19. dec. 2007
18. dec. 2007
Verónica Schild is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario. Born in Chile, she studied in the United States and Canada, obtaining a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto. She is the author of articles on the Chilean women's movement in a time of political transition, and most recently on gendered citizenship formation in neoliberal Latin American contexts. Her book about the women's movement and neoliberal state formation in Chile entitled Contradictions of Emancipation: The Women's Movement, Culture, and the State in Contemporary Chile is coming out in 2009.
I first met Verónica Schild in May 2007 at the Women and Politics – Class Differences in Feminism seminar in Dubrovnik. This international seminar was organized by Women’s Infoteka from Zagreb and the participants were expected to “explore ways in which the existence of the differences – in employment and type of economic sector, economic power, social status, type and degree of education etc. – among feminists, influence the access to knowledge and social power to women as a group”. Participants from both Eastern and Western European countries were surprised to hear that in Slovenia, the growing class differences are rarely discussed and that it is not feminists who start the discussion. They were less surprised to hear that the young generation of Slovenian feminists (perhaps the same could be said for feminists from the Balkans in general) who studied feminist theory at Slovenian universities has an extensive knowledge of the founding works of American, British and French feminisms but hardly knows that there exists another, nontheoretical approach to women’s issues; that there are other traditions.
Verónica Schild was taken aback by this “colonialist” self-negation because it reminded her that “feminist knowledge production can act as a weapon of destruction of collective memory!” “I see this happening in Chile all the time,” she continued saying, “with the perpetuation of transnational elite connections that enable young, educated women to travel to the U.S. and to Europe to obtain postgraduate education. When they return, they write women’s activism in ways that inevitably marginalize and silence local, embodied, lived traditions and, thus, they contribute, however unwittingly, to the loss of their own roots.” She made a distinction between (what I called) feminist “traditions” and (what she calls) “feminist knowledge production”. She said: “To seriously speak about ‘traditions’ we would need to pay attention to actual histories of organizing, mobilizing, and theorizing. So, it isn’t what you are referring to the ‘colonialist situation’ which took me by surprise, but the reminder of the perverse form this takes. I asked myself throughout our meeting, must we continue to be so ideologically blinded as to want to deny any value to ways of living, the ideas and ideals, of those women who were active during the communist past? Surely, if women have never been dupes of oppressive capitalist regimes, as I strongly believe, but have been over and above agents – of collaboration, resistance, struggle, and so on -- they have also never been the sheep of communist enclosures? And, then, of course, thinking about the commonalities between your region and mine, both equally peripheral to the real centres of power (incantations to a pan-European identity in the case of Eastern Europe not withstanding), I could not avoid thinking about the political dangers of forgetting this real history, and the responsibilities that intellectuals, including feminist scholars, must of necessity bear for this price of forgetting.”
The following interview was made via e-mail in November 2007. It contextualizes poverty, the working poor and precarious conditions of work as inevitable consequences of a neoliberal global economy. Verónica Schild speaks about possible alliances between groups of people who fight for social justice and explains why there are so few feminist among them; why feminism has failed to reach Chile’s female workers. She speaks about other “contradictions of emancipation” as well – an issue she has dealt with extensively in her 2002 essay The Unravelling of Second Wave Feminism in Chile and the Challenges of Neo-liberal Modernity.
The Slovene translation of this interview and essay is going to be published in the next, triple issue of Borec magazine.
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While the political-military leaders of Cuba and Venezuela and the moderate left-wing presidents of Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina have made their opposition to economic interests of USA very clear, the European press does not say much about the practical consequences of these leaders’ promises to lessen poverty in their countries. Are there any consequences?
One thing is to make one’s opposition to the economic interests of the USA clear and another is to restructure the exclusionary model of development premised on global economic integration, and based on what the late Pierre Bourdieu called “the new global vulgate”, or neoliberalism. As the saying goes, “talk is cheap.” So far, the only government with the means – i.e., possession of oil, a critical, “high end” natural resource – and a strategy for meaningfully tackling the country’s massive social problems, is Venezuela’s government. Chavez is incidentally a political leader, not a “political-military” one. He was duly elected president in a process that was deemed democratic by international observers, despite U.S.-backed efforts to the contrary. We may not like him, and we may want to complain about “corruption”, but we should not jump to conclusions too quickly.
Venezuela’s history, for those who care to know about it, is a tragic one. This country has had the distinct reputation throughout the modern period of being at once one of the wealthiest and one of the most corrupt of all Latin America. Scores of scholars have spilled ink over the years trying to figure out how in a country that generated so much wealth from oil, so much of it simply disappeared leaving generations of poor Venezuelans to eke out a living in grinding poverty. Chavez’s government is investing some of the wealth generated by oil in social programs aimed at the poor majority. What the political motives of Chavez may be for these social investments which, incidentally, do not depend on loans from the World Bank, is frankly not the point. Every leader and party in power anywhere will be driven by political interests. That is the nature of politics. Critics remarkably called the Venezuelan government’s investment in social infrastructures, e.g., health, education, poverty alleviation, a “diverting” of money from the oil industry. There are, however, two options, either the money remains, as it has historically been the case, in the private accounts of the wealthy minority – in offshore accounts for sure – or it is put to use for the sake of meaningful development. It is too early to tell what the impact of these investments is for the future of the country, but what is taking place is promising. Brazil is a very different story.
Brazil is a different story altogether. Lula’s government promised much in the area of poverty alleviation and has delivered little as social indicators in that country suggest. Under this government’s watch, the global integration of the Brazilian economy has been intensified. This has meant the continuing loss of salaried jobs – 3.2 million between 1989-1999, 2 million of those in the industrial sector. 4 out of 5 jobs created in the 1990s are extremely precarious and poorly remunerated. According to official estimates, at least 10 percent of the population is openly unemployed, a figure that is at least doubled when hidden unemployment, and those who have given up looking for work, are included. Many more do not earn a living wage in Brazil’s new economy, as the manufacturing sector is dismantled and good jobs are replaced with precarious and poorly paid ones. 4 out of 5 jobs created in the 1990s are extremely precarious and poorly remunerated. Poverty alleviation programs (Bolsa Familia is the main one today) offer USD 40 to an estimated 11 million families As Brazilian social scientist put it, reflecting on the fate of the country’s strong working class, with all these figures “what social class could withstand such a hurricane?”
The case of Bolivia is different yet again, and a very difficult one at that. The country is held as a successful (late-comer) example of global economic integration and neoliberal restructuring. Bolivia’s elites have been the net beneficiary of these transformations. The poor majority has lost the little ground it had achieved under the previous economic development scheme. What we need to remember about Bolivia is that its population is predominantly indigenous, and the tiny elite that has benefited from the time of the creation of the country, is exclusively white. Evo Morales is the first indigenous person ever to have reached the presidency, and his victory is an indication of the relative strength that the indigenous social movements have gained in this country marked by historical forms of exclusion based on ethnic and cultural background. Addressing the question of poverty and inequality in that country, then, poses distinctive challenges, and judging by the fierce opposition of the white elite, also incidentally regionally segregated, implementing long-overdue changes in the country will not be easy. What Morales has called his “two conquests of equality” – first guaranteeing political rights for Bolivia’s indigenous peoples (the majority of the population, we need to remember), and second pursuing economic equality through the redistribution of national wealth – have been met with serious opposition. A case in point is his most recent approval of a tax increase on oil production to finance the proposed universal pension plan for all Bolivians over the age of 60. This has been met with a call to civil disobedience by regional governments in those areas where oil is produced, and by renewed calls for an end to his “communist” government. As the Vice-President of Bolivia recently stated, what these events have done is expose “the real, inner workings of society.” Bolivia, the country in Latin America where indigenous people – kept in conditions of grinding poverty and social and political exclusion -- constitute the majority, has been ruled from the start by a tiny, racist, white majority. Powerful groups are not about to give up power so easily. What the outcome of Morales’s promises for the majority of the country are, remains to be seen. The more pressing question right now is will the elite risk it all, the destruction of the fragile political democracy in place, and even civil war, in its hysterical attempts to cling to power? Will Bolivia, in other words, usher in a new round of military rule to contain the demands of the country’s majority? Despite my enthusiasm for the massive social mobilizations in Bolivia, I am not discounting this all-too-familiar political outcome. A comparison between Castro and Chavez, or Venezuela and Cuba would necessarily be superficial and misguided. Venezuela’s is not a socialist economy and, as I said before, Chavez is not a dictator.
