Expelled Soviet feminists continue work from Vienna

"It is not important if we have women in our governmen or leadership because those who get there are not women any more." The speaker is Natalia Malachovskaya, a philologist and one of three co-founders of Russia's first unofficial feminist magazine. We are talking in a small flat in Vienna where the trio have found refuge after the KGB's mid-July ultimatum -- emigration or prison.

I mention the late Ekaterina Furtseva, the only woman to reach the top party Soviet leadership since the revolution (for a time she served as minister of culture). Mrs. Malachovskaya replies -- scornfully.

While Communist regimes enshrine the full equality of men and women in their constitutions, they rarely admit women to the top echelons of power. Among them , currently, the Soviet Union has none, and eight other Ruropean communist states have few more than a score in higher party or even modest government posts.

Mrs. Malachovskaya, a slight, fine-featured woman, speaks with quiet conviction. "IT is unimportant," she repeats. "The Furtsevas cannot represent women because they have lost all qualities as women. They're no more than ordinary politicians interested in power.

"They are [she searches the dictionary for the right word] a 'betrayal' both of themselves and of women in their countries generally and their concerns."

Politics had no direct place in the magazine Mrs. Malachovskaya and her friends -- Tatiana Goricheva, philosopher, and Tatiana Mamonova, chemist, poet, and painter -- launched in Leningrad last fall. But Afghanistan moved them to write deeply felt protests addressed to mothers and wives of men in the Soviet forces and to women in the world at large.

They had run into trouble after producing the first -- and last -- issue of "Woman and Russia" in September. An immediate summons to the KGB followed. One of the three went and was warned that if a second issue appeared, it would mean jail.

Despite the warning, a second issue was prepared and the material smuggled to France, where it came out as "Russian Woman."

Back in Leningrad, Mrs. Malachovskaya and her friends started work on another magazine, this one to be called "Maria" because, she explains, that is perhaps the most popular name among Russian women and girls.

A "Maria Club" was formed, with a dozen activist members. It quickly drew many supporters, "all deeply interested in what we were trying to do and a magazine covering the situation of women in our country from all points of view -- psychological, philosophical, and so on."

The first issue of "Maria" was almost ready when the KGB raided Mrs. Malachovskaya's flat and seized all the material while she was in the hospital. The women began again and got out five copies. "Our movement was gathering strength," she says.

"Having so few copies, circulation was difficult. So people came to my flat because I was alone [her marriage had broken up] and had a place where people sat and read. There was always someone coming."

"Maria" will be continued now either in Paris or in Vienna. "I'd like it to be here," she says. "Austia is closer to the Slavic countries."

She continues, "The important thing is the magazine is the first ever to depict the life of Russian women as it truly is -- as people, not simply women, though they suffer much more than the men."

Life gets tough for Russian women, she says intensely, with the arrival of a child.

"At school and university one never thought of oneself as girl or women. As students, we were on level terms with men and, as a general rule, girls anyway were quicker, more interested in studies, developed quicker, as girls do everywhere.

"One felt no problems. But when the family starts, that is when a woman meets the reality of our society today."

Russia's endemic social and economic problems, the alcoholism, the grave inadequacies of income and housing, have a big share in responsibility, but so does a pervasive male superiority syndrome and continuation of the traditional Russian indifference to the hard and heavy and menial work being left to women.

"When husband and wife are both working, both may arrive home at the same time," Mrs. Malachovskaya says. "But the husband at once rests or does whatever he wishes and so often in is drink -- while the wife must look to the child, cook, and do everything.

(She herself worked by day and studied by night when she was carrying her child, a bright-eyed 10-year-old who is here with his mother.)

"The woman has no time to belong to herself or to live her own identity any more -- she becomes a machine unable to 'feel' anything.

"For too many Russian women home is a prison [again to the dictionary for a word] -- a tomb in which she can lose herself entirely."

And the future? "Our parents' generation believed our party and government were the best in the world and would change things.

"With them it became almost a religious question and, when they are disappointed, they still believed. What else could they do? Without hope and some belief in our life, we cannot live, can we?"

And the magazine when it is reborn? "We shall find ways of getting it into Russia," she says quite buoyantly.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.