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* Organisation of resistance Women

Woman in Struggle: Women’s Antifascist Newspapers in Croatia

The armed resistance in Yugoslavia strongly depended on women’s support, which enabled antifascist women to secure solid autonomy in organising their social and political activities. This was reflected in newspapers produced by women for women. In Croatia alone, at least 16 such papers were published during WW2: women collected, wrote and edited political statements, personal testimonies about wartime and domestic violence, stories, poems, practical advice, etc. For many rural women, newspapers were the first access to the public social sphere.

 

The first women’s newspaper in Croatia was Žena u borbi (Woman in Struggle), published in Lika in March 1942. Local women’s newspapers soon appeared in other parts of Croatia: in June 1942, Drugarica (Comradess) was published by the women of Gorski Kotar, and in August of the same year, Riječ žene (Woman’s Word) in Kordun. In December 1942, Primorka (Primorje Woman) appeared, and from 1943 on, numerous others followed: Dalmatinka u borbi (Dalmatian Woman in the Struggle), Udarnica (Woman Shock Worker) in Slavonia, Glas žene (Woman’s Voice) in Moslavina.

 

In June 1943, the Main Committee of the Antifascist Front of Women (AFŽ) for Croatia began to publish its central paper, also called Žena u borbi. The editorial work was done by women with rich experience from the 1930s when women’s press started to write about solidarity and the role of women in international labour and antifascist movements. As opposed to prewar publishing, organised in cities, wartime editorial boards were often located far from the printing shops hidden in deep forests, which meant that the production of each issue required courage, high organisational skills and collective effort. One of the biggest challenges was the paper supply. Women in the occupied towns underwent high risks to get the paper and transfer it to the liberated territory. While the edition numbers were modest – Žena u borbi was produced in 1500–2000 copies – they still reached many women. Papers were published in Latin and Cyrillic letters, even in languages spoken by national minorities, such as La Donna Istriana in Istria.

 

Another challenge was the low literacy of women. The census of 1931 showed that about 40% of women in Croatia were illiterate. In the context of intense ustaše, Nazi, and fascist propaganda during WW2, accessing information was essential for women’s decision to support and join the resistance, particularly in the rural areas where women had traditionally been denied or restricted access to the public sphere, let alone the ability to participate in shaping public opinion. To change that, AFŽ organised schools and courses as part of the literacy campaigns run by the Communist Party: in 1943, 150 courses were organised in the liberated territories in Croatia, 250 a year later, and 421 by the end of the war.

 

Sanja Horvatinčić      

Sources / Further reading
  • AFŽ Archive, CRVENA. The largest online archive of Yugoslav women’s antifascist newspapers and posters, as well as research papers, books and videos on women’s antifascist resistance in Yugoslavia, can be browsed and freely downloaded here: https://afzarhiv.org/collections/browse
  • Dugandžić and Tijana Okić, eds., The Lost Revolution – Women’s Antifascist Front Between Myth and Forgetting Original Title / Izgubljena Revolucija: AFŽ između mita i zaborava (Sarajevo: Association for Culture and Art CRVENA, 2016/2018).
  • Neda Božinović, Žensko pitanje u Srbiji u XIX i XX veku (Devedestečetvrta: 1996)
  • Nada Sremec, “Ženska štampa za vrijeme Narodnooslobodilačke borbe” u: Žene Hrvatske u Narodnooslobodilačkoj borbi, Vol I, Marija Šoljan-Bakarić, ed. (Zagreb: Glavni odbor Saveza ženskih društava Hrvatske, 1955).
  • Barbara Jancar, “Women in the Yugoslav National Liberation Movement: An Overview”, Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol. 14, No. 2/3, “Women in Communist Systems” (Summer/Autumn 1981), pp. 143–164. https://www.jstor.org/stable/45367403

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