This week, Central Europe Review looks at the issue of women in Central and East European politics.
Over the region as a whole, women are underrepresented in political bodies. Though the situation is hardly more equitable in most of the West, it seems that patriarchal politics in Central and Eastern Europe is more deeply rooted, accompanied as it is by strong social expectations of women's double burden and combined in many countries with a deep suspicion of anything that might be labeled "feminist."
In this issue, CER examines two specific cases, and the dramatic difference between them highlights the scope and range of this topic.
Actually, it would be hard to imagine two more diametrically opposite women than Latvia's Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Romania's Elena Ceausescu. Vike-Freiberga is a modern, highly educated woman with several languages and degrees to her credit, as well as a wealth of international experience. Elena Ceausescu only ever received her degrees through the endemic nepotism of her husband Nicolae Ceausescu's regime, and she achieved infamy rather than fame on the international front. Vaira Vike-Freiberga is a politician in her own right; Elena only ever got anywhere as Mrs Ceausescu.
About all they do have in common is that they are (or were) both women in Central and East European politics.
Perhaps this outstanding difference reveals the partial hollowness of our chosen theme in this day and age. Mel Huang relates in his article that Vike-Freiberga's gender played little or no role in the recent Latvian presidential election: the public at large and the members of Parliament who elected her were far more concerned about issues and the serious problems Latvia is facing today than with the candidates' sex.
But to the south, gender differences in politics are still crucial; in fact, as Catherine Lovatt points out in her contribution to this theme, it is the very legacy of Elena Ceausescu itself that makes it so.
The theme is thus not hollow by any means: women are still exceptional in Central and East European politics, and those few women who do rise to the top play a pivotal role in forming the image of women in power for the next generation of politicians. CER will certainly be returning to this theme again in the future.
Andrew Stroehlein, Editor-in-Chief, 12 July 1999