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International Conference: „Gender – Power – Eastern Europe: Changing Concepts of Femininities and Masculinities and Power Relations“

From June 21 to 23 2017 the Institute of East European Studies at Freie Universität Berlin hosted the international conference „Gender – Power –Eastern Europe: Changing Concepts of Femininities and Masculinities and Power Relations“. It brought together 23 scholars from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Israel, Germany and the US. The main idea of the conference was to discuss the consequences for gender relations posed by the rise of right wing populist parties and conservative movements in Eastern Europe. A particularity of the Conference was the local perspective: the discussion was not about people from Eastern Europe but with them and with their own self-conception.

The conference was opened by a welcome note by Katharina Bluhm (Freie Universität, Berlin), in which she states some thesis about the developments of genderism as a battlefield in post-socialist states. The evening continued with a keynote by Agnieszka Graff (University of Warsaw) discussing the rise of anti-genderism and nationalization in Eastern Europe especially in Poland. She argued that the interactions between the feminist and the (western) liberal movements were a catalyst for the rise of the Right. She pointed out how the gender movement is seen as an offensive on National Pride by the right wing movement. She also discussed the feminist responses towards polish national symbols. Either they appropriate them or deconstruct them. Although Graff used polish examples, she claimed that these developments are global and asked for global solutions dealing with the rise of anti-genderism.

Panel I

These themes continued in the first panel “Between liberalism and conservatism: changing concepts of masculinity and femininity“, which focused on the changes in societies after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Weronicka Grzebalska (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw) analysed the rise of right wing paramilitary activities in connection with anti-gender discourses in post-socialist Poland. Her study discussed the militarization of citizenship especially of women by different state and non-state actors and reflected on the way this is connected to a broader shift from liberal democracy to illiberal governance. The achievements in gender issues in Ukraine after the Euromaidan were studied by Tamara Zlobina (editor of Gender details magazine, Ukraine). Instead of a backlash in heteronormative rhetoric, women became engaged in policy making. Today there is a simultaneous existence of conservative and emancipative gender attitudes, which Zlobina defined as gender eclecticism and verified with examples from politics and civil life. Ekaterina Basmanova (Russian School of Anthropology Institute of the Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow) presented the position, the function and the public perception of Russian ultra-conservative women-politicians. She pointed out, that their roles are part or the official agenda. Anna Zawadzka (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw) discussed the pro-patriotic discourse in the Polish feminist movement involved in the manifestation of politics of memory., the so called maternity turn. In her point of view the representatives of the Polish feminist movement, owing to the anti-communist characteristics of the Polish public sphere, bar themselves from their own history and any means of reclaiming it in an attempt to meet the requirements of this sphere. She questioned the gains and losses for contemporary Polish feminism from adhering to the anti-communist common sense.

Panel II

The second panel “(New) Social Movements and Gendered Activism“ dealt with new forms of protest and mobilization and cross-linking of the movements in the Social Media. Elena Korowin (Albrecht-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg) described the happening called #яНеБо̀сьСказать on facebook in Ukraine and Russia in 2016. The hashtag was used by women breaking a taboo to write about their stories regarding sexual violence. Korowin analysed the effects of this action on Russian society with regard to the current representation of power. Zdeněk Sloboda (Palacky University, Olomouc) described the development of LGBT+ rights in the Czech Republic in the post-socialist era. He showcased the character of Czech political discourse on LGBT+ issues, especially on the issue of step-child-adoption. Julia Kubisa (University of Warsaw) questioned if gender can be the key to understand the different patterns of protest organized by nurses and miners in Poland, two groups that are active in trade unions. She compared both groups in terms of general strategies and protest actions within the framework of hegemonic masculinity theory. Kubisa proved the struggle of both groups to answer this framework. New appearances of protestors were discussed by Jennifer Ramme (European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder) and Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez. They compared examples of feminist mobilisations and initiatives: the Coalition of 8th of March and the Black Protest. They also focused on the definition of the protestors as “ordinary women“.

Panel III

The connections between politics, economy and changing gender roles were the main theme in the third panel “Gender Participation: Politics and Economy“. Kristen Ghodsee (Bowdoin College, Brunswick) explored the resurgence of virulent nationalist patriarchies in East Central Europe after the Recession cycle starting in 2008. She argued that many Western feminist NGOs unwittingly represented the interests of Western capital as it raced to secure new markets in the post-socialist East. She proposed that capitalism co-opted and deployed feminism as a tool for the project of Western economic domination in Eastern Europe, as a part of western hegemony. In her point of view the current rise of anti-gender equality rhetoric is at least in part an expression of the extreme frustration with the failures of neo-liberal capitalism in Eastern Europe. Wanda Nowicka (University of Warsaw) also discussed the political participation of women. She asked whether they benefit from it by analysing the political development in post-socialist Poland. Her outcome was a backlash regarding women’s rights despite quantitative success. Olga Sasunkevich (European Humanities University, Vilnius) presented her study about “absent“ men in Belarus. She showed the interconnection between formal and informal economic practices of local women leading to a forced emancipation. She pointed out that the necessity of men is determined not only by a patriarchal idea of a man as an attribute to ‘women’s happiness’ but also by economic factors – that is one reason, why the women see emancipation as a burden rather than a liberation. The last speaker, Laura Szalai described the sexism towards women in the Hungarian parliament. She claimed that the patriarchal civic society construct women engaging in politics as an enemy of society.

