Part I The Women’s Movement in Bulgaria

1.2. Organised Women during Socialism

1.2.3. Mobilisation of Women in the 1980s

The 1980s decade was characterised by increasing economic difficulties and numerous unsuccessful attempts by the socialist government to carry out reforms that would bring quick recovery (Delev et al., 1996: 484). Again the political climate influenced the issues addressed by the organised women, and if it is difficult to speak of demands in the late 1960s and 1970s, it becomes even less possible to use this phrase for the 1980s. The decisions of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party from 1979 mobilised the Women’s Committee in government in attempts to stem the growing difficulties. Women’s organisation in the 1980s started from a very different place from that in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The Committee of Bulgarian Women was transformed in an attempt to improve its efficiency, and its name was changed to the Movement of Bulgarian Women (1979) (Committee of the Movement of Bulgarian Women (CMBW), 1980). A Programme of the Committee (1980) demonstrated the new priorities and ‘new values’: high efficiency and return of investment, and receiving what one has worked for. The tasks were to turn the slogan ‘Nothing is for free and we’ll live as we work’ into a way of thinking (CMBW, 1980: 2). The same document quoted the Greetings for Women’s Day (8 March) sent by the Communist Party:

We strongly believe that each of you will nobly take her share in achieving the priority task – the frugal living to become a mentality, to become a purpose and commitment of the millions, to become a leading principle of our work (BCP quoted in CMBW, 1980: 10).

These contra-demands (‘contra’ because they were demanded of organised women not by them) were framed as participation in ‘some economic tasks and solving some social problems of the Bulgarian family and the working woman’ (CMBW, 1980: 20). These tasks included saving labour, materials, resources, fuel, electricity, finances, not only in public production, but also by families, in personal consumption. Women were seen as the most appropriate people to be responsible for ‘thrift and care for public wealth’ (CMBW, 1984: 10). The Committee developed

a wide range of activities, including recycling campaigns and donation of clothes to homes for children and teenagers without parents (CMBW, 1984). In response to these tasks the Committee adopted a new approach, which was ‘not to ask for more funding but to use what is available in more reasonable way’ (CMBW, 1980: 20).

The discourse of organised women in the 1980s thus took on a ‘missionary’ tinge, and the accent was put on the so-called ‘ideologically- educational work’. This can be exemplified in the tasks of the Committee which were framed as creating a ‘patriotic and international mentality’, ‘raising labour virtues’, ‘affirmation of the new socialist daily life and forming national culture for consumption’, ‘family activation for completing economic tasks’ [what is meant here is private production of agricultural goods for people’s own consumption to compensate for the shortages] (CMBW, 1980: 5-6). From the pages of the magazine ‘Today’s Woman’ the organisation advocated ‘quality changes in mentality and attitude towards the consumption of goods in daily life’, and ‘increased activism and responsibility’ (Жената днес, Повишена активност и отговорност, June, 1985).

Reproductive Rights and Parenting

The Committee had the promotion of women’s role as mothers and carers as its main focus. Motherhood had a central role in political, media and organised women’s discourses even in the 1970s when images of strong and masculine women gave way to more traditionally feminine ideas of women’s motherhood (Vodenicharov, 2004). Motherhood was often constructed as ‘social duty to bear and rear the “socialist citizens of the future”’ (Einhorn, 1993: 40). This trend intensified in the discourse of organised women in the 1980s, and it was phrased not in terms of rights, but as obligations and responsibilities:

Contemporary Bulgarian women have great responsibility to preserve the cleanliness and good climate of the family, at home where the future generations are growing up and being educated, where the germs of the traditional virtues of our people are rooted – diligence, thrift, patriotism, honesty, modesty, love for children as a supreme virtue, the unique feeling for beauty and harmony. (Committee of the Movement of Bulgarian Women (CMBW), 1980: 9, my translation)

The celebrations to mark 1300 years since the establishment of Bulgaria were a good occasion to intensify the promotion of motherhood. The Committee organised a two-year discussion, ‘The

Bulgarian Woman in the National Development’ (1980-2) (CMBW, 1980; 1984) including public lectures, round tables, conferences, and exhibitions promoting ‘good’ motherhood. In an information sheet by the Committee evaluating the activities between 1968 and 1984, the development at the beginning of the 1980s is assessed as a ‘greater orientation towards the family– increasing the responsibility for strong family atmosphere, for giving birth, raising and educating more children’ (CMBW, 1984: 3). The same document describes motherhood as ‘vocation and patriotic duty of every woman’.

This was a highly traditional discourse on women’s position in society, focusing on women’s mission to raise children and to install in them ‘proper’ values and failing to address any gender inequalities whatsoever. In 1983 a new activity was added to the Committee’s portfolio – the care of the elderly. This change was the result of a Presidium of the Fatherland Front on the 14 April 1982 and a later meeting in November 1982 that gave the Committee specific tasks (CMBW, 1983). In relation to this, the Committee started working to ‘strengthen the relationship between the generations’, for the ‘education of young people in respect’ for the elderly, and the encouragement of ‘solidarity and mutual help’ (CMBW, 1983). Some of these activities included helping old people living alone or in care institutions; assisting pensioners’ clubs, creating a register of old people who need help, and the reintegration of active pensioners through work activities (CMBW, 1983). This demonstrates another aspect of intimate citizenship that was taken on by organised women.

