Fascism and hatred of women
Picture: Serbian human rights activist and patriot Sonja Biserko – the sort of opponent that Serbian fascist thugs are brave enough to take on physically.
On Saturday evening, Sarah Franco, Max Spencer-Dohner and I paid a visit to our dear friend and comrade Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human-rights activist and patriot who has, perhaps more singlemindedly than any other individual, spent the past two decades fighting to free her country from the darkness that has engulfed it, and to drag it out of the Hell that its political classes have pushed it into. The warmth and gentleness of that evening has been in my mind, as this heroic woman has been the target of yet another act of physical harassment by the dregs of the Serbian fascist movement that has started and lost four wars in the past two decades.
The previous Tuesday, the office of Sonja’s organisation, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Belgrade, was attacked by a gang of about a hundred hooligans belonging to the neo-Nazi sect ‘Movement 1389’, who shouted threats, daubed a swastika on the door of the building and were prevented from doing worse only by the police.
The day after we visited her, two more thugs turned up at Sonja’s flat; one stood outside her front door, the other at the entrance to her building, and threatened and abused her. This kind of harassment has been made possible by the lynch-campaign waged against her by the Serbian gutter-press. Her address, as well as the address of her parents, was published in the rag-sheet Tabloid, in an article about her entitled ‘A lesbian who is seeking revenge’. Three days ago, a letter attacking her was published in another rag-sheet, Kurir, written by the imprisoned gangster Milorad Ulemek, murderer of former Serbian president Ivan Stambolic and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic. This delightful individual described Sonja as a ‘maggot’ who had ‘attacked my Church, my army; she attacked everything that I love, honour, respect and value. She attacked everything for which I am ready to give my life to protect in order to protect that which I love’ [sic].
Although the actual acts of violence and harassment to which Sonja has repeatedly been subjected are the work of scum on the margins of society, the lynch-atmosphere has been created by more mainstream and ‘respectable’ nationalist political and ‘intellectual’ figures. When, following international recognition of Kosova’s independence in February, the Serbian government of Vojislav Kostunica and his allies from the far-right Radical party orchestrated an orgy of vandalism in Belgrade directed against Western embassies and intended to intimidate democratic and pro-European elements, the overrated nationalist film-director Emir Kusturica denounced Serbia’s human rights’ activists as ‘mice’ hiding in ‘mouseholes’ who ‘lie for money’ and ‘denigrate the Kosovo myth’. The former Serbian footballer Dusan Savic recently accused Sonja of having been given ‘the task from Washington and Brussels’ of ‘destroying the Serb identity’ and ‘killing the Serb nation’. Serbian pulp novelist Momo Kapor, meanwhile, wrote that ‘theoretically I, as a Serb nationalist, can become a mondialist, but Biserko can never, from an exceptionally ugly woman, become beautiful.’
Of course, one can understand why physically harassing and intimidating a sixty-year old woman might be appealing for the fascists in Serbia. They have shown themselves to be amongst the most cowardly fighters in the history of modern warfare. Unwilling to fight the Germans or even the Italians in World War II, then routed by the Yugoslav Partisans; beaten by the Slovenes in ten days of fighting in 1991; beaten by the underarmed Croatian Army in 1991-92, and rescued from defeat by the hated ‘Western imperialists’; driven from the whole of central Croatia in a mere few days in 1995; beaten by the Bosnians and Croatians again in the autumn of 1995, despite their massive superiority in weaponry, then rescued from defeat by the ‘Western imperialists’ for the second time; and beaten by NATO in 1999 without having managed to kill a single NATO soldier – the Great Serb chauvinists have shown time and time again that they flee before any opponent who actually fights back against them. [NB It is not the ordinary Serbian people and soldiers who are cowards; Serbs fought extremely bravely and heroically in the Serbian Army in World War I and as Partisans in World War II, and would undoubtedly have been ready to fight NATO in a ground war in Kosovo in 1999, had Milosevic’s Great Serbian regime not been so ready to capitulate].
