Kata Pejnović

Illustration: Zoran Cardula / Fierce Women, detail

23.3.1899 – 10.11.1966

Kata Pejnović, a social and political activist and a people’s heroine of Yugoslavia, was born in 1899 as Kata Bogić in the village of Smiljan near Gospić. Due to poverty, she finished only four grades of elementary school and started working in order to help the family. At the same time, she read a lot and got interested in Communist literature, motivating others in the village to do the same. At the age of 20, she married Jovan Pejnović, a repatriate from the US. They had five children: three sons and Jovan were killed by the Ustasha in 1941, and only her two daughters survived the war. 

She joined the Communist movement in 1936, and two years later became a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. Working on the political education of rural people, she distributed Party propaganda while selling milk and cheese in the surrounding villages.

She also participated in organizing the Women’s Antifascist Front (AFŽ) in Lika, and encouraged local women to join the People’s Liberation struggle (NOB). She would say: “Leave your house, your fields and cattle and come. You are more valuable to our struggle than you know. The enemy can plunder and destroy everything you own – your house, and your fields, and your cattle… But no one can steal what you have learned.”

In 1942, the AFŽ District Committee for Lika started printing the women’s paper Žena u borbi (Woman in Struggle). The editorial board included Pejnović, Marija Šoljan, Jela Bičanić and Slavka Očko, and the paper’s objective was to educate and empower women and to promote the figure of the woman fighter.

At the first session of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) in Bihać in 1942, Kata was the only woman delegate. Later that year, at the founding conference in Bosanski Petrovac, she was elected President of AFŽ Yugoslavia. She also served in the Parliament of the People’s Republic of Croatia and was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia.

She died in 1966 and was buried in the Tomb of the People’s Heroes in Mirogoj Cemetery. Two years later, she was officially named a people’s heroine of Yugoslavia.

The Women’s Antifascist Front (AFŽ) was a mass movement of women in World War II and one of the most important organizations in Yugoslavia. It was officially founded in December 1942 at the First National Conference of Women in Bosanski Petrovac, although women had started organizing even before that. It is estimated that around two million women from all over Yugoslavia participated in the People’s Liberation Struggle.

During the fascist occupation, AFŽ members utilized their organizational skills, determination and dedication to contribute to the resistance and liberation of the territory and to educate and mobilize women. They supplied the fighters with food, clothes and medical care, they worked in weapons and garment factories, but also took part in the battlefield.

AFŽ Conference, Dalmatia 1943. Source: AFŽ Archive

This period was also marked by legislative changes concerning gender equality, women’s freedom to choose a surname upon marrying, equal parental rights, economic independence, the right to divorce and civil marriage. Regardless of the many disagreements about the reasons for the dissolution of AFŽ in 1953, there is no doubt that the social position of women had been won thanks to their struggle, sacrifice and strength. The doctoral dissertation of the feminist historian Lydia Sklevicky, posthumously published as Horses, Women, Wars (1966), provides a thorough and nuanced study of AFŽ and the position of women in Yugoslavia more generally.

Former monument The Gallows (1961) by sculptor Vanja Radauš, source: jadovno.com

Jasikovac Forest Park near Gospić

Jasikovac is a popular outing spot and promenade in the vicinity of Gospić. There used to be a monument there dedicated to the victims of Jadovno called The Gallows (1961) by sculptor Vanja Radauš. It was a monumental sculpture consisting of eight-meters high "gallows," a pool, and a bronze statue of a woman mourning the fallen partisans. It is believed that the sculpture represented the Woman from Lika, i.e., Kata Pejnović, whom Radauš had met during the war.From 1973 to 1991, the elementary school in Gospić was named after people's heroines Kata Pejnović and Nada Dimić. In front of the school, there used to be another monolithic and rather abstract sculpture Two Women / The Water Carriers by Radauš, which the local people identified as the aforementioned two women from Lika. Radauš is also the author of two busts dedicated to Kata: one used to be in front of the elementary school in Gospić (together with the bust of Nada Dimić), and the other in front for the kindergarten in the Zapruđe neighbourhood in Zagreb, which had been named after Kata prior to the 1990s. Today, the Zagreb bust is kept at Gliptoteka HAZU, while the Gospić bust has been lost.