Cuba has had a socialist economy for nearly 50 years and a political system that is not really a dictatorship. Furthermore, Cuba is a small island economy, dependent until recently almost exclusively on sugar production, with an economic history shared by other Caribbean islands. I believe that few in Latin America would deny the fact that the island’s socialist regime – in place for nearly 5 decades -- has brought remarkable gains in the areas of health and education. Even with the U.S. economic embargo – almost as old as Fidel Castro’s regime -- and ongoing hostilities, not to mention the generalized impoverishment that followed the end of dependence on the Soviet Union, the country puts the rest of the region to shame as far as rates of literacy, levels of education, health coverage, protection of the elderly and other social indicators are concerned. This is something that is yearly corroborated by UN reports of one kind or another. The opening up of special economic zones for foreign investment (e.g., in the tourist industry) since the early 1990s has generated other kinds of social problems and tensions. The problems of the island are different I would say and I would single out the following: A new generation of Cubans, many of whom grew up with opportunities their parents could never have dreamt of, now want political freedom, and a greater say in the shaping of the country’s, and their own, future. This is different issue from what millions of Latin Americans face today. In the continent child labour has made a massive come back, as have slave-like working conditions. Because of chronic malnutrition, lack of access to education and basic health, and lack of a decent, living wage (or loss of it as is the case with the largest growing category of poor people throughout the region: the working poor) millions of Latin Americans are in effect excluded from meaningful participation in the continent’s new-fangled democracies. I would say, then, that in this new millennium Latin Americans – and not just them -- face some very old choices.
How does the current Chilean government deal with the social impact of neo-liberal economy? Has any Chilean centre-left government considered the criticism and reform suggestions of the 1999 Grupo Iniciativa Mujeres document Nueva Agenda, Nuestra Agenda? The main demands of this umbrella group of twelve Chilean womens’ NGOs were: deeper institutional reforms and greater state intervention to tame the market in light of the impacts on women’s rights.
Even if Michelle Bachelet the person – elected by women, with an enormous support and effort on the part of feminists, self-defined socialist, etc. – wanted to take the recommendations of Grupo Iniciativa to heart, she cannot. Her choice of finance and economic ministers at the beginning of her mandate sent a loud signal. Her government would continue to support the exclusionary model of development in place. The area of women’s economic rights, in particular the rights of women – and of all Chileans for that matter – to decent, stable, regulated jobs has not been addressed. Thus women continue to occupy the lowest rungs, most precarious, poorly paid and downright exploitative forms of work. There has been some tinkering at the margins, so to speak, in terms of labour and other reforms. Meaningfully “taming” the market, however, is off limits.
Still, Michelle Bachelet has promised a women and worker-friendly government. Did that promise have any consequences?
The key to Michelle Bachelet’s promise was that hers would be a government that would “listen to the people” and foster “participation.” Her biggest gesture toward a woman-friendly government was the introduction of absolute gender parity in the distribution of ministerial and other administrative positions in the government. After a year in power, this initiative had unravelled and the reasons for this are complex, partly to do with the pervading sexism of Chilean politics and party politics, and with the need to ensure good rapport with the Church and with powerful business interests. Moreover, we need to consider the broader context here. We should not assume, for example, that Michelle Bachelet’s election as president – or that of other women in Latin America and beyond – is an unadulterated feminist victory and a sign that the sexism entrenched in politics is a thing of the past. Rather, such elections are an indication of the degree to which politics and politicians have become devalued in the eyes of voters. For the past twenty years, economic and political restructuring and the global reorganization of capitalism (the only game in town now) have resulted in a combination of significant income redistribution toward the wealthy, massive forms of income concentration (in North America we are dusting off the metaphors found in F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby about the roaring, filthy rich twenties to speak about the kind of life conspicuous consumption made possible for the minority of the wealthy by this remarkable accumulation of wealth). The flip side of this process is extreme forms of insecurity, precariousness, and impoverishment of the majority, and the rise, the world over. of that ubiquitous new category of people: the working poor. The working poor are those people who labour long and hard but whose wages are no longer “living wages.” At the bottom of this rapidly increasing category of people are women, with the most precarious, unprotected, flexible, and poorly paid jobs.
One needs to ask, when women in power prove that even they do not hold the key to undo the damages to social life and human life exacted by neoliberal projects, who will we elect then? What, in other words, will be the alternatives? Depending on where one is located, the alternatives look bleak, with some forms reminiscent of fascism for their xenophobic populism or dictatorships. The more optimistic alternative, provoked by increasing forms of organized pressure from below (e.g., “another world is possible”) may be a return to regulated capitalism and some version of social democracy that does more than ameliorate and contain discontent. It will have to be endorsed by the multilateral regulatory regime – e.g., IMF, World Bank, OECD – as the new global vulgate and for that to happen, the threat posed by China’s economic will have to be addressed. A real alternative, one that embraces the values of social (and differentiated) collective justice – what I still want to call a socialist alternative, but divested of the trappings of failed experiences, and shaped by fresh thinking and practice, is long way off in my view, but, following Gramsci’s dictum, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”, we need to embrace it and contribute to realizing it both as an imaginary and a practice.
But, let me return to your question about Michelle Bachelet. Above all, this promise has resulted in enormous expectations of greater participation by large sectors of Chilean society, including mining workers, indigenous people, students, pensioners, and of demands for real changes in critical areas, from decent wages and post-retirement support, to good quality and inclusionary education, among others. Demands have become increasingly organized and loud, as a new generation of Chileans learns to mobilize for change, and the older ones shake off the fear that has kept them immobilized. For instance, Bachelet was forced to tackle early on one of her own campaign promises, addressing the crisis of the privatized pension system (it is estimated that only 50 percent of Chileans will receive any form of support upon retirement in a system that makes the employed fully responsible for contributions to a retirement fund – expecting them to make contributions of 10 percent of their monthly income – and requires no contributions from employers). Then, last year, after a country-wide secondary school student mobilization (aka the strike of the penguins), following demands for drastic changes to Chile’s exclusionary and much deteriorated privatized education system gathered momentum and the increasing support of other sectors, like teachers and university students, paralyzing the school system, Bachelet was forced to form a commission to discuss this urgent problem. The unequal quality of education (the system of privatized education has resulted in a drastic erosion of Chile’s public education, something that is shown yearly when university entrance examination results are published: those scoring below standard are overwhelmingly students from poorer areas. Schooling has ceased to be a means of social mobility for Chileans and has instead become a mechanism for reproducing class-based privilege and exclusions). The answers Bachelet and her carefully appointed commissions have offered have amounted to “tinkering at the edges”, without significant changes. People know this and their demands are increasingly shaping up into an explicit rejection of the neoliberal project. This inability to make more than minimal gestures toward significant reform in areas that contribute to making Chile an exclusionary society and one of the most unequal in the world, may be the reason why Bachelet enjoys today one of the lowest levels of voter support in a long time.
Is the Catholic Church in Chile still a very strong opinion-maker when it comes to women's rights, especially the right to have control over your own body?
