Faith Wilding on Sat, 20 Dec 1997 02:15:48 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Interview with Vesna Jancovic

Interview/Conversation with Vesna Jancovic. Vesna, former chief editor and now
director of ARKZIN (antiwarkampaign) magazine, is an activist feminist 
organizer and writer who lives in Zagreb, Croatia. Faith Wilding is a feminist
artist, activist, and writer, who lives in Pittsburgh, USA. This public 
interview took place during the 1st Cyberfeminist International at the Hybrid 
Workspace, Documenta X, Kassel, Germany, on September 27, l997. 

FW: Let's start by talking about what you are doing now with ARKZIN.  As I 
understand it, the magazine started in l991 as a biweekly fanzine of the 
anti-war campaign.  You described it as a bastard form between politics and 
high/low culture?   

V: Yes. Now the publication ARKZIN is combined of high politics and grass 
roots initiatives, culture, sub-culture, putting a lot of attention on women's
issues as well and it definitely had an important political role, also in 
providing the counter information (during the war).  During all these years we
kept contact with the similar independent medias in Serbia like Radio B 92, in
Bosnia especially with the magazine Dani  and Radio Zed.  Actually a great 
help to keep these communications and contacts was our BBS, named Zamir which 
means "for peace,"  and which we established in '92 with the great help of our
Western friends, especially friends from Bielefeld, and also some other 
international volunteers from Poland, and Katherine Turnipseed from United 
States, who actually played a very important role in teaching women how to use
this new media, new tool.  Her project was Electronic Witches and she really 
did a tremendous job in doing it.  

FW:  So is there already a Cybefeminist movement in Croatia?

V:  Unfortunately I think it's still very hard to talk about Cyberfeminism in 
Croatia.  A lot of us are basically using e-mail and most of us women who are 
active are engaged in different social and political activities.  So still we 
are not so much present on Internet and we are not surfing on Internet, but I 
think the first steps to get friendly with the new technologies are made, and 
I hope in future there will be more women's presence on the net.

FW:  You told me some really interesting and important things about how these 
BBS, these bulletin boards were very influential in helping in the anti-war 
campaigns and how they actually linked people instantly, to organize them for 
actions and really get things started.  Could you see this kind of tactic as 
working for women in a particular way?

V:  Yes, our BBS was important as I already said, in our work with the 
magazine. It was important as a communication tool to keep the contact with 
the people we otherwise couldn't reach because telephone lines were broken, 
but it was also important in keeping different peace, human rights, and 
especially women's initiatives communicating.  Very soon after establishing 
Zamir BBS and Zamir Network we built up the Zamir Women's Conference, and this
conference is used basically by  women's groups in different parts of 
ex-Yugoslavia for exchanging the information, for organizing conferences, for 
just giving support to each other. Also an important role was to keep us in 
contact with the outside world, I mean our partners in, especially, western 
countries.  Last December, for example, we organized a big petition for media 
freedoms in Croatia and BBS was very important to coordinate this action, 
which was organized simultaneously in different towns.  In a similar way it 
was used in some previous campaigns for keeping the right to free, legal 
abortion. My experience is that Internet and new medias can be used as a 
really strong political tool, supporting the grass roots initiatives and 
building the broader grass roots networks.

FW:  Yes, I agree. We spoke this morning about the fact that there are really 
big differences between the different countries in the meanings of 
Feminisms--in the meanings of Feminist action, and how women use the net. 
Thewebgirrls,  for example, presented the fact that they found women more and 
more wanted to meet on the web socially, as a social connection, more so even 
than wanting particular technical information.  That seemed to be a particular
use for women in Holland (whom they were talking about); but what you're 
talking about in Croatia--and I suppose this is probably also true of some of 
the other Eastern European countries where the medium was very much needed as 
an organizing, survival tool--there is a very different kind of use for it 
there.  In fact, this is something that Cyberfeminism really needs to think 
about and be very aware of, that we have actually a very tremendous power in 
terms of these instant connections that we can make now internationally; in 
the way that we can call attention to various very critical situations that 
women might be in. You mentioned the  situation in Algeria, what's going on 
there right now and what a big difference it could make there for Western 
media and Western women's groups to put a kind of watch, put an alert out over
the Internet in much the same way that Amnesty International often does.  I'm 
editorializing here I realize.... but, maybe you could give some further 
thoughts on that and some specific suggestions from your experience on how 
this kind of organizing, political organizing across borders, might be able to
work for the cyberfeminists.

