired a final h in Serbo-Croat and the concept sevdah became
part of the culture, particularly in those areas where the Turkish
presence lasted longest and where there was a significant localMus-
lim population. The word is hard to define precisely, containing as
it does both the pleasurable idea oflove and the experience of
black melancholy often associated with it. The literary historian
Muhsin RizviC describes it in thefollowing terms: Our smdah is in
fact as passionate and painful as it is melancholic, sweet longing ...
when the pain of love can no longer be borne and is lost in an ec-
stasyof emotional intoxication which borders on dying; pain be-
49
cause love has no possibility of being satisfied and fulfilled, or be-
cause of obstacles of an individual, social, family, traditional or sim-
ply emotional and psychological nature.22Originating in Eastern
melodies and singing techniques, and then adapted by local singers,
it evolved into the refined expression of a special blend of oriental-
Slav swdah which the Serbian critic SkerliC considers one of the
greatest creations in the lang~age.2~ The form has been the subject
of considerable attention and critical interest, both within the re-
gion and abroad. In his introduction to the work of Muslim writers
in Bosnia Herzegovina, Muhsin R i z v i C gives a lengthy bibliography
of studies published between1927 and 1970. RizviC defines the
content of these songs as having something in common with the
ballad form and suggests that they could be described as the emo-
tion left behind after the event which is the subject of the ballad.24
It has been defined by another scholar as a love poem in its con-
tent, lyric in its essence ... As a characteristic of its ethical code,
Islam involved a regulated distance between a man and a woman,
and at just the age when passion,the longing for theproximity of a
dear face, is at itsmostpowerful ... instead of profane contact,
which was made virtually impossible, and which would have damp-
ened both the rapture and the longing at the outset, love seeks a
subtler expression, and eros speaks through the lines of the
s e v d a l i n k ~ . The
~ ~ urban context of the songs is clear from the fre-
quent references to windows, beneath whichyoungwomen may
glimpse their sweethearts, or whereyoung men come to sigh.
KrnjeviC describes the songs as patriarchal womenssongs in-
tended for a narrow, intimate circle,26while RizviC comments:
The swdalinka lived as a popular song in Muslim families, where
it was sung every day, because its performance needed no instru-
mental accompaniment nor a particular audience.2 KrnjeviCsug-
gests that the songs gradually extended their scope to include refer-
ences to events and changes of general significance for the commu-
nity, and the majority are connected with Sarajevo, singing of the
fate of the city-wars, plague, fire, or floods-and of influential fami-
lies. She stresses the importance of the musical phrasing which de-
termines the effect of the songs.2*
50
Individual Women Singers
A significant, but at first overlooked aspect of traditional singing is
the contribution of gifted individual singers. While the origins of
most shorter lyric songs, romances, and ballads are unknown, the
names of singers of severalepic songs havebeen recorded. While the
great majority of these are men, some of the best-known songsin the
tradition were sungby women singers.The remainder of this chapter
considers the particular contribution of these singers. Their work
provides a link between the so-called little and great traditions,
between traditional oral literature and written forms.There is always
a danger in discussions of this kind of thinking of the oral tradition
primarily as something which precedes written forms. Although in
one sense it is true, given that it offered the first manifestation of
verbal art in an illiterate culture, it is also true that thegreat majority
of the songs in the South Slav tradition were collected in the course
of the nineteenth century, hundreds of years after writing became
widespread. The interaction between oral and written forms is hard
to trace, but it is certain at least that traditional singers had been
regularly exposed to written forms, such as the liturgy. The point
I wish to make is that a reading of these songs, which have of course
reached us bywayof the printed page, should not be colored by a
tendency to think of traditional oral literature as primitive in con-
trast with written literature. In the nature of things, it is more bound
by convention: the songs followa particular pattern and are built up
through a system of standard formulae. Whenthe singers themselves
are asked to describe how they composetheir songs, theywill usually
say that they simply repeat them as they themselvesheard them. Nev-
ertheless, there is scope within this convention for considerable so-
phistication, for the expression of a particular perspective, a sudden
turn of phrase which is the individual singers personalcontribution
to the tradition. Where such felicitous phrasingis deemed successful
by its audience, it tends to becomefured and, inits turn, to affect the
aesthetic sensibilityof those who hear it. The great nineteenth-
century collector Vuk KaradZiC grew up with the traditional singing
in his villagehome and had a remarkably refined aesthetic sense. He
51
~ woman national gr~sleplayerin Yugoslavia
' 1 ' 1first
would travel miles in search of a better version of a particular song,
or in pursuit of a particular singer with a reputation for especially
fine singing. Severalof these singers were women. I want now to con-
sider some of their best-known songs, with the intention of trying to
establish whether it may be said that the concerns of women singers
differ significantly from those of their male counterparts.
Men constituted the great majority of the singers of epic songs:
while many people sang songsin the course of their daily lives, those
who made their living from singing were exceptional and, to some
extent, stood outside society. Many singers-like Homer-were blind,
as singing provided a livelihood for people who could not work on
the land. Other singers might be outlaws, having been forced to flee
from their own land, generally following some violent conflict with
local landownersor the Ottoman authorities. In the nature of things,
women only exceptionally fitted these patterns. On the whole, their
only route to outsider status withinthe community and to enforced
idleness was disability.KaradZiC collectedsongsfrom four blind
women singers: Zivana, Jeca (whowas Zivanas pupil), Stepanija, and
an unnamed blind singer from northern Serbia. It is instructive in
this connection toconsidersongs ofwhichseveralversionsexist,
some of which weresung by male singersand some by women.
There is little doubt that there tends to bea difference oi emphasis
between them, reflecting different spheres of interest. This may be
demonstrated by a comparison of two versionsof the song The
Wedding of Todor of Stala6.2g Bothrepresent variations on thecon-
ventional weddingtheme, in which a party of guests is gathered to go
to claim a foreign bride and faces all manner of obstacles along the
way. The song contains the usual set-piece description of the prepa-
ration of the grooms splendid clothing and his horse, but its basic
theme is the abduction of a girl who is alreadybetrothed to another.
In each case the sympathy of the listener is with the lone hero, but
the terms in which his plight is evoked differ considerably. What is
particularly strikingis the fact that, in the version recorded from one
of KaradZiCs favored women singers, Blindiivana, the song is domi-
nated by three women characters who are able to make decisions
which shape their lives. The singers different perspectives emerge in
53
the first linesof the song. The earlier recorded version opens with a
standard line: Todor ofStalaeis drinking wine ... He is being
served by his aging mother, who then asks why he has not yet wed
and brought a wife to brighten his days and a daughter-in-law to take
his mothers place. He replies that he has not yet found a girl who
would be both to his liking and a friend for his mother. So far, the
song contains only conventional elements. Whenthe son explains to
his mother that the only girl who would suit them both is already
betrothed, his mother advises him to forget her, but theson ignores
her reasonable words and goes off to snatch his chosen bride. The
girl herself takes no active part in the song, which ends with her ab-
duction. The version recorded from iivana differs in a number of
ways. To start with, it is twice as long: 281 lines as compared to 141 in
the other version. This gives the singer scope to developher chosen
themes. iivanas song opens in an immediately more homely way,
suggesting a closer,moreequal and practicalrelationshipbetween
mother and son: Todor is sitting at supper with his mother /... They
sup, they drink cool wine./ His mother begins to weep tears/... She
laments, in moving terms, that she no longer has the strength to run
the household and receive her sons guests. She begs him to spend
his money to find a suitable girl who would be able to help in the
house. In a demonstration of manners appropriate to such a hero,
he says nothing, finishes his food and wine, and gets up from table.
Before preparing himself in the finery befitting a bridegroom, he
dedicates himself before the cross and goes with a candle to the sta-
ble to feed his horse extra rations of oats and wine (in the tradition,
heroeshorseshavetaken on something of their masters heroic
qualities: the horse of the great Prince Marko,for example, regularly
consumes several goatskinsof wine before any major endeavor). It is
interesting that the singer should note the heros silent departure
from the table and the practical detail of his needing to take a can-
dle. The preparation of the horse and groom in their ceremonial
trappings is a conventional set-piece, occurring in much the same
form in songs of any length in which the main theme is a marriage.
iivanas hero then sets off and, when the sun is high, comes acrossa
group of young women washing clothes in the Danube. The girl who
54
catches his eye is sumptuously dressed, most unsuitably for such an
occupation. The description of her clothes as she stands in the river
illustrates one of the most prominent and engaging features of this
whole tradition: the mixture of notions of feudal nobility accessible
to the peasant singers only by hearsay and from the tradition itself,
and their everyday experience of reality. Noble ladiesand queens do
the washing, bath the baby, and wear aprons to greet their noble
guests at their castle door. (It is characteristic that these incongrui-
ties are most evident in connection with womens occupations: men
of both noble and peasant birth may equally wellbe portrayed sitting
over a jug of wine, but domestic chores chime oddly with nobility.)
The subterfuge by which the hero induces the girl to leave the others
so that he can pull her up onto his horse is described by iivana in
greater detail than in the earlier version, and again with practical
touches. Once with the hero Todor, the abducted girl appears quite
content to stay, although she hasno choice in the matter of marrying
him. A priest is pressed into action and the deed done with dizzying
speed. It is after this that the song becomes interesting, for the hero
fades into the background and the main action is left to the female
characters: Todors mother, his bride, and the woman, Jerina, who had
originally paid for the brides betrothal to her brother. Having dis-
patched some brave knights sent in vain by Jerina to retrieve the girl,
Todor knows that he will be in trouble, and he asks his mother for
advice. But before she can answer, his bride makes her own suggestion:
she will take armed lancers and money and repay Jerina the bride-
priceshepaid-abrave and honorablecourse of action.Jerinare-
sponds by taking the girl prisoner and forcibly marrying her once
again, this time toher brother, as originally planned. But in the morn-
ing, when she goes to wakethem, she findsthat Todors wife has slain
her brother and the armed lancers rush to protect the young bride
from Jerinas anger. The ultimate judgment is the kings, who repri-
mands Jerina for ignoring his advice not to take on Todor. She ac-
cepts hisjudgment and is reconciled with Todors wife, who returns
peacefully to her new home. The crux of this song, in iivanas ver-
sion, is the relationship between the two women who are ultimately
defeated by the masculine culture of violence, abduction, and forced
55
marriage. In the end, Jerina abandons her attempt to emulate this
culture and finds common cause with the young woman whom she
could legitimately see as having wronged her, but to whom she in
turn did a greater wrong by forcing her into a bigamous second mar-
riage. As in so many of these songs, the intricate implications of the
situation are not developed, but remain suggestive ground for the
listeners imagination. What is clear, however, is the unusually bal-
anced nature of the song, in the sense that the three female char-
acters play an equal part in its development. It is Todors mother
who sets the action in motion and, at the critical moment of his
life, it is to her that he turns for advice. While the brides social
role is essentially that of object or merchandise she easily over-
comes such constraints by her independence of mind and courage.
Jerina, too, displays a readinessto accept an adverse situation
which is unusual in the tradition, but not out of place in a female
character.
There are eight songs in KaradZiCs collections which are confi-
dently attributed to iivana, and others whichmaywellhave been
hers, although, unfortunately, documentary evidenceis lacking. Her
compositions are characterized by a strong story line, often with an
unexpected twist, and striking emotional coloring, notably tender-
ness between individuals. She brings an immediate flavor of human
relationships in her patriarchal environment which breaks through
the conventional, feudal settings. Severalof the songs are concerned
with notions of justice which reflect the essentially democratic social
structure of the zudrugu, even where the characters concerned are
kings and noble lords. In onesong, for instance, a man, Ljutica Bog-
dan, serves a duke loyally for ten years for love of hishorse which he
finally steals. Whenthe dukes brother comes after him, Ljutica Bog-
dan slays him and takes his horse as well. At this, the duke pursues
him, on the mare which bore the two fine horses, and kills his erst-
while servant, lamenting over his body, in sorrow rather than anger,
that he would gladly have given him the horse, had he known he
wanted it so badly.
The songs whichperhaps best demonstrate the qualities of iivanas
singing are Momir the Foundling and The Death of Duke Kajica,
56
attributed to her with some confidence. In Momir the Foundling,
an Emperor out on a lengthy hunting trip catches nothing, but
finds an abandoned baby boy. He takes it up with delight and great
tenderness, to be a brother for his only,and much cherished, daugh-
ter (in view of the conventional attitude towards girls in the culture,
this detail may reasonably be read as iivanas own input). When he
returns tohispalace, the ruler is met by hiswife,whotakeshis
horses reins and asks: Did you hunt down fine game?/The Em-
peror handed the baby boy to his Empress/ and the Empress took
the baby/ in her beautiful silk apron. The song describes the Em-
perors pride in his son as he grows, lavishing on him such favors
that in the end he provokes his courtiers to a jealous plot: they tell
their ruler that Momir has been found sleeping with his sister.The
Emperor has Momir hanged and his sister followshim. The dry tree
on which they die springs into luxuriant growth, a symbol of the
young peoples innocence triumphing over the barren destructive-
nessof the jealous courtiers, and shaming their desolate fathers
haste. The song contains many of the essential features of iivanas
singing: a story line which holds the listeners interest, detail, a sense
of justice, and tenderness in the depiction of human relations. The
other song mentioned, The Death of Duke Kajica, has a straight-
forward, but well-composed story line of feats of military prowess in
which Kajica is slain by a jealous rival. The song comes vividly to life
in the terms of endearment which the Serbian king Djuradj lavishes
on his favorite young noble. These occurin two blocks in the course
of the song and are then brought together at the end, when the
young man is slain:

Woe, Kajica, my dearestchild!


Ever my glory at my court!
Ever my sharp swordon the field!
And strength among all the nobles!
Pure gold of Smederevol
Right wingof the Serbian lands!
How will your father recover from his griefl
How canhe leave youalone ...

57
KaradZiC recorded songs also fromhanas pupil, Blind Jeca.By con-
trast with %anas, Jecas songs are all concise. One of them, The
Death of Duke Prijezda, is particularly worth mentioning in this con-
text as many other versions of it exist (13 in all). Jecas is the most
concise and in it the singer makes Prijezdas wifethe most prominent
character, whereas shewas not mentioned at all in the first recorded
version of the song. In acknowledgment of this, one Italian translator
went so far as to call the song TheWife of Duke Prijezda. The wife
is mentioned in versions by other nineteenth-century singers, but
Jecas is the only one in which she is given a name.
In addition tothese named singers,who are asmallminority
among KaradZiCs sources, three of the best-known songs in the epic
tradition were noted down from women singers whose names have
not been recorded. These are The Maid of Kosovo and The Down-
fall of the Serbian Empire, sung by a blind woman from near the
village of Grgurevci, and The Death of the Mother of the JugoviCi,
sung by an unnamed woman in Croatia.so All three songs are con-
nected with the battle against the invading Ottoman army on the
Field of Kosovo.
It is noteworthy that, while several of KaradZiCs male singers have
been the subject of study-by both KaradZiC himself and other com-
mentators-virtually nothing is known of the lives of the women from
whom these songs were recorded. The reason for this is at least inpart
a characteristic concern with the dramatic: some of KaradZiCs singers
were border-fighters or outlaws who had to flee vengeance from the
Ottoman administration for some real or perceived offense, generally
because they had killed a Turk in self-defense. It is also because, al-
though KaradZC himself took an interest in the singers and was well
aware of the particular contribution an individual could make, at the
timeofhis collectiowand all throughthe nineteenth century-
attention was concentrated on the songs themselves. There was still a
prevailing sense that they were essentially communal products, individ-
ual singers being the more or less arbitrary vehicle for traditional ma-
terials handed down verbatim from singer to singer through the genem-
tions. Consequently, the contribution of individual singers was largely
ignored and theirlives not deemed to be ofinterest Moreover, the life
58
of a blind peasant woman would be presumed to be predictable, lack-
ing in external drama, and so unworthy of consideration. Wemust
therefore contentourselves witha discussion of the threesongs Without
further reference to their singers, despite the fact that their songs have
undoubtedly played a significant role in the formation of the moral
values and perceptionsof the cultureof which theyare a part.
The Downfall of the SerbianEmpire is an especiallysplendid
song, the central image of which occurs in slightly different forms in
other contexts, while its main theme is a memorable formulation of
the essential Kosovo idea. Any attempt to find evidence of a female
viewpoint in this song would be quite artificial. It is, however, one of
the finest of the epic songs concerned with Kosovo,and it is rarely ex-
plicitly acknowledged that its best-known version was recorded from a
woman singer. As wesaw in Chapter 1, the focus of the song is the
choice to be made by the Serbian prince Lazaron the eve of the great
battle, when he is told by a messenger from God thathe could save his
army if he chooses the Kingdom of Earth. When, as he must, Lazar
chooses the Kingdom of Heaven, he is told that he should go out onto
the battlefield and build there a church of silk. This image of fragility
is
at the same time an image of overwhelming power. The silk suggests
both royal luxuryand military banners,but above all it is, an abstraction,
impossible to achieve in realityand therefore unassailable.The church
of silk is the idea of righteousness carried, beyond reach, in the indi-
vidual heart and soul. The somewhat moremundane explanation that a
tent, a literal churchof silk, would havebeen used on the eve of battle
for the confession and absolution of the warriors does not, I think, de-
tract from the power of this image since it is the i & of
~ the church that
has survived inthe individual imagination through the generations.
In the troubled times that preceded-and, for long periods, have
followed-the Ottoman occupation the lot of women in the Balkans
was to see their husbands and sons off to battle, anxiously awaittheir
return, and grieve at their loss. This bleak destiny is the subject of
the two other songs to which I wish to draw attention here. Both of
them apply this perennial destiny to the women left behind by the
warriors at the BattleofKosovo. The first, recorded from an un-
known womanin Croatia, focuseson the mother of nine sons who all
59
accompany their father to certain death. In the first half ofthe song
the mother tries to persuade her husband to permit at least one of
their sons to stay with her. When they all refuse, she asks that at least
her faithful servant stay behind. But, despite his masters instruction,
the imperative of participating in the battle proves irresistible and he
too abandons her. The song then gives a cumulative account of the
burden of grief which finally provestoo great for the mother to bear.
With a sure touch,the singer identifiesher breaking point as the mo-
ment she is obliged to confront a concrete detail of her loss: her
youngestsons hand, which shehadclasped in a bond oflove
throughout his short life. It is arguably its final image of overwhelming
loss and grief that has guaranteed this song a central place in the tradi-
tion and has giventhe figure of the mother the status of an archetype.
In the narrative songs, which are built up through the use of for-
mulae and formulaic expressions, it is the climax which is most sub-
ject to change and which offers the singer the most scopefor her, or
his, own unique formulation. Frequently, as in the song just men-
tioned, the images chosen for these occasions are among the most
memorable moments in the whole tradition. The image which pro-
vides the climax for the second of the two songs, The Maidof
Kosovo, is one which strikes a familiar chill in the heart of all who
have been obliged to witness violence. In this song, a young woman
searches for her betrothed and his companions among the bodies
strewn on the field where the last great battle was fought against the
advancing Ottoman army. The traditional singer does not spare the
audience, describing the steaming blood up to a horses knees, the
scattered limbs and bodies ripped open, with bones and innards ex-
posed. Finally, the girl comes upon a soldierwho is still alive,though
close to death, and goes to offer him water and what solace she can
in his last moments.He tells her that herbetrothed and all thoseshe
seeks are dead. In the intensity of her grief, she feels that her inno-
cent body has absorbed the power to destroy eventhe most resistant
aspects of indifferent nature and she cries out:

If I were to grasp a green pine,


Even the green pine would wither.31

GO
It seems to me that this vivid image captures precisely the capacity of
human beings to absorb physically other peoples pain, so that the
observer is forever changed, physically modified bythe knowledge of
violence and suffering. It is at least arguable that such an image
could be conceived only by a woman with the capacity to identify
imaginatively with the destiny of countless women grieving in the
shadows ofsoutheast Europe.

It is worth quoting here anassessment of the contribution of women


to traditional oral culture as formulated by a poet of refined sensibil-
ity, Jela SpiridonovitSavit, writing in 1944. Her account differs from
the descriptions discussed at the end of Chapter 1, in that it is con-
cerned with an instinctive aesthetic response through which she sees
women in her culture as having been able to transform the often
tragic nature of their historical destiny into something creative and
enduring:

It is her fine, deep, female sensibility that has the task, in addition to ennobling
womans own character, of ennobling everything with which she comes into con-
tact ...
Among our people, that is really what women did. When our monks withdrew
after the arrival of the Turks and literary creativity ceased; when our master-
builders were dispersedand prevented from building white monasteries; whenthe
fresco-painters leftour churchestheyremained: our women, to express,out of the
peoples pain, a purified lyricism in the poetry of their embroidery. On a white
background, the most frequent song was red and black. Blood and death. With
their wonderful womans instinct, even before the gush singers, they brought the
national shipof suffering and pain, with their song of silken threads, into the har-
bor of beauty.
The meaning of beauty for the human soul is enormous. It is an inexhaustible
source of joy, pure spiritual joy.That joy ennoblesIIS, helps LIS to step outside our-
selves, identifying ourselves with works of art ... for art raises the individual above
her small, personallie, leading her to a broaderrealm, forging a path to the great-
est possible d u e and beauty: to anawareness of universal life. Hence the inexpress-
ible value ofart, and equally of womans calling:to awaken that interest in beauty, in
art?*

61
1VukanoviC, Sqbske narodne paslavice,67.
2 A bibliography of South Slavic Folk Cultwe, edited by Roth and Wolf, covering
works published in English, French and German, contains 27 pageson the epic, 6
on the ballad, and just over 2on other genres.
3 KmjeviC, The collections of oral lyric (womens song) arranged and published
by Vuk KaradZiC, 69-70.
4 Agoston-Nikolova, Immrwed Wonlen.
5 HClPne Courtin has done similar work on Bulgarian folksong: Les personnages
masculin et ferninin dans la chanson folklorique bulgare, in Revzce des &tltdes
slaves, 60 (1988): 439-44.
6 Agoston-Nikolova, 1.
7 Ibid.,20.
8 Ibid., 43.
9 Ibid., 55.
10 KoljeviC, T ~ Epic
E in the Making.
11 KaradZiC, Sahana &fa,vols. 1 and 5.
12 Djevojka na prodaju, KaradZiC, vol. 5,480.
13 NadZnjeva se momaki djevojka, KaradZiC, vol. 1,175.
14 Ovtar i djevojka (The Shepherd and the Lass), ibid., 178.
15Weissbort, Red Knight.
16 Vilina posestrima, KaradZiC, vol.1, 156.
17 Moma i vila, KaradZiC,ibid., 159.
18 Sunteva sestra pa3ai tiranin, KaradZiC, ibid., 163.
19 Izjeden ovtar,KaradZiC, ibid., lG8.
20 PreCi mu2 od matere, KaradZiC, ibid., 218.
21 Hasanaginica.
22 RizviC, KnjiZewno stvaranje mrlslimanskihpisaca U Bosni i Hercegwini,vol. I, 15.
23SkerliC, Olnladina i njena knjiZewnost, quoted byHatidZaKrnjeviC in the e n q
Sevdalinka, Retnik knjiZewn.ih tennina, 715.
24 RizviC, op. cit., 16.
25 KrsiC,Sarajevo 11 sevdalinci, Politika, Belgrade(29 June 1935), quoted in
KmjeviC, op. cit., 715.
26 Ibid.
27 RizviC, op. cit., 14.
28 KrnjeviC, op. cit., 715.
29 zenidba Todora od StalaCa. This song is discussed also by Agoston-Nikolova,
Immured Women,9697.
30 Kosovka devojka,Propast carstva srpskoga,and Smrt majke Jugovita.
31 A. Pennington and P. Levi (trans.), Madw t h Prince (London: Duckworth, 1984),
24. See original version in KaradZiC, Sqbske narodm pjesme (Belgrade: Prosveta,
1969),vol. 2, no. 51,231.
32 SpiridonoviGaviC, Susreti, 172-73.

62
Womenn's Voices in the Middle A~es
Jefimija, born to the Lord of Drama,
Wife of UgljeSa, Serbian ruler,
Far from the world,in the peaceof her faith,
Embroiders silk cloth for a monastery.

Sources
The historical sources availablefor the medieval period in the South
Slav lands are, in common with the rest of Europe, largely confined
to two types: religious texts,including the lives of saints and liturgical
works, and secular chronicles, legal documents, treaties,and letters.
In the case of the lands which comprised the various Serbian states
from the twelfth century onwards, the two kinds of writing are often
closely related, as, on the one hand, several rulers were canonized
and their lives written to conformmore or less to the conventions of
hagiographic texts, and on the other, the biographies of those who
did not become saints were written by men of the church. In each
case, there is a tacit intention to present the rulers' lives in the most
positive, devoutly Christian light in order to strengthen the domi-
nant dynasty by implying its God-given right to rule. Almost by defi-
nition such a project provides little scope for an interest in the lives
of ordinary citizens, still less in those of women. The oral tradition, .
with its echoes of contemporary events, offers an intriguing tapestry
of folk memory and ideas from a range of different areas of human
experience, but, while it is revealingfor what is retained and handed
down in the popular interpretation of history, it is of course notori-
ously unreliable as a source of historical fact.Traditional histories of
the region have tended to present accounts of the roles of successive
rulers in relation to various power blocsand interests. The only indi-
viduals who feature in this context are those of aristocratic birth. All
in all, while something is known about these public figures, there is
63
as yet only scanty material on the basis of which it would be possible
to try to buildup a picture of the everyday lives ofordinary women in
this period. For a sense of the lives of such women, we must there-
fore rely on indications in the oral tradition. Furthermore, while the
public lives ofprominent women have been documented, in orderto
try to gain a sense of their private experience we must rely on our
imagination, reading between the lines, and the few personal
documents which havebeen preserved.
A great deal of research has been carried out in recent years into
the official documents, and we now have a detailed account of the
public lives of prominent figures, particularlyin Serbia. For instance,
the first two volumes of the comprehensive History ofthe Serbian People
which began to appear in 1981are an invaluable source of informa-
tion about the medieval period.
After the first missionaries were sent from Constantinople to con-
vert the Balkan Slavs in the ninth century in an effort to secure their
allegiance, the history of southeast Europe, like that of the whole
continent, may be characterized by conflicts between states, nobles,
and war-lords, all jostling for power. In this picture of constantly
shifting alliances, women ofnoble birth became a kind of currency.
We have only to look at the fate of the wives of many of the Serbian
rulers to gain some ideaof the way in which they were used.The first
Serbian state, RaSka, began to attain a degree of stability and power
in the region under the Zupan Stefan Nemanja (1167-96). H1s son,
Stefan the FirstCrowned (Pruouentuni),became the firstking in
1217. At this time, the interests of the embryonic state fluctuated
between allegiance to Byzantium and the Orthodox Church and to
various Catholic powers, notably Hungary. This is vividly illustrated
by Stefanssuccessivemarriages: in 1191 he married Evdokia, the
daughter of the Byzantine emperor Alexis 111. She was sent away
around 1201. From 1204 to 1207 Stefan was married to a certain N
about whom little is known, except that she was the mother of three
of his four sons. Then, in 1207, he married Ana, the granddaughter
of the Venetian doge Enrico Dandolo.2 By the time his eldest son,
Stefan Radoslav, had come of age alliance with Byzantiumwas again
opportune and Radoslav (1228-34) was married to the daughter of
64
the ruler of Salonica, and another son, Vladislav (1234-43), was mar-
ried to the daughter of the Bulgarian emperor Asen 11. Stefans third
son, Stefan UroS (1243-76), was married to a French woman, H6ltne
dAnjou. They had two sons. The first, Stefan Dragutin (1276-82),
was married to a daughter of the Hungarian king Stephen V. But it
was his brother, Stefan UroS Milutin (1282-1321), who exploited the
advantages of marriage alliances to the full: his first wife,Jelena, the
daughter of sebastocrator John Angelos, governor of Thessaly, was
sent away in 1283. Milutin then married Elizabeth, another daugh-
ter of the Hungarian king Stephen V, but he dismissed her in 1284
in favor of Ana, the daughter of the Bulgarian emperor Georgije I
Terter. Finally, she too was dismissed in 1299 so that Milutin could
marry Simonida,the six-year-old daughter of the Byzantine emperor,
Andronicus I1 Paleol~gus.~ This catalogue speaks for itself: one can
hardly begin to imagine the quality of life of some of these women,
uprooted from their homes, often traveling great distances to the
courts of men they did not know, who for the most part had no inter-
est in them except as means of forming alliances and producing sons.
It is likely that many of these women did not know the language of
their husbands court. On the whole they must have felt isolated and
insecure, not knowing how long their presence would be considered
opportune. This is not to say that individual women did not make a
success of their careers as royal wives and come to exercise consider-
able influence over their husbands. They would also have the hadreas-
surance of sharing their destiny with women throughout Europe: the
Hungarian princesses Katalin and Elizabeth would no doubt have of-
fered each other support in their roles as wives to successive Serbian
rulers. UroSs wife, Heltne dAnjou, had relatives at the Hungarian
court, and her sister appears to have lived in Serbia.4 For the time
being, however, we can only speculate about the personal experience
of these women, mostof whose livesremain hidden in deep shadow.
One particularlyvaluablesource of information about general
conditions oflife in Serbia in the MiddleAgesis the fourteenth-
century Code of Laws compiled byKing-later TsarStefan DuSan
(1308-55), an historical document of great importance. Modeledon
Byzantine laws and taking into account local legal customs and un-
65
written laws, the Code provided a basis of legislation for the Serbian
state which reached its greatest extent under DuSan. While the pun-
ishmentssuggested for transgressions are often extremely harsh,
there is also a surprising degree of evenhandedness throughout the
feudal hierarchy. As it reflects the concerns of society at that time, it
is only to be expected that the Code contains few specific provisions
for women. Out of a total of 201 articles, two are concerned with
marriage and four others refer specifically to women. It is worth not-
ing, incidentally, that one article, which specifies the sanctions for
insults to bishops, monks, or priests, contains no provisions for in-
sults to women who had taken holy orders. The first article about
marriage stipulates that marriages must take place in church, and
that those who marry without the blessing of the Church shall be
separated; the second concerns mixed mamages and allows a half-
believer married to a Christian woman tobe baptized if he desires it.
But if he refuse to be baptized, let his wife and children be taken
from him,and let a part of his house beallotted to them, and lethim
bedriven forthw5Article 64 stipulates protection for the poorest
women: A poor spinner woman shall be free, like a priest.6 Two of
the articles concern rape and adultery and offer a revealing insight
into the perceptions of social stratifcation. Article 51, On Taking By
Force, states: If any lord take a noblewoman by force, let both his
hands be cut off and his nose be slit. But if a commoner take a no-
blewoman by force, let him be hanged; if he take his own equal, let
both his hands be cut off and his nose slit.In the light of the harsh
punishment proposed for rape of a noblewoman by a commoner, it
is worth noting here that one of the articles concerned with homi-
cide states: Ifa lord kill a commoner in a town, or in a district, or in
a summer pasture hut, he shall pay one thousand perpers. But if a
commoner kill a lord, both his hands shall becut off and heshall pay
300 perpers. In other words, rape of a noblewoman by a commoner
is considered a greater crime than murder. Article 52 suggestsa simi-
lar taboo against crossing social boundaries: Ifa noblewoman com-
mit fornication with her man, let the hands of both be cut off and
their noses slit. By contrast, other articles concerned with the privi-
leges and constraints on thetsar mention the tsaritsa as being subject
66
to exactly the same provisions, suggesting an underlying equality in
legal provisionsfor men and women of the same social status.This is
borne out in the last article in the Code to mention women: And
the clerk shallnot call upon a wife when the husband is not athome,
nor shall a wife be summoned without her husband, but the wife
shall give her husband notice to go to court. In that case, the hus-
band shall not be at fault until she give him notice.8
Apart from thesefew references to women,the Code, likeso much
else in historical texts and conventional treatment of such material,
projects the image of a society in which women are irrelevant. In
order to complete the picture, we are obliged to read between the
lines. We may assume that in realitythe influence of women on their
local communities and-above all-their families was far greater than
may be deduced from official documents.
Many of the individual women who have left a mark on Serbian
cultural history-and some written evidence of their lives-were con-
nected to the Nemanjid dynasty. A recently published anthology of
autobiographicalwritingsfrom the MiddleAges includes texts by
seven women, written between1267 and 1502. These are all figures
connected with the ruling house in oneway or another.Few of their
writings may be termed literav in the narrow sense,but they are of
undoubted interest for the light they cast on the lives of these indi-
vidual women and hence on the lives of other women, at least those
of the educated landowning class. It is indicative ofthe fluidity of the
borders of state structures and typical of the medieval use of mar-
riagealliances for political ends that several of the womenwho
played aprominent public role were not natives of Serbia: some were
Greek, and the one about whommostisknown,Kraljica Jelena
(Jelena AnZujska: HClZne dAnjou,d. 1314), was French.

Jelena AnZujska
Queen Jelenas origin hasso far not been established with certainty,
but the most thorough investigation to date concludes convincingly
that she was the daughter of Raoul de Courtenay, and first cousin of
67
Louis IX of France and Charles #Anjou, king of Naples. If this hy-
pothesis is correct, she was also a cousin of Baldwin, emperor of Con-
stantinople after the Latin conquest. It is likely that the marriage of
Jelena to UroS took place at the court in Hungary, where she also
had relatives.1 MijatoviC begins his exhaustive article with the state-
ment that for more than sixty years (from roughly 1250 until her
death), she was the most prominent figure in the Serbian state,
I wouldsay the most popular and the person who had the most
influence on the cultural life of the nation.ll CirkoviC confirms that
she ruled part of her son Dragutins state for more than three dec-
ades.* The most reliable source of information about her life is the
biography written by the Serbian archbishop Danilo 11. This is the
only life of a woman that he wrote and is particularly valuable be-
cause Danilo knew Jelena personally and clearly liked and admired
her. He describes her as beautiful, ofsharp mind, but gentle na-
ture, and as knowing all books, she was ready to answer all who
asked anything;her words were mild and there was no hypocrisy in
her, as there is in some, who respectone, but despise another. Great
and small, rich and poor, the righteous and the sinner, the sick and
the hale, she respected each of them equally and gave each of them
their rightful honor ...; indeed, she was adorned with every excel-
lent quality.13 Danilo emphasizes the fact that, although Jelena knew
her own mind, when she had to give orders she preferred to do so
gently, persuading her listeners through words of good sense to
her point of view, rather than relying on the authority of her posi-
tion. She was also compassionate and ready to comfort unhypocriti-
cally and without malice those afflicted by grief, poverty, or misfor-
tune. Danilo describes her as devout and generous in her support of
churches and monasteries.
Two aspects of her life mentioned in Danilos biographyare of par-
ticular interest for our purposes: coming from an educated back-
ground, she was quick to establish an impressive library and employ
copyists at her court. This was not particularlyremarkable for a
woman ofher status, but Jelena also set up in her home what may be
termed a school for the daughters of poor families: ... and she did
not care only for her own soul, but she distributed unstintingly
68
among widows and orphans and the poor and all who werein need,
countless wealth of her kingdom, so that all marveled at her virtue
and piety. And she was not content with this alone, but added yet
another virtue.She ordered that the daughters of poor parents
throughout her lands be gathered together, and, feeding them in
her palace, she taught them all good order andhandiwork appropri-
ate to women. And when they grew up, she married them to hus-
bands who gave them homes, bequeathing them every richness, and
in their place she took other girls like the first.I4It appears, from
Danilos words,that the instruction was largely in practical skills such
as embroidery, but nevertheless, such a concern to provide facilities
for the advancement ofgirls in the thirteenth century does seem
worthy of note. Jelenas interest in culture may be seen in the fact
that she evidently influenced the decisionto appoint as Catholic
archbishop in the Serbian town of Bar a Frenchman, Gerardus, who
is described as poet, philosopher, theologist and most learned in all
the good arts.15The other activity in which she was able to make a
personal contribution was her support for Catholic foundations in
and around her lands.16 At this time, there were significant Catholic
populations along the coast of Zeta (roughly present-day Montene-
gro) and around Lake Skadar. Understandably, Danilo, archbishop
of the Serbian Orthodox Church, does not mention her support of
the Catholic foundations, although in a letter dated 1288, Pope
Nicholas W , her contemporary, notes that he has heard that she is
God-fearing, devout and a sincere believer, but she was generous
alsotowards Orthodox churches and monasteries in the territory
under her control. She founded or rebuilt several churches and
monasteries, and, following the pattern ofmany other womenof
high social status in these lands, she ended her life as an Orthodox
nun and was proclaimed a saint of the Orthodox Church. She was
buried in the magnificent monasteryof Gradac, believed tobe of her
own foundation. Where this flexibility becomes particularlyinterest-
ing in a modern perspective is in the scope she evidently had for
freedom of action and her readinessto support the interests of
neighboring Catholic populations, even when thiscounteracted her
husbands policies. The first of the texts included in the anthology is
69
a Letter to the People of Dubrovnik, written between 1267 and
1268. In it she confirms her support for the city of Dubrovnik, its
ruler, and all its citizens:
And should any traders from Dubrovnik come to my court without the Kings
approval, encouraged bymy letters or my friendship, or any nobleman or any-
one atall, I shall pay for everything.
And should the King wish to send an army against Dubrovnik,or should pi-
rates or other evil befall Dubrovnik, I shall inform the City as early as possible
and shall be with you in every misfortune.18

It may not be fanciful to deduce from her attitude that she herself
saw her marriage as a formality based on external interests. It cer-
tainlyseemsremarkable that she should have been prepared to
commit her disapproval of her husbands policies towards Dubrovnik
to paper. The othertext by Queen Jelena included in the anthology
is composed of words attributed to her in Danilos biography and
presented here in the form of a lament:
We who dwell among all the vanities of this vain world, if we wishto live the liie
of the spirit as it is pleasing to the Lord, we cannot achieve it.
For the whole of this world languishesin evil, asthe holy wordhas said.
For if the soul does not abandon worldly cares, it cannot either love God sin-
cerely or hate the devil sufficiently.
Since our mind is occupied with a whirlwind of material sins,just as a ship on
the open sea is rocked by the ocean waves, so I, as a sinner, sink bitterly amidst
my sins ...
Oh, the judgment of my conscience and the despair of my sins weigh heavilyon
my soul, and I have no hope of salvation.
For I have ruined my soul in sins,and I have stifledmy mind in the uncleanness
of lawlessness, and my body has falleninto the depths of the mire, and there is no
way to raise myself...
What should I do, sinner that I am, filledwith shame?
For shame has coveredmy face and the ways are narrow allaround.
Alack, how should I begin to lament my bitter lawlessness, since I cannot eas-
ily confess?
What should I weep for first? For whatshould I moan and for what should I sob?

This is not the place to consider Serbian medieval politics in detail,


but it is certainly of interest that when Uro3 came into conflict with
his son Dragutin (one of Jelenas two sons), Archbishop Danilo de-
70
fended Dragutinsposition.Dragutin emerged the victor and his
father withdrew from power and spent the rest of his life as a monk
(he died in 1277). Jelena gave her son her blessing and, making a
clear distinction betweenthe policies of his father and himself, Dra-
gutin gave part of the state into his mothers care, and she adminis-
tered it judiciously for more than thirty years.

Maria Paleologina

The next royal figure included in the anthology, represented by a


brief biography inscribed on her gravestone, was Queen Maria Pa-
leologina (married 1324). She was the daughter of John Paleolo-
gus, governor of Salonica and nephew of Emperor Andronicus 11.
She was married at a very young age to the Serbian king, Stefan
Detanski, after the death of his first wife, Theodora, who was Bul-
garian. Maria thus became thestepmother ofKing-laterTsar-
Stefan DuSan, the author of the Code of Laws, whose son UroS she
refers to as her own grandson. When Stefan DuSan overthrew his
father in 1331Maria was imprisoned with her children. But later her
stepson went someway towards compensating for his action by mak-
ing her son SiniSa despot and appointing him governor of Epirus in
1346. The brief account of her dramatic life expresses the warmth of
her attachment to her family. It is not clear, however, whether she
was herself the author, although it is at least possible that she com-
posed the inscription before her death and that the date was in-
serted later:

From imperial stockI came and returned to such again,I who in this world, by
the grace of Him whomade me,wa ruler known by the name of Maria.
Found worthy of the name of nun, it was as Marta that the hour of my death
came tome.
Laid in the earth in the year 6863 [1355], in the month of April on the sev-
enth day, during the reign of my beloved son Stefan, Autocratic Tsarof all the
Serbs and Greeks, and my beloved grandson, King UroS.
And I pray you. fathers and brothers in the Lord, to mention me in your
prayers.

71
Kneginja Milica

Arguably the best-knownwoman inSerbianmedievalhistory is


Kneginja Milica, the wife of the Serbian ruler Knez Lazar (1371-89),
who was killed at the Battle ofKosovo. As the wifeof the central
character in early Serbian history-as it was perceived from the nine-
teenth century onwards-KneginjaMilicafiguresrelativelypromi-
nently in the oral traditional poetry. Indeed, she has been described
byKoljevid as historical only by proxy, in so far as she is remem-
bered as Tsar Lazars wifein the largely fictitious storiesabout her.lg
She is portrayed essentially as sharingthe destiny of so many women
of this period throughout Europe: seeing her husband off to battle
and waiting in vain for his return. In the songTsarLazar and
Tsaritsa Militsa, she is described sitting at supper with her husband
on the eveof the battle and pleading withhimtoleave a stout
knight to act as messenger to bring news of the battle back to those
who can onlywait. In thissong, through one of the conflations
common in the tradition, she hasbeen identified as the sister of the
noble family of Jug-Bogdan, a figure unknownto history, but whose
nine sons are saidin the tradition to have died at Kosovo. (This
would make her the daughter of Jug-Bogdan and the famous Mother
of the Jugovidi, poignantly portrayed in the song recorded from the
unnamed singer mentioned in Chapter 2.) In this sofig, Lazar agrees
to leave her favorite brother, BoSko, to keepher company, but BoSko
cannot resist the urge to join his countrymen on the battlefield, or
risk the shame of being seen as a coward who dared not fight. Milica
pleads unsuccessfully with each of her brothers in turn, until, as the
last of them rides past,she falls senselesson the ground.

Just then theTsar, Lazar himself, rodeby


And sawhis own Tsaritsa lyingthere.
The tears sprang forth and flowed upon his cheeks.
He turned his head away, he looked to left and right.
But then he called his servant, Goluban,
Who rode beside himon a fine white horse:
Mytrusty servant Goluban, dismount!

72
Look tothe Tsaritsa. Takeher soft hand -
Lead her away, up to a peacefd place.
Now may Godsblessing beon you and her:
You shall not come with me to Kosovo,
But here shall stay withher in Knlshevats.
When Golubanheard what the Tsar had said
He wept, and tears flowed down his cheeks,
But he obeyed the Tsar. Dismounting from
His battle-horse, he took the ladys hand
And led her to a peaceful room inside.
But in the servants heart there was no peace,
That healone should not go to the war.
He fled away to where his horsewas stood
And, mounting, turned and rode to KOSOVO.*~

This song,recorded from one of KaradZids finest singers,the outlaw


TeSan Podrugovid, while describing Milicas anguish with sympathy
and tenderness, nevertheless identifies more readily with the com-
pulsion of the male characters toplay their part in the fateful battle.
Milica is visited the next day by two ravens who tell her the news of
the disaster and thedeath of her husband and all her brothers. More
details are brought by another of Lazars faithful servants, Milutin,
himself severely wounded. The last words of the song are Milutins.
Thiscontrasts with the womansperspective inthe song of the
Mother of the JugoviCi, in which the last scene is of the Mother dy-
ing of a broken heart, unable to bear such sorrow. In Podrugovids
song, Milica is simply a vehicle for the messengers words and no
longer relevant once the message has been conveyed, and it ends
with an indictment of the traitor blamed for the Christian defeat.
In reality, Milica was the daughter of a nobleman, Knez Vratko, a
descendant ofVukanNemanjid.She married Lazar around 1353,
and after his death at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, she ruled Serbia
for her sons Stefanand Vuk until 1393, when Stefan came of age and
Milica entered a convent, taking the name of Jevgenija. She died in
1405 and was buried in the monastery of Ljubostinja,which she
founded. She has left an exceptionally fine memorial, to both her
73
husband and herself, in her lament for Lazar, composed when his
body was moved from PriStina,near the battlefield, to the Monastery
of Ravanica around 1391-92. This poem,with all the authority of the
direct expression of its authors own experience, has a different im-
pact from that of the traditional singers words. The reality of this
living persons anguish rings down the centuries with chilling clar-
ity:

Alack, what hasbefallen me!


A sudden fierce weapon has piercedmy soul.
Is this likethat which befellJeremiah?
Hear how I sigh, how I sorrow,
with no comfort for me anywhere!
My girls and my young men have gone into captivity.
A sword has swept, like death, through my home!
And all my enemies, hearing my troubles,
rejoice.
All this cameupon me unprepared.
Could I have expected to become what I am,
deprived of the husband of my heart,
my sweet and kind lord and prince,
with all the bright and chosen ones,
all the brave and manly warriors?
Weep with me, fields and valleys,
that you haveunited with their bodies and their blood!
Weep with me and grieve
for all the mothers of beloved children,
for all the wives of valianthusbands,
oh kin of allour dearest ones!
. . . . . . . . . .
My lord, I have no strength to stop
my weeping and lamenting.
The laws of living havebeen shattered,
and flerce painsfan flames into fire
which consumes my very soul,
team the innermost flesh ofmy body!21

74
Like the famous lament for Lazar composed by Milicas kinswoman,
the nun Jefimija (discussed below), this remarkable text no doubt
draws on the tradition of public lamentation in South Slav culture,
which called for particular women in the villages to take on the task
of leading the keening for the dead. Many fine poems in this genre
have been collected, but few express the range of emotion of Milicas
text. It has an extraordinary quality of directness, followinga natural
progression of thought from her personal loss to awareness of the
scale and depth of the catastrophe that has befallen her homeland
and her fellow countrymen, returning always to the immediacy of
her own devastating pain. The image of the fields and valleys united
with the blood and bodies of the fallen is a particularly strong one,
conveying a sense of close attachment to the soil which had nurtured
all those who died. The involvement of the natural world in the ca-
tastrophe is reminiscent of the image discussed earlier of the pine
tree absorbing the young womans griefin The Maid of Kosovo: If
I were to graspa green pine/ Even the green pine would wither.
The anthology includes two other texts composed byMilica, this
time from her new life as nun and devout benefactress of the Serbian
Church and its foundation of Hilandar on Mount Athos. They bear
witness to her thorough commandof the literary and theological heri-
tage of the Orthodox Church and her fluent written style. For alltheir
formal status, both texts convey something of their authors own per-
sonality and a hint of the directness of her entirely personal lament:

And therefore have I come, Jevgenija, faithful tothe Lord Christ, mother of my
beloved son Stefan the Prince and Vuk, ruler of the Serbian lands and of the
Danube region, having come to DeEani monastery, into the family of the holy
King Stefan UroS the Third, andhaving seenthe fine setting,well suiteclto a life
of devotion, I saw a sorrowful sight indeed-so much effortand zeal of the saintly
founder, with the Lords permission, on account of our sins, burned and devas
rated by the wicked followers of Ismail. and neglected and destroyed by those
who ruled before us, the roof removedand come nearlyto ruination.
Gazing up toheaven withburning eyes, I prayed tothe Almighty, my God, saying:
Lord before allthe centuries ...
Have mercy on my sins, strengthen my sons in the blessed faith and grant
them blessecl days, that they should serveThee, their God in blessed righteous-
ness, asdid their lord and father, their prince now at peace ...

75
Yes, when Thou comest again, to judge the quick and thedead, with Thy holy
angels, place me to sit at Thy right hand, righteous Judge, with Thy chosen
ones, who haveever done Thy will!
For this cause, I have restored the villages earlier taken away, which are in-
cluded in the bequest of the first benefactor, with all their possessions. This was
restored by the pious lady Jevgenija...n22

Despotica Jelena-Jefimija

The only one of these medieval royal personages who is generally


acknowledged in Serbian cultural history as having composed literaly
texts is Despotica Jelena (1349-ca. 1405), wifeofDespotUgljeSa,
who took the name of Jefimija on entering a convent after her hus-
bands death. More attention has been paid to her and far more is
therefore known about her life than is the case with any other me-
dieval Serbian noblewoman.It is as Jefimija that she is known in the
regions cultural history. She became part of the world of educated
readers of the Serbian and Croatian language whenthe Serbian poet
Milan R a k i C wrote a poem about her in 1913, of which the following
is a literal translation:

Jefimija, born to the Lord of Drama,


Wife of UgljeSa,Serbian ruler,
Far from the world, in the peace of her faith,
Embroiders silk cloth for a monastery.

While nations lie bleeding,smothered to death,


Whole Empires fall,the entire world moans,
Alone in dark silence,she embroiders
In gold and silk her noble souls black pain.

Centuries pass, oblivion deepens,


But still thisnation struggles as before,
And it seems to me that it was our hearts
Beating in herbreast allthat time ago.

76
In our nations bitter hour
of defeat,
When no light gleamson the whole horizon,
I remember you in your silent home,
Serbian Queen, in a humble nuns veil1

And then I feel that, alone as before,


The noble Black Lady still singsand weeps,
As the noose of dire fate tightens roundus,
As our whole tribe is engulfed in darkness.

Jefimjas literary works take the form of embroidered texts which


belong to a rich tradition of embroidery by Serbian noblewomen.
Since the first records (Konstantin Filozof, ca. 1380-ca. 1439), she
has been known as a woman of wisd0m,2~a skilled ~raftswoman,~~
a well-educated lady,25 a wise and experienced woman,26one of
the noblest ladies in our hi~tory,~ a tender mother, a devout, no-
ble, wise and able woman, a skilled embroideress... who left behind
her a fine, a very fine memorial in the hymn of praise embroidered
on Prince Lazars shroud, in the inscription on the Hilandar curtain,
and in the text inscribed on the back of a little icon.28The literary
critic Pavle PopoviC devoted two pages of his history of Yugoslav lit-
erature to her, describing her prayer to Prince Lazar asthe finest of
all the hymns of praiseto Serbian kingsand archbi~hops.~~
She was born in around 1349, the daughter ofCesarVoihna,
nephew of King (Tsar) Stefan DuSan, who ruled over the region of
Drama in eastern Macedonia. Jelena had all the opportunities for
education then available to a girl of her social standing: she learned
to read and write both Serbian and Greek, to do fine embroidery,
and to move in the circles of the Byzantine and Serbian nobles and
church leaders, to follow secular and church affairs at home and
abroad. Her husband, Despot UgljeSa, ruled a region on the Greek
and Turkish border to the southeast, with its capital at Serres, which
was under Serbian rule for some 26 years. One important source for
medieval Serbian literature, Djordje Rad~jiCiC,~~ describes the c a p
ture of the fortress by the Serbian army and the arrival on Saturday
24 September 1345, at 3 oclock in the afternoon,of Stefan DuSans
77
The currain embroitlerctl IJyJefimija h r I-IilantlarMonastely
L. MiskoviC, Cr1wm.i wnetniElti veg Belgrade, 1940
Muzej Srpske Pravoslavne Crkve,pos. i d . , knj. 1.

