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Public and political history of male homosexuality in socialist Croatia, 1945–1989


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Dota, Franko. (2017). Public and political history of male homosexuality in socialist Croatia, 1945–1989. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of History.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij moderne i suvremene hrvatske povijesti u europskom i svjetskom kontekstu) [mentor Jakovina, Tvrtko].

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This dissertation explores the ideological, legal and medical status and institutional treatment of male homosexuality in Croatia during the socialist era. The historical interpretation is embedded in a Foucauldian theoretical framework, which posits the legal and medical discourses as main disciplinary mechanisms of modern sexualities. Based on a combination of archival, mostly judicial, and published sources, the research reconstructs the legislative debates surrounding the concept of “unnatural fornication”, the trails for homosexual behaviour and explores the process of decriminalization of same-sex sexual behaviour as intertwined with the medicalization of homosexuality. The practices of regulating nonnormative sexuality are observed in a wider Yugoslav socio-historical perspective and put in a larger transnational and comparative context, mostly derived from recent histories of sexuality in twentieth-century Eastern and Central Europe. The introductory chapter summarizes some of the most fruitful historiographical debates on socialism and sexuality, first and foremost the recent critical turn towards the influential dichotomy that stages the historical experience of sexuality in twentieth-century Europe as a divide between East and West. This dichotomy postulates a sexophobic communist East as a site of constant state intrusion in and repression of romantic intimacy and erotic pleasure, contrasting it to a supposedly liberal and permissive West. The socialist sexual experience is therefore represented as inherently anti-individualistic and illiberal, while sexual lives of millions of people are reduced to a grey and tedious routine, waiting to be rescued in a delayed sexual revolution imported from the West. Recent criticism, however, argued that this form of East-West divide rests in fact on many elements of the anticommunist Cold War propaganda, still surviving in both popular attitudes and in historical accounts. Furthermore, this dichotomy was shown to reflect a hegemonic temporality of the West that presents itself as continuous and linear, progressive and accumulative, even when faced with strong repressive or conservative tendencies, yet interpreted as transient, dynamic, historically contextual and, finally, explainable. On the other hand, similar features of communist biopolitics are habitually understood as static, eternally laden with traditionalism, patriarchy and homonegativity, and therefore old, backward and irrational. In this narrative, the sexual history of the East becomes a failed or unfinished bio-political modernization, and a missed sexual revolution. In contrast to such accounts, and following new methodological approaches proposed in recently published histories of sex and sexuality in Central and Eastern Europe – particularly of women and queer subjects in socialist countries – this thesis postulates the perspective of socialist biopolitics as an alternative sexual modernity, and therefore the preferable explanatory framework for the complex and dynamic history of male homosexuality in socialist Yugoslavia. Chapter 3 explores the treatment of homosexuality in the Partisan antifascist movement and in the first post-war years. In the years of illegality before the Second World War (WWII), and then in wartime, revolutionary asceticism and military sexual puritanism were the proclaimed norm of behaviour for Yugoslav communists and Partisan fighters alike. Sexual “deviations” of various kinds, such as adultery, promiscuity, debauchery and “unnatural fornication” were held under surveillance and punished. Masculinity and moral impeccability of soldiers, officers and heroes of the National Liberation War became tokens of national awareness and patriotic concern. However, a reinterpretation of sources shows that this sexual regulatory regime was not only ideologically determined, but was also shaped by military pragmatism and the changing situation on the ground. There is historical evidence of severe punishments for instances of homosexual behaviour among Tito’s Partisans. A special attention is dedicated to the court-martial trial against the Croatian Partisan officer Josip Mardešić, sentenced to death in 1944 for engaging in same-sex sexual relations. Chapters 4 and 5 reconstruct the legislative debates on male homosexuality in socialist Yugoslavia. The focus is on the reasons for keeping same-sex sexual contacts between men illegal and the ideological and political rationale behind the criminalization of “unnatural fornication” in the first socialist Yugoslav Criminal