Brno, one of the principal cities of the Czech republic, has a left progressive community which, in many cases, contrasts favourably with the capital city Prague, writes Diana Young. A visit to Brno over the weekend of International Women’s Day illustrates the varied and active feminist and socialist groups in the city.
On the Saturday afternoon of the 7th of March, I was invited by Maja Vusilovi? from SdruZeny to take part in a discussion in English of the socialist feminist work Arruzza, Bhattacharya and Fraser’s Feminism for the 99%: A manifesto (2019). The reading group is also a part of the Podzemní univezita (underground university) where there is a lots of different courses that are available as an alternative to the mainstream education. SdruZeny for its part describes itself as an informal activist platform focusing on human rights and campaigning for women’s rights. One of the more attractive features of this group is its inclusiveness; inclusive of LGBTQ+ members and inclusive of male activists.
The event was held in the venue, Tri Ocasci. This place, a short walk from the city centre, serves as a multi-functional community centre. At once this co-operative is one of the best vegan restaurants in Brno but it also boasts a series of meeting rooms including one that can act as a music venue. One feature, the envy of any equivalent venue in Prague, is the community library. There are a few hundred texts in English, Czech and Spanish covering anarchism, socialism, feminism and related themes which are available for members to borrow. Last Saturday the library put on a display of some of their feminist books and publications.
Tri Ocasci acts as a focal point for socialists and feminists in Brno and, just inside the main entrance, there are a range of journals and magazines (in Czech) available for sale. Produced in Brno, one of the more dynamic publications is Rote Zora. Named after the German Radical Feminist group from the 1970s, Rote Zora is produced in an endearing hard copy and is now moving from its second to third number. The magazine with its spikey, punky style exemplifies the inclusive nature of feminist activism in Brno. It has articles on sex (the verb and not the noun), TERF feminism, drag, masculinities and other political and cultural questions. There is an evident overlap between the personnel of Rote Zora and SdruZeny without the one being the house journal of the other.
On the 8th of March, Brno marked International Women’s Day. Unlike other feminist groups in the country SdruZeny was confident enough to remember the socialist origins of the day. It is a disappointing truth that more than thirty years since the Velvet Revolution in the Czech republic there are still some who are too coy to put down a marker and use the word socialism. At a well-attended, imaginative workshop, carried out in English and in Czech, participants were taken through a series of role-playing, decision-making scenarios: the New York Shirt Waist strike of 1909, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Nigerian Women’s War of 1929, the direction action of Baader-Meinhof/Red Army Faction and the campaign for the repeal of Article 8 of the Irish constitution. Maja Vusilovi? from SdruZeny said that the aim of the workshop was “primarily as a reminder of a rich socialist past of International Women’s Day and the huge potential women had throughout history when it comes to initiating and demanding social change”. Each of the examples illustrated socialist tactics and principles beyond the historically specific events. There were some clear parallels such as colonial struggles, labour organisation which chimed in with the previous night’s discussion on social reproduction and the socialist feminism of Feminism for the 99%.
Nora is one of two Brno-based NGOs which is active campaigning for feminist persepectives and human rights, the other being Nesehnuti. Founded in 2004, Nora describes itself as a gender information centre campaigning for equality and human rights. On the 8th they presented an interactive workshop (once again in English and in Czech) which discussed the main issues and obstacles to human rights and gender equality in the Czech republic. The evening concluded with a discussion of how activists might realise these aims.
And so, while there was no march this March there was certainly a strong statement of socialist feminist solidarity.
But Brno does not limit its commitment to feminism to a damp spring day in March. In the autumn SdruZeny hosts its annual feminist conference which brings together activists, academics and NGOs to discuss, plan and to experience that vital feeling of practical comradeship. This year’s theme is Intersectionality and, given SdruZeny’s reputation for inclusion, there is anticipation of strong representation from feminist, socialist and Queer activists – and a combination of each and all.
The left in Brno is well-served by the socialist feminist activists of SdruZeny, inclusive of all regardless of sex, gender identity or sexuality but committed to a socialist future now.
Groups mentioned in the text:
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