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The Issue of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ideology and religion as an excuse for machismo

Jasna Šamić

Countess Kallay, the wife of Benjamin Kallay, minister of finance and governor of Bosnia during the Austro/Hungarian period, wrote thus about the women of Bosnia, thinking primarily of Muslims: “She is as good and gentle as a child. But she has an aversion to unknown persons; her trust and friendship can be gained only througt adroit commerce and conversation, usually about insignificant matters, always supposing such conversation is intersting. On the other hand, she is as grateful as a child; the slightest gift gives her pleasure... During my time in Bosnia, I was accustomed to receive a large number of Muslim women at Ilidža. All the men would leave the house at that time, and my home would be transformed suddenly into a veritable flower garden... Even the veranda that gave onto the park would be covered with thick branches so that no indiscreet eye could see through the leaves, and my guests, concealed behind the greenery, without fear of being seen, could enjoy tzigane music... Flowers and music: those are her greatest joy... The clothes these women wear are a strange mixture of heavy silk and velvet, in vivid colours, covered with gold and silver thread embroidery. Strange! Sometimes one sees them in modern clothes and fabrics, muslin and crepe, always very akifully tailored... they are always loaded with jewellery, and I have not seen in my house even a single women who was not wearing at least three diadems... bosnians women are open and intelligent, and their questions are always full of the desire to find out about everything, everything that might complement their education...
Unfortunately, education and schooling of women in these neglected parts, especially among the Muslims, is faced with numerous obstacles...

It must be said that family life in Bosnia is formed of respect by children for their parents...age plays a decisive role, and the eldest, or head of the family, is certainly the master of the house.“

Similar descriptions of the women of Bosnia, as beautiful, covered in jewellery and bashful, are found in many other foreign and native authors. What has changed, as far as women are concerned, between the end of the 19th century when Countess Kallay wrote these lines? History unfolds rapidly, especially in these regions, and is accelerating, sometimes dictating the history of the planet as a whole. These changes have also dictated women's clothing, and even their mentality. What is there to be said about our present, post-war situation? Is there a women's issue in Bosnia today? Are there any studies on women? When asking about the role of women in this new Bosnian society, it might be assumed that her place has not been resolved in the same way as in other democratic societies. to be able to answer the question, it is necessary to know what kind of society exists in Bosnia. And that is linked to another question: does Bosnia exist as a single state. If it does, what is the social system that dominates it called? If one thinks of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which part of it is one talking about? To consider Sarajevo alone: is it possible to talk about a separate policy in this part of the country? What are the policies of the ruling party towards women - “islamist-democratic“ or secular democratic? If the latter, there are certainly several trends-those that resist nationalism and the involvement of religion in every issue, and those that tend towards radicalization according to the dictates of the faith. We know that today's neophytes consider the sole role of women is to be mothers. To attain that happy state, women (Muslim women) must cover their hair, wear a long dress and coat, and when the one appears who will lead her into her happy future as a broad mare, will cover her face and eyes too, to look into the future and at the world henceforth through a black veil. In that way she will better see her spirital leader and ”elder“-the master of the house. And thus both he and she will be happy, and their children. Thus far some young people who have come to the larger towns from the smaller ones,or from villages, are “spontaneously“ preparing themselves for happiness of this kind. However, there is no need to try to answer all these guestions. Confusion reigns in Bosnia from every perspective, including that of women and their rights. Democracy and human freedoms clash with the ideas of religious fanatics. On the one hand, there are women holding many important positions and functions, and on the other, young men fed with alien ideas (where Islam is concerned, chiefly under the influence of the Wahhabis and their capital), of whom some are occupying important positions in the culture, do not conceal their ideology towards womwn: women is a lesser being and it is men who should decide her fate. If they sometimes also recognice her education and culture, they are sure that it is impossible to compare women's education with that of men. However, machismo in the balkans has never had much connection with ideologies, rather ideologies and religiosity have been an excuse for machismo, which is another name for male inferiority. The communist ideology at least preached the equality of women and men, and almost the only real freedoms, in the second stage of communism, were sexual. not a single party today openly opposes these postulates, drawn up under the previous regime. In practice, however, it is very different. Women only theoretically enjoy the some right to professional success as men. Sexual freedom also exists theoretically. Sexuality is particularly proscribed by the neophytes. They link the phenomenon of sin primarily with women (the only thing they have learned from “religious education“, and which is closer to Catholicism than to Islam). Women's bodies and women's hair have become the fundamental problem of the newly-formed society.
On the other hand, lies, hypocrisy, the lack of ethich, and much more, are permissible.

