In 2003, the Center for Women’s Studies in Belgrade received a significant donation from the Legacy of Žarana Papić. Žarana Papić is one of the founders of women’s studies in Belgrade. The legacy contains over 2,000 books, as well as materials and valuable documentation for the history of the feminist movement in Serbia and Yugoslavia.

Žarana Papić (1949-2002)

Sociologist-anthropologist, university professor, one of the founders of the feminist movement in Yugoslavia and co-founder of the Belgrade Center for Women’s Studies (1992).

Žarana Papić was born on July 4, 1949 in Sarajevo, in the country that was called the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. She grew up in a family where her mother, Milena, née Šotrić (1921-2002), and her father, Radovan Papić (1910-1983), actively participated in the anti-fascist struggle, opposed nationalism and fought for social justice. After the war, the father was a high-ranking official of the Communist Party, and in 1955 they moved from Sarajevo to Belgrade, where Žarana graduated in 1968 as a student of the generation at the Fifth Belgrade Grammar School (High School).

Žarana Papić graduated in 1974 from the Department of Sociology at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. The years of her studies coincide with the years of great student leftist activity in Yugoslavia, which culminated in the student protest in 1968. The protest opened the door to different models of intellectual thought and offered an alternative that contrasted with the rigid ruling socialist ideology. Žarana Papić belonged to a circle of well-educated young people who actively participated in many events at the Student Cultural Center (SKC) in Belgrade, the most significant institution of alternative thought at the time. Although the government took great care to suppress the student rebellion and limit student political activity, it did open the possibility for activities in the cultural sphere for young people. Therefore, although financed from the state budget, the Student Cultural Center (SKC) was able to lead a very alternative cultural policy – exhibitions, lectures, discussions, theater performances and many other events were organized.


As a young sociologist-anthropologist, Žarana first became acquainted with contemporary feminist theory at the Conference of the Croatian Sociological Society in Portoroz in 1976. In the same year, she attended the first Women’s Studies course organized at the Inter-University Center in Dubrovnik.

In October 1976, together with Dunja Blažević (Director of SKC) and other colleagues, she organized the first international feminist conference in Eastern Europe: Woman, the comrade: Women’s Question, New Approach? The conference represents a key moment in Yugoslav feminism. Its goal was to present a new feminist movement and feminist theory, and distinguished feminists from all over Europe were invited as participants: Helen Cixous, Hatz Garcia and Nil Yalter from France, Jill Lewis, Helen Roberts and Parveen Adams from the United Kingdom, Dacia Maraini, Carla Ravaioli and Chiara Saraceno from Italy, Ewa Morawska from Poland, Judith Kele from Hungary, Alice Schwarzer from Germany, Nadežda Čačinović-Puhovski, Slavenka Drakulić-Ilić, Đurđa Milanović and Vesna Pušić from Zagreb, Nada Ler-Sofronić from Sarajevo; Silvija Mežnarić from Ljubljana, and Rada Iveković, Anđelka Milić, Jasmina Tešanović and Sonja Drljević from Belgrade. This conference, regarded as a brave act, represented a challenge to the system, because it critically reviewed the existing system, regime and government (Iveković 2002, 49), also enabling the establishment of a hard-core group of feminist theorists and activists in Yugoslavia. The members of this group expressed the opinion that feminism should not be written off as an attitude that is foreign to our society, “imported from abroad”, but that it is an authentic attitude that our country needs. The conference represented the beginning of a feminist critique of patriarchy in socialism.

Žarana Papić’s feminist views also had an impact on her academic work. Since 1977, she had been publishing articles on the topic of women’s issues. Together with Lydija Sklevicky from Zagreb, she edited the book Anthropology of Women (1983). The book was the first of its kind in Yugoslavia and inspired many young women to deal with this topic. She got her Master’s degree in 1986 on Feminist Critique of Sociology at the Anthropology Department of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. The Master’s thesis, Sociology and Feminism, was published in 1989. The same year Žarana was appointed teaching assistant for the Social Anthropology course at the Sociology Department of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. As soon as she obtained the doctoral degree, with the dissertation Dialectics of gender and naturenature and culture in contemporary social anthropology, she was appointed assistant professor at the same department. As a favorite professor, Žarana taught Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Department of Sociology and Archaeology, and was one of three women, together with her professor and mentor Anđelka Milić and sociologist Marina Blagojević, who taught Gender Studies – an elective subject for the students of the Faculty of Philosophy. Her PhD thesis, Sexuality and Culture: Body and Knowledge in Contemporary Anthropology, was published in 1997.

Žarana Papić belonged to the first post-war generation of Yugoslav feminist theorists who worked in the socialist system, and she had a huge influence on the development of young generations of feminists. Her appearance, just like her personality, exuded both strength and fragility, but also courage and integrity. She was a woman of unique style and refinement, a cosmopolitan who spoke English and French fluently, traveled a lot and maintained connections with numerous colleagues, both in Yugoslavia and abroad. Some of her close associates from the world and the country were: Sanja Iveković (feminist and artist, Center for Women’s Studies, Zagreb, Croatia), Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes (coordinator of Transeuropéennes/Réseaux pour la Culture en Europe, Network for European Culture, Paris, France); Corrine Kumar (feminist and activist from India and coordinator of El Taller International, Tunisia); Rosi Braidotti (feminist and professor of philosophy from Utrecht University, Netherlands), Vjollca Krasniqi (Women’s Network of Kosovo, Pristina, Kosovo), as well as Rada Iveković (feminist and professor of philosophy, Paris, France).

