Many people, especially those above 35 living in Eastern Europe, still associate 8 March with the old official Communist celebrations, with faded red cloves and drunken men 'celebrating' Women's Day. But gradually the day, which symbolises female emancipation, has gained new legitimacy, a tour of the EURACTIV network reveals.
In the Czech Republic, Women's Day has still many opponents as it was misused by the former communist regime as a propaganda tool. Many still recall tragicomic scenes in which men used the day as an excuse to enjoy a tumultuous night, while women employees received boxes of sweets or soap as their bosses were obliged to give presents to every female staff member.
After the regime disintegrated in 1989, 8 March was replaced by other celebrations such as Mother's Day or Valentine's Day. Those, however, never acquired the same popularity in the Czech Republic as many people saw them as artificial or commercial.
In 2004, when the Social Democrats were on power, a law on public feasts was passed in parliament and confirmed the 8 March as a day to celebrate, despite the protests of the centre-right majority in the Senate, the upper chamber of parliament.
Nowadays, things are slowly changing as the younger generation has no memory of former times. What is certain is that florists' sales are high on Women's Day, with some recording even higher takings than on Mother's Day or Valentine's Day, EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.
Prime minister recites poems
In Slovakia, which formed one nation with the Czech Republic until 1 January 1993, the celebration of 8 March was quite politicised at first. Centre-right parties, for example, have demanded that Women's Day be replaced by Mother's Day as the official holiday.
Nowadays, both days are considered festive, although neither is a 'state holiday'. The ruling party, social democrats SMER-SD, is pushing for Women's Day to be upgraded to an official celebration.
Party-sponsored celebratory events have taken place across Slovakia in recent days. According to this weekend's media, Prime Minister Robert Fico recited poems and cracked jokes about male-female relationships on a tour of the country. It soon became apparent that it was mostly elderly women gathered at such events.
The SMER events are also seen by many as being part of the election campaign, since elections are slowly looming in Slovakia (June 2010). On the defensive, Fico rejected any link between Women's Day and communist times and insisted that it was in fact in remembrance of New York female movements from the beginning of the 20th century (see 'Background'). He insisted that Women's Day was also celebrated in Czechoslovakia before World War II.
Tights no longer offered as presents
In Poland, as Women's Day is no longer institutionalised, the celebration is even more prominent today than it was in the past. Many people remember the poor quality red carnations offered to women in the totalitarian days. However, nowadays it is much appreciated that men give flowers to women that day, or simply behave nicely by inviting them for a coffee or a piece of cake.
At school and in companies, it is normal for men to give their feminine colleagues a small present. But one thing is certain: nobody offers tights or coffee beans any more. Both were in short supply during the communist period.
Despite having suffered from perhaps the toughest communist regime under Ceausescu, Romanians today happily celebrate Women's Day without thinking about the past. Although 8 March is not an official celebration, many companies allow their female employees the afternoon off. The move is hardly seen as sexist, despite the fact that many women use the time available to cook a festive dinner.
In Bulgaria, 8 March is a celebration loved by many, and political connotations play a marginal role. The country has several holidays in the first days of March – 1 March is the day when everybody offers their relatives and friends martenistas – symbols of spring as ancient as pagan times. 3 March is the national day, marking the end of five centuries of Ottoman domination. Women's Day comes in handy for continuing to celebrate, many Bulgarians confirm.