Project Info

In 1951 the Yugoslav Communist Party launched an aggressive veil lifting campaign that targeted Muslim women. New legislation outlawed wearing the veil and introduced severe punishment for those who by any means pressured women to wear the veil. At the same time, the Party’s activists across the country monitored if the law was enforced. The activists entered houses, demolished high fence walls around them, and pressured people to appear in public unveiled. The campaign followed a series of interventions into Muslim communities, including mandatory elementary education for girls, a ban on underage marriage, and the replacement of Sharia law with the universal Yugoslav law on marriage. All of these policies were based on Soviet models, despite the Yugoslav conflict with the Soviet Union in 1948. Similar processes occurred in socialist Bulgaria a decade later. The Bulgarian state initiated several campaigns to direct and control the garment choices of Muslim women. After numerous assimilation attempts, the communist government forcefully extradited hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the late 1980s.

This project explores how gender policies towards Muslim women were utilised as a means to penetrate and control Muslim communities. It examines the communist governments’ methods for implementing policies that interfered with people’s cultural norms, as well as the long-term consequences. The project not only analyses the Yugoslav, Bulgarian and Soviet cases individually but also offers a comparison of these case studies. Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were heavily influenced by Soviet models, and the project looks at how these ideas were adapted in each country. For example, it examines similarities and differences in the communists’ views on Muslim women’s agency, dress and body, and explores how such views informed the policymaking in different periods and political surroundings. Besides the analysis of the policies and their implementation, this project also explores the strategies that Muslim women used to resist these measures and the consequences for them and their families.

Research questions

Given the transnational historical perspective this project takes, the following key research questions emerge as relevant:

1.   How did ideas about Muslim women cross Eastern Bloc borders, and what were the main similarities and differences between the countries?

2.   How did the socialist periphery apply Soviet policies concerning Muslim women, and how did it adapt them to fit the needs of the local political elite?

3.   How did Muslim women and their communities react to these policies? What was the positioning of the religious authorities?

4.  How are the policies towards Muslim women related to state building in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, respectively?

5.   To what extent did these policies contribute to contemporary islamophobia in parts of Eastern Europe?  What are the broader consequences of an authoritarian state’s attempt to change cultural norms aggressively?

Research Groups and Case Studies

The project team consists of three research groups that conduct a case study. These teams are divided for practical research reasons, although they collaborate on all outcomes closely. The principal investigator oversees the work of all three groups. All three teams have the same research stages in their case studies.

RG 1 – Yugoslavia

RG 2 – Bulgaria

RG 3 – The Soviet Union

Research stages

Analysis of scholarly discourse on Muslim women. This research stage focuses on the major works of Yugoslav, Bulgarian and Soviet authors of the period. Research groups explore their writings, influences, and their relationships with the political authorities.

Media analysis. This part of the project will analyse public discourse disseminated through magazines. It will focus on six magazines: The Communist Party’s prominent magazines in all countries; and one magazine for women in all states.

Analysis of the state policies. In this stage, we will focus on official policies and legislation. We will look at the meetings of the communist officials, positions of the religious authorities, and legal frameworks. Besides the legislation, this stage aims to examine the views of government officials and changes to these views over time.

Analysis of the policing. In the final research stage, we will examine how the state authorities policed Muslim women. We will use the state and police archival documents, but also interviews. It will offer a comparative perspective, and look at the consequences.

Scholarly contribution

The project contributes to the existing scholarship in three primary areas. It brings a global perspective to the studies of national policies towards Muslim women and Muslim communities in Eastern Europe. Such an approach challenges several existing paradigms, showing that these policies were not formed in national isolation. The project offers insights into the transnational circulation of ideas that informed policies and their application. Second, the project engages in theoretical and methodological discussions regarding the transnational circulation of cultural policies, and the application of gender studies to global history. Such debate is especially important regarding the issues such as the centre-periphery dichotomy, agency of the periphery, and benefits of the transnational approach in uncovering voices of Muslim women. Finally, the project contributes to the neglected field of gender history in Eastern Europe, particularly regarding religious minorities that are under-researched.

Academic outcomes

In the first three years, this project will bring forward several academic outcomes. After two years of the project we will organise an academic conference, bringing together all project team members, but also other scholars recognised worldwide. Following the conference, we will start preparing an edited volume which will be published by a reputable publishing house. This edited volume will be an excellent chance for doctoral and post-doctoral team members to publish with more established scholars.

We believe that establishing such knowledge-sharing platform is crucial for early-career scholars. The aim of the project is also to support them, and guide them through the research and publishing process. We will also encourage early-career scholars to publish individual articles from the project to the reputable journals, supporting them along the way. Knowledge-sharing will also be conducted during regular quarterly team meetings. Such meetings, presentations, reports, briefings and writings will provide crucial transferable skills to doctoral students for their future careers.

Organisational Timeline

During the course of the project, we will organise quarterly meetings in Prague, internal project workshop, open graduate workshop on transferable skills open to all students, international academic conference, and further grant preparation meetings.

Year 1

The project will commence after an internal project workshop in Prague. The PI will meet will all participants, define tasks and research procedures. After that, the researchers will engage in study according to the research stages described above and their research groups. We will also establish a website.

Year 2

Besides regular quarterly meetings, we will organise a one-day workshop for all students focusing on transferable skills for future employment in the international market beyond academia. The idea is to promote the project beyond the narrow circle of the participants. Besides researching according to the research stages, we will engage in facilitating the project findings in the blogposts. We will also engage in preparing an international academic conference, disseminating the calls and signing the contract with an academic publisher.

Year 3

In the final research year we will bring the results together, engage in writing, and submit individual articles for publication. We will organise an academic conference, and prepare an edited volume based on it. Finally, we will organise a set of meetings to prepare for future grant applications.

Our Funding

The project is generously funded by the Primus grant of Charles University in Prague with support from the Faculty of Arts and Department of East European Studies.