V:  Well my experience in living in a quite repressive state is that our 
international connections actually saved us from being arrested or having 
other big problems.  Also, the second experience we made was the great help in
our campaigns for keeping abortion legal.  We got big support from especially 
Swiss and German women's groups and so this making internal problems 
international, or putting them in the international context, made our struggle
much easier and really kept us in a much safer position.  A month ago, I met a
woman from Algeria, who was a representative of a women's group in Algeria who
are fighting to keep some basic rights in this new context they have there. 
(One of our other speakers) inspired me with the idea of how much easier it 
would be for, for example this group of women too, if they can get 
international support, if they can inform the international community 
immediately about the problems they are facing, about death threats they are 
facing, and also I was thinking about possibility of the Internet as a tool by
which some pressure to the governments can be made.  So I'm definitely 
supporting (Babette's) idea of using the Internet as a political tool and 
using the Internet as a bridge which can bridge the gap between low and high 
technological countries; as a tool which can give the voice to especially 
women in the third world.  I consider it as actually a very important part of 
Cyberfeminist strategy.

FW:  I agree, and it reminds me of some of the things that groups that I've 
been in have done already, using fax for example as a tool-- sending zillions 
of faxes.  You can really tie up a corporation's or a government office's fax 
machines if everybody in the organization is alerted to send continuous faxes,
 to a very crucial number.  You can really throw some sand into the wheels 
there.  As some of us were talking about last night, one of the things that we
really need to be aware of too, is that the Internet is not owned by us, that 
it's not been kindly provided by corporations for us to just have fun with, 
and put up our web pages, and play around with but, in fact it's actually a 
very contested zone; it's a very controlled, surveilled zone, and if we want 
to continue to use it for our own ends then we have to constantly be very 
creative about that and very vigilant to maintain the small hold that we have 
on that space already.  That's something that we need to be very aware of as 
women too, because as women we need to think about claiming space, re-claiming
space, claiming voices.  One of the things we talked about was the possibility
also of using the Internet as an educational tool for women and you were 
telling me about the way that you're beginning to organize with some women in 
Zagreb for women's education. Would you be interested in talking about that a 
little bit?

V:  Yes, just two years ago women's studies, a completely grassroots program 
has started and also we got a lot of support in terms of books and information
from our Western colleagues, and I was thinking actually about subscribing 
women's studies on the Faces  list just to make possible for students there to
read part of discussion which are going on and to get some important 
information about books, about sites.  Maybe it can inspire some of them to 
get more involved in this new technology and they'll start to experiment 
themselves.  Also I see the role of Internet as very important in breaking 
this very nationalistic state of mind which we are facing there.  I am sure 
that people who are using it now, who are really becoming a part of a global 
village will definitely have a much bigger amount of information and, I hope 
that for them it will be impossible to be obedient to the system, the regime 
as it exists now in my country.

FW:  I didn't warn you that I was going to ask you this question but..  A 
couple of us were talking last night about the issue of public space and 
private space, more in connection with art, but very soon it got into a 
political discussion because of the issue (at least it has been an issue in 
America for some time) of how artists are being asked to make public art and 
to go into communities and so-called public spaces to create work that in a 
way will mediate between museums and certain communities that are usually 
underrepresented: you know, they'll try to send a black artist into a black 
community, etc.  There are some real problems with the way artists are being 
used as sort of public relations people for museums, and the way that museums 
are giving funding to certain projects that really kind of cover up the fact 
that most public space is essentially lost to us for our use.  It's all 
corporately owned pretty much, it's surveilled, it's controlled, it's there 
for the market place and not for people just to mingle and to meet and to have
social relationships.  The Internet could offer perhaps, a new kind of public 
space although that too is very, very contested, and definitely not just 
provided freely, it has to be struggled for constantly.  So, I was describing 
a situation that I think exists in America now in terms of public space and 
the way artists are being used and it's really something that we're not 
perhaps as aware enough of as we should be. I really wonder if there is a 
comparable situation in Croatia.  I mean, what about this issue of people 
being able to get together in public spaces and the freedom of people just  
expressing themselves in their various ways?  It seems like there would be 
some really crucial problems there too.

V:  Definitely there are many, many problems though they are quite different 
than in the West.  Still, the state has a very, very important and strong 
control over most of the civic and social sphere.  [So] there are just a few 
small islands, which I would like to call Temporary Autonomous Zones, where 
the independent social life is possible.  Actually what I'm busy with for 
years now and together with my colleagues there, is just to make these islands
bigger and broader and more visible, though it's quite hard.  We have three TV
channels and all three of them are state owned and controlled though there are
some magazines but, we know that TV at the moment is the most influential 
media.  I also don't want to give up completely the fight to influence the 
existing institutions but I'm very, very much in favor of creating our own 
spaces, our own institutions, our own autonomous zones where no censorship or 
no control could be made.

Cornelia:  May I ask a question?

FW: Yes, please!

C:  I'm very much interested in your personal background.  I would like to 
know how your personal life looked like before the war and how it changed when
the war started and how you got involved in the peace movement.

