Issue 1: Queer Feminisms
From The Citizens to Their City (1/3)

Issue 1: Queer Feminisms

Iva Kovač has worked as a program director at the City of Women in Ljubljana, Slovenia since 2021. She has been a visual artist at Fokus Grupa since 2012. She was the curator at PM Gallery in Zagreb, Croatia from 2010 to 2012 and at SIZ Gallery in Rijeka, Croatia from 2013 to 2015.

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On International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2018, the GSG intercepted and engaged passers-by with a small gesture. The subtitle of the first issue is a sort of paraphrase that led to the establishment of the Penzioner Tihomir Simčić art group, conceptual work of Braco Dimitrijević and Goran Trbuljak who started their activities with a simple gesture of looking for a name. Following the example of the Pensioner Tihomir Simčić Group, named after a random person who opened the door of a building in Ilica Street in Zagreb on November 1, 1969, the GSG initiative recorded the names of those who walked down Križanićeva Street in Rijeka between 10:00 and 10:30 on March 8th, 2018. Gordana, Doris, Slavko, Monika, Vera, Barbara, Matej, Jadranka, Kristina, Vid, Tin, Marko, Nevenka, Tihjana, Goran, Marijan, Bruna, Drago, Ivan, Zvonimir, Tea, Paula, Maja, Vanja, Nataša, Ana, Marin, Slava, Jadran, Suzana, Petra, Sabina, Antonija, Emma, and Sara gladly lent their names to the outline of the GSG logo. Thus, today the GSG logo and cover of the first issue feature the first names of the passers-by who engaged in the conversation for a few minutes.

March 8th, 2018 was also marked by an event that was even more important than this invisible action—the Night March organized by Rijeka’s Association of Human Rights and Civic Participation, PaRiter. This year, the march was focused on emphasizing the necessity of ratifying the Istanbul Convention. In her paper, “Love and Conservatism: Reproductive Rights in Croatia,” Marinella Matejčić, one of the organizers of the Rijeka protest, writes precisely about the slow but persistent decline in the sphere of gender equality and reproductive rights. In the conclusion of this paper she touches upon “the change of focus” when “church-related organizations” shift their attention from the issue of abortion to “attempts to prevent the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.” The Act on the Ratification of the Istanbul Convention has been finally adopted by Parliament in the time since Marinella originally wrote this paper and since the Night March occurred, but a significant number of citizens—advocates of the above-mentioned organizations—protested against its adoption and against the so-called “gender ideology,” an expression used in certain clerical circles that expresses contempt for a sociological concept that disintegrates the naturalized dichotomy of female and male gender roles. Because female feminists love the colour purple.

The basic idea of the magazine emerged in the autumn of 2017 when the GSG, in collaboration with the Lesbian Organization of Rijeka (LORI), the above-mentioned PaRiter, and the Centre for Women’s Studies of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Rijeka agreed to continue their collaboration. This collaboration had been initiated several months earlier, when the organizations were working on the first edition of a feminist and LGBTQ festival in Rijeka, Smoqua. The idea was to open a space for reflection on past experiences, discuss new topics and methods of work, and begin preparations for the next festival. The GSG contributed to the previous Smoqua by organizing a screening of the video documentation of a performance in public space by the Kosovo-based HAVEIT art collective dealing with gender (sic!) stereotypes in Kosovar society (e.g. real men have beards) whereas the Austrian-Serbian artist Ana Hoffner showed a series of works on the topic of gender (sic!) and war. Some of the working methods that Ana Hoffner has used in her works defy the critics of the so-called “gender ideology.” By using an unsupervised testosterone therapy, Ana Hoffner changed her appearance and monitored the changes, not in order to change her sex to male, but to deviate from the sex she was born into. In GSG magazine you can read the interview with Ana Hoffner conducted on the occasion of her exhibition Exhausted time: Drag in Times of War and publishing of her book Queerness of Memory.

Brigita Miloš from the Centre for Women’s Studies of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, together with her colleague Mónica Cano Abadía, prepared a kind of glossary of feminist and LGBTQ terms. One of the references under the entry on the body habits reminds us that Paul B. Preciado conducted a similar experiment described in his/her book Testo Junkie. The authors wonder why transformation through menopausal hormone therapy is socially acceptable, while Precaido’s or Hoffner’s experiments are “renegade” if both therapies aim to deviate from the “natural” condition. Through entries on support, vulnerability, body habits, feminist anger, and feminist joyon feminist joy including subsections titled Sorority, Empowerment, Vulnerability, Engagement, Struggle, Networks, Friendship, Passion, and Bodies—the text “centrifugally” brings our attention to many relevant feminist, queer and left-oriented thinkers.

Ana Opalić was invited to interpret the Queer Walk project for the first issue of GSG magazine through her photographs. For the first time during the previous Smoqua festival, LORI organized a walk around the locations significant to the past and present of the LGBTQ culture in Rijeka. Following this narrative, Ana Opalić created a series of photographs that captured places of entertainment, places to meet partners, and places important for promoting the visibility of the community and its political goals. Ana’s photographs are coded; they do not easily reveal the layers of meaning, instead leaving it to the observer to decipher them depending on their background knowledge and involvement in the portrayed scene. Close-ups and details, accompanied by Antonija Stojanović Almesberger’s text that describes the itinerary of the walk and acquaints us with the locations, open up the possibility of populating the empty landscapes and interiors with the protagonists of the queer scene and to inhabit the intriguing details, such as the locked door of the former Discordia, with “subversive ideas” on the social construction of gender and sexual liberties.

Translated from the Croatian by Zana Šaškin

Jump to Response

Marinella Matejčić
Ana Hoffner
Mónica Cano Abadía
Antonija Stojanović Almesberger
Ana Opalić
Brigita Miloš

Marinella Matejčić is a feminist activist from Croatia who works in an Association for human rights and active citizenship called PaRiter. Marinella writes for, a portal on gender, sex and democracy, and hosts, together with her colleagues from PaRiter, a radio show and a podcast.

Love and Conservatism: Reproductive Rights in Croatia

Controversies Surrounding the Constitutionality of the Abortion Act and the Development of the Conservative Mindset

Recent Croatian history has been marked by the significant rise of a neoconservative movement that affects women’s rights to make free decisions about what they can do with their bodies. This so-called anti-choice[1] movement that has been gaining momentum in Croatia has been undermining the proposition that reproductive rights equal human rights and that an abortion ban contributes to increased mortality rates among women. The movement—which relies on close collaboration with similar organizations worldwide, mostly from the United States, and enjoys full-fledged support of the Croatian Catholic Church—has been using synergies to take active steps to limit the fundamental human rights of female citizens of the Republic of Croatia.

The Abortion Act of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was liberalized in 1952 as a response to the significant increase in illegal abortion and accompanying high mortality rates. Article 191 of the Constitution[2] of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) from 1974 states that it is a right of any human being to make free decisions on giving birth and that this right may be limited only on grounds of health. The 1978 abortion law, titled the “Zakon o zdravstvenim mjerama za ostvarivanje prava na slobodno odlučivanje o rađanju djece” [“Act on Health Care Measures for Exercising the Right to a Free Decision on Giving Birth,”] still in force in Croatia, restricts access to abortion to up to ten weeks from conception, stipulating that abortion may be done in hospitals with an organized gynaecology and obstetrics unit, as well as in other healthcare institutions of associated labour authorized by an administrative unit in charge of healthcare policy at the Republic level.[3] Currently, abortion services are officially available in thirty Croatian hospitals,[4] including university hospital centres, general county hospitals, general hospitals, as well as the outpatient clinic at the town of Metković, since it includes a maternity ward.

