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Final Report Summary - LGBTQYU ((Post-)Yugoslav LGBT Activism: Between Nationalism and Europeanisation)

As the destructive power of nationalism has subsided in the wake of the 1990s, the status and application of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) rights has remained one of the most polarising political issues in the post-Yugoslav space. An explosive crossroads of numerous ideological threads pertaining to patriarchy and ethno-nationalism, on the one hand, and the discourses of human rights, democratisation, Europeanisation, and sexual liberation, on the other, LGBT activism has received significant media coverage, but there has been a marked absence of empirical work on the effects of this engagement for the lives of non-heterosexual people in the former Yugoslav states. In this regard, my Marie Curie project consisted of three closely inter-related research foci: first, it sought to provide a historical account of the emergence, development and operation of LGBT activist groups; second, it examined the role of the European Union and European integration processes in promoting LGBT initiatives in the region; and, third, it explored the extent to which LGBT activist organisations take into account intersecting discriminations that some persons may be exposed to. The main objective of the project was to fill a huge gap in gender and sexuality research in the region of my interest by insisting upon academic-activist interactions, including LGBT people as sources of empirical data, and promoting transnational research and activist cooperation through contact between institutions and individual scholars from the Netherlands with both academic and activist organisations from the post-Yugoslav space.
More specifically, I organised a three-day workshop (26-28 March 2015) at the Gender Studies Department of the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, which brought together 30 scholars and activists from the University of Amsterdam and all of the former Yugoslav states. This gathering led to two edited volumes that have been recently published by Palgrave Macmillan: the first book LGBT Activism and Europeanisation in the Post-Yugoslav Space: On the Rainbow Way to Europe (edited by Bojan Bilić) represents, in the words of Professor Jill Irvine, “a brilliant analysis of the complex linkages between LGBT rights and European integration, and the implications for activists, citizens, and officials alike. It is a major contribution to the literature on activism in the post-Yugoslav space as well as LGBT activism more broadly”. The contributors to this book show how the long EU accession process disseminates discursive tools employed in LGBT activist struggles for human rights and equality. This creates a linkage between “Europeanness” and “gay emancipation” which elevates certain forms of gay activist engagement and perhaps also non-heterosexuality, more generally, to a measure of democracy, progress and modernity. At the same time, it relegates practices of intolerance to the LGBT community to the status of non-European primitivist Other who is inevitably positioned in the patriarchal past that should be left behind.
The second volume Intersectionality and LGBT Activist Politics: Multiple Others in Croatia and Serbia is a “brilliant, timely and engaged book” (Dr Paul Stubbs) that combines empirically oriented and theoretically grounded reflections upon various forms of LGBT activist engagement to examine how the notion of intersectionality enters the political context of contemporary Serbia and Croatia. By uncovering experiences of multiple oppression and voicing fear and frustration that accompany exclusionary practices, the contributions to this book reinvigorate the critical potential of intersectionality to generate the basis for wider political alliances and solidarities in the post-Yugoslav space. The authors, both activists and academics, challenge the systematic absence of discussions of (post-)Yugoslav LGBT activist initiatives in recent social science scholarship, and show how emancipatory politics of resistance can reshape what is possible to imagine as identity and community in post-war and post-socialist societies. This is the first volume to bring systematic empirical accounts of trans, bisexual, asexual and queer activism(s) as well as to throw light on the up to now largely neglected intersections between homelessness, workers’ rights, urban-rural tensions and non-heterosexuality in the post-Yugoslav region.
Moreover, during the two years of the project I was regularly in touch with my scientist-in-charge Dr Sébastien Chauvin. This led to an interdisciplinary diversification of my competences in three major areas: first, new theoretical knowledge regarding gender, sexuality, and Europeanisation theories (I attended: Master’s course Intersections of Culture, Sexuality and Gender taught by Dr Gert Hekma and Dr Marie-Louise Jansen, monthly lectures of the Amsterdam Research Centre for Gender and Sexuality, Amsterdam Research Centre for Gender and Sexuality PhD seminar, the 4th European Conference on Politics and Gender, University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden, etc); second, methodological techniques (gender research methods, devising a survey, handling gender research-related ethical issues); and, third, further professional experience (attending and organising international conferences, chairing a conference panel, submitting papers and book proposals, improving oral presentation skills, writing grant applications, job interview techniques). I also taught the course Rainbow Politics: Topics in LGBT Activism within the University of Amsterdam MA programme in Gender and Sexuality as well as the course Gender and Social Movements in South-East Europe within the MIREES MA programme at the University of Bologna. At the University of Amsterdam I supervised 12 (8 as first and 4 as second supervisor) MA theses in the areas of gender and sexuality.
All in all, this project has helped to uncover the up to now largely invisible history of LGBT engagement in the post-Yugoslav space from an interdisciplinary perspective and account for the emergence and development of LGBT activist groups as well as for the evolution of their politics, cooperations and contestations. By doing so, it has started redressing a huge imbalance between Western and Eastern European research on LGBT activism and politics by providing new insights into the dynamics of political contention and civic organising outside of the most frequently studied milieus. This represents a distinct and significant contribution to European research excellence because an important phenomenon has been examined in a new and up to now scarcely studied context. Gender and sexuality-related issues have been put higher on the regional social science research agenda given that the major publications stemming from this project have already been translated into Serbo-Croatian and will serve as a basis for future studies in this direction. Taking into account the scope of the published material, the significantly expanded and solidified networks of colleagues and collaborators as well as newly acquired skills in a number of areas, there is no doubt that the Marie Curie Fellowship has been, up to now, my most important and productive professional experience.

Videos of the Budapest workshop:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOGjS22TjzW_S2iFgQffClQ

Facebook page of the project:
https://www.facebook.com/lgbtqyu/

Related information

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Jose Komen, (Executive Director)
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