🌊 Czech coat and Slovak cassock in illiberal movements

Two nations, one name, divergent paths: Natália Noskovičová delves into the illiberal mobilisations of the Czech and Slovak Alliances for Family and National Marches for Life. Here, she navigates the religious and secular strategies of anti-gender movements in the heart of Europe

We are not against LGBT+ people; we treat gays and lesbians with respect and decency and wish them all the best in life

Czech Alliance for Family

In the spirit of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we love every person, but we condemn every sin, regardless of who commits it – whether a person with heterosexual or homosexual feelings

Slovak Alliance for Family

These two quotes are emblematic of the different strategies of the Czech and Slovak illiberal movements. The two organisations fight against LGBT+ and reproductive rights, and they see queer-feminist activists and researchers as one ‘gender ideology’ lobby. This blog piece discusses the peculiarities of the Czech and Slovak organisations with a shared name – Alliances for Family (AfF) and National Marches for Life – underlining their transnational character.

Both Alliances claim they do not mobilise against LGBT+ people per se. However, the Slovak AfF justifies its morality on the basis of Catholic doctrine. How can we understand such distinctions between organisations of the same name in countries which, for most of the 20th century, formed one Czechoslovak state?

The illiberal chamaeleon

Anti-gender ideology mobilisations are common outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia – in Europe and beyond. Their illiberal character is epitomised by the shifting of politics to culture, and an emphasis on ‘national traditions’. One could say they coexist in an 'Illiberal Internationale'. Indeed, they use similar rhetoric, and organise international conferences such as The World Congress of Families, which brings together activists, lobbyists, politicians and priests. Despite the transnational links between various religious, political and civic actors, illiberalism adapts, chamaeleonically, to local contexts.

In the Czech Republic, less than 10% of the population claims to be Roman Catholic, and 68% of people say they have no religious affiliation. It's easy, therefore, to see why the Czech AfF avoids a Christian outlook – despite its chairwoman Jana Jochová being a devout Catholic. Conversely, almost 56% of Slovakia’s population is Catholic, and only 24% have no religious affiliation. This suggests that non-Church actors will likely express Church affiliation in Slovakia, and a secular approach in the Czech Republic.

The Czech Alliance

The Czech Alliance for Family started life in the 1990s under a different title, the Committee for the Defence of Parental Rights, which mobilised Catholic parents who opposed sex education. In 2010, the Conference of Czech Bishops and the Committee protested against a brochure issued by the Ministry of Education. The pressure from the Church and the Committee resulted in the Ministry taking the document down. As the Alliance claims on its website, a fight for the support of families crystallised into a new name in 2016 – Alliance for Family. Throughout Europe, there are several organisations with the same name and logos depicting a ‘traditional’ family. Slovakia is no exception.

The undervalued status of care work is a leading theme of the Czech Alliance for Family – albeit always connected to heteronormative parenthood

Lobbying by the Slovak AfF (founded in 2013), resulted in a 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage, adoption and sex education. The Slovak Church supported the referendum – but it was, ultimately, unsuccessful. The goals of the Alliance include the protection of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and adoption for heterosexual couples only. This is also true for the Czech AfF, although it formulates its efforts from a socioeconomic perspective. For example, it aims to ‘ensure adequate reward for parental care as socially important work’. The undervalued status of care work is a leading theme of the Czech AfF – albeit always connected to heteronormative parenthood.

The Slovak Alliance

The Slovak AfF mobilises potential supporters based on religious doctrine and symbols. The organisation claims to be independent of any religious orientation and uses petitions mixed with human rights jargon. However, its petitions allude to ‘freedom of religion’ (meaning, of course, Christianity). One press release has the heading Christian and Civic Organisations Invite the Faithful to Assemble before the Government Office of the Slovak Republic for a Prayer Rosary Gathering Entitled ‘As Male and Female He Created Them’. The article advertises the event as a prayer for the cancellation of a Ministry of Health regulation regarding gender transition. The regulation (now repealed by the new government) would have made it possible for transgender people to change their gender legally, without having to undergo surgery.

Czech Coat and Slovak Cassock?

From analysis of the two Alliances' websites, it might seem straightforward to conclude that ‘civic’ illiberalism in the Czech Republic wears a secular coat as opposed to the Slovak cassock. Still, the entire picture is not so clear-cut. Apart from the two Alliances of the same name, the National March for Life (NMfL) takes place in both countries.

The main organiser of the Slovak March is the Conference of Slovak Bishops, with the support of AfF. During the last NMfL in 2019, which was attended by 50,000 people, representatives of Churches participated in discussions, gave speeches and led holy masses. In the Czech Republic, the NMfL is organised by the leading anti-abortion organisation Movement for Life. Once a year, thousands of people march through Prague city centre waving Czech flags, while children carry banners bearing such slogans as ‘Having a sibling is great’. Strikingly, the March is preceded by a Catholic mass. Despite the Czech AfF not officially supporting the NMfL, its head Jochová joins in the procession.

The secularised strategies of the Czech Alliance for Family show how illiberalism can adapt to both secular and religious contexts

The secularised strategies of the Czech AfF demonstrate the chamaeleonic nature of illiberalism and its adaptation to various contexts – secular and religious. The Czech AfF adopts a secular stance, framing concerns in socio-economic terms, while the Slovak counterpart uses Catholic morality. The secular coat worn by the Czech AfF contrasts with the Slovak cassock. Nevertheless, the Catholic mass during the Czech NMfL shows that the cassock is not entirely out of Czech fashion.

No.37 in a thread on the 'illiberal wave' 🌊 sweeping world politics

This blog piece was written for the course 'Gendering Illiberalism', co-designed and co-taught by Andrea Pető (with TA Irfana Khatoon) and Alina Dragolea (with TA Oana Dervis) sponsored by CIVICA alliance universities Central European University (CEU) and the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA).

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Natália Noskovičová
Natália Noskovičová
Master's Student in Political Science, Central European University, Vienna

Natalia is from Slovakia, where she completed a BA in European Studies.

She is currently in her second year of MA studies.

Natalia’s Master's thesis explores anti-gender mobilisations and their character in secular and religious societies in Central Europe.

She is also interested in the intersections of gender, race and cognitive disability.

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