V:  Well, I'm a sociologist, I was studying sociology in Zagreb University and
since '86 I was already involved in Green, Women and Peace initiatives in 
Croatia.  At that time we were very much influenced by--besides all the 
radical theorists we could read about during our studies--we were very much 
influenced by especially what was going on here in Germany with the Green 
Ecological movement; also with the Squatters Movement, with all this 
blossoming of the alternative culture and somehow that was my initiation in 
becoming a political animal or becoming politically active.  Then war started 
in '91, a group of us who were very involved in these different civic 
initiatives got together and said, "Ok, war is starting.  let's try to do 
something!"  It was obvious that we cannot stop the war at that stage but also
obvious that war will bring lot of social, political and economical changes 
and that it will be necessary to organize ourselves and to influence some of 
these changes.  How my life looked before the war and how it looked after the 
war started?   Well it wasn't, actually, a very big change, my life just got 
more intense, I just became more active, working more, and learning also much 

FW:  You were telling me really interesting things yesterday about the kind of
training that the peace groups undergo, the non-violent training, and the 
thinking about the theory of it and also the practice of it .  I think perhaps
we don't know really, we're not so aware of that, at least I'm not, in 
America, that this is going on.  [And] it would be really interesting for me 
to hear you talk about that a little bit. 

V:  Yes one of the first things we did as the anti-war campaign was organizing
the trainings for non-violent action and non-violent communication.  Our first
group whom we contacted was German group Bund fuer Soziale Verteidigung,.and 
actually it was a real discovery for me to get in touch with all this theory, 
with also concrete methods and techniques: how to do it!  Very soon we got in 
contact with different groups, with different trainers and lots of them were 
willing to come and to give trainings to us. [And] I was actually very 
surprised how many people, ordinary people got interested in it and the 
response was really good even in towns which were on the front line, which 
were for a long time under the shelling, and still somehow it seems that it 
gave some hope to the people.  Out of these trainings, several projects have 
developed, one of them was working in a small townPakrej, which was 
divided-part of the town was under Croation control, part of the town was 
under Serbian control. We were working there trying to do 'social 
reconstruction,' we call it: actually to make the communications between 
people from both sides.  It was hard , it was tough job, but it worked very 
well, and it was a model which was later transformed or brought to Bosnia, and
now there are some small towns in Bosnia in which this model of work is 
applied.  The other project which came out of these trainings is Peace 
Studies.  Peace Studies are just starting officially this autumn.  Though we 
had organized for two years already, sort of one week events/workshops in 
which people who are active and who learned a lot through their engagement and
through trainings there, participated in disseminating this knowledge to just 
ordinary people who came and participated in these events.

FW:  I guess one thing we haven't really discussed that much is what you think
is the possibility for a media future for women in Croatia, and also it might 
be interesting to hear what you think are the most pressing problems for women
right now. I know there's many different groups of women, and many different 
positions, and economic backgrounds, in Croatia, but if you can make, perhaps,
some generalizations or comments it would be interesting to hear.

V:  You are asking me about the future for the women in Croatia? Actually, one
very interesting thing has happened during these years of war (and this 
phenomenon is known from the history as well) and this is that actually all 
these different civic initiatives--not just women's initiatives and women's 
groups, but also human rights groups, peace groups, most of them were led by 
women and actually, though the war is not a very pleasant experience, somehow 
a lot of women got encouraged, and they really started some projects, and are 
working still on developing them. And what I think at the moment is important 
(there is no war situation anymore) is that I would not like to see all these 
women falling back again to (let's say) ordinary life, which means: life in 
which they will become invisible again.  And I hope it won't actually happen. 
Besides that, I would really like to see more women getting involved with 
these new technologies.  I am personally also very excited about it and I hope
that I will also have more time now, to just play with the Internet and to see
what will come out of it.

FW:  Are there any questions from any of you?

Cornelia:  I have another question.  You mentioned you worked together with 
people from Bielefeld building up what was it exactly? you have a mailbox 
system?  Zamir,  something like that?  I would like to know what your 
experiences have been with women from the West or Western countries, Germany 
especially, in terms of their cultural background and the difference in the 
role of women and the different background in Feminism.  I'm sure that women 
in former Yugoslavia have been brought up differently and have a very 
different system in their mind than we have here (in Germany).  I would like 
to hear something about that.

V:  Well, though there are definitely differences, especially in the fact that
during socialism most of the women in our countries were working so they had 
economical autonomy, but beside that the problem was this whole, old 
patriarchal system, which is I guess even worse than in the West. So there are
differences, but my experience with working and cooperating with the women's 
groups from the West is actually quite positive.  We could find a common 
language and we also could learn something from experiences which were made by
all the women's groups here.  You had twenty or thirty years of experience in 
organizing, in doing campaigns, founding the houses for women victims of 
family violence, and all these experiences were quite valuable to us. Because 
of this we could cope in better ways with some problems which are part of 
natural group dynamics, conflicts which arise in every group, so it was easier
for us-- it's a sort of natural phase in the development of the group.  On the
other hand, of course, we tried to relate to our own reality and to our own 
experience, but this communication was, I must say, quite productive and I 
guess that also women's groups here got something from it.

FW: Thank you very much, Vesna.

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