In the 90s, after the fall of the communist government, the republic formerly known as Czechoslovakia was going through turbulent changes, and social roles were shaken. The so-called “transformation” or “transition” years were marked by constant comparison with the West. There was a focus on democracy. On teaching Western economics. On generally embracing exchange with the West. What did this all mean for feminism?
The first feminist organization in Slovakia, Aspekt was officially registered in 1993 as the Aspekt Women’s Interest Association—and it launched with a journal. Still today, the association focuses on gender, equality, and women’s rights. ASPEKT, the journal, however, no longer exists. But its history represents an important development for feminism in Slovakia, as it became a site for an emerging discourse in the country.
In 1993, the feminist cultural journal opened with an editorial letter, written by one of the founders and chief editors, Jana Cviková. In ”Letter from Bratislava: An Attempt at Post-Socialist Feminism,” Cviková writes:
“The large-scale social change we are experiencing brings a natural uncertainty and a shock to social roles. The old social roles are falling apart and we are trying to find our place in the new ones. Despite all the changes, even in our country, a woman’s life is still more significantly determined by gender than a man’s life (although even in his case, the pressure of the role stereotype is very strong). … Our goal is quite simple: the possibility of a free choice of social roles, which should not be predestined by gender.”
In the period between 1993 to 2004, 21 issues of ASPEKT were published (all in an A4 format, ranging from 92 to 334 pages). Each issue was monothematic, focusing, for instance, on “witches,” “fears and barriers,” “lesbian experiences,” or the “personal is political,” thereby opening up such thematics to a Slovak and Czech readership. The team of editors wrote original pieces and translated several fundamental texts of the feminist movement into Slovak for the first time, such as Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and Gender Trouble by Judith Butler.
“The team of editors wrote original pieces and translated several fundamental texts of the feminist movement into Slovak for the first time…”
Before 1989, it was almost impossible to access Western feminist essays and studies in the former Czechoslovakia. Providing translations was of immense value to an emerging Slovak feminist community. However, it was the writing, analysis, and criticism of the country’s own recent political past and present from a perspective of gender that made ASPEKT most significant. Socialism had promised the emancipation of women, but in practice it most often doubled their work: They both participated in the labor force (and received lower pay), while also caring for the household and family.
Feminism is often defined politically somewhere on the left, and frequently committed to socialism. But how can you praise socialism in a country that was under communist dictatorship for years? Beyond making ideas and texts accessible, one of the hardest tasks for ASPEKT was probably to think through the history of feminism in relation to the country’s experience with socialism, and chart a way forward.
“…one of the hardest tasks for ASPEKT was probably to think through the history of feminism in relation to the country’s experience with socialism…”
Today, the Aspekt association has its own publishing house and online blog, Aspektin. Aspekt organizes educational and literature events, and actively participates in Slovak movements such as the reproduction rights march, “Nebudeme Ticho” (“We Won’t Be Silent”). In 2019, the president of the Slovak Republic, Andrej Kiska, awarded one of the chief editors and founders of ASPEKT, Jana Juráňová, a state award for extraordinary services to the development of democracy and the protection of human rights and freedoms. After all the years, Aspekt’s presence and activities haven’t lost relevance. On the contrary, the association remains a part of the feminist discourse in the country—and it all started with its journal.
Barbora Demovičová is a Slovak graphic designer based in Berlin. She studied in the Faculty of Fine Arts BUT in Brno, Czech Republic, the State Academy of Arts in Stuttgart, Germany, and Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig, Germany. She’s interested in independent publishing, illustration, exhibiting, and the politics of design.