If we reflect on the events that brought us here, i.e. to the point in which woman’s rights to decide on what to do with her body are literally laid on the line, several important incidents and players stand out. In the aftermath of the 1990s war, in the midst of the political turmoil following the collapse of Yugoslavia, some newly established states adopted a number of laws regulating induced abortion, whereas others (Slovenia, for instance) simply continued to apply the old law. In December of 1991, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia adopted a decision whereby induced abortion should be treated as a fundamental human right.     According to the Slovenian legislation, any woman can decide to terminate pregnancy up to 10 weeks from conception, with no restrictions whatsoever; moreover, costs associated with termination of pregnancy are borne from the state budget and are thus free of charge for the end user.[5] In parallel, Ružića Ćavar, president of NGO Hrvatski pokret za život i obitelj [“Croatian Movement for Life and Family”], set a motion to review the constitutionality of the 1978 abortion law. In Nataša Bijelić and Amir Hodžić’s 2014 report, “Siva zona: Pitanje abortusa u Republici Hrvatskoj” [“Grey zone: The Abortion Issue in the Republic of Croatia”], they explain that in the following two decades, the efforts made to ban or restrict availability of abortion in Croatian hospitals were marked by requests put forward by the Croatian Bishops’ Conference (HBK), the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), Antun Lisec’s booklets and leaflets spread in hospital and student clinic waiting rooms, as well as the explicit The Silent Scream film (subsequently banned for use in schools) shown to secondary school students during religion classes. Even the visits of heads of the Catholic Church and Holy See, they explain, were used to create the media hype and send messages about “the sanctity of life from conception” and request amendments to the law.[6]

According to the anti-choice movement, foetal rights take priority over a woman’s rights. The movement tries to position a woman as a mere incubator whose primary function is to give birth and, consequently, to raise children—one can draw such a conclusion given the movement’s effort to reduce all reproductive rights and their fight against the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. The movement uses a meta-language typical of civil society organizations and forms coalitions, groups, and partnerships, striving to redefine human rights by scrapping them. Although in all probability the beginning of the conservative drive to implement their ideology of “family, life, and religious freedom” dates back to 1991, around 2013 neoconservative groups and initiatives led by NGOs U ime obitelji [“In the name of the family”], Vigilare, Grozd, and others started taking action to consolidate the movement with the aim of eroding human rights by calling for a referendum and the introduction of a discriminatory definition of marriage into the Constitution that actually prevented all non-cis-heteronormative[7] couples from getting married and shaped a new wave of neoconservative attacks on fundamental human rights. Yet since the campaign to degrade the rights of non-cis-heteronormative people was launched at the end of the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) rule, the ruling party, while still holding a majority in the Parliament, adopted the Life Partnership Act,[8] thus allowing non-cis-heteronormative couples to form life partnerships that actually equalled a marriage. Although the SDP had held power for a number of years, the party members had not focused on improvements to the existing abortion law, nor had they put pressure on the Constitutional Court to declare the 1978 law constitutional. In all probability, this was due to the fact that society had already been highly polarized, as well as to the distribution of power and the fact that the party had struck its own internal agreements. Soon after the adoption of the Life Partnership Act, the Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ)—whose right-wing policies acted in favour of the anti-choice movement—took over.

Conscientious Objection to Abortion and “40 Days for Life”

The same year that the referendum on the definition of marriage was held (2014), the major neoconservative groups (U ime obitelji, Grozd, Vigilare and others) organized events called “40 Days for Life” that relied on very simple rules: groups of citizens would stand in front of maternity wards and pray for “the unborn.” Coupled with the ever-increasing pressure on the media and on ordinary citizens regarding the importance of protecting life from conception onwards, the issue of regulating conscientious objection in medicine came to the fore of the public debate. Conscientious objection is partially regulated by the Act on Medical Practice, which states in Article 20 that a doctor may exercise a conscientious objection and refuse to provide particular services or follow procedures related to diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation on grounds of ethical, religious or moral beliefs, provided that such practice is not in conflict with professional rules and does not cause permanent damage to health or endanger the life of the patient. It further states that s/he shall promptly inform patients about her/his decision and refer them to another physician of the same profession.[9]

Nurses are also entitled to conscientious objection in accordance with the Act on Nursing Practice. In practical terms, this means that a medical resident may perform terminations of pregnancy but refuse to do that after obtaining an unrestricted licence to practice medicine. Conscientious objection can be made either in writing or verbally at any point during a person’s work in a hospital. Female patients find it increasingly difficult to exercise their rights to terminate pregnancy due to a combination of several factors. These include a lack of regulation of conscientious objection, the non-existence of a registry of “objectors,” and the lack of a standardized procedure to be followed in such cases. Furthermore, women seeking to terminate pregnancies are hampered by the fact that the Ministry of Health has delegated the responsibility for the regulation of this issue to hospitals and that entire institutions—rather than individuals, as is enshrined by the law—make use of conscientious objection. If all hospital doctors/gynaecologists make conscientious objections, a gynaecologist who would be willing to perform termination is not provided. Women with insufficient means and those from rural areas are thus in the most vulnerable position.

The number of cities covered by the “40 Days for Life” initiative rose sharply in 2015. Different prayer groups disrupted the work of twenty-four Croatian hospitals in 2016. Today, these groups gather in front of twenty-eight hospitals all across the country, imposing their opinion on female patients in maternity wards and gynaecology units. As a follow up to the “40 Days for Life” campaign, a special rally titled “March for Life” was organized in May of 2016, with Sanja Dujmović Orešković, wife of then-Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković, walking at the head. During the event she stated something to the effect that any sensible person would always opt for life rather than death.[10] Her statement was readily picked up by church-related organizations in order to spread their propaganda about “the white plague,” “gender ideology,” and women as tombs (NGO Vigilare opted to share an image on Facebook featuring a stylized female figure with a hanged foetus in her womb). The “March for Life” initiative was organized by NGOs such as U ime obitelji, Vigilare, and others.