78
bodyguard. The followingday the Kinghimself arrived. He is re-
corded as being there also in February 1355, having probably spent
the winter in Serres before embarking on his great campaign to cap
ture the remnants of the Byzantine Empire, inthe course of which he
suddenly died. After his death, DuSanswidow,Carica Jelena, ruled
Serres, with her young son UroS at her side. This Jelena, too, was a
woman who enjoyed reading when affairs of state and concern over
her sons kingdom permitted.31 During her husbands lifetime she
had shown an unusual interest in the world of books, trying to secure
Serbian translationsof Greek works. However, whenshe settled inSer-
res, atown of completely Greek character, where was she surrounded
by Greek monks, she ordered Greek books. Voihnas young daugh-
ter, Jelena (later Jefimija), would no doubt have visited her, and the
friendship of this intelligent, educated woman encouraged her own
interest in art and literature. In 1365 UgljeSa acquired the title of
despot and married Jelena. DuSans widow left the fortress and the
administration of its lands to her son and retired to a convent, taking
-the name of Jelisaveta. UgljeSas young wife was able to pursue her
interest in culture and scholarship thanks tothe Metropolitans Jakov
and Teodosije who are both known to have been fond of books.3*
RadojiW describes the life of the town of Serres: In the patrician
houses of Serres, two-storied, with many rooms, lived many promi-
nent Serbian and Greek nobles. They were all connected, closely or
loosely, with the Despots court. Social life in Serres must have been
verylively. It was manifested, of course, in ways appropriate to the
MiddleAges: there was hunting, celebration ofvariousholydays,
knightly contestsand games, feasts, etc.33 UgljeSa is praisedSerbian
in
history as courageousand valiant, a far-sighted statesman, who foresaw
the danger of the Turkish advance and all of whose workwas imbued
with the thought of how to resist such a threat. Hewas well aware that
.Byzantium should not expect help from anyother states but that help
for the Balkansmust be soughtin the Balkansthemselves.34 He
worked in vain for a peace treaty between Constantinople and the
Turks. Hewas also a generous benefactor to the Serbian foundations
on Mount Athos, where he founded the Church of Simon Peter.
Jelena had a single child, whomshe lost very young (probablyat less
79
than four years of age). He was buried on Mount Athos,in the grave
of his grandfather, Cesar Voihna,at the Monastery ofHilandar.
In 1371UgljeSa was preparing to drivethe Turks out of Thrace. He
set out with his brother VukaSin towards Adrianopolis. On 26 S e p
tember, a days march from the city, he met the enemy in wooded
territory on the bank of the Marica river. The outcome was a disas-
trous defeat: UgljeSa and his brother were both killed and their bod-
ies neverfound. Most of their men were drownedin theriver or cap
tured. This crucial battle heralded the eventual penetration of the
Ottoman Turks into the Central Balkans. After UgljeSas death, the
town of Serres was under Greek administration until it fell to the
Turks in September 1383.
There is no trace of Jelena for nearly twenty years after she had to
leave her fortress. Shewas no more than twenty-two when she was wid-
owed, still grieving for her young son, with no parents to turn to for
support. She took refuge in a convent and, at some unknown date
before 1389, using her nuns nameof Jefimija, she went to the court of
Prince Lazar at KruSevac, because his wife Milica was a distant relative
of hers. It is likely that the young woman, otherwisealone in the world,
would havespent those twenty yearsat the KruSevac court.
Regrettably, there are no sources of information which could give
details of the books available at either Despotica Jelenas fathers or
her husbands court, but these are likely to have been mostly relig-
ious works. The clearest evidence of her learning and talent may be
seen in the texts she composed. There is some doubt that all the
texts attributed to her are hers, but as it was not customary at the
time to claim authorship of such texts, the fact that there is no firm
evidence is not sufficient reason todoubt it. Her oldest known text is
engraved on a gilt plaque on the little diptych (6.5 x 7.7 cm) of a
small icon given by the metropolitan of Serres to Jelenas son on his
christening. It seems that her creative literary gifts were awakened by
her sorrow at her sons death. In the words of RadojiCiC: When she
composed the inscription for the little iconof her only child, Serbian
literature acquired itsfirstwomanwriter.35 The text dates from
somewhere between 1368 and 1371 and isnecessarilyconcisebe-
cause of the limited space available.
80
Little icon, but containing a great gift-the most holy likeness of the Lord and
the Most Pure Mother of God, bequeathed by a great and holy man to my little
son, UgljeSa, princeling, whom, in his innocence, and tender years, was taken
into the eternal Family, and his body consigned to the grave, on account of the
sins of our first forebears.
Grant, Lord Christ,and Thou, oh Most Holy Mother of God, to my sorrowing
self that I should ever lookto the ascent of my own soul, as I have observed that
of those who gave me life and of the little son I bore, for whom my grief burns
ceaselessly in my heart, vanquished by the ties ofmotherhood.

Beginning with warm words of gratitude to the metropolitan who


gave the child the icon, Jelena commends herself toGod, remember-
ing her own parents in her prayer, but focusing on her grief for her
child. Jelenas textis not a conventional abstract prayerbut personal
and concrete: these are the words of a young mother confessing that,
for all her faith, she cannot overcome her sorrow for her child-her
grief is stronger than she is.

The inscription on the small icon given to DespoticaJelenas son


in: Dorde RadojitiC, Stari srpski knjitevnici XN-XVII veka, Bgd. 1942

81
Even if Jefimija was able tolive peacefully for nearly twenty years at
Lazars court, she was destined to suffer another major blow when
her protector was himself killed. As we have seen, Lazars widow
Milica was left with her seventeen-year-oldson Stefan to govern the
remnants of the principality-as a vassal of the Turks-at a critical
and very troubled time in the countrys history. Judging by the
scant information that exists, Jefimija was an invaluable source of
strength and support to Milica until Stefan came of age and was
able to take over the administration of the principality. Between
them, Jefimija and Milica oversaw a period of orderly rule with wis-
dom and dignity, including undertaking a diplomatic mission in
1398 to SultanBajazit(who ordered Lazars execution after his
father, Sultan Murad, was killed) in order to clear Stefans nameof
slander. Her dignified bearing in the face of this experience was
recorded by the first chronicler of medieval Serbian history, the
monk Konstantin Fi10zof.~~
On their return from thisjourney, the two women spent some time
in the iupanjevac monastery, while Milica-now the nun Jevgenija-
oversaw the building of the Monastery of Ljubostinja. While shewas
thus occupied, Jefimija began work on a curtain forthe Imperial doors
in the Church of the Mother of God at the Hilandar Monastery on
Mount Athos. According to Mirkovidsdescription, thisis an imposing
composition, 144 x 118 cm, depicting in goldand silver thread Christ
clothed as an archbishop taking mass in the company of Saint Basil
and St John Chrysostom.Towards the bottom of the curtain, by
Christs feet,is an embroidered inscription in which Jefimija acknowl-
edges authorship,but the remainder of the text is taken from various
prayers said at communion. It is a magnificent pieceof work, of great
importance for the history ofSerbian art. This is the curtain that Milan
Rakids poem describes Jefimija embroidering.
Far more significant from a literarypoint of view is the text Jefimija
composed and embroidered-around the middleof 1402-on the
cover of the reliquary containing the relics of Prince Lazar in the
Monastery of Ravanica.The impact of the work has been described
by Lazar Mirkovid: When one sees Jefimijas shroud for the first
time, one is surprised by the dense letters, whose gold sheen exudes
82
pure ceremony. Butthe longer one looks at these intertwinedletters,
skillfully drawn and combined, the clearer it becomes that, in artistic
terms, this cloth is unique among Serbian medieval embroideries,
that it must have been created by a skilled hand, drawn by a heart
full of emotion, a heart which did not regret the tireless effort re-
quired to inscribe its noble beats in heavy letters of gold.37 Measur-
ing just 99 x 69 cm, the cloth is quite plain: it consists simply of a text
embroidered in gold-platedsilver thread and surrounded with a
border of twining leaves and flowers. The text has been described as
both strikingly patriotic and poetic. It is considered by the cultural
historian Milan M a n i n to be one of the finest works of Serbian lit-
erature.38
In the beauties of this world you grew from your youth, oh new martyr, Prince
Lazar, and the strong hand of the Lord showed you strong and glorious of all
earthly men.
You ruled over the expanse of your fatherland, and in all goods you made
glad the hearts of all the Christians entrusted to you.
And with your courageousheart and the desire of honor you went out against
the snake and opponent of the holy churches, judging that it would be insup
portable for your heart to see the Christians of your fatherland conquered by
the Ismailites.
And should you not succeed in this, to leave the passing greatness of earthly
lordship, to adorn yourself with your crimsonblood and unite with the warriors
of the Heavenly King.
And thus you fulfilled both desires; youslew the snake and received the
wreath of martyrdom fromthe Lord.
And now do not leave your beloved children in oblivion, whom you have or-
phaned by your passing...
Come to our aid, wherever you maybe.
Look kindly on my little offerings and consider them great, for I have not
brought praise in the measure of your worth, but in the power of my humble
reason-therefore I expect modest rewards.
Not so ungenerous were you, oh my dear lord and holy martyr, when you
were in this transient world-and how much more in the eternal and holy one
you have received from God-for you nourished abundantly a stranger, myself,
in a foreign land.
And now I beg you doubly: that you should nourish me still and calm the
fierce storm in my soul and body.
Jefimija offers thisfrom her heart to you, HolyOne!

83
After praising Prince Lazaras a man and ruler, admiring his courage
in confronting the enemy of his country and the Christian faith,
ready to die rather than surrender, Jefimija turns directly to Lazar
with a lengthy, passionate prayerfor assistance, both for her country
and for herself: Bow your knee before the Lord who has crowned
.
you with the wreath of martyrdom . . Pray that the Orthodox Chris-
tian faithshould not be leftunprotected in yourfatherland, pray that
God the victor should give the victory to your beloved sons Stefan
and Vuk ... Gather a council of your collocutors, the holy martyrs,
and pray with them to God who has glorified you ...Jefimija lists all
the holy warriors she begs to come to Serbias aid. Then, on a more
personal note, she expresses her pain at not being able to bring him
greater gifts, and remembers with gratitude his reception of her at
his court. For all the ceremonial formality of the setting, and the
dignity of its expression, the most striking aspectof Jefimijas text is
its direct, personal tone.
Jefimija died in around 1405. Somewhat fancifully, and with little
respect for historical accuracy, Lazar Mirkovie evokes her last years:
Once as ruler, with her husband, she had distributed alms to the
poor, founded hospitals and visited the sick, built churches and
monasteries, and now she had nothing to give to the poor, nothing
with which to feed and clothe them, for she was herself poor, living
among strangers. In her anxiety for the salvation of her soul, she
embroidered the Hilandar curtain, pressing into it her prayer, over
the words of which hoversthe breath of care for the salvation of her
soul, and offersit-all that shehas of her own-to the Most Pure
Mother-of-Godof Hilandar, comparing herself, a widow,with the
widow from the Gospels who offers two lepts, all that she possesses,
thereby giving the greatest sum ... She offers her curtain with a
prayer composedof prayers before communion, writtenby Byzantine
mystics, and places it at the feet of the Savior on the doors of the
Hilandar shrine of the Holy Mother-of-God, in order to pass through
it to the open door of Heaven ...39 KaSanin ends his account of Je-
fimijas contribution to Serbian culturewith the conclusion: Jefimijas
inscriptions-on the little icon, on the curtain, on the shroud-are es-
sentially prayers which cameinto being in specific circumstances and
84
with a specific purpose. Like others, her prayers are composed in the
first person, in the form of a direct appeal to a divine or secular figure,
and it is this characteristic which gives them their tone of immediacy
and intimacy. Their other feature is that they contain, not abstract
feelings or moral reflections, but sorrow and pain, personal suffer-
ing, fear for the writer herself and those near her, for a whole na-
tion, conveyed in the simplest and most moving possible words. The
first woman that we know of as writingin the Serbian language wrote
not about someone or something else,but about herself, and she did
so in an expressly confessionaland direct way.40
Jefimijaswritings are powerful in their directness and we read
them with a sense of privilege for having been granted some brief
shafts of insight into the mind of a Serbian woman in the Middle
Ages.We should not draw simplistic inferences about finding the
beginnings of womens writinghere, however, for the tone of many
medieval Serbian biographies ofmalesubjectsisalso often direct
and tender, as for example St Savaslifeofhis father, Stefan Ne-
manja, the founder of the first Serbian state. It is partly a characteris-
tic of the confessional character of such writing, much of which is a
direct appeal to God. Nevertheless, Jefimijas text is unique in its
range of concerns and is undoubtedly one of the treasures of early
Serbian cultural history.

Marija Angelina Paleologina


The next woman included in the anthology ofmedieval autobio-
graphical writings is Despotica Marija Angelina Paleologina, whose
brother Jovan ruled Epirus and Thessaly (1371-73) as Jovan UroS
Paleologus, and later became a monk, buildingthe Monastery of the
Transfiguration in Meteora, and living there and on Mount Athos
until his death around 1422-23. The text included is an elaborate
statement in connection with a gLft to her brother to the effect that it
is given of her own free will. She also makes provisionfor the protec-
tion of the monks of Meteora, should anyone comethere looking for
Jovanspossessions after his death: shestatesclearly that no one
85
should disturb the monks because all his bequests have been granted
to the monastery in perpetuity. The text isclearly the workof a
highly educated person, with a fluent prose style,not writing accord-
ing to anypre-setformula, but following the movement of her
thoughts as she tries to anticipate every eventuality.

Jelena, Daughter of Knez Lazar


The lastwoman in the anthology-and represented by arelatively
substantial body of writing-is Gospodja Jelena, the third daughter of
Knez Lazar. She was married to a nobleman, Balsit,around 1386, rul-
ing the lands of Zeta after his death. That she didso with gusto may be
seen in the fact that at one point she waged war against Venice and
went there to negotiate peace terms. In 1411 she mamed a Bosnian
noble, Sandalj HraniC. The two texts included in the anthology are a
lengthy will, detailing with painstaking precision every giftfor each in-
dividual and each category of personon her estate, and one of several
letters written to her spiritual advisor, Nikon.This one, written around
1440, conveys once again a warm, fresh, direct and personal tone:
A devout missive to the most honorable father, teacher of the Holy Gospels,and
our spiritual advisor in the Lord, from humbleJelena!
May your holiness know, since byGods grace I was honored to meet you,
I have rejoiced with cheerfulness of spirit, but the time we saw each other was
brief and slight; as someone would say: like a form glimpsed in a mirror, or as
though I had been transported into a weightless dream.
And because of the speed, my sorrow did not achieve whatI desired. But nev-
ertheless, what spiritualwords we then heard from your reverence,and what we
were able to grasp, we received with the whole of our soul kindly and whole-
heartedly, even most faithfully, and we have had spiritual guidance through
those piouswords, which weheard at that time, right up until today.
And I have attended to the devout nature of your soul and its incorporeal an-
gelic substance, ever sinceour final separation. And I have longed to see your
person, and to refresh myself with your methodical words, to increase the grrat
use I have of seeing you, But because of the great distance between us-ocean
and forest-this is the cause that it is not possible for us to see your holiness.
Since the desire for wealth and vain glory, and other pleasures besides, does
not leave us, who are tossed on the sea of this vain life, raised towards the light

86
of honorable and immaterial existence, the eyes of our soul have clouded over
with sorrowand the whirlwind of this world.
And see, now, as though waking suddenly from adeep sleep, I longed to see
your reverence!
We received the letter from your hand, magnificent and kind, and with all my
heart we kissed it tenderly, so easily comprehended, and we read it often. And it
greatly comforted and refreshed my heart, and at thesame timenly soul, and we
see it as a royal hiding place, of lavish riches, of the greatest value,more than a
thousand thousand pieces of goldand silver.
And once again I beg your reverence to send some relief or solace to u s and
quench the thirst of our sorrow. For your reverence knows what storms and
tempests and clouds are wont to stirup the self-willed heart ...
Ah, Divine helper! Hear me: in all that is written above, I do not command
but pray diligently,and bow my face tothe very earth.
And doublyI greet you in the Lord, and do not disdain our prayers!

Tantalizing in their brevity, the texts quoted here nevertheless allow


us to begin to imagine at least something of the lives of the women
who wrotethem.

Notes

1SamardZiC (series editor), I s h i j a srpshog n a r o d a


2 SpasiC, Rodoslowze tablice i groboui e s k i h d i n a s t y ai vlastele, 53.
3 Ibid.
4 (5irkoviC (ed. ), Istarya q s k o g namda, vol. 1,354.
5 Dmhan S Code, Article 9,41.
6 Ibid., 55.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid. Article 102,65.
9 MarinkoviC, Pisalt i potpisah. Autobiografske izjave srednjeg veka.
10 MijatoviC, K0j e KraljicaJelend?, 1-30.
11 Ibid., 1.
12 dirkoviC, 356.
13 Danilo PeEki, 2itije Kraljice Jelene, in D. BogdanoviC, Stare srgske biografije, 180.
14 Ibid., 186.
15 Farlati, IZlpnlm Samtm, vol. VI1 (Venice, 1817), quoted in MijatoviC, 4.
IG G. SubotiC, KraljicaJelena AnZujska, 131-47.
17 Annales Ecclesiastici, alutoso 0 d m . m Rapaldo, vol. 23 (Lucae, 1749). 40, quoted in
MijatoviC, 3.
18 R. MarinkoviC, 68.

87
19 KoljeviC, 168.
20 Tsar Lazar and Tsaritsa Militsa, translatedby Geoffrey N. W. Locke, 7 7 Serbian
~
Epic Ballads. An An.tllology,173.
21R.MarinkoviC, 179.
22 Ibid., 180.
23 Konstantin Filozof, quotedin Glasnik 42: 267.
24 Kukuljevif, Slovnik unljetnikalrjtgoslavenskih, 80.
25 NovakoviC, S& i Turci, 137.
26JireEek, Istmifa Srba I, 419.
27 V. MarkoviC, Pravoslavno mondtvo i manastiri, 131.
28 Ruvdrac, Starinar, knj. 9 (1892), 122.
29 PopoviC,Jugvslm~enslur knjibnost, 10-12.
30 RadojiM, Stari @ski knjiiamici.
31Ibid., 80.
32 Ibid., 83.
33 Ibid., 83-84. A more recent account of the cultural life of Serres at this time is
TrifunoviC, h a c i prevodilac Inok Isaqa.
34 Mirkovie, Monahinja Jefitnija, 4.
35 RadojiEiC, 85.
36 See Mirkovif,18.
37 Ibid., 23.
38 KaSanin, S@ska knjiZeunost,310.
39 MirkoviC, 35.
40 Manin, 311.

88
Education, oh light divine!
Without you mankind is enslaved.
In vain the sun shinesdown on him
If none but weeds grow in hisheart.
In education God is praised
And the truest incense proffered,
It is the only way for man
To draw near to Gods own likeness!
It raises up thrones and empires;
But without it a nation falls.
It alone brings Vue happiness,
Glowing brightlyright to the grave.

Milica Stojadinovit-Srpkinja,1854

Under Ottoman administration, opportunities for the development


of education and culture in the Central Balkans were severely lim-
ited. It was not until the migrations of Serbs into Habsburg lands in
the seventeenth century, particularly in 1690, that conditions among
the settlers began to be more favorable. Similarly, in the lands of
Bosnia Herzegovina, there were few opportunities for education for
all but a small elite ofbeys and their wives until the occupation of the
territory in 1878-and ultimately its annexation in 1904-by the Aus-
tro-Hungarian Monarchy.
The Habsburg Monarchy offered women more basic rights than
were available in the Ottoman Empire. As a result of its laws,the zud-
rugu system, which the immigrants brought with them, began to de-
cline. As early as the beginning of the eighteenth century, it is possi-
ble to see from wills and court cases that women were beginning to
use the law to bypass patriarchal customs. For example, Hungarian
law protected the contribution they made to the marital home in the
89
form of their dowry and gave women the right to half the shared
property. Thiscontrasted sharply with Serbian customary law accord-
ing to which a man was regarded as privileged because he carried a
gun, while his wifewas counted among his possessions; the man
remained at his own hearth, while the bride was effectively sold to
another; the man retained the name of the family, and consequently
the property ought to be his as well. According to this law,although
brother andsister were theoretically entitled to an equal share of the
parental property, there was an accepted custom whereby the sister,
of her own free will and so as not to jeopardize the love of her
brother, would be satisfied with a smallerpart of their fathers prop
erty than that theoretically guaranteed by law. To seal this arrange-
ment, she would make her cross [an expression left over from the
age of womens illiteracy] on the agreement with her brother. Un-
der Austrian law, marriage contracts whichprotected the wifes right
to her dowry could make it possible for a widow to manage her own
affairs and continue her husbands business, as did, for example,
KatarinaJankoviC in Novi Sad whoran her husband Emanuels print-
ing press whichwas a major industrialventure for the time.*
Among the Serbs in southern Hungary, thanks to their successful
commercial activity, a middle class began to emerge with the leisure
to pursue education, culture, and the whole field of charitable activi-
ties. One of the severest obstacles to womens progresswas of course
lack of education, and it continued to be a major problem through-
out thenineteenth century. Amongthe settlers in southern Hungary,
the wealthiest employed private tutors. This could sometimes bring
girls up to a reasonable level of attainment, asmay be seen from
some linesin theoldest known eighteenth-century songbook belong-
ing to Avram MiletiC, which suggest that the girls of Novi Sad were
renowned for their education. For those who could not afford pri-
vate tuition, however, there were few opportunities. So, for example,
in 1757 the elementary schoolin Novi Sad had a student body of 90
boys and not a single girl. At schools in some of the other towns
there were occasional girlsbut their numbers increased very slowly: it
was not until the 1870s that more than a rare individual woman suc-
ceeded in acquiring a basic education. In fact, the first woman to
90
enter publiclifein the eighteenth century was self-taught. Savka
SubotiC describesher earliest education:

As I was a very naughty child, my mother sentme to a ler [elementary school:


from the German lernen]before I was four years old, just to get me out of the
house. Elementary schools were open to both boys and girls, but they were not
compulsory ... The children tormented themselves for a couple of years with
musical scales and school until it turned them against music forever; it was
only thereally talented who could find an escape from such inauspicious begin-
nings.3

The name of one such exceptionally talented woman is known to


history: Marta Neskova, who managed to enter the Novi Sad gymna-
sium in the 1750s because of her intellectual ability. Shewas the only
Serbian woman in the eighteenth century known to have been able
to speak Latin. One may deduce from the titles of books found in
the inventory of several womens possessions after their death that
they were able toread, if not to write. At the turn of the nineteenth
century one or two womens names are found among lists of sub-
scribers to books. When F6nClons T&?maque was published in 1814
five women subscribers were listed, one of whom was Evstahija, wife
of the mayor of the town of Arad, Sava h i d . She was also one of the
four women subscribers to the first Serbian newspaper, which began
to appear in 1817. In 1829 the novel Silvan and M i h a by the popular
writer Milovan VidakoviC had eight women subscribers. Some women
contributed financially to the founding of the Serbian cultural soci-
ety Matica srpska.One woman stands out in this meager landscapeas
particularly interesting: MarijaPopoviC Punktatorka who becamethe
wife of the flamboyant Romantic poet Sima Milutinovid Sarajlija and
carried on a lively correspondence with Vuk KaradZid among others,
even before her marriage. Widowed early, in 1847, she worked as a
school teacher,both as an outlet for her extraordinary energyand in
order that her son should want for nothing, and then as a talented
lawyer who behaved withgreat generosity towardsher moreimpover-
ished ~1ient.s.~
One of the first manifestationsof the new-found leisure among the
Serbiancommunity in southern Hungary was the emergence of
91
popular songbooks. Such collections of songs and poems from the
mostvariedsources are foundwherevercircumstancespermit: for
instance, among towndwellers inthe Bay of Kotor from the sixteenth
century onwards. Very little is known about the origin of these collec-
tions: by their nature they are devoid of allinformation, as they simply
record songsand poems known to the contributors. But it is likely that
the sources of at least some items were women.The first tangible evi-
dence is noted by Tihomir OstojiC who tried to make a systematicand
exhaustive collection: We wanted to have every song that was still
alive in our society ... How we struggled to note down every text! We
visited our older schoolfriends, and gatherings of our relatives, vil-
lage girls at harvest time, and we even drove our aunts and mothers
to sing ancient songs in their tired and trembling voices, although
they, poor things, had long since lostthe habit of such idlenessand
resisted our entreaties for as long as they could...5
The subject matter at least of the earlier songbooks is similar to
that of the womens songs in the oral tradition: mostly love poems,
sometimes very explicit. But they also include some satirical songs.
This similarityis quite natural as the towndwellers in the first half of
the eighteenth century were still very close to their village origins. In
addition, the process of evolution of some songs in the oral tradition is
unclear: it is probable that some songs which becamepart of the tradi-
tion originated from written sourcesand were then absorbed into the
oral repertoire. It was only gradually, with the admixture of the new
written poetry-often stimulated by foreign models-that the subject
matter of the songbooks began to diverge from the oral tradition.
To date the oldest known songbook of Serbian urban poetry is that
of Avram MiletiC, which was compiled around 1780, but it is clear
that there is a great deal more work to be done in this area, which
has been neglected until recently. It is at least likely that earlier ex-
amples will be discovered.
While these popular songbooks were being compiled, written lit-
erature based on quite newmodelswasalso beginning to appear
among the Serbian settlers in southern Hungary. Somewhat belat-
edly, a number of poets absorbed the works of European Baroque
writers and began in the course of the eighteenth century to expand
the potential of the Serbian church language for secular purposes.
Towards the end of the century, writers began increasingly to reflect
the new trends of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. It was into
thissocial and intellectualcontext that the firstknownSerbian
woman writer sincethe Middle Ages wasborn.

Evstahija Arsit
Evstahija ot ArsiC was born in 1776 to the CinCiC family in Irig, south-
ern Hungary, and died in 1843. She had an unhappy personal life,
being married and widowed three times. In her mature years she was
an important patron of the literary effortsof her contemporaries and
was probably better known in her lifetime for this activity than for
her own writings. She was highly regarded by one of the most impor-
tant culturalfigures at the time,Joakim VujiC (1772-1847), who
called her ma seule protectrice. Even on the basis of the little she
wrote it can be seen that as a writer she is certainly not inferior to
many of her male contemporaries who wrote in a similar vein and
who are better known than she is.
h i d s works, published somewhat anachronistically in 1814, 1816,
and 1829, are entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Enlighten-
ment, being essentially moral teachings, short pieces of advice, and
philosophical reflections. She refers frequently theto example of the
great Serbian follower of the Enlightenment Dositej ObradoviC, who
clearly served as her model of a committed instructor of his people.
All her activity as a mature woman was motivated by a desire to be
useful and to educate, whetherby offering practical advicein a range
of areas or philosophical reflections, which she considered of equal
importance. Her writings are thoughtful, eloquent, serious, and di-
rect. They suggest an impressive mind and deep commitment at a
time when it was quite unknown for a Serbian woman to be involved
in any kind of literary activity. A twentiethcentury critic, Milan Bog-
danovid, sees in her work a tone which differs from that of her male
contemporaries and betrays a specifically feminine quality: Never-
theless, more than in many other writers of the time, a tender and
93
vivid word breaks through here and there, revealing the female na-
ture of the writer. Something of that female coquettishness hinting
at a certain preciousness of style, and something of the warmth of a
feminine nature mean that here and there in her workwe come
upon a lively metaphor and a fresh description.6It is interesting, in
view of the constraints of the nineteenth century, that the intellec-
tual climate of the Habsburg lands in the eighteenth century en-
couraged a sense of belonging to a broad European culture: Arsid
has also been described as more cosmopolitan than Serbian.
Sovet Muternii (A Mothers Advice, Budim, 1914), is a delicate little
paperback booklet, beautifullyproduced on good qualitypaper, con-
sisting ofpiecesofprose and verse, praising God, nature, and a
commitment to ones people, and encouraging the development of
the capacity of reason. The work is dedicated in hlsome terms to a
certain UroS StefanNestorovid,royalcounselor and inspector of
schools, praising hiswork in education and stressing the teaching of
girls as well as boys. The tone is immediate: warm, enthusiastic, full
of a love of books and learning, and delight in the natural world.
One poem urges her readers to celebrate the delights of nature as a
source of joy:

What is theuse, oh brother dear,


of being melancholy,
Is it not better with your brother
to share in joy?

Hear the nightingale singing,


Calling to the herders
To lead their flocks outside
Into thegreen fields.

While the flowers andthe grass


are sprinkledstill with dew,
And before they bow their heads
humbly to their creator.

94
The gentle breeze, thegentle breeze
refreshes the meadows,
and disperses, and disperses
the scentof violets.

The meadowlands, the meadowlands


adorn themselveswith flowers
and so attract, and so attract
every eye towardsthem.

Polernaya Razntislyenye o chetirihGodishnihVremeneh (UsefulReflec-


tions on the Four Seasons) is a more substantial and ambitious vol-
ume,8 consistingof some 160 pages of verse and prose pieces of vary-
ing lengths, including somequite substantial, intricate, and thought-
ful passages. It is characteristic ofArsiCs intention that she should
include the word usefulin her title: usefulness to her fellow human
beings is the point of departure of all her reflections. The preface
warns of the dangers of being taken in by the superficial and illusory,
using the metaphor of the theater to suggest the appealing but de-
ceitful material world and its often negative influence. Readers are
encouraged to observe the world with care and to rely on their own
reason and powers ofjudgment to see clearly beyondthe facade. The
preface is followed by a hymn to the glory of God as surpassing all
earthly glory, thus subjecting this work, which extolshuman reason,
to the ultimate authority of God. The substance of the work consists
of two longer sections and numerous short essays. The first of the
longer sections concerns the four agesof man-childhood, youth,
maturity, and oldage-anddescribes the behavior appropriate to
eachstage. There is atimeinevery human life for lighthearted
amusement, a time for sobriety, and a time for reflection and for
sharing with others the wisdom accumulated through a usefid, well-
lived life. The other long section is similar, consisting of a poem on
each of the four seasons, followed by allegorical prose reflections,
again on the four phases of human life. Some of these passages rep-
resent quite lengthy and intricate philosophical thought, persuasively
95
expressed for all the awkwardness of the language. Like all writers of
her time, ArsiC had to contend with a literary language as yet quite
unformed: a hybrid mixture of archaic Serbian and Russian church
Slavonic, contemporary Russian, and the vernacular, which at this
stage had no rules, no standard grammar or dictionary. The shorter
pieces deal with a widerange of topics: the usefulness of philosophy
to mankind; the various activities open to a man in society; love of
God as what distinguishes man from animals;the value of work and
effort; the importance of cultivating positive sentiments, of being
satisfied with little, and not being a slave to emotions; man as first
and foremost a biological being; the cultivation of qualities of wis-
dom through learning, thereby approaching the achievements of the
great European countries; the beneficial effects of nature; the need
to cultivate good blood-an intriguing mixture of scientific language
with philosophy and ethics; preparation for death without fear; the
secret connections between all aspects of the complex human indi-
vidual; mans place between the earth and sky and the Theater of
Life; and education as the way in which individuals may help each
other towards a more enlightened future, in keeping with Gods will.
The work ends with several meditative poems in the form of prayers
or hymns in which the writer approaches the idea of death and di-
rect communication with God in the silence of the night, and a final
prayer of farewell.
The work suggests a remarkable personality, wise, thoughtful, well-
read, with a great appetite for knowledge and a compelling desire to
share that love with her fellow human beings. The subject matter is
inevitably conventional in terms of the Enlightenment ideas it pro-
motes, and therefore somewhat outmoded for the date of its appear-
ance, but from the point of view of the authors own context it is a
powerful and persuasive document which offers its readers a great
variety of topics for their consideration. It is impressive also in the
range of styles and genres the author displays: she is equally assured
in a simple poem praising nature, a mystical hymn in praise of God,
and a complex reflection on human biology and ethics. The antho-
logy of Serbian women poets published in 1972 includes two poems
by h i d and anepitaph:
Hope and happiness, now take your leave of me;
You have toyed with melong enough,
From nowon you should visit others;
Peace to the soul, of all gifts is indeed the greatest9

Julijana RadivojeviC
Arsids Morulnu pouZeniju (Moral Teachings) was published in 1829.
In the same year,an almanac entitled TuZiju appeared, edited by Juli-
jana Radivojevid, who was thus the second Serbian woman writer of
the nineteenth century. Born in 1798 in Vrgac, near the Romanian
border, nothing is known of her after 1829 apart from a sonnet by
the Czech poet Jan KollArwhich refers to a visit to Julka Radivo-
jevicka in 1832.1 The poem refers to her as another woman poet,
knocking at the temple of art, although according to the poet she
described herself as merely a seamstress. She must have had some
renown as KollAr learned of her existence from a friend and felt it
worth recording his meeting in a sonnet. A letter of hers to KollAr
has been preserved, which includes a mini-autobiography:

I, Julija RadivojeviC, nee Vijatovit, saw the light of day on 2 January 1799 in
VrSac, in the Banat. My father, Jovan VijatoviC, was advisor to the magistrates
court there and director of Serbian schools for twentyyears;my mother was
called Sara Niko. When I was eleven, having lostmy dear parents, I went to Vi-
enna, to my mothers brother, Aleksandar Niko, where I spent seven years, and
almost forgot my mother tongue. On my way back to my homeland, via Pest, in
1821, I chanced to meet Maks RadivojeviC, a townsman and a master tailor, and
that same yearI married him. Here I came to know Serbian booksand writers, and
I read particularly with inexpressible joythe works of ObradoviCand I began, from
a distance, to imitate that favorite writer of mine.In 1829 I published Tulqa, a little
Serbian almanac;then I wrote an essay on education, particularlyof girls; then ad-
vice to young Serbian girls according to Ebersberg with many additions of my own.
I have alsoin manuscript 14 pages ofvarious original poems.ll

Kregimir Georgijevit details all the facts known about Julija Radivo-
jevid, and the Czech poet Safarik presents much the same informa-
tion as Kollgr. He mentions a note about her published by Danilo k
97
iivaljeviC in 1901 which describes the content of TuZiju and suggests
that itwould be no exaggeration to say that thereis more poetry in
her poems than is to be found in the work of the later Milica Stojad-
inoviC.12 Atthe time of writing his article, GeorgijeviChad been un-
able to find any trace of the almanac in any library in Yugoslavia,
although eventually he managed to acquire a microfilm from Pest.
He describes the content as one introductory article and several po-
ems, one of which is dedicated to the memory of Dositej Obradovit:

In Memory of Dositej ObradoviC

Wheresoever I turn my ear


There I hear the Muses sing,
In one voice a sweet harmony
Praise to the deathless Dositej.
Receive me too into your company,
To sing of the greatness of that name,
Teach me that glorious skill
And say all that is full of praise.
Dositej, yourhonored bones,
You fill my heart with sweetemotion.
The cold earth has long covered you
But your glorious works live on
To enlighten all our hearts
And souls, great Dositej!
You took the covering fromour eyes,
And let us kook upon the sun,
You revealed the beauty of truth,
And showed it tothe whole world,
You journeyed through all of Europe.
And gathered all the loveliest flowers
With which to adorn the Serbs,
To their pride to the end of time ...
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Your memory willremain eternally
And time will not uproot it from our peq11e.l~
The intervening 13 lines of the poem are in the same vein, praising
ObradoviC as a source of inspiration and pride for the Serbs and ex-
pressing the poets eternal gratitude in the name of all her people.
Stevan Radovanovid states that, unlike Evstahija ot h i d , RadivojeviC
shows no interest in the natural sciences and suggests that thewhole
circle in which she moved was far more limited than thatof her rich,
educated, and renowned contemporary. RadivojeviCs almanac con-
sists largely of verse, with only three prose texts: New Year 1829, a
greeting to the new year which isinteresting because of the autobio-
graphical information it gives about the young widowwith two
small children having to work to support her family; Childhood
Tenderness, a highly sentimental piece about the love of children;
and Night, a prose poem, described by Radovanovid as influenced
by the German poet and painter SalomonGessner,whoseidylls
were very popular at the time all over Europe and who also influ-
enced Arsit. RadovanoviC describes Radivojevid as surprisingly pa-
triarchal and conservative in her ideas, asexpressed in a poem enti-
tled On WomensDuties. He suggests that the most important
pages of the almanac are the last, which contain the three best po-
ems. These are love poems, personal and immediate, and the earli-
est poems of this kind in modern Serbian literature, appearing 18
years before the firstlyricverse of the Romantic poet Branko
RadiCevid.

Mina KaradZie-Ana Obrenovit


ArsiC and RadivojeviC were born into the Serbian community in the
Habsburg lands, where they spent their lives. Followingthe uprisings
against the oppressive rule of local janissariesin Serbia, in 1804 and
1815, the foundations of an independent state were laid and condi-
tions established in which education and culture could begin to de-
velop. Two women should be mentioned here, not as original writ-
ers, but because of the prominent role they playedin thecultural life
of the emerging independent country. The first of these,Mina
KaradZiC(1818-94)
was the daughter of the remarkable Vuk
99
KaradZiC, whose name has already been mentioned as the man who
standardized the vernacular languageand made extensive collections
of traditional oral literature. Minas first lovewas painting and she is
known to have written only one warm and sincere articleabout the
poet Branko RadiiSevi6,l4 who was a close friend of her family. Her
importance lies in the fact that she became the focal point of the
literary life of her young fellow countrymenin her fathers house in
Vienna, attracting people with her charm and helping foster their
commitment to culture. Her autograph book was filled with elegant
and flattering tributes in many languages. Bogdanovit describesher
as quick, intelligent, lively, educated and charming, if not
pretty.15 She was of great assistance to her fatherin his work, par-
ticularly in his wide-ranging correspondence. Perhaps because of
her devoted support of her father, her own personal happiness was
neglected: she did not marry until 1858, and her husband, Aleksa
VukomanoviC, who was professor of literary theory and the history
of the Serbian people at the Belgrade Lyceum, died the following
year of tuberculosis. After that she devoted herself entirely to her
only son, who went to StPetersburg to study and died there in 1878
of the same disease. Mina was left to live out the remainder of her
life alone.
The other figure who should be mentioned here also suffered a
tragic fate. This was Ana, or Anka, ObrenoviC (1821-68),the niece of
the first Serbian ruler in the nineteenth century, Milo3 Obrenovie.
Shehas been described asvery beautiful, very intelligent, well
educated, undoubtedly better so than Miloss daughters who still
wore traditional [Turkish-style] dress.l6 A painting of her exists
which depicts her wearing the latest European fashion, with a wide
skirt and d6colletr5, seated at a piano. Her father, Jevrem-Miloss
brother-was one of the first in Belgrade to introduce European
manners into his home. He had a library of foreign works, sub-
scribed to various European newspapers, and was determined to
give his five daughters and only son a good education. He em-
ployed a music teacher and one of the best-educated Serbian men
of the timeas tutor. Under his tutelage Ana acquired a sound
knowledge of European culture and a great loveof literature. In
100
1834, when she was just 13, she published a number of moral tales,
translated from German,and continued to publish similar writings in
variouspublications,including the Croatianculturalmagazine
Dunicu, edited by Ljudevit Gaj in Zagreb under the pseudonym An
Illyrian woman from Serbia.In 1836 she published a volume of her
translations which was the first book compiled by a woman and one
of the first publishedworks of any kind toappear in Serbia.As far as
is known that concluded her literary work, but she continued to
inspire admiration among poets, who dedicated poems and whole
volumes to her, comparing her-predictably and with little justifica-
tion-to Sappho,l or to Aspasia, who nourished Socrates and Alci-
biades.18 A French traveler, Ami BouC, described his meeting with
Ana at her fathers house: The third daughter, Anka or Ana by
name, is not yet married and combines with her very agreeable
appearance the qualities ofwit, education and pleasing talent.19
Her most poignant literary conquest was the Croatian poet Antun
MihanoviC, author of the patriotic poem which became the Croa-
tian national anthem. Posted to Belgrade as Austrian consul, Mi-
hanovid was a frequent guest in Anas fathers house, where he evi-
dently formed a deep attachment to hishosts charming young
daughter, despite the considerable difference in their ages: he was
a mature man and she a girl of 16. MihanoviC asked her father for
permission to propose. Jevrem had no objection, but the permis-
sion of Milos, the ruler, had to be sought for his niece to marry a
Catholic. Milo3 refused and requested that MihanoviC be recalled.
He left Serbiain 1839, but was evidently stillthinking of his love for
Ana some time later when he wrote a poem entitled The Stone
Maiden. Ana herself ceased to occupy herself with literature; in
1842 she married a certain AleksandarKonstantinoviCwho soon
died, leaving her to live, with her daughter, at the court of her
cousin, MiloSs son Prince Mihailo. In May 1868 she happened to
be riding with Mihailo in his carriage through the grounds of his
country residence when he was assassinated. She too died and the
papers marked her passing with the brief announcement: With his
Royal Highness,hiscousin, MrsAnkaKonstantinoviC,wasalso
killed.*O
101
Milica Stojadinovid
The 1860s brought about significantchanges in the provision of
education for girls in Serbia: by 1870, of the 318 elementary schools
80 were for girls. The first Girls High School (Visadarojudtu Skola)
was founded in 1863, with the aim of giving wealthier girls a modest
education and training the poorer ones as teachers. At one point the
school was supposed to be run by Mina KaradZiC, but the work was
taken over by Katarina Milovuk. She was a woman of relatively good
education for the time and espoused progressive ideas,founding the
Belgrade Womens Society, which gained a sound reputation for its
humanitarian actions and social work.
The first Serbian woman to achieve a substantial reputation and
recognition as a creative writer wasMilicaStojadinovid (1830-78),
usually known as Milica Stojadinovid-Srpkinja-the Serbian Woman.
She is an intriguing, tantalizing, and, ultimately, tragic figure. From
the point of view ofthe present study, she embodies with remarkable
clarity the transition from womens participation in the traditional
oral literature to their integration in the world of their educated,
learned male counterparts. In this context, Stojadinovidslife and
work illustrate the conjunction of historical, political, and cultural
circumstances that dictated the direction taken by the dominant-
Serbian-culture in the region in the course of the nineteenth cen-
tury.
Stojadinovid was referred to by contemporary Romantic poets as
the Nymph of Vrdnik, the Serbian Singer,and the Serbian poet
and writer. She was one of the most prominent figures in Serbian
cultural life, and a personal friend of Vuk KaradZiC, who called her
my daughter from FruSka Gora. The renowned poet Petar Petrovid-
NjegoS, prince-bishop of Montenegro, is saidtohave remarked:
Were I not a monk, she would be princess of Montenegro.*l She
was seen as a great beauty and the pride and adornment of the
whole of Serbian poetry.22 In the course of a visit to Viennashe was
received by the Serbian prince Mihailo, then in exile, who had cour-
teously left a volume of her poems on top of a pile of books in his
room. She was warmly welcomed by the established Serbian writers
102
whenever she visited Belgrade;the poet Ljubomir NenadoviC wrotea
poem to her; and the eminent Croatian poet Ivan MaZuraniC called
on her. Indeed, her reputation was such that she was even visited by
two English women writers who traveled to Vrdnik to meet her. Re-
grettably, she refers to their visit only in a brief postscript to a letter
of 1862, saying merely: Today I had a visit from two English women,
both writers.23The Austrian writer Ludwig August Franklmet her at
the home of VukKaradZiC in 1851 and, after her death, wrote this
account of the impression she madeon him:

Her appearance was striking: of medium height, with a pale face, likethat of the
Mother of God, with a brow framed in dark hair. Her large black eyes looked
with a calm which seemed not to come from this world,and her almost melan-
choly expressionwas at times softened by a smile on her finely formed lips. Her
features would become enlivened only when she spoke about her native land,
about the beauty of FmSka Cora and when she described the surrounding
woods and green hills. Her eyes would shine more brilliantly whenshe heard of
the hopes and aspirations which were blazing inthe hearts of those who longed
for a brighter future. And when she put her own feelings into words, when she
spoke of the glorious pastof her people and the tragic end of its empire on the
Field of Kosovo, her voice would takeon a kind of solemn, elegiactone ...24

Despite such widespread admiration and recognition, however, Milica


Stojadinovid was virtually forgotten almost immediately after her death.
As the introduction to her Spomenica (Memorial), published by the
Committee of Belgrade Girls in 1907, puts it: All that beauty, that
whole exalted soul, that great voice, it all dispersed like smoke, as
though there had never been anything there. A few yellowing books
and one pale memoir.25One commentator, the distinguished scholar
Anica Savid-Rebac, explained this phenomenon in an essay, published
in 1926: her literary friends at first saw her work through the brilliant
veil of her personality; later, when their first spring illusions vanished,
she herselfvanished from their lives as well.26
Milica Stojadinovidwas born in either 1828 or 1830 in the village of
Bukovac in the Srem district of what is now Vojvodina, the gifted
child of the village priest, who was later posted to Vrdnik. She had
three brothers and two sisters, but tended always to be alone. She
liked to wander through the fields and woods, imagining herselfas a
103
character in one of the stories her father used to tell from Serbian
history. Both her parents were remarkable people who instilled in
their daughter an unshakable morality, a profound commitment to
the history and culture of the Serbian people,and a deep respect for
the teachings of the Orthodox Church. While they expected their
daughter to participate in the daily tasks of the household and p r o p
erty, they were also content for her to read, learn languages, and
spend long hours in her room over her writing. Her mother also
read to her children and Milica had soon learned all the traditional
songs about the Battle of Kosovo by heart. Milica was always the most
attentive of the six children and her father determined that she
should receive the best possible education available for girls at the
time. Her first teacher praised her exceptional promiseand was only
sorry that she was not a boy so that she could continue to study. At
the age of 12 her father took her to board at the Oberschule in
Petrovaradin, where she was given a hard time by the teachers who
recognized her gifts but regretted that she was from an Orthodox
(Serb) family rather than a Catholic, Hungarian, or Austrian one.
She succeeded in winning them over by learning quickly. Later, she
was assigned to a governess, a Hungarian noblewoman with whom
she perfected her German and learned to play the guitar. She ap-
pears also to havelearned the Slovak language at this time. However,
she did not much care for thisfashionableforeign education,
which she described as the poison of Western civilization,although
she certainly usedher knowledge of German to excellent advantage.
She was an avid reader of everything written in Serbian, but also of
German literature. Later, she learned French and Italian. She loved
literature with a passion rare in anyone of her generation in her
homeland, and quite unknown in a woman. This hasbeen described
as her greatest tragedy: Out of love of poetry, she lost out on her
whole life, sacrificing it to books and a literary dream of a higher
life.27 She wroteher first poem at the age of 12 and her first pub-
lished poem appeared in 1845 in a Serbian paper in Pest. These first
poems record the pain of being subjected to Hungarian insistence
that Serbian children learn Hungarian instead of their own lan-
guage. The year 1848, a dramatic one for all the peoples of the
104
Habsburg lands, made a deep impression on her, turning her into a
passionate patriot, who greeted the revolution as a sign of the libera-
tion of the Serbian people. She leda march of young people to Vuk-
ovar and a second one later in which she sang her own songs, which
became very popular and were published in 1849 as a small booklet.
When things began to go badly for the Serbs, she vowed that she
would go to the Serbian camp with a guitar and with song enflame
the courage and anger of the Serbian warriors.28She was evidently
thinking of the model of Joan ofArc,whom she particularly ad-
mired.
StojadinoviC published three collections of poems: in 1850, 1855,
and 1869. Sadly, for all her passionate love of literature she lacked a
real talent for poetry: she had a poor sense of rhythmso that some of
her lines are clumsy and spoil what are otherwise often attractive, if
slight, pieces. Additionally,in keeping with contemporary notions of
female propriety, although her verse springs from an emotional re-
sponse to the world, it is not personal. Her poems tend to be similar:
generalized, didactic, composed for particular occasions. Her main
themes are thebeauty of the countryside whereshe grew up, andher
love of the Serbian people and glorification of their past. In this she
was of course followingthe tastes ofthe times, in terms both of litera-
ture and attitudes to contemporary events. However, in her case it
was no mere literary fashion: the patriotic impulse expressed in her
verse was evidently deeply felt. When Belgrade came under fire in
1862, her impulse was to rushto be part of the action for its defense:
I could not resist the call of my heart to see the Serbian soldiers, and I cannot
put into words the way I felt when I saw them. On each barricade there were
about 50 of them, in each of them I saw a hero from thetime of Djordje
[Petrovit, known as Karadjordje] and Milo3 [ObrenoviC], and the eyes of each
of them expressed excitement and their desire as soon as possible to get to grips
with the Kosovo devil. I spent the wholeday in Belgrade, going round the barri-
cades and watching those warriors. When I left in the evening,I wept that I had
to 1eave.m

