An entry on Macedonian poet and thinker Kočo Racin in: A Biograhical Dictionary of Women's Movements and feminisms, CEU Press, 2006.
by Jasna Koteska and Ivana Velinovska
Macedonian poet, fiction writer, historical thinker and revolutionary; less is known as one of the first Macedonian autonomous feminist thinkers and a central figure of Macedonian feminism between the two World Wars. Kočo Racin, the pen name that he used from 1928, comes from the name of Rahilka Raca Firfova, for whom he had a great and unrequited love. The poems, written on postcards that he sent to her, are considered to mark the beginning of Expressionism in Macedonian literature. In Macedonian history, the name Kočo Racin is widely accepted and used instead of the poet’s Christian name.
Konstantin Solev was born on 22 December 1908 into an extremely poor Orthodox Christian family from Veles. His mother Maria was a housewife and his father, Apostol Solev, a pottery-maker. He was their first child. He had three brothers. Konstantin Solev never married and did not have children. He completed four grades of primary school in Veles and one year of what was then high school in the same town. Then, because of the poor financial situation of his family, he left school to join his father in the pottery workshop (in the basement of the family home), where he spent his days both making clay pots and educating himself with diligence and dedication. In spite of his moderate formal education, Konstantin Solev is today regarded as the most important Macedonian intellectual between the two World Wars.
In Racin’s time, what is now the Republic of Macedonia was a territory with a colonial status within the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, from 1929 known as The Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Solev/Racin was exceptionally active in revolutionary, communist and union movements (from 1924 until his early death). He made an effort to establish a network between workers and peasants and organized seminars and courses on Marxist topics, as well as literary evenings and other events, often followed by demonstrations. In 1928, he was an elected delegate at the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) in Dresden, where he became acquainted with international activists and their ideas. In 1933, he was sentenced to four years of imprisonment in Sremska Mitrovica (Serbia and Montenegro) for his work editing and publishing Iskra (Sparkle), the clandestine newspaper of the Regional Council of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. He was released with partial amnesty after two years of imprisonment.
In addition to working expeditiously for the community as a revolutionary, Kočo Racin possessed a rare talent for poetry and was a successful essayist. In 1939, in Samobor (Croatia), he published a collection of poems entitled Beli Mugri (White dawns), one of the most important Macedonian collections of poetry. As an essayist, Racin took an interest in seemingly diverse topics such as literature, Hegelian philosophy, the Bogomils (members of Europe’s first great dualist church, which flourished in the Balkans from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries) and feminism. The common denominator of these topics was their potential to provoke criticism of phallocentric structures of power and probe the possibility for the ethnic, class, or gender restructuring of society along more just lines. Racin’s interest in ‘the woman question’ can be dated to around 1936. Several fragments and pieces of paper, two articles, and one short story on this topic, all from 1936, were found preserved in his archives. Several people provoked Racin’s interest in women’s issues, among them Rosa Plaveva, who came from the same town as Racin and was a key figure in the Macedonian socialist women’s movement. A group of Macedonians who participated in the international brigades in the Spanish Civil War, including Alekso Demnievski, Kiro Kjamilov, Trajko Miskovski and Ganco Hadji Panzov, also came from Veles. Racin was a close friend of Rumenika Hadji-Panzova, Hadji-Panzov’s sister, who studied German language and literature in Skopje and Belgrade. Through her brother, Rumenika became acquainted with the international women’s movement (the implications of which remain as yet unclear) and popularized it in Veles and Skopje. Of great importance for Racin’s relations with the socialist women’s movement was the Macedonian revolutionary Malina Pop Ivanova, alias Elena Galkina, a close friend of Racin whom he met at the above-mentioned Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in Dresden (1928). Racin’s most important article on feminism was “Ulogata na feminizmot vo opstestvoto i prvite pocetoci na feministickoto dvizenje” (The role of feminism in society and the beginning of the feminist movement). Structured as a chronology of the international women’s movement from the beginning of WWI, the article, consisting of 22 typed pages, was publicly presented on 8 March (International Women’s Day) 1936. In this text, Racin defined feminism as a struggle for fundamental human rights. With reference to the social contract theory of the French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Racin exposed gender manipulation through what we would now call phallocentric ideological machinery (in Racin’s words “exploitation”): i.e. an ideological machinery which appropriates social and mental property and suspends equality in return; a thesis which can still be seen as having currency today.