The Catholic Church is a very strong presence in Chile as an institution with the self-proclaimed task of being the “moral conscience” of an ostensibly secular nation, and with the very earthly inclination to support the moral agenda of the conservative elites (dominated today by Opus Dei, we may add, and emboldened by the right wing politics of the Vatican, beginning with John Paul II who, among other legacies, saddled us with Opus Dei by beatifying the founder of this arch-conservative sect and legitimizing its role). The Chilean church is an institution that all Concertacion governments, including the present one headed by Michele Bachelet – self-defined as socialist, single mother, and professional – have chosen not to alienate. Some call it the debt owed to the Church for its role in defending human rights during the dictatorship. So, according to polls, the majority of the population supports sex education in the schools, birth control, and abortion in some form, non-traditional families, and homosexuality. Still, as of 2005 the country finally has a divorce law. Abortion, however, remains untouched, though the topic is increasingly making it into public debate. Lest we assume that there has never been any form of abortion legislation in Chile, it is worthwhile remembering that under the short-lived government of Salvador Allende therapeutic abortions in extreme cases (e.g., in cases of rape or of physical danger to the mother) were allowed. This law was overturned by the military dictatorship which outlawed abortion under any circumstances.
In your essay, you mention the socialist politics of the church in the 70s. Could you outline the relationship between popular feminist educators and the church in the era of Chilean 'second-wave' feminism, especially in comparison to Europe where such cooperation is unimaginable?
First, I would like to distinguish between the official Church and the local Church. During the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, a group of 70 or so Catholic priests made public their support for the socialist project and called themselves Christians for Socialism. They were promptly and harshly dealt with by the Church hierarchy. The official Church, we must not forget, initially welcomed the military coup and turned against the new regime only when the brutal repression against the civilian population became evident – something which, incidentally, happened within a month of the coup. The support for a political project that promised a more just society was much more widespread, however, and reached into the local churches, in particular those in Chile’s poor and working-class neighbourhoods. The theoretical underpinning for this position was provided by Theology of Liberation, the distinct and influential contribution of Latin American Catholic theology that left an indelible mark on a generation of religious personnel (nuns and priests), and lay people. This, then, is the background for understanding the context of the relationship between the local church and popular women’s activism in the aftermath of the military coup on September 11th 1973.
The actual terms of the relationship varied according to the particular place and individuals involved. The commitment many shared was to social justice and the protection of human rights. How narrowly or broadly these commitments were interpreted varied from area to area. Some religious personnel were more tolerant of the kinds of topics popular educators wanted to cover, others were willing to turn a blind eye or chose not to know too much, and still others were not tolerant at all. In the end, however, this relationship also evolved. As popular educators developed a more explicit feminist agenda for work with organized women in poor neighbourhoods, the local churches became less willing to turn a blind eye to their activities. It was, however, the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987 that set the tone for a decidedly intolerant Church. This, then, is the background for understanding the relation between the local church and feminist popular educators, and its eventual unravelling.
How unthinkable such a relationship is in Europe depends on what region of Europe you have in mind, what period in time, and what level of the Catholic church. Theology of liberation became fairly influential in parts of north-western Europe during this period in time and there was a strong commitment to social justice efforts and solidarity with the Third World, which in some cases extended to the funding of the feminist popular education activities I have just discussed. Thus, although the dividing line has always been the issue of the right to sovereignty over one’s own body, critically the question of abortion, the Church’s own explicit commitment to stand on the side of the poor, the widespread influence of Theology of liberation, and the political climate of the 1960s and 1970s in the capitalist world, North and South, seem to have resulted in some “unintended” consequences – certainly unthinkable ones in today’s context!
In spite of the globally disappearing common basis for solidarity between women, your research about Chile gives the impression that feminists there are well aware of the importance of cooperation and continuity of their struggle: would you say that was achieved by formación (before it turned into a tool for women's self-regulation suited for the needs of neo-liberal labour market)?
This is an interesting question. I would not say that there is cooperation and continuity of women’s struggle across class in today’s Chile. In fact, middle-class women, especially professionals, have been the net beneficiaries of many of the advances in gender equity efforts at the institutional level. The dramatic economic disparities between this group and the vast majority of Chilean women have made the kind of cooperation that existed during the dictatorship very difficult. So, one has to wonder, for example, when the commitment to women’s equality is invoked but has virtually no impact on the precarious economic situation of many, if there really is a sense of continuity and common “struggle.” My sense, from the latest massive mobilizations earlier this year against neoliberalism, in which only one women’s organization apparently took part, or ANAMURI, the organization of women rural workers, is that the basis for a common “struggle” are gone. Your question is interesting because it makes us wonder if the lessons of formación are being used among women from the poor majority to strike alliances with other people who are also at the losing end in the brave new world of neoliberal Chile. I do not have the answer to this question at the moment.
In Slovenia, many women with feminist beliefs refuse to publicly declare themselves as feminists. There are some others who believe that shouting ‘the F word’ loudly is the only way to overcome the stigmatization and ‘otherness’ which is in any case attached to women. Isn’t this debate in itself a sign of Slovenia’s great need for a popular feminist curriculum?
I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a sign of the need for a popular feminist curriculum. It is a sign, rather, for the work ahead in placing women’s concerns, and the challenges women face in the brave new world of post-communist Slovenia, on the arena of public debate. This is of necessity a multi-pronged effort. Whether women use the F word or not – and what you describe is not unique to Slovenia but is widespread throughout although in your part of the world the historical origins of the rejection of feminism are rather different, and intimately linked I suspect with the strategy of equality by default embraced, and not in words only, by communist regimes – what matters is whether or not issues affecting the lives of women, from abortion, to sexual violence of one form or another, to economic marginalization and exploitation, can be openly discussed in the public arena, and acted upon. What will work as strategies for mobilizing women for real change in present-day Slovenia? Educating poor women through a “feminist curriculum” may be part of the strategy, but more is needed.
The majority of poor and working-class women in Chile take no part in the current feminist debates which seem to be reserved for educated and middle-class women. In your essay, you present the view of older activists who say that it is difficult to bring young working-class women together in women’s groups. They suggest that the best way to reach them would be through women’s labour organizations. Do they exist and have such attempts been made?
This is the most challenging issue for organizers today. How do you organize women who overwhelmingly occupy the most precarious, unregulated, in effect most flexibilized forms of work? These are women who are either working out of their own home, subcontracted to companies or middlemen, or are engaged as part time cleaners in office cleaning services, or in other equally low skilled, low paid and unregulated activities in the retail, food, health, and other service sectors. These women are not physically grouped in a factory but are instead dispersed and isolated. Attempts to organize these women are being made but it is not easy. The toughest challenge for organizers is posed by those thousands of women engaged in home-based work (piecework). Although they toil in conditions reminiscent of the nineteenth century, and are largely invisible to the rest of society, they do not consider themselves workers.
You also explain why flexibilisation of workforce and feminisation of labour go hand in hand and mention the microempresas or micro-enterprises as the most exploitative form of employment for women. Can you describe what microempresas are? Why are they, as we'd like to believe, not a sign of economic backwardness but are, instead, functionally linked to formal economy?
Microempresas are the form that self-employment took from the 1980s, and on which both national governments in Chile, Latin America, and the Third World more generally, and the World Bank and many bilateral (country-to-country) and private aid organizations placed their hopes for addressing the perennial question of shortage of employment throughout the 1990s. These are usually economic units organized along family or friendship ties, and a very small – with usually fewer than 10 individuals working in them – which produce some article, e.g., shoes, or bags, or kitchen towels, or offer some service locally. In some cases, they are connected through subcontraction with other productive units and are part of the strategy of cheapening labour costs that companies pursue to remain competitive in this age of open borders and global competition. So, these micro-enterprises are one mechanism whereby manufacturing of shoes, clothes, and other products, has been cheapened. Typically, the way it works is that national companies and local branch of the well-known multinationals “flexibilized” their workforce by keeping only a few workers on the factory floor, and letting go of the rest. However, many of those who are “downsized” set themselves up with some equipment, e.g., a sewing machine (either obtained through credit from institutions encouraged to offer “microcredit” or from the employers who offer the sewing machine to the worker as part of the settlement package), and are then recruited to work from their home to make what they used to make in the factory. So, their work, say, making buttonholes on men’s shirts, or sewing soles to shoes, is critical for the production of the final product, e.g., the shirt or the shoe, but women now do it from their own home and are paid per piece of work completed.
