VIII. Gender and Censorship in Kosovo
by Sazana Caprici
[Note: This essay was written early in
1999, before the war in Kosovo, the flight of the refugees, and
the imprisonment of the Albanian writer Flora Brovina on charges
If the main goal of censorship is to control,
or at least to hinder, freedom of thought and expression, then it
has certainly been successful in deterring the freedom of thought
and expression of the Albanian women writers in Kosovo. The damage
has not been accomplished through formal censorship such as the
prohibition, condemnation, or imprisonment of particular women writers.
Such formal censorship may exist but it is not very common. Rather,
it has been accomplished through the means of general propaganda,
which turns out to be even more efficient.
Through wide and very aggressive propaganda,
the Yugoslav state authorities have done their best to deny not
only the existence of Albanian women writers, but the very possibility
of the existence of such a category of Albanian women. The state
explains this as a result of Albanian male chauvinism and fanaticism,
which do not recognize any kind of women's rights. Thus, to the
Yugoslav state, the disregard and denial of Albanian women's writing
is due, not to the perceived danger of the writing itself, but with
the aim of disparaging the enemy, the Albanian people. Albanian
women are not considered dangerous to the state authorities as writers,
but solely as women "with enormous capacity for reproduction."
This propaganda, directed towards the Serbian people, is intended
to justify the violence in Kosovo and, at the same time, to appeal
to Serbian women to give birth to more children as a counterbalance
to these "machines of national reproduction."
Inevitably, the effect of such attitudes is
very negative. Among Serbs it has created a stereotype of the Albanian
woman as an uneducated person utterly subject to her husband's authority.
Scarcely an Albanian woman writer is known to the Serb public as
a result. Albanian men, on the other hand, have made use of this
propaganda to reinforce their control over Albanian women. Every
time women have tried to speak up against their inferior position,
they have been accused of working in the service of the state, which
in Kosovo is considered a foreign occupier. Even in the best case,
the blame for the inferior position of women has been put on the
One woman writer was put in prison for her
revolutionary activities in 1980. She was still being persecuted
in 1999, a long time after her release. She found it impossible
to obtain travel documents, was threatened from time to time by
state inspectors, and was put under great pressure to become a spy.
All this time, her male friends glorified
her as the ideal of Albanian woman. But, the moment she decided
to express her revolt in female terms, and wrote as a woman about
the way she was treated by both Serbs and Albanians (because she
was sick and tired of it all, especially the way her own side acted),
she lost her saint's halo.
She found herself transformed into the worst
possible sinner, a woman who had to be punished and denounced. All
because she dared to write a poem using words that "afflict
national morale." "Filthy words" that men can use
but women cannotparticularly revolutionary women.
Their sex is another reason that Albanian
women writers are subject to censorship. Women may appear to be
encouraged to write, but only if they write in a certain manner.
It is worth mentioning a very rare phenomenon, possibly unique to
Kosovo: men writing under women's names. This happens for several
reasons. If a writer fears political accusation, he can hide behind
a woman's name to avoid persecution. Or, if an author does not feel
himself skilled enough to compete with other authors of his sex,
he may believe it will be easier for him to make his way under a
woman's name. This is because, under the socialist system, many
books were published with no criteria, as long as the author was
a woman. For this reason, women's books are still considered of
secondary value and therefore irrelevant. Even works of real value
by women have remained in the shadow.
The whole system operates to keep women in
their place. They can write if they chose to, but must be aware
of their limits. Women's names are also misused in pornographic
magazinethat is, allegedly true stories are published under
women's namesto satisfy the perverse tastes of the male reader
and, thereby, to increase sales. Such writings are also used to
frighten and discourage women engaged in other kinds of writing,
not necessarily pornographic.
These two causes of censorship--one's ethnic
group and one's sexhave produced a mutual third formself-censorship,
the most pervasive and efficient way of exerting control. The victims
are Albanian women writers, of course, but not only them, for all
the women of Kosovo suffer.
Years ago, George Orwell wrote that self-censorship
kills the writer's imagination and dilutes intellectual courage.
An example proves that it is just as true today. An invitation to
a public round table to discuss the topic "Women and Politics"
was received negatively. The women of Kososvo said, this is not
the time to discuss such topics; it is too much of a luxury under
the present circumstances. Nobody wanted to take part.
The other proposed topic, "Women against
Violence," was perhaps closer to the spirit of the times, but
even this subject required very careful deliberation. Consider the
response of a woman journalist who reports from the war zones every
day and who is a writer as well. "It is one thing to report
in an objective manner," she said, "and quite another
thing to speak your own mind. Although I must admit that there are
quite a few things one could say on the topic." No comment.
Self-censorship is the most painful form of
censorship. It is done without fuss, very quietly, so there are
no witnesses. And how is one to fight something that is non-existent?
Finally, it often happens that the person exercising self-censorship
is not even aware of the fact. She may understand her silence as
a temporary self-restriction, instigated not by outside forces but
coming from some inner need.
Isolation appears to be a very strong means
of control as well. Today not many women writers from the rest of
the world are well known in Kosovo. One way or another, they are
being ignored: They are not translated or written about, and rarely
spoken about. Women's writing from the rest of the world provides
examples for national moralists on how women should or should not
write. And, with only a few exceptions, the public learns about
these women only from the words of such moralists.
Indeed, there might seem to be little room
left for women writers in Kosovo to express themselves. Nevertheless,
they do continue to write and to try to find ways and means to publish
their work. The fact that Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own
has been translated and published in Kosovo nowseventy years
after it was writtenon the initiative of a group of women
is proof of women's endeavor to overstep the limits imposed on them.
Somehow they will find a way to break down their isolation.
[Note: Since the author's return to Kosovo,
she has resumed editorial direction of the women's literary periodical
Sfinga, which has succeeded in bringing out ten books, including
a pioneering anthology of Albanian women's literature.]
Sazana Caprici is the founding Editor of
Sfinga, an Albanian-language women's literary journal in Kosovo,
and of a pioneering anthology of Kosovar Albanian women's literature.
She is the Albanian translator of Virginia Woolf.