Women in European HistoryMain Page | About | Help | FAQ | Special pages | Log in

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

The Five Witches

From Women in European History

The Five Witches

Slavenka Drakulić

For many readers of European history, one of the most notable events of Slavenka Drakulić's life was her classification as one of the five infamous "witches" that were vilified in the Yugoslavian media at this time. In Slav tradition, the word vještica or veštica (signifying "witch") has been used as a derogatory term for women who do not fit the typical model of a woman under Communism--one who is "conniving, ill-intentioned, bitter, secretive, and odd." [1] In the early stages of the feminist movement in the territory of former Yugoslavia, women who worked to establish themselves and public figures and make their opinions heard were frequently depicted amidst witch-like imagery that was meant to demonize these women in the public eye. The total control of the Communist system over all media outlets ensured that citizens were only provided with extremely slanted perspectives on any potentially controversial issues. Therefore, a woman who expressed a dissenting opinion was harshly criticized and recast as a villain in the party-approved publications, thereby dooming her to live on as an outcast from the rest of society. Readers of Drakulić's writings may recall her account of the experience of her friend Tanja, a fellow journalist who had been publicly shunned after the publication of an article in which she used the idea of pinball machines as a cover for her subtle criticism of communism. As Drakulić notes, the Party seemed to justify its severe treatment of Tanja in the media through an adherence to communist principle of blind faith in the system and fear of rebels: "she mocked it, and she had to be punished for that." [2]

Rada Iveković

However, what some readers may not know is that Drakulić herself suffered a great deal of criticism in response to her own writings when she and four other well-known Croatian women were openly denigrated in a now-infamous article entitled "Croatian Feminists Rape Croatia." Globus is known by many Europeans as a popular Croatian weekly newsmagazine that is published in Zagreb. Founded in 1990 and still in circulation today, many of its earlier issues grappled with political questions surrounding the Croatian War of Independence. On 11 December 1992, Globus published the aforementioned article in order to strike out against the writings of Drakulić, Rada Iveković, Vesna Kesić, Jelena Lovrić and Dubravka Ugresić. Like Drakulić, all of these women had drawn themselves into the public sphere by expressing firm opinions on the flaws of the communist system. A feminist and scholar in many schools of philosophy, Iveković had written many articles which openly criticized the communist system. Kesić, also staunch feminist, had gained further notoriety as an activist in anti-war efforts as well as the Zagreb Women's Lobby and the Center for Women Victims of War--an organization which employed a controversially non-nationalist approach to aiding women who had been the victims of sexual abuse. Lovrić was known for her work as a political journalist who had recently come under fire for her exposure of a corrupt government figure, a transgression for which she received a six-month suspension.
Vesna Kesić
Finally, Ugresić was a popular Croatian novelist whose success may have threatened her male contemporaries and whose works had begun to reflect the anti-war and anti-nationalistic views she had developed in the wake of the war in Yugoslavia. As Meredith Tax noted in a 1993 article in the Nation entitled "Five Women Who Won't Be Silenced," what all of these women had in common is that each refused to conform to the social expectations of a person in her position--they "[wrote] as individuals, each with her own point of view, rather than as Croatian citizens." [3]

Jelena Lovrić

Within the political environment of Croatia at this time, these women posed a significant threat to the communist system through their willingness to highlight and describe the flaws in the actions of their government. Furthermore, pointed out by Tatjana Palović in her article "Women in Croatia: Feminists, Nationalists, and Homosexuals," these women's actions were likened to that of "airing dirty laundry in public by publishing their criticism abroad," thus they were reviled for making their home nation vulnerable to the criticism of other countries. [4] In reading this article, readers can sense the author's (initially anonymous, but later revealed to be a famous sociologist and proponent of communism, Slaven Letica) determination to ruin these women's standing in society by any means necessary. Modern readers of this article would be offended both by the invocation of emotionally-charged rape imagery in the title ("Croatian Feminists Rape Croatia!") and the outrageous aspersions cast upon both their characters and the impact of their actions upon Croatia. Professing its desire to expose the "lies" of these women, the article directly accused these five women of "dissimulating" the wartime rapes in Bosnia and Croatia by examining the way in which these acts were colored by gender rather than limiting their analyses to a censure of Serbian aggression. [5]
Dubravka Ugresić
In addition to its effort to expose their supposed crimes of "covering up the truth" about these rapes, perhaps the most disturbing things about this article was its inclusion of a remarkably invasive chart in which each woman was broken down in terms of her "nationality, marital status, political affiliation, home, occupation, age, number of children, travel abroad during the war, and suspect opinions." [6] Through Letica's reinforcement of a Party-sanctioned perspective on the opinions and actions (both real and entirely fabricated) of these women, the publication of this article effectually launched a witch hunt to smear their professional respectability and discredit the work they had done for the feminist movement in Croatia. In examining the life of Slavenka Drakulić, readers may understand this article's assault upon her character as just one of the many obstacles she (and the rest of the "witches" at this time) faced in trying give a voice to feminists in former Yugoslavia.

Text of the original December 1992 Globus article (chart not included).

Meredith Tax's perspective on the "Five Witches" article / Tax's casebook of media materials related to the trial.

A brief history of the feminist movement in former Yugoslavia by Jill Benderly.


  1. Kesić, Obrad. "Women and Gender Imagery in Bosnia: Amazons, Sluts, Victims, Witches, and Wombs." Ed. Sabrina P. Ramet. Gender Politics in the Western Balkans: Women and Society in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Successor States. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1999. p. 198
  2. Drakulić, Slavenka. How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed. New York: HarperPerennial, 2003. p. 4
  3. Tax, Meredith. "Five Women Who Won't Be Silenced." The Nation (10 May 1993). Web. <http://www.meredithtax.org/gender-and-censorship/five-women-who-wont-be-silenced>.
  4. Pavlović, Tatjana. "Women in Croatia: Feminists, Nationalists, and Homosexuals." Ed. Sabrina P. Ramet. Gender Politics in the Western Balkans: Women and Society in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Successor States. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1999. p. 136
  5. Letica, Slaven. "Croatia's Feminists Rape Croatia!" Globus (11 December 1992). Web. <http://www.zinfo.hr/engleski/pages/faq/vjestice/VjesticeIzRia.htm>
  6. Ibid.

Slavenka Drakulić

Retrieved from "http://womenineuropeanhistory.org/index.php?title=The_Five_Witches"

This page has been accessed 16,956 times. This page was last modified on 2 June 2010, at 17:02.


Main Page
Community portal
Current events
Recent changes
Random page
View source
Editing help
This page
Discuss this page
New section
Printable version
Page history
What links here
Related changes
My pages
Log in / create account
Special pages
New pages