Studies conducted by the NGO Homenet, which is both keeping track of, and making visible the rising incidence of this kind of work (about which Karl Marx wrote in the 19th Century and we thought the 20th Century regulation of industrial work had done away with), show that this is a rapidly expanding type of work, and that women are the overwhelming majority of people involved in it. Why is it so exploitative? Well, women are not protected by legislation, they are not entitled to minimum wage, benefits, compensation, or protection in case of job related injuries. Furthermore, they must cover out of their own pockets the costs of electricity, needles, and machine upkeep and repair. Also, because their pay is based on the price per button hole, straight seam on the side of a shirt, and so on, women will take on as much work as possible in order to make something of a wage. This often means working long hours, upwards of 14 or 15 hours per day, recruiting family members to help, and, what worries organizers the most, this includes young children whose education is, therefore, jeopardized. Clearly, in the modern conditions that make it possible for corporations to compete with their products across the globe, this very old, highly exploitative form of labour which has always been associated with women, has made a comeback. It is now an important component of the competition strategy of corporations, and is in that sense functional to the modern economy.
How do feminists in Chile – both the políticas and the autónomas – nowadays intervene in issues that affect women as workers, as retired women, as coloured citizens, as lesbians, as dispossessed people? Are their actions defending the already existing rights or have they made more radical demands?
What the last few years have shown is that institutional means for addressing some of the issues you have mentioned, though not all the distinctions you make here are observed, has been the preferred route for so-called politicas. By definition, as I have indicated before, this means attempting reforms within the parameters of what is politically possible in neoliberal Chile. Key issues that involve demands for redistribution, such as secure jobs and living wages, universal, affordable child care, an old age with dignity, or support for care work done in the home, are off the table. These are premised on the recognition that investing in society is paramount for the health of the national community, for the success of the economy, and that the state, not the market, has an important role to play in the redistribution of wealth that this entails. But, this is not the present game in town. Today, markets for goods locally produced, at whatever human, social and environmental costs, lie elsewhere, and what matters is the competitive edge of national corporations, and local branches of transnational ones. In this scenario, few meaningful gains can be had with demands for economically marginalized groups. The more radical demands of the autonomas are, by definition, made outside of the normal political game that perpetuates the present order. They are, from that perspective, irrelevant. Where they are being heard is in the local and regional mobilizations demanding a radical change to neoliberalism which they, correctly, identify as the problem.
Do you think that poverty today, as much as it brings up insecurity and hatred, can also function as a common basis for solidarity between women – and between all impoverished groups of people?
Poverty as a brute fact of life, unmediated by languages of solidarity is not by itself a basis for solidarity. A condition of poverty interpreted through such a language has always been a powerful basis for solidarity, however. Languages of solidarity may fall into disuse, but they live on in the memory of people and are passed on to new generations. Thus, they are not forgotten. I highlight this because I have am firmly convinced that the renewed massive mobilizations in different parts of Latin America, including in my own country Chile – which until recently struck one precisely for the widespread political apathy – demanding an end to the exclusionary economic model and neo-liberalism, have to do with a recovery of cultures of solidarity. So, the short answer to your question is that not only is poverty a basis for solidarity (in the terms I have suggested) but given the accelerated pace at which global capitalism is generating economic and social exclusions, the struggle for economic justice across the globe will be the central struggle of this millennium.
Vječna vatra, Sarajevo, 7. september 2007
17. dec. 2007
Udruženje Q je edina versko neopredeljena LGBTIQ skupina v Bosni in Hercegovini. V Sarajevu sicer obstaja tudi newagerska organizacija Logos, ki si na papirju prizadeva za »dekonstrukcijo patriarhalnega normativnega sistema«, vendar v praksi, tako pravijo prijateljice in jaz zlobno ponavljam za njimi, sistematično in nekonstruktivno molči. V tej metaforični prostorski stiski si je velika večina gejev in lezbijk zavetje poiskala v nevidnosti. V zborniku osebnih izpovedi, intervjujev, zgodb in pesmi o seksualnosti, Na-strani, ki je pri Udruženju Q izšel letos, so od enaindvajsetih sodelujočih samo trije avtorji in avtorice podpisani s polnim imenom, vsi ostali se skrivajo za kraticami in psevdonimi. Nekatera dela vizualnih umetnikov Borisa Majstorovića in Danisa Fejzića opisujejo kot homoerotična, medtem ko v gledališču in filmu, na glasbeni sceni in v literaturi ni avtorjev ali avtoric, ki bi svoje delo ali celo biografijo želeli razglašati za gejevsko ali lezbično. Razumljivo, saj sovražna izjava premiera Republike Srbske, Milorada Dodika, ki je septembra letos v intervjuju za bosansko-hercegovsko nacionalno televizijo BHT rekel, da v svoj kabinet »pedrov prav gotovo ne spušča«, še zdaleč ni osamljena.
Časopis Oslobođenje je napoved prve bosanske parade ponosa, ki naj bi bila v Sarajevu prihodnje leto okrog 28. junija, pospremil z anketo. Bosanske politike in političarke je spraševal, če bodo parado ponosa podprli s svojo udeležbo. Celo predsednica Liberalno-demokratske stranke, Lamija Tanović, ki za razliko od ostalih predstavnikov strank ne misli, da je homoseksualnost bolezen, je svojo udeležbo zanikala, saj meni, da je parada ponosa v tako konzervativni družbi, kot je bosanska, zelo preuranjeno izzivanje, »nepotrebna maškarada«. Aktivistki Udruženja Q, Svetlana Đurković in Slobodanka Dekić, sta ob tem povedali, da parade brez policijske zaščite pred »vehabijami« (člani radikalno desničarske Aktivne islamske mladine), Hordami zla in Manijaki (navijači nogometnih klubov Željezničar in Sarajevo), res ne bo. Udruženje Q je članom svojih klepetalnic in forumov postavilo enako vprašanje kot omenjeni časopis. Kar polovica anketirancev si na ulico ne upa, zato aktivistki na prvi paradi pričakujeta predvsem udeležence in udeleženke iz tujine, računata pa tudi na solidarnostno podporo domačinov, posebej ženskih skupin, ki so v preteklosti že javno podprle njihova prizadevanja. Recimo, sarajevska Fundacija CURE, ki v svojih uličnih akcijah, medijskih kampanijah, izobraževalnih programih, časopisu in programu festivala PitchWise poudarja, da je v feminizmu dovolj prostora za lezbijke, geje in druga obrobja.
Čeprav je Fundacija CURE nevladna organizacija, ki je, tako kot velika večina bosanskih ženskih nevladnih organizacij, nastala na pobudo in s finančno podporo mednarodnih ustanov, ki so po vojni od zgoraj, z bosanskega vidika pa dobesedno »iz nič«, ustvarile takoimenovano bosansko civilno družbo, jo od velike večine nevladnih organizacij ločijo njen urbano-gverilski zanos, politični angažma in kontinuiteta dela. Vse našteto in seksistični, homofobni ter nacionalistični argumenti, s katerimi anonimneži na spletnih forumih ter v nekaterih medijih skušajo diskreditirati njihovo delo, Fundacijo CURE približujejo Udruženju Q. V trenutnih bosanskih razmerah (ekonomskem in kulturnem obubožanju večinskega prebivalstva) sta boj proti homofobiji in nasprotovanje seksističnim praksam in politikam neizbežno povezana, saj oba skušata ustvarjati simbolne in konkretne »lastne sobe«, torej prostore srečevanj, kjer je mogoče odmisliti pričakovanja in strah ter delovati nekoliko bolj sproščeno. Festival ženske umetnosti PitchWise, ki je letos drugič zapored potekal v Sarajevu, je med 6. in 11. septembrom simbolično premaknil in pretesel kar nekaj prostorov.
