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 The Five Croatian"Witches": A casebook on "trial by public opinion" as a form of censorship and intimidation
 Meredith Tax, USA
 July 1, 1993

[The following are summaries and translations, in chronological order, of newspaper articles from the Croatian press, demonstrating the origins of the campaign against the "5 Witches." Translated material appears in quotation marks. The Women Writers' Committee is making this material available as background for Committee discussion of the case.

Those who were not in Rio should know that, when the delegate from PEN American Center expressed concern about holding a Congress in Dubrovnik, he did so in general human rights terms, referring to press censorship. He did not mention individuals. At no point were the names of these five women writers mentioned in public meetings in the Rio Congress. M. Tax, Chair, IPWWC]

1. Vecernji List, Dec. 5, 1992: "False Bullet in Rio," by B. Kamenski

"What happened to us could easily have happened to you," said S.P. Novak on the 58th conference of lnternational PEN in Rio. Many documents regarding the former Yugoslavia were discussed at the conference, besides the announcement of Dubrovnik as the following city-host for the 59th World PEN Congress. Jovan Hristic and Slobodan Selenic, two Serbian writers who attended the conference, declared themselves as the opposition to Milosevic politics. They proposed a version of a statement regarding the situation in Bosnia, which is only a mild statement comparing to the one already proposed in Barcelona by the Croatian PEN. PEN supported the foundation of an independent Bosnian PEN, and discussed the position of Macedonian writers. The International Congress of PEN in Rio dealt with the relation of the writer--environment, literature--nature. At the opening ceremony of the conference Georgy Konrad spoke about the question "Does the world exist"? He also announced his intention to leave the presidential position and it is possible that the next president of International PEN will be British writer Ronald Harwood.

[In a box, under the headline "Lobbyists Lost Their Voice," accompanying the above:]

"Writers from all around the world finally know about them: Jelena, Rada, Slavenka, Vesna, Dubravka, are finally modern dissident stars. They shout so extremely loud about their lost freedom of speech that they have lost their voices. Thanks to some representatives of New York PEN, who have tried to make this issue central, cases like the extinction of Danas, the management of Slobodna Dalmacija and Novi List, as well as the case of the Feral Tribune, have been presented to cancel the conference in Dubrovnik. S. P. Novak has said that the American representative has been left completely alone in these demands, so that the voting never happened. Because of the support by Slovenian, Austrian and French PEN, the conference in Dubrovnik will happen in April. World writers will come to Croatia, and the Zagreb feminist circle will continue to climb world platforms and shout about being jeopardized in the Croatian state. It is interesting that they did not go so far as to visit the camps to see about the jeopardized Croatian and Bosnian women.

[Another article, unsigned, entitled "Americki delegat ostao je usamljen," was also printed on Dec. 5, 1992, in the daily, Vjesnik. The two articles were virtually identical. The following interview makes it clear that these articles were based on S.P. Novak's fax fom Rio, used by Croatian PEN in a press release.]

2. Nedjeljna Dalmacija, Dec. 9, 1992: "Congress Can Not Be Mined," by Renata Baretic

[This is an interview with S.P. Novak after his return to Zagreb.]

To the question if he is the author of the report from Rio, S.P. Novak answers: "Only partly. I phoned from Rio, and I sent the fax. My colleagues composed a press release, sent it underlined that it is issued by Croatian PEN and every editor could do with it what he wanted."

Exactly who of American writers opposed the Dubrovnik conference was the next question. S.P. Novak answered: "Only the New York chapter, whose members obviously read The New York Times a lot. That newspaper has been filled lately with negative texts about Croatia. Thanks to Alexander Blokh, the Dubrovnik conference will be held. When we speak about our dissidents, no matter who it is, all the arguments should be irrelevant. When Dubravka Ugresic writes, PEN has nothing to say to criticize her, even if we had the best arguments. But when one of the best Croatian writers criticizes her article, it does not mean that she is prosecuted, or that she has problems with the state or politics."

