Generations of Yugoslav women fought for Yugoslavia and then against the patriarchy in it. Many of them were artists, whose primary medium for their work were their own bodies. Art historian Jasmina Tumbas took the image of Jugoslovenka (Yugoslav Woman) from Lepa Brena’s eponymous song to tell the story of women’s emancipation within and through art in her new book, I Am Jugoslovenka! Feminist Performance Politics During and After Yugoslav Socialism.
With Jasmina Cibic, Tanja Ostojić, Jasmina Tumbas, and Bojana Videkanić. Featuring “Jugoslovenka” cover by Nejra and Almir Kalajlić.
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PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your curator Peter Korchnak.
“Jugoslovenka” (A Yugoslav Woman) is among the most famous pop songs of Yugoslav times. Not only that, Lepa Brena who recorded it in 1989 is the greatest and best-selling Yugoslav pop star, Yugoslavia’s Madonna or Tina Turner, if you will.
But just like the song encompassed all of Yugoslavia, Lepa Brena was more than a pop icon: she continues to personify Yugoslavia for many to this day. Including the Kalajlić father-daughter duo, who covered the song when Nejra was eight years old:
[SOUNDBITE – “Jugoslovenka” by Nejra and Almir Kalajlić]
“My eyes are the Adriatic Sea / My hair is the Pannonian ears of grain / Melancholic is my Slavic soul / I am a Yugoslav woman” goes the chorus, Lepa Brena’s response to three different male singers, of different ethnicities, asking her where she’s from and who she is.
The Jugoslovenka of song and Lepa Brena as the singer are “the female personification of Yugoslavia” as “a binary, feminine-gendered landscape” expressing the coast-plains duality, wrote historian Catherine Baker. In the music video, Lepa Brena flies over fields in a helicopter, waves the Yugoslav flag on a boat, frolics through landscapes… “[Lepa] Brena represented a Yugoslav mainstream culture policy project,” according to musicologist Ana Hofman. Sociologist Zlatan Delić maintains Lepa Brena literally embodied the Yugoslav dream as “a natural representation of being a Yugoslav.”
Lepa Brena’s greatest hit nowadays both evokes nostalgia for those times – at concerts people wave the Yugoslav flag when the song comes up – and constitutes the starting point for a story of women’s emancipation through art in the former Yugoslavia and beyond, as told by Jasmina Tumbas, Assistant Professor of Contemporary Art History & Performance Studies at the University of Buffalo, in her new book, I Am Jugoslovenka! Feminist Performance Politics During and After Yugoslav Socialism, out now from Manchester University Press.
In today’s episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, I’m going to talk to Tumbas about the Jugoslovenka and about the book, and have three artists, all Jugoslovenkas, chime in.
But before we get started, I want to express my gratitude to Jose Luis and Steven for supporting the show, and me in making it. I really appreciate your generous contributions, guys, thank you.
If you like the show, join Jose Luis and Steven and many other sustaining supporters on Patreon or donate one time via PayPal. Visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate today.
PETER KORCHNAK: A native of Subotica, Vojvodina, Jasmina Tumbas moved to Germany as a child with her parents in 1988. She lived in Germany off and on for several years before she went to the United States to complete her education. She now lives and works in Buffalo, New York, where she spoke with me last summer.
The book resulted from a lengthy life experience and thought process.
JASMINA TUMBAS: In Germany, no one really was interested in my Yugoslav status, no one cared, I was not once asked what it meant for me to come from Yugoslavia. Everybody knew we’re the refugees, we’re the immigrants were everywhere, you know, so there was a lot of animosity towards Yugoslav people. And it was only in the United States, in the university system, where people started asking me these questions and where I actually felt like work on the region was legitimate a nd was considered a legitimate path in scholarship, which was extremely moving to me as someone who prior had never been asked, never been pushed, never been exposed to anything in my courses, or teaching around about Yugoslavia, which is quite shocking. If you think about it.
I worked on performance and conceptual art in the region, in former Yugoslavia in Hungary during my dissertation. But as I was finishing my dissertation, I began to realize that I’m much more interested in Yugoslavia, A, and B, that there’s a lot of material that is kind of connected to the idea of the body as a site of desire that was very central in all the works I was seeing in Yugoslavia, especially works by women, the body as a site of desire and as the body as a site of emancipation that I was very much drawn to.
