I plan to research identity formation in the Balkans because I want to find out what explains the leadership of women in post-Balkan war peace-building, in order to help my reader understand whether there is a relationship between particular identity formation/hierarchization and conflict resolution. Balkan states are still far behind on basic pillars of gender equality compared to the measures their progressive European neighbors reached long before. Why then, have women, after the brutal, nationalist wars that emerged between Balkan countries in the late nineties, during which ethnic cleansing, forced mobilization, and political unrest were poignant realities, lead the way in those peace-building efforts? I intent to explore the discourses surrounding female involvement in political affairs in order to better understand how Balkan women have come to occupy public spaces of conflict resolution today and how they are seen in those spaces.


One of the primary sources I have come to admire is a speech by Serbian female politician, Vesna Pešić. The Vital Voices Initiative was introduced in 1997 in order to convene political leaders for a global conversation about the role of women in society and the ways in which society can collectively improve conditions for women. Among the speakers at the first Vital Voices Conference in Vienna, Austria was Vesna Pešić, president of the Civil Alliance of Serbia. Her speech, “Nationalism, War, Crisis and Women’s Politics,” examines the legal and social circumstances that have enabled Europe to progress toward greater female equality, but also illuminates the fact that Balkan nations, Serbia in particular, have somehow fallen victim to stunted growth in terms of granting greater equality to women. Pešić draws on her personal experience as a political leader and woman in Serbia in order to demonstrate to her listeners the challenges that affront women, and discusses the public discourses that have molded these experiences over time, along with why women are able to take back positions of power today. [1]


In her discussion of historical discourses about the role of women, Pešić mentions the paradoxes of femininity, as identified by male-dominated public spheres, which include Balkan women as weapons of war, “as the producer of new members of the Nation,” and the Eve-ish figures to male political figures. [2] Throughout the course of the early Balkan wars of the 90s, the rape and victimization of women were common, even “expected,” as the role of women was reduced to weapons for men in positions of power to carry out aggressive, nationalistic war campaigns. [3] Pešić also identifies the discourse relating femininity and motherhood in her speech, which “makes [the woman] the maid who sacrifices herself and toils for the well being of all family members”, validating her suffering for the sake of the nation. [4] Finally, Pešić identifies the attribution of women to the downfall of man in public discourse, which depicts women as aggressive and in discrete control of their husbands (and consequently everything that goes wrong in a nation). [5]


Beyond setting a contextual background for the discourses that have surrounded female identity (as perceived by the (male-dominated) public sphere) and their impacts on women’s roles in public affairs, Pešić also enters the conversation on female involvement in peace-building efforts in the bucket I referred to in my literature review sketch as the “identity formation” bucket, putting forward this idea of peace as a natural, feminine process of sorts. Pešić joins the discourse of scholars such as Cheryl De La Rey & Susan McKay, who point to gender and context specific aspects of peacebuilding, which, when lead by women, often yields focus on processes, people, and relationships. [6] Pešić says “Non-violence is inherent in the women’s expression,” sighting candle-lighting and symbolic non-violent tactics as examples in which women engaged in protest against violence and led peace building efforts. [7] Pešić’s view, is of course, not as simple as women are peaceful beings who engage in mere symbolic organization. She sights female political leadership as “basic” to democracy and even outlines ways in which women can better organize to fight a stronger battle against aggressive nationalistic, and masculine political practices. [8]


A lot of traditional discourses surrounding notions of femininity and female identity formation have paved the way for the puzzle of Balkan female leadership in peace building processes. As a Serbian-American woman myself, this topic is incredibly close to my heart and frame of mind, both in terms of understanding all that comes along with that identity, and the certain assumptions I may associate with it. Acknowledging this, I am eager to analyze the relevant discourses and explore this puzzle more in-depth in order to see what conclusions are elevated by the sources.


[1] Vesna Pešić, “Nationalism, War, Crisis and Women’s Politics” (speech, Vienna, Austria, The Vital Voices Conference, 10 July 1997). 11 November 2018, gos.sbc.edu/p/pesic.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6]. Cheryl De La Rey & Susan McKay. “Peacebuilding as a Gendered Process,” Journal of Social Issues 62 (14 February 2006), 141-153.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.