As far as professional success is concerned, the most important qualification is, however, compliance. Since there is no longer just one party and one ruling ideology, the compliant too no longer fall into a single category. they can be divided into severel types: those who are compliant to the ruling party/parties, to ruling cliques, and finally, to the ruling mafias or semi-mafias. since culture, as one of the important elements of society, is dependent on various types of financing, there are also several types of culture, above all the culture financed by the national/religious parties, and the culture financed by extra-party organizations or individuals. Since individuals who support culture have to pay high taxes to the state for doing so (while such donations are tax exempt everywhere else in the world) there are fewer and fewer of them. And there are fewer and fewer true cultures. In such an atmosphere, it is hard to talk about culture with its universal values. And here too it is harder for the women, especially if she does not think that the man think of her -  a man in a specific function. To all appearances, but only to appearances, it is not so in practice. the ruling principle, that has not however been publicly proclaimed, is that if you want to do anything at all in Bosnia, you have to be on one side or another, you have to be committed. “You can't get anywhere on your own“ is the message we are getting from the men of yesterday. (This maxim is valid up to a point in Europe too.)

What remains to those who do not accept this logic: to be Don Quixote, or to recant and hold to what the great and good from the past say, to comfort themselves with their thinking? There are not many choices.

“A great artist is distinguished by two things: a soul that makes great demands, but also has tenderness and passion and disdain, and especally a talent that would be pleasing to that some soul, who would not begrudge it the satisfaction of creating new beauty“, wrote Stendhal in the 19th century. What connection does this have our era, and with Bosnia and its culture and art? That which is considered in some environments to be an entral truth sound, in others, not merelz utopian, but risible. In our current circumstances dogmatists find it easiest to cope. Should there be a return to feminism? I ceased to be a feminist before i heard of the feminist movement; in elementarz school. My reasons were personal, and unimportant here. To put it simply, women's issues did not interest me. What did interest me, and interesrs me still, is the destiny of man, in which l include women and children. Experience and life teach us to relativize. But does it not exaggerated relativism lead to excessive concessions, apathy and indifference, which leads to further confusion? Finally one ceases to think about destiny, about the future, and about the past. One tries to survive the moment and to defend oneself against feelings of meaninglessness and pointessness. Sociologists emphasize the impact of society on the fate of the individual. Philosophers would rather proclaim the responsibillity of the individual for his own life and in society while the mafiosi proclaim anyone who does not think as they do, that is those who do not know how to lie and steal, to be unacceptable. But the most domocratic, and the sociologists, and the philosophers, and the dogmatists, along with the newly arisen mafia, continue to divide culture into feminine and masculine, female and male. This implies that culturally significant works can come only from the male sex. Anything else that is significant would be accepted as such only within the female context of significant. To repead the question again: in these circumstances, ist there a need for a neo-feminist movement? for something, that is, that revolves around only one side? Many women in the world organize themselves around women. these organizations are almost like sects; of course, they help womwn-particulary those who are on their side. One must recognize that women who mean something these days owe it in large part to support of women's organizations. It comes back once again to the postulate,“You can't get anywhere on your own, and perhaps you won't even have anything to eat“.

The only place where it seems that women-in the professions, in certain public roles-are least seen merely as women is the United States. And perhaps it is necessary to live there for a long time to know the reality. Every issue, at least as far as l am concerned, including the women's issue, and planetary issues as a whole, remains an open question.

I have no answeres. I have only disillusion, it this word means anything.