And the longer I thought about it, the more I also realized that my own upbringing with the women around me, my mother and my grandmother, the matriarchs of the family, you know, working class women who were extremely emancipated, who were very body affirming, instilling values of self respect, respect towards others, working hard, thinking of the collective, thinking of society, rather than just the self, not really caring about men’s approval, and those kinds of things.
And I started to think about, well, where does this come from? You know, how come my friends, my German friends, mothers aren’t telling their kids these things? How come I’m really not surrounded by that wherever I am, unless I am with my Yugoslav diasporic friends, or unless I’m visiting? And I realized that I saw a connection to it in the cultural production in Yugoslavia, specifically, you know, some of the avant garde artists that I encountered in my research as a graduate student, but then also thinking about some of the women that had influenced my own life and coming of age as a woman, like Lepa Brena, Esma Redžepova, you know, and other bigger stars that really shape how we understand, you know, our emancipatory position as women.
And then I started to think about how I can put these things together because I think they do belong together, we are not just talking about cultural production that is, on the periphery, you know, this idea of something more privileged and elite in the gallery system, but really thinking about multiple forms of visual and cultural production that is relevant to understanding the figure of the Yugoslav woman.
And so that really led me to think about this idea of Jugoslovenka, which, of course, is most famous Lepa Brena song from 1989, “Ja sam Jugoslovenka.” That song solidified really my conceptual idea for the book to really just focus on the women and their emancipation.
PETER KORCHNAK: There you have it, a quarter-century old pop song as inspiration. But it’s not just a song, just as Jugoslovenka was not just any woman, and Yugoslavia not just any country.
JASMINA TUMBAS: Yugoslavia was such an exceptional place of socialism, where women, you know, had so much emancipatory power, they enjoyed more legal rights and social mobility, you know, including access to education and labor mobility than in really most other countries. And I really was interested in telling this extraordinary story of women’s emancipation within arts during socialism, but also marking the importance of women’s work during and after the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. And thinking about the legacy of that feminist emancipation in the works of, you know, Women in Black, the activist group, and other younger artists that are doing work now, like Selma Selman, who identifies as a Jugoslovenka in some her works, and she was actually born after, you know, Yugoslavia disintegrated.
So the idea of Yugoslavia is actually alive and well, if you look at the feminist legacy of that idea. And in that way, it’s also an alternative story of Yugoslavia.
PETER KORCHNAK: What is Jugoslovenka’s story, what’s her journey?
JASMINA TUMBAS: I think that we have yet to learn what her journey is. In my book, I begin to trace her journey in different aspects. But I think that there’s a lot more that we will learn.
So really Yugoslavia and Jugoslovenka is so complicated because you have the Yugoslavia who stayed, the Jugoslovenka who’s still alive who was a Partisan fighter, right. Then you have the Jugoslovenka who’s the daughter of the Partisan fighter, or the Jugoslovenka who is the daughter of the daughter of the Partisan fight– you know, and then then, I mean, so it really depends on she’s, she’s really not one figure but she stands in for these ideas that I think are really important, that are related to Yugoslavia as a project itself.
And Jugoslovenka as a figure really holds a lot of the sort of positive aspects of Yugoslav socialism that I think are really generative and places to look for future ideas of how we might move forward. So for me Jugoslovenka represents the transnational feminist position that is deeply antinationalist in itself. And that means not only antinationalist against the rise of the individual nations during the wars and the rise of the conservative ideas around womanhood, religion, but it also means that a lot of the feminists were critical of Yugoslavia, as well, you know, of the nationalism of Yugoslavia, and I think if we were to think about a robust political project that embraces ideas of socialism, we have to look at it with the feminist foundation of socialism, that owed so much to the women’s movement.