“No Prayers over My Hairs” or Fight for Reproductive Rights Continued

A conference titled “Legal, Ethical and Medical Aspects of the Modern Childbirth Process” was held in April 2016 at the Plitvice Lakes. The two-day event revolved around issues such as: “Who decides on the course of childbirth: parents, doctors or social media forums?” and “Refusal of life-saving intervention during childbirth—a new form of infanticide?” etc. Female activists from the RODA NGO (Roditelji u akciji or “Parents in Action”) used this opportunity to stress that regardless of what was being discussed—assisted reproductive technology (ART), pregnancy care, childbirth and postpartum period, or induced abortion—it was, they said, crystal clear that women still do not have a say in those decisions.[11] In September of the same year, the Catholic University of Croatia organized a three-day congress on forensic gynaecology and maternal–foetal medicine at Topusko, under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Croatia, cardinal Josip Bozanić, and bishop Vlado Kosić. Three months later (December 2016), Dainius Pūras, UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, visited Croatia. He noted that a large number of church-related organizations exerted significant influence over decision-makers in the field of sexual and reproductive health.[12] Following the press conference and presentation of his preliminary report, the head of the U ime obitelji NGO (organizer of “40 Days for Life”, “March for Life” and the referendum on the definition of marriage) reacted with anger and sent complaints to the Ministry of Health, the UN, and other relevant bodies, claiming that the Special Rapporteur had gone beyond his authority, disregarding the Croatian institutions and that he had been biased.[13] The same month saw the launch of the Prolife Croatia initiative that used disturbing visual imagery, including a photo of a woman in late pregnancy with the caption “I want to live—While you’re celebrating Christmas, my mum is trying to kill me!” Members of the initiative created a video featuring a foetus called Mia. At the end of a video, a small girl in the role of a narrator screams, “Mum, they are tearing off my leg, they are tearing off my arms—Mum!”[14] In parallel, Vigilare, the NGO associated with U ime obitelji, submitted a 121-page official letter to the Constitutional Court arguing that the right to abortion was unconstitutional.

Constitutional Court Decision and Its Implications on Right to Abortion in Croatia

At last, after twenty-six years of stalemate, in March of 2017, the Constitutional Court reached a decision on constitutionality of the Abortion Law; the Court quashed the motion to review constitutionality of the 1978 Act and obliged Parliament to come up with a new act that would regulate right to abortion within the two following years. Sanja Barić, an expert in constitutional law and chair of the Department for Constitutional Law of the Faculty of Law, University of Rijeka, commented on the Court’s decision, saying, that the Constitutional Court had solved “its problem” and that now the political “disputes” on this matter and all the accompanying details that would actually establish woman’s right to self-determination would begin, but cannot be regulated, she said, in a way that gives precedence to the rights of an unborn individual.[15] In other words, she emphasized the fact that the Constitutional Court issued a decision, rather than an administrative act deciding upon an administrative matter, and this will leave room for political battles. Furthermore, she also claimed that the new act should set forth other educational and preventive measures (for instance, introduction of courses on sexual and reproductive health in schools, reflection time for women, day-care for children, protection of woman’s labour rights and a number of other measures) in order to truly reduce the incidence of induced abortion.[16] Indeed, this sets the scene for a political battlefield: taking into account unregulated conscientious objection invoked by medical staff, implementation of the mandatory “reflection time” can lead to additional infringement on a woman’s right (fragile as it is) to terminate pregnancy. In addition, the Constitutional Court had not addressed the funding mechanism in case of induced abortion. Currently, the associated costs are borne by female patients themselves, although one would logically assume that such a service, just as any form of contraception, should be covered by the Croatian Health Insurance Fund, since all female citizens of the Republic of Croatia represent taxpayers and thus provide for a functioning health insurance fund and other institutions. The price of abortion currently ranges between HRK 720.00 to HRK 2.800,00 depending on the hospital.[17]

Change of Focus

Apart from the “March for Life” and “40 Days for Life” initiatives, anti-abortion activities of conservative organizations became less intense after the Constitutional Court’s decision. Ever since 2017, church-related organizations have focused their attention on attempts to prevent the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention (IC). To that end, these organizations have organized round tables, panel discussions, and lectures that deal with the right to abortion only marginally. The emphasis has been placed on the problem posed by the term gender as defined in the IC. For example, in the Ombudswoman for gender equality report, gender is defined as the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men, whereas “gender-based violence against women” is defined as violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.[18] Lectures staged by conservative NGOs address topics such as “ideology of dehumanization” and propagate lies such as saying that the purpose of the gender ideology is to create a society in which people will not be aware of a dichotomy of male versus female, but of a genderless society, as expressed by Nikola Radić during the panel discussion “Gender Ideology—Ideology of Dehumanization”[19] held at the Parish of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel at Drenova in Rijeka. In late 2017 a campaign called “Istina o Istanbulskoj” [“The Truth about the Istanbul Convention”] was launched, backed by NGOs Grozd, Vigilare, Udruga za cjeloviti spolni odgoj Teen STAR [“Teen STAR NGO for Comprehensive Sexual Education”], the Croatian Catholic Medical Society, the Croatian Catholic Society of School Teachers, and other conservative organizations whose members are closely intertwined with family, business, and political connections. The campaign’s website is packed with demagogic messages, fake news, and seriously distorted facts in order to spread the agenda that keeps women in their position as victims of domestic violence and block the implementation of an overarching document that regulates the relation between the state on the one side and the victim and perpetrator on the other. In addition, such a document would provide for a larger number of women’s shelters and hotlines and would generally improve a woman’s position in society.

Furthermore, 2018 saw the re-launch of the “40 Days for Life” campaign. This time, apart from targeting women who wanted to terminate pregnancy, the initiative also targeted all the people who wanted to use the assisted reproductive technology (ART) to help achieve pregnancy. We hope that this move would be an eye-opener to a larger swath of the population and might turn them against such tyranny. It seems that a society often turns a blind eye to the fact that unwanted pregnancy can happen to any women throughout her fertile life, due to faulty contraception methods or other reasons. On the other hand, meddling with something that should normally form a part of demographic revival, i.e. implementation of laws and regulations that regulate right to assisted reproduction technology to people who want to become parents despite potential health-related restrictions or other factors, may reach more people to make them realize that any kind of interference with a woman’s intimate life is unacceptable. Right to termination of pregnancy, right to ART, sterilization, dignified childbirth, childcare services, education, and a well-regulated Labour Act that bans and prohibits any discrimination against women in the workplace represent basic reproductive rights and, as such, great achievements of our civilization. These rights allow women (not) to perform roles of mothers and form a backbone of woman’s identity and existence, and this is something that is missing in Croatia. Reproductive rights form a part of a wider fight for women’s rights. Also, they are irreversibly intertwined with labour rights, given that access to different reproductive rights very much depends on woman’s financial means if she wants to get access to a number of services.

Translated from the Croatian by Zana Šaškin


[1] The anti-choice is a “new” phrase used to denote the “old” term pro-life. Polarization that permeates the debate on this issue puts the focus on these two terms only and highlights them as the only options. Yet the change of terminology referring to the name of the anti-abortion group is due to the fact that the term pro-life denotes people who stand for life, whereas those who want to introduce an abortion ban cannot be given this title, simply because the agenda of the anti-choice proponents promotes forceful impositions on a foetus-bearing woman to give birth as the single guiding principle, without taking into consideration woman’s preferences (whether she wants to perform the role of a mother), potential foetal abnormalities incompatible with life and the method of conception (author’s note).

[2] Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), Socijalisti%C4%8Dke_Federativne_Republike_Jugoslavije_(1974). Accessed 14 February 2018.

[3] Act on Health Care Measures for Exercising the Right to a Free Decision on Giving Birth, Accessed 14 February 2018.