It is the strength of personality and the courage reflected in these


lines that give Milica StojadinoviC a special place in the history of
Serbian culture. And, while little of this may come across in her po-
105
ems and tantalizingly little is known of her life as a whole, she left a
unique, detailed account of one year, 1854, in the form of a diary.
This account, incorporating some of her frank, vivid letters, repre-
sents an act of considerable courage by a woman who, for all her
personal humility, sensed that it would be a document of unique
value. The personality that emerges from her work suggests that she
was in many ways ahead of her time and destined to profound lone-
liness. The form her work took and her ultimate destiny were both
shaped by the fact that she was a woman. While she was in contact
with writers, notably poets,both Austrian and Serbian, and while her
verse enjoyed considerable stuzcess when it was first published, she
lacked the real support of an understanding milieu which would
have helped her to make the most of her undoubted gifts. Her par-
ents could have done no more bywayof encouraging her on her
chosen path: they could not have been expected to see beyond the
conventional expectationsof a woman of her time and background.
It was understood that Milica would play her part in performing all
the household chores, and, when her mother died in 1855, the task
of running the house fell to her. She carried out this task humbly
and conscientiously until the death of her beloved father in 1864.
She published her last volume of poetry five years later and, as far as
is known, wrotenothing more, apart from some letters.
There is little information about the last years of her life. At some
stage, she moved toBelgrade. One canonlyspeculate as to her
frame of mind, her hopes and expectations when she made this deci-
sion, and the circumstances in which she left the FruSka Gora coun-
tryside whichhad been such a source of inspiration and joy to her in
her early life. She must have felt an initial sense of relief at her re-
lease from the ties of running the house and smallholding and have
hoped, at last, to begin to live the life of an intellectual in congenial
company. However, she had already seen through the shallow social
pretensions of the emerging middle class among her countrymen, as
is clear from her letters and diary, and she ought perhaps to have
had few illusions.
The political situation in Serbia in the second half of the nine-
teenth century was chaotic and violent. Mihailo ObrenoviC, whohad
106
befriended Milica whenhe was in exile in Vienna, was assassinated in
1868. The whole atmosphere was very far indeed from the vision of
freedom fromoppression which hadcolored Milicas adolescent
ideals. Whatever the quality of her Belgrade life initially, it is clear
that it ended in misery and degradation. Shewas destitute and seems
to have lost her mind, possibly as a result of alcohol addiction as she
sought to alreviate her misery. The postscript to the 1985 edition of
the diarycontainsdistressingaccounts by former friends. Vuk
KaradZifs daughter, Mina, with whom Milica had enjoyed a warm
friendship, describes their lastmeeting.Milica had alreadycom-
plained in a letter to Mina that her intellectual life had ceased,
ceased in every aspect, and I am dead. In Belgrade, Mina sought to
renew their acquaintance. Milica appeared in strange clothes, look-
ing thin and pale. She appeared not to recognize Minaand hardly to
know what she was doing; she simply stretched out her hand saying:
Giveme something, anything ... The poet Ljubomir Nenadovit
also describes his last encounter with her. NenadoviC, a man whom
she particularly admired and to whom shesent all her poems before
publication for his approval, had dedicated a poem to Milica. In-
deed, it has been suggested that her feelings for him amounted to
more than she would admit even to herself.30It is not known why or
when they ceased to maintain regular contact, but Nenadovit wrote
after her death:

I shall never forget an encounter in Belgrade, not far from the National Thea-
ter. It was somewhere there that I saw her and stepped round her. I had the im-
pression that she had not noticed me. Then she began to call me: Sir, Sir!and
I had no choice, I turned round: she hurried towards me, her white hair flowing
loose. I have to say that I was pretty embarrassed when she said in a low voice:
Give me four groschen for brandy. I put my hand in my pocket at once and
pulled out a dinar. I handed it to her and she took it, looking gratefully at me.
Poor creature.31

While we know nothing of the circumstances that led Milica Stojadi-


novit to such a pass, it does the cultivated circles of Belgrade no
credit that she should have suffered such neglect, at the end of a
short, hard life which had begun with such exceptional promise. She

107
died in a house belonging toa Greek merchant on 25July 1878. She
had a sixteen-year-old companion, who seems to have been with her
on herlast day, having taken StojadinoviCs jewelry to be sold to keep
them going a little longer. She was buried in the Old Cemetery. In
1905her bones were taken to PoZarevac, where a memorial stone was
placed in 1966. In 1912 a monument was erected to her inVrdnik.
It is for her diary U F d k o j gori 1854 (In FruSka Gora, 1854) that
StojadinoviC will be chiefly remembered. The work is a tantalizing
document as it suggests a potential which was not altogether realized.
It consists of simple accounts of the main eventsof the writers day-a
walk with her sister, overseeing work in the vineyard, or a time of
quiet contemplation by her favorite apricot tree; meticulous records
of songs sung by the village girls as they worked; traditional stories;
translations of poems and stories fromother literatures; and Stojadi-
novies own poems and letters. She is at her most assured when re-
cording traditional songs and tales or writing her own verse, since
there were abundant models for these. She embellished the tradi-
tional songs and tales with accounts of the circumstances in which
they were sung or told, descriptions of the village girls, and the set-
ting in the village or fields. She may well have added also something
of her own style to the traditional tales, in view of her familiarity with
them, the love she had developed for them in her childhood, her
capacity to enter into them, and her evident ability to write vivid,
well-constructed prose. She would have seen a clear purpose in re-
cording these works of her people. The most obvious evidence of
her potential as a prose writer, however, lies in her letters. Here
again she is assured: she has a specific task, to communicate toa val-
ued individual in a lively and compelling way something of the real
quality of her life. This she does with admirable fluency, wit, and
occasional brilliance.
For all the fascination of the diary as a record, it is perhaps fair to
say that the character of the writer which emerges from this text is
even more engaging than the textitself.MilicaStojadinovidwas
uniquely placed to articulate the concerns and values of the village
women who created the traditional oral literature of the South Slavs.
She grew up with a profound respect for all that was best in the pa-
108
triarchal way of life, at that time entering a period of fundamental
change. Her commitment to the Orthodox religion also rooted her
firmly in tradition, while at the same time it separated her somewhat
from her urban contemporaries for whom the church was ceasing to
be a significant force. Shewas thus typical of the central paradox of
Serbian culture at this time: on the threshold of emerging into inde-
pendent statehood, in an atmosphere colored by the revolutionary
aspirations of the minority peoples in the Habsburg lands, there was
a tension between buildingon the achievements of the urban culture
established in southern Hungary in the course of the eighteenth
century and the heritage of traditional culture in Serbia itself. When
the vernacularlanguage was standardized in the mid-nineteenth
century, it was based entirely on the language and culture of the vil-
lages, as embodied in the oral tradition. This paradox is central to
the development of Serbian culture in the nineteenth century. It was
made possiblebecauseof an exceptional conjunction of circum-
stances: the wholelate-eighteenth-century European discoveryof
the people under the influence of Herder prompted an intense
interest in a peoplestraditional culture as embodyingits true
spirit. This, combined with the general political pressure towards
autonomy for the constituent peoples of the great Empires, meant
that the uprisings in Serbia, led by village elders, were uniquely in
tune with the ideals of young intellectualsthroughout Europe. As we
have seen, MilicaStojadinoviC, in her smallvillagecommunity,
shared wholeheartedly in these ideals. At the same time, she was
shocked by the social pretensions and preoccupation with material
goods that she saw as characterizing her towndwelling countrymen.
The fact was that urban life was just beginning to be established in
Serbia in her lifetime. Town-dwellers were, on the whole, recent arri-
vals from the villages who sought to distance themselves as rapidly as
possible from their origins by acquiring the trappings of civilization
but little of its substance.StojadinoviC sawthrough this veneer all too
clearly: in hereyes it could not offer a real alternative tothe strength
and meaning of the village culture.
One aspect of StojadinoviCs diary which is ofparticular interest in
the context of the present study is what emerges of her view of
109
women, womens education, and their participation in cultural life.
On several occasions in the diary she expresses her sense of pride
and pleasure when she sees a woman rising above the mundane
sphere of domestic tasks to which she is usually confined. Thus, for
instance, she comments on her delight at the accomplishment of
Mina KaradZiC,as she watched the young painter at work on her
portrait: I felt strange around the heart, as I looked at the fine
work of this talented girl, who belongs to my people. This last re-
mark is typical, since, for StojadinoviC, any achievement by a fellow
countryman brought credit to the whole Serbian people. The im-
pact is still greater if the talent belongs to a woman. Her first com-
ment comes in her lengthy letter to Ljubomir Nenadovid,Letter to
a Poet.52She mentions a book by a German womanwriter,
Duringsfeldt, whichMinaKaradZid had given her to read: As I
read her composition, I was struck by her spirit and the ideas that
came from a womans mind. While she evidently valued her own
education in so far as she had acquired a sound knowledge of Ger-
man and an appreciation of the value of foreign languages, she was
quite clear in her belief that a childs, and particularly a womans,
first task should be to acquire a thorough knowledge of her own
tongue and its heritage. The diary entry for 3June includes a poem,
Conversation of Educated Serbian Women, in which she ridicules
the pretensions ofgirlswho cannot complete a sentence in their
native tongue and whose conversation revolves around social occa-
sions, dressmakers, and clothes. She was horrified by the amount of
attention devoted to fashion and the way in which it interfered with
serious matters. In the entry for 25 July, in a Letter to my teacher,
Mr D. M.,, she describes a scene in a NoviSad church, where the
women enter dressed up in the latestfashion and talkloudly
throughout the service. Dear God, evenif it should occur to one of
them to cross herself, fashion prevents her, for, unable to put three
fingers together in her overtight glove, she crosses herself with her
whole hand, as though she were mocking the cross in that Scottish
leather She is generallycriticalof the fact that education a p
pears to turn people away from religion. Since StojadinoviC equates
the Orthodox religion with patriotism, its neglect is doubly heinous.
110
Interestingly, she employs a term associated with religion since Marx
to characterize the effect of education:

This contemporary education is very destructive for us, because, like opium, it
dulls the patriotic sentiments. I look around me, here in N. S., and such a for-
eign spirit blows, that you have to wonder whether you are among Serbs. m e r -
ever you move, there is something foreign: you hear Serbian women speaking a
foreign language, or Serbian with half forelgn words: you hear children speak-
ing a foreign tongue! I ask a Serbian woman why? And she replies that Serbian
can be picked up in the street!
And street language is what it will be, if it is not you, Serbian mother, who
teaches the child our language from your own lips, as something sacred, if you
do not thus lay the foundation of his national consciousness, without which a
man is a crazy hotchpotch, even if his head is full of the wisdom of Socrates. A
man with no national consciousness is like a leaf torn from its tree by the wind,
blown hither and thither ...
Every true patriot sees our need to raise ourselves into the world of the edu-
cated, but to c10 so by trampling our national customs underfoot is a betrayal of
our peop1eP4

This is not to say that Stojadinovit was opposed to the idea of educat-
ing girls-she was well aware that the question had become urgent. In
her diary entry for 25 July she writes: One can say of a man that he
learns while he is young,but of a girl one can say that she learns only
as long as she is a For as soon as she stepsover the threshold
of childhood, her mother awaits her with various kitchen utensils to
teach her domestic skills. Onanother occasion, in a letter to a
woman friend, in the entry for 19 September she discusses the mat-
ter ofgirls education at greater length, in connection with her
thoughts about her little niece:

I often think that it is high time that serious attention were paid to the educa-
tion of female children, and I have decided-if domestic circumstances permit-
to communicate my ideas about this extremelyimportant subject in my letters to
you, whounderstand these things,and to place allmy letters in my diary which I
am keeping this year as a memorial to my FruSka Cora, and should this diary
ever be published those letters might be of use, for we are on the threshold of
the future.36

111
It is typical of StojadinoviCs outlook that she should think of her
letters as being useful. The emphasis in her reflections about girls
education is all on the contribution an educated girl can make to her
own children, to her whole family, and to her people. This is the
overriding consideration. At the same time, she is acutely aware of
the personal fi-ustration experienced by any individual living among
people who cannot understand his or her aspirations. She expressed
the difficulty of her own situation on several occasions. But, in addi-
tion to understanding the way a girls potential was usually curbed by
her domestic obligations, she realized also that it was often as diffi-
cult for a man to have an uneducated wife.
The tension inherent in Stojadinovidsideas, her wholehearted
commitment to tradition, combined with her own energy and the
frustrations of her desire for greater participation in the intellectual
life of her people, give her work a particular poignancy. The central
dilemmaofStojadinoviCs situationhas lent itselfto admirable
treatment in a fictional account of her life by the contemporary nov-
elist Milica MiCid Dimovska. (This work is discussedin the conclusion
of this study.)

Draga Dejanovit
Born some fifteen years after Milica StojadinoviC, but dying earlier-
before she was thirty-one-Draga Dejanovif (1840-71) took many of
her older contemporarys ideas definitively into the public sphere.
The two womens backgroundswereverydifferent:whileStojadi-
novid was the daughter of a village priest of little means,brought up
in an unquestioninglytraditional environment, Dejanovids father
was a wealthy lawyer and she grew up in a small town. This gave her
relatively greater freedom of movement, although the path she chose
for herself was still highly unusual for a young woman of her back-
ground. .
Draga Dejanovid (nee Dimitrijevid) was born in Stara KanjiZa in
southern Hungary. She was sent to school in T e m i h r (TimiSoara,
now in Romania), but returned home at 12 because of problems with
112
her eyes.37 Around 1856 the family moved to Stan BeEej. Shortly af-
terwards her mother died, her elder sister married, and Draga was
left to care for her seven-year-old sister, Mara. She fellin love with a
young teacher and married him in 1861, despite the opposition of
her father and other familymembers. The marriage was a disap
pointment: DejanoviC appears to have been a weak man, under the
strong influence of his mother and inclined to drink. Draga returned
home after only a few weeks. She was then sent to chaperone Mara in
Pest. The time she spent there was of great importance toher, as she
met several young Serb intellectuals, writers, and members of the
United Serbian Youth Movement, including the poet LazaKostiC.
The movement was the first organization to include Serbs from the
Habsburg lands and from Serbia: all the prominent young intellec-
tuals of the day were members and, while they represented a range
of opinions, they wereunited in their ambition for the unification of
the Serbs. It was under their influence, caught up in the heady en-
thusiasm for the cause, that DejanoviC began to write verse. At the
same time, the Serbian National Theater was founded in Novi Sad.
One of the concerns of the Omladina (the United Serbian Youth
Movement) wasto spread their ideas through dramaticart: De-
janovid joyfully acceptedthe challenge and joined the Novi Sad thea-
ter company. This was undoubtedly a daring step for a young woman
of her background at the time, and her family tried hard to dissuade
her, although their failure over her marriage should have prepared
them for the fruitlessness of the endeavor. It appears that Dejanovid
was not a particularlytalentedactress,however, and she left the
company after a year in order to join the embryonic Serbian Na-
tional Theater in Belgrade. Her role there seemstohave been
mainly to help with the translation of plays. However, the troupe was
soon disbanded because ofits constant financial problems. In the
mid-l860s, following the death of her mother-in-law, DejanoviC was
reconciled with her husband and returned toBeEej, whereshe
bought her mother-in-laws house and was able at last to live peace-
fully with her husband. There followed a few years of marital con-
tentment and success in her work, which was all dedicated to the
progress of her people. In addition to running her household, De-
113
janoviC took part in all the important cultural activities of her time.
At one stage, when her husband was ill for a protracted period, she
worked as a teacher. One of her principal concerns was the question
of the education of girls, and she ensured that womens issues had a
place in theYouth Movements agenda. Dejanovids personal life was
tragic: in 1867 she gave birth to a son, Dejan, who lived only a few
days. The birth of her daughter, Desanka, in 1871 cost her her own
life. While her funeral was attended by large numbers, her grave was
soon quite forgotten. Not flowers, but weeds and brambles coverthe
resting placeof the earthly remainsof this noble, exalted woman.38
A collection of Dejanovids poems was published in 1869 in Novi
Sad.39The volume suggests a poet of real promise, endeavoring to
express authentic emotions and ideas within the range of the con-
ventional Romantic imagery of the day. Her main themes are love,
pain, and patriotism, and her tone is more directly personal than
Stojadinovids. She shows considerable facility with verse, sometimes
using interesting free forms. In this she demonstrates familiarity with
the work of the most original Serbian poets of her day. Above all,
what emerges is a youthful energy and defiance in the face of con-
ventional expectations ofladylikebehavior and concerns. Whole-
heartedly committed to the cause of improving the situation of her
compatriots she did not spare herself, but was always ready to work
tirelessly, sometimes misguidedly, on their behalf. One poem, I am
Serbian, expresses both her personal commitment to her people
and herenergy:

For Serbdom my heart burns,


For SerbsI live, and die-
I gladly march againstthe evil-
I am a woman, yetI dare!
. . . . . . . . . . .
My brothers pain has sickened
me
And Serbian mothers bitter tears-
My restless hand stretches forth,
As though asword flashed inits graspa

114
It is generally agreed among the few commentators who have taken
Dejanovids work seriously that her most important contribution lies
in her work to improve the lot of women. She has been called the
first Serbian feministby the literary critic Jovan Skerlidin his brief
assessment of her place in Serbian culture.41 As a woman of abun-
dant energy and intelligence Dejanovid was acutely aware ofthe mis-
ery and waste of most womenslives, seeing its cause in their intellec-
tual backwardnessand material dependence. She saw the solution as
lying in women themselves, in their education and capacity to lead
an independent life.Given her background, her consistentcam-
paigning on behalf of women can only have brought disapproval,
mockery, and opprobrium from her contemporaries. It is in this con-
text, with an awareness of the kind of courage it entailed, that we
should consider Dejanovits valuablecontribution.
Dejanovids viewson the woman question werepresented in three
public lectures-A Word or Two to Serbian Women,The Emancipa-
tion of Serbian Women,and Serbian Mothers-in which she openly
and courageously called on other women to join her. It is striking-
and regrettable-that Dejanovid nowhere mentions Stojadinovid, al-
though they share muchcommon ground: likeStojadinovid,De-
janovid criticizes the fashion for the superficial learning of foreign
manners. She even uses a similar image of Western waysas poison
corrupting the pure Serb spirit. The mostvivid expression of this
point by Dejanovid comes in a suggestion that Serbian women are
ceasing to breastfeed their children and employing immoral for-
eigners as wet-nurses who fill their charges veins with a pernicious
foreign substance instead of the pure, life-giving milk of Serbdom.
The tone of all three lectures sounds understandably naive today: it
is a youthful, idealistic,energetic call, ftdl of patriotic fervorand col-
ored by the beginnings of the embryonic socialist ideology which was
then entering into the thinking and writing of members of the Ser-
bian Youth Movement. The style of the lectures, particularlythe first
two, is compelling: it is hard to imaginethat any young womanin her
audience could have remained indifferent.
Dejanovids starting point is that women are generally held in low
esteem and rightly so, for their faults are many and obvious. It is
115
clear from her tone that this general contempt was a source of per-
sonal affront to Dejanovit who had the confidence to be aware of
her ownvalue and potential to contribute to the progress of her
people. While her writings are rousing, they are also dignified: she is
impatient with her contemporaries, certainly, but not superior or
contemptuous. She lists the commonest failingsof which women are
accused-inquisitiveness, gossiping, dullness ofmind, sentimentality,
loveof fashion ...-suggesting that the problemlies inthe
education girls receive. Boys are better off since they are generally
guided by their fathers once they reach school age. Girls learn only
about clothes. If they are really unlucky they are sent to an institut
(Dejanovit deliberately employs what was for her an ugly foreign
word in inverted commas rather than the normal term for school).
Here the child will not be permitted to speak a word of Serbian, al-
though she knows no other tongue. In order to survive she will learn
by heart a number of typical institut conversations.In a similar way
she will be exposed tothe rudiments of music and singing, but never
learn enough to become really proficient and make a name for her-
self in her own right. Skills of this kind and others, such as handi-
crafts, would be of use to women who go on to become teachers
themselves, but they are of no value to Serbian girls. In DejanoviCs
view the girl will stay at the establishment just long enough to learn
nothing properly and never to have heard of her Serbian forebears
or their history.She reprimands mothers for encouraging their
daughters to learn just enough to put on a performance until their
marriage, when it is all thrown aside, along with the huge sums of
money spent on the event. Worst of all, they fill their daughters
heads with the idea that they must be beautifulin orderto appeal to
men. They must wear fine and costly clothes quite inappropriate to
the circumstances of the Serbian people. She blames Serbianmoth-
ers for wantingtomake their daughters housewives and nothing
more. There is an occasional hint of sarcasm, such as when she sug-
gests that if it is true, as women seem to believe, that their only func-
tion is to make babies, if God were to find another way of doing it
women would simply die out. She suggests that the vices of which
women are regularly accused could be eradicated by proper educa-
116
tion and above allby work. Girls should betaught to work asmen do,
to value work and the independence it brings, and to manage on
little. Girls have just the same gifts and abilities, she says, and there
are plenty of suitable jobs for women. She sees the preparation of
girls for marriage, equipping them with useless skills, as a deeply
humiliating commerce. She makes a further interesting point, hav-
ing herself had to contend with many obstacles in her own life, when
she suggests that it is only common sense to seethat if girls are taught
to expect only the best in lie, that everything will be done for them,
and all they want laidbefore them,they will not be able to cope when
they inevitably come across problems of any kind. DejanoviC livesin
the real world and not some fairy-tale construction, as may be seen
by one of the many rhetorical questions withwhich she aims to
stimulate her audience: Arewe not in favor of trulysharing our lives
with our partners, working, savingand enduring good and ill?4*
More than their mothers, however, DejanoviC blames the women
themselves: Butlet no sister believe that it is our husbands who have
enslaved us. We are not our husbands slaves, no, we have enslaved
ourselves by our prejudices ...n43 The solution lies in the emancipa-
tion of women: The emancipation of women means their liberation
from subordination to their fathers or husbands,which hampers
them in their intellectual development and their ability to work.44
The benefit of such genuine, constructive education is not only to
the women themselves, but also to their effectiveness as wives and
mothers: No woman can be a good and effective companion and
mother, if she has not first, like other people, thought, worked and
consciously struggled with difficulties in her own life.45DejanoviC
readily acknowledges that not everything in the Westis bad. She
quotes models of independent women pursuing education at the
highest level,becominguniversityprofessors and doctors in Ger-
many, England, and, above all, the United States, and urges her con-
temporaries to follow these inspiring examples.
Where Dejanovit ceases to be convincing is in her insistence that in
the Serbs golden age,as it is reflected in the traditional epic songs,
women hadan honorable role and werevalued by their peers.
She quotesseveral songsin which the wives and mothers of heroes are
117
shown as playing an important role in society. In fact there is an ex-
traordinary discrepancy between the energetic praise of education
and work in her second lecture and the naive tone of her third, with
its fulsome praiseof a mythologized version ofthe past. But this gap
represents a serious dilemma for women in the position of Stojadi-
noviC and Dejanovid. What theycherish in theoral tradition is not so
much its literal truth as its value system, the dignity it bestows on all
who honor it. This is what they feel is in danger of being lost in the
vain pursuit of fashion and a hollow modernity without substance.
They both recognize the future that is on the threshold, but they
strive with all their considerable energy to ensure that it will be a
future nourished by all that isof real value in the old, traditional
ways.
StojadinoviC and DejanoviC both shared a deep commitment to
their people, but at the same time they were both clearly aware of
the need for change. They were both driven by a belief that the fu-
ture lay in building on the firm foundations of tradition as embodied
in theChurch, national customs, beliefs, and a shared historical heri-
tage as formulated in traditional songs and tales. In this they both
shared common ground also with the first Serbian socialist, Svetozar
MarkoviC, who emerged from the United Serbian Youth Movement.
He advocated moving fromthe communal life of the zudnlgu system
straight into an advanced form of social organization, based on so-
cialist principles, obviating Western capitalismaltogether. While nei-
ther StojadinoviC nor DejanoviC elaborated their ideas into an ideol-
ogy, as MarkoviC did, their starting point was similar. They sought to
preserve whatever was wholesome and positive in their own heritage,
while adopting the best of the new ideas shaping the lives of women
in the West. To an extent this was the dilemma facing all Serbian
intellectuals in the nineteenth century, but it may be seen specifically
as having held back the cause of womens progress.In her commen-
tary on Dejanovids feminist writings, published in 1935, Julka Hla-
pec-DjordjeviC (whose role is discussed in Chapter 6) suggests that
DejanoviC was too intoxicated with the spirit of the Youth Movement
and inclined to confuse the social problemof the position of women
with nationalist ideasand this hampered its solution.
118
It is surelyunreasonable tojudge these two extraordinary womenby
the standards of a later age. An indication of their courage and the
isolation of their voices in their contemporary culture is provided by
an obituary of Draga DejanoviC published in Mludu Srbgudu in 1871:

The Growing Presence of Women Writers


The fact that women were beginning to come into public focus is
clear, among other things, fromthe publication of variousjournals at
the end of the nineteenth century. In 1891 the literarymagazine
Juvor, based in Novi Sad, devoted spacein several issues to listingthe
names of Serbian women writers. The first of these issues, number
16, lists 54 names, with the comment:

It would be interesting if someone were to list the works, original and translated
by these dear Serbian women of ours, if their lives were described and some-
thing of their literary work presented. Such a book would be most interesting
and would presumably find sufficient gallant purchasers, evenamong our male
readership.

It should be stressed that these women came from various regions,


wherever there were Serb communities, including Croatia and Bos-
nia Herzegovina. By issue 51 the journal had discovered the names of
140 Serbian women writers known to have publishedin thecourse of
the nineteenth century. Not all of these women were creative writ-
ers-several of their publications were translations,others had submit-
ted traditional songs or stories to a range of different magazines. But
the great majority had published original poemsand stories, and itis
at least remarkable that the names of only five of them should have
survived.
119
In Mostar, in Herzegovina, in 1899 an even more ambitious project
was undertaken: a whole issue ofthe literary magazineZora was given
over to four women writers. The issue is discussed by Predrag Palav-
e~tra,~ and by Zdenko LeSid in his studyof the short story in Bosnia
Her~egovina.~~ The four writers represented were Milka Grgureva,
MilevaSimiC, DanicaBandid, and KosaraCvetkovid. The issuein-
cluded an introduction by Jelena Belovid-BernadZikovska, acknowl-
edging the editors readiness to take womens contributions to con-
temporary culture seriously: Modern woman is a completely devel-
oped individual, who isable to distinguishgood from evil, and who is
capable of being good and just. And the more educated she is, the
more decisive and constant she is, and the greater is her strength in
making judgments and her respect for duty. LeSiC comments that
the poems and stories included in the issue have no literary value,
but they are focused on expressly womens themes, mainly questions
of relationships between men and women, and mostly within mar-
riage. In view of its failure as literature, however, the consequence of
this attempt to affirm womens writing was, not surprisingly, nega-
tive: the poet Jovan DutiC, whowas one of the first writers to publish
in the journal, expressed his anger at his colleagues for having put
the issue together and wrote in a letter to M. SaviC that he distanced
himself fromthe famous womens issue which proved the sorrowful
fact that there were hardly any women readers let alone women
writers among Nevertheless, asLeSiC comments,manyof the
contributions by male writers toZora were of no literary wortheither,
and the endeavor is of considerable historical interest, as Palavestra
observes: In itself, this actionwas a bold and revolutionary undertak-
ing, which bears witness even today to the intellectual daring of the
little group of Mostar writers in accepting progressive ideasand has-
tening the social and cultural transformation of their people.50
Little is known of the great majority of the women writers whose
names were publishedin Juvor. In some cases there are references to
journals in which a poem or other text appeared, but for the most
part the names are listed withoutfurther comment. While it is likely,
as in the case of Zmu, that little of this output is of great literary
worth, it is nevertheless significant that there were so many women
120
actively engaged in writing. To judge from histones of literature and
culture, in which the names even of StojadinoviC and DejanoviC are
rarely found, let alone given serious attention, it would appear that
the women who began to publish in the twentieth century werestart-
ing something absolutely new rather than building on what had gone
before. This impression is one that has recurred with subsequent
generations as well, each of which seemed to be starting afresh as all
preceding endeavors had vanished, largely without trace, into the
shadows of history. This sense is reinforcedby a series of publications
from the 1930swhich document the history of womens involvement
in public life and the beginnings of the womens movement. It is
remarkable that this should have been the case given the great re-
lease of energy which followed the pioneering work of Draga De-
janovit. With the beginning of the twentieth century it is indeed pas-
sible to speak of a womens movementamong the South Slavs, and
yet the extent of this activity was unknown to later generations. It
began to be rediscoveredby those reaching maturity in the 1970s.

Notes
1DjordjeviC, Sqbski knjiiamiglasnik, 206.
2 Quoted inh k i pokret U Vojvodini, 2425.
3 Ibid., 32.
4 Ibid.,49-51.
5 Quotedby B. MarinkoviC, Sqska gradjanska poezija,45.
6 M. BogdanoviC, Stan i n m I, 40
7 Danilo Zivaljevi, in M. BogddnoviC,Stan i noui I.
8 Published in Budd, 1816.
9 RadovanoviC, Sqbske pesnikinje, 23.
10 Sonnet No. 25, Slay &era, y Lethi.
11Quoted in RadovanoviC, Almanah Talija1829, 660; and in full by GeorgijeviC,
JednapoStovateljica Dositejeva, 128-30.For Milica StojadinoviC,see below.
12 haljeviC, Neke biografske-bibliografskebiljeSke, Bosunsku Vila (1901):32-33.
13 GeorgijeviC, 129-30.
14 M. BogdanoviC, Stan i n w i I, 30.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid., 32.
17 Danilo MladenoviCin 1834, quotedby M. Bogdanovit, Ana ObrenoviCeva,607.
18 Isidor StojanoviC,Let@ Matice S?pske, vol. 38, 64, quotedby M. Bogdanovie, Ana
ObrenoviCeva, 609.

121
19 Ami Bouc?. Die Europajsch Tiirkti (Vienna, 1889), quoted by M.BogdanoviC, Ana
ObrenoviCeva, 610.
20 Quoted by M. Bogdanovit, Ana ObrenoviCeva, 612.
21 SFmenica Milice StqadinwiAS7pkinje, 1.
22 Ibid., 4.
23 Stojadinovit,U F m f k qgmi 1854,108.
24 Ibid., 32-33.
25 Spomenica, 1.
26 Milica StojadinoviCSrpkinja, Let* Matice v p s k e , 1926, nos. 1-2, reprinted in
Savit-Rebac, H e h k i vidici, 154.
27 Ibid., 7.
28 Ibid.,3.
29 From aletter to Djordje RajkoviC.
30 StojadiwviC, U F n d q gm 1854,337-39.
31 Ibid., 339.
32 Pismojednome pesniku, U F n l S k o j j , 10-23.
33 Ibid., 140.
34 Ibid., 141-42.
35 Ibid. 138
36 Ibid., 280.
37 The biographicaldetails are takenfromHlapec-Djordjevif, Stlrdije i esqi o
fminiznnl, vol. I, 1935.
38 Hhpec-DordeviC,Studije i esqi ofaniniznw, vol. I, 169.
39 S p &age DejanowiE.
40 Za Srpstvo mi srce gore.
41 Omladina i njena knjiievnost, 502.
42 Dve-tri reCi ndim Srpkinjama,Matica @5ka (1869): 137.
43 Emancipacija Srpkinja,Matica vpska (1870): 56.
44 Ibid.
45 Ibid., 59.
46 M h d a Srbijada, vol. I1 (1871): 320.
47 Palavestra, Pripovedatkikrug mostarske &e, 240.
48 LeSiC, PripovedaEka Bosna, vol. I, 400-403.
49Jovan DnEiC, Pisma iz zeneve i Pariza, Savremenik, 9, no. 4 (1963): 366.
50 Palavestra, 249.

122
1900-1914
The future stretched her hand to me.
Pointing to a bright ringshe wore,
And she whispered: Whatis woman?
Look here and see: shes my betrothed,
I am-hers.

The beginning of the twentiethcentury saw a great increase in


womensactivitiesofallkinds:womenengagedthemselves in the
promotion of ideas of womenssuffrage;insocial and charitable
work; and in education and working for greater opportunities to
qualify for professions andenter variousfields of scholarship.
A range ofwomens journals emerged and the beginnings of an
identifiable feminist movement may be traced. All theseactivities
offered new opportunities toa host of women. Nevertheless, only very
few of their names are known to the cultural history of the region to-
day. The firstfortyyearsof the twentieth century represent a real
golden age for women throughout the region, but this was virtually
forgotten in the aftermath of the Second World War as a result of the
distorting effects of communist ideology. As more of this past is re-
discovered it continues to be a revelation at the very end of the cen-
tury.
A poem published in the first issue of %nu (Woman) in 1911 in
Novi Sad conveys something of the atmosphere of energy and confi-
dence among the women of the time:

What Is a Woman?

Once I asked of a little child:


What is a woman? Tellme, please.

123
At that he broke into a smile,
Full of sweetness, pleasure, delight.
Without a seconds pausefor thought;
Without a single momentsdoubt,
Quick as lightning, he said to me:
A woman-why, thats my mother!

Then 1asked of a fine young man:


What isa woman? Tell me,pray.
And straight-away in his darkeyes
A soft, strange flame began to burn.
Neither did he reflect for long,
Swift as an arrow, he replied,
Declaiming, in exalted tone:
A woman isa pure white rose!
A woman is a rosy dawn,
A woman is a creature mild,
A woman is a raging fire!
A woman is a dazzling sun!
A woman is a breeze inMay!
A woman is a brilliant star!
She is a shining glimpse of heaven,
Clraming amidst thishell of ours! ...
I moved on, but lie continued,
Weaving new wreathsto womanhood,
And if he has not by now expired,
He may well be declaiming still!

I asked a man of middle age:


My wise friend, what is a woman?
He trembled, and his lipsdid too,
A long, long time no word he spoke,
Sinking deeplyinto his thoughts.
Then, when at last he raised his head,
I thought that he would answerthen,

124
But he just bowed it lower still,
Saying at last: Ah, whats the use?
Ive thought long about this question,
If I replied one thing toddy,
Tomorrow would not be the same.
What is a woman? Who can tell?
Ah, this is difficult terrain-
A famous saint once said of her:
With her is good, without better.
But those saintly words could aswell
Take a different, devilish form,
And then one could quite rightlySay:
With her is bad, withouther worse.

Next I asked a gray-hairedold man:


Tell me, grandpa: Whats a woman?
At that hisso111seemed to tremble
As with a thousand memories.
What is a woman, you would know?
His voice was shaken sorrowfully:
What is a woman? Thatsthe thing
I did not know when I was young.
I drank sweet honey fromher lips,
And when the whole of lifehad passed,
Then I saw that I had never
Properly understoodher soul.
hat is woman? A mystery!
And then he whispered, nlefdly:
When at last we start toknow her,
She has gone, never to retw-n.

Then I asked ofan ancient book,


The kind ofwhich the past is built,
I askedit: What is a woman?
The ancient book repliedto me:

125
What is woman? Shes a person,
Of waist more slender than a mans.
She is a person,but her fist
Was ever smallerthan a mans.
They still callher a weak creature;
That she was always loved, istrue,
But,just as now,those seen as weak
Were never really listened to.
Only lookdeep into her eyes,
Ask the flowers ofher old age,
And the soft pillows and the hearth,
Where her burning tears are buried.

Finally I asked the future:


What is woman,do notconceal!
Straight-away the future answered:
Something which has as yet to be.
And once here, she will be legion,
Let herjust begin to arise:
The equal half of allmankind,
There, that is what a woman is.
I gazed long into that future:
What then lies in store for woman?
The future stretched her handto me.
Pointing to a bright ring she wore,
And she whispered: What is woman?
Look here and see: shesmy betrothed,
I am-hers.

signed: sal

The turn of the century was also an age of paradox for women: more
of them werereceiving a sound education and wereable to see
themselves as on a par with their colleagues elsewhere in the world,
but at the same time the educational level of the great majority of
women in the region was extremely low. There was a daunting need
for instruction of the most basic kind in fields such as hygiene and
126
the managementof money. It was difficult for the educated women,
who began to form a small but impressive elite in this period, to
identify with the broad process of involving women in the spread of
literacy when their level of achievement was inevitably so limited.
The great majority of the population was still rural, working and liv-
ing in conditions which had not essentially changed for centuries.
The only experience of literature available to many women was the
oral tradition which remained a vehicle for their self-expression in
printed form in the magazines which began toappear in this period.
Traditional formswere often used in order to convey an educational
or moral message in a familiar way. As opportunities for elementary
education spread, particularly in the growingtowns, a specifically
female readership began to emerge. The gap between individuals
withadvanced education and thisgrowingfemale readership was
filled largely with an increasing body of trivial literature, tales of
love and adventure, the most popular of which combined both ele-
ments, often in a historical context. Thiswas the kind of writing that
cametobeassociatedwithwomenreaders, and writersbeganto
emerge who published works specificallyto satisfy this market..There
was then a prevailing sense that women had their own literature;
any woman who aspired to write on the same terms as males was a
deviation from this norm and critical comment on her work would
inevitably involve the issue of gender and the extent to which her
work contained what were conventionally seen as female qualities.
The first years of the twentieth century, up to the First World War,
did not provide a context in which women writers were easily ac-
cepted: many continued to write under pseudonyms or used only
their initials. They tended also to write for womens magazines, by
which their work was more likely to be accepted.
The main focus ofwomensactivities in these first years of the
twentieth century was not literature, but improving the general edu-
cational standard and economicposition ofwomen.Several out-
standing women were involved in this process. One of the most in-
fluential figures in this womans world was Savka Subotie. She was
born in 1834, but it was not until the turn of the century that social
conditions made it possible for her influence to be felt. Subotiegrew
127
up in the cosmopolitan world of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy,
living as a child and young woman in Novi Sad, Timisoara, Vienna,
and Agram (Zagreb). She spoke German from her childhood as the
family had a German cook livingin the house. She received the best
all-round education available to a girl in her day and was fortunate in
her marriage to the writer and politician Jovan Subotit, alongside
whom she continued to expand her intellectual capacities in many
different areas. It waswith the confidence acquired in this fruitful
relationship that Savka SubotiC entered public life. She took a great
interest in the issue of the position of women in Serbian society and
in improving their sense of self-worth. She was particularly interested
in their skill in embroidery which she regarded as their most signifi-
cant contribution to European culture. She joined the board of the
magazine h k i suet in 1891, by which time she had gained a reputa-
tion as an exceptional public speaker, who had given several won-
derfd lectures,2 including one at the opening of an exhibition of
womens crafts in 1884. In an article about her written in 1903 she
was described as capable of speaking for an hour without pause and
without notes.3 She alsolectured in Vienna in 1910 and 1911, where
she was referred to as Die Mutter eines Volkes and was showered
with compliments. She was warmly received in many European ten-
ters, feted at banquets in her honor, and her photograph and bio-
graphical details were requested from Rotterdam, Lisbon, London,
and Paris. In a word, for nearly ten years she represented to the
world at large Serbian woman fighting for the equality of women.4
In 1909 she became the president of the Serbian National Womens
Union in Belgrade, which fhrnished public recognition of her status
as the grand old lady of Serbian cultural life in this period. One of
her most interesting published piecesis the text of a lecture she gave
in Vienna in 1911 entitled Woman in the East and West and pub-
lished in Novi Sad in the same year. Thisis a serious, well-presented,
and well-documented lecture, clearly the workof an exceptionally
intelligent and thoughtful woman. She begins by contrasting the
freedom of men with the constraints on women throughout history:
This freedom was not denied women by nature, but by men. With
the right of the stronger, they limitedthe field of action of women to
128
the house. In a narrow circle the spirit also shrinks and the longer
the cause lasts, the more profound is its effect. She suggeststhat the
role of the mother has the capacity to make an enormous contribu-
tion to human progress, but it is only educated women who can do
the job properly:

People say: women have not yet done anything great for thecommon good. But
is not the upbringing of children the greatest thing that can be done for the
common good, and how is it possible that anything great could be achieved in
art orscience without schoolsand when public mockery undermines the will to
action, that impulsive force in the development of education?
That is why the productive power of women has been modest, but they have
never destroyed. Men simply build and then destroy their own achievements,
they destroy even the most precious human treasure, life itself, of which war is
clear proof.5

In her essay Subotit gives a personal account of women in Serbian


history, focusing particularly on progress made in recent years and
the contribution of individual women to that process. She empha-
sizes the need for Serbian womento build on what is their own tradi-
tion, most fully expressed thusfar in the achievements of oral culture
and the handicrafts she herself did so much to promote at home and
abroad.

Womens Magazines
Some appreciation of the nature of the process to whichSubotiC
refers may be gained by looking at the range of womens magazines
that began to be published in this period. Magazines dedicated to
women first appeared in Serbia in the mid-nineteenth century. Un-
surprisingly, they werevery different in qualityand purpose from the
first consciously feminist publications in France at about the same
time. However, the number of womenreaders grew steadily,if slowly,
from the 1840s onwards. The first dedicated magazine, h k i vosp-
tateZj (Womens Instructor) appeared in 1847 in Novi Sad. It was ed-
ited by a prominent writer and politician, Matija Ban. Its function
129
was described as for the education of the beautifid, South Slav fe-
male sex. To judgeby the numbers of subscribers and letters it was
greeted with great interest, although there seems to have been a dis-
crepancy from the start between the editors intentions and the in-
terests of his readers: Ban himself was particularly concerned with
the spiritual and moral education of women, while the readers let-
ters on the whole show more interest in household tips. An insight
into Bans attitude and the whole ethos of the magazinemay be
gained from his own comment: I thought that maxims would be
better than articles, which by their length and the dryness of their
subject matter might tire the flighty and impatient feminine nature
... I am writing for women and not for the learned classes .. In
keeping with this view, the magazine consisted mainly of simplified
versions of texts initially intended for a more educated malereader-
ship. Likemanyofitspredecessors in WesternEurope,thisfirst
South Slav womens paper was edited by a man and its role was seen
as one of providing moral instruction rather than information. The
kind of education aspiredto was intended to assist womenin fulfill-
ing assuccessfullyaspossible the duties which society and family
placed upon her: those of a good mother, wife, and housekeeper.
Nevertheless, the magazine should not be too readily dismissed, as
for many women, it was the only source of elementary advice and
information on a range of practical matters. As such it was welcomed
and Bans efforts appreciated. The magazine ceased with the Hun-
garian uprisingof 1848.
An important aspect of the gradual provision of education for girls
was the establishment of various womens societies,the first of which
was founded in 1863. One of these was the Belgrade Womens Soci-
ety (Beogradsko &mko drus2vo) founded by Katarina Milovuk. Among
its activities was the production of a journal, DomuZicu (Housewife),
again edited by a man, Stevan Bajalovic. The contents of this maga-
zine were more varied than those of its predecessor: in addition to
givingpracticaladvice it reported on the activitiesof the society
and individual womens social, humanitarian,and political activities,
and it included articles on agriculture in North America, Greece,
and other countries in an effort to broaden its readers horizonsand
130
WOMAN, monthly magazinefor women, editedby MilicaJaSiC TomiC
Year I, I April 1911, no. 4.

131
raise the general level of their education. D o W i c a proved to be a
robust publication, appearing every month until 1941, interrupted
only by the First World Warand its aftermath (1914-21).
Several
womensalmanacs,each entitled Sqkinja (Serbian
Woman), appeared the first in 1875, in Velika Kikinda, and the sec-
ond in 1897, in Zemun, edited by Jovan PopoviC. PopoviC had also
edited a womenspaper with the same title whichappeared in 1882-
83. It is likely that it gave way to a magazine of similar profile, h k i
suet (Womens World), which was published in Novi Sad between
1886 and 1914, and then in Belgrade from 1930 to 1934. Subtitled
Womens matters and fashion its contents were, like so many simi-
lar publications, designed to keep women firmly within that world. It
too was edited by a man and contained texts by male contributors.
There were also two self-explanatory titles: Materinski list (Mothers
Paper), published between 1901 and 1903, and Parisk moda (Paris
Fashion), which was even more short-lived, appearing only in 1902.
A specializedmagazine, Srpslza vailja (Serbian Embroideress), a p
peared from 1905 to 1906. These first efforts were followed by the
more substantial and successful publicationh a (Woman; 1911-21).
Between1920 and 1938 an altogether more purposeful magazine
appeared entitled &ski pokret (The Womens Movement). In addi-
tion to the obvious commitment of the last title, all these publica-
tions contributed to awareness ofthe womens movement by printing
newsof international feminist congresses and articles on the prog-
ress of womens rights issues at home and abroad. Nevertheless-and
understandably-the ambitions of such articles, rooted in deeply tra-
ditional cultures, were modest and amounted to the kind of emanci-
pation that would enable women to help rather than to act them-
selves.
The fact that many of these first efforts did not survivereveals
something of the gap between the perceptions of the educated few
and the real world in which they were trying to work. When the 1897
almanac Srpkinja was published, it was expected that it would be
bought, perhaps in multiple copies, by all the various womens or-
ganizations by then in existence, but in the event some of them, in-
cluding the largest, did not buy a single copy.8A new almanac with
132
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iii iii
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1
UL 1
Cover of Srpkinja, the almanac published in Sarajevo, 1913.

133
the same title, a substantial and invaluable source of information on
this period, was publish.ed in 1913. It offers a comprehensive account
of the situation of women in Serbia before the First World War, in-
cluding an unsigned survey of womens magazines: the author com-
plains that, despite the relatively largenumber of titles, there was still
none that could be called a real womens paper, as any such paper
would have to be edited by an intellectually strong woman and to
have only women contributors. It is true, the author continues, that
women are occasionally asked tocontribute to mainstreamjournals
and almanacs, but only if there are insufficient male contributors
and at their own expense: they are expected to pay the costs of cor-
respondence and postage themselves, unlike the male contributors
who may be less educated and qualified than they are. By way of illus-
tration of this particularly unfair discrimination the author remarks
that in the preceding ten years onlyfour books by women had been
published normallyand their authors paid in Serbia, while one of the
most productive women ofthe age, Jelica BeloviC-BernadZikovska,had
published six substantial studiesin the last six years in German scholar-
lyjournals, all of whichhad been paid for in the regular way, without
anyone inquiring as to the gender of the author. Inan article
Womens Magazines fromthe Beginning of the Twentieth Century
Slobodanka PekoviC makes the point that womens magazines are
hard to categorize: they are not professional, literary, political, and
so on, although they may contain elements of all or any such defini-
tions. They are more like journals intended for children or work-
ers. But, while childrens magazines are either educational or enter-
taining, and political journals tend to promote a particular ideology,
womens magazines are generally characterized as trivial. It is not
clear whether these are journals intended for a specific kind of
reader or whether they are generated by a particular group. Are
they, in otherwords, journals for women or is it thatthey are edited,
compiled, illustrated,and so on, by women?
Womens magazines were an ideological force which was always taken into ac-
count, whether they were educational, informative, fashionable or spiced with
everyday politics. Their missionwas to develop a particular profileof woman: as
housewife, mother, follower of fashion, a particular kind of political and 111-

134
manitarian being. But whatever the tendency they nurtured, all womens maga-
zines helped their readers to bridge the gulf between two worlds-the world as it
was and the world as they wished it to beg

At the beginning of the twentieth century in Serbia there were seven


womens magazines-weekly, fortnightly, or monthly-and most news-
papers had a regular supplement devoted to women.By contrast, not
a single publisher was producing any edition, not even of the most
popular kind, intended for a female readership. This factalone con-
veys something of the gulf which existed between prevailing percep
tions of high culture and the trivial literature considered appropri-
ate for the consumption of women.
The strong didactic tendency characteristic of the womens maga-
zines produced at this time was clearly felt also in the literary contri-
butions to them, even in the verse, but particularly in the prose fic-
tion:

The stories in womens magazines insisted on the incalculable values of ~ M W ,


honor, diligence,reason, and those who possessed such qualities were rewarded
with-Aaflriness, tranqrrillity,prosperity. Even when they favor an emancipated type
of woman, who is usually shownas a fighter for free, extra-marital love, the nar-
rators tencl not to grant such a heroine peace and contentment, but rather re-
gret and restlessness, sometimes even death.1

The general standard of the literary contributions-both prose and


verse-to these magazines is mediocre: while there are many more
names of women writing than have survived in literary history, there
is little of enduring interest. (Among the regular contributors who
stand out as exceptions are Milica JankoviC, Danica Markovit, and
Jelena DimitrijeviC.)Whatis important is that so manywomen
should have begun to wish toexpressthemselvesartistically.Fur-
thermore, the magazines are of very great interest for the compre-
hensive picture they give of womens lives, social conditions in gen-
eral, and womens place in society. It is worth lookingin some detail
at the almanac Srpkinju, published in 1913 in Sarajevo, in this per-
spective.