And I think if we look to Jugoslovenka as a figure, it really allows us to say, okay, you know, socialism was deeply revolutionary for women, women resisted, women had positions of power, but also were repressed, women embraced their bodies, you know. I get a sense that a lot of the time in scholarship that’s especially inflected by Cold War ideas around socialism that are more West-leaning, there is a whole sense that socialism was this, you know, labor driven, non-sexual movement, but what we learned, actually, by looking at women’s work, especially the 80s, you know, the lesbian movement and all the lesbian activism, is that there was a huge movement of embracing women’s desires and actually voicing those desires and queer desires in socialism, and that they really didn’t have to wait, you know, for for it to be brought to them but this was actually happening within Yugoslavia.
And so I think that’s why I’m so invested in this project, because it’s a project of honoring women’s work and giving them more and more space in narrating this extraordinary history of socialism.
PETER KORCHNAK: In her book, Tumbas first introduces Jugoslovenka as a figure that was both parallel to and emblematic of Yugoslav socialism. “The complicated and traumatic history of Yugoslav socialism is intertwined with an equally complicated story of feminism, all of which is legible in the figure of Jugoslovenka,” Tumbas writes. “Tito’s Yugoslavia was instrumental in building a society that prided itself on egalitarian gender roles, freedom of expression, and liberation through collective action. But women’s egalitarian roles were enmeshed in a patriarchal logic of emancipation: according to the ruling male establishment, women had “earned” the right to be granted equality.”
But while the Yugoslav system legally announced women’s equality, it asked women to “perform household duties” and kept them from advancing in the self-management system. This was disappointing, considering the fact that in the first two decades of the Yugoslav project, the Partisan Jugoslovenka, partizanka, was an eminent source of legitimacy for Tito’s Yugoslavia and a symbol of supranational Yugoslavism, before it was drowned out in the traditional culture of misogyny and sexism.” In these lived experiences, Tumbas concludes, resistance is more deeply tied to action, rather than any written doctrine, and action, by definition performed physically, has political dimensions. “The site of the female body is a site of resistance, because it is burdened with negotiating the political weight of patriarchal power despite (and sometimes because of) advances in gender equality. And so after the Jugoslovenka helped defeat the Nazis and their ilk in the war, she had to “confront the survival of patriarchy in socialism.”
In subsequent chapters, Tumbas identifies a number of Jugoslovenkas amongs Yugoslav artists who, in one way or another, used their bodies as sites of resistance, from performance artists to feminist and queer artists to Neue Slowenische Kunst artists to popular superstars like Lepa Brena, Esma Redžepova, and Marina Abramović. Whether you do or do not know any of these artists, framing them as Jugoslovenkas makes for an interesting take on their work and legacy.
Manchester University Press has generously provided one copy of Tumbas’s book I Am Jugoslovenka for a giveaway to Remembering Yugoslavia’s listeners and followers. Head over to Remembering Yugoslavia’s Facebook or Instagram, at rememberingyugoslavia or to my personal Twitter, at peterkorchnak, to participate. Good luck!
PETER KORCHNAK: Would you then call yourself a Jugoslovenka and would you then say that’s a part of your struggle, bringing those stories to the fore?
JASMINA TUMBAS: Yes, I do consider myself Jugoslovenka, in the diaspora.
I think that every writer writes a book with a particular motivation at the base. For some, you know, it might just be a scholarly pursuit or not but for me, I think, and I think for many people who are interested in this project now, in Yugoslavia, it is a form of finding the self. As I noted earlier, my mother and my grandmother were such big influences on my life and as someone who came from a country that no longer existed, I was very confused about where I belong in this world. Growing up, you know, from seven, age seven on I really didn’t belong anywhere and I still don’t belong anywhere but many of the things that I believe in, and the foundation of why I am belongs to the Yugoslav project and coming out of that particularly distinctive place. So for me, the journey to Jugoslovenka is sort of trying to understand the project through the figure of the woman, not just for me, but you know, for as a kind of role model for many of us to go back to this history, especially those of us invested in feminist and queer struggles and anti corporate work and anti capitalist work, going back to the Yugoslav project, through the lens of Jugoslovenka and feminism and, you know, queer history, I think can be very generative inresisting some of the more contemporary forms of erasure of those positive elements of socialism.
And, you know, we do live in a time when people seem to think that there’s no other possibilities than capitalism, you know, and I think that celebrating Jugoslovenka as a figure and thinking about multiculturalism, although it’s an outdated term, like thinking about multiplicity, diversity, collaboration, solidarity, political alliances, you know, those things are worth being looked at.