Ker v mestu ni kulturnega centra, ki bi bil na voljo organizatorjem neprofitnih prireditev, se je Fundacija CURE morala znajti po svoje. Program je razporedila na sedem lokacij, ki so poleg študentskih in zasebnih klubov vključevale Bosanski kulturni center, Zgodovinski muzej ali Muzej revolucije (Tam je hišnik na galerijsko steno zalepil plakat s podobo ženske, ki se – kot v ogledalu – opazuje v očeh neke druge ženske, pod njima pa piše: »Product of Feminist Lesbians of Yugoslavia«. Hišnik je stopil korak nazaj in čez čas rekel, da ga plakat spominja na reklamo za Fla-vor-aid!), trg pred katedralo ter propadajočo stavbo v centru mesta, ki je svoj čas spadala pod okrilje tekstilne tovarne Ključ.
Iniciatorka zasedbe, arhitektka, žonglerka in soorganizatorka festivala PitchWise, Armina Pilav, je govorila o »začasni spremembi namembnosti« in poudarjala, da za spreminjanje industrijskih prostorov v kulturne ne potrebuješ veliko denarja. V Sarajevu, ki nima ne tradicije zasedništva ne denarja, se je ta možnost, ki jo v Ljubljani dobro poznamo zaradi Metelkove, Molotova, Galicije in Tovarne Rog, zdela obenem utopična in povsem izvedljiva. Tako kot parada ponosa. Občutki ob njenih napovedih nihajo med sprijaznjenim strahom na eni strani ter radostnim in norim pogumom na drugi. Oslobođenje jih je s strašno zgovornostjo zaobjelo v naslovu omenjenega članka: »Jednom se i to mora dogoditi…«.
17. nov. 2007
11. nov. 2007
Feministična pobuda za socialne pravice vseh
Ženskam so enake možnosti pravno zagotovljene, vendar zakoni ne odražajo dejanskih razmerij moči v družbi. Vsak dan – doma in na delovnem mestu – prihaja do nespoštovanja, kršitev in omejevanja naših pravic:
- tradicionalno »ženske poklice« (vzgojiteljice, čistilke, tajnice, negovalke), ki so vezani na sfero zasebnega, še vedno v večini opravljajo ženske. V patriarhalni družbi so ti poklici, tako kot neplačano materinsko in gospodinjsko delo, manjvredni in posledično manj plačani;
- delo žensk je še vedno podplačano;
- doma in na delovnem mestu so ženske izpostavljene nasilju in spolnemu nadlegovanju;
- delodajalci posegajo v zasebnost žensk (načrtovanje družine, spolna usmerjenost) in jih zaposljujejo samo za določen čas;
- ženske, ki delajo na črno, posebej tiste, ki so se odločile za seksualno delo ali jih je v to prisilila revščina, so izpostavljene samovolji delodajalcev.
Slovenska oblast diskriminacijo žensk podpira s svojimi dejanji. Pred letom dni smo se
morale ponovno boriti za pravico do splava, saj so jo revnim ženskam hoteli odvzeti; socialno ogroženim ženskam niso dostopne najmanj škodljive vrste kontracepcijskih tablet z najnižjimi hormonskimi osnovami, saj so plačljive; pravica do oploditve z biomedicinsko pomočjo je še vedno rezervirana samo za ženske, ki spoštujejo tradicionalne krščanske vrednote in želijo otroka vzgajati v partnerstvu z enim moškim, medtem ko je vsem drugim ženskam – hendikepiranim, nemonogamnim, samskim, lezbijkam – to onemogočeno.
Ljudje, ki se v času zmanjševanja socialnih pravic čutijo ogrožene, se oklepajo tradicionalnih krščanskih vrednot in podpirajo prav takšno oblast. Tradicionalne vednote najbolj škodujejo ženskam: odvzemajo nam svobodo odločanja, saj nas ponovno potiskajo v vlogo žen, ki naj skrbijo za može, da bodo ti zdravi in pokorni hodili na delo; mater, ki naj skrbijo za otroke in državi priskrbijo svežo delovno silo; delavk in študentk, ki naj molče prenašajo krivice in spolno nadlegovanje.
Dovolj je bilo fizičnega in psihičnega nasilja nad ženskami!
Dovolj spolnega nadlegovanja!
Dovolj je bilo diskriminacije na delovnem mestu!
Ženske in moške pozivamo k solidarnosti in sodelovanju!
Zahtevamo spoštovanje zakonsko zagotovljenih pravic!
Zahtevamo pravico do razpolaganja z lastnim telesom!
Zahtevamo pravico do izbire!
Več informacij: Avtonomni blok
7. nov. 2007
18. sep. 2007
Tematske strani novega Stripburgerja so nastale v sodelovanju s 13. mednarodnim festivalom sodobnih umetnosti Mesto žensk. Festivalovo poslanstvo, pa tudi osrednji namen pričujoče številke Stripburgerja, je promocijo žensk v umetnosti, pri čemer je bistven poudarek, da ženske ne delajo ženske ali celo ženstvene umetnosti, ampak umetnost. Stripburger je k sodelovanju povabil stripovske avtorice, ki so se v velikem številu – prejeli smo okrog štirideset
Stripburger #46 predstavlja družbeno-kritične in intimne, predvsem pa avtorske stripe Andreje Kladnik, Saše Kerkoš (Slovenija), Maje Veselinović (Srbija), Anne Ehrlemark (Švedska/Slovenija), Malin Biller, Karoline Bång (Švedska), Ludmille Bartsch, Claire Lenkove (Nemčija), Kati Kovács (Finska), Dore Dutkove (Češka), Cinders McLeod (Kanada), Roberte Gregory, Fly, Mary Fleener (ZDA), Dunje Janković (Hrvaška/ZDA). Dunja Janković je novo številko Stripburgerja opremila z naslovnico, v intervjuju z avtorico pa boste izvedeli, čemu se v svojih stripovskih delih najraje smeje. Naštetim bodo delali družbo stripi avtoric, ki so se odzvale na razpis Smej se glasno!, v rednem delu Stripburgerja pa pričakujte tudi dela stripovskih avtorjev.
Predstavitev Stripburgerja #46 je bila v petek, 5. oktobra 2007 ob 18h v Kavarni Slovenskega etnografskega muzeja, revijo pa še vedno lahko naročite na naslovu: email@example.com ali pa jo pridete iskat v Stripburgerjevo stripovsko knjižnico na Metelkovi 6. Odprti smo vsak torej in četrtek med 11.00 in 16.00.
