WR1003 War and Reconstuction in the Balkans
Week 7 Gender, Nationalism and War

5. Women as reproducers of children to strengthen the nation and especially sons who will fight, men as warriors

This aspect of nationalist ideology and practice involves state interference in biological reproduction. The needs of the nation (as defined by nationalist and religious leaders) are more important than the needs or desires of women as individuals.
Nationalist states which are in conflict with other national groups/states wants to reproduce members of their own national group and stop the other, enemy group from reproducing.
Attempts to increase the size of certain national groups generally take the form of rewarding women who have large numbers of children and trying to restrict the rights of women to control their own fertility.


Serbian nationalists in the late 1980s and 1990s used the symbolic medieval figure of Yugovich. She was a long suffering mother of 9 who offered her children to die in the defence of the fatherland. The nationalists called on Serbian women to emulate her and to have more children.
In the mid 1980s, demographers asserted that the birth rate in central and eastern Serbia, as well as in Vojvodina, was dropping at an alarming rate, while in Kosovo it was rising.
Serb nationalists argued that this was result of cultural backwardness of patriarchal Albanian men and contrasted downtrodden Albanian women with autonomous Serb women who worked outside the family and had choices. However, they also indicated that this autonomy had gone too far.

The Resolution on the Renewal of the Population of January 1990, as well as the May 1990 amendments, suggested pro-natality for Serbia and Vojvodina and anti-natality for Kosovo. This double policy was aimed at spreading nationalist hatred, oppressing and controlling women and dividing them on an ethnic basis. Feminists in Belgrade spoke out against it.

February 1990, Ivan Knatjer, a physician, proposed the imposition of taxes on unmarried or divorced men and women over the age of thirty. He defined them as 'unfit persons' and argued that they should pay an additional 10% of their incomes in tax.
He also suggested that "persons who refuse to accept matrimonial duties voluntarily should be forced to do so" and stated: "Once she is married, the wife would be considered employed, with all social security benefits. The marriage would be her work-place".

The Serbian Constitution of April 1992 eliminated Article 191 of the Yugoslav constitution which guaranteed abortion as a right

In 1992 "The Warning" was issued by the Socialist Party of Serbia, Serbian Orthodox Church, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Serbian Medical Association & State Bureau of Statistics calling for a State Council for Population Dynamics.
It stated 'Three ethnic groups, the Albanians, Moslems and Gypsies, have a birth rate which deviates from rational and humane procreation' and accused Serbian women of selfishness.
Cited in Korac, M. (1996) "Understanding Ethnic-National Identity and Its Meaning: Questions from Women's Experience." Women's Studies International Forum 19, 1/2 pp. 133-143.

A few months later, the Serbian Parliament removed abortion from list of medical services covered by insurance.
This made the cost of abortions about 50% of average monthly wage and increased the number of illegal abortions.
The nationalists drafted new legislation to restrict access to abortion. Legal abortion only available after 10 weeks for medical reasons and not for rape.

International sanctions against Serbia have prevented import of contraceptives. The diaphragm & sponge are not available, IUDs are used without proper advice and many men refuse to use condoms. Withdrawal is the predominant form of birth control.
In September 1994 the Women's Law Advocacy Centre was formed by SOS Hotline & AWCASV.
It headed the campaign of August 1994 against the restrictive abortion law and got it withdrawn.

In August 1992, Maja Gojkovic, vice-president of right wing nationalist Serbian Radical party, blamed Serbian men for Serbian women's reluctance to have children.
"In order to decide to create a new life, a woman needs inspiration. You can't ask a woman to bear children to men who have capitulated in advance to every threat."
Bracewell, W. (1996) "Women, Motherhood, and Contemporary Serbian Nationalism." Women's Studies International Forum 19, 1/2.

In early 1993, the Serbian Orthodox Church called for the banning of abortion. Women's groups protested on the streets of Belgrade and Bishop Kacavenda called them enemies of the Serbian people.
'These women who have been protesting are not Serbian Orthodox women, they do not have anything in common with the natural essence of the Serbian people.'
Cited in nationalist newspaper Politika 27/3/93
This example connects with points I will make later about the concept of 'the enemy within'.

Bracewell also tells us that in March 1993 the Orthodox Bishop of Tuzla & Zvornik called for abortion to be banned for the following reasons

  • 'the mass dying out of the Serbian nation'
  • the commandment not to kill
  • the Lord tells us to go out and multiply
I find it interesting that the religious reasons are given second and third.

Demographer Dr. Stojan Adasevic said in April 1993 'A women must bear herself a replacement, and a man must go to war when the state summons him.'
Cited in Bracewell, W. (1996) "Women, Motherhood, and Contemporary Serbian Nationalism." Women's Studies International Forum 19, 1/2.

According to Ugresic, D. (1998) The Culture of Lies London, Phoenix House, p. 122, a Muslim spiritual leader said
'I have told my Muslim women: a minimum of 5 children! Two for themselves, three for Bosnia!'
Cited in Albanese P. (2001) 'Nationalism, War, and Archaization of Gender Relations in the Balkans' Violence Against Women, 7/9.


The 1990 Croatian Constitution said that marriage and family are 'natural and moral basis of society'. This makes the individual rights of women secondary & limited.
From May 1990 Croatian government stressed the demographic problem. The RC Church supported restrictions on abortion.
Tudjman, president of Croatia said 'The fetus is a Croat too.'
However, there were protests when one hospital tried to stop carrying out abortions and the decision was overturned.
Tudjman also said that women who pursued careers were 'female exhibitionists' and a major danger to the future of Croatia.


The 1991 Draft Constitution of Slovenia restricted abortion rights and claimed motherhood to be the essence of women's identity as reproducers of the nation. There was a lot of opposition to this and it was not included in the 1992 constitution.

'So even while many women endorsed nationalist views, they remained unwilling to sacrifice their autonomy in reproductive decisions to the nationalist cause.'
Lilly C. & Irvine J. (2002) 'Negotiating Interests: Women and Nationalism in Serbia and Croatia, 1990-1997' East European Politics & Societies, 16/1, p. 135

1. Introduction / 2. Context / 3. Chronology / 4. Women as Symbols / 5. Women as Reproducers / 6. Women as Keepers of the Home / 7. Limited Autonomy / 8. Women in Armed Groups / 9. Women Civilians / 10. Women's Bodies as Territory / 11. Militarization of Society / 12. Reading

URL: http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/wr1003m.htm
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