[4] Ombudswoman for Gender Equality, 2014. “Istraživanje: Praska zdravstvenih ustanova u hrvatskoj po pitanju osiguranja dostupnosti legalno induciranog pobačaja” [“Research: Institutional Healthcare Practice in Croatia in Terms of Providing for Availability of Legal Induced Abortion,”] Zagreb, 2014.ŽIVANJE%20-%20Praksa%20zdravstvenih%20ustanova%20u%20RH.pdf. p 20. Accessed 15 February 2018.

[5] Matejčić, M. 2016., Abortion rights in the former ex-Yugoslavia: abortion as a human right, Rijeka, Znaj znanje, Accessed 14 February 2018.

[6] Bijelić N. i Hodžić A., 2014., “Siva zona” – Pitanje abortusa u Republici Hrvatskoj, Zagreb, Centar za edukaciju, savjetovanje i istraživanje (English: Center for Education, Counseling and Research – CESI), Accessed 14 February 2018, p. 3.

[7] Cis-heteronormativity assumes that a person has a gender identity which matches the sex s/he was assigned at birth and that s/he is attracted by persons of the opposite sex, as opposed to persons from the LGBTIQ spectrum, i.e. persons with homosexual orientation or transgender people (author’s note).

[8] Romić T., Sabor usvojio Zakon o životnom partnerstvu osoba istog spola (English: Parliament Adopts Life Partnership Act), Zagreb, Večernji list, Accessed 14 February 2018.

[9] Act on Medical Practice, 2003. Accessed 14 February 2018.

[10] I. R. Lesički, 2016., Zagreb, Večernji list, Accessed 14 February 2018.

[11] Ž.V., 2016., Rode spriječile još jedan pokušaj ušutkavanja žena i ograničavanja njihovih reproduktivnih prava, Zagreb,; Accessed 14 February 2018.

[12] HINA, 2016, Izvjestitelj UN-a: Neki su donositelji odluka o reproduktivnom zdravlju pod utjecajem organizacija povezanih s Crkvom, Zagreb, Jutarnji list; /5354315/. Accessed 15 February 2018.

[13] N1 Hrvatska, 2016, Udruga U ime obitelji nezadovoljna UN-ovim izvjestiteljem, Zagreb, N1 Accessed 15 February 2018.

[14] These captions are translated from the Croatian for the purpose of this text by Zana Šaškin

[15] D. Blaško, 2017, O pobačaju: “Političke borbe oko ovog pitanja tek sada kreću”, Zagreb,,—468559.html. Accessed 15 February 2018.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Znaj znanje, 2014, Adresar, Rijeka, Accessed 15 February 2018.

[18] Ombudswoman for Gender Equality, Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, p. 7. Accessed 15 February 2018.

[19] N. Vajagić i M. Matejčić, 2017. Ostavite razum ispred vrata jer ovo ništa nema smisla, Poreč/Rijeka,, Accessed 15 February 2018.

Ana Hoffner (b. Prvulovic) was born in 1980 in Paraćin, Yugoslavia. Hoffner is engaged in an art practice that excavates moments of crisis and conflict in history and politics. Hoffner’s video and photo installations and performances seek to introduce temporalities, relations, and spaces between established perspectives, memories of iconic images, and highly performative events.

“All Is Fair in [consensual] Love and War [should be prevented]”

This interview with Ana Hoffner was based on both the exhibition Exhausted Time: Drag in Times of War, which was shown within the first LGBTIQ Smoqua festival (co-organized by LORI, From the Citizens to their City, the Centre for Women’s Studies, and PaRiter in Rijeka), and Hoffner’s doctoral dissertation Queerness of Memory, which was written in the framework of the PhD in Practice of The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and was just published in book form by b_books in Berlin.

Ana Hoffner (1980 Paraćin, Yugoslavia today Republic of Serbia), who migrated to Austria in 1989, has been investigating queer migrant subject/s moving through western regimes of power through performance, film, and photo installations.

Ana Hoffner, The Queer Family Album – Me and my three daddies
Photo object, C-Print and silvergelatin prints in two boxes, each 21 x 29,7 cm, 2014.

Iva Kovač: In your recent work, you have dealt with the atrocities in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. As a migrant from ex-Yugoslavia living in Austria, the war inevitably affected you, but your experience of the war came primarily through media representations. By dealing with the memory of how the war was represented and not with the event itself, you refer to your connection to this history as queer. How was the Bosnian war represented?

Ana Hoffner: I was particularly interested in the video footage made in camp Omarska in 1992 by British reporters Marshall and Williams. It became well known because of its global distribution and especially because it was juxtaposed with images of Nazi concentration camps after the liberation in 1945. The images made in Omarska showed emaciated men behind barbed wire, so it was easy to draw this parallel. Austrian TV was showing archival footage made in 1945 alongside the video made in Omarska on a daily basis.

When I said that my connection to the history of the Bosnian War was queer, what I had in mind was this blurriness of images and historical events that I grew up with. The lack of clear identification of prisoners, locations, etc., constitutes a crucial childhood memory for me, but I would say also for a whole generation of migrants. How to work actively with this blurriness without putting everything (time, history, and especially the events of war) back in chronological order was a task that made me turn to queerness. If queer politics have served as a fruitful strategy of reevaluation of various social stigma, why would they not be an instrument for the rearticulation of time and history?

IK: Can you elaborate on how the photo series The Queer Family Album – Me and My Three Daddies relates the Bosnian war to the visual cannon of World War Two and the Holocaust?

Ana Hoffner, The Queer Family Album – Me and my three daddies
Photo object, C-Print and silvergelatin prints in two boxes, each 21 x 29,7 cm, 2014.

AH: I decided to work artistically, but also discursively, with the childhood memory I just described, and soon came across Marianne Hirsch’s concept of postmemory, which describes ways of remembering the past indirectly. Hirsch is referring to those memories that were transferred from one generation to the next, through stories of family members, pictures, or objects. In The Queer Family Album I was trying to put together a set of familial relations, a group of people who have transferred their memories of anti-war activism to me through their work. All the protagonists of my personal family album tell different stories of queer strategies of how to deal with fascism, but what is important is that they are not bound by biological, essentialist relations—they are my queer daddies across time and space.

The most interesting story of war and queerness is maybe that of Fikret Alić, one of the prisoners of the Omarska camp. When I started to work on the images made in Omarska, I found an interview with Fikret Alić in which he told a journalist how he escaped. He said that he was so skinny that he could pass a as woman, so he put on a dress and a headscarf and was taken away from Omarska with a group of women. They were supposed to be taken to another camp. During the journey, he escaped and survived. Since this story is usually overlooked, I decided to make it central to The Queer Family Album. Alić was the starting point for the whole assemblage.

IK: Many nation-building projects take up founding myths based on traumatic events from the distant past. Through many iterations, this narrative both produces and reproduces the dominant social order. The testimonies of the victims whose stories can be heard in your video Transferred Memories—Embodied Documents are far from portraying the canonical victims of war, those whose testimonies are employed in the nation-building project. How do you believe these “nontypical” queer experiences contribute to the narrative of war and/or nation?