"Do you think that the last attempt of taking the conference from Dubrovnik is a direct result of actions of a few Croatian women journalists and writers?"

S.P. Novak: "No, not at all, I don't think that it is one person that made accusations of Croatian democracy. The real guilty ones are people whose importance does not go out of the borders of Croatia, and the importance of those ladies does a lot....a certain image of Croatia has been formed in the world. I do not believe that either Dubravka or Slavenka made that image, they are just floating above it, trying to use its services. "

3. GLOBUS, Dec. 11, 1992: "Croatia's Feminists Rape Croatia," by the Globus Investigatory Team

[I have included most of this article in translation, rather than summarized it, because it is the basis for a lawsuit by the "5 Witches" against Globus. It was accompanied by a chart giving information, some incorrect, on the birthplace, address, employment, and marital status of the five writers concerned.]

The delegates of the 58th PEN Congress in Rio have rejected by acclamation the suggestion to deprive Croatia of its right to organize the next congress in Dubrovnik, because of "the persecution" of feminists Rada Ivekovic, Jelena Lovric, Slavenka Drakulic, Vesna Kesic, Dubravla Ugresic.


Why have the writers of the world listened to the president of PEN of Croatia, Prof. Dr. Slobodan Prosperov Novak: Croatian feminists have been concealing Serbian raping of Moslem and Croatian women in Bosnia and Herzegovina even though they had access to the widest media and were able to alarm the public world-wide long time ago: Why have the Croatian feminists turned against the raped women of Bosnia and Herzegovina?


The Croatian feminist lies have been finally uncovered in Rio de Janeiro. According to the daily press, the delegates of the 58th International PEN Congress (the association of the writers of the world) have rejected an American writer's suggestion to deny Croatia and Dubrovnik their right to organize the next Congress of PEN on the account of "the persecution" of 5 female journalists and writers: Rada Ivekovic, Jelena Lovric, Slavenka Drakulic, Dubravka Ugresic, and Vesna Kesic and also because of the abolishing of "DANAS", imposing the Board of Management on "SLOBODNA DALMACIJA" and because of putting the "FERAL TRIBUNE" writers under investigation!

Writers have rejected this suggestion by acclamative support to the presentation made by Croatian delegate Slobodan Prosperov Novak. The political and moral maturity of the world writers contains two important messages; "GLOBUS" has already been convering these subjects several times.

The first message is about the damage done by the Croatian authorities, especially by the former Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Croatia, Vladimir Seks, who has launched a judicial and bureaucratic hunt on journalists; this caused justified anger among journalists and intellectuals in general, in the Western public on the grounds of suppressing the freedom of press and speech which are supposed to be a measure of freedom in general.

For these great damages the "media freedom hunters" Vladimir Seks, A. Vrcoljak, Milovan SÔol and others have been awarded with party, bureaucratic and protocolary promotions.

These epigones, various scribblers from "GLASNIK" and "VECERNJI LIST" have enjoyed trying to overcome their professional complexes by supporting the campaign against the freedom of the press. It is both them and the feminists mentioned above who are responsible for this absurd fact: according to the leading world media (Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, BBC, etc.), Croatia is always to blame for persecution of journalists and newspapers.


The obvious moral and political suicide of the mentioned (anti) Croatian feminists would have remained hidden if one of the major feminist subjects has not become a first-class media and political question in the whole of the Western world: rape and violence over Moslem and Croatian women in Bosnia and Herzegovina!

For example, when Slavenka Drakulic, Rada Ivekovic, and Dubravka Ugresic were selling literary floculus about the tragedy of the war as man's business and theses about not raping Croatian and Moslem women on the territories of the former Yugoslavia but raped WOMEN (!), all media were talking and writing about the totally opposite truth. About the truth that girls, women and old women in Bosnia and Herzegovina are raped and killed not because they are women but because they are "non-Aryan," because they are not Serbian women, because they are Croatian and Moslem women.

