All Were Rebels: The Founding of the Network of East-West Women

All Were Rebels: The Founding of the Network of East-West Women

Were we to postpone focusing on women’s interests in deference to what always gets named as more urgent—nationalist cries of crisis and cynically manipulated threat? Who gets to make history?

Ann Snitow at the twenty-fifth anniversary meeting of the NEWW, with Małgorzata Tarasiewicz (director of NEWW), Wanda Nowicka, Roma Ciesla, and Barbara Limanowksa. (Phoebe West)

Ann Snitow dedicated her life to feminism as a scholar and activist. The first piece she published in Dissent, in 1989, was a rigorous history of the U.S. feminist movement in which she participated. In the years and months leading up to her death last August, she devoted her energy to writing an account of her political work in Central and Eastern Europe. She finished the book days before she died. We are honored to publish this excerpt, in which Ann tells the story of the founding meeting of the Network of East-West Women, the organization she cofounded in 1991 and worked within for nearly three decades. This article is adapted from Visitors: An American Feminist in East Central Europe (New Village Press), which will be published in March.

—Natasha Lewis, Senior Editor

 

The Meeting, Dubrovnik, June 7–9, 1991

In the midst of our feverish last-minute planning for what became the founding meeting of the Network of East-West Women, the U.S. State Department placed a travel advisory on Yugoslavia. I called, and they advised us to call off the meeting. A war was scheduled for late June. We had worked a year to bring this group of Eastern and Central European feminists together. Were we now to postpone focusing on women’s interests in deference to what always gets named as more urgent—nationalist cries of crisis and cynically manipulated threat? Who gets to make history?

Wise or not, we refused to cancel. Participants feared, or refused to fear, according to their temperaments and histories; but finally everyone came—more than fifty women from the East, twenty from the West. They all refused the usual command to women in times of war fever: Step back; wait. We were horrified by the impending disaster but also half-disbelieving that a war could be scheduled in this way, as if by rational design. We never could have imagined the extent of the hysteria and political violence that was about to come. Instead, our meeting posed a general question with which we were to constantly wrestle in the years ahead: What is included in the concept “the political”? Feminism had made broad revisions to what politics should rightly include—the realms usually called “private,” such as sexuality and the very structures of daily social life.

It was clear to all those attending the meeting that every piece of received political rhetoric was about to ...


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