135
Srpkinja, I9I3
This 124page publication in many ways typifies the kind of material
published in womens magazines in the period before the Second
World War. The foreword proclaims proudlythat this is the first time
Serbian woman has come out into the limelight. Because wenow
wish to follow the example of the larger, cultured peoples,as in every-
thing that is good, we have endeavored to make this booka true ac-
count of the work of Serbian women, women from all the regions
and all branches of Serbdom. The editors, described on the title-
page as Serbian women of the pen, explain that the idea of the
volume was born in 1910 when there was an exhibition of Serbian
womens crafts in Prague. Appropriately, the opening article is an
account of this exhibition by the woman most responsible for it:
Savka Subotid. The next public event to focusthe editors mindswas
the erection in 1912 of a monument to Milica Stojadinovid, the first
modern Serbian woman writer, when a keen need was felt to ac-
quaint Serbian women withthe work of their sisters in other regions.
Fittingly, the initiative was taken by a group of women from Irig, a
small town in the region where Stojadinovidwas born. The volume-a
collection of informativearticles,fiction, and verse-isrichlyillus-
trated with photographs of many of the women involved and also
with examples of the embroidery and national costume which the
editors believed was the most valuable contribution Serbian women
had to offer. The bulk of the volume is takenup with biographies of
all Serbian women writers,arguing that women of the pen are the
leaders of the female intelligentsia in other countries and that is
what they should be among the Serbs as well: We have endeavored
to learn of the lives and work of deserving Serbian women, and to
show faithfully and sincerely the conditions in which they work, be-
cause those conditions are at the same time a picture of the whole
cultural development of Serbian women up to today, and we need to
know what we haveachieved, and what remains still to be done.
Realizing that, even if they had published occasional poems, sto-
ries, or articles, the names of women writersare unlikely tobe widely
known among their fellow countrymen the editors reproduce a list of
136
145 names which had first appeared in the earlier almanac with the
same title in 1897. The editors express their determination to build
on this beginning and to ensure that all women working with the
written word should from now on acquire their rightful place in cul-
tural life and the encouragement to continue. In a particularlyinter-
esting passage the unnamed author of an article on Women and
Literature expresses her understanding of the difficulties faced by
women writers at this time: they had no access to an appropriate in-
tellectual environment, the companionship of like-minded people,
or even a library of any substance. While male writers, journalists,
and editors met regularly in cafesovera drink and forged co-
operative links, such opportunities were denied to women. Besides,
the authorcontinues, men do notgenerally seekout thecompany of
clever women, unless theyare also wealthy, of good family,beautiful,
young, and cheerful! The only readily available medium for women
is correspondence. But there again, men are usually happy enough
to write letters as long as it is in their interest, but as soon as their
female correspondents express aneed for some piece ofinformation
or a book, for instance, they will probably not reply! The authorsug-
gests that men behave badly towards women because, as non-voters,
theyhave no status and no support. In contemporary society the
most highly educated woman is still seen as inferior to a barely liter-
ate man. In another valuable insight the author of the article states
that thefew women whodo write are not as well known,for example,
as actresses whose profession is paid because money rules! Again,
men are prepared to publish poor verse and prose at their own ex-
pense, while they as women ofgood taste refuse toenter public life
in thatway. Consequently, while some400-500 men were registered
as writers in 1913, the number ofwomenwriters was in marked
contrast even to the numbers of women qualifying as teachers, doc-
tors, and scholars.
The next 52 pages of the almanac are devoted to biographies of40
of the most prominent Serbian women in the region, born in the
second half of the nineteenth century, who may be described as con-
cerned with the written word. The material makes fascinating read-
ing, giving glimpses of the lives of a large number of remarkable
137
women, often self-taughtand with a fluent knowledge of several lan-
guages in which they were widely read. It opens up a quite new vista
on the cultural lifeof Serbian womenin southern Hungary, in Serbia
proper, and in Bosnia Herzegovina. They wereoften misunderstood
by those around them and isolated in their endeavors: for example,
Darinka Bulja (b. 1877) jokes that most of her poems and short sto-
ries were used to light fires in my good mothers hearth!ll One of
the first of these extraordinarywomen, was Jelica
Belovie-
BernadZikovska (1870-1946), who spoke and wrote nine languages.
She is reported as having published more than 800 articles in Ger-
man .on questions of feminism and womens education, and more
than 30 books (none of them at her own expense, all commissioned
and manyof them alreadysold out observes the biographer).l*
These works include a novel, MZudu uAteljicu (The Young Teacher),
published under the pseudonym Ljuba
T.
DaniEie.
Belovie-
BernadZikovska was director of the Girls High School in Banja Luka
until she retired in 1900. She contributed a great deal to the educa-
tion and cultural lifeof women in Bosnia Herzegovina.
Two features of these womens biographiesare of particular inter-
est. The first is the emphasis, no matter where in the region they
lived, on their being patriots, true Serbian women. This may be
attributed in part to the importance of Milica Stojadinovid as a role
model. As wehave seen in connection with her life and work,a
strong sense of national allegiance was one of her defining character-
istics. The most compelling motivation was, however, no doubt the
prevailing political situationat the end of the nineteenth and begin-
ning of the twentieth century: the Balkan wars directly involvedlarge
numbers of women who worked as nurses. A public profession of
commitment to the Serb cause would undoubtedly also havebeen a
precondition for women to be taken seriously in Serbian society.The
second theme emphasized in these biographies is the way Serbian
feminism differs from the brash, aggressive, Western brand. So, for
instance, in the biographical note on Zorka Hovorkova (born 1859)
the author writes: Mrs Hovorkova [is] yet another example of the
fact that higher education and a broader range of intellectual activity
does not spoil a womanor detract in any way from her special femi-
138
nine abilities."lS The entry on Dr Vladislava Politovaquotes an article
she published in the journal Srpstuo in 1913:

Our Serbs do not need to be afraid of intellectually~liberatedwomen, because


Serbian women are not like women in the West, who wish tobe cmpktely inde-
pendent, forgoing marriage and family and considering the home a prison ...
Serbian women still live today from tradition, finding in their home a temple.
Andtheywould not regretanysacrifice in order to preservetheir home ...
Their feelings are still 'national', which is a question of survival especially for
small nations. I t is therefore quite natural that we Serbian women cannot follow
the same pathof emancipationas Western women.14

As in thecase of Dr Politova, severalbiographies quote from the writ-


ings of the woman concerned. This contributes to building a picture
of avarietyofviewpoints and styles, the combination ofwhich
amounts to a firm base on which future generations of women may
work, once these women, their lives and works, have been given the
attention they deserve.
While readers todaycould not expect to find more than a few
women writers in this period-of either prose or verse-whose work is
truly outstanding, there is much that is of interest, if for no other
reason than because of the amount of information it conveys about
the lives of families from many different backgrounds, told fromthe
perspective of women.
It will be clear from the fact that the almanac Srpkinju was pub-
lished in Sarajevo and several of the contributors were women living
and working in the territory of Bosnia Herzegovina that there was a
strong sense of community among Serbs throughout the region. It
should be stressed that, with the administration ofBosniaHerze-
govina by Austria-Hungary from 1878, all Serbs outside the Serbian
kingdom itself werenow living in the same Habsburg state.The turn
of the century wasalso an exceptionallyproductive and vibrant
period in the culturallife ofBosniaHerzegovinawhichwas the
birthplace of some of the most prominent Serbian writers of the
time. The poet Jovan DuZliC, for instance, was born in Herzegovina.
Parallel to thisactivity there was a new emphasis on education and
culture also among the Muslims of Bosnia Herzegovina: the leading

139
cultural association, Gajret, was founded in Sarajevo in 1903. The
development of a sense of a Muslim cultural tradition is discussed
in relation to Muslim women writersin Bosnia Herzegovinain Chap
ter 8.
It is worth remembering at this point that so far in this chapter we
have been considering the supportive climatefor women writers fos-
tered by women themselves. The prevailing attitude towards women
in the cultural life of the region, dominated as it was by a few highly
influential critics, may be seen in a typically generalized and dismis-
sive reflection by the prominent poet Jovan DuCiC, prompted by the
publication in 1909 of works byIsidora Sekulid and Milica JankoviC:

Women in literature have always demonstrated rather the characteristics of their


gender than qualities of their individual talent, and this means that their books
inevitably resemble one another. There are so few exceptions that there are vir-
tually none. Hence reading lineswritten by women or looking at pictures
painted by women, all these artistic creations have several general qualities in
common: a lack of measure in their emotions, or order in their impressions; ob-
servation which is more minute than deep; a great deal of decoration, baroque
ornamentation, sweetness, sentimentality, tending towards sniveling; more re-
sourcefulness than wit; a great deal of perversity in color; much cunning in the
means used,which are often neither permitted nor artistically honest; too much
verbalism; more emphasis than ecstasymorelarge teardrops than pain; in
painting too many flowers, furniture, luxury, order; everywhere more flirtation
with the reader than concern for what is being written or painted; frequent pen-
siveness over nonsenseand concentration on shallow things ...l5

Its contemptuous tone apart, this statement is itself too general to be


meaningful, and Dutic' was soon obliged to recognize that SekuliC at
least did not in any way conform to this supposed pattern. But it is
useful as a reminder of the negative, at best patronizing, attitude of
many dominant figures in the cultural establishment of the day.
Those fewwomenwho did achieve some prominence did so fre-
quently at considerable personal cost. And,as so often, they demon-
strated qualities of intellect, talent, and determination which were
quite out of the reach of the great majority of their male counter-
parts.

140
Jelena Dimitrijevid
One such womanwas Jelena DimitrijeviC. Born in 1862 in the ancient
Serbian town of KruSevac, she was one of the most remarkable fig-
ures of this age. Marriedin 1881, at the age of 19, to an army offker,
she moved to NiS, where he had been posted, and lived there until
1898. A long poem she published in 1892 in the local NiS dialect
caused a sensation and clearly demonstrated her talent for lan-
guages. The following brief outline of her biography conveys some-
thing of her independence of mind and spirit: Poet, short-story
writer, novelist, folklorist, fluent in several languages, companion of
many prominent figures, she traveled over all the continents and in
her sixtieth year set out on a voyage round the world.16 From NiS,
she settled in Belgrade, associating withpeople educated in Western
Europe, reading, and attending lectures by the finest minds of her
time. Despite her exceptional qualities and her prominence in the
cultural life of Serbia during her lifetime, when all the best known
literarycriticswrote about her work, and her novel Now (New
Women, 1912) was awarded the prestigious Maticu mpska prize for
literature, DimitrijeviC was completely forgotten after her death until
her Pisma iz Nifu o haremu (Letters from NiS about the Harem), first
published in 1897, was reissued in a facsimile edition in 1986. New
Women has yet tobe republished and she remains unknown to all but
a few feminist-minded literary scholars.
Her firstpoems appeared inthe literary journals OtaZdbina
(Fatherland) and Vila (The Nymph) and immediately attracted at-
tention as being unusually explicitand sensual withinthe framework
of conventional notions of womens love poetry. There was much
speculation as to who the signatory Jelena might be. Critics made
the inevitable comparison of her workwith that of Sappho. (It is
symptomatic of the position of women writers in European culture,
particularly before the twentieth century, that Sappho is the first
model of a woman poet to occur to many commentators. The impli-
cation is that they know nothing of the whole long tradition of Euro-
pean womens writing.) The story has sprung up somewhere that
Jelena is a Turkish woman who has run away from a harem ... It is
141
easy to imagine that Jelena is a creature from the Far East, because
her poetry is such a lively and faithful reflection of oriental lushness
and sensuality, and has such an eloquent imprint. In fact, this tone
was entirely in keepingwith the late Romantic interest in exotic, ori-
ental themes which was then in vogue in Serbian culture and charac-
terized the verse of a whole group of poets and short-story writers.
What was quite new in Jelenascase,however,was the fact that
these poems were Mtten by a woman. To be a woman writer was a
rarity in itself,but for a woman to write in such a way was truly worthy
of note: She has chosen to write about the Turkish wayof life, or,
more precisely, of love for Turkish women ... she has therefore cre-
ated a new mode, a new, original work of poetry ...l7
Jelena DimitrijeviC had the good fortune to marry a husband who
would understand and appreciate her independent mind and spirit.
Like so many of her contemporaries, in an age when only the most
basic educational opportunities werewidelyavailabletogirls, she
taught herself French, English, Russian, Italian, Greek, and Turkish.
Her great appetite for learning and her natural curiosity are clear
both from her many journeys and also from her decision to publish
her accounts of them.
DimitrijeviCs work is remarkable in two ways: first for its explicitfo-
cus on women in general and then for its interest in the fate of
women in the East, both in their traditional social structures and the
process of their emancipation from them. Her first works are con-
cerned with women in her immediate surroundings, in the exotic
setting of southern Serbia, still dominated entirely by the Turkish
wayof life. This applies particularly to her Letters from Nis about the
Harem (1897), but also to the stories she publishedin 1901 and 1907.
She then explored the situation of Muslim women in the transitional
age they were living through at the turn of the century, when indi-
viduals had to decide whether or not to discard the veil, to pursue
education and a generallymore independent lifestyle, including
choosing their own life partner. This is the theme of DimitrijeviCs
novel Nom. In the light of her experience of the East, developed also
in her two volumes Pisma iz Soluna (Letters from Salonika, 1918) and
Pisma iz Indije (Letters from India, 1928), she turned her attention
142
alsoto the behavior ofAmericanwomen in a long short story
Amerikanka (The AmericanWoman,1918) and Novi met ili U
Americi godinu &ana (The New World, or, A Year in America, 1934).
In her last published work Sedum mora i tri okeana. Putem oko svetu
(Seven Seas and Three Oceans. A Journey Round the World, 1940),
she expanded her impressions from allher journeys, with a wealthof
new material and the maturity of a woman of exceptionally wideex-
perience.
The fact that Dimitrijevid, a Serbian woman, was given accessto the
immensely private life of the harem is an eloquent testimony to the
kind of trust she inspired in her Muslim women friends and neigh-
bors. Indeed, one reads Lettersflorn Nis about the Harem, with a little
unease, in that it is in a sense a betrayalof that trust, but DimitrijeviC
must have weighed that fact against the value of giving her fellow
Serbs some insightinto the private life of the Muslims among whom
they lived, but in whose wayof life and views they showed on the
whole little interest. ForDimitrijevid, the presence of Muslims-
Turks-in NiS was not a source of outrage, but of fascination, a fact
to be explored, with her characteristic non-judgmental curiosity.She
evidently had enough confidence in the strength of her friendships
with the women concerned to believe that she could explain the
value of making their private lives public.
The work is arranged as a series of letters to a friend, convention-
ally addressed simplyas My dear N. ... It opens with abrief
explanation of the impulse which made DimitrijeviC explore the
lives of her Muslim neighbors in NiS: on hearing that Dimitrijevid was
to live there her dear friend M.,, now deceased, exhorted her: Get
to know the Muslim women, observe their customs, especially their
weddings, and describethemtome .. DimitrijeviC thus absolves
herself of responsibility for her curiosity: it is no more than a duty to
her late friend. Such a justification also suggeststhat Dimitrijevid was
not alone in her interest and could be sure of a readership for her
book. It is worth noting that, in herlecture Women in the West and
EastSavkaSubotiC, in 1911, emphasized the positive contribution
made by Jelena DimitrijeviC in familiarizing her fellow countrymen
with life in the harem and with Turkish literature. Subotid herself
143
had visited harems in Istanbul and elsewhere some fifty years previ-
ously and the fact that she had written and spoken about her experi-
ence could give other women the confidence to take an interest
themselves. The greater part ofDimitrijevids text is devoted to a
detailed account of a Muslim wedding, which must have been an
invaluable anthropological and ethnographic source when it was first
published. While Dimitrijevids attention is focused on her observa-
tions and she hardly mentions her own reactions, there are a few
occasions which are worthy of note. She describes being met in the
street one day by two Muslim women who curse her for daring to
intrude into theprivacy of the Muslim way of life and expose it to the
world. DimitrijeviCdefends herself by maintaining that she is passing
their secrets on to one woman friend only and by saying that in any
case she haspermissionfrom the highestlocal authorities. The
women take her at her word. Describing the way the Muslim women
greet each other, Dimitrijevid writesthat she herself has neverbowed
to any woman the way they do themselves, nor has she curtsied-
although she has practicedalone in theprivacy of her room. On one
occasion she confesses herself astonished to be woken by her maid at
about 5 a.m. to be told that a large company of women has assem-
bled in her garden with rugs and equipment for making coffee. A
particularly revealing passage describes one of the ceremonial eve-
nings of the betrothal process when DimitrijeviC decided to take an-
other Serbian woman along, thinking that it would be good to have
someone with her to share the experience. She quickly realizes her
mistake whenher companion begins to mock the unfamiliar customs
they are observing. One of the Muslim women present notices, turns
to her andgently remarks: Madam,do you not know that those who
do not know how to respect what is unfamiliar cannot love what is
their own?Dimitrijevids companion responds to Dimitrijevid: They
are conceited and stupid. I hate them. The womans primitive reac-
tion serves to highlight the openness of DimitrijeviC herself who is
distressed and embarrassed on behalf of her Muslim hosts. In addi-
tion to giving a comprehensive account of a Muslim wedding, the
volumealsoincludes numerous revealingobservations about the
Muslim way of life, particularly the lives of Muslim women, which
144
counteract prevailing prejudices: thus for example, Dimitrijevid re-
marks: If I ever heard someone say Evil as a Turk, I would smile
and remember my present neighbors. I went to see them the day
before yesterday: the father was shelling peas; his son hanging out
diapers (who knows, he may even have washed them, so that his wife
should not tire herself). The father was untroubled, but the son was
a little embarrassed, explaining that his wife did not feel well and
could not lift her arms ...
Dimitrijevids prose works show her to be a fiction writerof consid-
erable talent when she has a story to tell, with an excellent ear for
dialogue. For the most part, however, she is driven by a desire to
record faithfully her experiences, particularly of ways of life which
differ from her own. These factual accounts are brought to life by
the kindofevocative portraits, well-observed detail, and faithfully
reproduced dialogue, enlivenedby words and phrases from the local
dialect, that also characterize prose fictionof her day which she had
read widely in several languages.Of the four short stories published
in 1901 and 1907, onlyone, Fati-Sultan, is developed as a real piece
of fiction, although it too is probably based on a true occurrence,
elaborated into a popular local tale.
Dimitrijevids masterpiece is her 295-page novel None (New
Women), well received and acknowledged at the time of its publica-
tion, but subsequently forgotten. While fiction remained for Dimitri-
jeviC primarily a vehicle for conveying her experience of unfamiliar
ways of life and she published no more after this work, her literary
technique is competent, the story line, while perhaps in places melo-
dramatic, iswell managed, and individualpassages are admirably
written. As a novel it is at least as successful as StankovidsNeZistu km
(Tainted Blood) which has remained in the Serbian literary canon
since its publication.*One can onlyconclude that the reason for the
neglect of Noue is the fact that the novelis focusedentirely on
women and a specifically womens issue, notably the theme of the
tension between traditional Muslim attitudes to women and the new
perspectives offered tothe daughters of prosperous families through
education, reading, learning foreign languages, and meeting visitors
from Europe. In the novels focus and its serious endeavor to see
145
inside the Muslim culture that was a major component of the history
of the region for 500 years, the novel is a unique occurrence in Ser-
bian literature.
The main protagonists of the novel are young girls who live in
Turkey, but dream about France. Every day theyread something new
and long for that foreign, unknown, distant world.lg The narrator
suggests ironically that their onlypossibleaccesstosuch a world
would be through marriage to a man who committed some offense
and was sent abroad into exile. At the same time, there is a constant
stream of foreign women through the house of the main character,
Emir-Fatma, so that she is hardly ever leftalone to gossip and dream
with her own friends. It is a confusingsituation forthe young
women, exposedto two opposing culturesand increasingly uncertain
of their place in either. Following a daring outing with some friends
to the shore, where Fatma catches sight of a young man in a boat
who throws her an armful of roses, her parents house, with the bars
on its windows, suddenly seems like a prison, and she realizes that
she can never see more than a corner of the sky from her Turkish
house:God made the sky for everyone, except for Turkish
women.20The women in Fatmas family are interesting, reflecting
different types of upbringing and temperament: the most important
are her grandmother, an educated person, who speaks and writes
Persian and Arabic and has traveled widelyin the Muslim world, who
wears traditional, national dress but talks freely with her son and
other members of the household and has the confidence to think for
herself; her mother, who also wears Turkish clothes, knows little of
any language other than Turkish, and is content to be subordinate to
her husband whom she loves and respects; and her aunt, who is ex-
ceptionally independent-minded and flexible in her outlook, fre-
quently in the company of foreign women and ready to offer Fatma
fearless support at all times. The main focus of the young girls con-
fusion iswhy their fathers, whowear European dress and permit
them to read works of Westernfiction, shouldhate Europe so much.
It emerges that their daughters education is a status symbol for
these prosperous men, who do not have the imagination to foresee
the consequences of offering them a taste of such a different way of
146
life. The problem is particularly forcefully expressed in a discussion
between Fatmas father and her grandmother about the relative de-
sirability of the young woman being asked her opinion about the
husband her father is to choose for her. Much of the novel is con-
cerned with the crux of the problem: whether or not women should
give up the veil. The arguments on both sides are well presented,
with the narrator showingsympathy and understanding for those
whosubscribetoold-fashionedviews. The negativeeffectof the
tradition on Muslim men is seriously considered: deprived from an
early age ofthe company of women, theyare left to learn the ways of
the world in the street. All these conflicting ideas are brought into
acute conflict in Fatmas life when she has a direct face-to-face en-
counter with the young man from the boat who climbs into her gar-
den oneevening when sheis there alone. The chapter describing the
young girls succession of emotions and her torment of guilt and
rapture is admirably written, encapsulated in the formulation of her
central dilemma: She had touched a butterfly, and what had fallen
from his wings was dust ...21 The crisis comes when Fatma believes
that the fiance chosenby her father for her is that same young man:
she overhears a conversation in which he is referred toas djmal,
which is her youngmansname.However, the wordalsomeans
beauty and it is in that sense that it was used. When her aunt man-
ages to come by a portrait of the proposed fiance and Fatma realizes
her mistake, she falls ill. From Istanbul, where her family takes her
for the fresh sea air, she writes to her beloved French governess, de-
scribing convincingly her state of mind: she cannot disobey her fa-
ther who, she realizes, would prefer to let her die rather than go
back on his word. The development of the story is interesting: Fatma
is saved from that fate when it is revealed that the fiance chosen by
her father is not all he was supposed to be.The young man from the
boat turns out to come from an excellent family and marriage be-
tween the ecstatic couple is agreed. After the wedding, however, it
emerges that he has a severe drink problem and the young peoples
shame, hurt pride, and inexperience prevent them from helping
each other through the crisis, despite their mutual affection. There
is a complex series of developments until the couple are happily re-

147
united and travel together to Pans where Fatma dies of consump
tion. These adventures are of less interest than the account of the
young peoples personal growth through all the constraints placed
upon them by their society and its conventions. The novel contains
many excellently observed psychological insights, detailed
a portrayal
of the Turkish way of life, and above all a sympatheticunderstanding
of the situation of the Turkishnewwomen. It includesseveral
sketches of different womens lives showing a variety of individual
reactions to their situation. One particularly interesting facet of the
novel is the light it casts on the different perceptions of East and
West. For example, the sensuality of the womens dancing in the
harem on the eveofFatmasweddingis too open for a French
woman present who is obliged toturn her head away for shame. The
narrator readily understands that the Turkish girls experience this
sanctioned exuberance as a rare moment of release in the general
constraint of their lives. Another French woman, as an outsider, is
able to remark caustically that one symptomof the way Turkish
women are seen as objectsis the fact that, while men are called
Sun, Lion,and so on, women tend to be given names whichmean
ruby, emerald, rose: the kind of ornaments which men use to
adorn their clothing.
While it is clear that the narrators sympathies are with the new
women, the novel explores the topic in all its complexity: the points
of view expressed are fullyjustified by the individual characterization
and the consequences of a particular course of action emerge from
the development of the plot. In the end, the reactionary older men-
such as the protagonists father-who do not have the confidence to
tolerate a reduction of their authority, are isolated: Fatmas father
receives news ofher death in Paris by telegram and, while he remains
defiant before his wife and mother, in private he weeps for the first
time in his life. Butthe novel doesnot endthere. The father, with all
he represents, is no longer relevant: the end of the novel focuses on
the remarkable figure of Fatmas aunt Arif, herself happily married
to a new man, and the diary Fatmas husbandsent to Arif after her
nieces death. The lastwords remain, therefore, with the women
themselves and the conviction that, for all the inevitable setbacksand
148
individual disappointments, the processof emancipation will con-
tinue.
Dimitrijevid reflected on herlengthy experience of traveling in her
two last volumes, both of which have a strong comparative dimen-
sion. Novi w e t ili UAmericigodinu dana (The New World, or, AYear In
America, 1934) returns to Dimitrijevids favoredgenre: she notes her
immediate impressions in the form of letters to various close women
friends. She concludes her chapter on American women with the
following observations:

Of all the cities whereI have been, I like Istanbuland London most.
Of all the women with whom I have spent time, I am most interested in Turk-
ish and American women.
Turkish and American women! What can they have in common?
A Turkish woman is an old oriental woman even when she calls herself mu:
conservative, passive,a dead past, and nothing but a past.
An American woman would be new even when she maintained that she was
old out of coquettishness or caprice: progressive, active,the living present and-
the future.22

Dimitrijevies last work, publishedin 1940, Sedum Mora i Tri Ohana.


Putem oko sueta (Seven Seasand Three Oceans. A Journey Round the
World) sums up the impressions from all her travels and conveys a
vivid impression of her personality at this stage in her life: with typi-
calirony and realism, she dismisses conventional reactions to the
notion of a woman of her age traveling. She isundaunted by any of
the uncertainties awaiting her and caps her dismissal of other peo-
ples objections withthe remark As far as my grave goes, what does
it matter where it is-in India, in China or Japan, or on a Pacific is-
land-since the gravesof our finest sons are scattered all over the
globe.23
In the process of rediscovering the contribution of women to Ser-
bian cultural life in the first half of the twentieth century, Dimitri-
jevid has an important role: her work-particularly the Pisma iz Nisa o
haremima and Noveis of intrinsic interest and her independentspirit
is characteristic of her generation, of whom, with rare exceptions,
little is known today. She is important also in the development of
149
feminist thinking in Serbia. Like so many women of her generation,
Dimitrijevid was involved in humanitarian and educational work for
women. She joined the board of the Union of Womens Societiesin
1881, becoming its youngestmember. She worked as a nurse during
the Balkan wars. She was on the board of the best-known Serbian
womens society, KoZo mpskih sestum (The Circle of Serbian Sisters),
which is still active today.Her involvement in womens affairs wasnot
therefore theoretical, although she was well acquainted with feminist
ideas current in Europe and the United States. Her practical work
and her writing, focused entirely on the experience of women, are
simply the result of what she herself, as an individual, felt to be im-
portant. One passage in Now reveals an edge of ironic anger which is
not often conveyed in DimitrijeviCswriting but which must have
been a motivating force in all her activity. The passage describes a
visit by the protagonists feminist aunt, Arif, to a literarygathering in
Salonica. She is disgusted by the crude behavior and low intellectual
level of the participants who spend the whole evening drinking and
talking about anything but literature.
As she sat there, she felt something unusual: that these men had not for one
moment forgotten that she was a woman. And she left, her heart heavy with dis-
appointment, and walked briskly downthe street, improvising lines of verse:

Philistines! a woman stillfor you is zuoman,


A thing of wood,a woven cloth,
Infantile, for aLl her years.
Philistines! a woman stillfor you is woman.,

Still you say: Thats not for women.


Boastful of your physicalstrength
You treat her as your property.
Still you say: Thats
not forwomen.

Your mouths are full of: Culture, culture.


Cultuxz soarson every side,
But hasnot found its way to you.
Your mouths are full of: Culture, culture.24

150
Interestingly enough, this poem was used in an article in Sqkinju,
along with other passages from Nove, to illustrate the way in which
the novel may be seen as an indirect comment on the position of
educated women in Serbia. Mrs Jelena Dimitrijevid places much of
what Serbian women also have to bear in the mouths of her Turkish
women. Therefore this novel acquires meaningas something close to
us, as our own, as a novel about Serbian women-and not only a story
of the lives of Turkish women.25

Milica Jankovit

There are two other writers singled out by their contemporaries for
special mention alongside Dimitrijevid. The first of these isMilica
JankoviC(1881-1939),whosefirstpublishedprosework, Ispovesti
(Confessions), appeared in 1913. The second edition, published in
1932, consists of three pieces of varying length, displaying an un-
doubted abilitytoconvey emotions and states of mind. The first
short story, concerning a mans despair as he watches his wife and
two small children die of tuberculosis, is a first-person narrative told
from the point of view of the protagonist, with tenderness but no
undue sentimentality. The third piece is the storyof a friendship
between two schoolgirls interrupted by the marriage of one of them,
who reestablishes contact some years later when she writes a long
letter, accompanied by extracts fromher diary to explainher silence,
trapped in an unhappy marriage to a pathologically jealous husband.
Yes, he loved me,I dont denyit. But how? You know howa passion-
ate hunter loves a valuable pedigree dog, which he endeavors to
train to perfection?*6The diary form is used for the third story in
the volume, and the most interesting from the point ofview of
womens writing: Torn pages from a young girls diary. Arranged in
disjointed sections, the story succeeds in entering into the thoughts
and emotions of a young girl, with a clear sense of her own dignity
and self-worth, gradually discovering the world, learning to recog-
nize her own selfdeception and to accept that someof her misguided
151
assumptions arise from her own arrogance.* The volume has been
described as JankoviCs youthful autobiography.28 This istrue only
in so far as it evokes a young girls growing consciousness: individual
passages concerning the schoolgirls relationship and some of the
observations of the narrator of the diary piece may well be based on
the authors own experience, but most of the material represents an
imaginative effort to enter into the lives of people in circumstances
different from her own. What is striking about the volume and some
of JankoviCs other writing is the impression it gives of belonging to
another age: the authors focusand the style are reminiscent of nine-
teenthcentury texts. Indeed, like so many nineteenthcentury hero-
ines, the narrator of the diary piece spends most of her spare time
absorbed in Russian literature, particularly Pushkin, and is abruptly
awakened when she fails to distinguish reality from fiction. JankoviCs
novel Pisma ruskom kaludjeru (Letters to a Russian Monk) reinforces
this sense: it is the story of a young girl who dreams of the mystic

The Charitable Society of Serbian Womenin Irig (1913)

152
power of Slavdom and her contact with a monk who confides his
most intimate thoughts and feelings to her. The material is inher-
ently Romantic and so too is its somewhat sentimental treatment.
Nevertheless, the work offers some well-observed insights into the
sensitivity of the young girl. This is true also of the novel Pre mete
(Before Happiness), published in 1919, the first part of which is in
autobiographical form. Two further novels, Putem (Along the Way)
and Mutna i kroava (Bloody, Troubled Waters) were published in
1932. They both demonstrate a certain facility with words and an
ability to maintain a story line, but, while they were read with enthusi-
asm by her contemporaries and are certainly not without interest, they
are limited in emotional rangeand ultimately somewhat monotonous.
A volume of stories Ljudi U Jkumiji (People in School)was published in
1937 and discussed by Julka Hlapec-DjordjeviC in the second
volume of
her Studies and Essays on FeminismB Hlapec-DjordjeviCgives a brief
overview of Jankovits work, praising her developed style and strong,
independent voice.Shebelieves that JankoviCis ather best in
shorter, impressionistic prose pieces, where her humor, immediacy,
and warmth are expressed to their full advantage.
Arguably the most interesting of JankoviCs works-which initiates
what might be described as a smallsubgenre of womens writing in
the regionS0-is Medju zidovima (Between the Walls),publishedin
1932. The work describes the authors 13-month confinement in her
room through illness, her fluctuating states of mind, observations
and reflections in short prose fragments. It demonstrates a real feel-
ing for words, once the author is deprived of a ready-made frame.
The opening words of a piece entitled Potetak (Beginning) give a
sense of the flavor of this unusual text:
ors her observations on the bad days and a straightforward apprecia-
tion of all that she is able to see and experience when sheis granted
a respite from pain.

Danica Markovit
The one woman lyric poet to make real impact in the years before
the First World War was Danica MarkoviC (1879-1932), and she did
so, not gradually, but immediately, with her first published volume.
This period, when some of the finest poets in the Serbian and Croa-
tian language were writing in a unique blend of Symbolist and Par-
nassian modes, is generally regarded as the golden age of Serbian
poetry. Nevertheless, it was possible for MarkoviC to be noticed, her
work favorably reviewed by the most influential critics, and three of
her poems included in the anthology edited by one of them, Bogdan
PopoviC, which is still considered to represent the distillation of the
best lyric poetry of the age. MarkoviCs first slim volume of poems,
entitled Trhun (Moments), appeared in 1904 under the pseudonym
Zvezdanka. This was the name the poet had used for her first PO-
ems published inthe journal Zvezda (The Star). The volume is typical
of much of the poetry of this period, characterized by its somber
concentration on the self. MarkoviCs contribution to this prevailing
mood is a deep sense of dissatisfaction and frankness. It is this last
quality that distinguished her from her male contemporaries: the
volume is seen by one critic as an a~tobiography,~* from which it
would be possible to reconstructthe story of her most intimate emO-
tions and relationships. One of the most important criticsof the
time, Jovan Skerlit, praised her work for its sincerity (iskrenost),
suggesting that she waswilling to say what was usually unsaid and
what no woman in Serbian culture had ever said. The Croatian poet
and critic A. G. MatoS maintained that her poetry could serve to
document the psychology of the modern Serbian woman.33iivoji-
noviC points particularly to the cycle Kajanje (Regret), in which she
describes her disappointment in her marriage. The main source of
the dissatisfactionexpressed in thesepoemsis boredom with the
154
superficial, spiteful people around her, with the banality of life, and
the contrast with her own imagination and desire for more exalted
experience. The quality that particularly impressed her male con-
temporaries was her independence of mind, her sense of self, and a
distance even in her relationships because she was not prepared to
subordinate herself. Her detachment is a marked feature also of her
secondvolumeofpoems Trenuci i raspolobju (Moments and
Moods), published in 1928. As the title suggests, the volume incor-
porated the poems from the first collection. But the new poems in-
troduce a new tone, greater confidence, both in the medium and in
herself: the surer rhythms reflect a greater ability to rise above the
subject or moodwhich is the topic of a particular poem.
The fate of Danica Markovid is unusual. After the acclaim which
greeted her first volume, shewas largely forgotten in the altered cli-
mate of cultural life following the FirstWorld War. Her personal
experience was harsh: three of her six children died and she was left
by her husband to bring up the other three on her own. Eventually
her will snapped and, one summer night in 1932, she drowned her-
self. Neglected for more than 40 years, a selection of her work was
then published in 1973 under the title Ekgtje (Elegies), edited and
sympathetically introduced byMilosavMirkoviC,whobelieved that
she was about to start a new poetic life in Serbian culture. MirkoviC
was attracted particularly byMarkovids poems about nature, in
which she fmes her attention on aspects of the natural world, bring-
ing them to vividlife through her associations. He describes the
achievement of these poemsas The return of woman to nature and
nature to woman-this is the pagan rather than the metaphysical task
of these poems.34Many of the poems are a kind of meditation: fo-
cused on a small detail such as violets or other wild flowers which
attract the poets attention and encapsulate a mood, perhaps be-
cause of a particular memory associated with them. From such afo-
cus, the poems grow into reflections on the poets life. The frankness
remarked on by contemporary male criticsis no doubt her readiness
to admit tothe experience of physical passion rather than the vague
sentimentality that characterized muchof the mediocre lyric verse of
the age. Markovid is present in her poems as a strong, thoughtful,at
155
times impatient, woman, with a range of emotionand insight, stimu-
lated to write again and again by the experience of the gap between
mundane reality and an ideal of communication, harmony, and &l-
fillment.
While the writersbrieflydiscussed in this chapter continued to
publish after the First World War, a great deal was fundamentally
changed in the political and cultural circumstances of the region by
the war. The settlements following the Treaty of Versailles mark the
end of the administration of the Balkans by foreign powers and the
emergence of several new independent states. It is possible therefore
to see the 1914-18 war as the end of a long-drawn-out phase in the
history of the region, but one which inevitably shaped the political
developments of the rest of the twentieth century.

Notes
1 h(edited by MilicaJda TomiC),Novi Sad, year1, no. 1 (1911): 3.
2 h k i Suet (1887): 163, quotedin & kipokret U Vqfvodini, 150.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., 151.
5 S. SubotiC, hna istoku i na zapadu, 5-6.
6 TodoroviC-Uzelac,h k a Stampa i kdtum Zerastuenosti, 49
7 PekoviC, eenski Easopisi S poretka XX veka.
8 See Srpkinja, 22.
9 PekoviC, 135.
10 Ibid., 139.
11Srpkinju, 4.
12 Ibid., 32.
13 Ibid., 36.
14 Ibid.,50.
15 Quoted by CligoriC,Zsidma Sekulf6276.
16 PekoviC, afterwordto the facsimile editionof Pisma ir NfXa o h a m a
17 PopoviC, Pesme Jelene Jov. DimitrijeviCa, 220.
18 Stankovif,N&ta km (Belgrade, 1910).
19 Dimitrijevif, Noue, 7.
20 Ibid., 18.
21 Ibid., 86.
22 Ibid., 96.
23 DimitfjeviC,& dam m m i hi okeana, 13.
24 DimitrijeviC, Noue, 254.

156
25 Srpkinja, 59-60.
26JankoviC, Zspoves~i,181.
27 Otrgnuti listovi iz dnevnikajedne devojke, in JankoviC, Zspouesti, 18-146.
28 GligoriC, TenaU srpskoj knjitevnosti,90.
29 Hlapec-DjordjeviC, Studije i eseji ofmin.izmx, vol. 11, 130.
30 h3na, f i f e sa ontolojkog. A later example appeared in Croatiain 1987: DrakuliC,
Hologrami stralra (Holograms of Fear).
31 JankoviC,Meuju xidovirna, 64.
32 %vojinoviC,in his Introductionto Tratlci i r a s ~ ~ jvii. a ,
33 Quotedby Milosav MirkoviC, Introductionto Markovif, E&.e, 7.
34 Ibid., 10.

157
This Page Intentionally Left Blank
As in Hans Andersens wonderful fairytale, where the youngswan i s
surprised at the beauty of its reflection in the mirror of the lake, so
too are women surprised by the beauty of the image of the new
woman. After so many centuries, they have found themselves. A liv-
ing butterfly has emerged from a dead chrysalis.

Jela SpiridonovifSavi,1935

The New Country


The founding of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918
established a quite new context for the development of the political
life of the region. But while it meant the end of five centuries of for-
eign rule, and hence removed once and for all what had been felt to
be the principal obstacle to national development, the new arrange-
ment inevitably brought newproblems. The territories that came
together in the new joint kingdom had very little experience of
democratic procedures and theyeach had a different and well-
developed sense of their own historical role. Two of the territories,
Serbia and Montenegro, had become independent kingdoms in the
nineteenth century, while the others had just emergedfrom
Habsburg or Ottoman rule. It was not long before tensions between
the various aspirationsof the three main components of the partner-
ship began to be felt.Eventually these erupted in an outburst in the
Parliament; in 1928, in whichthe popular leaderof the Croatian Peas-
ants Party, Stjepan Radid, was shot and wounded by a Montenegrin
delegate and another delegate killed outright. Radid later died of his
wounds and the crisis that ensued led tothe suspension of the consti-
tution and the declaration by King Alexander Karadjordjevid of a pe-
riod of absolute rule. In 1929 the country was renamed Yugoslavia,
159
symbolizing his centralist intentions. Naturally, this course of action
did nothing to solve the underlying tensions,but merely drove them
under the surface to smolder there, creating rifts which would find
full and brutal expression in the Second World War.
Alongside the potentially divisive national aspirations ofthe various
components of the new kingdom, there was a quite different, cohe-
sive trend in the growing socialist movement. This too was driven
underground, where it developed, ready to play a decisive role, also
in the Second World War. Under the communist regime that was
installed after that war, the role of the socialist movement between
the wars was understandably highlighted, while the achievements of
bourgeois culture were played down. In this process the work of
several outstanding women was acknowledged, but the names of
others and their contribution to Serbianculture in general are barely
known and have only recently begun to be restored to their rightful
place in cultural history.
The role played by women in the general process of the regions
modernization was crucial. The womens question was given a new
urgency after the First World War. An article published in December
1918 summed up the situation succinctly: Today the womens ques-
tion poses itself irresistibly and demands to be resolved ... It comes
down to one thing: in the course of the world war, women showed
themselves to be just as capable of acting in the fields of commerce
and public life as men. They bore two-thirds ofthe burden of war on
their shoulders ...*l An article by Ja3a Tomid, himselfthe husband of a
prominent and active woman (Milica JaSa Tomit, editor of zena>, a p
peared in 1918, describing womenas the greatest victimof the world
war, the most affected and the least to blame for the violence. Our
women have shown, more clearly than ever before, that they are not
mere machines which know how to bear children, but half of human-
ity, indeed more than that. Today, after the world war, women are by
far the larger half of humanity. Only,until now, the neglected half.*
He stresses that it is impossible to imagine that, after all they had
experienced, women could ever go back to being what they once
were: they had performed so many differenttasks during the war and
now they wereanxious totrain for proper employment.
160
In the new state women lookedfor a new role. In September 1919
the NationalWomensUnion of Serbs,Croats and Slovenes was
founded. Its prime tasks were the general enlightenment of the peo-
ple and the attainment of equalrights and status for men and
women. There was considerable public reaction to these endeavors,
with articles suggesting that the struggle for womens rights in the
Kingdom was comical: women themselves would mock the idea of
the right to vote. They influence politics indirectly in any case, as
they do all other spheres of life as well, and they would not wish to
do so publicly,becausethey are modest ... Theylive in absolute
harmony with men, and are neither their object, as in the East, nor
their rival, as in the West.3 Against this kind ofprejudice and strong
opposition, womens struggle for the franchise continued through
the inter-waryears and was not finallyresolved until the Second
World War.
Nevertheless, conditions gradually improved for women in other
areas,notably in education. The number of women students in-
creased steadily after the First World War,as did the number of fac-
ulties accessible to them. Many women who had fled from the war
and studied as refugees in various Western European countries now
returned and their presence altered the climate and raised expecta-
tions among new generations of girls qualifjring for higher educa-
tion. In 1922 the first woman gained adoctorate at the University of
Belgrade, and by 1930 there were twelve women teaching there (by
contrast with six in France in the same year). Although the opportu-
nities for employment and conditions remained unequal, increasing
numbers ofwomen began to be appointed as doctors,barristers,
university teachers, and so on. An article publishedin 1928 describes
the situation:

Every day we see the barriers fall, one by one, every day we see ever more new
.
positions occupied .. Now no oneasks whether such and sucha woman will be
appointed to a particular position, but each individual casei s seen as part of the
general womens question. And to set the womens question in motion, or even
to stimulate women to act, i s no longer without danger. For behind each one
stands a crowd of others, a whole army, which i s advancing in dense, serried
ranks.4

161
In 1926-27 the student body of the University of Belgrade consisted
of 4,688 men and 1,235 women, while in the Arts Faculty there were
707 women and 469 men. This meant that women were largely in
charge of primary and secondaryschool education. In 1928-29
women attained the right to be directors of schools. As Paulina Lebl-
Albalaobserves in the same article: Such an influx of educated
women had to be taken into account as a serious and powerfd cul-
tural factor. This is not to say, however, that progress was smooth:
although by 1928 there were many suitably qualified women lawyers,
there was a discussion in Parliament as to whether they should be
appointed as judges: it was resolved that they should not because, in
an enduringly patriarchal society, it was felt that women did not yet
havesufficientauthority.Similarproblemswere encountered by
other women in the public eye, as maybe seen in thecase of the out-
standing philosopher and scholar KsenijaAtanasijevit, the public
scandal of whose dismissalfrom the University of Belgradein 1935 is
discussed below.
As far as the spread of literacy among the population as a whole is
concerned, the 1931 census recorded a 57.1 per cent illiteracy rate
among women in Yugoslavia as a whole. This figure suggests a wide
potential readership, at least for popular literature. Valuable infor-
mation about the kind of writing available is providedby a bibliogra-
phypublished in 1936 by the AssociationofUniversity-Educated
Women. The preface describes the bibliography as evidence of the
abilities ofYugoslav women,[and] itcasts light on their cultural level
and on the range of their interests. It will serve as a foundation for
further research into the intellectual efforts of our ~ o m e n . The
~
bibliography gives a comprehensive account of writing by women
published in Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia
Herzegovina between 1814 and 1935. In addition to literary works it
lists books and articles on dressmaking, cookery, and handicrafts, as
well as pedagogical and scholarly works, and fiction and verse for
children. The number of titles published in the inter-war years sug-
gests a substantial readership with a range of interests. One area
which requires further research is the number of published plays by
women writers.It would be useful to knowwhether they were all per-
162
formed, how they were received, and how many of the plays written
by women and performed were published. If the reception of a play
by the prominent Croatian journalist and writer of popular fiction
Marija Jurid Zagorkain 1901 is anything to go by, these women play-
wrights may well have had difficulty in being accepted. Prose fiction
and poetry were clearly in demand, however, with an average of be-
tween five and eight volumes by women writers published every year
between 1922and 1935.

Popular Womens Fiction


Some of this fictionmay be describedas popular, the kind of trivial
literature often associated with womens writing, particularly at the
time. The most successful writer in this genre was Milica JakovljeviC
or Mir-Jam (1887-1952). Mir-Jam was a prolific writer who may be
described as writing womens literature in the sense that her works
were intended specifically for a female readership. In the period
between 1935 and 1941 she published seven substantial novels and
twoplays. She was a very popular and, consequently,influential
writer who did much to encourage ordinary women to read fiction.
She began to write while still at school, publishing her first prose
poem in 1904. Her first post was as a teacher in eastern Serbia, and
from 1919 she worked as a journalist in Belgrade. One of her most
popular novels is Ranjeni OTUO (The Wounded Eagle), published in
1941, and later dramatized by the critic and writerBorislav Mi-
hailovid Mihiz. It has been described as the apex of womens sub-
culture.6 Its protagonistis a type which wasa sourceof fascination in
the altered circumstances of the age: the unmarried vampwho
changes lovers regularly out of material interest.

Not only does this novel offer a sentimental love intrigue with obstacles, but a
step ismacletowards reconciling two extremes withregard to free love. The
main character of the novel is separated from her husband because it emerges
that she was not a virgin when she married. However,she is neither a cruel, self-
seeking seductress nor a naive victim.The popularity of the novel was probably

163
the result of its readers being able to identify with the characters in it. Perhaps
it would be possible to set up an hypothesis about changing models of identifl-
cation during the interwar period.

It is interesting that the influential critic Jovan SkerliC, whosejudg-


ments were widely regarded as law, wrote very positively of Mir-Jam,
as he had done of Milica JankoviC he saw her as a typically female
writer who fulfilled a particular role in catering for women readers
on a level appropriate to their traditional statusand needs.

Ksenija Atanasijevie
At the other end of the intellectual spectrum of published works at
this time were the scholarly writings of several women academics.
One of these is the impressive Ksenija Atanasijevid, who has already
been mentioned. Born in 1894, she studied philosophy and classics
at the universities of Belgrade, Geneva,and Paris. From 1924 to 1935
she taught at the Arts Faculty of Belgrade University. She was then
dismissed on a charge of plagiarism, probably because it was incon-
venient for her (male) colleagues to work alongside such an excep
tionally gifted and productive woman. Her dismissal caused consid-
erable controversy, provoking among other things a petition signed
by more than 200 women: A statement by women in public life and
the professions on the occasion of the case of Miss Ksenija Atanasi-
jevit.8 A public meetingwas held at which many prominent intellec-
tuals spoke in support of her, including the renowned poet Sima
Pandurovid, whose speech casts light on the whole climate of Bel-
grade University at the time: She hasbeen accused at the plenum of
the University Council of plagiarism by one member of the faculty,
who has not the remotest inkling of philosophy and who has unac-
countably taken it on himself to defend that discipline from a genu-
ine thinker.gDespite all the support she received from the intellec-
tual communityin Serbia, however,she was not reinstated and spent
the rest of her working life-until 1941-as an inspector for the Minis-
try of Education. In 1942 she was arrested for writing articles against

164
anti-Semitism and National Socialism. Her output was remarkable-
amounting to some 200 works, including translations fromsix Euro-
pean languages-andreveals nothing of the great pressures that
women in her position were under at this time. The 1936 Bibliogra-
phy lists 68 titles she published between 1922 and 1935. The topics
are mostly philosophy (her doctoral thesis and several articles were
on Spinoza, some of whose works she translated), but also include
classical Greek literature. It is clear from some of the titles that she
also had an interest in the situation of women: she wrote essays on
Women in Euripides and Ibsens View of Women, as well as an
article entitled Some Feminist Reflections, publishedin 1929, and a
report, in 1931, on The Womens Conference on Peace and Die
armament. Her contemporary, the prominent feministDrJulka
Hlapec-Djordjevid,described her as our one intellectualwoman-
giant, who dedicated her reputation and her work to the service of
the emancipation of women.1

Anica Savid-Rebac
The other outstanding scholar-also with a training in classics-whose
name is known today is Anica Savid-Rebac (1892-1953). The daugh-
ter of a literary historian and critic, Savid-Rebac was widely read and
well informed about literature and art in general. She becameone of
the most erudite individuals in Serbian cultural life. She was also a
creative writer, publishing a volume of verse, VeZeri na mom (Evenings
by the Sea), in 1929. Her poems are very different from the intimate
confessional verse of her contemporary Danica Markovid. They are
thoughtful, full of literaryreferences, and generally rather more
cerebral than emotional. Several critics havewritteneloquently
about her verse:
In her poetry she is a verbalist, a thoughtful spirit, cosmic, and at the same time,
of her homeland, and an artist. The spirit of her poetry is raised up into the
universe on waves of light and darkness, movements of nature, forests, moun-
tains, dawn and night. It is at the turning point of sleep and life ... There is an
Hellenic spirit in her poetry of the powerfuland melodious flight of the sun in

165
space, of poetic, symbolicand thoughtful content ... But she is also on the earth
in her poetry, she moveswith infatuated step through her homeland, and
through a womans dreams of personal happiness1

Two of the finest Serbian poets of the second half of the twentieth
century, MiodragPavloviC and Ivan V. Lalit, have also written about
her verse. In their own poetry they too draw on their knowledge of
classical culture and deep sense of the continuity of the European
cultural heritage based on the achievements of ancient Greece, and
are thus particularlywell placed tounderstand Savit-Rebacs work

A woman of real education, a philosopher and aesthetician of true competence,


Anica SaviC is a poet because of beauties which are beyond poetry, and her PO-
ems are a witness of experiences and knowledge above poetry, and hence her
poetry is evidently a means and not an end, not the final form of discovery.
Beauty for her is not in a line, a rhythmor a combination of words, a poetic vi-
sion, but beauty really lies for her in the seascape before which she is standing,
in the heights towards which she raises her eyes, in the ideas in which she be-
lieves, in the history which she glimpses. Her Hellenic themes are not forher a
wayof creating and expressing a truly exalted poetic density, a creative event
which in the end justifies itself, but an instrument to enable her to come truly
closer to the hidden sacral energyof a landscape,the emanations of historyand
Classical and Renaissance poetry.l*

An authentic, personal voice, at times shadowedby swaying echoes of a prosody


whose homeland is in the poems of Goethe and Hdderlin. The poetry of Anica
SaviC-Rebac creates one of the most beautiful combinations of intellect and poetic
sensibdiry; and while the poets spiritual curiosity turns towards antiquity-on the
whole, the way it is reflected through the prism of English and German poetry of
the first half of the last centuxy-and towards someother great voices of the past,
her refined poetic sense reacts with the greatest subtlety tothe possibility that the
echoes of this curiositymay be translatedInto the language of emotion.15

Anica Savit-Rebac was also a linguist of exceptional talent. One of


her enduring contributions to Serbian culture is her translation into
several different European languages of the long philosophical poem
LuZu mikrvkozmu (The Ray of the Microcosm) by the nineteenth-
century Montenegrin poetNjegoS. Her public successwas not matched
by private happiness,however: she tookher own life in1953.