And while Dubravka Ugaresic was writing her essay about "metaphor" of "clean air" which was spreading throughout Croatia, her and Slavenka Drakulic's sistersówomen, Croatian and Moslem women, were exposed to the real cleansing not the metaphorical one: to the persecuting and killings (labeled by euphemistic "diplomatic" synonym for the holocaust and genocide ó"ethnic cleansing"), to rapes, to bestial sexual tortures, to ritual sexual terrorism....

Croatian feminists, who have been making the international show of their "persecution" for months, contributed a lot to hiding the truth about sexual violence as the instrument of Serbian racist and imperialistic politics.


Organized by the group "Kareta", "Women's Help Now" and many independent feminists, the activistic and scientific meetings "Women in the War" was held in Zagreb, from the 1st of October till the 4th October. It was an international feminist meeting where women were talking about sexual crimes against the women in Bosnian and Herzegovinian war for the first time, quite openly. Even the victims of sexual terrorism and crime appeared there like witnesses by themselves. Though these raped women who have been living their life and tragedy in secret, like all the other Serbian victims, for months, have done all that is possible in order to make sexual terrorism and crimes an international feminist's problem number one, a full two months were needed in order to make this happen. Those "Croatian" feminists who had the access to the leading world media and to political institutionsóRada Ivekovic, Slavenka Drakulic, Jelena Lovric, Dubravka Ugaresic, and Vesna Kesicóconsidered again the attention of world public had to be drawn to the suffering of all women in "man's war", and not only, allegedly, "only" the suffering of Moslem women as women and Croatian women as women.

It can be, therefore, freely said that Croatian and even world's feminist movement died morally in Balkan wars of nineties!...

The feminist "movement" that "five witches of Rio" belong to appeared in the early seventies in Zagreb and Belgrade. About twenty students, advanced university students and some of the graduated professors of Sociology, Philosophy, and Indology discovered American and French feminist literature which preached the necessity of not only class struggle but of the struggle of the sexes as well. As most of these ladies had serious problems to find a partner of male sex and the area of the interest, they chose feminism as their own "destiny," ideology and profession.


Rare ones among them created even international connections óSlavenka Drakulic and Rada Ivekovic, for example. They have found versatile support in Marxist centers of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the time, which often appeared as the organizers of their discussions and publishers of their works. That marriage of feminism and Marxism was so strong that the president of the Marxist center of the time, Vjekoslav Koprivnjak, was called the Clara Zetkin or even the Betty Friedan of Yugoslav feminism. The brother of Rada Ivekovic, the ambassador of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in Egypt, as well as Vjekoslav Koprivnjak did not want to express loyalty to their own country but preferred the big Serbian "exile" and a well-paid sinecure.


In short, it can be said that political quadrangle of feminism- Marxism-communism-Yugoslav ideas were functioning greatly and that the destruction of Yugoslavia and the fall of communism were great shocks to our heroines.

Almost without exception, they were little girls of communism! Girls from the families of informers, policemen, guards in prisons, diplomats, high Party and political functionaries. The small lot among them which, in spite of their theoretical position and physical appearance, did succeed to find a partner for marriage, chose something according to the official Yugoslav standards: a Serb from Belgrade by Rada Ivekovic, Serb (two times) from Croatia by Slavanka Drakulic and Serb from Croatia by Jelena Lovric. It would be immoral to mention these facts were it not, when one looks at it now, on the heap, the matter of systematic political choice rather than the accidental love choice!


The disintegration of the SFRY, the fall of communism and the war put our heroines in, when considered objectively, a difficult intellectual and moral position. Their theses and futile dreams about sexual war as such burst like soap bubbles. Serbs started their conquering, racist, nazi wars. Our heroines had to decide what to do.

Rada Ivekovic left Croatia immediately, going to Serbia and France. She was writing "sad" essays about Zagreb which was not her town anymore. Dubravka Ugaresic went northwest writing essays about the unclean air, unclean politics and unclean people in Croatia. Slavenka Drakulic travels God-knows-where, writing books with superficial essays on Communism, laughing, Balkans and herself--about her tragic destiny. The only one who stayed here is Jelena Lovric. Though the myth about her being in danger exists, facts show that she is one of the rare journalists who got interviews from her so-called persecutors....

