Feminism in Czech Republic
It is necessary to mention another variation of Czech feminism, which may appear marginal in relation to the more institutionalized, practically oriented groups. Nevertheless. it is a movement which was very vivid at the beginning of the 1990s and very important in introducing feminism into the Czech Republic: the activities of feminist sci-fi writers (20). The tradition of hiding the (anti-regime, anti-establishment, etc.) message in a supposedly harmless genre was perfected in Czech literature. When in the 1980s the political situation relaxed, many local science fiction clubs were established and new authors emerged from their ranks. Between them was Carola Biedermann, who published a story called "They (Oni)" in the March 1991 issue of sci-fi magazine Ikarie. Surprisingly, there were not sci-fi motives, but a vivid "naturalistic description of how various perverts and amoyin relatives ... molest the unnamed heroine"(21).
But only her next book, Mstivá Kantilena (The Vengeful Canto), published in 1999, reached a wide audience. Biederman explains her thesis that men are extraterrestrials that conquered the planet inhabited by its original, peaceful inhabitants (women), who became slaves. The book is packed with cynical, humorous proofs that men are not from the Earth, and vulgar psychoanalytic jokes (i.e., men like vacuuming because it is a phallic work). Unfortunately, many people took the book very seriously and much of the humor was left misunderstood.
Another important writer, Eva Hauserová, presents in her 1992 collection of stories Hostina mutagenh (The Feast of Mutagents) heroines that struggle to survive and care for their children under disastrous environmental conditions, which reflects the real environmental situation in the Czech Republic.
The opposite pole of the sci-fi section is presented in the work of Vilma Kadlecková, who is a generation younger and still enchanted with traditional gender roles, which were denied her family during the regime. Her works express the longing for the traditional family, clearly defined social and sexual roles. At the present, there is no need to encode the messages of the work into a superficially harmless genre, and the feminist sci-fi quickly lost its vitality and appeal for the wider public. Many Czech feminists actually claim that the basic aim of any movement should be the reeducation of citizenry to an awareness of rights and responsibilities in the new democracies(22). The objective of many feminist groups is to show women (and men) one of the ways how to escape from the past and form their identities as citizens, and be, regardless of their sex, aware of their rights and responsibilities.
Despite the long heritage of equal rights in workplace and education, the history of an organized Czech feminist movement is very short. From the beginning, it had to deal with radical otherness: the otherness of different women within the Czech Republic and the otherness of the Western feminists that were helping them in organizing themselves. The ideals of a united "feminist brigade" all over the world never appealed to Czech feminists. As Jirina Siklová wrote:
"We myself, all the women quoted in this article, and many others are not in search of global sisterhood at all, and it is only when we give up expecting it that we can get anywhere. It is each other's very 'otherness ' that motivates us, and the things we find in common take on greater meaning within the context of otherness. There is so much to learn by comparing the ways in which we are different, and which the same elements of women 's experience are global, and which aren't, and wondering why, and what it means" (23).
This openness and curiosity attached to the knowledge and admiration of variety and otherness can be seen as the motto of Czech (and Easter European) feminism. It is a feature often missing in the traditional feminism. Only in cooperation and tolerance, feminism can still be a significant discourse. And Eastern European feminisms are finding the way to tolerance.
1. Feminism was traditionally presented as a doctrine created by bored spoiled bourgeois women that never knew what real life is about.
2. Because the history of the Hussite movement isantique and yet not very well known outside the Czech Republic, I decided to included a brief (and rather amusing) outline found on the Czech Radio homepage here.
...One such religious reformer was to play a pivotal (though posthumous) role in deciding the country's fate for the next several hundred years. Jan Hus had been greatly influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe, and he began conducting his sermons at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague in Czech rather than in Latin, so that the common man could understand them. He also advocated the giving of communion in both species, and was critical of the church for its excessive policies ~ of amassing wealth, selling indulgences, and allowing the rich to tithe their way out of even mortal sins. Even as these ideas were gaining popularity in the Czech lands, they were becoming most wildly unpopular in other areas of the Holy Roman Empire (especially the Vatican.) This led to the burning of Master Jan Hus at the stake at the Council at Constance on July 6, 1415 when he refused to recant his words and despite that he had letter of safe conduct from Wenceslas IV's brother, Sigismund. The brutal killing of Jan Hus only served to incense and unite his followers, who came to be known as the Hussites. The Hussites were highly critical of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, and, in the Four Articles of Prague, they demanded that 1) all believers be permitted to receive Communion in both species; 2) all mortal and public sins be punished equally, regardless of the sinner's status 3) the Word of God be freely preached; and 4) the clergy give up their worldly wealth. This situation culminated in 1419 with the First Defenestration of Prague, in which Hussites threw 7 members of the Czech Town Council out of Prague's New Town Hall window and to their deaths on the points of Hussite-wielded pikes below. To make the situation more interesting, King Wenceslas IV had an apoplectic fit and died of a heart attack upon learning of the defenestration. But even after the death of his brother, Wenceslas IV, King Sigismund of Luxembourg, who also inherited the title of Holy Roman Emperor never really got to be king of Bohemia. The situation with the Hussites had gone too far, and he spent the rest of his life fighting them in the hopes of taking