Michaela Marksova-Tominova: a confrontation between two worlds

Михаела Марксова-Томинова

Michaela Marksova-Tominova is the head of the Centre for Gender Studies in Prague and is one of the Czech Republic's foremost feminist academics. At the time of the fall of Communism she was studying natural sciences at Prague's Charles University. Like many Czechs she had been fascinated by the world beyond the barbed wire, and the opening of the Iron Curtain seemed like a dream come true. Not long afterwards she had the chance to spend three years in Britain, and it was there that she came in for a shock. The following account of how she became disillusioned is a familiar one to many Czechs who, like Michaela, had high expectations of the west.

"We idealized a lot what it means to live in Western Europe. At the beginning of the nineties I followed my husband to Great Britain, to Cambridge, because he got a scholarship there, and there I started to be disappointed. I met with people who were PhD students at Cambridge University, so you expect from those people that they are extremely highly educated. And suddenly I discovered that they know nothing about our country at all. And they started to ask me if we had a war in our country, because it was the time when there was a war in Yugoslavia, and they somehow weren't able to look at the map and discover that the Czech Republic - or Czechoslovakia - is at a slightly different place than Yugoslavia. That was the first thing. The second was, for example, I was asked the question if we grew oranges in our country. And then I was in a deep shock, so I showed him the map of Europe and he wondered. And one thing as well is that I think in England - the average living standard - I mean the way that the houses are built, how the heating works and all these things, for me were actually very primitive and strange and not good. But all the people from England were asking us all the time if we wanted to stay after my husband finished his PhD, because they thought that in our country it looks awful and that we live on trees. I think it was a very, very strange confrontation between our two worlds."