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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


The 8th of March: a Truly Significant Holiday

t is very possible that when German socialist Klara Tsetkin declared the 8th of March a day of solidarity in the fight for equal rights at a conference in Copenhagen in 1910, she had no idea how significant and long-lasting the 8th of March would turn out to be. With various reincarnations, ranging from a communist holiday to a U.N.-supported event, International Women’s Day is still being celebrated almost a hundred years later.

In Russia, the holiday has taken on a series of interesting forms. In March 1917, Russian revolutionary feminists Alexandra Kollontai and Klara Zetkin participated in an International Women’s Day that was marked by a strike “for bread and peace” in St. Petersburg. Later Kollontai, a minister in the first Soviet government, persuaded Lenin to make March 8th an official communist holiday. It was revived during the women’s movement in the 1960s, but without its socialist associations. In 1975, the U.N. began sponsoring International Women’s Day. Even after most communist ideas have been cast aside, the “holiday of liberated women” is still an event and a state holiday in Russia, in some ex-Soviet republics, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Mongolia and Vietnam.

Since 1965, March the 8th is an official day off and though it has long lost its political meaning it is looked upon as a day to celebrate unconditional love, sacrifice, patience, wisdom, and beauty. This is a holiday which gives men a chance to show appreciation for the women in their lives. The holiday is a combination of Mother’s Day with some elements of Valentine’s Day; and more. Every woman in Russia expects to receive flowers and gifts. If you are male and new to this culture, make sure that you congratulate any Russian women you know.

March 8th has its enemies. There are skeptics both among men and women in the younger generation, who view the holiday as a burden from Soviet times and a sexist occasion that denies gender equality. But nevertheless most of them still relish memories from their childhood. Just a couple of decades ago, early March was marked with a burst of creativity in any kindergarten across the vast territory of the former Soviet Union: under the supervision of tutors, millions of diligent boys and girls produced hand-made festival greeting cards for their mums. The composition was usually clear and simple: a branch of mimosa made of yellowcolored cotton combined with palm leaves cut out of green paper. All this was glued to a white card and with March 8th written on it. Some family archives still contain these modest gifts of the past.

A bunch of fragrant mimosa was selected as the symbol of this holiday for one reason only: the choice of early spring flowers was rather limited in the Soviet Union. Tulips, roses and other flower arrangements were too expensive. Planes from Georgia and other Black Sea regions filled with mimosa were flown to all major cities of the USSR. The Russian flower flourishes in early March when prices double. Unlike Valentine’s Day, flower-giving on Women’s Day is common not only for lovers, but for friends, co-workers and business partners. Numerous florist companies and skilled professionals (see page 48 in this issue of Passport) help gormless men, a category in which many foreign males find themselves in by default on this day, choose the right kind of flowers.

No matter what some women think of March 8th, most ladies cannot resist a bunch of beautiful spring flowers especially when spiced with compliments. Several years ago, the Moscow based Public Opinion Foundation carried out a survey: what do Russians think of first when somebody mentions the eighth of March. Over 70% spoke about the holiday and its attributes - gifts, flowers, congratulations, joy, parties, or a delicious meal. Every tenth respondent associates this date with the spring, warm sunny weather, three percent - with women and love. What else can be more everlasting? It seems that the holiday has a long life ahead. At least in this part of the world.

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