control of the throne he'd inherited from his brother. When his initial attempts to do this met with failure, he beseeched the Pope to send help. The mighty Hussites, led by the one-eyed military genius, Jan Zizka, defeated five waves of crusaders in a row: in 1420, 1421, 1422, 1427, and in 1437. Actually, the fifth army of crusaders sent to battle the Hussites turned tail and fled before even catching sight of the famed warriors -- because they were so terrified at hearing the refrain of the terrible Hussite battle song, "Ye Warriors of God." Well, in addition to fear-inspiring songs and the other tricks the Hussites had up their sleeves, they also had the thing that matters most conviction that their cause was the Just one. Their symbol was the chalice and their motto, "Truth Prevails." (This motto was later used by the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, as well as by a later President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel -- during the Velvet Revolution). Well, despite this and despite their brilliant military successes, all was not well within the Hussite movement itself. From the very start, the Hussite movement had been divided into factions -- the most prominent division was along economic lines. A number of peasant Hussites were nothing more than hooligans at best -- terrorists at worst -- who joined the cause only so that they could have a good excuse to go around robbing churches and setting them aflame with Catholics inside. These practices were considered to be rather in poor taste by the aristocratic Hussites. Over time, the movement splintered ever more -- even spawning an early nudist sect, the Adamites. The history books usually divide the Hussites into radical "Taborites" -- named for the town of Tabor, a city the Hussites founded for the occasion of the Second Coming, which many considered imminent -- and the moderate "Utraquists" -- derived from the Latin "sub utraque specie" for their belief that communion should be given "in both kinds" -- made up mostly of the nobility. In reality, though, the situation on the ground just was not that simple. This infighting came to a head at the Battle of Lipany on May 30, 1434, at which the Czech Hussite factions fought among themselves. This battle is considered by some to be the single most tragic event in all of Czech history. Well, the victory at the Battle of Lipany went to the moderates, and this paved the way for an agreement to be reached between the "Utraquist Hussites" of Bohemia and the Roman Catholic Church. The Basel Compact, ceremoniously announced in 1436, permitted the "Utraquist Hussites" to take Communion in both kinds, to have their church services conducted in the Czech language, and absolved them of having to pay dues to Rome. The Pope later refused to recognize the agreement, but not before it had served to bring an end to the costly Hussite wars. The extremist "Taborite Hussites" were not a party to this agreement, and refused to accept it. While the moderates stayed in the Catholic Church, the extremists went underground, forming their own church, ordaining their own bishops, pioneering public education, sending out missionaries (even to the 13 original American colonies) and secretly printing Czech-language copies of the "Kralice Bible" named for the town of Kralice in which it was printed. This translation is still in use in the Czech lands today, despite that it is often hard for modern speakers of the language to understand.
3. Interestingly, the socialist regime used the Hussite movement as a token example of the class struggle and included it into Marxist explanation of the history structured by the struggle of the classes.
4. Jirina Siklová. "Feminism and the Roots of Apathy in the Czech Republic." Social Research, Vol. 64, No.2. Summer 1997, p. 264.
5. These "capabilities" need some further explanation for those who are not familiar with the situation in the socialist countries. There was never real poverty and hunger in Czechoslovakia during the regime (although it was difficult to buy some "fancy food" like bananas, peanuts etc.), but certain basic goods were at times very difficult to find, due to centrally (and badly) controlled economy. So shopping often turned into a big adventure, as sometimes the production of basic things as toilet tissue was miscalculated and the stores run of it. Besides, it was almost impossible to find nice clothing for children and or a fancy dress. (Later, with Gorbachev and Perestroika, Western fashion magazines in Russian were sold, and as most of Czech women were really good and sowing, knitting and similar handcrafts, they were often able to create miraculous outfits almost out of nothing.) Shopping was an adventure that included hours of standing in line, very famous were the Thursday morning lines in front of bookstores, because every Thursday new books came out and a limited editions non-regime-friendly writers could be found there. Libraries were always considered as the pride of the family and were displayed in the room where guest were accepted.
6. Jirina Siklová. "Mc Donald's, Terminators, Coca Cola Ads -- and Feminism? Imports from the West." in Ana's Land. Sisterhood in Eastern Europe (ed. Tanya Renne, Westview Press, 1997, p. 76. Siklova points out that even though the number of women in parliament was 20-35 %, (which decreased to 9% in 1991) their real political influence was questionable. (p. 73.)
7. Ibid 79.
9 . Laura Busheikin. "Is Sisterhood Really Global? Western Feminism in Eastern Europe," in Renne, p. 12-21.
10. Ibid., 12.
11. Ibid., 14.
12. Ibid, 13.
13. Ibid, 12. For example, many Eastern European feminists would claim that because of the socialist stress on emancipation, patriarchal society similar to the Western version never developed in the Eastern block.
14. Ibid., 16.
15. Ibid., 19.
16. Jirina Siklová. "Feminism and the Roots of Apathy in the Czech Republic." Social Research, Vol. 64, No. Summer 1997, p. 271.
17. Jeffrey C. Goldfarb. "Why There is no Feminism after Communism?" Social Research, Vol. 64. No.2. Summer 1997, p. 234.
18. Jirina Vrabková. "Women Priorities and Visions," in Renne, p.74.
19. Jirina Siklová and Jana Hradilková. "Women and Violence," in Renne, p.80.
20. Eva Hauser. "Men are Burglars of Extraterrestrial Origin! Women Writers and Science Fiction in tile Czech Republic," in Renne, pp. 96-97.
21. Ibid., 96.
22. "Slovakia and Czech Republic: Importing Ideology?," in Renne, p. 70.
23. Jirina Siklová, quoted in Laura Busheikin. "Is sisterhood Really Global? Western Feminism in Eastern Europe," in Renne, p. 20.