AH: In the case of Fikret Alić I would say that the contribution is immense. His strategy of what I named “survival drag” shifts the whole sphere of gender and sexuality in times of war. His interruption of heteronormative divisions, which are at the centre of the destructiveness of war (just think of the rise of masculinity in Serbia and the creation of femininity as exclusively serving this male role model in the 1990s), is striking because it allows us to think about drag as a strategy to survive the most horrible circumstances of human destruction. In queer activism we are confronted with drag as something that puts people in danger, because they become the target of homophobic violence. Here, drag is something that saves life. This is a completely different set of values. If we understand queerness as a historical place of impossibility, even ontological negation, then survival drag turns this history upside down: queerness suddenly becomes something that enables life.

Ana Hoffner, Future Anterior – Illustrations of War
Photo collage, Inkjet print on hand made paper, seven frames, each 33,8 x 48 cm, 2013.

In the case of Nusreta Sivac, a judge and activist who was also in Omarska, the contribution is also immense. Sivac’s account brings awareness to the female side of the history of war, which was structurally completely erased from visual representation. The images of Omarska showed only men! But of course, there were women inside the camp, doing the tasks that were assigned to them: invisibilized and gendered work of care and forced sexual labor. Sivac’s account is important because it rejects the assigned place of silenced femininity—she and others found a language to represent what was going on in the camp and asked to be heard.

IK: Images of war permeate today’s visual culture; from information industry to creative industry. With both Transferred Memories—Embodied Documents and the The Queer Family Album—Me and my Three Daddies you are focusing on the representations of (a) specific war(s). In Future Anterior you look at a “non-specific war” staged in Steven Meisel’s fashion photography. Do you believe there is potential in this type of imagery to open up the heteronormative, patriarchal, able-bodied and able-minded conception of the subject?

AH: I think they need to be reworked. Fashion photography per se does not offer any potential for intervention, but it is a fruitful site of investigation regarding the actual “unconscious” productions of the mainstream. And obviously, the introduction of violence, especially staged sexualized violence, into the fashion world is a phenomenon of the present. Why is this happening? I found Meisel’s images amazing because they show the blurring of boundaries between war documents and the highly aestheticized glossy imagery of contemporary looks. But I also found it striking to see the elements of “science-fiction” in the photographs. The question for me was how to make the viewer see this double layer of fashion and war photography which is not obvious at first sight.

IK: On the methodological level, Future Anterior refers to the possibilities opened up by Sanja Iveković’s Gene XX project, created in the late 1990s. Unlike Iveković’s juxtaposition of images of fashion models and the text that introduced partisan heroines, your text is as elusive as the images. Could you elaborate on the differences in the approach? Where—and more importantly, when—is the Future Anterior aiming to take the viewer?

Ana Hoffner, Future Anterior – Illustrations of War
Photo collage, Inkjet print on hand made paper, seven frames, each 33,8 x 48 cm, 2013.

AH: The first thing I did was to cut the images in half (they were magazine spreads in Vogue’s 2013 anniversary issue) and make some space for the “unconscious” images underneath. I wanted the viewer to feel this emptiness of the missing second part, rather than being able to say, “Something is missing in this image”. These blank pages became spaces for the short texts that I inserted. What makes the text elusive, as you say, is this visual void, but also the absence of a human protagonist—the main subject is an unidentified web journal. Some unknown publication is claiming that these images show “how it will have been.” As unexpected as it might seem, this is a claim for truth. By saying that these images were inevitably connected to war, I wanted to take them out of their context in which they were supposedly innocent (since fashion is mostly deprived of any serious connection to politics). But I also wanted the event of war to appear as something that cannot be belittled. It was my intention to lead the viewer to the very question of existence by means of the philosophical concept “future anterior,” which is central to Lacan’s as well as to Derrida’s thinking in the process of becoming a subject.

IK: In parallel to obtaining your PhD, you also underwent psychoanalysis. How did this process influence your practice?

AH: I finished it last year, after six years and seven months! It was indeed very important to me to have a psychoanalytical practice on my own and not to deal with psychoanalytical concepts on a theoretical level without having any experience “on the couch.” I never wanted to declare this practice an art practice—on the contrary, I liked having something that differed from art. But psychoanalysis made me more aware of my own desires and hidden wishes, as well as of unwelcome feelings, which definitely facilitated producing art.

IK: In Queerness of Memory you refer to the time of post-socialism as a non-original time, which has to rely for its origin(ality) on the time that is no longer there. How do you relate “the transition” to the “transformation” which occurs in a non-male body after ingesting testosterone in After the Transformation?

AH: A lot has been said about the end of history after 1989, or about post-history. I didn’t use these concepts on purpose; I was interested in the gesture of declaring a period of time as over. So I started with the analysis of this “non-time” of the 1990s, a time that is unimaginable without its immediate negative connotation, partly because of the dissolution of socialism and partly because of the wars in ex-Yugoslavia. This is, of course, an embodied question, since the existence of many was eradicated. Questions of negativity and existence made me think about this time in relation to gender, sexuality, desire, and drive. But crucially, in both (the voice training and the video), I was not operating with a desire for a normative gender, but with the desire to stop the process of performing gender itself. Would this refusal become a refusal to perform the so-called transition from socialism to capitalism and thereby the acceptance of the rules that constitute those divisions?—this was my question throughout the whole experiment.

IK: The identity of the post-Yugoslav nation states was built on the consolidation of the national body which had to be heteronormative, patriarchal, able-bodied, able-minded. Which policies did the EU use in order to discipline these new identities?

AH: Right after 2000, my impression was that the body of war from the 1990s had been replaced by the queer body. The pictures of emaciated men behind the barbed wire and stories of raped women were replaced by the images of beaten up queer people—disturbingly, both came from the same region, that of ex-Yugoslavia. Homophobia became a topic not only on a national level because of several attacks on queer events after 2000 in Beograd, Split, Sarajevo, etc., but also (and especially) as part of the European integration process, since the protection of minority rights was and still is a requirement for EU membership. But homophobia was also connected to migrant communities in Austria and Germany: on one hand, this is where the homophobic perpetrator from the East appeared, and on the other, there was the potentially violated victim of homophobic violence. Both had to be saved, cured, or transformed, and both became the target of intervention.

Ana Hoffner, Future Anterior – Illustrations of War
Photo collage, Inkjet print on hand made paper, seven frames, each 33,8 x 48 cm, 2013.

In the present, it is possible to see how the same racist policy is shifting towards stricter border protection. Security and border control form part of the the main agenda for a potential EU enlargement in 2025. The Western Balkans are needed in order to support a closed anti-migration system, which is sadly defining the present-day idea of European unity.

Mónica Cano Abadía is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies – South East Europe (University of Rijeka), and an Assistant Professor at the Section of Political Philosophy of the Institute of Philosophy (University of Graz).

Brigita Miloš is a postdoc researcher in The Department of Cultural Studies at The University of Rijeka. She publishes in the fields of literary theory, visual theory, and gender and feminist theory.

