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SLOVAK MATTERS

Hard-won flowers

DISHEVELED, drunken toasting and compulsory card writing are the things Slovaks I've talked to most associate with International Women's Day (Medzinárodný Deň Žien), celebrated March 8, the day this issue hits the stands. Observed during communism, the day has a long and flowery history here.
During the old regime, it was good etiquette for a husband to start celebrating the holiday at work, toasting his female colleagues (kolegyne). When he finally called it quits and returned to his wife (manželka), he was not always in the best of form.

DISHEVELED, drunken toasting and compulsory card writing are the things Slovaks I've talked to most associate with International Women's Day (Medzinárodný Deň Žien), celebrated March 8, the day this issue hits the stands. Observed during communism, the day has a long and flowery history here.

During the old regime, it was good etiquette for a husband to start celebrating the holiday at work, toasting his female colleagues (kolegyne). When he finally called it quits and returned to his wife (manželka), he was not always in the best of form.

One colleague told me that sometimes her father (otec), or her neighbours (susedia), would come home in such a state, squeezing a tiny bouquet (kytička) of snowdrops (snežienky), those little white flowers that appear at the beginning of spring, or carnations (karafiáty or klinčeky, in proper Slovak). A few kisses and some overly earnest words of appreciation would be awarded to the wife, and then the men usually went straight to bed.

At school, children would draw (kresliť), paint (maľovať), or make some other creative presents for their mothers. Teachers were sure to teach them poems (básničky) or songs (pesničky), like this song for example:


Najkrajšia hviezdička
z celého nebíčka
je tvoja mamička,
čo ti Boh dal.
Až ti tá hviezdička
zmizne raz z nebíčka,
potom do srdiečka,
zájde ti žiaľ.
Nájdeš si lásku i kamaráta, nikto ti nedá čo tvoja matka.


The most beautiful star
in all of heaven
Is your mama,
who God gave you.
When your little star
disappears from heaven,
Then in your heart,
grief will settle.
May you find love and friends, none will be your mama.


Though one friend told me that the compulsive communist history of the day gives it a bad reputation (povesť - or reputácia if you want the easy route), he said that he doesn't hold anything against the day.

In fact, I could not find anybody who did not like the day. What kind of cold-hearted person would say they were against showing affection (prejaviť náklonnosť) to wives, mothers, grandmothers, friends, or girlfriends?

However, now that it is not mandatory, several said, a lot of people forget to observe it.

The communists doubtlessly appropriated Women's Day for its origin - it came into being in the second decade of the 20th century on the initiative of socialist parties and women's rights advocacy groups. In those early days it was the focal point for the suffrage movement and protests against discrimination and poor labour conditions.

The holiday established itself with the climactic success of a strike by workingwomen in Russia in 1917 during World War I that forced the Tsar out of power and won women the right to vote. This event, which began on March 8 according to the Gregorian calendar, cemented celebrations to that date.

Today most people do not think of the day as a political or feminist event and, like my friend mentioned above, tend to disassociate it from ideology (ideológia) or politics (politika).

But the spirit of the day has not been forgotten. One poster up around town reads sarcastically, "...[the holiday] even follows the times - for carnations now stand in more exotic flowers or luxurious sweets" ("...ba dokonca kráča s dobou - karafiáty vystriedali exotickejšie druhy kvetov či luxusné sladkosti"). The poster is that of three anarchist and feminist groups holding a happening (the same in Slovak) on SNP square to encourage engagement with the issues of gender (pohlavie), sexism (sexizmus), and patriarchy (patriarchát).

Their take on the holiday may not be so out of march with the times, as trafficking in women is becoming a growing issue in the region and parliamentary parties recently discussed quotas for female participation in the government.

Following the poster's gist in another direction, you might say that this increase from simple flowers to luxury chocolates shows how consumerism (konzumný spôsob života) is making the holiday superficial (umelý, povrchný). This is not a hard accusation to make, especially in a country that has seen a rise in marketing hype surrounding imported, Western holidays like Valentine's Day in the past few years.

But looking back at the celebration of the event during the years of communism, it seems as if the holiday has gotten no worse, though perhaps no better. As for political struggle, it seems that women's victories on this day were earned long ago and now they reap the benefits in flowers.

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