Last fall, I spent a month visiting Prague, Czech Republic. You might recall my Instagram takeover of the Rebellious Magazine account from November, which featured the Dancing House, Gender Studies Library and other local gems.
During my trip, I sat down with Blanka Nyklova, a professor with the Center for Gender and Science at Charles University in Prague. She teaches classes through the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) Prague location. With a PhD in sociology, her courses often focus on gender through a geopolitical lens.
Rebellious: What should Western feminists understand about gender in the Czech Republic?
Blanka: I think this is extremely difficult to answer. I’ve been teaching gender to U.S. students with CIEE for seven years. I change the syllabus slightly every semester, and over the years, I’ve started to focus more on geopolitics.
Study abroad programs for U.S. students are different from those for European students. Some [programs] require study abroad, others see it as an asset they can later capitalize on for the resume. You already have an idea you’re investing in human capital within the frame of the neoliberal university. We’re no longer focused on educating citizens to make informed choices.
What’s always surprising to me is that students have never heard of neoliberalism, but understand the concept because it is so successful, you don’t see it. The reason I focus on geopolitics is to challenge the idea that it’s all well back home, that the problems are minor, and the actual issues are here. It takes time [for students] to start seeing there are issues similar everywhere.
Before coming to Prague, I visited Berlin and saw a small demonstration with black umbrellas in solidarity with the abortion protests in Poland. Is there present solidarity here in Prague with Polish women?
It’s good you asked this in connection with national identity, because both are connected. It’s not something heard about a lot, because people can blame it on the Catholic church, but you have many Catholic countries with legal abortions available. That alone should make people think.
This past spring, when the first event in Poland was held to support the right to abortions, there were two events [in Prague], including one in front of the Polish embassy with Czech people giving speeches in support. However, the second event in Vaclavske Namesti [Palackého Square] was lead by Polish women that live here [in Prague]. However, before [these demonstrations], these organizers weren’t activists, but they were very unhappy with what was going on with Poland as they lived and worked in the Czech Republic. I think it’s important to read the initiative itself as being connected to the rise of nationalism in Poland.
What does the queer community look like in Prague?
Mezipatra, the biggest Central European queer film festival, takes place every November. There are campus organizations at Charles University, including Feminist Society with an intersectional approach and PROUD. Recent legislation of the constitutional court allows couples of the same gender to adopt children. Prague has quite a lot of clubs, including Q Cafe, which is a cafe by day and bar at night.
What books, movies, and different types of media do you recommend to readers wanting to learn more about gender in Central Europe?
For the Czech Republic, there is a very good book, “The Politics of Gender Culture under State Socialist: An Expropriated Voice,” edited by Hana Havelková and Libora Oates-Indruchová and [online], Femag.cz. There’s also Gender and Sociology department of the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences and NKC [National Library of the Czech Republic] Gender and Science.