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Warning Signs of Fundamentalism and Feminist Responses

The Work of The Women in Black Network—Serbia

by Zene u crnom Beograd

Saturday 2 June 2007

[(This was orginally published as part of the book ’Uvek Neposlusne,’ which women in Black published in 2006.
)]

Women in Black works for a secular state and the total separation of church and state, opposing the misuse of religion, ethnicity, cultural heritage, and tradition for political ends, especially the repression of women’s reproductive and sexual rights. This text describes our activities in this area in 2005 and 2006. During the 1990s, religious institutions, primarily the Serbian Orthodox Church, played an important role in the production of warmongering politics and the clericalization of society, which jeopardizes women most. Women in Black has reacted to all of these phenomena. Even after the fall of the Milosevic regime, clero-nationalist, clero-fascist, and fundamentalist tendencies continue to attack democracy, civil society, and, especially, women’s human rights. Women in Black has organized an array of activities to oppose these dangerous tendencies. This project is one of them.

I Educational Activities

During 2005, a series of workshops about the impact of fundamentalist tendencies on reproductive and sexual rights and women’s solidarity against conservative and fundamentalist tendencies was held in Belgrade, Novi Pazar, Tutin, and Leskovac.

Also, three international roundtable discussions were organized
Warning Signs of Religious Fundamentalism, Conservatism, and Retrograde Trends in the Former Yugoslavia was held in Novi Sad on April 23, 2004 with the participation of activists and experts from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia. Approximately 60 people attended this discussion.
The Globalization of Conservatism and Fundamentalism and Alternatives was held in Belgrade on May 28, 2004. The panelists were from Great Britain, the US, Croatia, and Serbia. Sixty women attended.
Conservative Trends and Alternatives was held in Novi Pazar on June 1, 2004. The panelists were from Algeria, Argentina, Croatia, and Serbia.
Eighty people attended.

A series of lectures about the growth of fundamentalist tendencies was also organized. Despite these efforts, the growth of retrograde tendencies on the local, regional, and global levels, and their extremely negative effects prompted a need for still more training for Women in Black Network activists on recognizing retrograde trends. The increase in fundamentalism also led to the necessity of starting joint campaigns and legislative initiatives against the growing clericalization of society in Serbia and to develop feminist solidarity in action across state, ethnic, and religious barriers against all fundamentalisms; extend support to victims of fundamentalist violence and repression of women; and strengthen feminist solidarity coalitions and support on the local, regional, and global level. Because of this, we organized a series of trainings.

Trainings

- April 7-9, 2006, the first ‘Warning Signs of Fundamentalism and Feminist Responses’ training was held in Belgrade. It was the first training on this topic for Women in Black Network activists. It was comprised of ten interactive lectures on important issues connected to fundamentalism, including fundamentalism’s goals and methods and responses to fundamentalist threats, trends, and movements. The lecturers were experts in history, philosophy, and sociology from Serbia, Algeria/France, and Croatia. The seminar was attended by 57 Women in Black network activists from Montenegro, Kosovo, and 20 cities in Serbia.

- April 28-30, 2006, the second training on this topic was held, also in Belgrade. The topics addressed in this training included fundamentalism—the abolition of the secular state and secular society; the fundamentalism of the Serbian Orthodox Church and feminist alternatives; the misuse of religion in the political sphere; patriarchy, fundamentalism, and war in Italy; the religious left; and women and fundamentalism. The workshop leaders and lecturers were experts and activists from the Women in Black network from Serbia, Italy, the US, and Croatia. The participants totaled 57 women, from Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy, and 14 cities in Serbia. After the training, participants applied their newly acquired knowledge and experience in the field.

Seminars

June 2-4, 2006, Sijarinska Banja, south Serbia. The first regional seminar on Warning Signs of Fundamentalism and Feminist Responses was held. Lectures and workshops addressed fundamentalism and the abolition of the secular state and society, the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia (which included a screening of a film by The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia on this topic), ‘Identity: Assigned or Chosen?,’ fundamentalist attacks on women’s human rights and the repression of reproductive and sexual rights, and feminist alternatives to fundamentalism. The seminar was attended by 34 women from 8 cities. It is planned that at least five similar regional seminars will be held throughout Serbia in 2007.

Lectures, Panel Discussions, and Debates

March 8, 2006, ‘Women’s Solidarity against Growing Fundamentalism and the Repression of Reproductive and Sexual Rights,’ a panel discussion held in Belgrade in which 48 activists participated.

April 6, 2006, ‘Fundamentalism’s New Strategies in Europe and North America: The Attack on Democracy, Basic Human Rights, and Women’s Human Rights and Feminist Strategies against Fundamentalism,’ a lecture in Belgrade by the founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws. Thirty activists attended the lecture.

- April 12, 2006, with the participation of experts, activists, and media representatives, a public discussion about The Law on Churches and Religious Communities was held in Belgrade.

In this segment of activities, over 450 people participated, most of whom were women.

Lobbying Activities

The Coalition for a Secular State

Women in Black responded to the proposed Law on Churches and Religious Communities by organizing activities to sensitize the public and forming a coalition for the protection of the secular state. The Coalition held five meetings to discuss possibilities for joint activities. The result of this work was the formulation of proposed amendments to the law. We lobbied a group of National Assembly members to propose these amendments in the Assembly. After the passage of the law, the coalition hired a lawyer. This lawyer is currently researching the possibility of bringing a case before the Supreme Court in order to overturn the law as unconstitutional.

Street Actions

March 8, 2006, a women’s peace performance entitled ‘I Learned the Lesson;’ occurred in Republic Square in Belgrade. It was led by the Institute for Engaged Art and was directed against the clericalization of society and the proposed Law on Churches and Religious Communities. Women in Black Network activists from 20 cities in Serbia and autonomous women group activists from Belgrade participated in this action.

- March 8, ‘We won’t Go Back-We are Protecting our Rights’ – a women’s peace march in the main streets of Belgrade.

- April 29, ‘We Want Democracy – not Theocracy,’ a protest and performance in Republic Square in Belgrade against the adoption of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities. Women in Black activists from throughout Serbia participated in this action.

May 27, ‘We Will Give Birth if We Want, When We Want, and with Whom We Want,’ the distribution of leaflets that included facts about childbearing gathered by Women in Black activists in 20 cities in Serbia. This action was directed against the clericalization of the state and the propaganda of clero-nationalist institutions and clero-fascist forces, which demands the prohibition of abortion and the implementation of policies to increase natality in Serbia.

- June 21, ‘Neither Whores, nor Saints, but Women,’ a women’s performance by Dah Theater and Women in Black against the Law on Churches and Religious Communities, against the misuse of religion for political purposes, and for a secular state and women’s human rights.

Publishing

- Warning Signs of Fundamentalism and Feminist Responses is a 244 page anthology which contains sections on ‘Fundamentalism: the Concept and Its Characteristics, Ways, and Fields of Work,’ ‘Fundamentalism: The Attack on Democracy, Basic Human Rights, and Reproductive and Sexual Rights,’ and ‘Fundamentalism and Feminist Responses.’ We also published a smaller notebook with the same name and numerous leaflets and brochures, which were distributed during street actions.

In 2007, it is planned for the program to be widened to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, in cooperation with aligned organizations.