The five witches which the unknown American in Rio wants to transform to the group of anticommunist dissidents are not "cases" at all....Without that totally made-up "status" they would be what they really are: a group of selfish middle-aged women who have serious problems with their own ethnic, moral, human, intellectual and political identity!

4. Vjesnik, December 25, 1992: "American Delegate Was Left Alone," Unsigned

Rio: The first two days of the conference of World PEN have passed by in group sessions. The question was should the next conference be held in Dubrovnik. Some members of American PEN have taken examples like Danas, Slobodna Dalmacija, Feral Tribune, Slavenka D., Dubravka U., Jelena L., Vesna K., and Rada I., etc. to show that there is no democracy in Croatia. An American delegate has said that Croatian PEN is a servant to the Croatian Government. And then S. P. Novak spoke about the situation in Croatia. Thanks to A. Blokh, there was no doubt that the conference in Dubrovnik will happen. Serbian delegates have spoken, and declared themselves as the opposition to Milosevic. A mild statement regarding Bosnian PEN has been proposed by the Serbs. The evacuation of writers from Sarajevo has been discussed. Georgy Konrad talked about the issue: "Does the world exist?" S. P. Novak has expressed his gratitude to all those who have helped and made the Dubrovnik conference possible. "Is there anybody", he said, "who is not willing to come to Dubrovnik? What happened to Croatia and Dubrovnik has happened to everybody."

5. Slobodna Dalmacija, Dec. 13, 1992: "Slobodan Prosperov to Rio, Ostap B. Novak from Rio," by Vesna Kesic

"When someone finds herself in the middle of such a huge and dangerous plot as the attempt of an international feminist conspiracy against the World PEN conference in Dubrovnik, and in an anti-Croatian conspiracy, one has to react. Public cases can be solved only with systematic analysis in public. I tried to do an interview with S.P.Novak in person. He said that he has already had an article in Slobodna Dalmacija, and that another one would be too much. He did not want to do it, and so I am forced to pose the questions here, as if it were an interview.

"First: How was the Rio report created? Is Novak the one who made himself look like St. George, who cut off the two heads of the dragon in the anti-Croatian conspiracy, or did his colleagues at PEN do that? How did it happen that he found it important to mention all the individual cases in his report from Rio? Cases ranging from Danas to 'feminists'?... my sources report that those names were not even publicly mentioned....

Finally, anonymous cases from Rio have consequences in the Croatian media he did not expect. Maybe there is more to happen. To save himself from further problems, I propose that S.P. Novak accept me and the other feminists in PEN membership. When he does it, we will immediately form a women section of PEN.... If that does not happen, there is small chance for the Dubrovnik conference to be successful

6. Slobodna Dalmacija, Dec. 27, 1992: "I Am Asking for an Apology," by Dubravka Ugresic

[This was a private letter, sent by a member of Croatian PEN to her Center's Executive Board and President, who sent it to the newspaper without asking her.]

"International PEN has not reacted properly, according to its Charter. It has not defended a number of prosecuted Croatian writers and journalists, has not reacted to intolerable statements by the Croatian Minister of Culture, and has not, or hardly has, with its actions supported the process of true democratization of Croatia. After S. P. Novak denounced me, saying that my name, and my colleague's names, were used in Rio as part of an attempt to cancel the Dubrovnik conference, the attack began. PEN did not react even then to protect me and my colleagues.

"'The discussion about the Rio conference was not appropriate, in context or in form, to the war-situation in our country,' says the press release of Croatian PEN. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that they have not issued an explanation of how my name and the names of my colleagues appeared in the report. A public apology has not yet been issued. It has been implied that my colleagues and I tried to cancel the Dubrovnik conference, and till this moment PEN has not changed its accusation. So if you do not apologize in public, and put yourselves on our side, I will be forced to resign from Croatian PEN."