But it is very important to look at them through the lens of gender. And I think one of the biggest motivations for me was to do just that. There’s a lot of, you know, Marxist work on, you know, the male Marxist groups, and so on and so forth. But when you look at what women were doing, they’re really telling a more nuanced story of the socialist project, and I think we have to look at it honestly and carefully in order to find the generative elements.
The other thing that I’m very interested in is this idea of the immigrant and immigrant woman and the position or the centrality of citizenship for us. And I think actually having grown up as a Jugoslovenka with a nation that no longer exists and having to explain yourself constantly and having your rights being taken away constantly and being at the mercy of different governments, not knowing where you will be, not having a future not having a past anymore, because where your arm doesn’t exist anymore. A lot of immigrants share that. And that’s also why I have really turned my attention towards citizenship and the violence of citizenship. So Jugoslovenka is really part of that research.
But we know now, you know, in the current crises of immigration and refugee violence against refugees, while violence against immigrants, that that is an ongoing struggle. And in many ways in the early 1990s, having kind of come out of Yugoslavia doing the rise of, the glory of democracy, you know, we those of us who were lesser than, you know, always foreigners, as they say in German Auslander, we were very well aware of how violent that system is, that system of democracy is towards those who don’t have access to it. So for me, Jugoslovenka is at the base of this research, but she has a lot of allies, and she has a lot of people who are suffering similar things in the diaspora that is. And a lot, of course, a lot of women in Yugoslavia who identified with a project also lost their country, even though they are still there. You know, now they are living in Serbia, they are living in Croatia before that they were in Yugoslavia.
As a foreigner growing up in Germany and being harassed and beaten up by neo Nazis, and those kinds of things, like, the idea that we could all be united and live good lives is quite appealing, even though it might be naive, you know? And so, there’s something to that, that I find very beautiful.
PETER KORCHNAK: In the extended version of this episode, available to Patreon sustainers and other generous contributors, I first ask two contemporary artists, Jasmina Cibic from Slovenia / UK and Bojana Videkanić from Bosnia and Herzegovina / Canada about their experience as Jugoslovenkas. To listen to those segments in the extended version of this episode, head over to RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate and contribute today.
PETER KORCHNAK: Let’s hear from three Jugoslovenkas. Up first, Jasmina Cibic, an artist from Ljubljana who lives in London. You may remember Cibic from Episode 44, “Karma Pavilions,” where she talked about her work incorporating Yugoslav Expo pavilions into performance art.
“Jasmina Cibic…both celebrates and critiques Yugoslav socialism in epic filmic installations that reimagine Yugoslavia’s past and its possible future as feminist,” writes Tumbas. “Cibic’s work is primarily performative and is almost entirely devoted to women and their role in Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav politics.” For example, “the performance, An Atmosphere of Joyful Contemplation…brings together young, living women, who sing while crafting a beautiful, red tapestry with their hands. In addition to their soothing voices, which bridge the gap between the coolness of architecture and sculptural surfaces in the gallery, for me, the bright red colors of their clothing and the tapestry summoned Jugoslovenka’s spirit. Cibic’s work allows protagonists in her videos and installations to revisit politically charged architectural spaces, reviving questions of Yugoslav solidarity and possibility.” End quote.
I asked Cibic how she felt about being included among the Jugoslovenkas Tumbas highlights in her new book.
JASMINA CIBIC: It’s so funny, we were working on an exhibition since 2015, with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. So Una Pavlović, which was curating my show, we were working on a publication, for which also Lina Djuverović wrote who is also originally from Belgrade but lives in London, and we’re all three sitting there, and we started exchanging the stories of our grandfathers and we realized that, you know, all our grandfathers were the nation builders of Yugoslavia. So, this whole notion of feminist unpicking, mostly of solidarity I would say, I don’t know maybe jumped a generation, I don’t know what happened there. But it’s really really fascinating because there was like so many of former Yugoslav cultural agents, women, we’re all working on very very similar lines and it’s kind of revenge of the enacted solidarity which you know our grandparents fought for and which we saw society work within. And we saw these sort of moments of culture really being fully realized by the power structures as an interlocutor at the decision table and this sudden vacuum of cultural production as a kind of relevant agent of sort of social discussion, I think we just really really feel it and because we had it and it disappeared almost overnight.