Working with ‘difficult’ social groups was another sphere in which the Committee was involved. These were women from ‘culturally backward groups’ which is the popular socialist expression for women from the Turkish minoritised group, and another group is children and teenagers from care institutions (CMBW, 1980: 5). Organised women aimed at working on limiting ‘antisocial actions’, keeping the law, and the ‘development of [what was seen as] socialist democracy’. This ‘policing’ aspect of women’s activism is interesting and not foreseable. Another sphere that was taken up was involvement in campaigns against alcohol drinking and tobacco smoking (CMBW, 1980: 16). The Committee also took part in the monitoring of labour conditions, aiming to ensure that women’s rights were not violated but also that ‘the interests of enterprises and the state are protected from disturbers of labour discipline’ (CMBW, 1980: 23).

The ‘missionary’ role of women was also relevant on the international scene, where Bulgarian women were taking part in the peace movement and contributing to good relationships between the neighbour countries in the Balkans (CMBW, 1980: 23).

Towards the late 1980s the activities of organised women were slowing down, and just a few months before the democratic changes the leader of the Committee reported that more needed to be done to surmount the lack of participation and apathy of women (Committee of Bulgarian Women (CBW), 1989a). The ‘formation of new values in the Bulgarian woman’ (CBW, 1989a: 9) was still ‘on the table’.

By the end of 1989, the situation contrasted with the 1960s and 1970s – with growing discontent with the regime, and serious economic difficulties – and the Committee tried to evaluate the new circumstances and their impact on women. A Report of CBW in November 1989 discussed that fact that most people who lost their jobs were women with care responsibilities who had to take time off more often (CBW, 1989b). In spite of the efforts to address the new situation, the women from the Committee were ‘talking the same talk’ which demonstrates how unprepared they were to grasp the actual magnitude of the changes. The demands of the late 1980s were still for state protection of women’s employment, and motherhood, and for better goods and services that would reduce the weight of domestic work more easily (CBW, 1988; 1989b).

Some of the Committee’s demands were related to support for women in the new labour market situation, for example support of women who have lost their jobs, demands for flexible employment, and recognition of childcare as ‘labour of high responsibility and of public benefit’ (CBW, 1989b: 2). Nevertheless, the Committee admitted in the report that the changes were occurring too quickly and were outdistancing any reaction and ability to take measures.

To sum up, organised women in Bulgaria at the beginning of the 1980s did not manage to raise any demands. The process of economic stagnation resulted in a change of discourse that resembles the famous J.F. Kennedy’s phrase ‘don’t ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’. Women were mobilised in thrift, saving, and preaching the new morality. This was linked to even further (than in the 1960s and 1970s) promotion of women’s role as mothers, as well as in some ‘policing’ functions of women’s activism. At the very end of the 1980s the Committee started raising demands for state protection of women and

motherhood, but these demands were based on long years of habitual activism rather than on ad hoc evaluation of the situation.

Generally, during socialism organised women were in a contradictory position when trying to represent women and to defend their interests, whilst at the same time aiming to implement government policy. The main demands raised related to women’s employment, domestic work and childcare, and for increased impact of women on policy and legislation. The focus of organised women during socialism, however, was not only on the demands they made. They had another quite important function – to transform women’s mentality, habits, and tastes and to ‘produce’ the ‘new’ socialist woman. This also involved significant transformations in the private sphere and creation of a ‘new’ idea of intimate citizenship.

Socialism ‘prioritized resistance against class oppression above agitations based on any specific form of gendered subjugation. Proletarian men were seen as closer allies than bourgeois women, who then, as now, advocated a kind of global sisterhood’ (Ghodsee, 2004: 730). Ghodsee (2004) refers to the forthcoming period as the ‘feminisms-by-design’ stage due to the influence of ‘western’ ideas and funding in the newly formed NGO sector.

Sexuality: Identities and Practices

This dimension of intimate citizenship has not been thoroughly addressed by organised women during socialism. The only exception is in relation to sexual relationships between adults and women’s sexual pleasure, which were considered on the pages of ‘Today’s Women’ magazine published by the Committee of Bulgarian women.4 The publications represent an interesting discussion of what was considered to be ‘proper’ and ‘inappropriate’ sexual relationships. Women’s sexual pleasure was seen as an important part of sexual practices and a prerequisite for successful and happy marriage. A more detailed analysis of how intimate citizenship issues were addressed in the magazine between 1965 and 1995 is included in appendix one.


For more details about the magazine, how intimate citizenship issues were addressed in it, and about sampling see appendix 1.

Gender and Sexual Violence

Gender and sexual violence is also a dimension of intimate citizenship that has remained outside the focus of organised women. The Committee carried out several campaigns against alcohol abuse and it can be argued that these actions were a form of struggle against gender and sexual violence, even though they were not openly defined as such. The women’s magazine also published materials against the excessive use of alcohol and on a few occasions discussed domestic violence as unacceptable practice.


The Women’s Movement during the Post-Socialist

In document Changing cultural discourses about intimate life: the demands and actions of women’s movements and other movements for gender and sexual equality and change (Page 39-44)