166
Jelena Spiridonovie-Savie
Almost her exact contemporary, Jelena SpiridonoviC-SaviC, (1891-
1974) was also a woman of broad general education, able to lecture
and write on a range of topics in European culture, as well as being a
poet and fiction writer of considerable ability. Her first volume of
verse, Sa uskih stuza (From the Narrow Paths), was published in 1919,
and it indicates the direction that SpiridonovidSaviCs work was to
take. The volume consists of short poems of varied content, but they
are rarely descriptive, dealing almost exclusively with the world of
emotional and spiritual experience. Natural phenomena generally
function as metaphors for emotion, the most common of which is
elation. Taken as a whole, the volume communicates a clear sense of
a rich spiritual life and of striving towards spiritual fulfillment. The
title of the volume is symptomatic ofthe poets sense of constraint in
the material world and her need to overcome its bounds through
spiritual experience. It is interesting that she should have used the
symbol of the sunflower in at least two of her poems, as this is the
subject of a particularly fine symbolist poem by her contemporary,
the great poet Jovan DuZliC,whose name hasalready been men-
tioned. All three poems are concerned with the contrast betweenthe
bright and cheerful aspect of sunflowers in daylight and their exis-
tence at night. SpiridonoviCs firstpoem is characteristically exultant,
seeing the flowers as a constant reaffbmation of the miracle of res-
urrection.
SpiridonoviCs next published volume, whichappeared in 1923, is a
slim, unassuming work of great originality, sadly almost unknown
today.Entitled Pergumenti (Parchments), with the subtitle:Found
and translated by Brother-in-Christ Stratonik,it consists of two layers
of solitary meditation. The first is dated 1814 and set in a monastery,
where the young monk Stratonili prays for guidance as he doubts his
vocation.When he is told of the devastationof a church in the
course of the Serbian uprising againstOttoman rule, he goes to the
scene to rescue what he can from the burned-out building and to
take it to the monastery for safe keeping. Amongthe documents and
treasures he finds some old parchments and a book and seems to
167
hear a voice suggesting that they could give his solitary life the pur-
pose he feels it lacks. The second layer is the youngmonks
translation of one of the documents, purporting to have been writ-
ten in the Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos in 1194. Its open-
ing prayer echoes Stratoniks own prayer from the beginning of the
volume. The content of both meditations is similar: one of the three
youngmonkswhoaccompanyStratonik to the destroyed church
reflects: Is it possible among such Beauty/that evil deeds are done?
... /Will the human soul/ever be mature enough/for the grateful
eye of love? ... We have no power to create freedom/so let us guard
the ancient things/old books and treasure. The document that has
survived through the centuries was written by Gilbert, a crusader
and describes his being taken prisoner and brought before Saladin.
Bewildered by the humanity shown him by his captors Gilbert suddenly
understands what he has never known: Only now I understand, that
Goodness alone,/no matter which faith men profess/bears the Mean-
ing of Life inits hands ... /And I regret, in the depths
of my soul/that
we, defenders of the Son of God,/were not always on the height
from which/the Cadif s gentle eye looks down...,l4
SpiridonoviC-SaviC published another volume of verse, Ve&e ZeZnje
(Eternal Longings), in 1926.Jovan DuCiC wrote the introduction:

The content of Jela SpiridonoviCSaviCs poetry marksher out from all the new
young poets, including the best.By this I mean her personal spiritual tone, her
aspirationtowardsthetranscendental, her abilityto generalize,to connect
things into a shared, but fundamental, essential cosmic whole. I like her relig-
ious and deep inspiration in Parclments, which is for me one of the finest works
of poetry in our language and the best thingto have been produced in our po-
etry by the generationsince the war.15

The volume contains somefine poems, always thoughtful, again con-


cerned for the most part with the transcendental and involved with
the material world only as a vehicle. It includes several thematic cy-
cles, one of which is ofparticular interest for our purposes: Trugedije
W ( T h e Tragedies of Woman). It offers various possible models of
waysof being for women,includingTheOldMaid,TheGirl-
Mother, The Adulteress, and The Libertine. They are all simply
168
and delicately evoked with an attractive, discreet irony. Another cy-
cle, Pretete (Forebears), has poems devoted to The Poet, TheArt-
ist, The Ascetic, The Apostle, and The Victim, all possible ways
of life with which the poet can identify, before returning to the role
laid down for her, that of The Old Maid. Spiridonovid-Savifs last
volume of poetry, Jesmje melodije (Autumn Melodies), was published
in 1939. The overall tone is very similar to that of the preceding one.
Several of the poems are arranged as small meditations for each of
the daysof the week (for example, The Wanderers Week, The
Monks Week, The OldMaids Week).
It is interesting that this poet, whose main concern is with the tran-
scendental, should have been describedas
representative
of
womens lyric poetry, emotional and warm, sad and discreet, enno-
bled by erudition.16 It is not clear whether it is the fact that one or
two poems mention women and their destiny or that Spiridonovid-
Savid is so open in her personal concern with the spiritual that has
earned her this description. It may simply be that to be a woman
was still such a well-defined role that it remained some commenta-
tors first consideration.It is an issue also in the more thoughtful and
elaborate description of her poetry by IvanV. LaliC:
At one time over-valued and then forgotten, the poetry of Jela SpiridonoviC-
SaviC and the destiny of her poetry are a good example of a double misunder-
standing: between thepoet and herown poetry, between the poem andits echo,
between wanting and ability ... A fragile lyricism, of feminine sensibility, and
sensual in a subdued way ... Through the whole of SpiridonoviSaviCs work
runs an authentic,feminine lyric thread ...l7

SpiridonoviC-Savif also published a volume ofshort stories, Pripoveth


(Stories), in 1939. These are original tales of loners, outsiders, told
with warmth and sympathy for the disadvantaged, but verging on the
sentimental. Here and there are glimpses of an irony that could have
made SpiridonovidSavid afine writer of fiction, but regrettably thisis
not sustained.
A creative writer of great ability and originality, SpiridonovifSavid
was at her most authoritative in her lectures, essays, and reviews, a
selection of which was published in 1944. The introduction describes
the volume as forming an intellectual whole of a very personal char-
169
acter. Virtually the confession of the most intimate belief and convic-
tion, in the form of well-informed,solidly documented aesthetic,
cultural-historicaland religious-philosophical studies.18 The subjects
of the essays range from Religious Experienceand the Present Day,
A Requiem for Rilke, and Women Mystics to the work of her two
outstanding contemporary women writers Isidora Sekulid and De-
sanka Maksimovid. These are thoughtful and perceptive studies to
which we shall return when considering the two writers in question.
The whole volumeis clearly the work of a deeplyintelligent and cul-
tured individual with a well-rounded outlook on life. As such, Spin-
donovid-SaviC represents the considerable achievementsof the urban
middle class in Serbia at this time. The last essay in the volume, The
Meaning of Inner Life for the Development of the Personality, of-
fers some insight into the outstanding contribution of individuals
from this background tothe society in which they lived. It is the text
of a lecture given to young membersof the Kolo mpshih sesturu (Circle
of Serbian Sisters) in 1935. Spiridonovid-Savidstresses the lack of
culture in Serbia, where the population was still 80 per cent rural,
but points out that the prevailing poor hygiene, primitiveness, and
lack of a sense of the aesthetic were not simply an expression of the
poverty of the countryside, but also the consequence of the indiffer-
ence of the townspeople. She points out that no oneever goes tothe
villages to raise standards: the only outsiders the peasants ever see
are unscrupulous politicians, who bought votes and poisoned them
with demagogy and brandy, or money-lenders who drank the last
drop of their b l ~ o d ! She
~ encourages young girlsto think of going
into thecountry towork as teachers:

We are particularly interested to know what is the specific role of women, as a


.
cultural factor .. For women today, the doors of all possibilitiesfor intellectual
development and education are .wide open, just as they are formen. Women tO-
day understand all the seriousness of scholarly work, the search for the truth,
freedom of thought, artistic creation. They know far more, think far more
clearly,judge more sharply than women in the past. Their spiritual horizon has
opened up unbelievably: they have takenoff the shackles of inferiority and, as in
Hans Andersens wonderful fairytale, where the young swan is surprised at the
beauty of its reflection in the mirror of the lake, so too are women surprised by

170
the beauty of the image of the new woman. After so many centuries, they have
found themselves. A living butterfly has emerged from a dead chrysalis. Today,
women are intellectually on a par with men, and their full development de-
pends only on their personal qualities, abilities and talent ... But is there a
purely women's contribution to cultural development? There certainly is! It is
the intelligent refinement of what is the enduringly female in her. And what is
that? ...
On an intellectual plane, women can be equal to men, but on an emotional
level-love, sacrifice and dedication-women are superior to men. Their domain
is the domain of the heart. And that is the source of the specifically female con-
tribution to the culture of the personality; that intensity of the emotional life is
woman.
This refined, deepened, female sensitivity has a dual task in addition to en-
nobling their own personality, women have the task of ennobling also that with
which they come into contact. And there are two paths open to them: through
their inner and their outer beauty ... Modern man, in the great struggle of life,
has an even greater need for the beauty offered us by art, or the beauty of na-
ture which lies in its forests, mountains, sea... For life todayis not easy.2o

Isidora Sekulic'

We have mentioned the name of Desanka MaksimoviC, a lyric poet of


prodigious output, whose first volume appeared in 1924. She contin-
ued to publish throughout the inter-warperiod, but because she
dominated the first decades after 1945we shall considerher work in
the next chapter. The other outstanding woman writer of this pe-
riod, whose reputation is well established in Serbian cultural history,
is Isidora SekuliC (1877-1958). She is one of the few women writers
about whom there is a substantial body of critical work, examining
her contribution as a whole,her essays, and herliterary views. Having
started to publish relatively late, at the age of 36, she produced eight
works of fiction and analysis and an enormous output of essays and
critical articlesof varied content. She continued to work until a short
time before her death, aged 81. Her literary activity was interrupted
twice, by the two world wars, which both brought radical changes to
the political and culturaI context of her work; her fundamental liter-
ary tastes and attitudes were not altered, however. Although she be-
171
gan to publish before the First World War and continued to be an
important figure in cultural life after 1945, it is to the inter-war
period that the majority of her works belong. In many ways Sekulid
represents a number of paradoxes faced by educated women at this
time, but because she is so dominant a figure they stand out in her
case with particular clarity. The first is the fact that, despite her intel-
lectual caliber, she followed the commonest career for a woman of
her educational background and workedall her lifeas a school
teacher. She was not happy in this work and must have been an in-
timidating figure to her pupils. But, as we have seen in the case of
Ksenija Atanasijevid, there was little prospect of employment at the
university where her talents would have been put to far better use.
Secondly, while she corresponded with the prominent intellectual
figures of her day on an equal basis, she was faced repeatedly with
the humiliating situation of being seen as an aberration, always the
first woman literary critic, essayist, member of this or that editorial
board. Much of the criticism of her early writing drew attention to
the fact of her gender in a way that was, at best, condescending, and
she resigned from the board of the SerbianLiteraryCommunity
(Srpska k n j i b n a zadrugu) shortly afterjoining it, when she discovered
that oneof the founding members had left the board-because of her
appointment.*l Even when she was elected to the Serbian Academy
of Sciences as the first woman member in 1950-at the age of 72-
there were objections. For all her awareness of her own intellectual
ability, such humiliations, combined with the lack of personal satis-
faction in her private life, must haveundermined her confidence. In
her writing and thinking, and in her wholehearted commitment to
her people, the ideal of the archetypal mother figure of traditional
Serbian culture was still dominant. That she herself did not conform
to this image must haveled to a sense of inadequacy: it was certainly
not easy to be an unmarried woman in the society of her time. This
impression may be deduced from the mysterious episode of her mar-
riage. In 1913 she wrote to friends from Norway that she had met
and married a Polish doctor, Emil Stremnicki. Early in 1914 it was
reported in the Belgrade press that he had died. One critics com-
ment, This solved Isidoras old-maid complex,** is both typical and
172
ambiguous. There arethose who believe that the marriage was a f a b
rication. Were this the case it would confirm the assumption of her
sense of lack of status in Serbian society. She herselfcommented on
how much easier it was to be an unmarried woman in Scandinavia
than in Serbia where such women are ridiculous, pitiful and piti-
able, ashamed of their position, dependent on their married broth-
ers or sisters.23 The third dimension of Sekulids paradoxical situa-
tion is that, like so many educated womenof her day, she committed
herself with great energy to the cause of promoting the education of
women in Yugoslavia. In the early 1920s she attended meetings and
conferences throughout the country and elsewhere in Europe, and
she left her estate and the income fromher literary works tothe Cir-
cle of Serbian Sisters.24 This activity should, however, be seen in the
context of the women involved in the almanac Srpkinja,discussed in
Chapter 5. That they felt Isidora Sekulid to be one of them is clear
from the tribute to her in its pages. It should again be stressed in
connection with Sekulid that a commitment to the cause of womens
education for the great majority of the women concerned by no
means implied a desire for radical political change. On the contrary,
the priority wasvery much the education of women in order that
they might fulfill to the best of their ability their crucial role as the
mothers of Serbian sons. Sekulids few writings which address this
question directly convey an irresistible energy: writingin a 1912 arti-
cle on the waste of many womens lives in inactivity with no great
general concerns, she urges Serbian woman:

Serbian woman! Smash with your fist, manfully smash the mold of that empty
and sinfully false life, and do not sleep when it is not the time for rest, and do
not indulge yourself when your children are born under the sign of death and
devastation; do not burden yourself with the sin of unfulfilled duty;at a time of
skirmishing do notstay outside the skirmish; flee fromthe shame of being a liv-
ing gravestone overthe corpse of your people ... For this country,for this pe*
ple, the time has come for impatience, and anger, and revenge. Awaken, Ser-
bian woman, and h o c k on the hearts and pride of other Serbian women, and
go from hearth to hearth and from nest to nest and extinguish with ash the fire
where the weaklings warm themselves,and throw out of the nests thosechildren
who do not cross themselvesin the name of the oath of national a l l e g i a n ~ e . ~ ~

173
One may deduce from many of SekuliCs writings that family life was
an absolute value for her, rendered all the more precious by the loss
of her mother as a child of six and the deaths of her sole surviving
brother and beloved father in 1900. Family life and social commit-
ment were one plane of existence, however; at best they could pro-
vide a frameworkfor creative activitythat was essentially solitary.One
of SekuliCs early stories, Bure (The Barrel), published in her first
volume of prose pieces,Suputnict (Companions), describes a child
living the secret, solitary lifeof her imagination in a dilapidated gar-
den barrel. This image suggests an inclination to an ascetic, monastic
solitude in SekuliCs intellectual life. In the story she also expresses
her early attraction to the North, to silent, snow-covered landscapes:
I was always drawn more to the poetry of smoke-filled Siberian huts
and the hardlife of Northerners, who are always fighters and heroes,
than to the heavy, colorful South, its lazy, stifling winds and its warm,
spoiled inhabitants.*6
Several commentators remark on the fact that SekuliC appeared
immediately as a mature writer, with clearly formulated ideas and a
developed literary style applied to a range of different kinds of text:
Isidora SekuliC appeared almost simultaneously as ... a writer of
subtle fiction, a lucid literary essayist, a mature critic ... a translator
from English and a publicist in the service of the Serbian people.
From then on, she would be involvedin such activities for the rest of
her life.* Companions was greeted with great interest by the impor-
tant critics of the day. The work is hard to categorize and thus in a
way typical of SekuliCsopus as a whole.It consists of a series of short
texts, some of which are a new free form of lyrical prose-almost
prose poems-withtitles such asLonging,Sorrow,Wandering,
Nostalgia, and Question; others are autobiographical sketches of
moments from the writers childhood. Arguably the most interesting
pieces, however, are those which approach the essay form. Some of
these had appeared earlier in magazines where they had already at-
tracted attention. In the rather sparse literary landscape, in which
Danica MarkoviC and Milica JankoviC were acknowledged as women
writing the kind of verse and prose that one might, somewhat pa-
tronizingly, expect of women, SekuliCs work had the rigorous intel-
174
lectual and analytical qualities normally associated with male writers.
The tone of the review-by the most influential critic ofthe day, Jovan
SkerliC-typifies the reaction of male commentators:

An absolutely unknown beginner appears as a fully formed writer with a per-


fectlydeveiopedliterarystyle;agirlbeginstowriteaboutthemostdifficult
problems of the mind and spirit... And now thather book has appeared,we are
left with a sense of surprise, not enthusiasm or excitement, but surprise, which is
after all a kindof recognition ...**

The prominent poet Jovan Dutie, who had written so condescend-


inglyofwomenswriting in general, was evidentlyimpressed by
SekuliC as an exceptionally original writer who would have to be con-
sidered on equal terms to men. Nevertheless, the Croatian critic An-
tun Gustav MatoS described the volume as a womans book, seeing
it as a discreet novel of unhappy love.% For some,it was a neurotic,
decadent, self-indulgent, fin-de-si2cZe text; for others, it was lucid
analysis and poetic, suggestiveselfdiscovery.For the criticSlavko
Leovac, writing somewhatlater, it is an extraordinary combinationof
both, which, with its vibrant style, set up new harmonies and a bal-
ance between intellectualand poetic content.30
SekuliCs next published volume is among her best-known wofks
and considered by several commentators as her finest, although it
too was received negatively by SkerliC. Pisma iz Norueske (Letters from
Norway, Belgrade, 1914) is a mixture of poetic impressions of the
magnificent northern landscape and of sharp observations and re-
flections provoked by the writers personal experience of her en-
counter with the North. It is about stark but inspiring natural sur-
roundings, the stillness and simplicity of snow, about beauty, death,
and above all the way the people living in such surroundings relate
to them. Sheis attracted to the evident rigor of life in the North, the
demands made on the people living there and their response to
them. Everyfolksongbegins bysaying that the sun hasset and
shadows have fallen, every melody evokes sorrow, fear and darkness;
in everylandscape one can hear storms and avalanches, in every
chord of music lies the black, cold water of deep lakes never lit by
the sun. Nowhere does one feel that eternity is only in harshness, as
175
in the Norwegian land~cape.~ What SekuliC experiences as the si-
lence of the landscape appeals to her own conviction that silent soli-
tude is essential to profound reflection and creativity. In addition to
SekuliCs own stated attraction to the North, the work reflects also
the general interest of the European literary avant-garde at the turn
of the century in Scandinavia and the artgenerated in surroundings
so different from the Mediterranean inspiration of so much of Euro-
pean culture. As such, it represents yet another paradox in SekuliCs
oa~we:the style of this work is very different from that of her first
published volume; there is none of the highly wrought prose with
metaphysical overtones which some criticsof Companions felt to be a
literary pose.The writing of the Letters is clearer, stronger, more per-
suasive. In this work SekuliC set herself a task, a problem to be over-
come: how to make the foreign, barren landscape reveal its secrets,
and particularly the unspoken intimatelife of itsinhabitants. The vigor
of the writing reflects the resistance ofthe material and SekuliCs own
attraction to the problematic, eloquently described by SvetlanaVel-
mar-JankoviC: To love what cannot be seen, which is not there, and
which must pass, is a diffkult task. But Isidora SekuliC liked difficult
tasks. Everything that teststhe spirit, that tempers it: obstacles, riddles,
secrets, but only onthe side of good, that waswhat she The
paradox lies in the fact that it was arguably in this work, concerned
withsuchforeignmaterial,thatSekuliCwrote her most enduring
prose. The work made a great impact on the younger generation of
Serbian writers who were dissatisfied with the provincial character of
Serbian realist prose.33 But this was to be SekuliCs only work, apart
from her essays, that reached beyond theconfhes and preoccupations
of her homeland. Theseearly works-and the critical articlesand essays
published at the same time-bear witness to the range and variety of
SekuliCs interests and to the long periodof her apprenticeship, when
she immersed herself in various European cultures.s4 They represent,
in a way, her most European moment; after themand the catalyst of
the First World War, she turned all her energies to the needs of the
new country and the development of itsculture.
While the Letten establish the calm prose style of the observer and
chronicler which is characteristic alsoof SekuliCs fictional works, in
176
1919 she published a short neo-romantic novel, which stands out
from the rest of her opus. Djakon Bogoroditnne mkve (The Deacon of
the Holy Virgin Church, 1919) tells the story of an impossible love
between a devout young woman, Ana-who is also a fine musician-
and thenew deacon from her church. On onelevel it is a tale of self-
denial, the sublimation of earthly love in a higher ideal. It is also a
tale of power, in which Ana gives herself the satisfaction of testing
the hold she hasover the deacon. After a struggle withhiscon-
science the deacon writes Ana a letter proposing that they both de-
vote themselves, like saints, to their permanent struggle and to the
church, and so triumph, their achievement being forged on the anvil
of sacrifice. Ana determines to prove herself stronger than his re-
solve. She feels older and stronger than the young man and, as she
folds his letter, she laughs: For a womanalways laughs when she
recognizes her power to rule over a man. Her power totransport him
to the heights or throw himon therubbish heap, to caress him, or to
cut and sting him.35 Whenhe calls on her to hear her response to
his letter she tells him she has promised herself to another man in
order to save herself and the deacon from disgrace. But she insists on
hearing his declaration of love and experiencing his passionate, des-
perate kiss, before leaving him to his torment. The styIe is suggestive,
with strong undercurrents of irony, but it is oddly dated. It is as
though Sekulid had wished to explore such concepts as the sublima-
tion of the material world through art and asceticism, the creative
power of obstacles, and the conflict between private and public life,
and had chosen to do so using a readily available literary model.She
developed some of these ideas in her later writing, but in a more
analytical manner. The workwasinevitably susceptible to descrip-
tions such as the following: She wrote the novella ... as a kind of
intimate diary, a sentimental confession of exaltedyouth, in a
womans hand.36
In fact, throughout her career SekuliC had to contend with nega-
tive and condescending criticism of her work. In the second edition
of her Letters she expressed the enduring pain this causedher, on her
own account and also on behalf of other women in public lifein her
time:
177
I was not lucky in my work, and am not still today. This is hard to see from out-
side, but I know it all too well ... I was not permitted to be myselfor clever; peo-
ple kept seeing something foreign, second-hand inwhat I was doing. I felt on
my shoulders the whole burdenof a woman workingin the field of culture in a
milieu which, let us be honest, found it very difficult to free itself from un-
healthy tradition^.^'

After that, the major part of Sekulids output takes the form of criti-
cal or reflective essays, culminatingin her analysis of the work of the
great nineteenth-century Montenegrin poet NjegoS, NjgoW. Knjiga
duboh odunosti (To NjegoS. A Book of Deep Devotion,1951). In these
essays, she does not subscribe to or evolve a coherent philosophical
system; she did not believe in the power of reason to explain the
ultimate secret of existence. While she did not develop her ideas
systematically, she kept returning to the same basic questions, which
she considered of particular importance, in an endeavor to solve
them anew.S*
The same measured, subtle style that Sekulid developed for her es-
say-writing characterizes also her works of fiction, which may all be
seen as chronicles. Their titles are suggestive of this fundamental
approach: Iz po31osti (From the Past, 1919), Kronika paZanu?zoggrobZja
(Chronicle of a Small-Town Graveyard, 1940), Zupisi (Notes, 1941),
and Zupisi o m o m narodu (Notes about My People, 1948). Together,
they give a full picture of the life of people in the towns and villages
of Sekulids native region of Vojvodina. There is a recurrent pattern
in many of them, of strength and promise in an individuals youth,
followed by difficulties and decline. It is symptomatic that her most
developed work of fiction, Chronicle of a Small-Torun Graveyard, is con-
structed around the image of the graveyard: each individuals story
opens with a description of his or her grave. Another strong thread
running through all these prose works is the central place of the
Serbian Orthodox Church for the people of Vojvodina. The Church
is inextricably linked to Sekulids strong sense of commitment to her
people. Another theme in these works is the increasing resentment
felt towards Habsburg rule, particularly by the younger Serbs in the
region in the years leading up to the First World War. This often led
to conflict with the older generation who were fearfulof the radical

178
ideas of their sons. The protagonist of the story hmanoviti (The
Sumanovid Family) in From the Past expresses the impatience of the
young and their quite new sense of the real possibility of Austrian
rule coming toan end:

The peoplel he exclaimed.You see, thats what has risen up in me. A new
concept has been born in me, a new word, a new satisfaction and a new task.
The common good, father! Freedom, father!39

In addition to a picture of Vojvodina life, this volume also gives a


vivid account of the First World War as it was experienced in Bel-
grade, where the author lived most of her life and for which she
clearly felt admiration and great affection. Her talent lies in her
imagination which enabled her to enter intothe minds of many dif-
ferent individual charactersand explore the way major international
events afected the detail of their lives. Of all Sekulits many lively
characters it is perhaps the figure of Gospa Nola, the protagonist of
the eponymous storyin Clwonicb of a Small-Town Gavqrard, who is the
mostmemorable. An intriguing mixture of the shrewd,efficient
businesswoman who seems to outside observers to have lost a11 her
femininity, and a warm, generous woman who, childless herself,fos-
ters other peoples children and lavishes on them the boundless,
selfless devotionof a true mother. As such she seems to represent an
ideal type of woman for Sekulid, one whose destiny is very different
from her own, but the kind of person she would have had in mind in
the stirring appeal to Serbian woman quoted above. This story also
demonstrates Sekulids ability, which she herself denied, to create a
text with a strong story line, to engage and sustain the readers inter-
est in the characters and their development. The lucid writing is also
characterized by an engaging, gentle humor.
Sekulid herself maintained that she did not consider these works
as fiction and that she had continued to be misunderstood as a
writer throughout her career:

I wroteessays long beforeVirginiaWoolfand no one noticedthat. People


talked about Isidora SekuliCs notes, marginalia, feuilletons ... I was never a
storyteller, what were called my short stories were really notes,jottings. I always

179
said so. I dont know how to make a stoly. But at the same time, they calledmy
essays sketches, marginalia. When I appeared on the literary scene, it was as
though Id thrown a bomb. Had you but seen all those newspapersand all those
rags, Skerlit and MatoS were gentlemen in c o m p a r i ~ o n . ~ ~

The substantial body of criticism that has been devoted to Isidora


Sekulid since her death cannot compensate her for the distress she
suffered during her lifetime, but it is clear that she has now assumed
her rightful place in Serbian cultural history. The selection of her
work introduced by Svetlana Velmar-Jankovid offers a balanced over-
view of Sekulidscontribution:

Herself a creator par excellence, Isidora SekuliC believed in the power of art
and the power of beauty: all beauty, but particularly the beauty of sound, color,
form, words. Her essays are a search for values in art, the analysis of those values
rather than their identifkation. In themselves, these essays are of great value in
our literature. An essayist who is never dull, from whomone learns both the life
of art and the art of life, without being aware that one is learning. Isidora
Sekulit is one of those rare writers to whom we return. With time, she is reced-
ing from us, but her work remains always close to us. Perhaps it is becoming
ever c1oser.41

Julka Hlapec-Djordjevit

The women writerswe have been discussing were allconcerned with


the education and general advancement of women, but they would
not allhave considered themselvesfeminists. Theoretical feminist
thinking tended to be promoted by women committed to more radi-
cal, openly political, mainly socialist ideas which gained
momentum
during the inter-war period. One outstanding figure at this time who
may be seen as bridging the two main tendencies of the inter-war
yearsisJulkaHlapec-DjordjeviC(1882-1969). Born in Stari BeCej,
Vojvodina, she spent most of her life abroad, attending a French
boarding school in Vienna and acquiring a sound knowledge of sev-
eral European languages. In 1906 she became the first woman in
Austro-Hungary to begranted a doctorate. She married a Czech offb
180
cer and remained based in the Czech lands for the rest of her life.
Nevertheless, she was a prominent figure in the cultural life of Ser-
bia, contributing regularly to some dozen newspapers and magazines
there. She also published three books on feminism and two literary
workswhichwerewellreceived in her native land. Her first pub-
lished workwas Sudbina h. Krim seksualne etike (The Fateof
Women. Crisis of Sexual Ethics) which refers, among other things-
and withtypicalirony-to a description of the goodness and self-
sacrifice of the archetypal Yugoslav mother by a certain BoZa Lovrid:
and after he has sung of maternal love in the most lavish colors, he
ends by saying that a womans feelings are well known to him, since
he himself is-a father7.42 Hlapec-Djordjevits main contribution to
the development offeminism in the Yugoslav lands was her two-
volume study Stwlije i esqi o f m i n i z m u (Studies and Essays on Fem-
inism). The first volumewas greeted by the public as a seminal work
in the field of feminist ideology, the first and only one of its kind in
our country and the result of many years work.43The works dedi-
cation is telling: To my daughters, Dora and Vjera. The victory of
any idea entails victims. I would wish that feminism should be real-
ized with as few victimsas possible and that you should not be among
them., It consists of 16 essays with such titles as About Feminism,
Feminism in Practice, The Crisis of the Family, French Women,
American Women, Masaryk on Women, and so on. Of particular
interest is her discussion of Draga Dejanovit, which includes some
valuable comment onthe whole context of Dejanovidswork

No innovation had more unfavorable conditions for its development than fem-
inism. For, leavingon oneside our unfortunate positionon the edge of Europe
and our long association with the backward Turks,the struggle for national sur-
vival was so flerce that it absorbed the energy of the whole people, driving it to
seek in its glorious past a stimulus forwork at the same time as consolation for
its wretched present. The emancipation of women, however, was in irreconcil-
able oppositionto the moral outlook of our forebears ...45

Hlapec-Djordjevid
describes
Dejanovid as standing out of the
numerous palesilhouettes ofwomen around the United Serb
was deep and original . She
Youth movement, a woman whose life ..
181
is without doubt among the most important women of the Serbian
For alater feminist commentator, Svetlana SlapSak, writing
in the context of the Yugoslav wars of the 1 9 9 0 one
~ ~ of the most in-
teresting and relevant aspects of the work is the authors pacifism:
Hlapec-Djordjevid saw clearlythat the manipulation of people in war
was the favored strategy of totalitarian regimes,and thatwomen were
responsible for supporting peace through the struggle for their
rights.47 SlapSak describes Hlapec-Djordjevids ideas on feminism as
free of all naivete, stereotypesor a single glib, critically undeveloped
thought. Furthermore, she sees her work as strikingly up-to-date:
Her feminist strategy isso modern that we can easily recognize it in
the documents of the Beijing conference [of 1995].48 The same
modernity is also a feature of Hlapec-Djordjevids writing on litera-
ture: towards the end of her essay SlapSak sums up her reaction to
this remarkable body of writing: The vision of Hlapec-Djordjevid is
not only the re-writing of the history of humanity and the writing
into it of women, and not ,only where they have been left out, it is
also the creation of a culture according to the measure of modern
womans sensibility, which isthe main theme of her second volume.
In a series of studies of individual women writers and their literary
works Julka Hlapec-Djordjevid emerges as atheoretician and critic of
womens writing avant la lettre.49 Hlapec-Djordjevid herself begins
her second volume, entitled Feminizam IL modenzoj knjihnosti
(Feminism in Contemporary Literature), by saying that, even if it
seemsavery modern phenomenon in factfeminismisvery old:
There were always women who, regardless of the regulations and
laws established for the female sex, strovefor the maximum spiritual
and material goods of this earthly life.5oShe gives a brief historical
survey of such individuals, neglected in the worlds cultural history.
Listing women writersin numerous languages-and praising Virginia
Woolf s Orlando as an example of a truly new, feministliterature, in
comparison to much contemporary writing-the range of her refer-
ences is striking. One chapter is devoted to contemporary French
women writers;another to the portrayal of women in modern French
literature; while the second half ofthe book consists ofdetailed stud-
ies of individual writers or works. The final section offers incisive
182
comments on some of her contemporaries portrayals of women in
their writing or attitudes expressedin their essays.
In common with so many of the women writers she discusses, Hla-
pec-Djordjevits own creative writing has been completely lost from
the cultural historyof the region. And as in the case of several ofher
outstanding contemporaries this is not only a loss tothe body of writ-
ing accessible to readers today, but also a distortion of the regions
history. Her first volume,Jedno dopisivanje (A Correspondence), sub-
titled Fragments of a Novel, published in 1932, was greeted with
interest, and reviewed, among others, byKsenija Atanasijevit, who
wrote positively about the work, with the benefit of her own sympa-
thy for its qualities: The work of Mrs DjordjeviC is unusually useful
in our meager literature on women, their needs, rights and capabili-
ties.51 One study of the Serbian novel between the two world wars
does mention the work, stressing its literary qualitiesand its original-
ity in terms of genre. The comment is not particularly informative,
however:We should say at once that this book was written by a
woman who is not without intelligence or feeling and that she has
endeavored to express mans real need for love and that other issues
in humanlife may haveinterested her less than the theme of
The form chosenby the author is a correspondence between a Czech
woman in Prague and a man in Ljubljana, initiallyabout a woman
they both knew, evidently the Slovene writer Zofka Kvederova, on
whom the Czech woman is writinga study.The subject matter is thus
close to Hlapec-Djordjevitsown experience and the text contains
many of what may reasonably be construed as her own observations.
So, for instance, the Czech woman is describing to her correspon-
dent her admiration for Z. K.: It seems that it is nowadays very
hard for an intellectually developed woman, conscious her of dignity,
to arrive at an inner balance, let alone a feeling of happiness. Con-
strained by obligations and prejudices, pressed into molds made for
exhausted victims or dressed-up dolls, their powerful individuality
encounters everywhere obstacles and lack of understanding.53 The
exchange of letters enables the Czech woman to express all kinds of
frustrations that arise in her marriage. For example: For women of
aboveaverageinitiative and strong individuality,marriagetoday
183
means violence.54 Predictably, the tone gradually changes and the
two, who had known each other earlierin their lives and parted
through a misunderstanding caused by the conventions of the time,
decide to meet again. But theyare both married and the doomed at-
tempt at a reunion ends in the mans suicide.The author handles the
alteration of tone, the couples fluctuating moods, and the different
styles of each correspondent with great skill, and there is much of in-
terest in the work, particularly comments on the difliculties facing in-
tellectual women at the time. Hlapec-Djordjevids other work of poetic
prose and travel sketches, Osetunju i op&nju (Feelings and Observa-
tions), has an introduction by Ksenija Atanasijevid, describing the es-
sence of Hlapec-Djordjevies qualities as a writerand thinker:
... an alert mind; lively participation in all phenomena of any significancein this
existence; sympathy with the joys and sufferings of human beings which, fre-
quently, grows out of her sociological orientation; and then a sensitivity, refined
and sometimes of a purely aesthetic tone, in the midst of the intimate eventsand
experiences to which every person has a sacred right. These miniatures of a cul-
tured, deselving and militant feminist deserve the closest attention: at times she
has the ability to sink completely into the world of her feelings and wishes, but
equally, she knows how to give herself unstintingly to both her immediate and
wider social communities. And these are, without doubt, superior qualities in all
the barren self-interest ofcontempomy life, on a personaland public

This is a volume which, like all Hlapec-Djordjevids writings, certainly


deserves to be better known: while not being strictly a literary work,
in the sense of having a developed rhythmor sustained atmosphere,
the writing is exceptionallyinteresting, subtle and accomplished, and
always unexpected. Some pieces are complete miniature stories, un-
derstated and often tinged with irony, whileothers give some insight
into what are perhaps the writers own most personal moods: in one
piece, entitled NaXe oti (Our Eyes), the first-person narrator de-
scribes her refusal of a transient affair for the sake of enduring ties,
but still: And whilewe debate seriously about politics or literature or
exchange mischievous jokes, our eyescaress and kiss each other
wildly. One of the shortest pieces is a sustained exclamation, a con-
centrated expression of the anger and frustration of being a woman
in a mans world:
184
To Men

I hate you, I hate you desperately. You strut proudly through the past as artists,
generals, statesmen ... yes, and criminals, libertines. But it is always only You
who are sung about, written about, talked about, only You. And you rule over
the present too. You struggle with God, you seekpaths to the universe, youbuild
bridges overthe chasms of the world. You tell me that e v e w i n g around me is
Your work.
Uncertainly Iseek where am I, what am I?How has my life passed, and those
of my mothers and foremothers?
The shackles of gender have branded those of us who have been left behind
in the lowlands ofthe physical survival ofhumanity with the stamp of a nameless
mass. We have not known feelings of excitement and luxury, the intoxication of
victory, the rapturous power of creativity. And of love, which, according to You,
is the purpose of our existence, all that is left to u s is the weary gathering of the
fruits of autumnal, cold and rainy days. It is only now that we are awakening to
the selfawareness of our own Self.
No,we shall no longer nurture and flatter You, serve as the dunghill of Your
self-advancement. We are tired of performing like monkeys, of the degradation
of waiting, while a smile acknowledgingsated flesh appears on Your face, hard-
ened with disdain. Take away the brightly colored baubles and glittering brace-
lets with which you lured us, so that we should not feel the pain of wounds in-
flicted over the centuries. Do not hand us the crown of martyrdom, its thorns
have pierced our brain, ruined our sight.
Youask in surprise: and what of the family? Descendants? Humanity? The
World? If its salvationrequires the sacrifice of our dignity: Letit all rot?

The second part of the volume consists of travel sketches.Compared


to thoseofIsidoraSekulid,Hlapec-Djordjevids are lessobviously
literary in intention-or rather they are largely descriptive, but filled
with literary references. They read as a fresh and immediate record
of impressions, which againoffers the reader a glimpse of this excep
tionally interesting writers personality.

Womens Rights and Political Activity


While the learned, sophisticated urban culture dominated the intel-
lectual life of the inter-war period, producing achievements of en-
during value, there was a parallel, also vigorous trend: the develop
185
ment of socialist and socialdemocratic thinking. Its progressmay be
traced in some of the journals dedicated to its promotion.It should
bestressed that this was only one politicaltendency, and by no
means widely accepted. A short work published by Lena Pop1 Hristit
in 1928 expresses what was no doubt the predominant, fundamen-
tally conservative position of most of society. HristiCs book reads as a
kind of testament, the fruit of her experience. She advises women
not to try to be the same as men, but rather to complement them.
She makes much of womens freedom not to follow men if they do
not like the direction men are taking. Above all, she is opposed to
war and urges women to take control of this one area, to change the
ways of war once and for all, encouraging women to formone great
international union, a vojsku srcu (army of the heart). However, her
promotion of womens dignityand pacifism do not drive her towards
socialism. On the contrary, she sees communism as a bacillus that
sometimes appears in a society after war, and her rejection of it is
categorical: The equality of all people would be the height of hu-
man perfection; but to give oneself into the hands of the imperfect, in
order for them to lead you towards the perfect is an option only for
the stupid.757
A very different position was taken, however, by women who de-
claredthemselvesasuncompromisingfeminists.Some of these
founded a non-party, feminist society Dru.ftno za poseZivanje h e i
zdtitu njenih puvu (Society for the Enlightenment of Women and
the Defense of their Rights) in Belgrade in April 1919, and a similar
society was established in Sarajevo in the autumn of the same year.
The society published a journal, h k i pokret (The Womens Move-
ment), which also became the name of the society as the scope of its
work expanded. The starting point for both the society and the jour-
nal was the recent world war and all that women had shown them-
selves capable of doing at that time. A bitter article describes the
current provisions for women:
A parliament consisting of delegates whom the People either did not elect or
has already forgotten, wishes to put into the hands of our Serbian women, who
represent half our nation, a regulation in which it i s written: even the best of
you i s worse than the worst man in Serbia! Because:all those men who do noth-

186
ing and do not pay taxes, illiterates, alcoholics, fi-auds, traitors to the Serbian
name, deserters, they have the right to vote, while you women shopkeepers,
agronomists, the mothers of heroes, the wives of warcripples, workers,teachers,
civil servants,doctors, lawyers, writers, youare just beginning to mumble the po-
litical alphabet.58

One feature of the Belgrade journal h k i pokret was the support it


offered women throughout the tripartite kingdom, notably in Bos-
nia. Followingthe participation of a Muslim woman, RasemaBiSiC, in
a meeting of representatives of womens organizations, accompanied
by a threatening telegram from the dominant Muslim Clerical Beys
Party, promising persecutionfor educated Muslim women, from Nos.
4-5 (1920) onwards space was regularly devoted to news from Sarajevo
of the progress of Muslim women. Generally, the orientation of the
journal was international, reporting on the progress of the womens
movement throughout Europe, but also devoting space to original
works of creative literature, mostly verse, by women writers.
From these beginnings the womens movement was promoted by
different groups,someparty-political,like the SocialDemocratic
Party, and through various journals, culminating in a sociadliterary
magazine h o t i rad (Life and Work). An issue published in 1938 as
tensions mounted throughout Europe expressed the editors funda-
mental opposition towar:

Wars solve no problems, conflicts simply provoke new battlesand wars generate
more wars. Womenhaveresolved to devote all their energy to working for
peace ... During the last world war, womensought rapprochement between the
warring nations,and duringthe peace conference in Paris, women from all over
the world demanded that the agreements reached should protect the world
from the catastrophe of war in the future ... After that, it was women who were
the first to convene international congresses wherethere were womenrepresen-
tatives of peoples whohad been enemies until recently and whom the forces of
war had driven apart ... Women will not permit that in the whirlwind of pas-
sions, with arms in their hands, people should destroy what has been created
over the centuries through the efforts of manygenerations ...59

These journals-and others published in different centers of the tri-


partite kingdom-did much to raise the consciousness of women, in
187
sharing experience, informing their readers of political eventsin the
country and abroad, and including women in social and political
life.60

Milka zicina
In the context of the grassroots womens movement, reflectedin the
journals discussed in the previous section,one morewoman writer of
this period should be mentioned. Milka zicina (1902-84) was born
in a village in Slavonia, one of the nine children of a railway
worker. She attended the local school and began to work at the age
of 16. Her experience of a range of different jobs was remarkable:
she was employed as a domesticservant,washerwoman,factory
worker, cook, shoemaker, chambermaid, typist,civil servant, and,
finally, a journalist. Shewrote her firstnovel, Kajin put (Kajas
Journey) while working as a chambermaid in Belgrade, in a hostel
for travelers where she had to sit up at night to admit late arrivals.
One day she appeared in the editorial office of the publishing firm
Nolit and handed her manuscript to Velibor GligoriC. The promi-
nent critic took an interest in his unusual visitor because he knew
her background. He read the manuscript and recommended it for
publication. The work has been described as just the kind of mate-
rial the progressive publishing house needed: Her book was an
exciting reportage from contemporary life and at the same time it
expressed the aspiration of the movement of social literature towards
a new, committed realism.61The first edition included an introduc-
tion by the director of the publishing house, who complained that
very few of the enormous number of manuscripts they received were
worthy of publication. This one, however, stood out: By the formal
perfection and psychological depth of certain scenes one could not
guess that this was a first work,the work of a beginner ... Despite the
objectivity of the writing, gicina never stands toone side. She is cer-
tainly not a refined, subtle literateur, fittingher content into artifi-
cial forms for aesthetic reasons. In her robust rustic immediacy, she
is an excellent psychologist, who knows how to approach things di-
188
rectly.6* Between 1929 when it was founded and 1940, Nolit pub-
lished some 70 novels of which only gicinas was not a translation.
Hers was the only novel to exemplify the trend of social literature
between the wars. That zicina was an extraordinary individualis illus-
trated by the following story. Duringthe ten years she spent working
abroad, while she was in Frankfurt she heard that there was a group
of Serbian art students living in Paris. She walked from Frankfurt to
Paris to meet them, found a job as a chambermaid in Paris, and in
due course married one of the students.63 While her writing admir-
ably fulfills the requirements of social literature, and while gicina
herself was a convinced communist-she was one of the few woman to
be imprisoned in the purges following the break with Stalin in 1948
(spending four years in prison, 1951-55), and wrote a compelling
account of her experience her work cannot be said to conform to
a ready-made pattern, rather it grew out of her own immediate ex-
perience.
KujusJozmtq, describes the life of a girl growingup in a village,one
of eight children in a poor family-the father usually drinks the little
money that comes into the house and the mother dies in an attempt
to abort her ninth baby. Kajas one ambition is to go to school, but as
her older sisters leave home to find employment and escape their
violent father, she herself has soon to abandon school in order to
work, until eventually she and a boy she works with decide that they
too must leave the village. The second novel, Devojka za sue (A Girl
for All Tasks), continues Kajas story, describingthe various posts she
holds, first as a personal maid and then as a cook in a large restau-
rant in Belgrade. Both novels abound in vivid portraits, with many
well-observed psychological details, lively dialogue-gicina had a par-
ticularly acuteear for dialect and speech mannerisms-and, for all the
misery of the young girls life, an indomitable humor. The second
novel is the more developed of the two, with sustained imagery relat-
ing to the protagonists memories of country life, which creates an
alternative, dream-like reality, a different level of Kajas experience,
to which she can return whenever her tasks permit. Typically, some
immediateevent will remind her of somethingobserved in her
childhood:
189
From her swollen throat, a torrentof words splashed into the cafe smoke,sway-
ing and mergingin a rough stringof melody her head rigid,she sang her trade
like the knife-sharpener who offered his services in a singsong voice, slowly
pushing his little cart through the village ...
Her older companion satcalmlybesidethetambourineplayer. Her hands
hanging by her side, staring somewhere ahead of her, she sat the way an of-
fended daughter-in-law,after a quarrel,gazesscowlingbeyondthecourtyard
gate to the paths whichlead away from this ~npleasantness.~~

The essence of Kajasexperience, painstakingly builtup from several


different angles, is her articulation of revolt against the humiliation
of working asa personal servant. This is no theoretical position,but a
discovery that comes to Kaja gradually through the various jobs she
takes on. The exploitation of the factory, the constant pressure of
the kitchen are problems that she canshare with others. She can join
with them in expressing her resentment openly. A personal servant,
employed by an individual on whom she depends for her survival,
experiences constraints of a different kind. Kaja finds that she is
happiest whenshe is left alone to make her own timetable of jobs ...
All through the week, alone in the kitchen, she enjoyed stealingthat
little independence and, instead of cleaning the windows as she had
been told to do, she would wash the bath, wring out the rag,stand up
straight and smile at her reflection in the mirror, half hidden behind
various little bottlesand jars.66Characteristically, it is only whenshe
is working for a more understanding employer that Kaja finally ar-
ticulateswhatshe is feeling. Her employer is a teacher, a single
mother whose daughter Kaja cares for. The teacher does all she can
think of to make Kaja feel comfortable and contented. But she re-
sents Kajas obvious joy whenpreparing to go out for the afternoon:
without realizing it, she also wants to own Kajas personal life. Kaja
tries to explain: Madam, you dont know who a servant is. You walk
through your kitchen, she stands on the samefloortiles in that
kitchen of yours, but you are not treading the same path.67
The interest ofthese two novelslieslargely in their freshness.
Among2icinas other works are two whichdeservetobe better
known on account of other, more enduring qualities. The first is a
novella., &a je bilo stricu Darnjanu (What was the Matter with Uncle
Damjan, 1950), which takes the form of a monologue spoken by the
peasant Damjan, living in a patriarchal village society in the years
immediately after the First World War, unable to adapt to the inevi-
table changes. Starting fromnothing, Damjan had worked all his life
until he finally acquired a small piece of land and, with his wife,
made it into a viable smallholding. This, and the patriarchal values
with which he was brought up, are all he knows. When a factory is
built within sight ofthe farm and the young peoplein the village are
attracted to work there, he resents their desire for immediate gratifi-
cation, leisure, and entertainment, without the kind of effort and
self-denial that his own way of life required. There are constant quar-
rels in the house. Damjans breaking point comes, however, when his
daughter-in-law announces that she is going to work in the factory.
As patriarchal head of the family Damjan cannot be seen to be un-
able to provide for his household,and in particular he cannot accept
that a female member of his family should sell her labor to orhers.
He cannot adjust to the idea of a woman taking an independent
stand, seeking to live her own life. iicina shows a remarkable ability
to enter into the moment of the peasants awareness of the destruc-
tion of the values for which he has lived and toiled, but above dl of
his loss of power. Damjan describes how he stormed away from the
table after the confrontation, declaring: Either thingswill be as Isay
in this house, or ... He spends the whole night meditating on the
fact that he cannot complete the sentence. Whatever he said would
be a hollow threat which would bring more shame on him than her.
He nolonger has any power overher and he cannot face that reality.
He recognizes his failure to adapt and hangs himself. There is noth-
ing triumphant about the text: iicina articulates the poignant mo-
ment of social transition subtly and with sympathy. This issue is also
the theme of her novel Drug0 imcznje (Another Property, 1961)which
examines the changes to the way of life of peasants as they become
workers in a local factory, but this longer work lacks the concentra-
tion of the earlier novella.
The other work-which connects with Milica JankoviCs account of
her illness, mentioned above-is Zapisi s a onkoloskog (Notes from the
191
Oncology Department, 1976). This is a highly original document,
with many of the qualities of fiction, such as the carefully selected
detail and the description of various vivid characters from a range of
different backgrounds, all united at the fundamental level of survival
in the face of the threat of cancer. iicinas acute ear enables her to
reproduce her charactersidiosyncratic ways ofexpressingthem-
selves and the whole text bears witness to her ability to enter into
other peoples lives and understand their point of view. The most
powerful aspect of the text is the way it builds up a sense of a differ-
ent, separate world, defined by the proximity of death. The outside
world becomes unreal, and in the new world of the hospital the pa-
tients choices are drastically reduced to the question of how to be-
have in the face of the likelihood of death: in this situation their
human qualities emerge insharp focus.

The women discussed in this chapter are allwritersof substance,


whose contribution to their native culture is considerable. The ex-
tent to which most of them have been neglected in the second half
of the twentieth century is at best surprising and regrettable. More
seriously, I believe that this neglect hasalso limited the scope for the
culture of the second Yugoslavia to accommodate a variety of per-
spectives and styles and that this was a contributory factor inthe new
immaturity of that culture in the immediate post-war years.

Notes
1 zensko pitanje clanas,RadniEke n.ouine(8 December 1918).
2 Tomi.sta jebilu h a iJta de biti, 5.
3 Politika (30 September 1919).
4 Lebl-Albala, Razuoj uniumitetskog obrmuanja n d i h h a , 20-21.
5 Bibliograjija knjfgafarkih pisaca I C Jugvsluui]i,v.
G P. MarkoviC, Evropski uticaj na proces modernizacije Beograda od 1918-1941,
85.
7 Ibid.
8 Published infiuot irad,Belgrade, vol. XXII, no. 45 (1935): 571-73.
9Quoted by Tomin in her article Jdka Hhpec-DjordjeviC (1882-1969) ili o
feminizmu, 83.
10 Ibid.