7. Slobodna Dalmacija, Dec. 7, 1992: "See You on Lovrjenac," by Slobodan Prosperov Novak

"PEN was the place of initiative and the place of action in the past 2 years and 8 months while I was presiding over it. While traveling abroad, it did not occur to you that it would be nice if you took one of our 50 publications in foreign languages. You did not care about our activity in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. That we in that period organized 68 book presentations and 47 press conferences. You did not care about our efforts to contact the writers in Serbia, after the conflict began. After all that, you send me a letter from a neighboring Zagreb street accusing the board and members of Croatian PEN of not acting according to the PEN Charter. Concerning the other letter to Danish PEN, I answered it too, asking the President of Danish PEN to forward my answer to the PEN clubs of U.S., Norway and Canada. The translation of this letter in Croatian is here, published together with this.

"However, I would now like to say something about your manipulating our international organization. You are politicizing instead of being a writer, and you are doing the same as many of those who would like to take the role of measuring how much freedom there is in PEN. You have been criticized by writers, not by policemen, and you are imitating the worst totalitarian brains in the country when you believe that issues of human rights are questions of political positions. You have put yourself in a group, talking in the name of a pure political option, and in a short time you will realize that your thoughts are equal to the program of one among 40 different Croatian parties.

"What have I been doing in Rio, you ask. I have taken the small possibility you and your friends have given me. Show me just one proof that PEN has been politicized in the previous period. I have not sent anything to the Danish PEN, while you have taken a very clear political position. Which is only a naked political position. And while you are standing naked on that position, you are not alone, because PEN is standing with every one of its members. I do not want to apologize in public for the fact that Dubrovnik conference will be held after all. If you wish, you can come and say whatever you feel about the Croatian writers. You can tell them "good night" on Lovrjenac, where, like Hamlet, you can say to your Danish friends: Something is rotten in Croatia."

8. Slobodna Dalmacija, Dec. 27, 1992: "Globus is Not Croatian PEN, " by S. P. Novak

[This is an open letter to the President of Danish PEN.]

"The reputation of International PEN has not been jeopardized by one published article. I am sending you abstracts of my interventions for the freedom of speech, as well as some public statements made by Croatian PEN, press releases and appeals. Since the war has began, we have sent many appeals for peace, democracy, and the protection of human rights....Concerning Globus, there is not much that could be done. The weekly is private and has a form of tabloid. Dubravka Ugresic is one of my colleagues at the University of Zagreb. If she would be ever jeopardized in any way, I would be the first to react. She is free to speak whatever she likes to. But when the report from her speech in Denmark was broadcast, it wasn't nice to hear about all the things she blamed her country for. However, we did not think she hurt any code of PEN in any way, so we stood by her on that occasion. I am sorry that she has not first published her articles in Croatia. The paper Slobodna Dalmacija would surely have published them. And by the way, Croatian PEN is not a 'male chauvinist PEN', as Vesna Kesic calls it, there are many women members in it."

9. Slobodna Dalmacija, Jan. 2, 1993: "I Have to Keep My Word About Resigning," by Dubravka Ugresic

"In my letter to Croatian PEN, that was later published without my permission, I demanded a few explicit things. S. P. Novak decided to publish it...and than all the discussion (there I agree with him) took a wrong direction. The important thing is that S. P. Novak did not react to any of my demands from the letter. He describes my position as political, pure articulated political option, one political program, one naked political position where I stand naked, where I'm not alone,... and even that I like The New York Times.

In short, in an open letter that he, the President of Croatian PEN, sent to one of its members, he insults me explicitly, and makes any serious dialogue impossible. Superficially and childishly, he opened a 'witch hunt.' I have only one message to him: That my colleagues and I have never, with one statement or one text, public or private, endangered the conference in Dubrovnik.

By publishing my letter, he has forced me to stand by it, and therefore, to really withdraw from the Croatian PEN. And at the end, I wish the Dubrovnik conference success, because that way the Charter of PEN will became clearer and closer to the Croatian members too."

