International Women’s Day makes a comeback in Latvia

March 8th, 2008 - 9:17 am ICT by admin  

DPA
Riga, March 8 (DPA) After an absence of more than a decade, a Soviet-era holiday has returned to the official calendar of a country that shuns its Soviet past. In many ways, however, the March 8 holiday celebrating women - officially known as the International Women’s Day - had never left the Baltic nation of Latvia. Some associate it with 50 years of Soviet occupation, when the Russians deported thousands of Latvians to Siberian gulags. The occupation cost the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia their independence.

“I am for traditional Latvian holidays. March 8 is associated with the Soviet occupation and I wouldn’t want to receive flowers on that day,” someone named Rasa said in a comment on delfi.lv, a Latvian news portal.

This Saturday, men will give women in their lives flowers and small gifts. If Valentine’s Day celebrates lovers and Mother’s Day celebrates mothers, Women’s Day is meant for all others.

The holiday is rooted in the industrial revolution and the early women’s rights movement. At the initiative of the German socialist Clara Zetkin, a 1910 international women’s conference in Copenhagen established the holiday.

It was embraced by the Soviets, who took power in Russia in 1917 and declared March 8 an official holiday. Yet it remained a working day in the Soviet Union until 1965. In 1975, it was recognized by the UN.

It continues to be an official holiday in former Soviet countries, except Estonia and Georgia. The holiday has remained popular among Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia.

Other nations with a communist past are tapping back into the tradition as well.

In Slovakia, Prime Minister Robert Fico planned to use Women’s Day to kick off a two-week tour of the country. When Fico, a left-leaning populist, resumed celebrating March 8 last year, he paraded his housework skills by folding curtains and hanging laundry.

In neighbouring Czech Republic, leftist and feminist groups have marked the day since communism collapsed in 1989.

Women’s Day also lingers in former Yugoslavia, which had its own brand of communism. Men secretly collect money to buy flowers and gifts for female co-workers. Bank customers bring flowers to female tellers, hoping for better service the rest of the year, and a lucky school teacher might get a surprise from her students.

Some countries also observe it as an equivalent of Mother’s Day, where children also give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

In Latvia, a recent survey showed that 62 percent of ethnic non-Latvians - that is, Russians - celebrate it, but 47 percent of ethnic Latvians do, too.

“In spite of the fact that I’m not very pro-March 8, I think it’s nice that there are days when you have legitimate possibility to make somebody smile,” advertising employee Laura Velicko told DPA.
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