On… and off

… on support

Sara Ahmed wrote that “queer and feminist worlds are built through the effort to support those who are not supported because of who they are, what they want, what they do.” The word support is a seductive and hopeful word, but also weak, vulnerable, and needy, as if it provokes some necessary conjunction between two parts, the one being in a position to support, and the other being in a position to be supported. As if the word reflects the ongoing debates about the ethics of privilege. Would our understanding of Ahmed’s text be wrong if, within the setting of the sentence, we somehow got a glimpse of the obligation as an agent of change, be it either in the form of a compassionate and commendable gesture or of a continuous, financed, and often lucrative job? In order not to lament the disagreeable conditions of overall precarity, but to satisfy the wandering (nomadic) thought, a few remarks need to be made: The “logic of need” that underlies Ahmed’s words is a slippery slope because of the premise that it is somewhat hidden and it implies that queer and feminist endeavours are gathered around those who lack some necessary (human? social?) recognition. But what about Judith Butler’s claim that “all human subjects deserve equal recognition (and for that) we presume that all human subjects are equally recognisable”? Would it be correct to say that, for example, antiracist or pro-migrant actions are queer or feminist by definition? Or is the aim of the citation to reduce “us, the queerfeminists” to insecure and precarious beings by default? Even if so, what is or what might be the ground to stand on when in need of support at times when Pepsi, Heineken or some Danish TV gift-wrap themselves in tolerance, difference, care for the other (never mind the capital O) and support? The attempt here is far less ambitious than to give answers to the questions posed, but hopefully posing them is in itself  an act of struggle for support.

… on vulnerability

Support might be linked to vulnerability, precariousness, and precarity—to the fragility of our existence in this hypercomplex world. The making of queer and feminist worlds can be a way to build support for those in need, for the more vulnerable ones. This reflection raises so many questions in my mind: How can we embrace vulnerability when we live on the margins? Is this not going to further complicate our living conditions? How can we protect ourselves from the violence of those who no longer need support and who disregard our position in the world? How do we live vulnerably, knowing that we exist within power relations (including those within our queer and feminist communities!)? How can we foster nurturing, loving relationships within our community by taking our constitutive and politically produced vulnerability into account?

When we are placed in a position of vulnerability, how do we reach out to seek support? How can we support others that are in need when we are not? That is to say, how can we use our privileges to help reduce others’ precarity?

But these positions are not static. They are contextual. Intersectional. Intertwined. Multi-layered. Intricate. We should always pay attention to this entwining of social structures with mechanisms of the production of vulnerability and privilege. It would be wise to be aware of them, to be wary of those moments in which we might be exerting some kind of privilege over others who are on the margins.

To say that we need each other is an understatement. Sometimes, this is received as bad news. It confronts us with our constitutive vulnerability. It goes against the humanist myth of a sovereign subject that is perfectly capable of taking care of itself. But is it so terrible, needing others? Judith Butler would even find it liberating—the very basis of the possibilities of political agency. Let us not swallow the neoliberal, individualist discourse. Let us be vulnerable together.

… on body habits

Reading the famous Beatriz (Paul B.) Preciado’s book Testo Junky has been an incredible experience for me. I indulged in the beauty of Preciado’s style, their out-of-the-box argumentation, her attempts on gender hacking, his invention of herself. Furthermore, the described process of unattended testosterone intake corresponded to my own hormonal journey. The difference was that I have been chasing the gender I have been cosily accommodated in my whole life. Hormonal protocols of the kind I had to be treated with are rarely seen as a queer issue; more often they are seen as a feminist one. Nevertheless, pre-menopause is somehow left for other forms of knowledge to deal with, medicine being the most recognizable form (not to mention the most lucrative one). Walking the thin line between queer and femme, a line shaped in the form of the restless state of the body/bodies transgressing from bleeding to non-bleeding one/s, echoes (in a way) a feminist complaint to Preciado about why they are not administering estrogen instead of testosterone. Managing this particular gender trait, usually called (pre) menopause, from, as Kwok Wei Leng calls it, a biomedical position, is something that differs from Preciado’s procedure in many ways. Furthermore, oestrogen replacement therapy is seen as a form of patriarchal surveillance of the female reproductive body; it is condemned as a means to increase pharmaceutical industry profit; its effects on the health and wellbeing of women are exposed as dubious. So it seems that there is more than a statistical discrepancy between theoretically-grounded testosterone intake for the sake of whatever reason, and a standard medical hormone-replacement therapy with oestrogen. Microbiological revolutionaries reaching to/for the (other)/Other’s side are voicing their bodily experiences in shapes that overcome a blatant sum of the two. But reaching to grasp new modes of embodied life is a common trait of menopausal women, as well as for hormone renegades, although on different levels, both categories can be called gender pariahs, the only difference being that so-called old women became (gender) outcasts long ago.

…on feminist anger

     When queers and feminists speak seriously, our behaviour is directly related to bad humour. If we publicly defend our political opinions on a subject with a serious stance, we are accused of being violent, rabid, bitter. We are gaslighted into doubting ourselves.

We are subjects who are required to be sweet, kind, caring, loving. There is no place for a horizontal smile that expresses seriousness, or for harsh words that express our opinions. If we act this way, we deviate from the stereotype of the Disney princess that was designed for us. Those who deviate from this sweet and cheerful norm encounter discomfort, even violence. This reminds me of a beautiful poem by Rafeef Ziadah called “Shades of Anger” in which she says, “I am an Arab woman of colour, and we come in all shades of anger/So who’s that brown woman screaming in a demonstration?/Sorry, should not I scream?/I forgot to be your every orientalist dream./Genie in a bottle, belly dancer, harem girl, soft spoken Arab woman/—‘Yes master. No master…’”

In these political contexts, or simply when voicing our opinions aloud, at times many of us feel the need to soften our speech with a smile or an accommodating look; at other times, however, we claim that our seriousness, even our bad moods, are more than justified. How can we not be angry when they are mistreating us, killing us, raping us?

With Three Weeks in May (1977), Suzanne Lacy created an interesting work of activism and art: for three weeks she was in contact with the authorities and gathered information about reported cases of rape. She then marked each case on a map with a red stamp of the word “RAPE” at the location where it had happened. After three weeks, the map was red, bloody. But I guess we have to look at this work of art with a smile on our face.

Lacy’s art, and the art of many other angry feminists such as Miriam Shapiro, Ana Mendieta, Barbara Kruger or the Guerrilla Girls, is depicted in the documentary !Women Art Revolution (Lynn Hershman Leeson, 2010), in which we can see how feminist artists channelled their anger and used it as a means of expression and, at the same time, vindicated the transformative and subversive power of this feminist rage.

On the other hand, in this documentary, and looking back at the history of feminism, we can see how this negative characterisation of queer and feminist subjects responds to a heteropatriarchal strategy aimed at selling a negative image of the feminist movement. It is about selling the feminist figure as hysterical, aggressive, and bitter, and these attributes are seen in a pejorative way; no one can have these characteristics and be socially acceptable. Lately we have been called “feminazis”—ha! This also sends a message to the rest of society: do not approach those who shout too much, get too angry, or speak too loudly about their rights, because they are hysterical and choleric, and they are going to make your life a living hell. Well, we sure intend to destroy your male and heterosexist privileges. As Ziadah said at the end of her poem: “Beware, beware, my anger.”

…on feminist joy

Sorority. Unlearning toxic gender roles. Learning how to love our sisters, how to recognize them as sisters.

