Sexism, socialism and the state: women in the Eastern Bloc

Issue: 170

Sheila McGregor

The question of how to characterise the societies that belonged to the Eastern Bloc between 1948 and 1989—Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungry, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia—has been contentious since they emerged after the Second World War.1 This remains the case in much recent research, particularly about the role of women in these supposedly “state socialist” societies.2 In a recent Jacobin article entitled “Stop Writing Communist Women out of History”, Magda Grabowska challenges researchers’ inability to imagine that there might have been a body of female politicians committed to the goal of women’s emancipation in the Eastern Bloc.3 Grabowska’s writing is part of a body of recent scholarship on women that rightly rejects Cold War propaganda.4 However, what remains unclear in much of this work is the social and economic forces that shaped the lives of women in the Eastern Bloc. Were women really better off in the “state socialist” countries than in the West? If perhaps not overall, then in what specific aspects? Why did the oppression of women in these societies demonstrate such close parallels with Western Europe?

The key to these questions is an analysis of the role of the state in modernising the post-war economies of Eastern Europe; moulding the social role of women was central to this modernisation project. This article presents four main arguments. Firstly, the Eastern Bloc countries were bureaucratic state capitalist societies—they were geared towards capital accumulation and were thus not socialist. Secondly, the family was central to the reproduction of the working class and this shaped the subordinate role of women as workers and mothers. Thirdly, this oppression was compounded by the ruling classes in the Eastern Bloc resorting to nationalism and the incorporation of religious leaders, which led to specific forms of oppression being suffered by women from national minorities and, in particular, by Muslim women. Fourthly, there were close parallels between the oppression of women in the Eastern Bloc and the experience of women in Western Europe, and these similarities have their source in the role of the family on both sides of the iron curtain.

The first part of the article reviews Tony Cliff’s analysis of bureaucratic state capitalism and Leon Trotsky’s reflections on women and the family, extending the bureaucratic state capitalist analysis of Eastern Bloc countries to explain women’s position.5 This will include looking at the way nationalism and religion were used to reinforce ruling-class control.6 Trotsky’s reflections on developments after the Russian Revolution in 1917 indicate some of the essential changes needed in order to overcome women’s oppression; they provide a benchmark for understanding the position of women in former Eastern Bloc countries.7 The second part investigates how women’s role in the family and the reproduction of the working class, and their subordinate role at home and in work, was moulded by bureaucratic state capitalism. The third part looks at abortion, contraception and sexuality in the Eastern Bloc. The fourth, final part contrasts the original Bolsheviks’ approach to religion and Islam with the oppression faced by Muslim women in state capitalist Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

Bureaucratic state capitalism

In 1917, the working class in Russia led the revolution in February that toppled the Tsarist regime. It then took power in October under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, which was later renamed the Communist Party. Workers’ own struggles—what Karl Marx referred to as the “self-emancipation of the working class”—drove these events.8 The Russian Revolution proclaimed the equality of all citizens and swept away the old oppressive laws against women and homosexuality, and it attempted to socialise the burden of the household, which had been borne by women until then. However, the reversal of this revolutionary process also meant the reversal of women’s gains.9 This was stressed by the revolutionary leader and theorist Trotsky in his analysis of the rolling back of the revolution:

The leaders are forcing people to glue together again the shell of the broken family, and not only that, to consider it, under threat of extreme penalties, the sacred nucleus of triumphant socialism. It is hard to measure with the eye the scope of this retreat.10

After the Second World War and the division of Europe into Western and Soviet zones of influence, the social structure of Stalinist Russia was transposed onto the nations of Eastern Europe. These countries replicated Soviet society without ever having experienced workers’ revolutions. Recognising this called into question not only the Eastern Bloc states’ designation as “deformed workers’ states” by Trotskyists after the war, but also the description of the Soviet Union as a “degenerated workers’ state” by Trotsky himself in the mid-1930s. This led Tony Cliff to develop his alternative analysis of the Soviet Union and its satellites as “bureaucratic state capitalist” societies.

Cliff’s key conclusions were that the Soviet economy was based on the exploitation of the working class. The drive to accumulate capital had not been abolished in the Soviet Union, but rather was mediated by competition on a world scale; in other words, this was a form of capitalist society in which the means of production were owned and controlled by the state rather than by individuals and corporations. The Soviet Union should therefore be conceived as a state run as one giant nationalised industry. In such an economy, it appeared that everything was planned, with very little internal competition between economic units such as individual factories.11 Nevertheless, in reality the infamous Five Year Plans from 1928 onwards were shaped by Stalin’s drive to catch up with the West and then by the arms race with the United States.12 Because of these competitive pressures on the Soviet economy, it was a society subject to capitalist crisis. The Soviet state remained the tool of a minority ruling class, the Soviet bureaucracy, and it maintained relations of exploitation, albeit in the name of building a communist utopia.

The Eastern Bloc societies developed within this mould, seeking to replicate the Soviet Union, although without the revolution that founded it. Within them, the state directed capitalist accumulation, pumped surplus labour out of the working class, and controlled the working class and national minorities through law enforcement administered by “special bodies of armed men”. The leaders were part of an exploitative ruling class who used the ideology of emancipation as a instrument of oppression.13 They could develop nationalism and racism as a means to bind workers to the state and oppress national minorities. Women’s oppression continued because the traditional family remained the site of the reproduction of the working class. It followed from all this that the state would be used to suppress any kind of challenge from below.14

The accuracy of Cliff’s analysis was borne out in the decades that followed. Economic crises hit East Germany and Hungary in the early 1950s. Their governments responded with measures that hit workers’ living standards and increased workloads, triggering workers’ uprisings in 1953 in East Germany and 1956 in Hungary. The Soviet Union intervened to restore order, and it later played a key role in ending the movement for reform in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the semi-insurrectionary strike wave in Poland in 1980. The depth of economic crisis in the Soviet Union motivated attempts at reform under Mikhail Gorbachev from 1985 and the mass movements in the Eastern Bloc in 1989, which finally sounded the death knell of Soviet state capitalism.15

Women’s oppression and Trotsky’s legacy

Trotsky’s writings about women are often overlooked, and yet they are incredibly fruitful.16 In them, Trotsky makes three key points. Firstly, he argues that the family plays a foundational role in women’s oppression:

Motherhood is the hub of all problems. That is why each new measure, each law, each practical step in economic and social construction must also be checked against the question of how it will affect the family, whether it worsens or lightens the fate of the mother, and whether it improves the condition of the child.17

Secondly, he claims that socialism would allow the development of new forms of production and reproduction, and new social relationships, that could reshape people’s attitudes towards women and the family:

The development of the productive forces is not needed for its own sake. In the last analysis the development of the productive forces is needed because it provides the basis for a new human personality…creates new cultural values, creates new personal and family attitudes, higher and nobler than those which were born on the basis of class slavery.18

Thirdly, Trotsky argues that “domestic life is more conservative than economic life, and one of the reasons is that it is still less conscious than the latter”.19 This means that the transformation of the family necessarily involves a profound historical process:

A radical reform of the family and the whole order of domestic life requires a great conscious effort on the part of the mass of the working class, and it requires a powerful inner desire for culture and progress in this class. A deep-going plough is needed to turn up heavy clods of soil. To institute the political equality of men and women in the Soviet state was one problem and the simplest. A much more difficult one was the next—instituting the industrial equality of women and men in the factories, the mills and the trade unions… But to achieve the actual equality of man and woman within the family is an infinitely more arduous problem. All our domestic habits must be revolutionised before that can happen. And yet it is quite obvious that unless there is actual equality of husband and wife in the family…we cannot speak of their equality in social work or even in politics. As long as woman is chained to her housework, the care of the family, the cooking and sewing, all her chances of participation in social and political life are cut down in the extreme.20

Trotsky’s vision is about the repurposing of production, with reproduction at its heart. Unfortunately, this project had barely started in Russia before the revolution began to be reversed in the mid-1920s. In Eastern Europe, despite official references to women’s liberation, it was never really even on the agenda. These states were not the outcome of workers’ revolutions, and they continued to rely on the family and women’s role within it for the reproduction of the working class. Because of this, women in the Eastern Bloc faced the same “double burden” of housework and paid work outside the home as women in the West.

Women and work: an alternative workforce

In the early years after 1948, women’s participation in the workforce in Eastern Europe was presented as a crucial step towards emancipation. Women were crucial for industrial expansion, and they were regarded as workers and citizens on an equal basis with men. Marriage was seen as an equal partnership based on choice and individual love.21

The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) was established in 1949 to coordinate the economic development of the Eastern European countries. This was to be managed according to the strategic needs of the Soviet bloc rather than their own populations.22 A central question for European countries whose populations had been devastated by war was how they could expand their labour forces. France and Britain looked to immigration from former colonies, while West Germany invited workers from Italy and Turkey. In constrast, Comecon countries had to rely mostly on their own internal labour resources, motivating drives to pull men and women into the cities from the countryside and to introduce women into sectors traditionally dominated by men. This was similar to the process that occurred in Britain during the First and Second World Wars, when women replaced male workers who had been conscripted into the armed forces. The speed of these changes was considerable; by 1950, women made up 40.9 percent of the workforce in Eastern Europe, compared with 29.6 percent in Western Europe.23 In East Germany, a crucial factor was the ratio of women to men immediately after the war, which had seen the deaths of millions of German men. East Germany’s problems were compounded by the loss of three million people—overwhelmingly young—who migrated to West Germany before the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.24

Heidi Heitlinger argues that in Eastern Europe there was a “nearly universal expectation that women would work, and that they would see work outside the home as a central and continuing feature of their lives.” This “had profound psychological effects in terms of women’s confidence and their concern with intellectual and social problems, and public affairs generally”.25 Yet despite this:

The failure to achieve more than minimal restructuring of working and living arrangements has meant that, unlike working fathers, the majority of working mothers have had to undertake two jobs—one in the family and one outside the home. Because of this, women’s participation in the economy has turned out to be something quite different from what Marx and Friedrich Engels intended—gainful employment outside the home has been added to work in the home.26

This is a far cry from Trotsky’s view about the need for the “complete absorption of the housekeeping functions of the family by the institutions of socialist society.”

Work and the gender effect

Women workers in Western Europe are only too aware that being brought into the workforce does not bring equality in the home, in the nature of their work or in their prospects for pay and promotion. The source of the oppression suffered by women lies in their role in the family, but a complex range of factors result from this and serve to solidify this oppression: deeply rooted sexist attitudes, the gendered division of labour between and within different economic sectors, the gender pay gap, workplace sexual harassment and the “glass ceiling” to promotion. Women continue to do the majority of housework and childcare, fitting their paid work around their responsibilities in the household. Although women increasingly work full time, 40 percent work part time compared with 13 percent of men. Nearly 3 in 10 working mothers have reduced their hours to help with childcare, compared with just 1 in 20 fathers.27

In East Germany, the loss of men during the Second World War led the government to undertake strenuous efforts to upskill women to replace skilled male workers. The 1971 census showed that 78.2 percent of women aged 20 to 30 years had a professional or vocational qualification. Special measures to draw women into higher education led to a huge increase in women in academic positions a generation before this happened in West Germany.28 Nevertheless, there was a continued, underlying gendered division of labour that affected the work women did, their pay and how they were regarded. In East Germany, there were more women in leading positions in society than in West Germany, but Gabriele Engelhardt and David Maienreis argue that women were used as cheap labour. The result was a gender pay gap of more than 20 percent. The absence of sufficient childcare was also a problem; in 1961, women were enabled to work part time so they could combine their household responsibilities with work.29

Heitlinger analyses how women’s gender structured both their working and home lives in Czechoslovakia. Between 60 and 80 percent of women worked in traditionally “feminine sectors of the economy” such as healthcare, social care and education. In industry, women worked predominantly in consumer sectors such as food, textiles and clothing.30 This picture was reflected in universities, with male students concentrated in science subjects and young women in the humanities.31 Pay inequality also barely changed in Czechoslovakia; average women’s pay was 66 percent of male pay in 1956 and 67 percent in 1976. Women were concentrated in the lowest paid jobs and men in the higher paid ones. Unsurprisingly, in 1976, men were contributing 44 to 48 percent towards the family income and women just 12 to 21 percent. There was a general assumption that men would take the higher management positions.32

In Yugoslavia, the lack of workers, including skilled workers, shaped the first Five Year Plan in 1947, which included opening up “technical schools” for women to study metallurgy and the electrical industry.33 Attention was paid to improving working conditions, providing washing facilities and creating accommodation for women. By 1950, women made up 30 percent of the industrial workforce, working in tobacco, food, textiles, the iron and steel industries, mining and armaments.34 In 1948, women gained 90 days maternity leave, and overtime and night shifts were forbidden for 4 months before and 8 months after giving birth. Yet, according to Ivan Simic, there was a high level of resistance to the cultural shifts implied by these changes and the reality was somewhat different. Women did not have a role in political and economic decision making, and they were almost entirely excluded from the self-management boards introduced after 1948, with only 9.9 percent on them in 1954.35 Unmarried women were never even nominated for a position. Professional union leaders were overwhelmingly male and did not fight for gender equality. Women largely remained in unskilled work, and there was a substantial pay gap between the prestigious skilled jobs and the unskilled ones, as well as between heavy industry and light industry. Men were more often sent on courses, and sexism was rife on the shop floor.36

The double burden 1: childcare

In many cases, provision of childcare in the Eastern Bloc countries was superior to the West, and the difference this made to some women should not be underestimated. Reliable and cheap childcare removed a major burden from couples, particularly women and especially single parent mothers with young children. However, it was never sufficient and not always good quality. Furthermore, it depended on the state of the economy, and its availability varied across Eastern Europe. Ultimately, it was insufficient to transform most women’s lives. In Yugoslavia, childcare was supposed to be included in the plans for factories, but this was often opposed by male factory directors. After the blockade by the rest of Eastern Europe following Yugoslav prime minister Josip Tito’s break with Stalin in 1948, existing facilities were closed.37

In East Germany, the state was never able to meet the demand for crèches and kindergartens, although there were consistent attempts to do so. Indeed, the provision by the state was impressive compared to Britain. In 1962, out of 1,000 children under 3 years, only 160 were in crèches and children’s homes, and 511 in kindergartens and weekly boarding schools, but there was a considerable improvement by 1980.38

In Czechoslovakia, there was a rapid expansion of crèches in the 1950s, but this went into decline after 1968.39 There was also a fall in the length of opening hours. This appears to have coincided with the economic crisis and a change in official attitudes to the impact of such provision on children’s development as well as concerns about the birth rate and cost—three years in a crèche cost the state the equivalent of nine years at school.40

In Bulgaria, the 1971 constitution guaranteed women the right to maternity leave. From 1973, Bulgarian women enjoyed fully paid maternity leave of 120 days before and after the birth of the first child, as well as an extra six months of leave paid at the national minimum wage with their jobs guaranteed. Time on maternity leave counted towards a woman’s pension. New mothers could take unpaid leave until their child reached the age of three when a place in a public kindergarten would be made available. Later, an amended law allowed fathers and grandparents to take parental leave in the place of the mother. However, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the demand for childcare outstripped supply.

The double burden 2: housework

As in the West, the reproduction of the working class in Eastern Europe remained the responsibility of the family, with women still expected to carry the burden.41 Just as in Western Europe, women continued to do the bulk of housework.

In Czechoslovakia during the early years of the state socialist regime, housework took five million hours a year—more than the total paid labour time of the society.42 Initially, under the impact of attempts to create equality for women, some resources went into socialising housework through mechanisation, collective canteens and laundries, and neighbourhood organisation of shopping and other tasks.43 The provision of time-saving household tools, such as washing machines, fridges, vacuum cleaners and convenience foods, was hampered by Five Year Plans that prioritised heavy industry over consumer industry. An economic crisis in 1962-63 led to abandonment of the “ideological concept of socialised housework”.44

The availability of central heating, running water and shopping facilities, as well as general housing conditions, all affected housework in Czechoslovakia. Public laundries covered only 5 percent of the family wash and did not exist in the villages. Provision of washing machines was similar to the West.45 Women in higher economic positions used house-cleaning services. Initially, canteen provision expanded rapidly and was subsidised by factories; however, payment was introduced from 1963 and workers switched to eating sandwiches for lunch and having their main meal at home, thus hugely increasing women’s burden. Some 1,350 factory canteens closed between 1964 and 1970, although school canteens fed 40 to 50 percent of children.46 Time studies illustrate most clearly the sexual division of labour in the household and show the similarities with the lives of women workers in the West. In the year 1959-60, employed women spent five and a half hours daily on housework, one to one and a half hours on childcare, and had 100 minutes for themselves and six hours for sleep and rest. According to one study, women in Britain averaged 1 hour 50 minutes a day on housework, compared with men who managed just 10 minutes in 1961. A comparative study of housework across 19 European countries over 50 years concluded, “As well as women in Italy and Spain, the females with the highest share of the housework across most or all of the 50-year period were in Poland, Yugoslavia, France and Germany”.47

In East Germany, the 1965 Family Code specified that men and women should each carry their share of responsibility for housework and bringing up children, and that relationships between husband and wife should allow women to combine their work and home lives with motherhood.48 However, a survey in 1965 by the Leipzig Institute for Market Research found that an average of 47.5 hours were spent weekly on housework in a household of four people, with women contributing 37.7 hours, men 5.5 hours and others 4.3 hours.49 The regime’s attempts to reduce this burden combined improving the quality of school meals and canteens, extending production of household goods such as washing machines and fridges, and the creation of a “Dienstleistungsnetz”—a state-run network of support services encompassing small repair workshops, dry cleaning, clothes repair and shops. The state also continued to build crèches, kindergartens, day care centres and after-school clubs.50 Nevertheless, a further survey in 1972 showed that women still did all the housework in 54 percent of marriages, and women did most of the housework and men very little in a further 34 percent.51 These patterns were reflected across the Eastern Bloc; for instance, Yugoslav men were generally not expected to do childcare and housework.52

Contraception, abortion, sex and population policies

There has always been a tension between a woman’s right to control her own body through access to free, legal abortion and contraception on demand and governments’ attitudes to population and planning. The early legalisation of abortion in the Soviet Union and many Eastern European countries after the Second World War should be looked at in this light.53 In Czechoslovakia, doctors were in favour of the legalisation introduced in 1957. They recognised that criminalisation of abortion hit the poorest women hardest and that abortion was frequently used as a form of contraception. However, legalisation did not put the decision in the hands of women; instead, they had to appear before an Abortion Commission to get access. After a review of the law, further restrictions were introduced in 1962 and the Abortion Commissions were advised to limit the numbers being granted permission.54 Unsurprisingly, this lead to more deaths from self-induced abortions.55 For a government reliant on female labour and on women’s production of the next generation of workers, the statistics produced by demographers were challenging; in 1964, there were 44 abortions to 100 live births, and by 1969 there were equal numbers of abortions and live births. Material conditions—overcrowded housing, the burden of housework, financial problems and the lack of reliable contraception—constrained the choices women could make about whether to have children. In the 1950s, information about contraception and availability was restricted. Only six percent of fertile women were using any form of contraception, and those that were mainly used intrauterine devices.56 For this reason, some women used abortion to limit the numbers of children they had.57

The marked decline in the birth rate hampered the Czechoslovakian government’s ability to fulfil their Five Year Plans. In response, Communist Party leader Gustáv Husák introduced a series of measures in order to induce women to have more children. Maternity leave was extended in 1964 and then again in 1968, and women were able to choose to stay at home for up to two years, which was later extended to three years. In 1972, the state introduced a bonus for having more than two children and other measures such as help with cheap loans and housing.58 Alongside these material inducements, arguments were made about emotional deprivation and other detrimental impacts on child development if women did not stay at home. Introduced after the defeat of the mass protests of the Prague Spring in 1968, these measures paid off until 1974, giving rise to the phrase “Husák’s children”.59

East Germany experienced similar issues with falling birth rates. This was a result of both economic pressures and a change in women’s attitudes. Housing conditions, women’s work outside the home, the lack of childcare, adaptation to urban living and higher education levels were cited as factors.60 The government attempted to change this with a range of economic measures, but it also idealised the “socialist family”, arguing that having only one child was unjustifiable.61

In Yugoslavia, two-thirds of the population worked in the countryside immediately after the Second World War. There were high levels of poverty and disease and poor public hygiene. There was a lack of running water and people often lived with their animals. The infant mortality rate was one of the highest in Europe. Formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Yugoslavia was dominated by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and by Sharia law in Muslim areas. However, a new constitution was introduced in 1957 that challenged this.62 The state supplanted the role of religious institutions in areas such as marriage, decreed the equality of men and women, and allowed cost-free divorce. These measures came as a shock to conservative attitudes in the countryside, where divorce was considered a source of shame. The measures also encountered opposition because of their impact on the ownership of land. In a divorce case, the husband’s family would want to keep any children as part of the workforce and avoid alimony in order to prevent the splitting up of land holdings.63 Opposition to divorce amongst lower party cadre reflected these anxieties. Women and their work outside the home were blamed for problems and there were calls to outlaw adultery. Abortion was legal but invited disapproval; women who had abortions were subject to public abuse in both town and countryside, as well as shaming in Communist Party meetings. Despite this, peasant women’s fears about using contraception led to many having three to four abortions in the course of a lifetime.64

Attitudes to sex and gender roles promoted amongst the young were often puritanical. The Yugoslav Youth Organisation organised courses that emphasised work, health, good hygiene and clear gender roles.65 Young women had to appear clean and “properly” (that is, modestly) dressed, with their hair brushed in the mornings. Neither trousers nor make-up were allowed, and the “inadequately” clothed female body was viewed as a potential sexual threat to young men.66 Sex was not discussed and “an even deeper silence surrounded non-heterosexual practices”.67 After the break from the Soviet Union in 1948, these attitudes took a hit as American films entered the country, showing young people drinking and enjoying themselves. This was in sharp contrast to the Youth Organisation’s films, which promoted hard work and abstinence. Sex was supposed to be for marriage only, and homosexuality was punishable under the 1951 Penal Code. Despite all this, many girls started their sex lives aged 14 or 15 years.68 A conference of experts—doctors, psychologists and others—organised by the Youth Organisation resulted in papers calling for greater openness about sex, sex education in schools, greater availability of contraception, the right of women to premarital sex with a man they loved, and the teaching of men to give sexual pleasure to women. This contributed to a softening of sexual attitudes through the 1950s.69

Not so different after all

Sociologist Kateřina Lišková analyses the different approaches taken by Czechoslovakian sexologists to sexual relations, the importance of women’s orgasms and the role of sex in marriage. She describes a reassertion of the family unit after the defeat of the Prague Spring. Lišková also makes the point that sexual satisfaction was linked to the security of contraception; one survey indicated that 20 percent of women avoided sex in order to prevent pregnancy.70 Until 1972, sex education was restricted to one lecture given by a doctor to 14 year olds, and there was a woeful lack of literature for children and young people.71 Lišková notes that sexual dissatisfaction was increasingly cited as a reason for divorce and a cause of marital breakdown in the 1980s.72 Both men and women expressed dissatisfaction with their marital sex lives.73 Domestic violence was also a fact of life for many women, even though this was not admissible as grounds for divorce until 1970.74 In East Germany, divorce was higher than in the West, with violence often cited as a reason.75

The issue of women’s sexual satisfaction needs to be understood within the material conditions outlined above. The picture that emerges is in fact not dissimilar to what occurred elsewhere in capitalist societies in the West. As the marriage partnership is loosened from the moorings of collective work on the land, sex becomes ever more important as the basis of marriage. Sexology arose as an instrument for ensuring that sex would act as the cement for the husband-wife relationship in the family.76 Of course, the fact that sexual satisfaction must be understood in its material and social context does not preclude recognising differences in sexual relations and degrees of sexual satisfaction among women in different countries. One factor that had a bearing on attitudes about sexuality, at least in the early post-war years, was the state rhetoric in some Eastern European nations about equality between women and men as workers and citizens.77 In her exploration of the relationship between sexual satisfaction and equality in relationships in the 1950s and 1960s, Lišková documents the openness of Czechoslovakian officialdom towards women’s sexual needs.78 This is in stark contrast to Yugoslavia, but it also contrasts with the 1950s in the West, where a conservative and traditionalist official discourse encouraged women to return to the family hearth after the Second World War.

In Britain, a trend towards the increasing sexualisation of women’s bodies became visible in the 1920s with the rise of mass consumption.79 Sexual practices were already changing in the 1930s amongst working-class young people, who found themselves with more leisure time and independence. One result was a trend towards the idea of partnership and sexual satisfaction in marriage.80 This was reinforced by the experience of women during the Second World War—the puritanical 1950s can be seen retrospectively as a relatively short reversal of a general trend.81 Nevertheless, it took the rise of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s in the West for women’s sexual needs to be asserted in the public domain.

Claims that heterosexual couples had superior sex lives in bureaucratic state capitalist societies than in the Western Europe simplify complex factors, masking the material realities common to women in both East and West, which shaped sexuality in important ways.82

Muslim women in the Eastern Bloc

Muslims formed a significant minority in both the Soviet Union and a number of the Southern European state capitalist societies such as Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Attitudes to Muslim women in these countries were shaped by a number of factors, including the relatively late creation of these nation states after the disintegration of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, the modernisation drive after the Second World War, and the attitudes towards established religions and national minorities that flowed from this.

Yugoslavia was a federal state composed of separate “socialist republics”, with five based on religio-linguistic majority populations of Croats, Serbs, Macedonians, Slovenes and Montenegrin. The final federal state, Bosnia-Herzegovina, had no dominant ethnic group, mixing Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosniak Muslims. This meant that Yugoslavia had no homogenising nationalism—unlike Bulgaria, where 87 percent of the population were Bulgarians and Orthodox Christians. Nevertheless, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia had similar policies towards religion, which were shaped by Stalinism. Stalin fundamentally broke with the Bolsheviks’ approach to nationalism and religion in 1927, weaponising Russian chauvinism to bind workers to the state.83 He initially supported the suppression of religion; when that failed, he performed an about turn, incorporating key religious festivals and practices alongside a regimentation of the Orthodox Church from 1937.84 This approach was mirrored by the Yugoslavian and Bulgarian states.

Marx saw religion as an expression of people’s real suffering on Earth, and thus he envisioned religious beliefs as being undermined through the transformation of living conditions.85 The Soviet Union, formally established in 1922, was a non-religious state, but atheism was not a condition of membership of the Bolshevik Party. Indeed, Lenin argued for moderation in any propaganda about religion, aiming to avoid offence.86

In Central Asia, religion and national aspirations were fused. Because of this, combating Russian chauvinism and showing religious toleration were central to the early work of the women’s department of the Communist Party, Zhenodtel, which was led by Alexandra Kollontai and Inessa Armand. At the First Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku in 1920, delegate Khaver Shabanova-Karaeva argued that the question of the veil worn by Muslim women came “last in priority”.87 According to historian Douglas Northrop, “In 1923 party leaders in Central Asia had cracked down on those who called for unveiling Uzbek women as guilty of a ‘left deviation’”. Notably, “as late as August 1925…the main speaker at an all-Uzbek Zhenotdel meeting portrayed unveiling as positively un-Bolshevik”, arguing that ensuring “the economic and material security of women is the fundamental path for the solution of the ‘woman question’.”

Northrop also records that the Bolsheviks opposed Jadidism, a modernising, reformist current in Central Asian Islam that aligned itself with Russian liberalism. Jadidism rearticulated liberal ideas through the prism of Islam:

The Jadids formulated a harsh critique of Central Asian society, attributing the “decline” and “degeneration” of their community to its departure from the path of “pure” Islam… These anti-feudal, middle-class intellectuals wanted to see religion taken out of education. They wanted women to play a much more active role in society.88

Because of its middle-class character, Jadidism understood women’s liberation merely as “throwing off the burqa and appearing in public places”. Instead, Bolsheviks stressed the need to “promote the complete political and economic independence of women”.89

Stalin reversed all this with with the policy of “hujum” (assault), which aimed to clamp down on “byt” (local customs). The policy began to be rolled out from International Women’s Day on 8 March 1927. The form of the hujum varied across the different republics, but in Uzbekistan it focused on the removal of the paranji-chachvon, a long veil worn in public by Muslim women.90 The paranji-chachvon thus became a visible symbol of opposition to Russian colonialism in Uzbekistan. The attack on the paranji was accompanied by denigration of the Uzbek way of life as medieval and uncultured. Living in yurts with the sick and healthy side by side and eating from the same dishes was condemned as unclean. Venereal diseases were blamed on early marriage, and mothers were attacked for leaving their babies for long periods in traditional cots. Such arguments could equally well have applied to the peasant way of life in Russia itself and should be seen for what they were: racist and Islamophobic. Unfortunately, the same approach was adopted in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.


In Yugoslavia, Muslims had moved into areas of Kosovo, Southern Serbia and Bosnia during the Ottoman period. The old Muslim leadership of Bosnia-Herzegovina was prosecuted for their collaboration with the German occupation during the Second World War and replaced with a new organisation called Glavni odbor Muslimana (Principal Muslim Committee; GOM) led by modernising theologian Ibrahim Fejić. GOM’s radical agenda shared some of the weaknesses of Jadidism in the Soviet Union and did not reflect the views of the majority of Muslims. It tied its support for the new state capitalist government and the separation of religion from the state to campaigns for the unveiling of women.91 The mass women’s organisation Antifašistička Fronta Žena (Women’s Antifascist Front; AFŽ), which had developed out of the partisan movement led by Tito during the Second World War, clashed with the traditions of Muslim women in the countryside, provoking resistance to imposed “liberation”.

The introduction of secular law took away the jurisdiction of Sharia courts and made elementary education in mixed-gender schools compulsory for all children. Islamic educational establishments were all closed, except one madrasa in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.92 This was supported by Fejic, but his influence was limited. Many girls were kept away from school, and so the task of educating Muslim women was delegated to the AFŽ.93 Muslim women were considered to be the most backward in the countryside “because the tradition of the Muslim population was deemed as foreign, timeless and associated with the Ottoman past, which was viewed as part of the ‘inferior’ and ‘oriental East’”.94 Only peasant women were described as “Muslim”. Traditional practices such as underage marriage, the abduction of women, polygamy and the bridewealth system were considered to be Muslim even when they were common to all peasant communities.95 In reality, only the wearing of the veil identified women as Muslim since even many Christian women peasants wore headscarves.96 Although wearing the veil was not illegal, the AFŽ viewed it as a “relic of medieval times brought to the region by backward Asian tribes” and a physical barrier to social life and work. This encapsulates their understanding of Muslim women as passive victims.

In 1947, 20 years after the hujum in Uzbekistan, the AFŽ organised unveiling campaigns on International Women’s Day in Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo, with large gatherings of women removing their veils. Once the activists had departed, many women simply covered their heads again. This was repeated in Macedonia in 1952 with 50,000 women. In 1950, a law banning the veil, backed up by fines or other punishments, was passed in Bosnia. This was implemented by special teams that included a woman and went into the villages to find offenders. Medical arguments about the allegedly insanitary nature of the veil were deployed because medical campaigns gave officials the right of access to people’s houses, enabling the AFŽ to monitor their success in unveiling women. As a result, Muslim women avoided the AFŽ and some refused to go out in public. The AFŽ blamed Muslim men for these reactions, as social pressures to prove their loyalty meant men were expected to pressure “their” women to unveil, and local mullahs were denounced. The views of Muslim women themselves were completely overlooked.97


As with those in Yugoslavia, Muslim women in Bulgaria faced oppression due to both their gender and their religion.98 Furthermore, they also faced forms of national oppression because most belonged to lingustic and ethnic groups that were marginalised by Bulgarian nationalism.

An independent Bulgarian state first emerged from the Ottomon Empire in 1878. An overwhelming proportion of Bulgarians are adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Christians and only around a tenth are Muslim. The majority of Muslims in Bulgaria speak Turkish; however, a minority known as “Pomaks” or “Bulgarian Muslims” speak dialects of Bulgarian and are mainly concentrated in the Rhodope Mountains, near the Greek and Macedonian borders.99 There is also a substantial Roma minority that includes some Muslims, many of whom speak Turkish.

The rise of Bulgarian nationalism and its emphasis on one nation speaking one language and practising one Christian religion put the Muslim minority in a precarious position. This continued through the period of the state capitalist People’s Republic of Bulgaria. In February 1949, Communist prime minister Vasil Kolarov claimed, “The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the traditional church of the Bulgarian people and…is in form, substance and spirit a people’s democratic church”.100 The Church, dependent on the state for finance, duly supported the ruling Fatherland Front’s electoral lists.101 The government also got support from liberalising movements that developed within Bulgarian Islam in the 1920s and 1930s, which were similar to the Jadids of Central Asia. Among the “Pomaks”, the minority Rodina (родина, “homeland”) movement was in favour of the liberalisation of Islam and loyalty to Bulgaria. Amongst the “Turkish Muslims”, the modernising Young Turks and Kemalists were also a minority presence.102 These currents were in favour of the education and unveiling of Muslim women, and they occasionally participated in government attacks on Muslim traditions.103

From the outset, Bulgarian nationalists distinguished between the Slavs who had converted to Islam during the Ottoman Empire and Muslims of “Turkish” origin, who were portrayed as outsiders.104 Vladimir Poptomov, the foreign minister of the new Communist government, was quite explicit:

We, the Southern Slavs, have a historic task: to drive the Turks out of Europe. Their place is not in Europe. They came from Asia Minor, from Anatolia, and they need to go back there.105

There were waves of expulsion of Turkish Muslims to Turkey, beginning during the crisis of the 1930s and continuing under Communist rule. These were paused only briefly by the intervention of the Soviet Union. The Soviet state did not trust the Bulgarian government and, “as a form of punishment and loyalty test in one, Moscow imposed a broad system of rights for ethnolinguistic and ethno-religious minorities in Bulgaria”.106 This “stopped the homogenising ‘advances’ of the ongoing national revolution”.107

In 1950-2, the nationalist drive resumed in the form of “voluntary” emigration to Turkey. Some 140,000 Muslims left Bulgaria, opening up vast tracts of land for collectivisation.108 The so-called Economic Leap of 1958-60, Bulgaria’s answer to the Great Leap Forward, led to a quickening of the pace of modernisation.109 Progress in Muslim areas was measured by the extent to which external signs of difference disappeared. Muslims were expected to raise pigs; Muslim women worked on swine farms, including on Fridays.110 Having acquired the status of a loyal ally of the Soviet Union, “The Soviet leadership tacitly agreed to the termination of the Turkish language educational system at the turn of the 1970s”.111 After Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the Iranian revolution in 1979, Turkish Muslims were increasingly seen as a dangerous “enemy within”.

Between the expulsions, there were two big attempts to “assimilate” Muslims. These centred on the Bulgarian Muslims in the 1960s and 1970s and then moved onto the Turkish Muslims in the 1980s. This project was referred to as the “process of rebirth” (Възродителен процес). It entailed opposing traditional clothing, specifically the fez for men and the veil and šalvári (female peasant trousers) for women, and replacing Turkish and Arabic names with Bulgarian names on official documents and on headstones in cemeteries.112 From 1970-4, name changes were imposed. The state employed a combination of measures to enforce these policies, including threatening people’s jobs.113 More force was used during the second “rebirth” campaign, when President Todov Zhivkov announced that there were “no Turks in Bulgaria”.114 Police and tanks surrounded villages, blocked roads and cut telephone lines. People were rounded up and taken to public squares. In the cities, name changing was done in workplaces or government offices. Without a Bulgarian name, Turks became non-citizens. Support for this process was forthcoming from Bulgaria’s chief mufti, Nedim Gendzhev, as well as sections of the secular Turkish-speaking elite and some Muslim functionaries, who were offered pay rises.115 Unsurprisingly, there was huge resistance, both active and passive, and thousands were arrested and interned. Public demonstrations in Turkish areas exploded in May 1989 when Zhikov told Turks to leave for Turkey, explaining that “we’ve got to get rid of 200,000 Muslims or else Bulgaria will be another Cyprus in a few years”.116

This hostility to the Muslim population provides the context for the initiatives to “emancipate” Muslim women in the drive to modernise Bulgaria. In 1944, all women’s organisations were abolished and replaced by the Bulgarian People’s Women’s Union (Български народен женски съюз; BNZS), which carried through Communist Party policies amongst women.117 Initially, the Communist Party was concerned to win Muslim women members as part of their electoral strategy, but there were none in the leadership of the BNZS. The BNZS’s main goals, alongside establishing equal rights for women, were supposedly to involve Muslim women in the political reconstruction of Bulgaria and create a bulwark against Western imperialist influence in Bulgaria’s unstable borderlands with Turkey and Greece, which were both NATO members.118

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the emphasis was on literacy and education. Teachers were sent into villages in the mountains where private houses were used for instruction. Their attitude was, “Teach them how to live new lives, how to dress, what to eat, how to arrange their homes and how to bring up their children”. Nevertheless, these domestic skills courses proved popular.119 Large-scale celebrations were organised to involve women such as Children’s Day, Women’s Day, Midwife Day and other national holidays.

From the late 1950s, special efforts were made in some towns to recruit Muslim women to boarding schools that took children away from home for 45 days. The purpose was double edged. On one hand, veils were banned and students were not to allowed to leave the premises unsupervised; they had to learn about the supposed Bulgarian origin of Muslims, how to embroider traditional Bulgarian patterns and sing traditional Bulgarian songs. On the other hand, it meant that young women from mountain villages got access to the cinema and public baths, and went on trips to factories, pioneer homes, kindergartens and hospitals as well historical sites and the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. Some acquired higher education and became doctors, vets, dentists, agronomists and teachers.120 The government aimed, with some success, to create a layer of Muslim professionals that would loyally support government policies of assimilation. However, the majority of Muslim women found themselves in low-paid and unskilled work, working in sectors such as agriculture and forestry, where they made up 75 percent and 80 percent of the workforce respectively.121

The government did not simply rely on creating “loyalty” in a generation torn between their village life and their new experiences and possibilities. The first nurses to graduate in 1971 found themselves returning to their villages at the height of the “renaming” campaign. They had to stand in the front row in the squares, accept their new non-Turkish names and try to influence the rest of their communities to do the same. Teachers, doctors and others could be confronted at work with a piece of paper to sign with their new name and refusal would mean the loss of their job. Resistance also meant being insulted as traitors and agents of foreign countries. The name-changing process went alongside shedding the traditional headscarves and šalvári. By the late 1970s and 1980s, those who refused to change their dress were refused access to shops, transport and medical care. For some, being a Muslim meant leading a double life with two names and two ways of dressing. For others, it meant creating new forms of dress, for instance, wearing tracksuits or trousers with a band across the back. For others still, it meant a refusal to engage in public life.122


This article has aimed to show that the lives of women in Eastern Europe were shaped by the needs of production—which was subordinated to competitive accumulation—and by their role in the family in similar ways to the lives of women in the West. Muslim women faced the additional oppression of Islamophobia in Yugoslavia and in Bulgaria. There were national differences in how these pressures played out, but the drivers of women’s oppression, sexual oppression and Islamophobia were the same. Neither Eastern Bloc countries nor Western Europe saw real liberation for women, and this has not emerged in the wake of the collapse of state capitalism either.

It is sometimes tempting to hope that reforms to the system, changes at the top and greater control of resources by the state can transform people’s lives—indeed, they actually sometimes can, at least for a time. The view that life was somehow better in Eastern Europe before 1989 plays to such hopes, just as hearkening back to the “golden age” of the 1945 Labour government and the post-war welfare state does in Britain. Both reflect subsequent disappointments with unbridled neoliberalism. However, reforms granted by capitalism can subsequently be taken away.

As Trotsky suggested, the real liberation of women would require a total restructuring of society. Production would need to be repurposed, with a new care for reproduction at its heart. Moreover, it would demand profound changes in attitudes and behaviour, including the ending of nationalism and all forms of racism. This could only come as the result of a socialist revolution in which men and women, black and white people, and straight and LGBT+ people engage together in transforming the human condition. A century ago, the Polish revolutionary theorist Rosa Luxemburg wrote, “Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at leisure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages.” She continued:

That is why people who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform, in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal.123

We need to set our sights on the goal of complete system change.

Sheila McGregor is a long-standing member of the SWP and member of the International Socialism editorial board.


1 A number of comrades read drafts of this article and provided thoughtful comments that led me to substantially reshape it. Thanks to Joseph Choonara, Kate Davison, Jacqui Freeman, Gareth Jenkins, Rosie Nünning, Camilla Royle and Tomáš Tengely-Evans. Of course, the responsibility for the final outcome is mine.

2 The term “state socialist” denotes a broad spectrum of social systems, from social-democratic models with highly developed welfare states such as Sweden to the bureaucratic state capitalisms of the Eastern Bloc. It is thus a very loose formulation and different from the Marxist concept of a “workers’ state”, in which the working class control the state as part of a transition to communism.

3 Grabowska, 2020.

4 See Ghodsee, 2014 and 2018, Ghodsee and Lišková, 2016, Lišková, 2018, Neuburger, 2004, Simic, 2018. For an earlier Marxist-influenced analysis of women in Czechoslovakia, see Heitlinger, 1979. For an analysis of East German society from the perspective of bureaucratic state capitalism, see Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015.

5 Cliff, 1988. Members of the International Socialist Tendency who were active during the period when the International Marxist Group, the official section of the Fourth International, had a sizable following, will be only too familiar with the arguments about the family and women’s oppression that I will develop here. However, they were not presented in Gluckstein, 1952, Harman, 1974 or Harman, 1988. Note that Cliff’s Stalin’s Satellites in Europe was published under his original name, Ygael Gluckstein.

6 Cliff and his co-thinker Chris Harman both discussed nationalism and religion in the Eastern Bloc—see Gluckstein, 1952, Harman, 1974 and Harman, 1988. However, neither Cliff nor Harman look at Islam and the Muslim populations in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, which I will develop an analysis of in this article.

7 Trotsky, 1970 and Trotsky, 1972a.

8 Marx, 1867.

9 See Harman, 1967, for a full explanation of how Stalin destroyed the legacy of 1917.

10 Trotsky, 1972a, p151-152.

11 Nevertheless, there was still competition between workers over wages, housing and so on. See Stalin’s speech to industrial managers in April 1931—Stalin, 1953, pp454-458.

12 As Stalin argued in 1931, “We are 50 or 100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in just ten years. Either we do it or we shall be crushed.”—Stalin, 1953, p458.

13 The distortion of the tradition of the Russian Revolution is no different in kind from Western leaders who frame their oppressive activities in terms of democracy, equality and freedom.

14 The end of the Second World War saw the implementation of a plan for the division of Europe that had been agreed by Stalin and Winston Churchill at the Yalta summit in 1945. In 1948, the Eastern Bloc countries experienced takeovers by Communist Parties, which then implemented Five Year Plans on the Soviet model and aligned their industrial output to the needs of the Soviet Union. Change was imposed from above using the existing state machine, and Marxist rhetoric was used to justify the process. The Communist Parties that ran the governments were led by people selected, trained and dependent on the Soviet government. The partial exception to this pattern was Yugoslavia. There, the Communist Party was Stalinised but the role of the partisans in fighting fascism in the Second World War gave their leader, Marshal Josip Tito, a base of support that was independent of Moscow, which he wielded to become president.

15 For a fuller analysis, see Harman’s postscript in the 1988 edition of Cliff’s State Capitalism in Russia—

16 In his 1936 The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky devotes chapter 7, “Family, Youth and Culture”, to the setbacks suffered by women, thus illustrating the extent of the betrayal of the revolution. Cliff does not write about the family in his analysis of the Soviet Union, but he does in chapter 9 of Class Struggle and Women’s Liberation. One historian who does consider Trotsky’s contribution to be significant is Paul Ginsborg—see Ginsborg, 2014.

17 Trotsky, 1970, p45.

18 Trotsky, 1970, p42.

19 Trotsky, 1970, p20.

20 Trotsky, 1970, p20.

21 Lišková, 2018, pp5, 34, 51, 68, 76-77.

22 For example, Czechoslovakia became a supplier of capital goods, which meant expanding coal mining, metallurgy and engineering to the detriment of consumer industries such as housing, convenience foods, modern household gadgets and so on—Heitlinger, 1979, p138.

23 Ghodsee and Mead, 2018, p113-114.

24 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015.

25 Heitlinger, 1979, p19.

26 Heitlinger, 1979, p19.

27 Office for National Statistics, 2019.

28 Engelhardt und Maienreis, 2015, p172.

29 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p174.

30 Heitlinger, 1979, p148.

31 Heitlinger, 1979, p151.

32 Heitlinger, 1979, p60.

33 Simic, 2018, p95.

34 Simic, 2018, p96.

35 Simic, 2018, p50. After Tito’s break with Stalin, an element of competition between factories was introduced that involved the election of councils by the workforce, which nominated management boards to run the enterprise on a competitive basis—see Harman, 1974, pp236-239.

36 Simic, 2018, pp103-106.

37 Simic, 2018, p101.

38 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p185. Boarding schools acted as homes for orphans, children of single parents and shift workers. They were run under medical supervision.

39 Heitlinger, 1979, chapter 16 and Lišková 2018, chapter 4.

40 There were micro-crèches for babies that did not adjust to the larger ones.

41 See Heitlinger, 1979, pp136-137 and Lišková, 2018, p70.

42 Heitlinger, 1979, p139.

43 Lišková, 2018, p70.

44 Heitlinger, 1979, p139.

45 Heitlinger, 1979, p141.

46 Heitlinger, 1979, p143.

47 Altintas and Sullivan, 2016.

48 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p66.

49 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p74.

50 After-school clubs (“Schulhorte”) were supervised by properly qualified adults who ensured the children did their homework and then played until they went home.

51 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p175.

52 Simic, 2018, pp101-110.

53 The Soviet Union legalised abortion in 1920, becoming the first European country to do so. However, the Stalin regime imposed a new ban in 1936. Abortion was once more legalised in the Soviet Union in 1955, and also became legal in Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1957, and East Germany in 1972.

54 Heitlinger, 1979, pp186-187.

55 Lišková, 2018, pp116-117.

56 Heitlinger, 1979, p184-185.

57 Heitlinger, 1979, p185.

58 The tax system had a contradictory impact. There was tax relief for the first child but less for subsequent children, and it was greater for higher earners.

59 The Soviet Union imposed Husák as leader of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party after Alexander Dubček was removed following the clampdown on the Prague Spring in August 1968.

60 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p176.

61 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p178.

62 Simic, 2018, p66. The new constitution was based on the 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union and replicated its negative features, including those concerning women’s role in the family.

63 Simic, 2018, p.66-69.

64 Simic, 2018, p73-75.

65 The Youth Organisation was aimed at young people over the age of 15, while the Pioneer Organisation was for 7-15 year olds.

66 Simic, 2018, pp180-188.

67 Simic, 2018, p189.

68 Simic, 2018, pp190-196.

69 Simic, 2018, p203.

70 Lišková, 2018, p111. The research was undertaken by the State Population Commission.

71 Heitlinger, 1979, pp184-185.

72 Before the 1980s, reasons given related to housing, living with in-laws, military service and women’s employment outside the home—Lišková, 2018, pp.195-196.

73 Lišková, 2018, pp200-203. The reasons for this varied for men and women, but women expressed increasing dissatisfaction.

74 Lišková, 2018, pp190-192.

75 Engelhardt and Maienreis, 2015, p182.

76 McGregor, 1989.

77 Lišková, 2018, pp35-48.

78 Lišková, 2018, pp122-123.

79 McGregor, 1989.

80 Steve Humphries evidences this with information from the British Sex Survey, although he does not identify which of the annual surveys he engaged with—Humphries, 1991, chapter 7.

81 Humphries, 1991, p107. Janan Ganesh has made a similar point in an article about Little Richard—Ganesh, 2020.

82 See Ghodsee, 2018.

83 Crouch, 2006.

84 See Gluckstein, 1952, chapter 9.

85 Marx makes this explicit in his introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Rightsee

86 Indeed, some Christian churches flourished under the revolutionary regime; the evangelical protestant movement grew from 100,000 to one million by 1927. In a display of tolerance, Trotsky allowed religiously motivated pacifists to undertake medical instead of military duties during the Russian Civil War—Crouch, 2006.

87 Northrop, 2004, p80.

88 Crouch, 2006.

89 Northrop, 2004, p81. Crouch, however, points out this approach was not held universally and led to clashes inside the Bolshevik Party—Crouch, 2006.

90 Uzbekistan was a newly created republic, and a national consciousness had been stimulated there under the impact of the Russian Revolution. For a full discussion of the interplay of developing nationalism and the Bolshevik attitude to the new republics, see Crouch, 2006. For the symbolism of the paranji and the accompanying chachvon, see Northrop, 2004.

91 This information is taken from Omerika, 2014.

92 After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks had taken a very different approach. They allowed the system of Sharia courts to continue, parallel with their own revolutionary courts, but placed limits on the kinds of punishments available to them—Crouch, 2006.

93 Simic, 2018, p164. Education focused on childcare and handicrafts. Even here, a lack of materials in the languages spoken by different communities spoke was a barrier.

94 Simic, 2018, p150.

95 Bridewealth is a form of dowry in which the husband’s family compensates the bride’s family for the labour lost when she leaves her familial home. It solidifies the role of women in the family as the basic economic unit of peasant society.

96 Simic, 2018, pp156-157.

97 Quoted in Simic, 2018, pp171-173.

98 The history of Muslims in Bulgaria is much more complex than I have space to account for here. For a lengthier overview, see Neuburger, 2004.

99 The term “Pomak” is widely used but has racist connotations in some contexts, and I have therefore placed it in quotation marks.

100 Gluckstein, 1952, p213.

101 Gluckstein, 1952, p212.

102 These Turkish-speaking Muslims largely descend from Turks who settled during the Ottoman Empire’s rule over Bulgaria, particularly in the 14th and 15th centuries.

103 Neuburger, 2004, p12.

104 In the 1970s, a special commission in the Bulgarian Academy of Science was tasked with trying to isolate the pure Bulgarian peasant heritage in order to build a case for assimilation of Turkish Muslims—see Neuburger, 2004, pp73-74.

105 Neuburger, 2004, p186.

106 The Bulgarian government had supported Hitler from 1941 but switched sides after the arrival of Soviet troops in 1944—see Kamusella, 2019.

107 Kamusella, 2019. Communist Bulgaria became the second largest centre of Turkish-language literature and publishing after Turkey itself. Between 1959 and 1972 around 120 Turkish-language books were published alongside a similar number of school textbooks.

108 Neuburger, 2004, p67.

109 According to Liliana Brisby, the Bulgarian government believed that the methods of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward could help them overcome their similar lack of investment funds—Brisby, 1960, p81.

110 Neuburger, 2004, pp68-70.

111 Kamusella, 2019.

112 Lattice windows were also rejected as a reminder of the “backwards” Ottoman past. Tables, chairs and beds were introduced into rural houses in the 1960s—Neuburger, 2004, p132.

113 Neuburger, 2004, pp74-75.

114 Neuburger, 2004, p77.

115 Neuburger, 2004, pp77-78.

116 Neuburger, 2004, pp82. Around 350,000 Turks crossed the border into Turkey in 1989. Many Bulgarian intellectuals called for the reversal of the “rebirth” process, and today Bulgaria’s parliament recognises this episode as an instance of ethnic cleansing.

117 The BNZS was replaced in 1950 by the departments of the National Council of the Fatherland Front responsible for work amongst women and national minorities—Nazarska, 2009.

118 Nazarska, 2009.

119 Muratova, 2013, pp132.

120 Muratova, 2013, pp135-137. Impressive efforts were made to overcome the lack of qualifications among young Muslim women, such as opening up special classes for nurses’ training.

121 Muratova, 2013, p144.

122 Muratova, 2013, p142.

123 Luxemburg, Rosa, 1989, chapter 8.


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