Editors: Bojan Bilić and Marija Radoman

Sisterhood and Unity: Lesbian Activism in the (Post-)Yugoslav Space combines academic and activist voices to engage with more than three decades of lesbian activism in the Yugoslav space. The book uncovers a range of lesbian initiatives and highlights the role they played in resisting nationalism, violence against women, and high levels of homophobia/lesbophobia in all of the post-Yugoslav states. Through an intergenerational and transnational perspective, this collection accounts for the intricacies of lesbian activist organising in a post-conflict and post-socialist environment. By doing so, the volume challenges the systematic absence of (post-)Yugoslav lesbian mobilisations from recent social science scholarship.

NOTCHES: What drew you to this topic?

Bilić and Radoman: Sisterhood and Unity is our fourth volume on activism in the (post-)Yugoslav space. Over the last seven years, more than 50 authors have come together to analyse and offer new perspectives on activist initiatives in our region. So far, we have explored various forms of anti-war activism, Europeanisation of LGBT initiatives, and the relationship between activism and intersecting discriminations. In the latest volume, Sisterhood and Unity, we are focusing on lesbian mobilisations, drawing feminist women to the surface of public life and showing how the feminist response to violence has had an important lesbian dimension. When working on the four books, our objective has been to create a counterpoint to so much scholarly attention that has been given to the “elite” layers of politics. In this regard, our convergence is a resource for responding to the traumatic experience that we share.

NOTCHES: This book is about histories of sex and sexuality, but what other themes does it speak to?

Bilić and Radoman: Like with our previous volumes, we try to capture some of the affective residues of our transitional experience (socialism to capitalism, peace to war, Yugoslavia to nation-states etc.) that cannot be pushed into the tropes of democratisation, human rights or European Union integrations. Numerous accounts which by now have examined Yugoslav feminist co-operations show how much energy was necessary to resist the nationalist avalanche that threatened to sweep away decades of feminist work. It is this resilience of caring sisterhood that poses the question of togetherness in novel, non-ethnically oriented ways. We want to highlight it through our intervention into brotherhood and unity, the patrilineal principle of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia.

NOTCHES: Whose stories or what topics were left out and why? What would you include had you been able to?

Bilić and Radoman: Increased awareness by our community of authors that we, as inhabitants of semi-periphery, may not be unproblematically considered “white Europeans” made us more sensitive to the ways in which racist discourses may pervade both activist endeavours and our own scholarly work. In spite of our effort, we did not manage to secure a chapter on Roma lesbian women. We would have also wanted to include a chapter on lesbian activism in Kosovo which may be much less visible but certainly does exist. These, along with other forms of activist engagement developing outside of the major centres of political life, remain research topics for the future.

NOTCHESHow did you become interested in the history of sexuality?

Bilić and Radoman: Through our desire to live better, violence-free lives. As scholars of Eastern Europe, and citizens of two post-Yugoslav countries, we have been drawn into radical social change and we have observed how gender and sexuality get caught up in such processes. This is, for example, evident in relation to the still quite contentious Pride marches that stimulate mixed feelings in us: on the one hand, one admires activist courage and perseverance while, on the other, having misgivings about certain motivations and strategies. Witnessing how many highly professionalised LGBT initiatives have been detached from non-heterosexual people encouraged us to think about how we can expose them in our texts and potentially help open new, locally anchored and intersectionally-sensitive fields of engagement.  

NOTCHES: Why does this history matter today?

Bilić and Radoman: Memories, protests, political diversities, and personal stories of lesbians shape today’s lesbian voices and help us to position ourselves in the debates regarding non-heterosexual citizenship. We hope that all of our books make it a bit harder to claim that the forces of division in our region were not challenged by anti-nationalist solidarities. By documenting activist initiatives, we testify that they really happened and transform them into a legacy which can be transmitted. Our books-archives are evidence that certain things were done and certain persons – us included – existed. Perhaps the struggles that we try to remember are not important to many people, but to those to whom they matter, they do so in particularly profound ways.

NOTCHES: Your book is published, what next?

Bilić and Radoman: We have both continued working in the domain of lesbian sexuality and politics relying on Sisterhood and Unity as a point of departure. Both of us are currently completing monographs. Marija’s is based on her PhD thesis with a lot of empirical material on LGBT everyday life, parenting, and partnerships in Serbia, whereas Bojan’s entwines trauma, violence, and lesbian agency to uncover some of the major moments in the fragile herstory of feminist lesbian engagement in Serbia and Croatia. Both books explore the ways in which feminist lesbian language has emerged in the context of strong patriarchal silencing that has surrounded the Yugoslav wars.

Marija Radoman is a researcher and teaching assistant in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade.


Bojan Bilić is FCT Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, and Adjunct Professor of Gender and Social Movements in South East Europe at the University of Bologna (Forlì Campus).


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