Making kin is perhaps the hardest and most urgent part. Feminists of our time have been leaders in unravelling the supposed natural necessity of ties between sex and gender, race and sex, race and nation, class and race, gender and morphology, sex and reproduction, and reproduction and composing persons. (…) (I)t is high time that feminists exercise leadership in imagination, theory, and action to unravel the ties of both genealogy and kin (…) (Haraway, 2015).

Empowerment. Unlearning that we cannot, that we are weak, unable, never strong enough, never smart enough, never ambitious enough, never enough. Enough. Learning that we are much more than enough. “Feminist ideology should not encourage (as sexism has done) women to believe they are powerless. It should clarify for women the powers they exercise daily and show them ways these powers can be used to resist sexist domination and exploitation” (hooks, 1984).

Vulnerability. Learning that it is fine to be weak, learning that we do not have to be always strong, that we may need time and help to lick our wounds. “Vulnerability exposes us to both the harm we can do each other and the good, to violence and to love. (…) Vulnerability is positive not only because it yields more meaningful experiences, but because it forms inherently meaningful bonds” (Lubrano, 2013).

Engagement. Unlearning passivity. Learning how to be critically engaged for social change and progressive transformation. “Critical hope is, on the one hand, a conceptual and theoretical direction and, on the other, ‘an action-oriented response to contemporary despair’” (Bozalek et al., 2014, p. 1). As an idea, it is inspired by the praxis and frameworks of critical theory, particularly those emerging from the Frankfurt School, neo-Marxist critiques, and the work of Freire (Bozalek et al., 2014; Freire, 1970, 2007). It can be summarized as “an act of ethical and political responsibility that has the potential to recover a lost sense of connectedness, relationality, and solidarity with others” (Zembylas, 2014, p. 14). Bozalek, Carolissen, Liebowitz, and Boler (2014) outline two ways in which critical hope can be used: First, it may serve as a “unitary and unified concept which cannot be disaggregated from either hopefulness or criticality” (p. 1); and second, it may function as an analytical concept that honours and theorizes the affective, the political, the spiritual, and the intellectual” (Grain, Lund 2016).

Struggle. Unlearning (false) comfort and the privilege of political apathy. Learning that everything is much more complicated for an engaged feminist. Learning to accept it, to embrace it, to be proud of it and filled with joy by it.

Some fleeting comments in Judith Butler’s short book Antigone’s Claim (2000) suggest to me that post-feminism can be explored through what I would describe as a ‘double entanglement.’ This comprises the co-existence of neo-conservative values in relation to gender, sexuality, and family life with processes of liberalisation in regard to choice and diversity in domestic, sexual, and kinship relations. It also encompasses the co-existence of feminism as at some level transformed into a form of Gramscian common sense, while also fiercely repudiated, indeed almost hated (McRobbie, 2008).

Networks. Unlearning that we are alone, isolated. Learning that we are interdependent, that we share so many experiences with others, that we can be open to listening to their differing voices, that we grow together.

[T]here’s a limit to individualism, although each of us is obviously negotiating our individual solutions to the problems of ability, disability, gender normativity, all these issues—we can’t do that as radical individuals. We can only do it by entering social space, demanding different kinds of recognition, producing certain kinds of bodily scandals in the world and, also, acting in concert with other people as a way of changing what is normative and what is not … I think underlying all of this is the idea that we are interdependent as we try and attract certain social transformations that affect us at very personal levels (Butler in Abrams, 2011).

Friendship. Unlearning that there is a competition, an oppositional tension between us. Abandoning the idea that conflict is what fuels important relationships. Learning that we should nurture every relationship that brings positivity to our lives, that we should cherish every moment with our loved ones. Learning how to love more, how to expand our affective capacities.

Then I may tell you that the very next words I read were these—‘Chloe liked Olivia…’: Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women. ‘Chloe liked Olivia,’ I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered had she done so! As it is, I thought, letting my mind wander a little from Life’s Adventure, the whole thing is simplified, conventionalized, if one dared say it, absurdly. Cleopatra’s only feeling about Octavia is one of jealousy. Is she taller than I am? How does she do her hair? The play, perhaps, required no more. But how interesting it would have been if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends (Woolf, A Room of One’s Own).

Passion. Unlearning insensitivity and detachment. Embracing concern for others, warmth, and sympathy. Learning how to be loving and caring with others. Developing ardent interest in excitement and intensity. Allowing fire to be a part of our lives.

The most obvious way in which feminist and other outlaw emotions can help in developing alternatives to prevailing conceptions of reality is by motivating new investigations. This is possible because, as we saw earlier, emotions may be long-term as well as momentary; it makes sense to say that someone continues to be shocked or saddened by a situation, even if she is at the moment laughing heartily. As we have seen already, theoretical investigation is always purposeful, and observation is always selective. Feminist emotions provide a motivation for investigation and so help to determine the selection of problems as well as the method by which they are investigated (Jaggar, 1989).

Bodies. Unlearning that biology is destiny. Learning how to disengage from bodily assumptions of gender, sex, sexuality, capacity, and beauty. Expanding the possibilities and exploring the potentialities of our flesh outside (hetero)normative frameworks.

This ‘neuter’ is hard for Freud to account for in his theory of the difference of the sexes, as we can see from his repeated admissions that the subject of woman’s sexuality is still very ‘obscure.’ As for what he will have to say about it, what has become “apparent” to him about it, female sexuality can be graphed along the axes of visibility of (so-called) masculine sexuality. For such a demonstration to hold up, the little girl must immediately become a little boy. In the beginning … the little was (only) a little boy. In other words, THERE NEVER IS (WILL BE) A LITTLE GIRL. All that remains is to assign her sexual function to this ‘little boy’ with no penis, or at least no penis of any recognized value. Inevitably, the trial of ‘castration’ must be undergone. This ‘little boy,’ who was in all innocence and ignorance of sexual difference, notices how ridiculous ‘his’ sex organ looks. ‘He’ sees the disadvantage for which ‘he’ is anatomically destined: ‘he’ has only a tiny little sex organ, no sex organ at all, really, an almost invisible sex organ. The almost imperceptible clitoris (Irigaray, 1985).

Antonija Stojanovic Almesberger is a LGBTI and Human Rights activist, a feminist, and a translator engaged in queer culture, based in Rijeka, Croatia. She received a degree in Albanian language and literature from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, Serbia.

A Queer Walk Around Rijeka

What do we know about the queer history of Rijeka? Few traces of queer history have been preserved in the cities of this region or even, unfortunately, beyond this region. Local queer history is rarely mentioned in books, there are few sources available, and we do not really know who to ask about it—but of course this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist! The vero people of Rijeka have been highly interested in the queer history of Rijeka for a while, as have those of us who fell in love with Rijeka so much that we decided to move here. In response to the lack of any record of the queer history of Rijeka, a couple of us took it upon ourselves to search libraries, the internet, and personal correspondence, and to speak to the older members of the queer community. Little by little, the stories emerged. By doing this, we hoped to gain a better understanding of this city of tolerance, which is regionally recognized as a peaceful, open, and multicultural place, just as it has been throughout history (e.g. the first Statute of Rijeka, adopted in 1530, was centuries ahead of its time). The reason for Rijeka’s reputation as open is likely due to its geographical location (the influences of Italy, Austro-Hungary, etc.), the influence of various cultures that left their mark here, and the fact that Rijeka has always been a port city. Under the slogan “The Port of Diversity,” Rijeka, along with the Irish Galway, has been selected as the European Capital of Culture 2020. It is therefore fascinating that such a city has not yet discovered the history of its LGBTIQ spaces. Up until twenty years ago, there were almost no written records of the existence of LGBTIQ spaces where people met, socialized, and gathered (except for private homes), although we know that the first registered lesbian organization in Croatia is also located here on the Rječina river. Rijeka still does not have a gay bar or club, but there are lots of LQBTIQ-friendly places.

