We are a group of six female scholars – Dženeta Karabegović, Slađana Lazić, Vjosa Musliu, Jelena Obradović Wochnik, Julija Sardelić, Elena B. Stavrevska – of and from the post-Yugoslav space, currently working in Global North academia.
We connected, physically and/or virtually, over a number of years, in different places, from conference hotels and universities, to research visits, and social media. The six of us came together as an exercise in frustration sharing over knowledge production we have all experienced and the love for knowledge, education, and the region we have called ‘home’; first in the form of anecdotes shared in discussions, then in the form of an analysis of the patterns we noticed emerging across our stories. As young female scholars coming from the Balkans, we have often been subjected to pedagogical politics on what and how we should research our own region, and how we should navigate our supposed innate biases so that we can make our academic work ‘legitimate’ and ‘objective’. We have encountered a similar pattern in the experiences of many academics from the Global South and the Global East.
The idea of functioning as a collective was not born until we started uncovering and unpacking our lived experiences, in academia and beyond, and sharing with one another how much more work we had to do and what sort of unlearning was necessary in order for our engagement to be genuine with the region and the knowledge we were producing.
To that end, what has also brought us together is the love we have for pluralistic and decolonial knowledge and the region that we still call home, because of our very own heritage, memories, and families who still live there.
With that in mind, we are committed to work and help nurture an academic environment that is more rooted in friendship, equity and solidarity, rather than one that is geared towards corporate competitiveness, benchmarks and matrixes.
We found Yugoslawomen+ to be a fitting name for our collective for a number of reasons. First, all six of us were born in spaces of what used to be Yugoslavia. Even though this is a historical fact, several of us do not necessarily identify or feel represented – ethnically, religiously, or in terms of sexuality – by what Yugoslavia was, what it projected into the world (throughout its existence), nor by how it is remembered today. Beyond, we are more than just women, and more than women from the former Yugoslav space. Hence the plus. It represents the multilayerness of what and who we are, our connections, the extra. Secondly, the (likely unintentional yet subliminal) appearance of ‘slaw’ also seemed fitting given the mix that we represent and the importance of food, especially preserves, in the region we call home.
“Isn't that the beauty of peppers?
You never know if they are spicy or sweet unless you dare to try!"
Peppers are the favourite and predominant vegetable in many cultures and regions. In the Balkans, peppers are an institution. Varieties of pepper cultures, cultivated in different seasons, are a staple in Balkan households. Spicy and sweet. In many colours and shapes. Served for breakfast with eggs, without eggs marinated in spices and olive oil, with kaymak, served for lunch stuffed with meat and/or rice, even as a vegetarian main dish in the form of sataraš, as well as, pickled in many forms, peppers were major in our upbringing.
While we were growing up, early autumn in Balkan households was reserved for making ajvar, the delicious red pepper relish quintessential to the Yugoslav space. For days, families and neighbours would gather as they would lovingly wash, rinse, roast, peel, and cook ajvar while entire neighbourhoods would smell of roasted peppers and vinegar. These days, we exchange best ajvar brands, and some of us have been known to ship each other ajvar, a testament to sharing our love of peppers.
Peppers for us are home, childhood memories, and a culinary culture that unites us all.