Consequently, bullying unarmed women is about as far as their bravery will stretch. Indeed, they have shown themselves more than capable when it is a question of raping women and killing children, old people and other unarmed civilians, or torturing prisoners in concentration camps. The Serbian fascist politician Vojislav Seselj himself told Irish journalist Maggie O’Kane in 1993 that, had his paramilitary forces really raped all the Bosnian Muslim women they were accused of raping, they would really have to have been supermen. Indicatively, Seselj and his fellow chauvinists stand openly in the tradition of the Chetniks of World War II, who collaborated with the Nazis. Sonja’s father, by contrast, was a Partisan from a Serb Orthodox family in Knin in Croatia, who came to Belgrade in 1945. Inevitably, the heirs of the Nazi collaborators denounce Sonja as a ‘traitor’, a ‘Croat’ and a ‘lesbian’ for the crime of dedicating her life to fighting the same enemy her father fought in World War II.
There is no greater evil than misogyny, and misogynistic abuse or actions are among the best indicators of the evil of a cause. The degeneration of the French Revolution – in its origins, progressive and emancipatory – into an orgy of bloodshed and intolerance was starkly symbolised by the brutally misogynistic trial of Marie-Antoinette; Edmund Burke had been more than a little justified when he lamented a few years earlier that ‘little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her [Marie-Antoinette] in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.’ According to the Italian Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s proto-fascist ‘Manifesto of Futurism’ of 1909, published in a journal edited by a friend and mentor of Mussolini, ‘We want to glorify war – the only hygiene of the world – militarism, patriotism, the anarchist’s destructive gesture, the fine ideas that kill, and the scorn of women. We want to destroy museums, libraries, fight against moralism, feminism, and all opportunistic and utilitarian cowardices.’
Of course, misogynists do not necessarily hate all women; they often respect those who conform to their ideals of what a woman should be: ‘chaste’, ‘virtuous’, respectful of the patriarchal order, etc. Indeed, there is nothing the chauvinist mind hates more than a woman who refuses to conform: e.g. one who is sexually liberated; or a feminist; or a lesbian. Fascists and bigots from the Islamic world target ‘un-Islamic’ women with particular viciousness: gang-raping them; throwing acid in their faces; stoning them. One of the young Islamic terrorists who planned to attack the London nightclub ‘Ministry of Sound’ in 2004 expressed his belief that the ‘slags dancing around’ would deserve what they got. Fascists take a particular delight in targetting the weak and vulnerable, whether Jews, gypsies, disabled people, homosexuals, immigrants or anyone else; their hatred of women falls into this category.
Violent misogyny has its own inglorious tradition in Serbia. The roots of Serbia’s twentieth-century disasters can be traced back to a psychopathological misogynistic crime: the murder of King Aleksandar Obrenovic and Queen Draga in 1903. Chauvinistic hatred focused on the fact that Queen Draga was older than her husband; that she was incapable of having children; and above all that she had a sexual history before her marriage; the king was despised for marrying this supposedly ‘immoral’ woman. The army officers who murdered them in May 1903 stripped their corpses naked and mutilated them before throwing them out of the window. In place of the relatively civilised Obrenovic regime, this coup brought to power in Serbia ultranationalist elements whose expansionist adventures dragged Serbia, first into a genocidal war of conquest against the Ottomans in 1912, then into war with Bulgaria, then into the disaster of World War I, which claimed the lives of perhaps a quarter of Serbia’s population. As one eminent anti-nationalist Serbian historian told me, Serbia still has not healed itself of the murders of 1903.
The promotion of women’s emancipation by the Communist-led Partisans in Yugoslavia during World War II, and the presence of women in the Partisans, provided the occasion for misogynistic propaganda on the part of both Croat and Serb fascists and collaborators. According to one Croatian Ustasha source, the Partisans ‘are in many places bloodthirsty, particularly the female persons in their ranks’. For his part, the Nazi-collaborationist Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic complained: ‘Communist women are recognisable by the fact that they are immoral; using free love they approach and seduce our men, particularly those who place fun above duty.’ The Partisan victory over the Ustashas and Chetniks in 1945 represented a massive step forward for women’s emancipation. Conversely, when the Great Serb chauvinists attempted – largely successfully – in the 1990s to destroy the modern, multiethnic Bosnian republic and society established by the Partisans and Communists and to replace it with an ethnically pure Great Serbian state, their campaign involved the mass rape of Bosnian women.
So when we stand in solidarity with Sonja Biserko against her attackers, we are not merely speaking up for a principled and heroic individual, and for a free and democratic Serbia. We are speaking out against the very lowest form of scum that the human race is capable of producing.
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