192
11GligoriC, POT&&,92-93.
12Miodrag PavloviC, in S. RadovanoviC, Antologija qbskih Pesnikinja od Jejmije ab
danas, 98.
13 Ivan V. LaliC, ibid.
14 SpiridonoviCSaviC, PergamenH. 13,20,50.
15SpiridonoviCSaviC, VeEiteCdnje, 5.
16 DragiSa VitoSeviC, in S. RadovanoviC, SrpsRe W i k i n j e od Jejmije do danas, 90.
17 Ivan V. LaliC, ibid.
18 Todor ManojloviC, Introduction to SpiridonoviCadviC, Sweti, 5.
19 SpiridonoviCSaviC, Susreti, 169.
20 Ibid., 170-73.
21See Forrester, Isidora SekuliC as an early Serbian feminist, 87.
22 Reported by Radovan PopoviC in his Introduction to his collection of SekuliCs
letters, Moj knlg kreainn, 6.
23 Forrester, op. cit., 92 (discussion of a section of Pisma iz Nmdke).
24 Ibid., 88.
25 SekuliC,SrpskojZeni, Slufba (1894-1958), vol. 12 of collected works, 109-10.
Two other articles deal directly with the question of women, particularly their
role in culture: zenina konzemtivnost (1923) and 0Zeni 11 literaturi i istoriji
(1952).
26 SekuliC, Bure,Saprtnici, 338-39.
27 Leovac, IsidoraSekdif, Introduction to Kritffkiradovi Isidore Sekulc8.
28 SkerliC, quoted by GligoriC in Isidord SekuliC, 275.
29 Quoted by GligoriC, ibid., 279.
30 Leovac, K n j W n o deb Isidore SekuliC, 369.
31SekuliC, Pisma iz Nmdke.
32Velmar-JankoviC, Introduction to Isidura SekdiC, Seleckd Works (1974), 8.
33 Ribnikar, Knjikmi pogkdi Isidore SekuliC, 72.
34 Ibid., 20.
35 SekuliC, DJakOn Bogorodih d u e , 251.
36 Gligorif, op. cit., 281.
37 SekuliC, Vrsta uvodne reti. .. (1951), Sapctnfci. Pisma iz Nmdke, Collected
Works, vol. 1.
38 Ribnikar, op. cit., 320.
39 SekuliC, SumanoviCi,Iz $nviVosti.
40 Sekulif, Analitidci h u c ii hne,I, 19,102.
41 Velmar-JankoviC, OD. cit., 12.
42 Hlapec-DjordjeviC, SudMna h. Kriza seksllalne etike,27.
43 Milan L. RajiC, DrJulka Hlapec-DjordjeviC, h o t i rad, vol. XXV, no. 162 (1937):
199. Quoted in Tomin, op. cit.
44 Hlapec-DjordjeviC, Stdije 1 eseji ofetainizvw I.
45 Ibid., 164.
46 Ibid., 165.
47 SlapSak, Julka Hlapec-DjordjeviC,88.
48 Ibid.

193
49 Ibid., 89.
50 Hlapec-DjordjeviC,StwlljG i eseji ofminiztnlt, II, 5.
51 Atanasijevit, reviewof DrJulka Hlapec-DjordjeviCsJo dupfszvanje, 148.
52 Koraf. ?$mkt roman tk~nedjudva rata 1918-1941,473.
53 Hlapec-DjordjeviC, Jednodoptkiuanje, 7.
54 Ibid., 27.
55 Hlapec-DjordjeviC, 0seCan.a i ofmknja, iii.
5G Ibid., 2.
57 Pop1 HristiC, h i od .%W, 22.
58 PetroviC, OpStinskiizbori i naSe Zene, 10.
59 ZeCeviC, 2ena i mir,5.
GO See BoZinoviC, Nekoliko osnovnih podataka o Zenskom pokretu U Jugoslaviji,
141-45.
G1Jovan DeretiC, Milkagicina i novorealistitki roman, afterword to Devojka ur me,
355.
G2 Bihaly, Introduction to Kajin pat, 9-10.
G3 Personal interview with zicinas late husband, Ilija SakiC, Belgrade, 1992.
64 Dnevnik, Februaly-Aprill993.
G5 iicina, Dmojka za me, 39.
GG Ibid., 241.
G7 Ibid., 252.

194
Womens Poetry

Where does meaning go once lunch is prepared,


when the clothes are washed, the children asleep,

when deep in their newspapers husbands snore?


Solitude constricts, I must getout,

share with someone things bothblack and white.


Asleep in others, I awaken in myself

and sometimes fly, along with my cage!


On the horizon the day glows yellow

all around, perfect-like a pancake


(beside the cooker-my shield from infinity!)

When I was alone and was called married


in my middle years my foot took to straying ...

Mirjana BoZin (1991)

The Second World War in Yugoslavia


Wehave seen that the various territories which made up the old
Yugoslavia emerging from the First World War entered the federal
unit each with their own history, culture, and sense of identity. We
have also seen something of the effect of the consequent tensions,
particularly between Serbianand Croatian politiciansin theinter-war
195
years. While there is little doubt that it was in the interests of all the
different components to become part of a larger entity, the process
of welding them into a balanced wholein which the interests of each
would be felt to have been satisfied was a task requiring great politi-
cal skill and experience. In the absence of such skills, coupled with,
the extremely low level of political life and violence, the crude tactic
of government by personal dictatorship institutedby King Alexander
and his assassination in 1934 created a climatein which political and
national resentments were able to build up. These tensions offered
fertile soil for the Axis powers which fostered a climate of national
hatred leading to the appalling atrocities committed inthe course of
the Second World War, particularlyby supporters of the Fascist p u p
pet Independent State of Croatia and Serb Chetnik forces loyalto
the king and bitterly opposed both to Catholicism and to commu-
nism. In this context, the success of the Partisans as a fighting force,
acknowledged in the support of the Allies, and the positive values
promoted by their communist ideology, gave them a quite different
kind of potential to begin the process of binding the country into a
coherent whole.
In this context of aconcerted drive towards unity, it may seem arti-
ficial to deal in this chapter only with selected territories of the sec-
ond Yugoslavia, notably Serbia and Montenegro. It should be borne
inmind, however, that the generalcultural trends of the whole
country were similar and that it is certainly possible to talk in terms
of a shared Yugoslav culture in this period. Writersand artists of all
kinds traveled between the various centers, sharing the same essen-
tial cultural experience whether they were based in Ljubljana, Za-
greb, Skoplje, Sarajevo, Titograd (Podgorica), or Belgrade. Because
of the different historical development of the component territories,
particularly of the Catholic Habsburg and Orthodox Byzantine and
Ottoman areas, it was never possible to speak of a Yugoslav litera-
ture. Eachof the literatures-Croatian,Serbian,Macedonian, and
Slovene-was acknowledged as having its own identity and was taught
separately in schools and university departments. The situation of
literature in Bosnia Herzegovina was different again and is consid-
ered separately in Chapter 8.
196
Throughout the lifetime of the second Yugoslavia one may speak of
a senseof dual allegiance in cultural life: individual artists
felt a need
to be known in the capital, Belgrade,and to belong also totheir own
native region. In its most confident period, then, this culture was
genuinelypluralistic and open, with fruitfulpossibilitiesofcross-
fertilization between the various centers. One needs to distinguish
between this positive, organic process of evolution towards a shared
culture and unified state, and the ideological imposition of a theo-
retical unity on the disparate components of the federation in the
immediate aftermathof a vicious civil war.
After the catastrophe of the war, combined with the absolute values
of liberation from occupation and the overthrow of Fascism,the call
for brotherhood and unity was compelling. A large proportion of
the population had been caught up in the real achievements of the
Partisan movement and a great many intellectuals were genuinely
committed to the communist cause. For young people in particular,
who knew no other reality than the version of the truth they learned
in school and through the media, the atmosphere was heady: sum-
moned to reconstruct their country on a new basis of equality of o p
porhlnity for all out of the ruins of the failed ideologies of the past,
they responded with enthusiasm and energy.

Women in the Second World War


It is important to describe briefly the role of women in the Second
World War, and particularly the offkial history of that role because
of the way this affected thinking about women and the way women
saw themselves in the aftermath of that war. In a brief survey of the
activities of women in the war Neda BoZinovidgives the following
statistics: In the course of the warYugoslavia lost some 1,700,000
inhabitants, of whom 600,000 were women. It is estimated that some
2,000,000 women participated in the national liberation movement
in various ways. There were roughly 110,000 women in the fighting
forces. Of the 305,000 fighters killed,25,000 were women, and of the
405,000 wounded 40,000 were women.
197
As had been the case in the First World War, women were immedi-
ately involved, in many different ways, in the process of resistance to
th,eoccupyingpowers.All the variouswomens groups, from the
broadly humanitarian ones to the more radical womens movement
referred to at the end of the last chapter, were involved in the resis-
tance. The radical activists had already been preparing for war and
they immediately set about organizing women, particularly in the
villages. Their first actions were help for captured soldiers who es-
caped from columnsof prisoners, and for identified Jews, the collec-
tion and distribution of food, housing for refugees.* As time went
on they began to organizesupport for the Partisans, hiding and feed-
ing them and caring for the wounded. From the summer of 1941
women also began to join Partisan units as both fighters and nurses.
At the same time, in the towns many representatives of the broader-
based pre-war groups were involved in the underground resistance.
In December 1942 the first womens conference was held, with par-
ticipants from all over Yugoslavia. The conference set up the Anti-
Fascist Womens Front (Antifasititkijcronth a ) with the aim of mobi-
lizing women throughout the country in order to assist the fighting
units of the Yugoslav National Liberation Army. Their tasks were
various, but special emphasis was placed on the political education
and the cultural and educational advancement of women, particu-
larly the elimination of illiteracy. BoZinoviC emphasizes the fact that
all the regulations and laws relating to the equality of women after
the first conference in 1942 were won by the women themselves in
feminist and anti-Fascist womens organizations before the war and
their participation in the war. The Anti-Fascist Womens Front was
active until 1953. Among the many tasks it took on in the process of
the countrys reconstrzlction was the endeavor to ensure that every
aspect of the legislature in the new Yugoslavia would be founded on
the principle of the equality of women.
A more detailedstudyof the topic was published byDuSanka
KovateviC in 1977.3 Her account resembles that of BoZinoviC and
together they give a comprehensive description ofthe official history
of the role of women in the Yugoslav war of resistance and revolu-
tion. At the same time, unlike BoZinoviC, KovateviC reveals a charac-
198
teristicgap in perception betweenthosewhosee the communist
avant-garde as responsible for all progress and those who give due
credit to other liberal, middle-class groups. She beginsher study with
abriefhistorical introduction, examining the struggle for social
equality between the two world wars and clearly articulating the offi-
cial
distinction
between bourgeois (incorrect) and radical
(correct) approaches to the question of womens rights. She defines
the origins of the Anti-Fascist Womens Front as being not to deal
exclusively with womens problems, but rather to serve the move-
ment of women ready and willing to takepart in the war and revolu-
tion ... In other words, the AFg was inspired by the idea of the
emancipation ofwomen through their direct participation in the
struggle to liberate the country and achieve a better future for the
entire n a t i ~ n . KovalieviC
~ gives a full account of the activities of the
AFi in a volume abundantly illustrated withphotographs showing a
wide range of options for women in the war: sewing, fighting, cook-
ing, nursing, fleeing, caring for children, and even being lined up
before a firing squad. KovateviC concludes her study withthe implied
suggestion that the first constitution of the new Yugoslavia, giving
women full equality withmen, was a direct consequence of womens
involvement in the war. She ends the work with a useful formulation
of the official history ofthe AFZ:

In theirfighttoliberatethecountry,womenthemselvesunderwentafar-
reaching transformation. The mass struggle of women as soldiers and revolu-
tionaries is of recent date ... By fighting alongside men in the war, women for
the first time realized their capabilitiesand entered a new era in the revolution,
an era of constant and growing changes insociety, in human relations. The
women of Yugoslavia did not enter the war and revolution out of feminist moti-
vations. The human values by which they wereguided were courage, patriotism,
and solidarity in a common ~truggle.~

The expression of the dichotomy here is revealing: the suggestion is


that feminist motivations are something less than human values
and by implication fueledby cowardice, lack ofpatriotic feeling,and
selfishness-a particularly powerful condemnation in wartime. This
formulation aptly illustrates the whole tension between the Commu-

199
nist Partys assumption of a monopoly ofhigher aspirations and any
possible alternative political views. It also explains the resistance to
feminist ideas in communist societiesand the connotations of moral
impurity with whichsupporters of feminist ideashad to contend.
One important aspect of the new feminist thinking in the early
1980sin Yugoslavia was that it initiated a processof reappraisal of the
history of women in the region. One of the most active of those in-
volved was the Croatian sociologist Lydia Sklevicky, who began a sys-
tematic re-examination of the history of the womens movement in
Yugoslavia and published two important articles before her untimely
death in 1990. The first of these was a study of the inter-war period,
published in Po@ (Novi Sad) in 1984. On the basis of documents she
demonstrates that the Yugoslavwomens movementbetween the
warswas a complex phenomenon, composedofvarious different
groups, in which the Communist Party was not the only organization
fighting consistently for the political and social rights of women, as
the official view maintained. Indeed, Sklevicky points out that the
Alliance of Womens Movements was the main organizer of the sus-
tained action for womens franchise in 1939. In 1921 the Yugoslav
Womens Union (later the Alliance) had 205 affiliated societies with
a total membershipof 50,000, whereas women constituted not more
than 1per cent of the Communist Partys membership before 1940.
Sklevicky believes that the increase in womens membership of the
Party after the 5th National Conference of the CPY in 1940 was a
result of the incorporation into the Party platform of a womens pol-
icy which contained essentially the economic and political demands
that were the main components of the Alliances program.6 In 1984
Sklevickyalso publisheda thorough study of the Anti-Fascist
WomensFront.Sheformulated her starting point asfollows:
Today,somefortyyearsafter the events ... the concept uf&ejka
[member of the AFZ], just as vague as suffragette, hasthe connota-
tion of asomewhateccentricrelic-atypeofactivistwomanwho
seems out of place and a littlec~mical.~ She setsout to look beyond
suchnarrowstereotypes and the accepted account of the move-
ments history. On thebasis of a close examinationof the documents
Sklevicky identifies two phasesin the development of the AFZ:
200
(i) emphasis on the autonomous character of the womens organiza-
tion, and (ii) stress on the integrative function of the movement,
from the beginning of 1944 to the end of the war. The initial idea,
established at the founding conference in Bosanski Petrovac in 1942,
was that the organization should be independent in order to en-
courage the participation of the widest possible number of women
and womens groups, regardless of their other possible affiliations
... their membership of pre-war womens organizations, their age,
class or religious allegiance.8 The organizations autonomy was es-
sential if it was to be able to accommodate the specific needs of
women who, in the great majority of cases, had no experience what-
ever of political activity. They needed a great deal of support and
encouragement in order to contribute. There were practical reasons
as well:it was impossible for most women toattend mixed meetingsif
their husbands were going because theyhad to stay at homewith the
children. If the meetings were arranged exclusively for women, how-
ever, they did not feel inhibited by their sense of inferiority, and in-
dividuals had a chance to express themselvesand to begin to believe
in their own abilities. An independent womens organization had
the ability to prepare them for the role of historical subject, so that
they were no longer manipulated as a voiceless, inarticulate mass
...g The AFZ functioned well as an autonomous organization,with a
dedicated network of coordinators who worked to change the per-
ception of most women that they were not suited to politicalactivity.
Increasingly, however, the Communist Party hierarchy began to feel
that such a degree of autonomy was undesirable. The official view
was that had it continued to develop along those lines, the AFZ
would have become a quite separate womens organization and it
would have weakenedthe interest and commitment of women to the
general struggle.10 This proposition is at least debatable.In 1944 the
organization was told to reform along more integrative lines. One
of the most far-reaching consequences of this reorganization was
that, again, women with no confidence in their own abilities were
expected to contribute to committees dominated by men. They be-
came discouraged and their numbers began to drop. Sklevicky ends
her study with some typical statistics: Although women made up
201
more than a third (100,000) of the total number of participants in
the National LiberationWar, [and]. in the course of the war 2,000 of
them attained the rank of officer ... there was not a single womanin
the Supreme Command or in the highest positions of the leader-
ship. Such bald facts reveal the reality that underlies the official
position that the whole womens question had been solved in the
course of the war and revolution in which complete gender equality
had been achieved. In fact, an opportunity to alter womens percep
tions of their value and abilities had been lost, the old traditional
hierarchies had been re-established, and women were once again
marginalized in a movement inwhich they were supposed to be par-
ticipating on an equal basis.
This discrepancywas of course reflectedin wider social relations af-
ter the war, and in cultural life. Gender equality was one of the fun-
damental principles of communist ideoIogyand built into all the new
laws. It is undoubtedly the case that womens optionsincreased
greatly, but, at the same time, the underlying patriarchal structures
and attitudes persisted. It was not until the generation born after the
Second World War(to which Sklevicky belonged) began to be active
in the 1970s that it was possible for these attitudes to be systemati-
cally questioned and reappraised.

Women Writers in Serbia since 1945


For the purposes of this study, as in earlier chapters, Serbian cul-
ture includesMontenegro,many of whosecreativeartistswere
drawn to settle in the capital. However, it is symptomatic of the en-
durance of patriarchal values in Montenegro, where theyhad dways
been strongest, that women writers from that territory did not begin
to appear in mainstream Serbian culture until towards the end of the
period under consideration.
Understandably, it was individuals who had proved their creden-
tials through their involvement in the socialist movement before the
Second World War and through their actions during the war who
formed the political and cultural establishment in the first post-war
202
years. These people had considerableauthority to determine the
quality of cultural life.. Between 1945 and the break with Stalin in
1948 there was a short-lived phase of socialist-realist writing on the
Soviet model in which some ofthese established figures participated,
but this quickly gave way to a more open climate, thanks both to the
political necessity ofdefining an independent role for Yugoslavia and
to the presence of some outstanding writers and thinkers, such as
MiroslavKrleZa in Croatia and Isidora SekuliC in Serbia, who de-
fended the autonomy of art and the value of openness to Western
models. A brief power struggle between the so-called realists and
modernists resulted in a definitive victory for the modernists and
freedom of inspiration in art, within bounds setlargely byself-
censorship, takingaccount of prevailing political norms.

Desanka MaksimoviC
Immediately after the war, however, the expression of attitudes that
were both too personaland too negative was unacceptable, as may be
seen in the hostilereception of the Croatian poet Vesna Parun,
whose verse expresses personal pain in the face of the misery of war.
A more robust approach was required to encourage the population
to look forward, not back, and to devote themselves energetically to
the task of reconstructing the country. In this process DesankaMak-
simoviC (1898-1993) played an important role. She had acquired the
reputation of the leading woman writer in the period between the
two world wars, and now becamepart of the dominant cultural estab-
lishment. An extraordinarily productive presencein the cultural life
of her country for more than seventy years, MaksimoviC is perhaps
best described as a phenomenon rather than a major writer. Essen-
tially a lyric poet of great fluency, it seems as though every aspect of
her emotional experiencewas immediately transposed with easeinto
poetic form. There is no sense of struggle with ideas or form in her
work, but a great vitality, delight in the natural world, and a positive
energy whose charm it is hard to resist. In an attempt to explain
MaksimoviCs popularity, the criticMilorad BleCiC suggests that it
came essentially from her closeness to the oral lyric tradition, her
accessibility to young and old alike, and her wholehearted commit-
ment to her people. It may be seen from this description how well
her work was suited to the historical moment. At one point, she was
proposed by the jury of the prestigious Vuk KaradZid Prize for a spe-
cial award. The justification was: There are few writers of whom it
could be said that they have identified their whole lives with their
nation, with its spiritual and libertarian aspirations, as Desanka Mak-
simovid has done. She knew how to grasp the golden thread of popu-
lar culture, to weave her own contribution into it, to extend it and
pass it on continually to the young, with love, rejoicing in every new
creation ...l2
Maksimovidswork was well received from the outset. The main
themes of her early poems were love and the natural world. Milan
BogdanoviC, one of the critics who reviewed her first volume, Pesme
(Poems, 1924), remarked on her old-fashioned and uncomplicated
delight in life and her rare love of nature. The same critic also de-
scribed her as essentially feminine: Ofall the women who havewrit-
ten poetry in our literature, Miss MaksimoviC has the most feminine
lines. That is to say,MissMaksimoviC can be most truthfully inter-
preted as a woman and only as a woman, whodoes not tomplicate or
cloud her feminine simplicity and clarity with any universal prob-
lem~.~ As is the case with all such observations,it begs the question
of what exactly the critic understands femininity to be, and in this
case whether not to be concerned with universal problems is an es-
sentiallyfemalecharacteristic.Given the fundamentallyreligious
tone of MaksimoviCs work and her focus on the relationship of the
individual to the natural world and, ultimately, to death, it is hard in
any case to agree that her concerns are not universal. Other com-
mentators also use the qualification feminine without feeling that
they have to refine it, although one, the poet Sima PanduroviC, writ-
ing in 1930, qualifies his assertionby saying that he does not wish to
suggest that there are two separate categories of lyric poet, masculine
and feminine, one of which should be considered stronger and su-
perior in itself,14although to mention the possibility of such an atti-
tude is almost to give it some validity. One of the most revealing re-
204
marks of this kind is made by Milan BogdanoviC again in his review
ofMaksimoviCsvolume Vrt detinjstua (The Garden of Childhood,
1928): he describes her as being the most appropriate of all Serbian
writers to write of childhood because of particular qualities of her
verse: That is, above all, her pure femininity, which is so freshly
maintained in all her verse and whose psychology, like that of every
real woman, enables her to be naturally close to the understanding
of a child.15While the epithet feminine mayhave been felt by
those who used it to convey something to their readers, it wasevi-
dently soon feltby most to beinadequate and many other terms were
used to describe MaksimoviCs verse.
For our purposes, it is of particular interest to consider the quali-
ties which seemed to typify her work for women commentators. It is
worth noting at this point that in BleCiCs selection of texts, pub-
lished between 1924 and 1978 by 45 literary critics, only two are by
women and their contributions both date from 1932. We shall return
to the question of the lack of women critics in the first decadesafter
the Second World War. Forthe time being let it be said that this dis-
tribution is a fair reflectionof the prominence of women in cultural
life before and after the war: the first 14 of the critics quoted were
published before 1950 and include two women; of the remaining 31
commentatorswriting after the SecondWorldWar not one is a
woman.
Twowomen-whosework was consideredin Chapter 6Jelena
SpiridonoviC-SaviC, herself a poet, and KsenijaAtanasijeviC, a phi-
losopher with a wide-ranging knowledge of classical and European
literature-both wrote about Mahimovies volume of prose poems
Gozba na Zivadi (Feast in the Meadow, 1932). SpiridonoviC-SaviC gives
a brief definitionof what she feels are the essential qualities of Mak-
sirnovies
verse:
Desanka
MaksimoviCs exceptional lyric talent,
through its refinement and depth of emotion, expressed in a won-
derful, immediate, musical language, opens our hearts wide to her
poetry;apoetryof deep spirituality and exceptionalsuggestive
beauty.I6 ForSpiridonoviC-SaviC, the secret of this intimate commu-
nication between poet and reader is the profound religious sense
that informs all of MaksimoviCs work. She defines this sense as not

205
theist or evenpantheist, and certainly not a commitment to the
dogma of any one church, but a fundamental awareness of the con-
nectedness of all things: the natural world, humanity, the cosmos.
This awareness amountsin effect to love, the poets ability to experi-
ence the world around her and the livesof others as her own:
Through the power of love the shell of her narrow human individu-
ality was broken, and she entered into the universal, because she
descended to those depths of her own inner being which are the
source of religion and all true art and love, the essential depths
where everythingis one and oneis everything.17The otheraspect of
Mahimovieswork for SpiridonovidSavit is what she calls her
eroticism, the realm of human love, but delicately and subtly ex-
pressed. Suggesting that this is a rare quality in South Slav culture
where passion is valued above all, she contrasts the individuality of
true love with the anonymity of physical desire:

It is a somewhat sadand painful fact that in our day, for a very great many, the
animal is seen as strength. However, real strength, real power and depth of
emotion are needed for that 0 t h [kind of love]. With us there is virtually no
distinction between sensual pleasureand love. But a whole world dividesthem.
For while the first is an expression of our egoism, the second is woven of altru-
ism. The first is accessible to all, for it is an integral part of our nature, our
physiology, while the other is known only to elite sonls. Of course, we are all
people made of matter, and our poet has not taken her wonderful poemsfrom
some blue star-for her too they are simply the offspring of her hot bloods red
cells, but thepower of love has giventhem wings, and they have soared.18

At the same time, SpiridonovitSaviC doesnot see Maksimovits verse


as sentimental, suggestingthat an escape into shallow self-indulgence
is not possible for those who lived through the First World War, nor
has the poet succumbed to the two weaknesses of her time: aestheti-
cism and intellectualism. In a particularly interesting passage Spiri-
donovieSaviC identifies the wellspring of Mahimoviespoetry as
goodness:

The strength of our poet, which has enabled her to sublimate the sound of her
own blood, that same strength also inspires her to goodness, which we experi-
ence as the unspoken &tmotiv of all her poetry, which is only more evidence of

206
her religiosity. Whatever her blessed hands proffer is ennobled. That i s where
her strength lies. And when we know life, we realize that this strength is, truly,
not slight. But here too there is often a serious misunderstanding. For here
again strength is seen as everything that comes from the animalpart of our be-
ing. Hatred, revolt, vengeance, those are strength^'.^^
In the context of the whole discussion of the contrast between the
epic and the lyric mode SpiridonoviCSaviCs contribution is particu-
larly valuable. This is perhaps the first time that the dichotomy was
articulated and a woman poet and intellectual felt able to suggest
that the universal values she identifies are in fact superior to the
promotion of vengeance and hatred which had inevitablybeen com-
ponents of the prevailing heroic ideals.
Ksenija AtanasijeviCs review of the same volume is shorter and fo-
cuses on what she sees as MaksimoviCs fundamental attitude in her
life and her poetry, quoting from one of the poems in the volume:
One shouldsmilesadly and gently.Atanasijevid identifies three
groups of poems, with three dominant themes: the poet and nature;
the poet, nature, longing, and he; and the poet, nature, and mystic
intuition. She too refers to MaksimoviC as a born poet, who wrote
because she had to write, the way a flower has to bloom.*O While
one can imagine that Atanasijevid herself would favor a more cere-
bral, analytical kind of poetry, she readily acknowledges that Maksi-
moviehasshownherselftobeamasterin her chosengenre-
genuine poetry, which comes straight fromthe heart-and that she
has an enthusiastic following wherever she goes.
MaksimoviCs fourth volume, published in the inter-war period, is
neutrally entitled None p e s m (NewPoems, 1936). It builds on the
strengths already expressed and identified in her earlier volumes
without introducing anything new. However, some of these-mature-
poems suggest themes that would be taken up in some of the works
she published after the Second WorldWar: so, for example, a mono-
logue in which the medieval saint Sava reflects on his life, and two
poems in which a nun is heard to speak, in the first to her God and
in the other to herself. These poems articulate the poets ability to
enter into thelives and thoughts of others, as well as an understand-
ing of the solitary, contemplative wayof life and the perspective it
207
offers on everyday preoccupations. The nun in the second poem
describes the pleasure of silence and the way everything looks differ-
ent to her now:Now I watchcompassionately, as from heaven,/
through the cell windows clouded glass,/human hungers and sins
without end/and all that my heart once touched.*
As fundamentally a lyric poet concerned with universal relation-
ships between the individual, nature, and the universe, Mahimovies
work is timeless; that is, while she uses contemporary forms,her ma-
terial is the essentially unchanging human condition. This remains
true of her opus as a whole, with individual volumes exploring par-
ticular aspects of these relationships. In this scheme there are two
moments that stand out, for quite different reasons: the first is the
verse she published immediately after the Second World War, and
the second her masterpiece, TruZim pomilovunje (I Seek Clemency),
published in 1964.
As wehave seen, running through allMahimovieswriting is a
deep sense of commitment toher homeland, both the narrow setting
of her childhood and the broader idea of the nation. We have seen
also that she emerged from the Second World War as an exception-
ally popular, established poet, whose work was widely read in schools
and therefore familiar to the broadest possible readership. The fun-
damentallyethical orientation of her verse,described by Spin-
donoviC-SaviC, indicatesalikely natural predispositionto the de-
clared principlesof the new communist state: equality opportunity
of
for all, concern for the weak, and, above all, brotherhood and unity
between all the component peoples of the state. As a result of her
prominence and her own disposition she wieldedaparticular
authority in the aftermath of the war. She took the responsibility of
her position seriously, seekingalways to use it as a forcefor good and
thereby retaining her exceptional popularity and commanding re-
spect until towards the end of her long, productive life, when she
chose to ally herself closely with the cause of Slobodan MiloSeviC.
Immediately after the SecondWorldWar, shepublishedseveral
short poems which were at once incorporated into school textbooks
throughout the country and thereafter into mostanthologiesof
Yugoslav poetry for many years to come. The most important of these
208
wereSpomen na ustanak(Memorialofa Rebellion), Srbijase
buni (Serbia is Rising), and Krvava bajka (Bloody Fairy-Tale) which
records the massacre of some7,000 pupils and teachers at a schoolin
the Serbian town of Kragujevac as a reprisal for Partisan attacks on
German troops. In addition to these shorter poems Maksimovit also
wrote two longer narrative pieces: Oslobodjenje CveteAndriC (The
Liberation of Cveta Andrit), about a peasant woman going to vote
for the first time in her life, and Otadzbino, tu Sam (Fatherland,
Here IAm), which tells the story of DuSica StefanoviC, a dedicated
young scientist who represented the best of her generation of pro-
gressive youth, and who was arrested, tortured, and murdered by the
Nazis. Such works were undoubtedly welcomed by the critics whose
job it was to review them. They had grown up reading MaksimoviCs
verse as children and now she was again in tune with the new times.
True poetry alwaysserves the needs of the people, wrote one,
KreSimir Georgijevit, praising the poet for broadening her themes
beyond her narrow personal concernsto express allthe noble aspira-
tions of the historical moment. Georgijevitplaces MaksimoviCs
work in a long tradition of political poetry in European culture,
from The Divine Comedy to Mickiewicz and Mayakovsky. Another
critic, BoSko Novakovit, explains why short lyric verse is not capable
of expressing all the drama and tragedy of the times and hence a
number of prominent poets chose to write longer, epic pieces: The
long narrative poem is a suitable formfor conveying and transform-
ing magnificently exalted examplesof individual and collective hero-
ism,
sacrifice,
dedication
to In his
discussion
of the earlier
poem about Cveta AndriC, Novakovit articulates the prevailing con-
viction that the new political structures automatically entailed the
radical transformation of human relationships. He describes Maksi-
movie as having fured one of the factors in the profound change in
womans being, her liberation fromthe bonds of slavery in which the
previous social order had bound her, and her free flight towards
complete consciousnessof her dignity and human worth.24
The historical moment which seemed to some poets to demand
this kind of response did not last long and Maksimovit returned to
her more natural lyric mode. She continued to be an exceptionally

209
prolific writer, publishing prose worksand verse for children in par-
allel with works dealing with her central concern, the expression of
her own intimate response to the world. Her verse was characterized
by an increasingly nostalgicnote with her advancing years, expressed
particularly in her volume Nemum vise wemenu (I Have No More
Time), published in 1974.
At a time whenMaksimoviCs profile as a lyric poet was already well
established she published a work of great originality, TruZim pomilo-
vunje (I Seek Clemency, 1964), which is widely regarded as her finest
achievement and stands out from her otherworks as something quite
new, although her lyric poemscontain many hints of the basic world-
view that informs the work.
The poets starting point is the fourteenthcentury Code of Laws
(Zukonik) compiled by Stefan DuSan, king ofSerbia (1331-55). It was
under this ruler that the medieval Serbian state reached its greatest
territorial extent. Following the example of his predecessors DuSan
expanded the kingdom, particularly to the south and east. By this
time, following the Fourth Crusade, what was left of the Byzantine
Empire was pitifully weak and it was DuSans aim to accede to the
throne and bring the great culture of Byzantium new glory with the
wealth and military strength of his young state. In 1345 DuSan was
proclaimed tsar of the Greeks and Serbs and set about consolidating
his power in the Balkans. Then, in 1355, he suddenly died, leaving
his ambitions unfulfilled. After hisdeath the Empire quickly disinte-
grated, tom apart by feuding local lords, thereby assisting the ad-
vance of the Ottoman forces which inflicted a decisive defeat on the
last vestigesof the Serbian kingdom at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
For many Serbs the reign of Stefan DuSan represents the height of
Serbian medieval civilization before the five centuries of darkness
under Ottoman rule. Enduring evidence of its achievements are to
be found in the splendid icons and frescoes in the numerous monas-
teries of Serbia and Macedonia. Less well known is the personal con-
tribution ofDuSan himself, notably the Law Code (mentioned in
Chapter 3) whichprovides the framework for MaksimoviCswork.
The Code is in two parts, dating from 1339 and 1354, and it is ac-
companied by a short autobiography written by DuSan as an appen-
210
dix to his Laws. Maksimovid took the Code as her starting point in
writing her own, very personal book of laws-seeking forgiveness for
many human injustices, sins, and weaknesses. The individual poems
are linked to the central idea by tone and form, and by their disposi-
tion in the book some are directly inspired by articles in the Code,
and these are distributed in irregular order among the other, more
numerous poems that express the poets own experience. What is of
particular significance in the context of the present study is that the
poems go some way towards providing the shadowy, silent figures of
ordinary women in the Middle Ages with a voice. As we have seen,
the Serbianhistoricalexperienceof the MiddleAgeshas been
molded into a particular ethos, dominatedby the epic, heroic mode
and excluding other possibilities.DesankaMaksimovid articulated
the alternative lyric mode, the voiceofcompassion and a simple
goodness ofwhichSpiridonovid-Savidwrote so eloquently. Such a
voice is not of course in itself gendered, but the prevailing ethos
renders its expression by a man all but inconceivable. Since Maksi-
movie had already given adequate proof of her allegiance to her
homeland, with all its heroic virtues, she was ideally placed to offer
this alternative mode as one that could coexist peacefully with the
dominant ethos in the form not of a conflict, but a fruitful dialogue
between two basic world-views. It is no accident that the poet gives
her work the subtitle Razgovor, that is, Conversation or Dialogue
with DuSans Code of Laws.
This interpretation of Maksimovids I Seek Clemency, seeing it as a
new departure, an alternative way of perceiving, may be considered
as a feminist reading. For the majority of commentators it was the
mostrecent-artisticallysuccessful-contribution to atradition of
patriotic writing bywomen,whose role was to express grief and
compassion as a counterweight to heroic action and suffering. After
this work, Maksimovid reverted to a more traditional form of inti-
mate lyric poetry whichwas the most widely accepted mode for writ-
ing by women. The persistence of such underlying stereotypes may
be deduced from the striking fact that, despite the victoryof the
modernists, the progressive, prewestern forces in cultural life in
Yugoslavia, their journals, anthologies, and publishing programs,the
211
editorial boards ofpublishinghouses and magazineswerealmost
exclusively run by men: the new ground that had been gained was
curiously inaccessible to women.In the years between the early 1950s
and the late 1970s only a few women achieved any prominence in
public life.

Mira Aleckovie
It is symptomaticthat one of them, widely anthologized and in.corpo-
rated into school readers, was a poet whose work has some features
in common with that of Desanka MaksimoviC. Mira AleCkoviC (born
1924) had the right credentials: having participated in the National
Liberation War as a very young woman she was entrusted with the
editorship of various youth magazines as well as membership of the
editorial board of a number of publishing houses. She was even at
one time president of the Union of Yugoslav Writers. She was a pro-
lific writer, particularly of childrens verse,in which she wrote simply
and directly of both traditional lyric themes and of the war, reinforc-
ing public perceptions of that era. Two features of her verse are par-
ticularly praised in the 1972 anthology of Serbian womens poetry
quoted in the previous chapter: she is described by the critic Borislav
Mihailovid-Mihizas blending traditional lyricprosodywithartistic
verse, and he also admires the lucid daring of her open and sincere
words. The othercomment, by DuSan MatiC, articulates a persistent,
traditional perception: The poetry of Mira AleEkoviC, although it is
feminine poetry, is not sentimental ... in several places there are
lines which are both soft and tender, but at the same time they carry
in themselves the necessary moral firmnessand they are sufficient to
justify and illuminate the femininity of her poet1y.2~Once again the
reader is left to determine what exactly femininity means to the
commentator, but it evidently includes sentimentality and a lack of
moral firmness. That AleCkoviCs verse is often sentimental is un-
doubtedly true, as may be seen from the title of a selection of her
verse for schoolspublished in 1972: P a m . Da Zivot buck Zjubav
(Poems. That Life Should Be Love). The introduction to this volume
212
by Desanka Maksimovie is generally more informative, particularly
about the traumatic effect on the poet, as a child of 15, of seeing
corpses for the first time in Belgrade in 1939, an experience which
inspired her to write her first mature poem, protesting against the
senseless waste of war. The fact that by 1984 she had published 25
volumes (of poetry, prose, and verse for children) in itself suggests
that AleCkoviC wrote with an ease that was not always to her advan-
tage-her verse can often be banal. She can hardly be blamed for
wishing to expressthe trauma of her personal experience of the war,
but there was a tendency, which she did not always resist, for her
work to fit too easily into the required form, to mold itself too closely
to the historical moment.
Other women poets of AleCkoviCs generation published in the pe-
riod under discussion, but none approached the public presence of
AleCkovit, let alone that of her model and teacher Desanka Maksi-
movid. We shall return to these poetslater, in a more detailed discus-
sion of the 1972anthology.

Frida Filipovit
For the majority of women who tried to establish themselves aswrit-
ers in this period, and to follow a different path from that of Maksi-
movie and AleCkovie, there was a widespread sense of being at a dis-
advantage as compared totheir male counterparts. This was certainly
the experience of Frida Filipovie, who was born in Sarajevo in 1913,
but settled in Belgrade after graduating there in 1936. After the Sec-
ond World War she worked as ajournalist and published a substan-
tial number of short stories, mostly in magazines, and several vol-
umes of prose. She is of interest for our present purposes becauseof
her concentration on the lives of women and their ordinary, private
experience. Her first published volume, Price o h i (Stories about
Women, 1937), set the tone for her later work. It consists of 19 sto-
ries, on the whole very short, focused on female characters in a par-
ticular situation, characterized by a discreet irony, and showing an
ability to enter into the lives of women from a range of different
213
backgrounds. The volume waswellreceivedby the critics, who
praised her sensitivity and sure artistic instinct. FilipoviC published a
second volume of stories,Do dunus (Until Today), in 1956. It is worth
quoting the end of one of these stories, zensko(Female),written in
1940, for its articulation of enduring patriarchal attitudes. The story
focuses on a youngmother who hasjust given birth to her first baby,
evoking sensitively her exhaustion, apprehension, and bewilderment.
When her husband tiptoes awkwardly in to see her and the baby, she
remarks that he has been drinking and he responds, Well, I had to
buy a round. Even if its a girl, everyone congratulated me ... Her
mother-in-laws thoughtful care and obvious delight in the baby be-
gin to restore the young womans confidence after the effort of the
birth. She gazes tenderly at her husband:

He was sitting on a chair, his elbows resting on his knees, head bowed, so that
his thick, dark hair fell over his forehead. He reached for his cigarettes, but,
glancing at the cradle, put them back in his pocket. He seemed thoughtful, wor-
ried. Suddenly he raised his head, looked at his wife with an obscure smile, pat-
ted her hand ands a i d Ah well, what can youdo! Itsjust ourluck!
At first she didnt understand the meaning of these ordinary words, calmly
spoken. But she felt something inside her tear, her joy and hope ebb away, like
blood from a bad wound, and the gray everyday, ordinary life of the wife of an
insigniflcant man, filled with work and anxiety about tomorrow, closed overher
once again. She looked at her husband steadily, her eyes dry and sad. He turned
his head away, as though guilty. Suddenly weary again, she closed her eyes and
lay backon thepillow.
What is it, what is it?, she heard her mother-in-laws voice as in a dream.
uwhy are you both so downcast? Dont be ungrateful, my child. The next one
will be ason, God willing.
Ah, the new mother understood, its because shes a girl! Thatswhy hes like
this! Even though its a girl, they all congratulated me-she recalled his words
of a short time before.
And at that moment, incapable of thinking, of analyzing that injustice, that
senseless insult to her and her child-the young woman felt a great weight of
prejudice, as old as the world, roll onto her chest, heavy as a mountain. Of-
fended in her barely formed pride as a young mother, humiliated in her newly
born dignity as a life-giver,for a moment she wished not to be, to disappear, to-
gether with the little femalebeing which she had that day brought joylessly into
the world.=

214
The controversy between the realists and the modernists in the
1950s produced some excellent poetry, and several Serbian poets
attained a European presence, the most prominent among them
being Vasko Popa (1922-91) and, later, Ivan V. LaliC (1931-96). Po-
etry continued to play an important part in the cultural life of the
country and to command awider readership than in mostWest
European countries. Nevertheless, the great majority of literary pro-
duction was prose and for many years a significant proportion of it
was concerned with the war. Novels, short stories, and films about
the war, particularly about the struggles and ultimate success of the
Partisans, abounded, encouraged by the vital importance of the Par-
tisan story as the legitimizing creation myth of the new Yugoslavia.
Among these abundant works, which cover a great range of topics
and approaches and include some subtle questioningof widely held
assumptions, there is one modest contribution by a woman writer,
Danica Lala JevtoviC (born 1930), entitled Odbegla (The Runaway).
The novel focuses on a group of children, refugees, who make their
way in a column to a center where they are housed. Told from the
point of view of one of the children, it is an internalized account of
the bewilderment and terror of war for those caughtup in it with no
way of making senseof their experience. The writer uses symbolsand
associations to convey the girls emotional world, beyond the real
and rational, shaped by fear, isolation, hope, the innocence of a
child growing up abruptly in an atmosphere of terror. A poet of this
generation, also forgotten today, Milena JovoviC (born 1931) wrote
spontaneous verse about her native village and was regarded as one
of the most authenticof Serbian village writers.

Jara Ribnikar
Among the prose writers who established themselves in the 1950s
and 1960s there are two important women with an enduring reputa-
tion: Jara Ribnikar (born 1912) and Svetlana Velmar-JankoviC (born
1933).While Ribnikar published steadilythroughout the period, and
well into the 1970s, Velmar-JankoviCachieved prominence in the
215
1980s and, particularly with the publication of two novels, in the
1990s. Her work will therefore be considered later.Jara Ribnikar was
born in what was to become Czechoslovakia. Having settled in Bel-
grade, she participated actively in the National Liberation War from
1941. After the war, she was one of the only womento hold the posi-
tion of main editor in a publishing house Uugoslavija) and to be
elected president of the Serbian PENClub. She began by writing
verse, I d u d a n i , nodi, dani (The Days, The Nights, The Days G o By,
1952), under the pseudonym DuSanka Radak, but quickly turned
her attention to prose. She has been a prolific presence in contem-
porary Serbian literature since her first collection of stories Devetog
d a n a (On the Ninth Day, 1953). Perhaps her best-known work isher
three-part novel Ja, ti, mi (I, You,We, 1967) which has been trans-
lated into several languages. After texts dealing with the war and
communist revolution, in this and later works Ribnikar takes a par-
ticular interest in the urban underworld, basing her plots on court
cases and newspaper reports, but entering into the minds of her
characters, particularly at moments of crisis in their lives. She is es-
pecially concerned with individuals who feel rejected and marginal-
ized. One of her most popular works, and arguably her finest, is Jan
Nepomucki (first published 1969, then in a reworked version in 1978)
which deals with the October Revolution. The novel has a complex
texture, shifting from Prague before the First World War to Russia
during the Revolution and civil war, following the fortunes of the
eponymous hero and his charismaticbrother, Mihailo, who dies leav-
ing Jan to care for his Russian family as well as Jans own wife and
daughter who remained in Prague, cut off by the war. The brothers
are musicians and the timeless theme of a commitment to musicand
art in general acts as a counterpoint to the chaos and destruction of
twentieth-century history, shifting the painstaking documentary con-
text of the novel onto a different imaginative plane.The second ver-
sion of the novel, which Ribnikar describes as a second variationon
the theme of Jan Nepomucki, succeeds admirably in conveying a
sense of a life story which is open-ended, about which there would
still be much to be said and from various angles. As such it is an in-
novative text of exceptional freshness.In the authors own words: In
216
its unfinished nature and its unclear, uncertain lines, this book is
often frighteningly close to life. Document merges into fiction. The
photograph dissolves into mist. It takes a great effort to capture life
in flight. As a rule all one sees is the outstretched hand, seeking.
That hand is the only thing in which we can believe.Z7

Svetlana Velmar-JankoviC
Svetlana Velmar-Jankovid (born 1933) has been a presence on the
literary scene in Belgrade since her first novel, 02iljak (The Scar)-
which deals with the war years in Belgrade-was published in 1950,
but she attained a new prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. In the
intervening years,as one of the editors of the literarymagazine
KnjiZeunost (Literature), and later of the publishing house Prosveta,
and writer of many literary essays and introductions to collections of
poetry, she commanded respect as a meticulous, well-informed, and
perceptive analyst. These qualities characterize her second published
work, a volume of essays, Suwemenici (Contemporaries, 1968), which
was awarded the Isidora Sekulid Prize. The same qualities are also
evident in the creative prose works which mark a newera in her de-
velopment. In 1981 she published an unusual collection of stories,
DwtoZ, which immediatelyattracted
media attention, and the
prestigious Ivo Andrid Award. The stories are all connected with the
Dordol district of Belgrade, where the author grew up. There is a
sense in which Velmar-JankoviC may be said, in this volume, to be
involved in a kind of dialogue with the past similar to the one which
shaped Desanka MaksimovidsI Seek C h c y . The stories bring to life
characters and legends associated with particular streets in a way that
conveys a sense of layers of history in the shadows of the contempor-
ary city, ever present and accessible to the attentive ear. It also sug-
gests that such attention tohistorymayreveal truths different to
those conventionally handed down. A beautifully crafted and illus-
trated volume in the same vein, Vrdur (1994), tells of legends and
stories associated withthe district of Belgrade of that name, in which
the author was born. In 1990 Velmar-Jankovid published another
217
kind of dialogue, this time with the present in the light of the past.
Written against the intensifying darkness of the riseofMiloSeviC,
Lugurn (1990)28-whichwaswidelyacclaimed in Yugoslavia and
awardedsomeof the most prestigious literary prizes in 1991-is a
product of the new political climate following the collapse of com-
munism in Eastern Europe. It is an understated, subtle account of
the distortions in human relationships engendered by social upheav-
als. It bridges the wide gap between post-war communist rule and
pre-war society in Yugoslavia by opening up previously taboo ques-
tions about the nature of the war in Yugoslavia and the meaning of
collaboration during the occupation. Tracing the life of a middle-
class woman whosehusband was executed by the communist authori-
ties, and who is obliged after 1945 to live with her two children in a
small part of their large flat in Belgrade, it reveals the complex mis-
understandings and false perceptions resulting from social divisions,
resentments, and revolution. The first-personnarrativetakes the
form of reminiscences, focusing on discrete moments of particular
emotional and psychological intensity which are all equally vivid, so
that the narrative shifts back and forth from a present now to a
now then, and gradually builds up a coherent picture of &e narra-
tors life from 1928to 1984. The narrative is interrupted and its per-
spective modified from time to time by the imagined parenthetic
comments of the narrators daughter and a brief, intermittent, stac-
cato commentary by one of the main charactersin the novel, a s h o p
keeper who belongs to the underground communist movement be-
fore the war and then becomes a Partisan major with considerable
power over the family. This voice is legitimized by the literary device
of the journal having been left to him in the narrators will. This in
turn is justified by the whole underlying movement of the text, which
aims to restore a disrupted balance in the interests of truth, justice,
and human dignity. From the point of view of womens writing, the
novel is ofparticular interest as it describes the experience of seventy
years through the eyes of a woman marginalized, firstby her role as
middle-class wife with a dominant husband who assumed the right to
make decisions for her, and then by her position as the dispossessed
bourgeois widow of a discredited public enemy.
218
Velmar-JankoviCs nextnovel, Badno (BottomlessPit, 1995), fo-
cuses on the life of the nineteenth-century Serbian ruler Prince Mi-
hailo ObrenoviC. Presentedin the form of afictionaldiary, the
author enters into the spirit of the times and the contemporary lan-
guage with such meticulous care that many readers have been sur-
prised to discover that the work is not an authentic document. The
extraordinarily enthusiastic reception of the work suggests a deep
need among people throughout Serbia, at a time of international
isolation and vilification following the catastrophic Yugoslav wars of
the 199Os, to look again at their past and find in it resources of a
new, unbombastic, restrained dignity, away of regaining respect for
their leaders and themselves.