In his article, Racin provided the names of the most important protagonists of the feminist movement in France, England, and Germany, focusing mainly on Olympe de Gouges and her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen (1791), as well as Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). According to Racin, both declarations led to women’s activism: the first being followed by the formation of women’s clubs; the second leading to women’s struggle for the vote and amendments made to English Electoral Law. He also pointed to the example of Louise Otto-Peters (1819-1895) from Germany, who sent an open letter to the German government demanding economic and political rights for women. Racin used these examples to emphasize the necessity of relating feminist theory and activism. He also listed numerous examples of gender equality achievements from Sweden and Norway, such as the equality of men and women granted in Swedish inheritance law, limited voting rights in the communal councils and the status of extramarital communities with children in Norway, urging Macedonian women to establish a feminist movement whose major goal would be the vote.
Interestingly, Racin’s views cannot by regarded as a regurgitation of socialist cant and Communist Party declarations of equality. On the contrary, they were an autonomous feminist and gender-sensitive analysis of gender issues in Macedonia. In contrast to prevailing communist notions of the worker as the carrier of new ideas, Racin described the gender consciousness of D.I. Pisarev, an aristocrat and intellectual from the past, and a member of a class stigmatized in communist thought. In the short article “Pogledite na D.I.Pisarev za zenata” (D.I. Pisarev’s views on Woman), Racin explored Pisarev’s ideas on womanhood as a cultural construction and passionately presented his own views as well, condemning prejudices against women as inferior human beings; undermining the belief in a ‘feminine nature’ and supporting the view that women should be free to make choices regarding their own activities and and bodies.
It is also important to emphasize that Racin did not use the term ‘progressive women’s movement’ as was common in communist vocabulary. Instead, he adopted the term ‘feminist movement’, at that time identified with the ‘bourgeois’ women’s movement—a digression from the communist norm which seems crucial when analyzing Racin’s attitudes towards gender issues. He critically compared the aims of Western ‘women’s rights’ movements with declarations of women’s equality in communist ideology. Taking into consideration the historical development of the socialist countries—which, far from establishing equality, contained an inherent ‘gender pact’, ignored manifestations of women’s inequality and tacitly cooperated with the macho-ization of society— Racin’s analyses reveal an extraordinarily reflexive gender consciousness.
According to the recollections of his contemporaries, Kočo Racin was modest and shy, though also a competent and effective debater and dedicated activist. He lived in Veles, Skopje, Belgrade, Zagreb and Sofia. Because of his revolutionary activities in the period between World War I and World War II, he was imprisoned in Dresden (Germany), Maribor (Republic of Slovenia), Split (Republic of Croatia), Sremska Mitrovica (Serbia and Montenegro) and Sofia (Bulgaria).
He died on 13 June 1943, at the age of just 35. Together with a group of partisans, Racin managed the clandestine printing house Goce Delcev, at the Lopusunik military base, Bistra Mountain, Western Macedonia. Here, Kočo Racin was shot by the guard of the base because he had not heard the guard’s warnings (Kočo was partially deaf) and for reasons unknown he did not answer to the previously agreed upon secret code. The circumstances of Racin’s death have provoked theories that his death was a consequence of his disagreements with the Communist Party, which so far have not yet been proven.
Racin is one of the most important Macedonian poets, fiction writers, historical thinkers and revolutionaries. The annual International Poetry Festival Racinovi sredbi (Racin’s Meetings) is organized in his honor in his hometown of Veles. Many cultural institutions and streets in Macedonia are named after him. Equally importantly, though less well known, he was one of the first Macedonian autonomous feminist thinkers.
(C) Racin, Kočo. Beli mugi (White dawns). Samobor, 1939.
(C) Tocinovski,Vasil, ed. Kočo Racin.:Proza i publicistika (Kočo Racin: fiction and essays). Skopje: Nasa kniga, 1987.
(D) Vangeli-Veskovic,Vera. “Kočo Racin i zenskoto prasanje” (Kočo Racin and the woman question). Zenata vo vitelot na antagonizmot na tradicijata (Woman at the epicentre of tradition’s antagonism). Veles: Drustvo za nauka i umetnost, 1999.
(D) Veleva, Marionka and Jadranka Vladova. Ucenite zeni na Makedonija (The learned women of Macedonia). Istrazuvanja od oblasta na rodovite studii (Gender studies research) vol 1. Skopje: Evro Balkan Press, 2002.
(D) Eminentni licnosti od kulturata (Prominent people in culture). UNESCO, 1986.
Translated by Nevenka Grceva.