RIGA - It is now over one hundred years and counting when it comes to how long we’ve been celebrating International Women’s Day. Yes, International Women’s Day, an idea struck back in 1910 in Copenhagen, when two political socialists, Luise Ziets and Clara Zetkin, proposed a radical idea.
A day to honor women
The two agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights for women in the workplace.
International women’s day. A crazy idea? Well, apparently some thought not.
The following year, in March 1911, the 1st International Women’s Day was marked by over a million women taking to the streets in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in celebration of women’s rights in a sign of solidarity for all.
The Soviets were quick to jump onto this idea too. Following the October Revolution, Lenin was presented with the idea as an official holiday. Hmmm… (he may have thought). “Good idea.” But it was just a normal working day until the mid-1960s before it became a national holiday. Lenin was a little slow to respond, although International Women’s Day was considered a Soviet holiday by most in the Baltic States – they had no choice. Today, the idea is not a socialist theme, but one of pure feminism.
In Russia, March 8 is a national holiday and in cities throughout, the prices of flowers skyrocket as the venders attempt to cash in on men’s desire to impress the fairer sex. The Baltic vendors are quick to adjust their pricing, too.
A check with the flower merchants on Terbates street in Riga’s center finds that the price of a dozen red roses in February was around 15 lats (21 euros) for a dozen. But coming up to the celebration, expect that price to go up at least 25 percent. Some would simply attribute the higher price to supply and demand. More likely, it is to take advantage of the situation, where money is not supposed to be the deciding factor when trying to woo that special woman.
In the Baltics, thoughts are more about receiving, sharing, and the giving of gifts of appreciation to women. Here, instead of women meeting and marching in the streets to mark the 103 years of International Women’s Day, flowers, romantic dinners and chocolates are the norm.
But today, the idea of equal rights, equal pay for equal work, gender equality and women’s issues are all in the mainstream of political and social thought, though the struggle for women’s equality is still a long way from over.
The United Nations gave official seal of approval for International Women’s Day only in 1975. And for this year, its theme is titled ‘The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.
Four ‘local’ opinions
The Baltic Times found four women, of different backgrounds, to ask about International Women’s Day and what it means to them.
In Riga, TBT found a living legend from the Soviet times, 89-year-old Anna Berzina.
Asked about her first memories of International Women’s Day “in Soviet times,” Anna harks back that “As a young women, I received many, many flowers, and I was very, very happy. I always love receiving praise and special attention,” she says.
Berzina worked in a kitchen environment as a young woman, and appears to enjoy very much the remembrance of that special day for women.
Widower Berzina has two children, and “many grandchildren,” she says, and “still they don’t forget me. I am very happy still, after all these years. The Soviet times were very hard, especially on women, but like all of us in Latvia, we endured,” she concluded, her words translated by her grand-daughter Agnija.
When quizzed further, TBT came to learn that Berzina eventually married her Soviet citizen–soldier/boyfriend, who used International Women’s Day to woo his eventual wife in the 1930s.
Also in Riga, Viktoria Karzone, a 26-year-old young professional says “International Women’s Day is not an unusual day. It’s a day when you are waiting for a little bit more, and think that each woman wants to be the center of attention” on that special day. “The day that shows that women are admired,” is the hope for March 8, says Karzone.
In Ventspils, TBT spoke with 61-year-old Lidija Bluma, a child psychology professional who has a special knack with communication skills that allows her to fluently convey her thoughts - in a blunt manner - and is proud of it.
When asked about her memories during Soviet times, she responded: “I remember men staying drunk, and nothing else.” Not exactly the purpose of International Women’s Day from a female perspective, then or today, but not uncommon in Soviet times. However, she admits, grudgingly, “I had my fair share of gifts, and did enjoy it.”
