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Four success stories: the model for Slovak women

Concluding a three-part series concerning the changing roles of women in Slovak society, The Slovak Spectator chose to profile four representatives from an ever-growing number of successful Slovak women.
The women represent four different worlds - art, politics, business, and the NGO sector. Despite being active in different areas, they all have one thing in common: they are setting the model for new generations of successful and independent women.


Anna Malíková
photo: Courtesy of the SNS

"I want to compose new songs and write new lyrics, that's all," said Jana Kirschner, Slovakia's most popular solo singer who was crowned 1999 Female Singer of the Year during the annual Zlatý Slávik [Golden Nightingale] awards. In 1999, she was also awarded the titles of Artist of the Year and Album of the Year by the Slovak Music Academy. Music critics as well as music fans say that Jana Kirschner is the brightest Slovak singing star.

She first appeared on the stage in 1996 when she was a finalist in the Miss Slovakia national beauty contest. After singing in the talent part of the show, she was soon offered an album contract by the Polygram music company.

"The company tried to push her into being 'the Slovak Allanis Morissette' and this did not suit Jana's style at all," said music critic and Kirschner fan Laco Režucha. "Her first album, released in 1997 and named 'Jana Kirschner', was a failure. But in 1999 she returned to the scene with a new album called 'V cudzom meste' [In a strange town] and the success was well-deserved."

Today, the 21-year-old Kirschner represents the modern independent woman. She says her world is all about music and poetry. Her boyfriend plays in her band and Kirschner says that with them the division of duties is "simple - he plays piano and I sing."

Although Kirschner says that she has always surrounded herself with predominantly male company, she doesn't think that equality and acceptance as equal partners has ever been an issue in her life. "Everybody has it as he or she wants," she said.

Anna Malíková
- political leader


Jolana Petrášová
photo: Courtesy of Jolana Petrášová

When Anna Malíková was elected head of the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) on November 2, 1999, she became the first female party leader in modern Slovak history. As a key figure in the predominantly male world of Slovak politics, she says that her male colleagues often forget their good manners when "they fall short of having a reasonable argument," leading them to react with "vulgarity" towards their female colleagues. "These reactions reflect their own complexes and personal problems," Malíková says.

Born in Vysoká nad Kysucou in north-western Slovakia, Malíková earned her degree from Bratislava's Faculty of Natural Sciences where she studied to be a teacher of mathematics and geography. Employed as an educator before 1989, Malíková said that before the revolution she had never been a member of any political party. "It was only in 1990 that I decided to no longer stand aside, to become actively involved with the country's social and political developments."

Despite some negative comments that she has endured from parliamentary colleagues, and even from her own party-mates (such as former SNS boss Ján Slota who called her an "old spinster" shortly before being ousted from his post after repeatedly appearing drunk in public), she says she is determined to lead her mainly male party.

"I don't think that the small number of women in Slovak politics is caused by prejudice against women's abilities. When my colleagues voted for me they certainly were not deciding between a man or a woman, but for the abilities that I have and the work I have done."

Even political analysts who condemn the SNS's nationalistic politics appreciate Malíková. "The fact that Malíková is the first parliamentary party leader is undoubtedly interesting," said Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs. "She brings a more cultivated demeanour to SNS politics."

Jolana Petrášová
- top manager


Magda Vášáryová
photo: TASR

As vice-president and a member of the board of directors of Slovnaft - the country's biggest oil refining company - Jolana Petrášová is a shining exception among Slovak women in the corporate world.

Petrášová began working at Slovnaft immediately after she graduated from the Economic University in Bratislava in 1978. "When people finish their degrees they usually take the first offer that comes without any hope that the job will be permanent. But for me, Slovnaft opened great opportunities to grow professionally," said Petrášová.

Her ascent up the corporate ladder was swift: starting as an analyst in Slovnaft's analysis and statistics department, she was head of the accounting section by 1982. Two years later she was made the head of accounting for all Slovak chemical companies. In 1989, she became Slovnaft's vice-president for economy and finance, and in 1998 the vice-president of management and human resources.

According to Michal Kustra, an equity analyst with Tatra Banka, the lack of women like Petrášová at top management positions is due to a lack of confidence in women stemming from traditional sexist thinking which still pervades Slovak society. "But despite this fact, there are still women who make it - just look at Petrášová or [deputy secretary general of the Bratislava Stock Exchange] Barbora Lazarová," he said.

"Women rarely compete for top management posts because society still wants to see them fulfil their traditional roles as homemakers," Petrášová said. "My husband helped me in my professional rise because, unlike most Slovak men, he was willing to be largely responsible for raising our now 17-year-old daughter."

She added that women were often to blame for not attaining social and professional recognition. "Top positions require top responsibility, and many women don't trust themselves in carrying out this commitment," she said.

Magda Vášáryová
- third sector activist, diplomat

Mention her name to any Slovak and you'll definitely get a reaction. Positive or negative, people know who Magda Vášáryová is because as well as being a renowned Slovak actress, she was also a presidential candidate in last year's national elections. The founder of the NGO Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA), the ever-active Vášáryová was recently appointed as Slovak Ambassador to Poland.

"When I was in Austria [as Czechoslovak Ambassador from 1990 to 1992], the difference between here and there in accepting women in politics and diplomacy was obvious. In Slovakia, people still have a hard time getting used to seeing women in positions of leadership."

For a woman to succeed in Slovakia, she says, she must work twice as hard as her male counterpart. "I think for women it is very difficult not just to get to the top, but also to prove every day that they are competent for the position. If a woman in a leading post makes a mistake, people attribute this to the fact that she is 'just a stupid woman'."

But Vášáryová commands respect from her male colleagues in the NGO sector. Pavol Demeš, the head of the US German Marshall Fund for central and eastern Europe, said that Vášáryová had done significant work in the field of foreign relations and foreign policy in Slovakia. "She has the power to excite people with her ideas, and she likes to demand of herself and of her team more than just the local Slovak standard. She wants to compete with those who are better, and this trait is very untypical for Slovaks."


Jana Kirschner
photo: Ivona Orešková

Concluding a three-part series concerning the changing roles of women in Slovak society, The Slovak Spectator chose to profile four representatives from an ever-growing number of successful Slovak women.

The women represent four different worlds - art, politics, business, and the NGO sector. Despite being active in different areas, they all have one thing in common: they are setting the model for new generations of successful and independent women.

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