Until the rare specimens of calico tomcats were discovered, calico cats were believed to be exclusively female. Whereas most calico cats are in fact female, gender is elusive in all forms. Race is not: race is a coherent, narrative, and convincing invention that has nothing to do with science: biology, history, anthropology or culturology. It is part of popular subculture and extremely dangerous to the (one and only) human race, since we know full well today that discourse, narration or a “good TikTok story” can endanger human lives. Antiracism is therefore an essential, structural feature of feminist thought and action. It can use the tools of mockery at racist nonsense and the deconstruction of stereotypes that are often the means of last resort for racism.

For a long time, Antiquity experts lived in the blissful belief that in Antiquity, their chosen imaginary chronotope, racism did not exist: hence, they didn’t study it. The empires that left their mark on the history of the Balkans – the Roman, Turkish and Austro-Hungarian Empires – each in their own way attempted to neutralise racism, meaning that our stereotypical perceptions of colonialism should be re-examined. In the Balkans, a territory of the constant mixing, migration, meeting and both political and non-political merging of cultures, and in Yugoslavia as its imagined centre, racism has, without a doubt, always existed. When it finally became the focus of studies, it was treated more as an excess, an unexpected paradox or a short-lived phenomenon. And the policy of non-alignment? It had taught Yugoslavians that power holders could be non-white, but racism still remained. Due to the new forms of racism and the marginalisation of Balkan history, we can only hope for an international organisation that would use consistent antiracism to respond to the policies adopted by superpowers.

Going back to calico cats: from the 14th-century frescos of Crete and Santorini to the decline of the completely figurative 19th-century painting, women’s complexion was painted in lighter skin tones compared to that of men. Skin colour is a sign of gender as well as social status: your skin is white if you don't work in the sun. Which is but further proof that race – like gender – is a socio-cultural category.

With the influx of migrants in 2015, the previous Slovenian racism towards our former compatriots from the South, Yugoslavians, which was realised in the state project of the abolishment of civil rights (“the Erased”, 1992–1995), had to be “translated” into the broader European-North Atlantic racism of all shades. This racism was quickly narrowed down to covered women: in the summer months of 2016–2018, it grew into a real photo safari to spot covered women, particularly in public pools. That is one of the reasons why it could be said that Balkan racism is particularly gender-based (and, as such, also concerns LGBTQ people), and all the above-mentioned examples point to the arbitrary nature of racist exclusion.

With stereotypes changing fast and adapting to new circumstances, feminist antiracist action cannot afford any mistakes. But how can we fight against racism today when it is growing stronger worldwide, taking advantage of local narrations? Some of these legitimate means are humour, irony and laughter, effective tools to combat the patriarchy, which cannot survive without some type of racism. The stepparents of racism are also capitalism and financial globalism, which would not last without the exploitation of old colonial tactics on the one hand and the new possibilities of exclusion of the unwanted and the exploitation of the powerless on the other.

As the inventions of racism have taken root online, in verbal communication and the media, feminist antiracism today must be tech-savvy yet armed with historical knowledge, particularly on the “non-event” history and culture, as well as having various levels of media literacy. While it is true that expectations of feminists have always been too high, we were also often late to take action, as demonstrated by the re-emergence of issues that were thought to have been resolved. The right to abortion and self-determination over one’s own body, the right to employment and equal pay, the right to healthcare and many other issues were not “resurrected” just because that is human nature, because society is rotten at its core, because there are traitors everywhere, because patriarchy is immortal, because religion is invincible, etc. One of the many reasons for this is the fact that feminists failed to defend our achievements staunchly enough when we still believed them to be secure; that we failed to intertwine art and politics closely enough because it seemed that social engagement would destroy the work of art; that we failed to appreciate the equal value of alternative and institutional culture; that we had recourse to bureaucratic language much too often and ended up striving for bureaucratic aims; that the chains of solidarity burst at the political, economic and cultural seams; and that we did not pay close enough attention to what was happening behind our backs.

What does all of this mean for the City of Women? It means that it is high time that antiracism become a priority feminist policy, taking care not to forget about laughter, irony, verbal acrobatics, and linguistic appropriation. Laughter is a strong educational tool – particularly when it is politically and artistically essential.

Humorous salutations to the 28th City of Women Festival!

Svetlana Slapšak,
Honorary President of the City of Women Association