Gender, Revolution, and War: The Mobilization of Women in the Yugoslav Partisan Resistance During World War II

TitleGender, Revolution, and War: The Mobilization of Women in the Yugoslav Partisan Resistance During World War II
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsBatinic, Jelena
Number of Pages381
Date Published2009
UniversityStanford University
CityStanford, CA

The mass participation of women in the communist-led Yugoslav Partisan resistance is one of the most remarkable phenomena of World War II. Drawing on an array of diverse sources--including archival records of the Communist Party, Partisan military, and the Antifascist Front of Women, wartime press and propaganda, participant reminiscences and diaries, and Partisan folklore--this study explores the history and postwar memory of the phenomenon. It is, more broadly, concerned with changes in gender norms and values caused by the war, revolution, and the establishment of the communist regime, which claimed to have solved the "woman question" and instituted equality between the sexes.The reformulation of gender ideals and norms during the war happened primarily on three levels: on the level of political rhetoric, the level of institutions, and the level of daily practice. This study begins by analyzing the rhetoric that Partisan leaders devised to recruit women and justify their active participation in the movement. It shows how their rhetorical strategy rested upon a skillful combination of traditional Balkan culture with a revolutionary idiom. In its appeals to women, the Party consistently stressed its dedication to women's rights and gender equality. Parallel to such statements it also drew on patriarchal folk traditions. For modern purposes of mass mobilization, Party leaders consciously invoked the heroic imagery of freedom fighters from South Slavic folklore, which appealed to the patriotic sentiments of the population. References to the epic lore allowed the Party to establish lineage to the time-honored heritage and assert its authority among the peasantry. The images of epic heroines served to attract women and legitimize the partizanka (female Partisan) in the eyes of the populace. Second, this work examines the institutional basis--in the form of the Antifascist Front of Women (AFZ)--that the leadership developed for women's mobilization. Focusing on the AFZ's wartime history, it shows how in the Partisans' institutional practice, much like in their rhetoric, the revolutionary coexisted with the traditional. Females recruited by the AFZ contributed to the Partisan war effort primarily through an extension of their traditional tasks within the family and village communities: feeding, cleaning, nursing, and caring for others. The Party's mobilizing genius, this study contends, lay precisely in this rhetorical and institutional adaptation of peasant traditions in a distinctly modem way. Through modern organizational devices, the communists put peasant women's age-old labor skills to use in a systematic fashion, transforming local customs of village women supporting their warrior men into instruments of mass participation in modem warfare. But this strategy also had a flipside, as it helped institutionalize old notions of gender difference and the inequality associated with them. Third, I focus on realities on the ground: on daily practice and, in particular, the problems of women's integration into the movement. Without much guidance from Moscow and with no precedents in local history, the leaders in the units had to decide on the spot about such questions as what kind of relations between the sexes would be acceptable; whether Partisans would be allowed to marry and spouses to serve together in the same unit; who would do the laundry, cooking, and other chores, etc. This study exposes a gap between egalitarian declarations on the top and realities on the ground. It sheds light on the power of old patterns and the prevalence of a belief in "natural" and fixed gender characteristics and duties in the movement. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the legacy of women's wartime mobilization. I look at the ways that the partizanka was memorialized in Yugoslavia's culture, tracing her journey from the revolutionary icon par excellence in the early postwar years to the oblivion of the present. I explore both the officially sanctioned memory of the female Partisan--as promoted by state-sponsored commemorations, historiography, and memorials--and the emergence of alternative, competing images in cinematography and literature. The crumbling of the partizanka's icon, through growing sexualization and marginalization, mirrored the gradual erosion of Yugoslav communism and, with it, of the Yugoslav nation itself. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Entry by GWC Assistants / Work by GWC Assistants : 

Type of Literature:

Time Period:


Library Location: 
Call Number: