International Women’s Day’ (Międzynarodowy Dzień Kobiet) was first celebrated in Poland in 1948, when it was arbitrarily imposed (arbitralnie/samowolnie narzucone) by the powers that be from the former Soviet Union, replacing the former Catholic celebration, the feast of Wincenty Kadłubek. Despite its inauspicious origins in the Stalinist period, ‘Dzień Kobiet’ grew to become accepted by Polish society and is now an integral part of Polish culture.
‘International Women’s Day’ is not, of course, a specifically ‘Polish’ occasion. It was first celebrated in 1909, following a resolution by the Communist Party of Austria. Following this, it was then adopted by the Second Socialist International in Copenhagen in the same year. In 1917, demonstrations marking Women’s Day on March 8th played a key role in the October revolution.
During the initial Stalinist period of People’s Poland, Dzień Kobiet could hardly have been a barrel of laughs for women or anyone else. Between ’48 and ’56, Polish women were exhorted on Women’s Day to exceed production norms. Polish newspapers of the period graciously wished the women of Poland ‘greater work efficiency’. Instead of decadent Western pin-up calendars, portraits of female ‘Stakhanovites’, (superlatively productive workers), held pride of place in Polish workshops.
Soon after the somewhat grim days of imposed Stalinist rule in Poland, the communist powers that be noticed that, as well as having exceptional plough skills, Polish women were also mothers, wives and, above all, exceptionally beautiful. Although the state controlled mass-media still continued to exhort the women of Poland ‘to build a socialistic future’, the newspapers and the party made the drastic concession of wishing women personal happiness as well. Stalin and his cronies must have turned in their graves.
By the seventies, Międzynarodowy Dzień Kobiet, had gained acceptance by Polish society generally, in both the public and private spheres. It was at this time that ‘A flower for Ewa’ became a Communist party slogan. The Day was celebrated by official speeches at work, men bought their female colleagues flowers, usually carnations, and boys presented the girls in their class with flowers as well. Under the ‘one size fits all’ policy of the then command economy, female factory workers were given presents of tights.
During the eighties, Women’s Day, far too closely associated with the unpopular ‘People’s Republic’, gradually lost ground to the imported Western tradition of Valentine’s Day. In 1993, Women’s Day was abolished as a red-letter day, free from work.
Today, however, there seems to be an attempt to revitalise the day when, once a year, women can feel special. Middle-aged ladies can fondly look back to the time they received ‘A flower for Ewa’ as young girls and women, and schoolgirls often still receive flowers from the more gallant and old-fashioned of their male classmates.
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)