Grozdana OlujiC
WhileRibnikar and Velmar-JankoviCwere graduallyestablishing
their reputations, the onlyYugoslavwoman prose writer to make
such an impact in the 1960s that her work was translated into several
European languages was Grozdana OlujiC (born 1934), whose works
belong to a particular era and have since been virtually forgotten.
OlujiCs first novel, IzZet U ne60 (Excursion to the Sky, 1958), and par-
ticularly her second, Gkmam m.ljubav (I Vote for Love, 1963), were
greeted as literary sensations for their fresh immediacy and exuber-
ance in their evocation of contemporary life in Yugoslavia. OlujiCwas
comparedtoFranqoiseSagan for her brilliantflashes ofsteely
wit.m These works may be seen as the beginning of a youthful reac-
tion to all the rhetoric and myth-making of the Partisan era: a refusal
to be taken in by any ideology or manipulated by politicians. Excur-
sion to the Sky is a first-person narrative, told
by the cynical 22-year-old
heroine, Minja. For her, life has little purpose and there areno ethi-
cal guidelinesor moral codes whichmean anything toher. She drifts
in and out of relationships until she finds she is pregnant and the
medical student father insists on having the child. They live in great
poverty and then the young man, sick with TB, is killed in an acci-
dent. Minja is left, bewilderedand alone, but with a growing sense of
219
the value both of her loss and her unborn baby. These two novels
have a fresh vigorthat mark their author out radically as the voice of
a new generation. Her other twonovels tend to be seen today as
somewhat forced and superfcial. Ne budi zaspab pse (Let Sleeping
Dogs Lie, 1964) is based on a newspaper report of a suicide pact be-
tween two young people who believed that love could not be pre-
served within marriage. The story is related by the young man who
survived. It is a complicated story in which the facts of the case are
only gradually piecedtogether. The narrator's tone is not unlike that
of the narrator of Excursion to the Sky in its casual cynicism.Divlje seme
(Wild Seed, 1967)%Ooffers a new angle on the war and its aftermath
in that its central character is a war orphan obsessed withthe need to
know whoshe is by finding her parents. In this case the author uses a
different technique to convey the immediacy of the young woman's
thought processes: she is addressed throughout in the second per-
son. So, for example, the novel opens with a sentence typical of the
basic world-view of Olujid's main characters: "Tomorrow you're go-
ing to wake up and you won't feel anything. You've learned to wake
up, you've learned to forget the taste of dreams, if that means any-
thing, if anythinghasmeaning."31Thisdevice-whichpermits the
author to see the world from the main character's point of view and
yet to have some insight into the minds of the other characters-is
well handled, but remains anot altogether successful experiment.

Anthology of Women Poets


At the sametime,severalwomenpoets had establishedapublic
presence sufficient to warrant their inclusion in the anthology of
women's poetry that has already been mentioned. Sqbske pesnikinje od
Jefimije do dunas (Serbian Women Poets from Jefimija until Today)
was published in Belgrade in 1972. Edited by a secondary school
teacher, Stevan Radovanovit, who had noticed an imbalance in the
representation of women writers in Serbian cultural history,it repre-
sents a serious effort to give the poets included in the anthology a
clearer presence in the public perceptionof that history. At the same
220
time, the editors approach is entirely traditional.In his postscript he
explains his purpose in publishing the anthology: Isthere not, even
today, acertain lack of faith, a restrainedapproach towards womens
creativity? Have attitudes towards women writers changed appropri-
ately in the present fundamentally altered circumstances? ... The
intention of the editors is to disclose a n d draw attention [my emphasis]
to several of our women poets who are insuffkiently known or un-
justly forgotten.32 Not surprisingly, in the interest of giving the poets
included in the anthology credibility, the postscript stresses the en-
during patriotic themes running through their work. It is interest-
ing-and typical-that the editor, if somewhat apologetically, includes
some traditional songs, but these are all songs in the heroic mold,
sung by blind women singersfor whom the tragedy of their enslaved
people was greater than their personal tragedy: there is no mention
of the whole lyric tradition and its vital counterpointing of the epic
mode. The introduction to the anthology also reinforces traditional
attitudes to women and establishes an appropriate framework for
reading their work
Serbian women poets have alwaysbeen inclined to the historic consciousness of
the community ... The first of them, like Angels in the Serbian monasteries,
their heads tenderly bent, as though bowing before the fate of their faith and
their people, devoted themselves with almost religiousdedication to the cursed
path of their society through life. As the people developed and in times of rebel-
lion and wars a freedom-loving consciousnesswas born, women poets wove lines
for liberty, or, in the nineteenth century, with their feelings and the manner of
their singing ... bound the wounds of heroes, as though continuing the dream
of freedom, never losto r i n t e r n ~ p t e d . ~ ~

The anthology includes poems by 32 women, nine of whom pub-


lished between 1945 and 1972. Of these, Florika Stefan, Gordana
Todorovid, Mirjana Vukmirovid,and Mirjana Stefanovid wereborn in
the 1930s. (Dara Sekulid, perhaps the best known of this generation,
is considered in Chapter 8.) Florika Stefan, born in 1930, represents
one of the finest aspectsof Yugoslavintegration in that, like the great
poet Vasko Popa, she came from a Romanian-speaking familyin the
northern province of Banat and her first poems were writtenin Ro-
manian. Her first volume in Serbo-Croat appeared in 1956 and she
221
published regularly thereafter. One of her early poems, included in
the anthology, echoes the theme of Frida FilipoviCs story Female:
entitled Tako sam se rodila (Thats How I Was Born), the poem
describes the narrators father turning his head away on seeing that
his baby was a girl. Several other poems identify strongly with the
destiny of women, particularly the peasant women of her native re-
gion, as for exampleDevojke i Zene mogporekla(Girls and
Womenfrom My Birthplace).Gordana TodoroviC, born in 1933,
published four volumes of poems between 1954 and 1973. Her first
poems, awarded the prestigious Branko Prize,give the impression of
a young woman, damaged forever by her youthful exposure to death
and destruction in war,tryingtowork her experience into verse,
searching for contact with others and for enduring human values.
Her subsequent works demonstrate a growing confidence and de-
light in language and rhythms, incorporating unusual images and
coinages which take on a playful, intricate life of their own. Mirjana
VukmiroviC, born in 1936, has not merited an entry in the otherwise
comprehensiveJugoslovenski knji2euni kksikon (Yugoslav Literary Lexi-
con) published by Matica srpska in 1984. She published two volumes
of poetry in the 1960s and is described by the poet Stevan Raitkovie
as [almong our few women poets ... the freest from traditionalism,
the closest to real modern expression and attitude.34 Mirjana Ste-
fanovie, born in 1939, published three volumes of poetry by 1973,
the first of which is marked also by irony, defiance,and a playful con-
fidence in the medium of verse, which gradually gives way, in her
later volumes, to a reflective melancholy and an endeavor to evoke
what she describes as physiological states, sensual sensationsand the
most general emotions. They themselves, not their causes or conse-
q u e n c e ~ . StefanoviC
~~ also published, in 1961, a short prose work,
Odlomci iz izmisZjenog dneonika (Fragments of an Invented Diary), a
young womans perspective on friendship and love and the process
of discovering and adapting to the adult world. With its youthful fla-
vor, humor, and vigor, the work shares common features with the
popular genre of so-called jeans-proseto be discussed below.A poet
of this generation not included in the anthology is Jasna Melvinger,
born in 1940. She had published five volumes of verse by 1972 and
222
had acquired a reputation for investing the most various forms of
life with a gentle, lyrical intonation.s6 The volume she published in
1972, Pet sestam (Five Sisters), takes the form offive aging sisters
disjointed, fragmentary thoughtsabout their lives. Written in dialect,
the poems convey a strong sense of connection to the local land-
scape, its customs and characters. Only one of the last three poets
included in the anthology, Nada Serban,born in 1948, has not found
her place in the LiteraryLexicon. One of her poems, published
here, is entitled U weme nesigurno (In UncertainTimes) and
dedicated to Jefimija. It evokes the strength that the poet derives
from a senseof continuity, away, through her verse, of tapping into
the power of the silence in which the medieval Jefimija woveher own
poems. Tanja Kragujevit, born in 1946, and Darinka Jevrit, born in
1947, may be seen as pointing the way forward for numerous new
voices which began to make themselves heard in the 1970s, free, fi-
nally, of the burden of being immediately read first and foremost as
women. It remains, however, a striking fact that the comments on all
of these poets,the quotations fromreviews included in the anthology
by way of introduction to each poet, and the entries in the Lexicon
are all writtenby male commentators.

The New Feminism


In the late 1970s major changes began to occur in the way women
. perceived themselves and their role in society. In her study The New
Feminism in Yugoslavia Barbara Jantar gives a detailed account of
women both in the workforce and in society as a whole in Yugosla-
via.37 The situation was common to all the Eastern-bIoc countries
and has been thoroughly documented in numerous studies. She de-
scribes womens gains in Yugoslav society as typical of the political
and economic advances of women in post-war communist societies,
and indeed in all industrializing societies. She begins her essay with
some basic statistics: the underlying context is represented by the
fact that in the 1920s, 80 per cent of the population of Yugoslavia
worked on the land, whileby 1978,70 per cent lived in towns. In
223
1923 women made up roughly 20 per cent of the workforce. Surpris-
ingly, this had not changed radically by 1954, when the figure Was
still only 24 per cent. In the 1970s it was 35 per cent, and by 1979
some 53 per cent of all economically active women betweenthe ages
of 20 and 55 were employed, 46 per cent of them in unskilled jobs.
As elsewhere the mass entry of women into the job market led to the
feminization of certain job categories and the concentration of
women in three main areas: in education, culture, and social welfare,
women constituted 56.3 per cent of all employees, in public services
and administration 42 per cent, and in trade and catering 41.8 per
cent. With the acquisition of full political rights women in Yugoslavia
could participate in self-managing institutions in a similar way to
women active in political bodies in the industrialized countries. The
facts of womens involvement reveal a characteristic pyramid effect
familiar from other communist societies: women were regularly well
represented at lower levels, but decreased in number as the bodies
became more important. SO, for example, women made up 34 per
cent of all delegates inthe Yugoslav basicorganizations of associated
labor, but only 7.2 per cent in local community bodies. In 1985
there was not a single woman on the Central Committee Presidium
and only one, Milka Planinc, on the Federal Executive Council.38 In
other words, women had gained full civil and political rights and
access to education, but they were still along way from having equal
status in jobs andsocial and political positions.
In the late 1 9 7 0 ~in~various countries of Eastern Europe, but par-
ticularly among Yugoslavs who were ableto travel freely in the West,
there began to be a growing awareness of the gap betweenthe theory
and the reality of womens socialand political equalityand, with it, a
new interest in modern feminism. The specific impetusin Yugoslavia
was provided by the International Year of Women in 1975 and a con-
ference organized the followingyear by the Marxist Centers of
Slovenia and Croatia under the title: The Social Position of Women
and Family in Self-Managing Socialism. Thiswas the first time in the
experience of those present that a workshop had been convened to
discuss just onetopic: feminism. Papers covered a range of aspects of
modem feminism: from a typology of feminism and feminist atti-
224
tudes to the family, to the aims and methods of modern feminism
and questions of equality, equal rights, and emancipation. There was
not much reaction to the meeting or to the subsequent publication
of the papers. However, for some of the women involved it provided
encouragement for their further, more active theoretical and intel-
lectual interest in feminism.Theybegan to exchangeideas with
other women in Yugoslavia, to read feminist literature, and to travel,
becoming better acquainted with European and American feminist
thinking in the process. Then, in the autumn of 1978, an interna-
tional conference The Womens Question-A New Approach, was
held in the Students Cultural Center in Belgrade. It had no official
backing, but included participantsfromFrance, WestGermany,
Hungary, Poland, Italy, and the United Kingdom. In addition to lec-
tures and discussions there were films and exhibitions of art. The
organizers, Dunja BlaZeviC and zarana PapiC, had planned four sec-
tions, but most participants were drawn to the first topic: women,
capitalism,revolution.Theyconsideredtheoretical and practical
problems in the development of the feminist movement in the West
and compared them to the situation in Yugoslavia. Among the broad
conclusions of the conference was the assessment that Yugoslavs
generally did not see that there was a womans problem in their
country, and the contrasting view that self-management had failed to
liberate women. A feminist historian from Croatia, Andrea Feldman,
described the effect of the conference on those who took part: It is
obvious that the experience of this meeting was new and surprising
for all the women participants fromYugoslavia. But it was extremely
~ ~ response in the state media was ridicule, an at-
i n ~ p i r i n g . The
tempt to trivialize the meeting, and accusations of female intellectual
aggressivene~s.~~ The Yugoslav participants reacted by publishing
serious accountsof the meeting in various newspapers, although they
encountered some opposition from editors. The official line of at-
tack in h a (Woman) and the standing Conference on Women of
the CommunistParty was the familiar one that there was no
womens question apart from the class question and that, conse-
quently, feminism had nothing to offer, promising a solution for a
problem that did not exist. Such a dismissal of their activities did not
225
diminish the enthusiasm of women from all over the country who
had suddenly discovered so much common ground and an urgent
focus for their energies. Womens groups wereset up inall the main
urban centers to discuss feminist theory, and women began to write,
to appear on television, and to address public meetings on issues
they felt to be important. They continued to encounter crude at-
tacks, with the result that only a few intrepid individuals made a real
impact with their writings. Apart from the scholarly work of Lydia
Sklevicky, which we have already discussed, there were two important
popular volumes,alsopublished in Zagreb in the sameyear as
Sklevickysessays:SlavenkaDrakuliCs Smrtni @ p i fminizma (The
Deadly Sins of Feminism, 1984), a collection of stimulating, often
outrageously funny newspaper articles,and vjeran KatunariCs h k i
ems i civilizacpz smdi (The Female Eros and the Civilization of Death,
1984), dealing with a wide range of sociological, psychological, and
philosophical issues relatedto the womensquestion.KatunariC
offers a particularly useful analysis of the persistence of patriarchal-
ism in Yugoslav society after the Second World War,a state of affairs
compounded in hisview by the fact that patriarchalism was incorpor-
ated into the communist form of government: In the authoritarian
conscience, the woman is located in the family as in its vital center.
She is in the first place a mother and everything is done to conserve
and maintain this modelof woman fromde~truction.~~
In her discussionof the periodBarbaraJanCaridentifiesfive
propositions which may be distinguished as central toYugoslav femi-
nist thinking in the 1980s: i) the history of the womens movement
should be seen as autonomous and separate from the struggle of the
working class; ii) while the contribution of women to the National
Liberation Strugglewas remarkable and essential, it was dogmatically
organized-this dogmatism led eventually tothe subordination of the
womens movement in Yugoslavia to the bureaucratic interests of
post-war Yugoslavia; iii) womens experience was common to all in-
dustrializing and industrialized societies; iv) far from uprooting tra-
ditional patriarchalism, industrialization had in fact produced a new
and perhaps more virulent formof it; v) the use of the mass media to
market products and the treatment of every human exchange as a
226
commodity had played a significant role in keeping women in their
pla~e.~*Janhr concludes her essay with the suggestion that the lives
of women in Yugoslavia had k e n more rapidly transformed overthe
preceding twenty yearsthan those of their counterparts in the indus-
trialized West: In a single generation, Yugoslav women have moved
from their place in traditional agrarian communities, capable of
defending their household and land with a gun in their hand, to
finding themselves as independent wage-earners in a society where
the mass media exploit their new and still uneasy status to sell any
and every product for mass consumption. The new feminism had
taken stock of this profound change and by doing so offended both
the official ideology and the wartime generations deepest sensibili-
ties.43
The effect of these new perceptions and the emergence of a new
generation of women with the confidence to question all accepted
opinions and values in their light was a fundamental change in the
way women who came into contact with these ideas saw themselves
and their role in society. A number of new initiatives came into be-
ing: womens support groups, such as the SOS hotlines for battered
women and children; feminist discussion groups; womens magazines
and the beginnings of university courses of womens studies. There
were now severalfora in which women could develop their ideas in a
serious environment, without having to contend with the ridicule
and contempt that had often beset the work of their predecessors. In
this fundamentally changed atmosphere, new women-centered writ-
ing could emerge and be paid serious critical attention. The differ-
ence made by the presence in cultural life of women critics, literary
historians, and commentators with a thorough knowledge of Euro-
pean and American feminist ideas cannot be overestimated. While
it is clearly the case that not all women writers see their work as in
any way determined by their gender and resent the kind of ghettoi-
zation theyfeel such a critical emphasis implies,there areothers who
feel thatthe new atmosphere offers them the freedom towrite
womencentered narratives in the knowledge that they will be under-
stood by women critics who have developed their ideas in the same
intellectual climate as themselves.
227
BiljanaJovanovid
In this radicallyaltered climate a new kind of womens writing began
to emerge. The first writer to appear in Belgrade whose work may be
described in such a way was Biljana Jovanovie (1953-96). Her first
novel, Puda Avula (AvalaIsFalling) was published in 1978. It was
greeted as an example of a kind of text some critics had described as
jeans-prose because of the narrative style: a first-person narrators
rebellious, youthful tone, colored by adolescent slang. It is indeed,
like other workswhichmay be characterized in this way, about a
young persons search for her own identity. The fact that the narra-
tor is a young woman doesnot of course fully definethe work, but it
does introduce a new element which deserves attention on its own
terms. Looked at from this point ofview this work, together with
Jovanovies second novel, Psi i ostuli (Dogs and Others, 1980), may
legitimately be read as examples of women-centered narratives shar-
ing common features with many works ofEuropean and, particularly,
American contemporary literature, in which women begin to con-
sider their marginalization, their status as other in a new way. One
instance is the way in which the narrator of such worksrelates to her
body: where Western society has tended to reduce the female body
to a commodity, the new womens writing addresses the issue of fe-
male sexuality from a different perspective.The narrator of AvuZu Is
Fulling, Jelena Belovuk, is seen to use her body as a wayof under-
standing herself and her position in the world: her provocative be-
havior and style of dress defy socialconvention and give her a kind of
power she is not always sure she wants. Where Jovanovids novel dif-
fers from many other womencentered texts is in its lack of progres-
sion: her heroines playing with her body and with people around
her does not lead to any revelation or fundamental change in her
position in the world. She tries one course of action after another,
but in the end is left with no sense of direction or purpose in her life.
Dogs and O t h s , which hasbeen described as a psychological portrait
of a contemporary young woman for whom emotional maturing is
impossible, a woman who is in fact emotionally disabled and there-
fore violently resists the world as she sees it, experiencing it as a tan-
228
gle of lies, evil and loneliness.& The first-person narrator gives a
rebellious, defiant, angry account of her troubled relationship with
her mother and complex interactions with her brother, who is un-
stable and eventually kills himself-as had their father, who is referred
to only as that man-and with some other characters who play an
important role in her life, including Milena with whom she has a
brief physical relationship. As in the earlier novel the text is shaped
by the narrators searchfor her sense of self, whichshe tries to build
up by inventing storiesabout her childhood and telling them to her
grandmother, who then invents versions of her own. The text has a
staccato quality, with a varied tone as various characters dominate:
Milena, for instance, has a particularway of expressing herself. The
narrator has the same skeptical, distrustful attitude to the world as
Jelena in Avulu Is Fulling, but nevertheless cares for her brother and
grandmother. It is a bleak text about a young girl who cannot find
her place in the world. As the critic Jasmina LukiC points out in a
closeanalysisof the two novels,BiljanaJovanoviCs heroines are
tragic figures who invest their energy in shaping an authentic exis-
tence for themselves, but they are always defeated, either by the limi-
tation and stupidity of their surroundings or the lack of emotional
support whichtheyvainly expect to receive from those surround-
i n g ~ . LukiC
~ ~ ends her discussion of the two novels with a general
statement ofJovanoviCs importance in the contemporary cultural
history of the region:

The refusal to be suffocated by the typical stenchof life, which we may identifir
as
the fundamental motivation for the behavior of Biljana Jovanovics heroines, as-
sumes the courage to raise many disagreeable questions: from issues concerned
with their social surroundings to questionsof the morality which justifies the re-
pression of those we recognize as dlfferent or weaker than ourselves. These ques-
tions are clearly articulated in these works because the heroines pose them from
the margins in which they are themselves doubly marked, by belonging to their
generation, but also by belonging to their gender. In her novels Avah Is Fulling
and Dogs and Otlm Biljana Jovanovif was the first to recognize that double margi-
nalization as an exceptionally important literary theme, therebyopening up a new
space of experience which we can only discuss adequately ifwe recognize the prob-
lem of gender. From this point of view her novels retain a particular importance as
one of the turning points inour contemporary literary produ~tion.~~
LukiCs commentary is an example of the new potential for what may
be described as womencentered reading. That other, more tradi-
tional kinds of reading were still prevalent among male commenta-
tors may be seen from an interesting essay in the commemorative
section of the magazine Pro-Feminu dedicated to Biljana JovanoviCs
work and tragically short life. Ljiljana sop describes the impact of
Jovanovids first novel, suggestingthat the sense of surprise it gener-
ated was best formulated by the writer Vidosav StevanoviC in his re-
view: In her writing there is nothing feminine, nothing sentimen-
tal, mijam-esque [Mijana JakovljeviC,Mir-Jam], there is no tear-
fulness, sickliness, there are no kinds of surrogate^."^^ sop ends her
essay by describing the reactions of two other Serbian male writers
who have clearly understood Jovanovids work, suggesting that now,
twenty years on, a reading such as StevanoviCs was no longer possi-
ble.Nevertheless, JovanoviCs third novel, DuSa, jedinicu mqu (My
Soul, My One and Only, 1984), was greeted by critics as her most
ambitious, which, assop points out, may simply have meant that she
had expanded her material into what such critics might have consid-
ered as male-andgenerally more familiar-territory. In fact, the
more traditional structure and content of the novel are arguably less
ambitious than the two earlier works in that the latter were breaking
new ground.
My Soul, My One and Only concerns the fate of an extended Monte-
negrin familybetween the bombing of Belgrade in 1941 and the
death of the central character, Ivan Kralj, in 1970. Focusing on one
character or group after another, gradually revealingtheir personali-
ties and their relationships with each other, the novel gives an im-
pressive account of the dissolution of the traditional, patriarchal way
of life under the pressure of the radical social disruption ofwar and
revolution. In essence the novel concerns loss: from Ivans mother
Milicas sorrowful pickingthrough the wreckage of her home at the
beginning, to Ivans own failed lifeand the disappearance of his son,
representing the loss of a whole generation. Glimpses of the familys
former confidence and dignity are seen in the character of Ivans
uncle, Simon,whose language and whole bearing still preserve some-
thing of the old ways and offer a haven to which younger members of
230
the family turn in times of need. Lacking the stability of Simons
roots his nephews are exposed to the often destructive currents of
the new post-war, urban world. Ivan is a weak personality who de-
pends for emotional strength first on his lively, committed young
communist wife, whom he betrays to the secret service, remainingin
their crude and ruthless power throughout his life, and then on his
son, for whom he cannot care and who grows into a petty criminal
before deserting from the army and disappearing. Towards the end
of his life Ivan tries to find a path towards more enduring values
through the deeply Christian woman Marina, who had been a posi-
tive influence in the life of his son, but all that Ivan can discover is
the final loss of his one and only soul. Jovanovit builds up a con-
vincing picture of a society in flux and the fate of some of its most
vulnerable members in that process. It is a subtleand compassionate
account of a period that has been treated by many differentYugoslav
writers in a variety of ways,and it acquires a fresh relevance the in era
dominated by the newideologyof crude nationalism initiated by
MiloSeviC, where the same ruthless, bullying tactics as those of the
old secret serviceare used to control the population. The novel is an
eloquent testimony to the squalid degeneration and failure which
are the legacy of such manipulative societies.
Jovanovie was an exceptionally talented writer who grounded her
work in a thorough knowledge of the European literaryheritage and
contemporary trends, and she was interested in the new possibilities
opened up by contemporary literary theory and practice. This may
perhaps be seen most clearly in JovanoviCs dramatic works. It is a
striking feature of theatrical life in Serbiaat the end of the twentieth
century that there is a largenumber of women playwrights. Jovanovie
is hardlytypicalof them: although three of her four playswere
staged the reaction to them was muted and often clouded by misun-
derstanding. Jovanovids plays are deeply challenging, as is all of her
writing. All of them are set in prison, real or symbolic: UZrike Mujnhof
(1976) in the notorious German Stanheim, where members of the
Red Brigade were held and tortured; h i U p,kuo pticu (Flying to
the Mountains, Like a Bird, 1982), concerns fear of the Yugoslav
prison island of Goli Otok where supporters of Stalin wereheld after
231
1948, a fear which makes a prison even of the characters home; C2
(1990) in the Yugoslav Central Prison-whose initials give the play its
name-where political prisoners, Russian revolutionaries, and Interior
Ministers from various periods meet; and Sobu nu Bosforu (Room on
the Bosphorus, 1994), both prison and grave, a kind of purgatory in
which torturers and tortured wait for deli~erance.~~ This last playwas
published in the first issue of Pro-Feminu, the outstandingjournal on
which the current study draws copiously. In a pointed article which
closes the commemorative section of issue seven the journals main
editor, SvetlanaSlapSak,expresses her disappointment that there
had been no critical reaction to Jovanovids last, remarkable play, but
acknowledges that Biljana Jovanovid, as a critic of nationalist ideo-
logy and politics, and as an expressly un-postmodern activist, had
been simply written out of Serbian literat~re.~g Her last complex
play, which SlapSak describesas a verbal portfolioof colors, has no
place in the simplistic repertoire of the Serbian theater in the 1990s.
For all the critical silencesurrounding her work, however, there is no
doubt that Jovanovids death in 1996 deprived literature in the Ser-
bian and Croatian languageof a rare talent.

Milica Mitit-Dimovska
Belongingto the same generation, MilicaMidid-Dimovska (born
1947) declared her central focus with the publication of her first
collection of stories, Prize o h
i (Stories about Women), in 1972. It
is worth noting that this was also the title of a collection published
35 years earlier by Frida FilipoviC. Filipovid was motivated by a simi-
lar sense of the marginalization ofwomens experience and, al-
though her work was taken seriously by critics before the Second
World War, there was little understanding of her concerns in the
changed circumstances after the war. The climate in whichDi-
movska began her career was very different: while there were still
those who could mock the portrayal of the womans world, as we
have seen there was also the experience of a growing body of femi-
nist writing in Europe and the United States which provided a con-
232
text for her work, even if she did not see herself as directly influ-
enced by the theories or practice of feminism. More importantly,
Dimovska is concerned less with women than with gender, the ex-
perience ofwomen as other, the socialroles and expectations
imposed on women, but also on men. She also has the benefit of a
generally more sophisticated approach to literature, drawing on
the often playful techniques and irony of much postmodern writing
and film to underminethe fundamental melancholy of her
womans world. It was possible for critics to read Dimovskas first
collection of stones as an example of the dominant model of prose
writing in Yugoslavia in the 1970s, focused on the everyday experi-
ence of people on the margins of society, unaffected by the grand
schemes and mythologies of politics. Such fiction tends to use the
language of a particular group or milieu to fix its narration in a
specific context. In Dimovskas work, however, dialogue is minimal,
often poignantly banal, conveying the unbridgeable gap between
an individuals inner world, dreams and fantasies, and day-to-day
reality. Another shared feature of collections of stories published at
this time is that the individual pieces tend to be related on various
levels so that they form a narrative whole. Staries about Women con-
sists of ten short sketches forming two main groups with the same
central character, a middle-aged woman with a distant, unfaithful
husband and an equally distant, rebellious teenage daughter. The
sketches gradually build up a fragmented picture of her unsatisfac-
tory life from several angles, evoking complexrelationships in a few
sentences. Typically the third-person narration is focused on the
main character, so that her world is seen from her point ofview
and the impression is created of a woman looking out at an inac-
cessible outer world from a role in which she is trapped by conven-
tion, circumstance, and her own inability to assertherself. Di-
movskas expression is understated, conveying undercurrents of mis-
ery and misunderstanding. The wholevolumeevokes a womans
world of unfulfilled lives, where individualslong silently for the sim-
plest acknowledgment, where they have littlecontrol over their own
destiny, but are the passive objects of social expectations, incapable
themselves of knowing what they would like to be.
233
Dimovskas secondvolume, Poznanici (Acquaintances,1980),de-
velops the fragmented structure into a firmer wholein which the title
has an ironic function, reducing the sexual relationship of the two
main characters to the samelevelas their casual encounters with
work colleagues or passers-by. The intricacy of the text emerges only
gradually as the four selfcontained episodes are seen to lead towards
the same incident, in which an old man diesin the street outside the
officewhere the maincharacters are employed. The narrative is
completed by the old mans own account of the moment of his
death. Interest is sustained in each separatecomponent and steadily
increased by the realization that they are all connected in arbitraryand
unpredictable ways. Ubme (Phantoms, 1987) has a similar structure.
The central story is built up gradually by three different narrators: a
virtually bed-ridden old woman-whose consciousness shifts between
dream, memory, and the present with no clear boundaries-her son,
and his wife, who take over the story, each from their own point of
view. In this work the various threads are woven together even more
intricately than in Acquaintances: themes left in the air in one section
are taken up by a different narratorand the dream of the opening is
elaborated as reality, so that gradually the pieces of the disjointed nar-
rative fall into place and incomprehensible references acquire mean-
ing. In addition to the purely technical pleasure of Dimovskas assured
command of her material, her technique conveys the underlying truth
of the impossibility of communication and the isolation of individu-
als even withinthe family, whereno experience can be truly shared.
Dimovskas next workof prose fiction, Odmmvanje (Defrosting,
1991), with its unusual subtitle Cosmetic Tales, is described by the
critic Jasmina Lukid asher most significant to date.50 Consistingof
ten short stories of varying length, which focus on the lives of indi-
vidual womenin a variety of socialsituations, this volume proves that
Dimovska is a writer who manages a range of different tones and
styles with great skill. Most of the stories observe the world through
the eyes of a main character, not always a first-person narrator. The
main focus of attention is the discrepancy between the central char-
acters thoughts, her expectations of the world, her dreams, and the
mundane or isolated realityin which she lives her daily life. Some of
234
the situations described involve fantasy, such as the first piece, enti-
tled KoZa (Skin), in which the protagonist, Isidora, a typist, triesto
keep the process of aging at bay with creams made in her kitchen-
laboratory. In a dream she seesthat the secret of renewing the life of
her skin is to rub her face with the placenta from a newborn baby.
The result is disastrous and Isidora ends up in a mental hospital.
Others involve extreme situations of violence, rape, and murder: in
one, Otrovna boja gledji (The Poisonous Color of Enamel), the
main character is Miljana,a woman whose young daughter was raped
and killed as she waited for her mother in the garden of the spa
where Miljana works. The spa hosts literary symposia and the story
skillfully handles levels of irony
and reality, summed up in the factthat
two of the meetings were devoted to the plausible topics of Violence
in Literature and Gardens in Literature. While all the stories con-
cern women, some ofthem are shapedby the device of taking a cliche
or stereotype to its literal extreme,
while others dealwith realistic situa-
tions. The story which makesthe question of gender its central theme
has an ambiguous title in the original: U svome rodu (Among Her
Own Kin/Kind ).51 The central character, Verica, is tIying to find an
identity and a role through writing about her childhood, but cannot
progress beyond a single sentencethat haunts her. She returns to her
home in the hope of recreating the original experience, but encoun-
ters only more unsolved riddles, such as the question of why her cousin
Doca refuses to accept her female gender, choosing instead to live
like a man. Verica ends in despair, resolving to drown herself, feeling
betrayed by everyone, including herself: And, it had to be, she had
betrayed herself, despised her armor, the gender to which she was
destined for evermore. She is saved, however, and, with irony typical
of Dimovska,finds consolationfor the failureof yetanother attempted
escape in the traditional saying that Every woman has nine lives. Jas-
mina Lukid concludes her essay on the work of Milica Mi&-Dimovska
with the following summary of one of itsimportant aspects:
One of the fundamental characteristics of real prose was the endeavor to cast
light particularly on the social margins as an area shaped to a great extent b e
yond the control of society,52 and outside the dominant social and cultural
codes. Milica MiCiCs work in fact approaches the problem of the margin from

235
the opposite direction. She is not concerned with the social margins, but with
women and characteristically female destinies. She thus places in the center of
her fiction what is in fact the most numerous marginal group in every society,
marginal from the point of view of money and power, and for that reason also
from the point of view ofthe ability to control its own destiny. At the same time,
it is a social group which is by no means free from social supervision;on the con-
trary, it is exposed to the pressure of rigid, clearly defined norms, which seekto
determine not only outer forms of behavior, but also the relationship of the entire
group to itself. Each individual is exposed to that pressure, as is the whole social
group. In this important aspect of her fiction, it is precisely that relationship which
Milica MiBC problematizes: the relationship of the individual to her social sur-
roundings inwhich she has no possibility of adequate self-realization.That is one
of the semantic planes on which this story about women ceases to be just a
woman's story. Describingthe characteristically female destinies of her heroines
Milica Mi&-Dimovska unmasks a general process of belittling the individual,
undermining everything that gives a human life valueand meaning.53

MiCiC-Dimovska's most recent work is her fictionalized biography of


her namesakeMilicaStojadinoviCSrpkinja. In the context ofDi-
movska'swork as awhole, it is another exampleof her women-
centered focus. And, like that whole focus, it is also subversive in
terms of the prevailing social norms. Dimovska's biography has par-
ticular relevance tothe present study because of its clear implication
that Stojadinovie's exclusiveconcentration on acting and writing as a
devoted patriot was misguided. In view of its publication date, 1997,
it is impossible not to read the work as a dismissal of the exclusive
preoccupation of Serbian politics in the 1990s under MiloSeviC, the
promotion of the cause of Serbdom.

Other Women Writers

Other significant women writers of thisgeneration include Olga Os-


tojit-Belta, Vida OgnjenoviC, and Judita salgo, all born in 1941. Olga
OstojiC-Belta published her firstnovel, Smrt godtsnieg doba (The
Death of a Season), in 1963. It describes a young woman of nineteen
visiting her old family home, trying to piece together her identity
from memories and anecdotes, and gives a modest but real sense of
236
consciouslyfemaleselfdiscovery.OstojiC-Beltahas continued to
write novels and short stories, and her work is described as unusual
in that it combines both a sharp intellect and a refined tenderness
that avoids ~entimentality.~~ Vida OgnjenoviC is best knownas a pro-
ductive, prize-winning playwright, a fieldin which she has acquired a
considerable reputation as a meticulous craftswoman. Her plays are
marked by an accomplishedsenseof theater, wit, intelligence,
authentic detail, and close attention to language. Described by one
drama critic, Jovan HristiC, as classical in their structure, the devel-
opment of plot, and the way they treat individualthemes, Ogn-
jenovits plays are nevertheless strikingly modern in their presenta-
tion, language, and ironic tone. More recently, she has also turned to
prose, publishing volumes of short stories in 1996 and 1997, and a
novel, Kucu m w i h mirisa (The House of Dead Aromas), in 1995. Ju-
dita salgo (1941-66) was a poet of great originality, inventiveness,
and wit. Her unfinished novel, Put U BirobidZun (The Road to Biro-
bidzhan), has an expressly female theme. One of the characters is
Berta Papenheim, Freuds Anna 0. The unsuccessful project of a
new homeland for Russian and European Jews becomes here the
symbolic image of every search for alternative spacein which a genu-
ine freedom is sought.BertaPapenheiminvestigatesasylums for
mentally illand hysterical women, recognizingin their illness a form
of escape, one aspect of the search for female ~ontinuity.~~ Boba
BlagojeviC (born 1946) published a collectionof short stories in 1975
and a highly original novel, Skdetnu Zudu (The Scarlet Oddball), in
1991, which considers the question of the other from an unusual
point of view: the first part is a young mans self-analyticalaccount of
his life, while the second part is a literary text about him rejected by
the main character as untruthful. The work is admirably written but
hermetic.
Other poets of this generation are Darinka JevriC (born 1947), who
draws on the oral tradition, transposing it into a modem poetic id-
iom, and Radmila LaziC (born 1949), who often writes of womens
roles through an expressly female lyric subject,but with a measureof
rational distance towards her own emotions. Her tone isconcise,
lacking in obviouslyricism and has therefore been described as
237
outside the framework of womens poetry.56 The important critic
Svetlana SlapSak writes that it is hard in the whole of modern Ser-
bian poetry to find so much witty descriptiveness and sarcasm to-
wards everything that resembles enduring values.57Other women
writers of this generation who have achieved a place in the most re-
cent listing of Serbian writers are Vera Kolakovie (born 1948), who
published a novel Skinite nuoZure, gospodine (Take Off Your Glasses,
Sir) in 1967, which, like Ostojid-BelCas first work, maybe seen as an
account of a journey of selfdiscovery, this time of a young woman
going from the country to Belgrade to study and search for some-
thing, although she is not quite clear what. The novel, interestingly
and concisely written, was well received at the time. She has contin-
ued to write novels and stories, frequently concerned with the des-
tiny of women. Gordana Stosie (born 1945) writes largely autobio-
graphical prose. What has been described as her unconventional
treatment of some contemporary womens themes (free love, sex,
loneliness) has earned her the reputation of a SerbianErica
J~ng.~ Ljubica
* Miletie (born 1948) is a poet steeped in the Chris-
tian tradition and Serbian history and culture.
The next generation of poets includes a number of interesting
voices. Mirjana BoZin (born 1952) tends to the understated, concise,
miniature form, sometimes witty,always original, generally a brief
idea expressed in one breath, as may be seen in her volume of Haiku
poems Odgouor sunthorn zruku (Answer to the Suns Ray, 1990). Her
volume of poems Bagfesno zuZete (ImmaculateConception,1991)
suggests a newstrength and range, and a particularconcern with the
destiny and, frequently welcome, solitude of women. Tatjana LukiC
(born 1956) writes in an explicitly female voice. Gordana Cirjanie
(born 1957), who has a wellestablished reputation as a sometimes
hermetic poet, blends intimate themes with a rich framework of lit-
erary reference and a frequent dose of irony.
Several newprose writersappeared in the course of the 1980s, such
as Ljlijana Ninkovie (born 1954), with a collection of stories, hU
ime ljubuvi (Woman in the Name of Love, 1989), and Ljubica ArsiC
(born 1955), who published a witty collection of very short prose
pieces, Prst U meso (A Finger in the Flesh, 1984). Hana Dalipi (born
238
1957) was greeted with particuIar interest as her autobiographical
novel, Vikad U materini (Weekend at Mothers, 1986) about her
childhood in a mixed Albanian/Serb family in Belgrade offered a
new insight into such communities fromthe point of view ofa young
woman.VesnaJankoviC (born 1958) is also an accomplished play-
wright, several of whoseworkshave been staged. Her first novel,
ZZutnu knjiZicu (The Little Golden Book, 1985), is a warm but unsen-
timental account of life after the Second World War-particularlyas it
affected women-told from the point of view of a child, while Stunari
d w e (Tenants of the Soul, 1990) is a complex texture weavingto-
gether the livesofseveral generations.Jasmina TeSanovid (born
1954) stresseswomens experience in her prose works, Nevidljiva
knjigu (Invisible Book, 1992) and Uegzilu (In Exile, 1994), and in her
most recent novel, Sirene (Sirens, 1997) considers the question of
incest as a form of violence against women and womens bodies.
Women havealso been contributing once againtoserious essay-
writing, one of the strongest of whom is Branka ArsiC, whose philo-
sophical essays draw, among otherthings, on the French tradition of
dcriture feminine.
Generally speaking,the 1980s offered acontext in which it was pos-
sible for women writers to publish workin a variety of styles and cov-
ering a wide range of themes. While there were undoubtedly still
some critics for whom women writers were, perhaps unconsciously,
not to be taken quite as seriously as their male counterparts, for the
most part the gender of the author was no longer a significant issue.
The kind of crude criticism of women authors on the basis of their
gender that wehave come across in the course of this study is no
longer conceivable.
The new confidence with which women are now active in cultural
life may be seen in the fact that a womens publishing house was
founded in 1994 by the novelist Jasmina TeSanovit and others; a
Womens Studies Center was established in Belgrade in 1993; and
two admirable publications devoted to womens issues have become a
focus of serious analysis: the journal zenskt,studije (Womens Studies),
produced by the Center, and PreFmina, a substantial and admirably
informative periodical. Thanks to these developments, the achieve-
239
ments of women in cultural life in the region are finally being re-
stored to public awareness and future generations will have a firm
foundation and acknowledged heritageon which to build.

Notes
1BoZinoviC, Iz istorije Zenskog pokreta, 145.
2 Ibid.
3 KovaEeviC, W m m of Y ~ p s h v i in
a tlte National Libemtion War.
4 KovaCeviC, op. cit., 34.
5 Ibid., 67.
6 See JanEar, The New Feminism in Yugoslavia, in Yugoslavia in the I980s, ed. P.
Ramet, for a description of Sklevickys work.
7 Sklevicky, 8ene Hrvatske U NOB, 89.
8 Ibid., 108.
9 Ibid., 109.
10 AFZ official document 14/1616c, quoted in Sklevicky, op. cit., 111.
11Sklevicky, op. cit., 126.
12 Quoted in BleEiC, Kritidari o Desanki MaksimoviC, 13.
13 Bogdanovit, inBleEiC, 13.
14 PanduroviC, in BleEiC, 36.
15 BogdanoviC, in BleEiC, 2 6
16 SpiridonoviC-SaviC, Gozbana livadi Desanke MaksimoviC, in BleEiC, op cit., 51.
17 Ibid., 52.
18 Ibid., 53-54.
19 Ibid., 55.
20 Ibid., 57.
21 MaksimoviC, Glasmonahinje, Novepem, 47.
22. KreSimir Georgijevit, Novi tonovi U poeziji DesankeMaksimoviC, in BleEiC. 67.
23 NovakoviC, Ot&bino, tu sam!DesankeMaksimovit. Knjlfevnost (1951), in
BleEiC, 71.
24 Ibid., 72.
25 Radomovif, 141.
26 FilipoviC, Do danas,136-37.
27 Ribnikar,Jan NepOmucki, 214.
28 Translated by Celia Hawkesworthas f i m n p
29 OlujiC, An ExMmion to % h e Sky.
30 Translated by Gertrud Graubart-Champe.
31 OlujiC, WiZdSeed, 1.
32 RadovanoviC, op. cit., 221.
33 Ibid., 11.
34 Ibid., 184.
35 StefanoviC, Indigo, 3.

240
36 hvatiC,Jugohenski knfifeorrileksikon, 488-89.
37Jantar, The New Feminism in Yugoslavia.
38 Jantar, op. cit., 302-304.
39 Andrea Feldman, unpublished paper on Feminism and Womens Studies in
Yugoslavia, given at the second conference on Womens Writing in Dubrovnik,
1988.
40 Jantar, op. cit., 209.
41 KatunariC, h k i ems i civilizacia smrti, 225.
42JanCar, op. cit., 210.
43 Ibid., 219.
44JovanoviC, Psi iostali.
45 LukiC, Protiv svih zabrana, 130.
46 Ibid., 133-34.
47 sop, Dokje neznanogjunaka, Avala ne sme pasti, 135
48 For an informative discussionof all the plays, see Jewemovic?, Ram za sliku Ulrike
Majnhof.
49 SlapSak, Teatar minerala: Soba na Bosfonr Biljana JovanoviC.
50 LukiC, 8ene 1 modeli Zenskosti U prozi Milice MiCiC Dimovske.
51 The word rod means both kin (family)and gender.
52 The term used by critics to identify thistrend in the 1970s is stvarnosna prom as
distinct from realistitnaor realistic prose.
53 LukiC, op. cit., 167.
54 KOj e h.Pisd izJugoshvije, 1994, Belgrade, ObiSanijez, 1994,181.
55 I a m indebted to Jasmina Lukie for this account of the novel.
56 KOj e h,op. cit., 132.
57 Ibid.
58 Ibid., 242.

241
This Page Intentionally Left Blank
Beauty and t h Beast

The false beauty


Slammed thedoor
Finally
As the Homeland
And vanished
Into History.

So, the false beauty


And the Homeland
Have things in common:
They bothleave behind them
Boys
W h o will die
For them.

Ferida Durakovif, 1991

This study has so far followed the development of women's involve-


ment in verbal art particularly in Serbia where, aswe have seen, con-
ditions favorable tothe development of a literary culture existed first
in theMiddle Ages, then among the Serbian communityin southern
Hungary, and finally in the increasingly independent principality.
Several of the women discussed in connection with their contribu-
tion to Serbian culture-particularly the process of modernization in
the early years of the twentieth century-were in fact nativesof Bosnia
Herzegovina. One of the most comprehensive accounts of the state
of culture and education as they affected women in the region in
those yearsis the richly illustrated almanac entitled Sqkinja, pub-
lished in Sarajevo in 1913 (discussed in Chapter 5 ) .
243
The names of many women active the in territory of Bosnia Heme-
govinahavealready been mentioned inpreviouschapters, thus
demonstrating that the rigid separation of the cultural history ofthe
whole region into its various components is inevitably artificial. Nev-
ertheless, inview of the fact that Bosnia Herzegovina is nowan inde-
pendent state, it is appropriate to examine something of the particu-
lar nature of its cultural development. This short chapter seeks to
shift the focus to encompass the lands of Bosnia Herzegovina,on the
southwestern edge of Ottoman Europe, which cameunder Habsburg
rule from 1878 and were then, in 1918, incorporated into the new
country that became Yugoslavia.
There are several elements involved in the discussion of the cul-
tural history of this region which make its presentation less coherent
than that of the neighboring Serbian lands. In its broadest outlines,
the general pattern of development is similar: the territories of Bos-
nia Herzegovina also saw a succession of more or less powerful states
in the Middle Ages. The last Bosnian kingdom fell to the Ottoman
advance in 1463 and the territory remained under Turkish rule until
itsoccupation in 1878 and annexation to the Austro-Hungarian
Monarchy in 1903. The most significant differencesare the evolution
towardspolitical independence of the Serbian lands through the
nineteenth century and the earlier incorporation of a section of the
Serbiancommunity into the HabsburgMonarchy,with the large-
scalemigrations into southern Hungary at the end of the seven-
teenth century. The other obvious difference is the presence in Bos-
nia Herzegovina of a substantial Muslim population, for whom the
Ottoman administration did not, of course, have the same connota-
tion of an occupying force as it did for their Christian compatriots.
In viewof this mixed population and its lengthy administration by
foreign powers, there was no scope for the territory to develop a co-
herent sense of separate identity. And because its lands were popu-
lated by communities which looked naturally to their parent cul-
tures in lands both east and west, it was not possible for a single
story to develop to give it a real sense of shared history. The oral
tradition, which flourished with special and enduring vigor in Bosnia
Herzegovina, was a complex amalgamof Christian and Muslim tales
244
of valor and a particularly rich lyric tradition,nourished by the great
artistic currents of Arabic, Persian,and Turkish verse.
It is only now, with the independence resulting from the collapse
of the second Yugoslavia in 1991, that a need is felt to give some CO-
herent shape to Bosnian political and cultural history. But at the
same time,the final make-upof the territory is far from clearand the
enduring tensions, unresolved by the Dayton Accords, make the evo-
lution of a shared account as yet impossible.
The mainobstacletosuch an account is,of course, the mixed
Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim population and the fact of the
strong neighboring Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serb cultures, in-
evitably acting as a magnet to their co-religionists on the territory of
Bosnia Herzegovina. As was mentioned in the Introduction, the sys-
tematicdivision of literary culture in the Serbian,Croatian-and
Bosnian-language into national traditions is at best problematic and
often arbitrary. The fact that, for example, a writer of Serbian na-
tionality who lived all his life in Croatia, such as Vladan Desnica, a p
peared on both the Serbian and the Croatian literature syllabus of
Belgrade University is just one instance of the ultimate impossibility
ofimposingarealsystem. The caseof the literature ofBosnia
Herzegovina is the most problematic of all, as may be illustrated by
the situation of the best-known Yugoslav writer, Ivo AndriC, winner of
the Nobel Prizefor Literature in 1961. AndriC was born into a Catho-
lic family in western Bosnia, but brought up in the mixed Muslim
and Orthodox community of the small town of ViSegrad in eastern
Bosnia, where in the nineteenth century the Drina river formed the
frontier with Serbia. He attended school in Sarajevo which was then
under Austrian administrationand studied in Zagreb, G m ,and Cra-
cow in the Habsburg lands. After the First World War he took up a
post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the newly established King-
dom of Serbs, Croats,and Slovenes in Belgradeand served in various
diplomatic postings in Europe. After the Second World War he set-
tled permanently in Belgrade. The constant focus of AndriCs work
throughout his career was his native Bosnia, which he explored in
depth, from a wide range of different standpoints. One important
aspect of his treatment of Bosnia is his view of it as a microcosm of
245
the potential obstacles to communication between individuals caused
by history and cultural divisions.
The fate of Andrids work sincethe collapse of Yugoslavia encapsu-
lates the difficulties which currently beset the cultural life of the re-
gion: in the early stages of the establishment of Croatia as an inde-
pendent state one bookstore I visited in Zagrebhad placed AndriC in
the foreign writers section, though he has since been rehabilitated
and his Catholic parentage has assured him a place as a Croatian
writer. In Serbia, where he still ranks as the great Serbian classic
writer, one story from his large, multifaceted oeuvre, Pismo iz 1920
godine (A Letter from 1920), has been used repeatedly in an at-
tempt to prove the untenable proposition that people of different
faiths cannot live together, and in justification of the ethnic cleans-
ing of the Muslim population in Bosnia Herzegovina in the war of
1992-95. At the beginning of the war in Bosnia Muslim extremists,in
their turn, destroyed the statue of AndriC that had stood in Visegrad,
the ,town in which he grew up, and to which he returne.d frequently
and remembered in his works with exceptional understanding and
affection. More recently, a lengthy work was published by one of the
most prominent contemporary Bosnian literary criticsand historians
which traces what its author sees as AndriCs consistently negative
portrayal of Muslim characters in his work. To the outsider, a reader
mercifully free of the sensitivities of all three sides involved in these
controversies, any interpretation of Andrids work that sees it from
just one point of view cannot do justice to its richly provisional na-
ture. To such a reader it seems impossible to generalize about the
treatment of any national or cultural groupsin Andrids works: there
are negative and positive individuals in all the communities, and the
majority of hischaracters couldnot be describedas either, but rather
as more or lessfallible human beingswhose fortunes are often
shaped by historical events beyondtheir control. Throughout his life
AndriC was committed to the idea of Yugoslavia, and it is as a Yugo-
slav writerthat he should most properly be remembered.At the pre-
sent time of acute separation between the former components of
that country, however, such a designationis all but meaningless. Far
more than to the regions of Croatia or Serbia Andrids work islinked
246
to Bosnia, which, more than any other single writer, he explores in
all its historical and cultural complexity. It is a s o r r o ~ paradox,
l
therefore, that AndriC cannot, at least for the time being, beseen as
an outstanding Bosnian writer.
When Bosnia Herzegovina became a separate republic within the
framework of Yugoslavia, the strength of the respective Serbian and
Croatian literary traditions to either side of its territory created prob-
lems for Muslim writers who were left effectively without a tradition
of their own. One of the most prominent of these, Mesa SelimoviC,
opted to consider himself as belonging to the Serbian tradition, like
his Catholic-born compatriot Andrit. The reasons in each case are
complex, but one of the most compelling was the fact that the oral
tradition fostered for so long under Ottoman rule was more firmly
woven into Serbian literature than was the case with the Croatian
literary tradition. It therefore offered agreater sense of continuity to
writers who felt that their work was rooted in the traditional culture
rather than that of Central Europe.The experience of Ottoman rule
was, of course, shared between the territories of Serbia, Montenegro,
and Bosnia Herzegovina. It might then seem paradoxical that de-
scendants of both a subject people and the ruling caste should feel
that they were part of the same cultural tradition. But one should
remember that the dominant ideology in the second Yugoslavia was
essentially secular-for the great majority of its inhabitants, identifica-
tion with a particular religion was more likely to be an acknowledg-
ment of the cultural tradition of an individuals family than an indi-
cation of commitment to a faith.
This discussion is intended to serve as an introduction to the topic
of womens writing in Bosnia Herzegovina by illustrating the com-
plexity of the present requirement to forge a tradition of Bosnian
culture which would be separate from that of the neighboring terri-
tories and belong solely to Bosnia Herzegovina. The tradition which
does belong exclusively to that territory is the work of Bosnian Mus-
lim writers, written initially in Arabic, Persian, or Turkish, and then,
increasingly in the course of the nineteenth century, in Serbo-Croat-
though often in Arabic script. Fromthe end of that century and later
within the context of the state ofYugoslavia the BosnianMuslim
247
community has steadily developed a sense of its own identity. In 1973
the literaryhistorianMuhsin RizviC publishedasubstantial two-
volume study of the activities and works of Muslim writers in Bosnia
Herzegovina during the period of Austro-Hungarian rule.* At the
end of the twentiethcentury there is arichbodyofwriting by
Bosnian Muslim writers.
Nevertheless, this tradition doesnot fully account for the literature
produced in the territory of Bosnia Herzegovina. Before the end of
the twentiethcentury, therefore, it ispossibletospeakonlyof
literature produced in Bosnia Herzegovina, and it is only since the
countrybecame independent in 1992 that one canmeaningfully
refer to the existence of a Bosnianliterature which includes writers
from all the main cultural groupings. Inview of the shared language
a division of writing from this regioninto separate traditions is inevi-
tably artificial. This chapter reflects that reality, while nevertheless
endeavoring to give at least a glimpse of the specific conditions of
women writersin Bosnia Herzegovina.
There is one major consideration affecting all writers in this region
whichmakes the position ofwomenwritersqualitatively different
from that of their counterparts to the east. The enormous shadow cast
by the whole Kosovo complex affects the area only obliquelyand the
sharp distinction between the epic and lyric modes identified in the
Serbian lands does not at all apply to Bosnia. On the contrary, the
oriental influences which enrich the lyric tradition in these lands
assure the lyric mode a central place in the culture of the territory.

