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In Brussels, Women's Day Never Goes Out Of Fashion

EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding (left) speaks with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek
EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding (left) speaks with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek
The differences between the old EU member states and the new ones from Central and Eastern Europe are becoming less and less noticeable in Brussels these days. Some years after the latest EU enlargement, economic performance stats as well as other indicators are showing more integration and a gradual lessening of a clear-cut East-West divide along the old Cold War border.

But if you still want to look for signs of separation, look no further than the different attitudes toward International Women’s Day on March 8. This socialist holiday celebrates a century this year and Brussels has been in a festive mood for a week already. The EU institutions are competing with each other by hosting events highlighting the political and social achievements of various women and high-brow seminars pointing out continued problems with female poverty, the gender pay gap, and maternity issues.

For the Eastern newcomers (though admittedly not all of them), all this brouhaha seems a bit anachronistic.

"I thought we were done with all this when the wall came down," laments a diplomat from an ex-communist member state.

Many can still remember the carefully choreographed marches and the absurd slogans proclaiming the merits of the egalitarian working women underpinning the world revolution.

The March 8 holiday was supposed to be a relic from the ancient regime, but in the Brussels corridors it has never really gone out of fashion.

True, the European Parliament’s motto -- "Let's make things happen" -- is not quite as high-minded as the old placards you were paid to carry back in the day. But you are likely to hear the same worn-out battle cries about equality from Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the threat about female quotas on company boards from his fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding, and a plea not to hit women from the Italian MEP and Berlusconi babe, Barbara Matera.

The European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek will also jump on the bandwagon and maybe note that this day is more than just an occasion to give flowers to girls, like he did last year. The remark drew sneers by mainly Western European feminists, who claimed that they wanted real equality rather than red tulips.

Receiving a bouquet on March 8 was otherwise one of the few pleasant things about the day in the old Warsaw Pact and is the one tradition that not surprisingly still lives on in many countries.

Maybe the old Polish president has been Westernized enough this time around to instead denounce patriarchal power structures and hail the need for female stakeholders to push for more gender mainstreaming?

-- Rikard Jozwiak

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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