The pandemic has been like absolute disaster of course for anybody who does research and you know, access to archives has been like insanely difficult, but what it has done for this sort of Yugoslav or former Yugoslav critical discourse, we have found each other. This has been the revelation, my revelation of this pandemic, that all of a sudden I figured out there are so many incredible people, especially in North America and Canada, who are teaching in universities you know, who are, you know, very much [in] the similar generation and you know, all of us are actually like, you know, on this sort of drive to critical emancipation of this particular topic in time and you know, and not for nostalgic reasons, but precisely to create it or lift it up as a potential discursive element for the future.
PETER KORCHNAK: Another Jugoslovenka featured in Tumbas’s book is Bojana Videkanić. You may remember Videkanić from Episode 38, “Toward a Concrete Utopia,” where she talked about Yugoslav nonaligned art and architecture. Her book on the subject is dedicated to, among others, “all true Yugoslavs.” I asked her to elaborate.
BOJANA VIDEKANIĆ: All of the people who I have conversations with, my family, my friends who still believe that they’re Yugoslav, both my parents still consider themselves Yugoslavia, my partner who is you know, from Croatia, and he considers himself Yugoslav. My colleagues, Tamara Vukov, for example, who is an academic who was part of the Yugosplaining, who was born in Canada, but feels Yugoslav; my friend, Katja Praznik, was Slovenian, and considers the same thing; my parents generation friends, you know, like the the people who I’ve grown up with who we’re still in contact. It’s more than just familiar relationships. For me, it’s about politics.
And a person who I also immensely respect is Tanja Petrović, and she talks about this. We cannot frame Yugoslavia as an object of study, but it has to have something more than what it is, and to me and to her and to many others it’s what can we use for creating solidarity for the future? How can this history, how can Yugoslavia be a place that’s not just an object of academic study, but something more, that means something more.
And again, this comes back to this question of Yugonostalgia, right. Is it bad? And I was ashamed of it for many years because I was made to be ashamed and there is no shame about it.
PETER KORCHNAK: And finally, there’s the performance artist Tanja Ostojić.
PETER KORCHNAK: The third Jugoslovenka included in Tumbas’s narrative is Tanja Ostojić, a performance artist. She spoke with me a few months ago from Istanbul, where she was a fellow at a cultural academy.
Born in 1972 in Titovo Užice, now just Užice, she says in her interviews that she’s from Yugoslavia or from the country that doesn’t exist anymore. But most of the time she says–
TANJA OSTOJIĆ: I’m from Belgrade. I [am] used to say[ing], usually the city I’m from, that’s for me the first point of identification, because I never really was interested in the national borders.
And when I lived in France, so after, after my BA in Belgrade, I went for another study circle in France, and that was actually ‘98, ’99, it was a kind of very difficult time in my hometown. And they asked me where I’m from, I said, “I’m from Yugoslavia,” and then they asked me, “Well, but that doesn’t exist, where are you from?” So I was a bit labeled something I never identified with, that was this kind of like a new nationality in a way? That was quite strange?
We’ve been also kind of brought up in the like a Yugoslav spirit that was also not somehow focused on national belonging but more in the spirit of non-aligned countries, like where there is there was always this aspiration towards the world and towards what is what brings people together and not what separates them as national borders.
PETER KORCHNAK: Ostojić studied sculpture in art school, and in the 1990s she participated in the student protest movement against Slobodan Milošević. Her first performance, which at the time she didn’t even know was a performance until the media labeled it that, was Personal Space whereby she covered her naked, shaved body in marble dust and stood in place for two hours at a time.
As an artist who traveled a lot, she found it difficult to bring along the tools and materials for sculpture making.
TANJA OSTOJIĆ: Even [though] I love doing sculpture before and also after, it was a material I couldn’t carry with me. So the body art, you know, it was very easy to go with. So you just need yourself wherever you go. That was also the reason that it was very handy to do performance art, but certainly also an interest to be in communication with people and see what they feel, what they’re saying, how they perceive what you’re doing, have this communication already included in the work itself and not having a certain object transferring those ideas like sculpture.