In St. Petersburg, Russia, TBT found Natalia Kalugin, 47-year-old, named Woman of the Year 2012 in her profession in construction, and who responded with the following when asked about International Women’s Day. About her first impressions from childhood, Kalugin said: “It was a holiday for mama, and we children made gifts with our hands. Drawings, embroidery, simply children’s craft works. Papa with the children congratulated mama on the occasion of spring. The feeling of joy, the first spring of drops and sweets on the table,” are what come to mind for Kalugin. She continues about herself: “Men remember that they are men, strong, kind, generous, attentive and intelligent. March 8 I want to continue indefinitely for life,” she adds.
Women in power visit the Baltics
International business magazine Forbes in a late 2012 issue published the list “The 100 most powerful women in the world.” On the list were four women that have visited the Baltic States.
Hillary Clinton, who in June 2012 as secretary of state of the United States, was in Riga and laid a ceremonial wreath at the Freedom Monument during her visit, and later gave a question and answer interview to some 500 Latvian students at the University of Latvia. Clinton was address by one student as “the most powerful woman in the world.” Secretary Clinton could have disavowed such a claim – but did not.
Also in Riga in 2012 was Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who was here to bolster the claim that Latvia is “a European leader in its successful emergence from the economic downturn” brought on by the worldwide economic crisis. A powerful woman in international finance, this former minister of finance for France and the 8th most important woman in the world, according to Forbes, manages a budget of over 770 billion U.S. dollars in her day-to-day supervision of the IMF.
Lithuania saw the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, consider by some as the most powerful woman in the world, or at least in Europe, who met with one of the few women presidents in the world, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. They discussed bilateral issues between Germany and Lithuania as well as NATO responsibilities in Afghanistan.
And finally, another powerful woman, says Forbes, was recently in Latvia. Lady Gaga, musician and, yes philanthropist, who in addition to being a 26-year-old female musician earned some $52,000,000 in 2012. As a philanthropist, Lady Gaga has set up what is called the MAC AIDS Foundation, a non-profit, with the financial support of the McArthur Foundation and Harvard University in the United States.
While in Latvia on her Baltic tour in 2012, Lady Gaga was quoted as saying, “I’m excited to be treated as a project of study,” based on the outlandish costumes, outfits, and stage presentation that have made her “the 14th most powerful woman in the world,” according to Forbes. Some, however, may not agree with this assertion.
All in all, the Baltic States make up a small region, but, when it comes to powerful women taking center stage here, they seem to pull their weight with the biggest.
Right now, nestled amongst the 7,000,000 people or so that make up the Baltic population base, future female world leaders, in any variety of fields, are likely preparing for a future on the world stage.
Hopefully, in the 2nd millennium, International Women’s Day will deliver what in the beginning was its efforts in achieving for women equality in all areas of life.
Culinary expert Rajinder Chaudhary, restaurateur, says “Sue’s Indian Raja has grand plans for this year on International Women’s Day in Vilnius. Ladies accompanied by their gents will receive a flower and a glass of champagne. Spice up the start of your evening with dinner at this culinary classic. The rest of the evening is all yours.
Sues Indian Raja
Odminiu 3, Vilnius
Tel. 370 52661888
The Radisson Blu on Brivibas street in Riga offers a “Romantic Day Spa/Luxurious Package” for that special someone you want to impress, that includes a two course light lunch with champagne. Use of the Thermal Suite and “the only rooftop outdoor heated vitality pool” in Latvia is included, says Vladis Portnajs, director of sales and marketing. You can finish up your day in an after-treatment relaxation room where tea and dried fruits are served - a perfect way to say “I love you” on March 8. Do it right for your sweetheart.
Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija
55 Elizabetes Street
Tel. 371 67772222
If you’re in Tallinn for the March 8 weekend, romance your wife or girlfriend at the Estonia National Opera, where artists will perform famous arias, duets, choruses and overtures from the operas of Verdi and Wagner. Repertoire will include music from Otello, Aida, Nabucco, Parsifal, Lohengrin, Tannhauser, and Der fliegende Hollander. Prepare yourself for a wonderful evening, and impress her with flowers and dinner afterwards, to discuss what you liked most about the singing.
Estonian National Opera
Estonia Avenue 4
Tel. 372 6831201