Panel IV

The fourth panel “Gender, War, Violence“ focused on the current situation in Ukraine. Tracie L. Wilson (Aleksander Brueckner Center, Halle)presented narratives of sex-trafficking in the borderland region Galicia at the turn of the 20th century. She analysed what such narratives reveal about the role of crossing boarders, how they were linked together and manifested by themselves. The role of female soldiers in Ukraine was part of the speeches by Olesya Khromeychuk (University of East Anglia, Norwich) and Marta Havryshko (Ukrainian National Academy of Science, Kiev). Khromeychuk examined the collective memory in Ukraine towards female soldiers in World War II and compared this with the representation of women in the current conflict. Havryshko introduced the outcome of her study about sexual harassment and violence against women in current conflict in the Donbas region. She defined the main strategy for those women as a narrative of silence to protect themselves. Magdalena Grabowska (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw) examined how the political configuration in Poland and the domination of right wing populism preserves, encourages and empowers the traditional gender, race, and cultural power relation discourses in the debate on sexual violence.

Panel V

The last panel “Gender in Everyday Life Experience“ focused on different interactions in regard to changing gender roles in daily life. Boris Knorre (Higher School of Economics, Moscow) studied the changing role model of men in the Orthodox Church over the last years. He confirmed a growing masculinity in the church in contemporary Russia, which he described as hyper-masculinity. Peter Hallama (EHESS, Paris) presented historical research on the image of socialist fathers in ČSSR and GDR. He focused on the debates within the communist parties and on campaigns in the media. The last speaker Anna Novikov (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) focused on cultural and political dynamics of right-wing clothing perception in East-Central Europe. She traced how the gendered right-wing patriotic attire reflects and demonstrates the gendered ideology of various East-Central European population groups by using clothing and fashion.

Round Table

At the round table Katharina Bluhm (Freie Universität, Berlin), Tamara Martsenyuk (National University of "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy“, Kiev), Magdalena Grabowska (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw) and Gertrud Pickhan (Freie Universität, Berlin) summarized and discussed the changing gender roles in Eastern Europe and the backlash forced by conservative politics. The main question was how the feminist movements worldwide position themselves towards recent developments. How can academics and activists deal with the anti-gender propaganda? This conference allowed fruitful discussions and was a great opportunity to create dialogues and to build support between participants. The conference organisers plan to publish a publication.

Conference Overview

Welcome Note

Katharina Bluhm (Freie Universität, Berlin)

Keynote Speech

Agnieszka Graff (Warsaw), Eastern Europe Is No Longer „Lagging Behind” - Rethinking Gender, Anti-gender and Nation in the Age of Right Wing Populism.


Panel I: Between liberalism and conservatism: changing concepts of masculinity and femininity

Weronicka Grzebalska (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw), Militarism, Gender Re-Traditionalization and the Culture of late Neoliberalism in Poland.

Tamara Zlobina (Editor of Gender details magazine, Ukraine), Gender Eclecticism as a Result of the Euromaidan Events in Ukraine.

Ekaterina Basmanova (Russian School of Anthropology Institute of the Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow), The Russian Ultra-Conservative Women-Politicians. Position, Function and Public Perception.

Anna Zawadzka (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw), A politics of Mimicry. Historical Politics and Feminism in Poland.


Panel II: (New) Social Movements and Gendered Activism

Elena Korowin (Albrecht-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg), #яНеБоюсьСказать. Biopolitics of Violence.

Zdeněk Sloboda (Palacky University, Olomouc), The LGBT+ Rights and Current Czech Politics – “Salami” Progress and Political Disregard.

Julia Kubisa (University of Warsaw), Gendered Division of Trade Union Protests? Strategies, Activities and Outcomes of Union Activity of Nurses and Minors in Poland in the Perspective of the Hegemonic Masculinity Theory.

Jennifer Ramme (European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder), Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez (Warsaw), Abmivalences of the „ordinary“. The Black Protest, the people’s will and populism.


Panel III: Gender Partcipation: Politics and Economy

Kristen Ghodsee (Bowdoin College, Brunswick, US), The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend: The Curious Tale of Feminism and Capitalism in Eastern Europe.

Wanda Nowicka(University of Warsaw), Are Polish Women Benefiting from Slowly Increasing Political Participation of Women?

Olga Sasunkevich (European Humanities University, Vilnius, Lithuania), Forced Emancipation and Absent Men: Understanding Women’s Economic Participation in Belarusian Regions.

Laura Szalai (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest), Discursive Construction of Political Enemies by Sexism in the Parliament


Panel IV: Gender, War, Violence

Tracie L. Wilson (Aleksander Brückner Zentrum, Halle), Sex-trafficking Narratives in Habsburg Galicia: Explorations in Liminality and Intersectionality

Olesya Khromeychuk (University of East Anglia, Norwich), Female Fighters in WWII and Contemporary Ukraine: Experiences and Perceptions

Marta Havryshko (Ukrainia National Academy of Sciences, Kiev), Narratives of Silence: Ukraine‘s Female Soldiers and Experiences of Sexual Violence During War in the Donbas

Magdalena Grabowska (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw), Sexual Violence and Symbolic Power. The Reception of Research about Sexual Violence in Contemporary Poland


Panel V: GEnder in Everyday Life Practices

Boris Knorre (Higher School of Economics, Moscow), Gender Roles in the Organization of Social Space and the Communicative Culture of the Russian Orthodox Church

Peter Hallama (EHESS Paris), Socialist Fathers. Changing Representations of Men at Home in Communist Czechoslovakia

Anna Novikov (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), The Warrior, the Amazon and the Red-Lipsticked. Visualization of Gender in East-Central Europe

Further information