Vračare: Village wise women, reproductive health, and Yugoslavia's early socialist modernisation project

J Aging Stud. 2023 Mar:64:101084. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2022.101084. Epub 2022 Dec 29.


This historical article examines post-WWII Yugoslavia and the state's campaigns to modernise and unify the extensive Yugoslav peasantry, and draws comparisons with other countries from the Communist Bloc. It argues that even though Yugoslavia ostensibly set out to create a new 'Yugoslav way' that was dissimilar to Soviet socialism, its tactics and underlying motivations were very similar to those of the Soviet modernisation projects. The article analyses the evolving concept of the vračara (elder women folk healers) as a vehicle for the state's modernising mission. Just as Soviet babki represented a threat to the new 'social order' in Russia, vračare were the targets of the Yugoslav state's anti-folk-medicine propaganda. It also argues that reproductive health provided a moment in the lifecycle when the state attempted to bind women to its services. The first part of the article deals with the bureaucratic push to disempower village wise women using propaganda campaigns and the introduction of medical facilities in remote communities. Even though the medicalization process ultimately failed to fully establish science-based medical services in all areas of the Yugoslav Republic, the negative image of the old crone healer endured well beyond the first post-war decade. The second half of the article examines the gendered stereotype of the old crone and how she became a stand-in for everything backward and undesirable relative to modern medicine.

Keywords: Bureaucratised health system; Gender history; Lifecycle; Modernisation; Reproductive health; Socialism.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Facilities
  • Humans
  • Reproductive Health*
  • Socialism*
  • Yugoslavia