--- ooo ---
Čeprav je stripovska umetnost očitno povezana z mnogimi varljivimi obrazi humorja, kar je posebej razvidno iz angleškega izraza »comics«, v neodvisni stripovski produkciji prevladujeta zgolj dve vrsti smeha in en sam spol. Ker parodičnemu in satiričnemu (po)smehu mnogih avtorjev kar iz navade pripisujemo kritične ali celo prevratniške učinke, so se osnovnemu vprašanju, kje so vse stripovske avtorice, pridružila še druga: zanimalo nas je, kje je meja med prevratniškim in reakcionarnim smehom, zanimalo nas je, na koliko različnih načinov se je mogoče smejati na borih petdesetih tematskih straneh, pogumno smo se vprašali celo po vzrokih za toliko različnih vrst smeha in ugotovili, da so v vsej tej različnosti skrite tudi razlike med spoli. Poslani stripi so nas opomnili, da je po svoje prav smešno, kako se v trenutku, ko mislimo, da se skupaj režimo isti stvari, izkaže, da ni čisto tako…
Stripburger je »boljšo polovico« strani namenil stripovskim delom domačih in tujih avtoric, ki se smejijo prepričanju, da je ta svet najboljši med vsemi možnimi svetovi. Smejijo se resničnosti, ki jo prežema navidezni smisel, kajti smeh odkriva nesmisel in včasih odpira možnosti za spremembe. Smejijo se času, v katerem je, kot pravi filozofinja Alenka Zupančič, sreča postala moreča dolžnost. Nadvse popularna ideologija »pozitivnega razmišljanja«, dobrovoljnosti, večno nasmejanih obrazov, osebnostne izpolnitve in jemanja vsega negativnega za »pozitivno izkušnjo«, je zanemarila razliko med človekovo moralno vrednostjo in njegovim počutjem, zato s(m)o vsi tisti, ki se počutimo slabo, kar naenkrat postali slabi, celo zli. Prisiljen smeh tistih, ki nočemo biti slabi, je strašansko žalosten, podoben je smejanju lastni nemoči, izgubljenosti v svetu tajnic in direktorjev, naših in njihovih, vojne za mir, virtualnega denarja in seksističnega feminizma. Prepričani smo, da se je tem ne preveč bistroumnim nesmislom mogoče smejati v obraz na načine, ki ne razorožujejo nas samih, temveč »težijo« maskam spektakla.
V izbor smo poleg še neobjavljenih stripov uvrstili dve starejši deli avtoric, ki se v stripovskem mediju že več desetletij borita za lastno vidnost in s tem za pravico do ustvarjanja. Obe, škotsko-kanadska karikaturistka Cinders McLeod in med feministično in lezbično publiko že legendarna ameriška ustvarjalka Roberta Gregory, se v stripih šaljivo spopadata s stereotipi, ki ženskam, posebej tistim, ki se izpostavljajo kot umetnice ali, bognedaj, feministke, očitajo, da nimajo smisla za humor, da ne znajo risati stripov, da stripi tako ali tako niso namenjeni ženskam ipd. Ta težka prtljaga stoletij med drugim vsebuje v celofan zavite primerke stripov, ki so jih moški risali za moške v trdnem prepričanju, da so prepoteni mišičnjaki v pajkicah, kot se heca Dunja Janković, zanimivi za »vse«. Bralke, izključene iz namišljene celote, so z bujno domišljijo ali branjem med vrsticami idealne superheroje sicer lahko priredile lastnim potrebam; v še tako mizoginem stripu je vedno na razpolago tudi namig, da neidealne ženske, kot sva jaz in ti, obstajajo in so, še več, pogumne, pametne in lepe. A najbrž ni treba poudarjati, kako naporno in dolgočasno je tovrstno »navzkrižno zasliševanje« medija, ki je v prvi vrsti namenjen sprostitivi. Od tod ni težko razumeti, zakaj sta se najbolj znana lika Roberte Gregory, jezna in napadalna vešča Bitchy Bitch ter zakompleksana in v slavo preteklih lezbičnih bojev zagledana Bitchy Butch, bralkam tako zelo priljubila. Namesto »vseh« nagovarjata publiko skrajno različnih spolov in seksualnih nagnjenj, skratka vse, razen mačotov v pajkicah.
Karikaturistka Cinders McLeod je v stripu Why Are There No Women Cartoonists spregovorila o praktičnih posledicah nevidnosti. Strip je nastal leta 1991, a je žal še vedno aktualen za avtorice (na slovenskem trgu tudi za večino avtorjev), ki bi se želele preživljati z risanjem stripov. Po njenih izkušnjah je v škotskih in kanadskih medijih za ženske zelo malo prostora. Njegova raztegljivost je odvisna od tega, čemu se avtorica smeji. Na primer, karikaturistka, ki smeši politikov izgled, ima večje zaposlitvene možnosti kot tista, ki s smehom kritizira njegova dejanja. Slednjo tako Cinders kot Roberta opozarjata, da se ji lahko zgodi, da ne bo objavljala svojih ilustracij, ampak bo za kolegova dela barvala ozadja. Ker je smeh samo pol zdravja, ji bo ob tem gotovo šlo kdaj na jok. Tolažita jo, naj nikar ne pozabi, da je strip zaradi svoje cenovne dostopnosti še vedno eden bolj demokratičnih medijev: za risanje in razmnoževanje stripov zadostujejo papir, svinčnik in fotokopirni stroj ali osebni računalnik s skenerjem, za branje pa, seveda, novi Stripburger!
Trina Robbins: The Great Women Cartoonists. Watson-Guptill Publications,
Erica Smith (ured.): The Girl Frenzy Millennial. Slab-O-Concrete,
Roz Warren (ured.): Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists A to Z. Cleis Press, Pittsburg/San Francisco, 1995
... je že minil, še vedno pa velja vabilo k ogledu in branju sočasno izdanega vodnika Galapagos in kratke zgodbe Izvajanje velikega blatarja.
17. sep. 2007
10. sep. 2007
25. jul. 2007
Vernik: Moj Bog! ... Delodajalec!
Bog: Zakaj bi, ha, zaposlil ravno tebe?
Vernik: Ker sem tako vdan. ... in tako sam in tako reven in tako zelo preziram napuh in lakomnost in nečistost in jezo in...
Bog: Kako to, da si zamenjal že toliko zaposlitev?
Vernik: Ah! Bog je eden in edini. Vendar je navzoč povsod!
Bog: Aha! Iskal si, ničvrednež dvomeči, dokaz! Zakaj se nisi razumel s prejšnjim šefom?
Vernik: Odpustil me je, ker, ne boste verjeli, nisem ... dvomil!!
Bog: Ha, ha. Odlično! Pa vendar ... nebesa so daleč; si boš potne stroške plačeval sam?
Vernik: Gromka strela, to pa ne! Pravico imam do angelskih kril!
Bog: To bomo še videli...
Viri: igrače in budilka iz viškega bolšjaka preoblečene v vernika brez posla in hudo zaposlenega boga z dobro razsvetljavo, nauki iz učbenika za udeležence delavnic Poti do dela in zaposlitve (Zavod RS Slovenije za zaposlovanje, 2006), dva dobra benda (Spazz: WWF Rematch at the Cow Palace in The Books: Be Good to Them Always).
Believer: My God! ... my employer!
God: Ha, why would I employ YOU?
Believer: Because I am faithful. ...and so lonely and so poor and because I despise gluttony and greed and lust and wrath and...
God: Why did you change so many occupations?
Believer: Ah! God is one and only. However, He is omnipresent!
God: Aha! You worthless doubter, you were looking for proof! Why didn't you get along with your previous boss?
Believer: He fired me, You won't believe this, because I... doubted!!!
God: Ha, ha. Excellent! Still... Heaven is far; are you going to pay your own travel costs?
Believer: Strike me if I will! I am entitled to angle wings!
God: I'll see about that...
Sources: free toys and an alarm clock from the flee market disguised into an unemployed believer and a very busy God with decent lightning; misinterpreted lessons from Paths to Work and Employment textbook for participants of obligatory Employment Service of Slovenia workshops; two good bands & songs (Spazz: WWF Rematch at the Cow Palace and The Books: Be Good to Them Always).
10. jul. 2007
In Ljubljana there are several academic, non-governmental and grassroots groups whose individual members cooperate in public protests against cases of misogyny and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. Their collaborations are provisional as they form in response to particular cases of discrimination or hatred and usually disband when other political groups decide to join or continue their efforts. This defensive, even reactionary position is one of the reasons for their political and public invisibility. Nevertheless, they are important agents of both continuity and change within the fragmented feminist map of Ljubljana since the alliances were initiated by a new generation of feminists born in the late seventies and early eighties.