Code, promulgated in 1951. In the public rhetoric of the time, homosexuality was often branded as a corruptor of youth and a decadent, rotten remnant of the old, overthrown “bourgeois” society. In some verdicts homosexuals were described as adversaries of socialist state-building. Yet at the same time, parts of the highest echelons of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ), together with legal experts in the federal Ministry of Justice, came to a radically different conclusion: it is the concept of sexual morality and chastity that is non-socialist, non-progressive, “bourgeois” and saturated with religious worldview, not homosexuality. To maintain sexual morality in the criminal justice would be at odds with the modernist, revolutionary and secular socialist project. Consequently, all sexual behaviour that could have been considered immoral, as well as all sexual conduct with no concrete and tangible victim, were omitted from the list of felonies in a bill drafted in 1949. This meant that consensual same-sex sexual contacts, both between men and between women, would have been completely decriminalized and the age of consent equalized. When they were informed of this idea, many highly positioned judges, public prosecutors and lawyers were surprised and voiced their objections. Two main counterarguments were raised. The first invoked the socialist ideology “collectivist” and “populist” principles, arguing that the Criminal Code must originate from the traditional beliefs of the masses. The second was also ideologically saturated, stating that in a new, progressive society ruled by the working classes, the state must work on an utter transformation of the corrupt old mores, promoting and defending a healthy, new socialist personality. Finally, in a detailed analysis of homosexuality in Yugoslavia, the Ministry of Interior suggested that same-sex sexual attraction represented a serious threat to the well-being of the youth, and not just to its sexual development, but also to its future worldview and engagement with socialist statebuilding. This form of pressure produced the desired effect and the 1951 Criminal Code continued to treat “unnatural fornication between men” as a criminal offence. However, homosexuality was listed among minor offences for which suspended sentences would suffice in many cases. Lesbian relations were completely decriminalized. Nevertheless, an elaborate set of socio-legal mechanisms aimed to discourage, constrain and eventually punish nonheterosexual practices remained in force until the mid-1970s. The trials against homosexuals in socialist Croatia are examined in their historical contexts in chapters 6 and 7. The years immediately following WWII were very harsh for Yugoslav homosexuals. Many were arrested and subjected to interrogations, fined or sentenced to forced labour or imprisonment. In the first post-war years, marked by a revolutionary justice and frantic socialist state-building, public prosecutors and judges treated same-sex sexual contact, both between men and between women, as a serious violation of public decency and established sexual morals. At least three large anti-homosexual showtrials, reported with profoundly negative political overtones in the press, were held in Croatia in 1948 and 1949. The verdicts expressed a glaring ideological prejudice based on the premise, occasionally posited in some leftist circles, that homosexuality was as an expression of class exploitation, petit-bourgeois individualism and hedonism, a visible sign of decay and depravation stemming from the old regime. Neverthless, only a minor portion of arrested or denounced homosexuals were actually formally indicted and sentenced to prison. Most of the others were subjected to legal proceedings similar to disciplinary actions and misdemeanour lawsuits, and punished with milder sanctions, without jail time. Their names, however, were listed in local registries and police dossiers of homosexuals, mostly inherited from previous wartime and interwar law-enforcement institutions. Statistical records indicate that from the end of WWII until 1977 in whole of Yugoslavia some 1 500 men were sentenced for their homosexuality, approximately one third of them in Croatia. Since the early 1950s, repressive socio-legal practices of policing and punishing homosexuality began to change, and became less restrictive. Compared to the first five postwar years, the number of sentences for “unnatural fornication” declined, while homosexuals were no longer labelled as bourgeois decadents or enemies of socialism. The ideological overtones almost vanished from court records and sentences became milder, in many cases suspended. Gradually the judicial persecution diminished, and by the late 1960s it was almost completely abandoned as a technique of regulating homosexual behaviour. Chapter 8 is dedicated to the analysis of the psychiatric discourse of homosexuality in Yugoslavia, with special attention to examples of reparatory treatment. Homosexuality was intensely pathologized in medical texts, most notably in therapeutic and educational publications. Most psychiatrists