If you’d like to know why Rijeka is so open, come and walk with us! You can learn more about the LGBTIQ spaces of the past in a casual, playful way—and we will also let you in on some spicy details.

1] Korzo: During the early 20th century, the people of Rijeka did not stick their noses in each other’s business. It is generally known that gay men used to find their partners at stores, in parks, at secluded beaches outside the city, as well as when walking around Korzo (in “promenade” just like men and women used to meet here at that time—women would stand on one side of Korzo, men would stand on the other, and they would approach after eyeing each other a bit). However, LGBTIQ people socialized mainly in private apartments and houses—for example, at the time, a certain Mr. K used to gather the biggest gay crowd in Europe in his villa on Rab. Between the 1970s and 1990s Rab was the (unofficial) gay tourist destination of Europe and the Sanda coffee shop in the town centre operated up until nearly 2000, while in the major cities in Croatia there were still no gay bars. It is interesting that Rab officially became the first exclusive gay-friendly destination in Croatia in 2011 under the slogan “The Island of Happiness” accompanied by an image of holding hands—because everyone was free to hold hands in Rab.

2] Palach Youth Cultural Centre: This is the pride of the Rijeka alternative scene, and definitely one of the oldest pillars of urban culture in the region. It has been uncompromisingly devoted to the development of the cultural scene of Rijeka since it opened. This club, the oldest in Rijeka, was founded by medical students in 1968—it was a place where people could come and listen to records and attend concerts and exhibitions. From the very beginning, Palach embraced the queer scene. To be different here was not a problem—it was almost imperative!

The founding session of the Oskar Gay Association was held at Palach in December of 1999, after the secretary of a local party had prevented the founders from entering the premises of the City of Rijeka. Due to a negative public reception, the association, unfortunately, did not take hold. Several years ago, the LGBTIQ association Druga Rijeka (“other Rijeka”) was founded at Palach, but it also folded.

3] Old LORI premises (Dolac 8): A dozen Rijeka women wanted to increase the public visibility of lesbians, smash prejudices about them, and work on lesbians’ acceptance in society, and in October of 2000 they founded the association which operated in the basement of this building for the next eleven years. The local media reported on LORI but the public was not overly interested. This is where the first lesbian gatherings and movie nights were held, followed by the first parties for the whole LGBTIQ community. At the time, without too much advertising these parties were well attended by people from Slovenia, Istria, and other Croatian cities, and it soon became clear that the space was too small to accommodate everyone. Neighbours also often complained about the noise.

4] Discordia Club: As the club was too small for parties, the women started looking for a friendly club and found Discordia. This became the venue of Queer UP! parties that marked the beginning of organized club parties for the Rijeka LQBTIQ community in 2010. These events were better attended than the previous ones, the club was full the whole time, and many LGBTIQ people still remember the Discordia days—those were the best parties. However, because the neighbours continued to complain relentlessly about the noise, the club closed down in 2012 and LORI was again in search of an LGBTIQ social space. Since then, the parties have been taking place in friendly clubs and venues (Arca Fiumana, Život, Bačva).

5] La Grotta Brothel: As a port, Rijeka has always had a large flow of people, allowing brothel culture to flourish for centuries—up until fifty or sixty years ago the city centre was full of brothels. Of course, this was not to everyone’s taste, and a lot of effort was invested in closing them down. However, it was only the last scandal that led to the decision by city authorities to ban brothels in Rijeka. La Grotta Brothel was one of the most respectable brothels; it kept its name, changed ownership, and is now a place where one can taste excellent local cuisine and wines. As a keepsake of the past they have kept the original “pricelist of services” from World War Two.

6] New LORI premises (Janeza Trdine 7): The Association has operated from these premises since 2011. This is where it performs its everyday activities, but it also hosts movie nights, and LGBTIQ community gatherings. Neighbours’ intolerance is still present (but let’s say only when there is too much noise) and if the windows are open they often throw clothespins or rocks through!

From the very beginning LORI has worked on empowering the LGBTIQ community and has openly supported individuals who wanted to organize LGBTIQ parties or open a coffee bar or club by inviting the community, sharing information, etc. In 2012, a club programme named Six martinis and a blow job was initiated, and it was successfully held at several locations for the queer community until a couple of years ago. “Classic” gay parties were also organized from time to time. For a long time there have also been several locations in Rijeka known only by word of mouth as places to meet partners, but they are not listed here because of the need for anonymity.

It is important to mention that there are many more places in Rijeka (primarily coffee places, bars, etc.) that have been LGBTIQ social spaces for the past thirty to forty years, but we have only listed the “hot” ones in the very heart of the city because we wanted to familiarize our visitors with the queer history of our city through an hour-long walk in a humorous way rather than just pointing out what has happened and where.

Translated from the Croatian by Zana Šaškin

Ana Opalić was born in 1972 in Dubrovnik. In 1997 she graduated with a degree in TV and film camera from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb. In the same year she was awarded the Croatian Photo-union prize for best young photographer.

Queer Walk Around Rijeka: Photo Essay

Filed Under: Roundtables

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Marinella Matejčić is a feminist activist from Croatia who works in an Association for human rights and active citizenship called PaRiter. Marinella writes for, a portal on gender, sex and democracy, and hosts, together with her colleagues from PaRiter, a radio show and a podcast.

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Ana Hoffner (b. Prvulovic) was born in 1980 in Paraćin, Yugoslavia. Hoffner is engaged in an art practice that excavates moments of crisis and conflict in history and politics. Hoffner’s video and photo installations and performances seek to introduce temporalities, relations, and spaces between established perspectives, memories of iconic images, and highly performative events.

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Mónica Cano Abadía is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies – South East Europe (University of Rijeka), and an Assistant Professor at the Section of Political Philosophy of the Institute of Philosophy (University of Graz).

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Antonija Stojanovic Almesberger is a LGBTI and Human Rights activist, a feminist, and a translator engaged in queer culture, based in Rijeka, Croatia. She received a degree in Albanian language and literature from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, Serbia.

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Ana Opalić was born in 1972 in Dubrovnik. In 1997 she graduated with a degree in TV and film camera from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb. In the same year she was awarded the Croatian Photo-union prize for best young photographer.

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Brigita Miloš is a postdoc researcher in The Department of Cultural Studies at The University of Rijeka. She publishes in the fields of literary theory, visual theory, and gender and feminist theory.

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Iva Kovač has worked as a program director at the City of Women in Ljubljana, Slovenia since 2021. She has been a visual artist at Fokus Grupa since 2012. She was the curator at PM Gallery in Zagreb, Croatia from 2010 to 2012 and at SIZ Gallery in Rijeka, Croatia from 2013 to 2015.

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