In spite of several feminist activist alliances of the past years, it would be wrong to assume that activists initially chose temporality because of its advantages as an organising principle or tactical tool. Instead, the provisional nature of cooperative actions reflects problems that are specific for post-socialist countries and only partly coincide with problems of western feminist perspectives: the reluctance to identify and be recognised as feminists due to the general misunderstanding and stigmatization of feminism as a separatist and misandrist ideology; the depoliticised attitude towards a number of issues including social differences within the fictionally unified subject of women; the lack of solidarity between feminists and other potential allies as an expected consequence of depolitisation in an atomized society that, at first sight, leaves us with only one common denominator: “class-blind” consumerism.
Feminist academic, non-governmental and grassroots groups in Ljubljana largely differ in the means they have at their disposal to reach specific goals. Differences in size, structure, finances, policies and differences in their members’ age, education, status, experiences, needs and idea(l)s embody the entire history of feminisms including traditional essentialist views, poststructuralist feminism, lesbian feminism and more recent post-feminist, queer perspectives. Confrontations between advocates of different feminisms are inevitable, and while they can result in constructive dialogue and collaborations it is more common that they lead to fragmentation. Despite of – or is it because of? – Ljubljana’s relatively small population of 300,000 and a very limited number of politically active feminists, inherent antagonisms either remain unspoken or are transferred to the level of personal arguments and dislikes. The same people are involved in several groups at a time or both horizontally and vertically move through different groups. I am tempted to interpret vertical mobility as a sign of social aspirations of younger and working class feminists and willingness of older, academic and middle class feminists to work together, improve their work methods and change the way society is organised. However, in the context of Ljubljana’s feminist groups, such clear-cut class divisions are theoretical fiction. In the same context, mobility merely supports the persistence of the aforementioned problems in groups of all types. My essay is focused on some promising exceptions.
“Are There Any Feminists Left?”
“After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the period of great social and political changes, one part of women’s and feminist groups in Slovenia was sucked into ruling structures while the other continued to develop in academia. (…)” In the eighties, the feminist movement was more condensed and perhaps that is why it was more visible. In the nineties, several focal points appeared and the feminist perspective was incorporated into the social body as a whole. Feminists are present at universities, institutions; there is very lively publishing activity, with many small presses releasing feminist works (*cf, Sophia, ŠKUC’s Vizibilija and Lambda editions, Krtina, Analecta, Studia Humanitatis,…); there is Delta magazine; Radio Študent is doing an excellent job when it comes to feminist issues; an active part of feminist scene consists of women’s groups (SOS phones, Association Ključ); a number of cultural and artistic projects with women’s or feminist themes (festivals like City of Women and Rdeče zore) is growing” (Bahovec in Simčič, 2006). The one part not mentioned by Eva D. Bahovec can be placed within (post)feminist politics only in retrospect. Artists who founded Disko FV and theatre FV 112/15, also organised Festival Magnus, the first gay and lesbian public coming out in Yugoslavia in 1984. Their erotic video production chose non-heterosexual, “gender-bending, gay, lesbian and transvestite” roles as a provocative and “conscious political positioning of sexuality” (Gržinič, 2005: 219). While Neven Korda, Zemira Alajbegović, Aldo Ivančič, Marina Gržinić and other involved artists nowadays continue with their artistic and intellectual careers, their efforts – and same goes for feminist achievements – from the mid-eighties are generally not mentioned as a source of inspiration by the generation of women and men who became acquainted with feminism during the last two decades.
Vlasta Jalušič observes that proliferation of Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian women’s and feminist groups during and after the war was enabled and (NGO-ed!) with international foundations’ support. For obvious reasons, the support for Slovenian groups was smaller. After 1995, the lack of funds, pacification of feminists during the war (many women’s groups’ focus shifted from political, educational and preventive work to humanitarian and social work) and their defensive policy (they organised only in defence of already existing rights) decreased the number of feminist initiatives and activities (Jalušič, 2001: 173-196) to the extent that they became invisible and ineffective in the political arena. Today, many young feminists are unaware of these local traditions. Instead, they are influenced by women’s studies and feminist theory courses based on British, American and French literature. They accept these as the only available feminist genealogies. Leaving aside the fact that local and specific feminist traditions do exist, the monopoly of Western feminisms and their unquestioned application to post-socialist situations is problematic. It “consents to the populist conviction that the era of accelerated globalisation is not an appropriate time for stipulating distinctions between East and West”. The idea of our fundamental sameness and equality is a “symptom of an ideological blind spot, a blindness which is unaware of its own claustrophobic impulse and totalitarian flavour; both of which characterise every ideology of privacy” (Gržinič, 2005: 60).
In 2006, journalist Valentina Plahuta Simčič wrote about current feminist movements in Slovenia. She begins the article by quoting her surprised friends who wondered whether there are any feminists left at all. The interviews that follow include two prominent feminist academics and a feminist festival organiser. Although their answers prove that the question is superfluous, they fail to clearly see the whole spectrum of feminist activities in Ljubljana. Focusing on institutionalised and publicly recognised groups, they do not see the activities as being exempt from their criteria: feminist street actions inspired by the praxis of creative resistance; inspired by those rare groups and individuals in Slovenia which “dared and managed to walk into the political reality of the late nineties on their own terms – by politicising new issues and creating political spaces from below” (Zadnikar, 2004: 15). Such actions appeared sporadically between 2000 and 2007. They were self-organised and technically non-existent due to their provisional and illegal nature.
Feminist Street Actions (2000-2007)
The first feminist street actions of the new century in Ljubljana were inspired by the informal network of groups and individuals that began its political activities after world-wide protests against the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999. In response to biased reports in the Slovenian media that addressed the protesters as “criminals”, a group of protesters walked the streets of Ljubljana in November 1999 and carried banners claiming that “We are the criminals!”. The movement gained further experience with “smaller actions and performances (in Interspar, a group of women activists ’advertised’ Heidersil; a new washing powder that cleans historic stains and contains ’adolfils’), with solidarity and group actions (International Day of Disabled Persons), with constant resistance to police harassment in Autonomous Cultural Center Metelkova mesto, by participating in Prague protests and with raising attention to state violence” (Zadnikar, 2004:15).
Bureau of Interventions leaflet. Ljubljana, 2000.
In order to coordinate the network, the Bureau of Interventions (UZI – Urad za intevencije) was founded. The bureau was a fictional organization with fictional headquarters, leadership and members; it consisted of a series of meetings where individual activists and self-organised groups learnt how to communicate and organize in anti-authoritarian ways. Women and feminists who took part in these meetings politicised gender and sexuality in relation to many other issues: violations of women’s sexual autonomy and reproductive choices, poverty and discriminatory labour market, invisibility of marginalised and victimised people, privatisation of public spaces and right-wing reinterpretations of recent Yugoslavian and Slovenian history. They expressed their identity and politics through relatively explicit feminist terminology and used street protest as their tool of resistance.
De-privatising the Public
On March 8th 2001, the Women’s Section of Bureau of Interventions carried out two simultaneous actions. Small groups of activists temporarily squatted in cosmetics and women’s clothing departments of stores in the centre of Ljubljana in order to address the commercialisation of International Women’s Day and the repressive nature of private spaces reserved exclusively for consumption. They danced among the bewildered customers and spread out flyers reading: “The International Women’s Day might make you worry about exactly what it is that makes you a woman. Is it your man? Your child? (…) The contents of your shopping bag? Your high heels? (…) The way you hold your cigarette? All of this is important. (It really doesn’t matter.) You are important.” When security staff threatened the squatters with police intervention, the groups continued the action in front of the stores. One group read a manifesto demanding the creation of public spaces where “we can let our bodies and minds run free” as opposed to “control that is exerted over us automatically by the spaces we live and move in. We go through certain rituals in our lives—work, “leisure”, consumption, submission—because the world we live in is designed for these alone. (…) All the spaces we travel in have pre-set meanings, and all it takes to keep us going through the same motions is to keep us moving along the same paths” (CrimethInc Collective, 2000). The second group read excerpts from Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own (1929). Since both groups managed to engage random passers-by in conversation, they declared their actions successful.