were influenced by medical sexology canonical texts that construed homosexuality as a biological or psychological condition that saturates a person’s character, appearance and attitudes, governing completely, in an unhealthy way, his or her life. Subsequently, the legal discourse came under a strong influence of such psychiatric theories, particularly those shaped amidst the post-Freudian clinical psychoanalysis, which tried to locate the causes of homosexual behaviour in childhood or in early adolescent age. The conviction that someone could become homosexual if seduced to same-sex sexual contacts in his or her early age was widespread. As a consequence, the protection of the youth from “homosexual initiation” survived as the main, if not sole justification for maintaining homosexuality illegal. In the 1960s a number of influential medical and legal experts, primarily in Croatia and in Slovenia, started to call for a formal decriminalization. They based their arguments on a wide range of scientific insights coming from a new and reformist wave of Western European and American sexology and legal theory that placed consent and pleasure at the core of their understanding of sexual autonomy and individual liberty. The debates and texts arguing in favour of decriminalization of male homosexuality in Yugoslavia are presented in chapter 9, while the actual legislative process and its broader social and political context are explained in chapter 10. The opportunity for decriminalization emerged after the devolution of the legislative sovereignty to the republics and autonomous provinces, envisaged in the 1974 Constitution. Yet, the reform did not take place without disagreements and polemics, and it only took root in half of the country. In 1977 consensual homosexual acts were decriminalized in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Vojvodina. At the same time, some physicians and sexual reformers began to question the ingrained depictions of homosexuality as a pathological disorder and started to advocate for an end to invasive and futile treatment methods. The most tenacious and persistent in these efforts was Marijan Košiček, a well-known Croatian psychiatrist and the publicly most visible Yugoslav sexologist. From the early 1960s onward, Košiček published a myriad of marital and sexual self-help manuals and lexicons. He soon became a frequent pundit for various Croatian magazines, where he ran columns in which he answered questions on sexual matters, including on same-sex sexual attraction. Chapter 11 is dedicated to his life and work, with a focus on his writings on homosexuality, particularly in U okviru vlastitog spola [Framed by One’s Own Sex], the only Yugoslav book devoted exclusively to this topic, published in Zagreb in 1986. Košiček’s arguments and understanding of same-sex sexual attraction originated from his reading of literature with distinct liberal overtones. He combined classical liberal ideas on the importance of social tolerance, the respect for privacy in the intimate sphere of life, with Marxist secular principles and the ideals of socialist egalitarianism. By the mid-1980s, a number of other prominent Yugoslav psychiatrists joined Košiček’s call for depathologization and normalization of homosexuality. From the first debates dating in the post-revolutionary years, up until the 1980ies, male homosexuality found itself at the crossroads between modernizing tendencies asking for decriminalization and de-medicalization, and conservative demands pleading for keeping it illegal. The debates revolved around the issues of the scope of state’s intrusion into the intimate lives of its citizens, and the definition of consent, sexual autonomy and maturity. The psychiatric discussions were focused on revisiting the old concepts of naturalness and healthiness so to adjust them to the new scientific insights on sexuality that started to treat pleasure and romantic love as fundamental prerequisites of a fulfilling sexual life. In the conclusions it is argued that the decriminalization, albeit unfinished and partial, and a semiofficial depathologization in the 1980s, can be interpreted as cornerstones of Yugoslav socialist sexual modernity and emblems of its emancipatory potentials. Indeed, they opened the door not only to an increasingly reformist non-pathological sexological frame, but also to a more positive media representation of homosexuality and, most importantly, to models of homosexual self-organization and self-emancipation in many ways comparable to the Western liberationist movements of the same period.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: history of sexuality, LGBT studies, homosexuality, unnatural fornication, legal history, sexology, socialism, Yugoslavia, Croatia
Subjects: History
Departments: Department of History
Supervisor: Jakovina, Tvrtko
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij moderne i suvremene hrvatske povijesti u europskom i svjetskom kontekstu
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2017 09:32
Last Modified: 30 Oct 2017 09:32

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