To turn finally to writingby women in Bosnia Herzegovina. The field


is understandably extremely restricted and it islikely that recent
thorough studies such as RizviCs history of Bosniak (Bosnian Mus-
lim) literature, LeSiCs two-volume study of the short story in Bosnia
Herzegovina,s and work on women poets from Bosnia Herzegovina:
havediscussed at leastall the mostaccessiblematerial. There is
no way of knowing what might be preserved in manuscripts, diaries,
and letters which could well revealas yet unknown talents. But,given
the turbulent history of the region and the massive destruction of
the recent war, it is unlikely that muchcould ever be found. What is
248
~

Bosnian woman: Mrs Julka SrdiBPopoviC

249
known ofwomenswritingbefore the twentiethcenturyoffersa
modest but varied accountof the options open to literate women.

Nineteenth-Century Beginnings
The first two women in Bosnia known to have written in the vernacu-
lar are Umihana Cuvidina(ca.1794-ca. 1870), ofMuslimback-
ground, and her younger compatriot Staka Skenderova (1831-91),
from an Orthodox family,who together highlight the tragic com-
plexity of life in this region. In 1813 Cuvidina was engaged to a cer-
tain Mujo GamdZi who was a standard-bearer in the army of AlipaSa
Derendelija. Sent to fight against the Serbian uprising he was killed
near the small town of Loznica near the Drina river. In her grief Cu-
vidina never married but turned to writing of her dead love in po-
ems. The only poem that has survived in its entiretyis an epic of 79
lines in the traditional meter of oral poetry, entitled The Men of
Sarajevo March to War against Serbia: it was subsequently widely
adopted and absorbed into the oral tradition.The poem, which was
written in Arabic script using the pure, popular speech,5 describes
the army setting off for war and capturing Belgrade. After Mujo is
killed the narrator declares that for a year I did not wash my face,
for a second Idid not smile, and for a third I did not braid my hair.
In the fourth year I cut off my hair. Urged by her mother to forget
the dead hero, she replies:

You are mad, my dearestmother,


Had you given him birth three times,
You could not mourn him as I do,
This hero who isnot of our kin,
I shall neversee his like again.6

The literary critic and historian Alija Isakovit says of Cuvidina: She
wove into her poems the most delicate strands of her emotions and
all the tragedy of her longing for something she had lost. Her poems
were certainly very popular and they were even sung in the mahulas
250
[residential quarters]. He describes Cuvidinaas the firstMuslim
woman poet and one of the first women poets in our language alto-
gether. In the introduction to his history of Muslim writing Muhsin
Rizvid writes: One should lay particular emphasis on the poem by
Umihana &vidina, sections of which are composed in sequences of
longer or shorter lines, slower or faster rhythm, according to the
content, and which otherwise cannot be distinguished in its internal
stylistic qualities from the traditional epic-lyric song, but which r e p
resents an interesting attempt at poetic creativity modeled on it. At
the same time, it bears witness to the scope of this ulhamijado litera-
ture of moralistic character and demonstrates that the traditional
poetry was a far better known and closer model for a woman poet
than the serious, forcedverse-making.S
Cuvidina naturally saw the conflict between the Ottoman authori-
ties and their Christian subject peoples which brokeout as Ottoman
power began to wane fromthe point of view of the dominant group
and in the simplest terms. Her concern was with the tragic personal
consequences of war for the individuals involved and not with the
wider meaning of the conflict. By contrast, her compatriot Staka
Skenderova, who wrote a Chronicle of Bosnia, 1825-56:was able to
observe her subject matter, not with detachment, certainly, but with
a greater sense of the totality of the events she describes. She was
encouraged by the Russian consul, A. F. Gilferding, to write an ac-
count of the endeavor by successive Ottoman viziers to quell the re-
bellions of the Bosnian beys in the first half of the nineteenth cen-
tury. Like Cuvidinas poemsher chronicle is writtenfor the most part
in the traditional meter of the oral epicverse,whichmusthave
seemed to her the most obvious form, if not indeed the only one
available to her. Little is known ofher life, but she seemsnot to have
had much experience of reading literature and it is likely that her
education was minimal. Despite its form, however,the chronicle is a
quite personal account of life in Bosnia at this troubled time. Often
finding herself in places where, as a woman, she should never have
been-in the center of events which shook up all social layers and
brought unrest among all the national groupings in Bosnia ... she
wrote, with the energy and bitterness of a tormented ... but cour-
251
ageous woman, everything she knew about these events. And in her
memoirs she spared neither the ruthless pashas nor the arrogant
local beys, neither the Muslim tyrants nor the Serbian profiteers and
usurers.l0 Skenderovas accountof Bosnia at this time is a dramatic
narrativeofviolence and lawlessness,. suffering and- despair.ll
Skenderovas younger brother, Jovan, was directly caught up in the
violence and mercilessly tortured by followers of one of the pashas.
VojislavMaksimoviCwritesofthis part of the chronicle: This de-
scription of torture is reminiscent of the mythic suffering of ancient
Christian martyrs in the old hagiographies ... which she had most
probably read; the description also resembles some well-known ac-
counts in our traditional epic poetry.* A. F. Gilferding translated
the chronicle into Russian and published it in St Petersburg in 1859
as an appendix to his own Travels in Herzegovina, Bosnia and Old Ser-
bia. The original text of the chronicle is lost, but fortunately Gilferd-
ing printed a substantial amount of it in its original form. In his in-
troduction he wrote: In the Chronicle youwill find the epic mode
characteristic of the milieu in which the author lives. As she moves
rapidly from the description of an epoch to the story of events the
epic poem pours unconsciously from her pen. The manuscript I am
translating is written as prose, uninterrupted, even without punctua-
tion, and its author has no sense of the differences between prose
and verse, but where she speaks, there her words flow into the regular
traditional decasyllabic Serbian line.13
The other woman pioneer of the written word in Bosnia, Milena
MrazoviC (1860-1927), was not a native of that land. She was born in
Bjelovar in Slavonia into a wealthy family and educated in Budapest.
After the Austrian occupation of Bosnia Herzegovina in 1878 she
moved there with her parents, remaining for the next 40 years. In
1894-95 she taught French at the Girls High Schoolin Sarajevo and
then worked on the German-language newspaper Bosnische Post. She
published sketches of Bosnian life following a journey through the
country with the painter August Bock. In 1889 she became the owner
and main editor of the paper which she edited until 1896, when she
married Dr Josip Preindsperger, manager of the District Hospital in
Sarajevo. Afterthe collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy she
252
Peasant girl, Bosnia

253
moved to her husbands native town, Vienna, where she lived until
her death.14 She wrote mainly in German, her most important works
being Selam, S k i m und Novellen aus dem Bosnischm Volkslebm (1893),
which was also published in English as Selam.Sketches and Tales of
Bosnian Lije (1899); acollectionoftraditionalsongs, Bosnische
Voulsmurch (1905); and two volumes of sketches of her travels in
Bosnia. In her introduction to Selam, Mrazovie describes her work as
an attempt to furnish some insight into thesoul of an unknown and
therefore despised people. However, as LeSid points out, her
sketches and stories cannot give any such insight nor indeed a rec-
ognizable account of Bosnia: the setting merely serves as a fertile
ground for the portrayal of strangeand unusual events.

Her Bosnia is the neeromantic Orient in which people still love passionately
and die of love, with the mysterious breath of Eastern mysticism wafting over
them. The real Bosnia is retained for the most part in the Muslim names, the
traditional costumes and some exotic words ... In her stories, Milena Mrazovie
set out above all to satisfjr the expectations of her readers, who wanted emo-
tional excitement and a reason for tears or laughter. And her book offers them
both, in her descriptions of ordinary people who find themselves in comic situa-
tions through their own naivete, and also of exalted personalities who readily
sacrifice their lives in the name of love or the truth. Some of these stories show
that she had some talent as a narrator and that she also knew how to shape her
narrative ... Accustomed to writing for the readers of the Bosni.de Post, who
were living their lives and pursuing their own interests in Bosnia, she did not
burden them in her fiction with the real problemsof the people of Bosnia.15

With the Habsburg occupation of Bosnia Herzegovina in 1878 and


annexation in 1903, the circumstances of life began to change, par-
ticularly in the towns. New opportunities began to open up for edu-
cation and wider participation in public life.
In the context of possibilities for the involvement of womenin the
cultural lifeof Bosnia, the figure of Nafija Sarajlid (ca. 1893-1970) is
of particular interest. A writer of clear and original talent, she pub-
lished only a few short texts between 1912 and 1918. Born in Sara-
jevo, one of five sistersand three brothers, she had the great fortune
that her father was not afraid to send all his daughters to school.
Nafija completed the GirlsPedagogicalSchool in Sarajevo and
254
worked for three years as aprimaryschoolteacher.Somewhere
around 1910 she married the writer Semsudin SarajliC. They had five
children. Under constant pressure in her domesticlife, she de-
scribed her texts as Themes ( T m ) which could have been de-
veloped into proper stories had she had time. As it was, when her
eldest daughter died she gave up writing altogether to devote herself
to her family. As the critic Alija IsakoviC wrote: There was no one to
tell her what a mistake she was making. And what a mistake-the vic-
tory of reality over lyric prose! Two writers in one family in those
days! Nafqa definitively laid down her pen, but it would have been
better had her husband doneHer prosesketches appeared in
the magazines Zeman and Biserwhich were published in Mostar. Her
first piece, entitled Rastanak (Parting), is evidently autobiographi-
cal: it describes a young woman leavingher post as teacher after a
reprimand from the school authorities for having instructed some
of the older girls in ethics and reading out of school hours. The
twenty or so short pieces under the general title Themesare varied
in topic and style, although they share the same basic qualities of
conciseness and gentle humor. Some of them, including the first and
last, give some valuable insights into the writers own situation. The
first-person narrator of the firstpiecelaunchesstraight into her
theme: One day I said to Muhamed How would it be if you had a
look at my desk as well, to see whats there? Muhamed resists but
eventually the narrator finds some comments written on the pages
on her desk, such as passable, even good, or a line would be
crossed out. He refuses to acknowledge whetheror not he thinks the
sketches are of any value. However, the narrator concludes: But I
did gather that he approved. That is why I have strung together a few
themes which, at some greater leisure, unattainable to me, could be
expanded into something longer.We can only speculate about what
SarajliC could have achieved had she had more time to devote to her
writing; as it is, the constraints on herhave resulted in works of great
originality, concentrated and suggestive: Nafiia Sarajlids Themes
almost always have several layers of meaning, with sudden associa-
tions of images and ideas, and various unexpected and witty changes
of direction, which bear witness to a lively, restless, and inquisitive
255
spirit.l8 Some ofthe sketches are brief meditations on a theme; oth-
ers are complete,miniature short stories.Sarajlidslastpiece,
Nekoliko stranica Tebi (A Few Pages for You), published in 1918,
expresses her bitter resignation at the narrow-mindednessof the
society around her, in which she felt that even the educated few were
ignorant and empty under their veneer of polish. She was particu-
larly concerned about the state of the Muslim woman who with no
conception of the outside world, isolated in her own surroundings,
wretched and dissatisfied with herself, could hardly be a model for
others. Sarajlid tried to resist this state of mind with her writing,
which she believedtobe the mark of an industrious, progressive
people. Sheended herlast text withthe words:

-Thoseof us who are in a position totake a book in our handsought to write. If


we cannot each produce a book, like the Germans, we can at least write a few
just a few pages.lg
pages, if only like this, for entertainment,

Nafija Sarajlid was a writer of evident talent, whose sketches cer-


tainly deserve to be better known. Like others before her she was
virtually forgotten in her lifetime, so that, in the wordsofAlija
Isakovid, whenshe died as quietlyas she had lived, very fewpeople
knew that the first woman prose writer in the Muslim community
had died.*O

The First Yugoslavia, 1918-41


If the progress of womens education and their participation in cul-
tural life was slow in the relatively sophisticated capital city of Bel-
grade, this must be seen in the context of the still very low educa-
tional level of the population of the new country as a whole. One
section of this population began to attract new attention in the in-
ter-war period as it adjusted to the altered conditions of the new tri-
partite state: these were its Slav Muslim inhabitants. One of the con-
sequences of the involvement of women in various aspects of public
life during the First World War was the need to consider the whole
256
position ofMuslim women in the new circumstances: The war drove
poor Muslim women to work outside their homes, just as all other
peasant women worked,and this was of greater significance for their
progress than all the work of the intelligentsia for their liberation.21
The inter-war period saw a steady stream of articles concerned with
this question. One of the keyissueswas the one that had been
raised by Jelena DimitrijeviC in her writing about the new women:
whether or not Muslim women should continue to wear the veil.
Several long articles on womensissues appeared in the journal
Gujret, published in Sarajevo and elsewhere in the course of the
1920s. These articles examined the teachings of the Koran and tra-
ditional practice, the relative position of women in the towns and
in villages, the relationship between the social standing of a family
and the degree of freedom of the women in it. On the whole, while
sometimes criticizing what wereseen as excesses in some Christian
cultures, the articles favored more education for Muslim women. It
was not until 1932 thatan article on the subjectwritten by a
woman,SuadaMuftit-ateacher-appeared in Gajret, vigorously
proposing the involvement of the cultural society of the same name
in the process of the education of Muslim women. It is clear from
these articles that the gap between the small number of educated
women in the towns and the majority of the rural population was
even greater in the Muslim community than among the rest of the
population, although it is important to distinguishbetween the
Muslim community in Bosnia Herzegovina and that of southern
Serbia (in the SandZak and Kosovo). As we have seen, the Bosnian
Muslims had had a long tradition of productive cultural life, in
which it had been possible also for a few wealthy educated women
to play their part, writing in one or other of the classical oriental
languages.
A few women poets beganto appear in the pages of Gapet, and one
of them, Vera Obrenovit-Delibasit, publisheda volume of verse enti-
tled Nemiri mludosti (Disquiet of Youth) in 1927, which was positively
reviewed by Hamza Humo: This little book is modest and without
pretension, and all the more attractive for that. It is feminine and
.
warm through and through ..22
257
Since 1945
While the cultural life of the whole ofYugoslavia reflected the same
broad processes that we have followed in Serbia, each of the repub-
lics retained something of its own character. The intention of this
section is to try to give some impression of the particular quality of
the literature of Bosnia Herzegovina that has been published since
1945, in terms of the role that women writers have played in its for-
mation.Interestingly enough, although the oppositemight have
been expected, it was in some ways easier for women to make an im-
pact in the post-war cultural life of Bosnia Herzegovina than in Ser-
bia, as may be deduced from the fact that in the 1970s some 40 per
cent of the members of the Union of Writers of Bosnia Herzegovina
were women. Nevertheless, as can only be expected, the number of
women writers who have achieved prominence is modest. But if we
recall the equivalent effort by Stevan Radovanovid in 1972 it is sig-
nificant that the firstanthology ofwomenspoetry fromBosnia
Herzegovina, published in 1985, was edited by a woman, Ajsa Zahi-
roviC, herself a poet.Zahirovid describes her intention in publishing
the volume as to enable the valuable contribution and creativity of
women from Bosnia Herzegovina to be seen in one place for the first
time.23In her introduction to the volume Zahirovid gives a useful
survey of what is known of womens poetry there. A striking feature
of her account is the variety of cultural backgrounds of the poets
mentioned. ZahiroviC places considerable emphasison the contribu-
tion of women from all the component cultures of Bosnia Herze-
govina to the exceptionally rich heritage of lyric verse in the region.
She draws attention to the specific role of the Jewish population in
Bosnian Herzegovinian cultural life, including that of some women,
such as Rahela Levi (born 1870), whoisknown for a fine poem
about Travnik, published in 1903, and Laura Papo-Bohoreta, who
lived and worked in Sarajevo after 1918 before perishing with the
great majority of the Jewish population of Bosnia Herzegovinain the
Second World War.At the beginning of the twentieth century several
women poets began to publish in literary journals and, since the
1950s, a considerable number of talented women poets have begun
258
to establish a solid reputation. ZahiroviCs anthology includes 40 po-
ets and lists 50 other names, which is a remarkable number for so
small a temtory, particularly in view of its troubled historical circum-
stances, which were hardly conducive to fostering the sustained de-
velopment of culture, particularly among women.
We have seen that some writers from Bosnia Herzegovina elected
to consider themselves as part of the Serbian literary tradition and
that the history of the region meant that there was a strong sense of
community among the Serbian, or Orthodox Christian, population
of the two territories. It would not have occurred to the women con-
tributing to the almanac Sqkinju (SerbianWoman)publishedin
Sarajevo in 1913 to think of themselves as anything other than Ser-
bian, evenifthey spent their entire lives in BosniaHerzegovina.
Thus, for example, one of the first women poets to establish arepu-
tation in the pages of the (Muslim) culturaljournal Gujwt, as we have
seen, was VeraObrenoviC-DelibaSiC (born 1906),who, although
raised in an Orthodox family, married a Muslim, and later settled in
Belgrade. This explains how it is possible that oneof the most impor-
tant women poets from Bosnia in the post-war period, Dara Sekulit
(born 1931), was included in RadovanoviCs anthology of Serbian
women poets. At times of unstrained politics such multifaceted iden-
tities do not present a problem tothe individual. What makes writers
born in Bosnia Herzegovina distinctive is their use of the language
characteristic of that region.
It is her rich, evocative use of her native Ianguage that is the most
enduring quality of SekuliCs verse. In the words of Midhat BegiC:In
her poems SekuliC created a real model of Bosnian Herzegovinian
speech, giving many of her poems an expressly Sarajevan, Bosnian
Herzegovinian, borderland quality.*4 Another critic describes her
exceptional sensitivity to the richness of her native language and to
linguistic subtleties: This sensitivity is manifested in several ways: in
her choice of vocabulary; in her feeling for traditional expressive
words; and in her sense of melody which-both when it was based on
the experience of our contemporary poetry, and when it strove for
certain characteristics of traditional lyricpoetry-refusedfamiliar,
well-triedforms; and in the rhythm of her poems as a whole.25
259
Sekulids work is often likened to that of Desanka Maksimovid and
Vesna Parun (who was the most prominent woman poet in Croatia
after the Second World War). Whatis seen as common to the three
women tends to be formulated in terms of the femininity of their
verse. The introduction byAmiraIdrizbegovid to the selection of
Sekulids poetry published in 1983 typifies such definitions: Atonce
emotional and intellectual, it is not typically feminine, althoughit is in
its sources, in its fimdamental starting point and preoccupations.26
Once again, it is not clear what is implied by the useof the word
feminine here, beyond a general concern with the emotions. What
the critic had in mindis perhaps revealed by her comment that Dam
SekuliCdoes not write about love ina typically feminine way-
sentimentally and too personally. She writesin away that is at the same
time open and discreet. Someof the confusion setup for some catics
by the whole phenomenon of a woman poet may be seen in a review
published in 1976. The commentator evidently felt obliged to read
Sekulids verse in the light of her gender, but did not find this a p
proach particularly revealing: the text begins Women poets are as
much women as they are poets. Of course, their verse is not as hetero-
geneous as other poetry, but it is still The sametext ends
with the suggestion that there is in Sekulids worka symmetry between
femininity and humanity, as though the two categories werein some
way in opposition to one another. Many of Sekulids poemsdo specif-
cally concern the destiny of women, often peasant women and moth-
ers whose destiny is tobear sons, only to see them die in battle. SekuliC
celebrates their dignity, while at the same time clearly seeking more
for women than their traditional roles. She is seen in particular as
drawing fruitfullyon the heritage of oral lyric verse, whichis especially
rich on the territory ofBosnia Henegovina. At the same time, her
most successful poems take account also of modern poetic techniques,
creating a unique synthesis of the two forms of expression. Sekulids
poems are often deceptively simple, typically composed in very short
lines, but then surprise the reader with an unexpected word, turn of
phrase, or twist of meaning. They cover a broad range of themes, en-
compassing many aspects of human experience,from death to
dreams, conflictand reconciliation, beliefand doubt.
260
A very different kind of poet is Mubera PaSiC (born 1945), whose
work began to appear in 1964 and who had seven volumes and two
selections of her verse published by 1985. She has been particularly
praised for the collection entitled Monomanske d i c e (Monastic
Sketches), first published in 1982. PaSiCs poetry has been described
as cold, rational, but at the same time wise, surreal, unconscious,
and likened to architecture.28 In his introduction to her selected
works DZemaludin AliC suggests that the original stimulusfor PaSiC is
the heritage of surrealism which played a perhaps surprisingly im-
portant role in some Yugoslav literatures after the Second World
War, as may be seen most strikingly in the work of Vasko Popa in
Serbia. Delicately constructing a poetic world which takes on a life of
its own PaSiC tends to withdraw from her increasingly hermetic po-
etry. Her poetic language ... becomes a metalanguage, a means
whereby sublimated existentialexperience is shifted into a different
reality.*9At the same time, AliC compares PaSiCswork to that of
Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf: it is a powerful human drama, a
powerfulcreativetransformation,avaluableartistic,aestheticen-
deavor to overcome both mortality and eloquent vanity. It is refresh-
ing that this comparison is the only-discreet-reference to the poets
gender. AliC did not feel obliged to stressthe extent to which PaSiCs
poetry differs from established norms offemininity and perhaps
this is an indication that literature in Bosnia Herzegovina has come
of age: there are now so many women writers publishing that other
criteria must be employed to differentiate them from one another.
The editor of another selection of PaSids poetry-published in 1985-
Is0 Kalad, is also concerned with trying to analyze the specific fea-
tures of this poetry, without reference to the gender of its author,
giving a brief descriptionof each of her collections published before
1985. Together, these two selections offer a comprehensive account
of PaSiCsstriking work.
Two other poets of this generation who have made their mark on
contemporaryBosnianpoetry are Ljubica
OstojiC and Melika
Salihbegovid, both born-like PaSiC-in 1945. OstojiCs first volume,
DoSZo j e do dje& (The Word was Born, 1976), is an intricately com-
posed work in which each line of the first six-line poem forms the
261
epigraph to a whole section, building up to the final culminating
poem. Her second volume, 2% divno &do (What a Surprise, 1977)
exhibits the same tendency towards complex construction, this time
in dialogue form and amounting almost to asmallplay in verse.
SalihbegoviC made her appearance in 1977 with a volume of prose
poems, Kaze (Tales), characterized by their appealing wit and unex-
pected twists. They suggest a poet with a firm command of her liter-
ary craft. A considerable number of new poets cameonto the scene a
fewyears later, one of the most important ofwhomis Ferida
DurakoviC (born 1957). Durakovies first volume of poems, BaZ Po
maskuma (Masked Ball, 1977), introduces a quiet, melancholy voice
of understated power, sustained in her later work, such as Oti Roje me
gkduju (EyesWhichWatchMe, 1982), in which the rhythms and
rhymes admirably expressthe delicacy of the material.
In addition, there have been manyaccomplishedwomenprose
writers-particularly of short stories-in Bosnia Herzegovina since the
Second World War. The poet Vera Obrenovid-DelipaSiC (mentioned
above) published a volumeof stories, Zme nad mahaZama (Dawn over
the Mahals, 1955), which focus on women during and immediately
after the Second World War. A certain ideological coloring is an in-
evitableconsequenceof the times, but ObrenoviCovercomes this
with her well-constructed tales, full of tensionand apprehension, her
plausible characters,and her ability to enter into the minds of ordin-
ary people. One of the most prolific of modern prose writers is Jas-
mina MusabegoviC (born 1941), who began to publish literary criti-
cism in 1965. Her first novel, Snopis (Dreamscape, 1980) consists of a
group of self-contained yet interrelated texts focused on a hospital
and the experience of illness, told by a first-person female narrator.
Her second novel, Skretnice (Turning Points, 1986), has a more con-
ventional formand the modernity ofthe writing is expressed in both
the works intricate structure and the suggestive, dynamic quality of
the prose. Described as an account of a woman in the whirlwind of
history between the two world W ~ I -itSfocuses
,~ on a character who
is relatively emancipated for the context in which she lives, who is
prepared to make her own decisions and hold out for her own truth
despite the disapproval of those around her. The novel traces the
262
crucial turning points in herlife, and particularly the effect on her
of the extreme circumstancesof the SecondWorldWar.She
emerges as a self-reliant, emancipated individual,no longer depend-
ent on those around her for a senseof her place in the world. Musa-
begovie dedicated her third novel, Most (The Bridge, 1994), forged
from the tragedy of the Second World Warand its aftermath, to the
famous old bridge in Mostar whichwas destroyed by Croatian forces
in 1992, and to her brother, killed in besieged Sarajevo by a Bosnian
Serb shell.
Other distinguished prose writers include Safeta ObhodjaS (born
1951), Fatima Muminovie (born 1956), and Alma Lazarevska (born
1957), whose volume ofshort stories, Smrt U muzeju moderne umjetnosti
(Death in the Museum of Modern Art, 1996), is one of the finest
works to have emerged from the tragedy of the siege of Sarajevo.
Obhodja3 writes admirably controlled dramatic stories full of con-
vincingpsychologicalinsight and unexpectedtransitions: it is no
surprise to learn that she has also written several plays for radio. Her
first volume, %U i tujna (A Woman and a Secret, 1987) suggestsan
experienced and skillful hand. MuminoviC began by publishing two
volumes of verse before her collection of short stories Preko glave
(Breaking Point) was published in 1988. The storiesallfocus on
country people and conjure up memorable characters through dia-
logue and simple, but dramatic situations. One story in particular,
&vary (Security Guard), admirably conveys the bewilderment ex-
perienced by a poor peasant endeavoring to make his way in the
new, modern world. The life of the countryside of Bosnia Heme-
govina and its people has long been the focus of a tradition of out-
standing short-story writing. By contrast, Bisera Alikadid is a writer
concerned so far aboveallwith modern urban women-her work
echoes that of Biljana Jovanovitin Serbia. Aftertwo volumes of verse
which were well received AlikadiC published her first novel, Luwu
(Larva), in 1974. While the novel itself is unmemorable it is worth
quoting the afterword by the prominent critic Alija Isakovid for the
light it casts on womens writing in Bosnia Herzegovina as a whole.
Here is a prosework which is somewhatunusual simply because it is
written by a woman. A woman from Bosnia Herzegovina! This re-
263
mark may seem too exclamatory, but we must remember that the
branch of our (Serbo-Croatian) prose writingby women is very thin,
particularly the Bosnian Herzegovinian component.31 The novel is
striking in the openness withwhich it treats love and sex from a
young womans perspective, as is AlikadiCs second prose work, Krug
(Circle, 1983), which is a competent, literate piece with some in-
teresting imagery. It may be, however, that AlikadiCs most impor-
tant contribution has been in opening the way for future women
prose writers in Bosnia Herzegovina in such a manner that their
gender will not be the cause of any particular comment. In turn, as
IsakoviC subtly suggests in his commentary, the presence of a genu-
ine, straightforward, unprejudiced womans. perspective may with
time affect also the way male writers present their characters, both
male and female:

What should be particularlystressedisthe femaleauthorsperspective, its


moral-causal position and essence-while men interpret women (in one way or
another) and impose themselves conceitedly, here a woman expresses herself,
without hypocrisy and without inferiority; she leaves men the space requiredby
their specificgravity, and not by their volume.32

This account, with its notional end-date of 1990, cannot consider any
of the excellent works published by women writers in Bosnia Herze-
govina since the recent war. A casual glance at publishers lists, how-
ever, suggests that women are now playing a significant role in the
life of their country. It seems to me that Isakovits felicitousphrase is
an excellent place to end this account. The happy notion that in the
cultural life of the whole region from now on male writers may be
expected to occupy the space determined by their specific gravityas
writers rather than their volume as representativesof their gender-
with all the connotations of superiority that the male has tradition-
ally enjoyed in patriarchal cultures-bodes well for the future. Isak-
oviC appears to acknowledge that it has taken time and energy for
women writers to achieve this public recognition, for their work to be
seen simply as the work of individuals forming a component part of
the whole cultural achievement of the region rather than as some-
thing other, outside the mainstream.
264
* Notes

1RizviC, Bosanski M m l i m n i 21 Andriteuu suzjetzl.


2 RzviC, Knjihnw stvaranje muslimnskih p a c a *c Bosni i Hercegvvini.
3 LeSiC, Pripovjedaeka Bosna.
4 ZahiroviC, Od stiha do f@sme. Poaya zena Bosne i Hercegovine.
5 Quoted by IsakoviC, Bisqk muslimanske knjiievnosti, 259.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid., 259-60.
8 RizviC, KnjiFhno stvaranje mzlslimanskihpFFaca ?L Bosni i Hercegouini,33.
9 Staka Skenderova, Ljetopis Bosne, 1825-1856, translated from the Russian by Vo-
jislav Maksimovie and Luka Sekara (Sarajevo, 1976), and discussed by LeSit, Ai-
povjedatka Bosna, I, 98-99.
10 LeSiC, op. cit., 99.
11Ibid.
12 MaksimoviC, Tri monaha Ijetopisca, introduction to cokorilo, Pamuliina, and
Skenderova, Ljetopisi (Sarajevo, 1976), 30, quoted in LeSiC, op. cit., 99.
13 Quoted from Skenderova, op. cit, 157, inLeSiC, 99.
14 See LeSiC, Pripwjedadza B0sn.a. ZZ. Pripoyedaci, 41625, for an account ofMra-
zoviCs life and work.
15 LeSiC, ibid.
16 IsakoviC, Nafilja SarajliC,117.
17 Published in &man, 1912.
18 LeSiC, op. cit., 11,315.
19 Sarajlif, NekolikostranicaTebi, 1918, quoted in LeSiC, 11,318.
20 IsakoviC, op. cit., 116.
21 Ajsa ZahiroviC,Od stiha do pfesne, p. 11.
22 Hamza Humo, Capet, no. 21 (1927): 350.
23 ZahiroviC, Od stilia do pfesme. Poaija b a Bosne i Hercegouine, 11.
24 BegiC, cetiri bosanskdercegovackn pjesnika(Sarajevo, 1981), quoted in the introduc-
tion to SekuliC, Pjesm (Zzbor), 8.
25 cedomir MirkoviC, Recenzija rukopisa zbirke Licem od zemljice (18January
1978), reprinted in SekuliC, op. cit., 108.
26 SekuliC, Pjesme. (Izbor), 5.
27 Radojica Tautovie, Duboki glas tela, Bmba (11 September 1976), reprinted in
SekuliC, op. cit., 101.
28 DZemaludinAliC, introduction to PaSiC, Zzabrane pjame, 5.
29 Ibid., 14.
30 HanifaKapidZit-OsmanagiC, introduction to Jasmina MusabegoviC, Shetnice, 15.
31 IsakoviC, afterword toAlikadiC, Lama.
32 IsakoviC,introduction to Alikadif,KT.

265
This Page Intentionally Left Blank
Milica StojadinoviCSrpkinja

. .
A-.
Isidora SekuliC
Anica Savit-Rebac
Jelena Dimitrijevit

Desanka MaksimoviC
Svetlana Velmar-Jankovif

Alma Lazarevska L
Conelnsion
My intention in writing this study was to indicate the broad lines of
womens involvement inliterature, oral and written, in anarea of the
South Slav lands where verbal art has long played a vital part in cul-
tural life. I believethat this somewhat artificial exercise is justified by
two considerations: first, the imbalance in conventional accounts of
culturalhistory in the region and, second,adesiretoexplore
womens contribution to verbal art as a continuous process. It is only
by looking at this continuity that it is possible to assess the extent to
which it is legitimate to talk in terms of an alternative tradition. It is
hardlysurprising to discover that, like their male counterparts,
women writers have reflectedthe dominant ethos of the age in which
they lived and that they are equally varied intheir ideas, themes,and
styles. Nevertheless, I believe that it has been possible to trace a con-
cern with the position and role of women which offers a fresh per-
spective, and that this exploration has confirmed twofold
a distortion
in the cultural historyof the region.
The first element of this isthe obvious neglect of those women who
have clearly played their part in the development of cultural life.
There is abundant confirmation of this continuing neglect. One in-
stance is an article entitled The Unwritten History of Women re-
porting on the 10th Congress of Yugoslav Historians in January 1998
and citing a paper by Dr Smiljana DjuroviC. DjuroviC points to the
lack of attention paid to womens historyin the region and suggests,
in the words of the reporter, that a concern with womens history is
the best indicator of the humanity and level of modernization in any
civilization and societf.1 Her observation is borne out in a recent,
comprehensive Histq of Serbian Culture, edited by the eminent lin-
guist and academician Pavle Ivid and published in 1994, which offers
a clear indication of the prevailing perception of that culture at the
end of the twentieth century. The handsomely produced volume is a

267
joint effort by prominent scholars to give an account of all aspects of
Serbian culture. It-describesthe development of culture in the Mid-
dle Ages, the cenhlries of Ottoman rule, and the nineteenthcentury
renewal of statehood; the language as an instrument of culture
and product of the nations history;* and the development of all
forms of art, including architecture and the applied arts, naive art,
music, painting, drama, film, radio,and television. While women are
relatively well represented in some fields, notably music and paint-
ing, in the chapters concerned with literature there are strikingly few
references towomen. Radmila MarinkoviC,the author of the detailed
chapter tracing the growth of medieval literature, refers to Queen
Jelena (HClGne dhjou) as an ideal mother and ruler, in her old
age an exemplary nun and the literary match of the first ruler,
StefanNemanja.3Marinkovitdescribes the introduction of the
Kosovo theme into written literature by Patriarch Danilo 111, and
goes on to say that Danilos followers include other court figures:
here arethe learned Princess Milica, Lazars widow,the first Serbian
woman poet of sorrow and pain, Jefimija, the famous embroideress,
noblewoman and nun ...4 The categories to which these medieval
figures are assigned confirm DjuroviCs perception of the enduring
conventional attitudes to the regions history and the lack of pene-
tration of women into it. In the entire volume, there are seven fe-
male historical figures mentioned: five medieval noblewomen and
the wives of two nineteenth-century rulers (one, Ljubica ObrenoviC,
in a caption to a photograph of her palace, and the other, Natalja
ObrenoviC, because she accompanied her husband to the first film
festival in 1896). Of the nearly 90 writers discussed, three are women:
Isidora SekuliC,DesankaMaksimoviC, and SvetlanaVelmar-JankoviC.
The particular ideology coloring the account of Serbian history pre-
sented in this volume is without doubt a product of the political cli-
mate in Serbia at the time of its publicationand thus closely related to
the second element in the distortion process I am seeking to define.
This is connected with the two periods which have seen the most
intense activity in formulating nationaland cultural history,the nine-
teenth century and the 1980s, both characterized by the rise of na-
tionalist ideologies. A great deal of recent research confirms the fact
268
that nationalism reinforces gender stereotypes of heroic, aggressive
masculinity and highlights the role of women as mothers who bear,
nurture, and mourn the nations sons.5 While the drive for national
liberation from foreign ruleand the formation of nation-states had a
clear purpose in the nineteenth century, and the achievement of
that purpose may well be perceived as a legitimate sourceof national
pride, the rise of nationalism at the end of the twentieth century has
quite different connotations. With this in mind I believe that it is
indeed possible to endorse the statement quoted above that a con-
cern with womens history isthe best indicator ofthe humanity and
level of modernization in any civilizationand society.
The period between the two world wars was one of rapid modern-
ization in which women played an increasingly active part in many
different areas of intellectual endeavor. The history of the 40 years
since the Second World War in the Yugoslav lands offers a familiar -
dichotomy:officiallyproclaimedequalityofopportunity, genuine
new scope for women, and growth in their participation in public
life, combined with enduring patriarchal values. These began to be
undermined by the new concern with the development of civil soci-
ety, democratization,and the promotion of alternative views and life-
styles which beganto be expressedin the 1970s. In the context of the
increasingly cosmopolitan, sophisticated urban communities of the
Yugoslav lands, these phenomena suggested the beginnings of a re-
newed process of modernization. However, such ideas, together with
the new perspectives on gender roles formulated by the generation
of women who began to articulate feminist ideas at that time, were
rapidly marginalized by the rise of nationalist ideology in the 1980s.
An article publishedin the Serbian weekly MNin 1983 clearly identi-
fies this phenomenon.6 Prompted by a spate of anti-feminist phe-
nomena-a series of articles in a youth magazine, anti-abortion graffiti
in the center of Belgrade, a deliberately provocative literary critical
text published in NIN suggesting that women writers were capable
only of gossip-the article reports an interview with Dr Nada Ler-
SofroniC of the University of Sarajevo, who was then conducting re-
search into the emancipation of women.LerSofroniCstates that
these phenomena do not surprise her:
269
For some years now I have been following the (successful) penetrationof petty-
bourgeois notions and the renewal of ideas about women which are, to say the
least, inappropriate to socialism... I have been following the
way school textbooks,
womens magazines and the serious press, films and popular song lyrics implant
in the public consciousness ideas about women as dependent beings, and theway
womens abilities have been reduced to their reproductive function (bearing and
raising children) and functions of service (caring and supporting) ...
LerSofronit suggests that this ideological adjustmentwas carried out
painlessly and the promotion of traditional divisions of labor and
gender roles once again easily became a legitimate and recognized
way of thinking. While it would have been unthinkable that a youth
magazine in the 1970s should condone the notion that women
ought to be beaten, by the 1980s t h i s was acceptable. LerSofroniC
shows that among the general reactionary ideological trends which
unite views opposed to democracy, women, and the working class, it
is the anti-women views which are the most openly expressed and
meet with the least resistance. She believes that the connection be-
tween aggressive nationalism and anti-feminism is socially and ideo-
logically logical and deeply founded. It is a function of a unified
ideological syndrome.
the early 1980s
It is possible nowto see these sinister intimations in
as part of a process whichgathered momentum through that decade,
to erupt in the wars of the 1990s. The systematic brutality of the at-
tacks against different ethnic groups then made women a particular
target in the welldocumented, widespread use of rape as a weapon
of war. The close connection between an atmosphere of heightened
male aggression and violence against women has been recorded by
the various SOS telephone lines for women and child victims of vio-
lence set up in the Yugoslav lands. The experience of the first Bel-
grade line, established on 8 March 1990, shows that men regularly
beat, threaten, and rape their wives, particularly after important
football matches and other sporting occasions which express male
power. With the television coverage of the war and regular scenes of
brutality, the level of violence against women increased to a point
where in August 1997 the Belgrade SOS line was recording an inci-
dent of abuse every 15 minutes, and rape by a husband, friend, or
270
acquaintance every half-hour. Whilethe existence of thesetelephone
lines and shelters for the victims of abuse can do little to affect the
general climate, they are anindication of the way many women have
felt compelled to act and to form groups opposed to the prevailing
ideology in all its manifestations. Large numbers of womens groups
have now been founded in the former Yugoslav lands, particularly in
Serbia and Bosnia.. In addition to offering an immediate response to
the conditions around them, these activities may well foster a new
readiness on the part of women to takecharge of their lives when the
political climate improves. While it would be naive to suppose that
these womens groups are homogeneous and that all of them are
opposed to the nationalist project, nevertheless many of them are
concerned with basic issues affecting women, regardless of national
boundaries.Thisalsooffersscope for reinforcing the alternative
channels of communication which have been kept open throughout
the years of the war and its aftermath.
It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of the disastrous
events of the 1990swill be on the cultural lifeof the region. Whilethe
immediate prospects in all the Yugoslav successor statesare bleak, it is
undoubtedly the case that violent division has lent a new urgency to
the determination of many individuals to share their opposition to the
prevailing climate across national boundaries. And because this cli-
mate has been particularly oppressive for women, this dimension of
their common experience has acquired a sharper focus. Individual
women have succeeded in maintaining their links across the borders,
and they have continued to travel to one anothers centers to partici-
pate in womens studies courses and avidly read each others works.
Needless to say, they still represent a very small and highly marginal-
ized fraction of society, but their steady fostering of alternative values
may well playa part in future democratic structures thein
region.
When the political climate finally improves, women will be able to
participate fully in societywith a newdignity and confidence
achieved through many years of effort. It is hoped that the present
work will also have a role in telling part of a story of continuous
achievement which will offer future generations a different kind of
account of their contribution to the cultural history oftheir lands.
271
Notes

1 R. Kovat!eviC, Nenapisana istorija Zena,PoliHka (21January 1998): 26.


2 P. IviC, Knjifevni jezikkao instrument kulture i produkt istorije naroda, IstOrju
Srp~kebtlklm (1994): 41-52.
S R. MarinkoviC, Srednjevekovna knjifevnost, inIviC, 59.
4 Ibid., 64.
5 See particularly the forthcoming study by Bracewell.
6 Slobodanka Akt, Opasne veze.

272
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AleEkoviC, Mira 212-13 DrakuliC, Slavenka 226
Alhamijado literatwe 10,247,250-51 DutiC, Jovan 120, 139, 140, 167, 168
AlikadiC, Bisera 263-64 DnrakoviC, Ferida243,262
Antlrit, Ivo 245-47 Feldman, Andrea 225
Antifascist Womens Front 198-202 Feminism 13, 199-200, 211,223-27,232,
h i t , Evstahija 91,93-7,99 233,26749
ArsiC, Ljubica 238 FilipoviC, Frida 213-215,222,232
AtanasijeviC, Ksenija 162,1f54-65,172, First World War20, 134, 156,160,161,
183,184,205,207 172,179,256

Balkan Slavs3-4,8,64 Gaj, Ljudevit101


Balkan Wars 29 Gajret 140,257,250
Belovie-BernadZikovska, Jelena120, 134,
138 Habsburg Monarchy5,6,9,11,22,89,
Bkagojevif, Boba 237 105,139,178,244,248,252
BlazeviC, Dunja 225 Hasanaginica 4 6 7
BogdanoviC, Milan93-4 Herzegovina 8,27,120,139
Bogomilism 8 Hlapec-DjordjeviC, Julka 118, 153, 165,
Bosnia 5,8,245,247,271 180-85
Bosnia-Herzegovina 6,9,22,46,50,89,
119,138,139,140,162,197 IsakoviC, Alija250,255,263-64
Jewish population 258 Islam 5,8,11, 12,18
Womens writing 243-66
Bosnian Muslims 6,22,49, 139,244,247, JakovljeviC, Milica (Mir-Jam) 163-65
248,256,257 JanEar, Barbara 226-27
BoZin, Mirjana 238 Jankovit, Katarina 90
BoZinoviC, Neda 197-98 Jankovit, Milica 135, 140,151-154, 164,
Byzantium 3,9,11,64,79,210 174,191
Jankovit, Vesna239
Catholic Church 6,64,69,245 Jasa-Tomic, Milica 131, 160
Cijanit, Gordana 238 Jefimija 7645,220,223,268
Jelena, daughter of Prince Lazar 8 6 7
CosiC, Dobrica 31 Jelena Anzujska (H6lSnedhjou) 67-
Cuvidana, Umihana 250-51 71,268
Jevrie, Darinka 223,237
Dalipi, Hana 238-40 JevtoviC, Danica Lala 215
Dejanovif, Drab- 112-21,181 JovanoviC, BiIjana 228-32,263
DimitrijeviC,Jelena 135,141-51,257 JovoviC, MiIena 215

279
KaradZiC, Mina99-100,102,107,110 NediC, wadan 36, 37
KaradZiC, Vuk StefanoviC24,33, 39,51, NeSkova, Marta 91
53,56,58,91,99, 102 NinkoviC, Ljiljana 238
KatunariC, Vjeran226 Njegos, Petar Petrovic 21,102,166,178
KerniC-Peles, Olga 27-29
Kneginja Milica 72-76, 82, 268 Obhodjd, Safeta 263
KolakoviC, Vera238 ObradoviC, Dositej 93,98-99
KoljeviC, Svetozar 19-20,39,72 ObrenoviC, Ana99,100-101
Kosovo, battle (1389) 18,19,58-61,72,210 ObrenoviC, Mihailo101, 102,106, 219
myth 18,19,20,104,248,268 Obrenovif, Milos 22, 101, 105
KovaceviC, Dusanka 198-99 ObrenoviC-DelibaSiC, Vera 257,259, 262
KmgrgeviC, Tanja 227 OgnjenoviC, Vida236, 237
KrnjeviC, Hatidza 36, 37,51 Olujic, Grozdana 219-220
Omer i Merima49
Lazarevska, Alma263 Oral tradition 10,14,20,23,24-26, 33-
LaziC, Radmila 237-39 62,244-45
LerSofronic, Nada 269-270 Individual singers52-61
LeSiC, Zdenko 248,254 OstojiC, Ljubica261-62
Levi, Rahela 258 OstojiC-Belca, Olga23637,238
LukiC,Jasmina 229-31,234,23536 Ottoman rule 3,4,5, G, 9,18,21,24,59,
LukiC, Tatjana 238 80,244,247,268

MaksimoviC, Desanka 15,171,203-12, PapiC, Zarana 225


217,260,268 Papo-Bohoreta, Laura 258
Maria Paleologina71 Parun, Vesna 203,260
Maria Angelina Paleologina 85-86 PaSiC, hhbera 261
MarkoviC, Danica 135,154-56, 165,174 PlaninC, Milka224
Matos, A. G., 154,175 Prince Lazar18,19,20,21,59,72-75,77,
MazuraniC, Ivan 103 80,82-84,86
Melvinger,Jllsna 222 Punktatorka, Marija PopoviC 91
MiCiC-Dimovska, Milica112, 232-36
Mihanovi6, Antun 101 RadivojeviC,Julijana 97-99
MiletiC, Ljubica 238 R a k i C , Milan 76-77
MiloSeviC, Slobodan 208,218,231,236 Ribnikar,J a n 215-17
Milovuk, Katarina 102,130 RizviC, Muhsin 50-51,246,248, 250
Montenegro G, 8,21,22,159,162,202,247
MrazoviC, Milena 252-54 Salgo,Judita 236, 237
MuminoviC, Fatima 263 SalihbegoviC, Melika261, 262
Musabegovif,Jasmina 262-63 SarajliC, Nafija 253-55
Muslim women 187, 257 SaviC-Kebac, Anica 103,165-66
(in thework ofJelena Dimitrijevic) Second World War 10,11,160,161,195-
142-5 1 202,258,263
Sekulif, Dara 259-260
NemanjiC dynasty9,6447,268 SekuliC, Isidora 30-31, 140, 171-80, 185,
Nenadovif, Ljubomir103,107,110 203,268
SelimoviC, Mesa247 TeSanoviC,Jasmina 239-41
Serban, Nada 223 Tsar Dusan 15,65-67,71, 77-79,210-11
Serbian Orthodox Church 3,6, 11, 12, TodoroviC, Gordana 221,222
64,69, 75, 104, 109, 110,178,245,
259 Velmar-JankoviC, Svetlana 180,215,217-
Serbo-Croat language 2-3,23-24 19,268
Serbs in southern Hungary 6,19,90,92, VukmiroviC, Mirjana 221,222
113,138,243
Smdulinke50-51 Womens magazines (1900-1914) 123-
Skenderova, Staka250,251-52 40
SkerliC, Jovan 51, 154, 164,175 Yugoslavia
Sklevicky, Lydia 12,200-202,226 Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatsand
Slav gods 8,9 Slovenes (1918-1829) 1,159,256
Slapsak, Svetlana232,238 Yugoslavia (1929-1991) 2,161,247,258
SpiridonoviCSaviC, Olga 61, 167-71, Federal Republic (Serbiaand Monte-
205-07,208,211 negro, from 1991) G
Stefm, Florika 221 Wars 1991-1999 8,121,246,270,271
StefmoviC, Mirjana221,222
StojadinoviCSrpkinja,Milica 2627,89, W n g a 11-12,40,56
98,102-112,118,136,138,236 ZahiroviC, Ajsa 258-59
StoSiC, Gordana 238 2icina, Milka 188-92
SubotiC, Savka91,127-29,136,143 Zora(Mostar),issue devoted to women
Sultan Murad 18,19,83 writers, 1899 120

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