(Other examples of playful de-privatisations of public spaces in relation to commodification of woman’s bodies can be found in the works of Lana Zdravković known as kitch™. In 2005, she made a living room in a public park; her street installation / sales action Public Air consisted of balloons filled with “public air” which was sold for 4 € per balloon; her XXX Sale project portrayed a disembodied female doll whose body parts were priced and exhibited in a shop window.)
On the same day, Nada Hass (“nada” = nothing in Spanish, “hass” = hate in German), an improvised all-female activist choir performed at Klub Gromka in ACC Metelkova mesto. Dressed up as cleaners and housekeepers, they sang: “Let’s set things straight with our past, let’s wipe away the borders, let’s make our relationships work and wipe away the violence…” (Ozmec, 2001:14). Nada Hass was a fictional public relations personality invented in order to “avoid exposure of individual activists and avoid media production of “leaders” (…) Nada Hass did many phone interviews but never appeared on television. Many were disturbed by Nada’s combination of playfulness, irony, performance and political issues” (Zadnikar, 2004:16).
In addition to the actions mentioned above, an anonymous group attacked the strategy with a graffiti action that included witty slogans like “Let’s abort Drobnič!” or “I’d rather be a test-tube baby than Drobnič’s child” (or in Slovenian: “Bolje epruveta kot Drobnič za očeta”).
Already on March 8th 2005, a small feminist group staged a burlesque portrayal of patriarchal family roles and relationships in Park Zvezda, and managed to ridicule Minister Drobnič personally by calling itself The “Janez Drobnič” Folklore Group. The public letter that accompanied the action criticised “the minister” who “sent women back to the kitchen by saying that fired women workers from the textile industry “who are skilled in cooking and other kinds of domestic work” could use their skills on the labour market as well. (…) Member of Parliament, Pavel Rupar, suggested that the state should lessen its financial support for safe houses because they undermine the idea of family as a traditionally safe environment. (…) All these statements are violent and put pressure on residents of Slovenia.”
Poverty and Solidarity
In 2003, official statistics estimated that 260,000 Slovenian citizens live in poverty. Since then, many textile and shoe companies (Prebold, Polzela, Beti, Peko, Alpina, etc.) have “reorganised” their production and “forcedly retired” many of their workers: middle-aged women with no chance of finding new employment in the shrinking labour market. Since factories were located in rural areas, their protests (and hunger strikes!) were ignored by everybody – the media, the labour unions, the feminists. There have been, at least to my knowledge, no feminist street actions addressing the social and economic exclusion of these women. I therefore mention two responses from The Anarchist Federation (SAF) and The Anarchist Union even though their members have no explicit connection to feminist politics. Romanticising the working class as a unified revolutionary subject, they believe that the problem of women’s exploitation is going to be “solved automatically” in the context of worker’s liberation and the “fall of capitalism”. In spite of their backdated ideals, their solidarity actions managed to bring media attention to the textile workers’ strikes and consequently demanded answers from the labour union that was supposed to support them in the first place.
On October 13th 2003, SAF wrote a Public Letter of Support and Solidarity with Workers’ Struggle. They specifically addressed the 227 fired workers of the Alpina shoe factory in Gorenja vas. SAF analysed the Slovenian “success story” of political and economic transition as “a moment without future. The factories are closed; capitalist exploiters (…), the rich (in this case the Kopač family) will receive billions and congratulate themselves for successfully managing the company?!?! They have abandoned you, used you and threw you away” (SAF, 2003). The same letter also called for solidarity protests in defence of workers’ rights. Earlier that year, on March 28th when a Ljubljana cigarette factory fired 269 workers and closed down production, The Anarchist Union suggested solidarity actions and the squatting of the factory as “the only efficient way to keep your jobs” (Anarho sindikat, 2003).
(Also in 2003, journalist, costume designer and video artist Marija Mojca Pungerčar dedicated her installation Singer and the accompanying publication Singer: A Newsletter for Closed Textile Factories in Slovenia to women workers of the Slovene textile industry. “The machine that first promised, and also made possible, economic independence,” she wrote, “has led millions of women all around the world into a future of poorly paid work. For many of Slovenia's textile workers, even this story has come to an end.” A chorus of women textile workers' from Mirna peč performed at the installation opening. In October 2007, as part of 13th International Contemporary Arts Festival City of Women, Jana Prepeluh, “an artist lacking in formal education”, made a shoe cleaning street action entitled Pri Tleh (Down To Earth). She was “researching the attitude to non-material or manual work by overworked alienated individuals in a contemporary society in which work is still associated with social status. At various locations around the city, she provided special shoe cleaning services – aimed also at those who believe it is for real. After all, it really was about cleaning shoes.” Testimonies to the event were available in the ŠKUC gallery as part of the Humor Works exhibition in the form of recorded conversations between Jana Prepeluh and her customers (Kukovec, 2007: 32).)
Her Reinterpretation of History
The recent rise of right-wing political parties in Slovenia has resulted in radical cuts in students’, workers’ and pensioners’ rights and strengthened the oppression of women, the elderly, the poor, undocumented people and all other minorities. Similarly, it denies the tradition of anti-fascism that peaked during World War II and continues to reinterpret history according to its own political interests. In 2006, the feminist and queer festival Rdeče zore (Red Dawns) opposed these falsifications of memory and history with a symbolic action. On March 8th, the festival opened with a repertoire of revolutionary partisan songs sung by twenty-two members of the Women’s Choir of the Pensioner’s Association from Idrija. Earlier in the year, the choir was banned from performing at a partisan commemoration because the mayor of Trieste decided that the advertisements for the event were too reminiscent of “communist propaganda”. Red Dawns’ cultural action was a direct response to the mayor’s decision. It was also an attempt at “maintaining the connection with Slovenian feminist tradition” (Festival organisers in Bašin, 2006:15).
On March 9th 2007, several feminist activist groups renamed around sixty streets in Ljubljana. Street names are usually changed by new political forces that choose names according to their interests. Every new remapping of a territory changes the perception of the renamed place. The large number of renamed streets in post-war and post-socialist countries suggests that symbolic demonstrations of power are as important as material ones. Feminist interpretations of history can be understood as appropriations of spaces and visibility; both of which are still structurally denied to women. The basic idea of the action was to direct attention to the invisibility of historical female figures and raise questions about their life and work. Therefore, the new names included women artists, women whose lives were overshadowed by that of their famous husbands, fictional female characters from canonised novels and children’s literature, collective subjects and important events from feminist herstory and other names like “The Street of Your and My Mum”. Symptomatically, the media was more concerned about the activists’ identity (vandals or artists?) than their message.
All photos by Nada Žgank.
“The rise of patriarchy and sexism that we are facing in the last years is incredible. I think it is necessary that women take to the streets; that they go into action. The situation is ripe for feminist activism” (Slapšak in Simčič, 2006). Indeed. The actions and alliances described in this paper suggest that small groups of people who are willing to deal with concrete problems can come up with tactical and constructive criticism. They suggest that one of the places where we can start rethinking and practising feminism in relation to struggles for social justice is – the streets.
I wish to thank Ana Jereb, Taida Horozović, Carla Ferreri, Nada Žgank and several “anonymous informers” for their precious help and comments.
All unattributed quotes are anonymous.
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Anarho sindikat: "Poziv na zasedbo tovarne in borbo za ohranitev delovnih mest". Ljubljana, March 28th 2003.
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