PETER KORCHNAK: In 2000, Ostojić launched a series of works titled Crossing Borders, which deals with the realities of European Union’s regulations pertaining to the movement of people. In the first performance, Illegal Border Crossing, she crossed several times the border between Slovenia and Austria, the border of the European Union at the time, without authorization, as she could not get a permit at the time to enter Austria. The action would acquire a new meaning 15 years later when migrants from Africa, Middle East, and South Asia would attempt the same feat at the shifted European Union border in Croatia and Hungary.
The performance, Waiting for a Visa (2000) was a 6-hour action where Ostojić queued with hundreds of other people in front of the Austrian Consulate in Belgrade. And in Looking for a Husband with an EU Passport she published a personal ad seeking a man to marry. She exchanged over 500 letters and emails with people around the world who responded to the ad. The first meeting with a future husband was a public performance in Belgrade, and a few weeks later she officially married the guy and moved to Germany with a family unification visa issued on the basis of the international marriage certificate. Three-and-a-half years later, in 2005 in Berlin, she held a divorce party, accompanied by an exhibition of the project archive.
TANJA OSTOJIĆ: I’ve done a lot of work that’s very political and socially engaged and feministly [sic] engaged and that also not only have activist potential, but they became very relevant also for people who’ve been writing theoretical work.
I have been collaborating with NGOs, I have done a documentary in the deportation jail in Berlin. On the other side, I also took part in activist conferences in which activists and theoreticians are coming, not so often artists.
I didn’t always manage to produce what I was working on. For example, I followed for two years, some popular hunger strikes in Greece. And I never managed to get any funding for this documentary and then the political situation got actually economical situation then political influence escalated. So I couldn’t speak anymore about those issues. But some of my works, as you know, are quite important advocating for certain issues, and I’m happy that they got in circulation.
I mean, on one side, I’m really happy that the work still resonates to [sic] many people. When I started doing those projects, people didn’t want it to hear that they didn’t got it. You know, when I’ve done some works, many people said, Oh, you’ve done nothing, or what you’re doing, you know, it’s really take sometimes over 10 years of its people perceive your work and why is it important and complexity of this approach and topics and everything. So, the work I’m doing now, it’s still unpopular and this work from 22 years ago is popular, so…
PETER KORCHNAK: In the Lexicon of Tanjas Ostojić, a participatory research art project she ran from 2011 to 2017, Ostojić tracked down 33 of her namesakes from across the former Yugoslavia (she calls them name-sisters), created a community of women with that name, and facilitated workshops and mixed media art projects with them. There’s a map tracking how the Ostojić name sisters migrated, there’s a collaborative embroidered piece, and there’s a 2018 book summarizing the interdisciplinary, transnational project. And the project was presented at a number of exhibitions across the region as well as Berlin.
In an article about the project, Bojana Videkanić writes the Lexicon traces the changes in social, political, and economic lives of women in and from the region. “Tanjas’ lives reveal a general deterioration and drastic shifts in the lives of women who have been impacted by the rise of capitalism, nationalism, xenophobia, sexism, religious intolerance, and more generally, conservatism,” writes Videkanić. By highlighting the stories of women impacted by the changes around them, “[the] Lexicon continually highlights through its use of geography of migration and exploitation, [that the] post-Yugoslav space functions on the margins of a much larger system…. Western forms of neoliberal exploitation are equally invested in deterioration of women’s rights; [the] former Yugoslavia is but a symptom of that larger structure.” End quote.
TANJA OSTOJIĆ: In the Lexicon of Tanjas Ostojić, I have combined many different topics that I worked on over decades. One of those topics is migration, another topic is women rights, and exactly [the] position of women in the family, in the society, access to education, workers rights, so women as a worker, and so on. And the work is quite relevant as a kind of sociological research as well. So when I started to look for women that have the same first name and family name like me, I didn’t know what to expect, I could not know who is going to show up and how many and if they will be interested to take part in this collaboration and to which extent and so on. And I could not cast women, you know, they were just as they are and more or less open to be part of it.