[The following is a small selection from articles which appeared in the Croatian press at the time of the "59th (Literary) Congress."]

10. Nedjelina Dalmacija, April 7, 1993, quoting from Slobodan P. Novak about Centers not participating:

"Pen is really a rather foggy organization and this should not surprise given that it was founded by women and Britons. Colleague Heidenreich, the president of the German PEN, sent us two letters with a slightly fuzzy interpretation of the role and purpose of PEN but I have to say that we did not receive the official note on German withdrawal from the Congress. From those letters and some of Mr. Heidenreich's statements in the foreign press I understood that he finds that the 59th Congress is being held in a country presently at war and that PEN should not support a government of a belligerent country. There is no need to answer to this kind of 'argumentation' because the Croatian government does not have anything to do with the organization of the Dubrovnik Congress."

11. Slobodna Dalmacija, April 17, 1993; quote from Slobodan P. Novak:

"...The International Congress of writers lost its name and turned into a literary meeting, starting with the German PEN Center, which was the first to find excuses, and ending with the Japanese suddenly well knowledgeable of the local happenings. The German cancellation impelled a lot of the world's PEN Centers to sway....Even though it has been a long time since there are no more Hemingways in the world literature and there are always more employees in offices, they are not only to be blamed for everything that is going on with the Dubrovnik convention. To those indecisive we helped with "the witches" in foreign medias that took the liberty of being the only opposition to the government, and then with shameful "hunt to witches" set in motion by some local "investigation teams." Then we claimed that the Croatian government does not have anything to do with the organization of the convention and then we published that the president of the republic Dr. Franjo Tudjman is actually the patron of the convention..."

12. Slobodna Dalmacija, April 23, 1993

"The American translator Michael Heim asked Skrabalo to express himself concerning the famous "hunt on feminist witches" in Globus. Skrabalo said that he is ashamed by that article and that Globus is private property and thus no influence can be exercised on it."

[The five women writers decided to use a law recently passed prohibiting "attacks on the integrity of the person" to sue Globus. According to recent telephone conversations with Dubravka Ugaresic, their lawyer has asked S.P. Novak three times to come to court and testify as to whether they tried to have the PEN Congress in Dubrovnik cancelled. He has refused. Meanwhile, the attacks continue. Ugaresic's phone number was recently given out by another paper, along with a sexual characterization too obscene to print here, and, according to a letter of August 26, 1993, the Croatian Writers' Society, whose membership she believes to be the same as that of Croatian PEN, is now "sending to all slavists, translators, writers and friends who used to come to Zagreb International Literary Talks copies of articles published in our press against me. The message of that action is that I am a 'traitor," that I am 'selling my country for 100 DM.'" She feels she has been driven out of her country; as of this September, she has moved to Germany. Two other "witches," Vesna Kesic and Jelena Lovric remain in Croatia; Slavenka Drakulic goes in and out, and Rada Ivekovic is living in Paris. Ugaresic's open letter of resignation from her university ends this casebook.]

13. Nedjeljna Dalmacija, June 16, 1993, by Dubravka Ugaresic

"I am not important in myself; what is important is the phenomenon of media lynching that makes popular enemies out of public figures.... Professor Zmegac is right; I wasn't ever a dissident and I'm not now; I was and I remain an outsider. (It's necessary to say that the cause of my being an outsider is inborn laziness; it wouldn't be right to change an inborn character vice into a political virtue.)... I am not exposed to repression but something new and worse: ostracism by my colleagues with whom I've worked twenty years. Talking about that, I have informed the University Counsel, Victor Zmegac, that work at the university, 'where I'm not exposed to any repression at all,' has become unbearable....I will conclude with a quotation from the Serbian writer Dobrica Cosic, author of the sentence, "The lie is a form of patriotism and confirmation of our inborn intelligence." In Croatia also, unfortunately, we have established the culture of the lie."

Prepared for the International PEN Women Writers' Committee by Meredith Tax, Chair.