Politician on Czech whipping tradition: 'No means no even on Easter'

Deputy speaker Olga Richterová called for a new approach to an ancient Czech Easter ritual.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 09.04.2023 13:56:00 (updated on 09.04.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Olga Richterová, Deputy Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament, tweeted a friendly reminder to her followers on Twitter this Easter weekend: No means no.

Not a phrase you'd typically associate with a holiday devoted to chocolate and colored eggs but in the Czech Republic, where women are publically whipped on Easter Monday, the politician's words pack a pertinent sting.

On Saturday morning, Richterová tweeted: "NO means NO even during the Easter whipping tradition! Traditions are a beautiful thing and they are a part of our culture. However, it's important that the celebration of traditions is voluntary and doesn't cause distress to anyone."

For those unfamiliar with the country's most notorious Easter custom, it's based on an ancient fertility rite that involves men swatting women of all ages with a bundle of willow branches called a pomlázka. The men are then rewarded with eggs, baked goods, and shots of plum brandy.

(A rather brutal portrayal of the pomlázka in action, can currently be seen in Slovak director Tereza Nvotova's 2022 supernatural "Nightsiren" which examines a young woman's harrowing return to her rural village and is now streaming on Netflix.)

In recent years, Czech women's rights organizations have decried the heavy-handed approach favored by some booze-fueled revelers as traumatizing.

"There are a lot of negative experiences about how a bunch of drunk guys rushed into the house and very painfully whipped the women and girls present," Dagmar Krišová, from the Czech NGO Konsent, an organization dedicated to the issue of sexual violence, commented for Stisk Online. Richterová addresses this point in her tweet as well.

"During the Easter whipping tradition, it often happens, unfortunately, that women are spanked against their will. Or they are whipped so roughly that they are left with painful bruises or scratches. Carolers sometimes behave inappropriately as well due to being intoxicated with alcohol, and then they don't know when to stop," she writes.

Do you think that consent should be a part of the Easter whipping tradition?

Yes 93 %
No 7 %
150 readers voted on this poll. Voting is open

According to a 2019 Behavio survey, cited in this article by Konsent founder Johanna Nejedlová, almost two-fifths of women experienced pain during Easter whipping, a third report bruises, more than half felt humiliated and scared during the experience, and one in ten were brought to tears. Fifty-seven percent of men, however, called Easter whipping a "nice tradition."

Last year, Konsent compiled Instagram stories of the women who had personally experienced the darker side of the Easter holiday.

Despite the seemingly high number of men who look forward to the event, the tradition presents somewhat of a double-edged whip for those of them who are forced to participate, Richterová adds.

"This problem doesn't only affect women. Many men don't enjoy [whipping] either because they don't feel comfortable doing it. They do it only because of social pressure." Others have argued that the Easter festivities force men to embrace traditionally defined masculinity.

Richterová, whose recent legislative initiatives include the regulation of cannabis and the protection of whistleblowers, echoes the sentiment of women's advocates like Nejedlová and Krišová who believe it's time to re-examine the tradition.

"The solution is simple," she writes. "Don't do anything that others don't agree with. Enjoy Easter in a way that everyone can enjoy it with us. Wishing you blessed holidays and lots of joy!"

In a country with a complicated relationship toward consent – the Czech Republic is not among the thirteen EU nations whose legal definition of rape is framed around it –reminding participants to ask before they lash strikes one as painfully obvious.

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