Each of us, basically over 33 women that took part in the at least the questionnaire and a brief interview, were either born in the former Yugoslavia, either parents were born in that territories and they were born in the countries that came to life after Yugoslavia or abroad from parents who emigrated. Definitely Yugoslavia was a common thread. And then another thing that all of the women identified as women, as female, and the generationally there was incredible variety. And the ones who took part in the creative workshops, they also showed that they were creative and that they were open.
For me, the project itself, the Lexicon of Tanjas Ostojić, as a sociological research in small, showed that actually women in the time of Yugoslavia had more access to education and had better working conditions. The women were emancipated back then, and then especially in the educational and working field, but still got only halfway when it’s about emancipation in the family. So many of them kept doing the house chores and care of the children, even they were, like, sometimes better educated than their partners and had a full time job. So this was something that in Yugoslavia then went so far, but on the other side, like concerning reproductive rights and especially when they were women in the cities, they were quite well off even [in] comparison to 2020 Western Europe.
PETER KORCHNAK: Ostojić is based in Berlin and has been able to make some comparisons.
TANJA OSTOJIĆ: It was for me, also kind of like a cultural shock that I learned that in Germany in the year 2020, was introduced for the first time law, same pay for the same job. The gender pay gap in Germany is 30 percent and it’s just like unbelievable for me because, I think this was not the case in the former Yugoslavia at all. People were equal in front of the law, at least.
Also, for example, reproductive rights, in 2020, abortion right in Germany is also not, you can’t just out of [the] blue go for such decision, you have to have a reason to do that. I was quite surprised about that, I didn’t expect it that it’s so conservative because being brought up in Yugoslavia, we thought this is the standard, this is the way it should be, you know, but then with time you learn that not everywhere women went so far.
There was a certain heritage, cultural heritage, and there are some things we went we read, we listen, we’ve done, and this influenced our development in the early age and I think definitely should be a a study field and I think that some of the people that I know are making incredible, important contribution towards that.
PETER KORCHNAK: According to Ana Hofman, because Lepa Brena and her music were so associated with the socialist Yugoslav past, attending her concert can in one sense be seen as an individual act of political subversion. This is most visible when “Jugoslovenka” comes on and Yugoslav flags appear in the audience. The intersection of her public persona, music, self-representations, and history “unravels a complex relationship between emotional, social, and political attachments with the Yugoslav past.”
The same goes for artists who identify as or whom Jasmina Tumbas has identified as Jugoslovenkas. The active interplay of past and present (and future) in their work; the highlighting, if not promotion of ideals and values that may or may not be gaining relevance again as the neoliberal world teeters; the use of their bodies as the medium for their art—all of this points to art as a political expression, of awareness-raising, of defiance, of resistance, of presenting alternatives to the current condition.
I’m no art critic, in fact I usually don’t quote-unquote “get” performance art or maybe modern art in general. But in the work of Jasmina Cibic, Tanja Ostojić, and Bojana Videkanić I detect all of those things. And thankfully, there are people like Jasmina Tumbas who tell the world all about it. Buy her book “I Am Jugoslovenka” today or participate in the giveaway on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for a chance to win a copy.
[SOUNDBITE – Jugoslovenka]
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]
PETER KORCHNAK: Next on Remembering Yugoslavia:
MIRJANA MENKOVIĆ: Jovanka Broz, she was the big and the very important patron of a very young fashion Yugoslav industry.
PETER KORCHNAK: Jovanka Budisavljević was the wife of Josip Broz Tito. Melania Knavs is the wife of Donald John Trump. Two women from the former Yugoslavia, two presidents, two continents, two eras. On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, a Jovanka v. Melania celebrity deathmatch.
Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out.
[OUTRO MUSIC – “Jugoslavijo / Od Vardara pa do Triglava” by Horn Orchestra]
PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information, resources, links, and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
If you liked today’s conversations and want to hear more, check out the extended version of this episode by joining many a Jugoslovenka and Jugoslaven on Patreon or making a contribution via PayPal. Visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate today.
I am Peter Korchňak.
Hofman, Ana. “Lepa Brena: Repolitization of Musical Memories on Yugoslavia.” Glasnik Etnografskog Instituta SANU, Vol. LX, pp. 21-32
Videkanić, Bojana. “Lexicon of Tanjas Ostojić and Feminism in Transition.” Socijologija, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1