Texts and Contexts from the History of Feminism and Women’s Rights in East Central Europe
Research, conferences, volumes and articles of the past decade made it clear that East Central Europe has a rich and colourful history of feminist thought and critical thinking about women’s place in society. However, most of the textual corpus itself has remained inaccessible outside the local languages of the region. The aim of the research project “Texts and Contexts from the History of Feminism and Women’s Rights in East Central Europe” is to offer a selection of the most representative texts of feminism and the thinking of women’s rights from the region in English, the current transmitting language, which makes the local knowledges accessible within this region too. The volume(s) produced will follow the structures and editing principles of the series Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe, redesigned according to the specificities of the current project.
There have been local attempts, as well as international efforts to think about a feminist canon of East Central Europe. Feminist thought has been present in the region from the early 19th century on, proving that the East—West divide and the discourse on the backwardness of the region in terms of women’s rights and feminist thinking does not hold. The rich selection of biographies of individual women in the Biographical Dictionary edited by Francisca de Haan, Krassimira Daskalova and Anna Loutfi, as well as monographs such as Melissa Feinberg’s about the interwar Czechoslovak movements, Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak’s about feminism in Ukraine between 1884 and 1939, Andrea Pető’s, Susan Zimmermann’s and Katalin Fábián’s about the Hungarian women’s movements, and the edited volumes and journal special issues (especially the publishing practice of the editors of Aspasia) show us that there is a growing shared knowledge of the regional feminist ideas.
The already existing, important genealogical projects in the country languages, however, point out a demand for finding out more about our feminist histories. In Romanian, there are already two selections of the important feminist texts edited by Ştefania Mihailescu and Ghizela Cosma, but one also may mention the presentation of some feminist foremothers in various issues of the Serbian journal ProFemina, the edited volume by Suzana Tratnik and Nataša S. Segan about the lesbian movement in Slovenia, the online archives of the feminist internet journal in Hungary, nokert.hu. There was an attempt to provide a selection of important feminist texts in original language or English translation from 29 European countries on the website FRAmes on GENder.
Besides the way the Biographical Dictionary was created, there is book project which in terms of methodology and approach is a forerunner of this planned reader of feminist texts. The Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945) is a collection of texts from the region that served as collective identity-building ones, had an “ideological function in terms of collective identity”. These diverse texts, from pieces of literature to anthems, constitutions, revolutionary songs to political essays and philosophical treatises are put in context through essays accompanying them. The volumes are structured into meta-themes or periods (Late Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism and Anti-Modernism) and then each volume contains clusters of texts arranged into sub-themes. These entail themes representative of aspects of identity construction, such as symbolic geography, images of the other, creating a national public, etc. The other exemplary attempt to create a regionally encompassing corpus is the multi-authored A History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe by a team of scholars partly overlapping the team that prepared the “ID Reader” volumes. While the book is a historical-analytical one, i.e. not a collection of sources, its aim is to put the different national canons into dialogue with each other along thematic and conceptual similarities and differences.
The aim of “Texts and Contexts from the History of Feminism and Women’s Rights in East Central Europe” is to show through a collection of texts how feminism as political thought or ideology is shaped and organised in the region. These texts can vary from political treatises, philosophy to literary works, even films and the visual arts, with the unavoidable and inherently necessary incorporation of the personal and the private. Women’s political rights, right to education, women’s role in nation-building, women and war (and especially women and peace) are just as valid themes as the gendered division of labour, violence against women, the body, reproduction.
Through the selection of texts, the similarities and differences between the individual local, national contexts are to be highlighted. The contextualisation would not only place women in their national context, but would also show the intersections between other systems of thought, for example the alliances or shared agenda with liberalism, nationalism, even eugenics, etc. The aim of telling a regional story is automatically entangled with the global history of feminist thought and the thinking of women’s place in society: besides the frequent interactions with feminists in Western Europe and North America, there are influences from India to the Middle East present in Central and Eastern Europe. As feminism is always already transnational, the creation of a volume of selected texts needs to be a result of a transnational, intercultural, multidisciplinary cooperation.