'Our experiences are mirror images'

Wednesday, August 28, 1991

Zarana Papic

While their experiences and opinions differed in many ways some of the themes commonly expressed by women from Eastern Europe at the June conference of the European Forum of Socialist Feminists in Norwich, England were contained in the following abridged contribution by ZARANA PAPIC, from the Department of Sociology at the Philosophy University of Belgrade.

There are two problems with the term socialist feminism in Eastern Europe because in the east, for different reasons, both socialism and feminism are troublesome processes.

Due to the unhappy experience of socialism as totalitarianism, now [attitudes have swung] to the other extreme, towards a traditional and simple minded concept of democracy. Eastern countries are [experiencing] their suppressed dimensions — nationalistic, religious fundamentalist, anticommunist, anti-socialist and so on. I think we are going through the infant stage of democracy, when it is only understood as everything anti-socialist.

Women are caught unprepared for the transformations in their countries. [Through socialist "emancipation" which granted them important rights but did not liberate them] they became a passive, non-existent political force that does not know how to fight against the new perspective of losing substantial rights.

On one hand, Eastern women were filled with propaganda that "feminism is a war between the sexes and the Western product of idle bourgeois women who have nothing to do with socialist reality, which is beautiful". On the other hand, the problem has, in my opinion, deeper reasons. Eastern women for 50 years lived a different way of life. I could be courageous and say [a different] civilisation, because we think in ex-socialism there were some good things also.

They lived a different kind of life, which could be described as a mirror image of the Western way of life. For instance, Eastern women had the right to work, abortion and divorce, which were the main reasons in Western European countries for the feminist and women's movement. But they did not have the consumer culture.

You cannot imagine how consumer culture which [in Western feminist opinion] is glamorous and alienated femininity, could be appealing for women who didn't have it. [Now] we are enjoying making ourselves beautiful, and it's not just to make ourselves into sex objects, it's to fill this gap of many years of not having it. Also, Eastern women had too much collectivism and so little individualism.

Those are the reasons, in my opinion, that Western-style feminism, which started with grouping, consciousness raising, collective action and solidarity, cannot simply be transplanted into Eastern European countries, because it works [only] with a very small number of women.

We should be aware of the specific experience of Eastern Europe. In that sense, every form of women's struggle in the east is welcome. It doesn't have to be under the name of feminism. It must open the possibility for women's action. The name will come later.

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