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  • Rape Camps as a Means of Ethnic Cleansing: Religious, Cultural, and Ethical Responses to Rape Victims in the Former Yugoslavia
  • Todd A. Salzman (bio)

I. Introduction

Currently, the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, is trying indicted war criminals in the Bosnia-Herzegovina war. During this conflict an estimated 20,000 women endured sexual assaults in the form of torture and rape. 1 Although these atrocities were committed on all sides of the warring factions, by far the greatest number of assaults were [End Page 348] committed by the Serbs 2 against Muslim women, though Catholic Croats were targeted as well. 3 While in past conflicts rape was sometimes considered an inevitable byproduct of war, and thus largely ignored when it came to punishing the perpetrators, the Bosnian conflict brought the practice of rape with genocidal intent to a new level, causing an outcry among the international community. Evidence suggests that these violations were not random acts carried out by a few dissident soldiers. 4 Rather, this was an assault against the female gender, violating her body and its reproductive capabilities as a “weapon of war.” Serbian political and military leaders systematically planned and strategically executed this policy of ethnic cleansing or genocide with the support of the Serbian and Bosnian Serb armies and paramilitary groups to create a “Greater Serbia”: a religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogenous Serbian nation. 5 This article will examine two main issues. First, in section two the Serbs’ systematic use of rape camps with the specific intent of impregnating their victims is investigated, along with the cultural, political, and religious foundations that support this usurpation of the female body. The third section will then analyze the “secondary victimization” of these women and the various responses implicitly supporting the Serbian practice and objective.

II. The Serbian Usurpation of the Female Body

In a traditionally patriarchal society, the Serbian government, military, and Orthodox church have explicitly formulated a perception of the female gender and its role and function within society. Essentially, the female is reduced to her reproductive capacities in order to fulfill the overall objective of Serbian nationalism by producing more citizens to populate the nation. Limiting womanhood to a single physiological quality in this way proves nondiscriminatory in that not only are Serbian women thus perceived, but non-Serbian women are as well. This attitude has certainly had an impact, conscious or unconscious, on the overall perception and treatment of women, playing a part in the establishment of rape camps and the usurpation of women’s bodies to achieve ethnic cleansing. [End Page 349]

A. Serbian Usurpation of the Serbian Female Body

Perhaps the traditional role of the Serbian woman is most clearly depicted by the Mother of the Jugovici, the epic heroine from the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, who, in spite of the death of her nine sons in the battle with the Turks, did not weep. 6 Her courage, self-sacrifice, altruism, and, most of all, her fertility, have been utilized to inspire and serve as a paradigm for Serbian women and their responsibility as mothers of the nation. According to this twisted reasoning, the necessity of reproduction guarantees Serbian perseverance against Her aggressors and establishes a greater Serbia, “Mother-Homeland.” To shirk one’s duty of reproduction amounts to antipatriotism and treason. The assertion of a Sarajevo woman who claimed that she planned to “fire off one baby every year to spite the aggressors” reflects the power of this myth and its message. 7 Serbians have waged this propaganda campaign of women’s national and social reproductive responsibility on both political and religious fronts with remarkable success, as is evidenced in legislation “encouraging” women’s reproductive responsibilities.

1. Governmental Policy and Demography

In October 1992, powerful organs in Serbian society published a document entitled “Warning,” focusing on demographic issues. 8 Signed by the Serbian ruling party, the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS), the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Serbian Orthodox Church, this document highlighted the imbalance in terms of growth and renewal of various ethnic groups. In particular, “Albanians, Muslims and Romans [sic], with their high birth rate, are beyond rational and human reproduction.” 9 The SPS...