The breakup of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the nineties of the last century brought new challenges to intellectual integrity and Žarana Papić belonged to the few intellectuals who rejected nationalism and multi-ethnic conflict. She considered herself deprived of nationality, she directed all her academic and activist energy towards revealing and showing the real nature of war, firmly believing that only women can contribute to the establishment of cooperation between warring nations. From the position of a feminist-oriented theoretician, Žarana made a great contribution to a better understanding of the nature of the conflicts raging in the country, by publishing analytical articles and tirelessly giving lectures in which she clearly linked nationalism, patriarchy and war.

Since she was involved in various feminist activities since 1977 and was one of the first women from the University to write about women’s studies and redesign the notion of gender, Žarana Papić was one of the eight women who founded the Belgrade Center for Women’s Studies in 1992. The center was conceived as an alternative place for women’s intellectual and anti-war activities. Žarana was a member of the teaching council and one of the first lecturers at the Center, where she taught anthropology of gender. The high level of effective lectures captured students’ attention and aroused the interest of many participants in the topic.

Žarana firmly believed that women should be more active in the political life of the country, and her activism led to the greater visibility of the new intellectual feminist force that was being created on the political scene: she supported the establishment of Voice of Difference, a women’s group for the promotion of women’s political rights (2000); she participated in the anti-war activities of Women in Black; she was active in public debates in the media; she supported the Autonomous Women’s Center against sexual violence, as well as the gay and lesbian movement in Serbia, giving lectures on queer studies in 2001.

Combining academic work and feminism, Žarana Papić worked extremely hard, sometimes exhausting her physical and mental resources to the limit of endurance. As a member of the advisory board of the Center for Women’s Studies, she was on the organizing committee of the first East European Feminist Conference What can we do for ourselves, held in June 1994. She was also the contact person from Serbia for the European Forum of Left-Oriented Feminists. From 1982 to 1986, she was the regional representative of the editorial board of the International Forum for Women’s Studies. She was a member of the editorial board of the journal Women’s Studies of the Belgrade Center for Women’s Studies (1995-2002), and the editor-in-chief of the journal Sociologija (1995-1997). In the mid-1990s she was granted the HESP scholarship. She worked at the Gender and Culture Program at the Central European University in Budapest (CEU) and spent the winter of 1996 at the Laboratory for Social Anthropology, College de France in Paris. In 1998 Žarana started to coordinate the project of cooperation between the Centers for Women’s Studies in France and the countries of the former Yugoslavia: Civil and political bodies – a bad nation – what kind of Europe for women: transition, post-socialism, post-war, trans-European integration. She also taught at the Alternative Academic Education Network (AAOM), founded in September 1998, which was in opposition to Belgrade University and the Milošević regime.

In the spring of 2002, Žarana’s mother died after a long illness. The same year, Žarana embarked on her last trip (May 25 – June 9), as part of the Transeuropéennes project: Balkan Women for Peace: Women Activists Cross Borders. On September 10 she died unexpectedly at her home.

In recognition of her long-term collaboration with French academic institutions, the French government posthumously awarded her the Palmes Academiques and the title of Chevalier dans l’ Ordre des Palmes Academiques.

In the history of Yugoslav feminism, Žarana Papić will be remembered not only as one of the pioneers of feminism, but also as a woman who set high standards, both in theory and in activism, connecting the two sides of women’s struggle for a fairer society.

Vanda Perović

p.s. A personal memory of Žarana

The above text (an abbreviated version) was written for the Biographical Dictionary of Women’s Movements and Feminisms of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, edited by F. de Haan, K. Daskalova and A. Loutfi, published by CEU in 2006. In accordance with the strict instructions given by the editors, the primary goal was to record the numerous activities of Žarana Papić and her importance for the development of feminism. Thus, Žarana Papić found herself in the company of six other women from Serbia, and the only one, besides the writer Biljana Jovanović (1953-1996), who belongs to the post-war generation.

Since I didn’t know Žarana well enough, except as her student in Women’s Studies (and her peer as well), I tried, as much as it was in my power, to do what was as conscientious as possible at the given moment – to have her work recorded, and to prevent the fate of  many of her predecessors, that she and her work sunk into oblivion after her death.

But I do remember various versions of Žarana herself,  during that almost ten-year acquaintance: I remember the serious and young Žarana, in the old-fashioned second apartment of the Women’s Studies in 7. jula Street, the woman whose anthropology lectures revealed completely new concepts to us, female students, and the petite woman with short hair and statement earrings, whose impeccable and sophisticated taste in fashion and detail represented the embodiment of a certain refined style; I remember the small talks and Žarana laughing heartedly while talking about love in the hall of the elegant apartment of Women’s Studies in Vlajkovićeva Street; I remember the painfully sensitive Žarana, a lecturer in Dubrovnik, tragically aware of the perniciousness of what she showed us, using examples taken from Pink Television, about the relationship between the female body, nationalism and war; I remember an exhausted Žarana telling me about her mother’s long illness and her new role in relation to her mother (how many times I remembered that conversation when I found myself in that situation), and the last, accidental meeting in the hallway of some of the fourth rooms of the Women’s Studies when at first I only recognized her voice. Times were very hard. Maybe we can only see it clearly now; many of my generation did not last – the heart simply broke.

Vanda Perovic