In memoriam: Sociologist, gender studies pioneer Jiřina Šiklová

Jiřina Šiklová

Jiřina Šiklová, a sociologist and Charter 77 signatory known for her efforts in smuggling forbidden texts into Communist Czechoslovakia, died on Saturday at the age of 85. One of the key voices of the Prague Spring reform movement, she was also known as a pioneer of Gender Studies in the Czech Republic.

Jiřina Šiklová was born in Prague in June 1935 into the family of a doctor and a teacher. She studied philosophy and history at Charles University, where she co-founded the Department of Sociology in the mid-1960s.

As a member of the Czech Communist Party, she took an active part in the reform efforts that culminated in the Prague Spring. She left the party after the Soviet invasion of August 1968 and supported the student strike of November 1969. Šiklová lost her job as a result. Severely limited in her official career opportunities, she then worked as a janitor for a couple of years.

As a dissident, Ms Šiklová often published under an assumed name and assisted in the smuggling of literature and other samizdat both to and from the country, for which she was briefly imprisoned in 1981.

However, she had no regrets for the decisions she had made in her life. This is how Ms Šiklová described her dissident years in an interview for Radio Prague:

Jiřina Šiklová | Photo: Barbora Němcová,  Radio Prague International

“I think that those were times of hope, and I thought to myself that it was very important that culture is saved to help the people survive. And I saw that I had the ability – though obviously not the qualifications – to act like a spy and undertake covert organisational activities.

“This gave me great satisfaction, to see how many books and manuscripts were smuggled abroad and how so many articles were published abroad. And I think that this evoked a new ability in these authors to write. I think it was twenty years in which I survived very well.”

After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Ms Šiklová established the first department of Gender Studies in the Czech Republic. She also continued in her work as a sociologist, giving university lectures and writing books and articles.

English editor, filmmaker and journalist Dominik Jůn, who worked with her for a number of Czechoslovak Documentation Centre films, says she was an indomitable spirit until the very end:

“There is a story for me that sums up what kind of a person she was, especially when I consider that the Communists made her clean toilets to punish her for her dissident activities.

“A couple of years ago, I bumped into her in Prague and she had blood running down her forehead, so I said: Jiřina, what happened? And she said: Oh, I must have fainted. But don’t worry, it happened by a tram stop and the people picked me up.

“And she started to talk about some event she was going to. She never considered for a second to lie down or go to the hospital. It wasn’t in her nature to stop or pity herself. And that’s what she was like right to the end and she will be sorely missed.”