Anka Berus

16 December 1903 – 2 June 1991

The National Liberation Movement would not have been national at all, if women had not participated in it to the same extent as men.

Berus was born in 1903 in Split. She finished the Public High School for Women in her hometown, and graduated from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Ljubljana. It is in Ljubljana that she first got involved in activism through the progressive student movement. 

After completing her studies, she got a job in her high school, where many generations remember her as the only professor whose classes never included prayer. Prompted by such rumors, the Bishop of Split reported Berus to the authorities for “corrupting” the youth. She officially joined the Communist Party in 1934. 

Anka worked mostly on organizing women, as well as awakening class consciousness in women workers. Although the women’s movement in Split had been banned since 1929, since the mid-1930s, largely owing to Berus, their reorganization and regrouping began. Initially, they wrote for the newspaper Novo doba, in which they published articles calling for the emancipation of women. Gradually, a real, albeit informal, front of women was created, and already in 1935, they were ready to engage in broader social action.

As women’s suffrage became more massive, at a large gathering in 1935, where Anka was one of the organizers, the women of Split demanded the right to vote. More than 60 representatives of various associations gathered in Split’s Public High School for Women – a testament to the fact that she managed to unite an ideologically very diverse group. Police regularly dispersed such gatherings, but failed to prevent this group’s determination to fight for their rights.

Berus was swept up in a major wave of arrests in 1936. She was tortured by the police in Zagreb and then taken to Belgrade, where she was sentenced to two years in prison. After serving time, she returned to Split and in 1938 joined the Initiative Committee of the Working People’s Party. She united its women in the common goal to awaken women’s interest in social problems. At the end of December 1938, a major general strike was held, attended by over 20.000 people. Frightened by the magnitude of the strike, the police made arrests and Anka was arrested yet again and taken to a camp in Lepoglava.

In 1942, she joined the Partisans and worked on the creation and consolidation of party organizations on the ground. In Slavonia, she managed the work of the Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia for Northern Croatia. With the liberation of Dalmatia in 1944, she went to work at the Regional Committee for Dalmatia.

Throughout her career, active work with women and women’s organizations always had a special place. With her active participation in the leadership of the Antifascist Women’s Front (AFŽ) in Croatia, the organization the antifascist women’s movement grew and strengthened, and tens of thousands of women became active participants of the National Liberation War. 

After the formation of the first government of the People’s Republic of Croatia, Berus became the Minister of Finance, and later occupied a number of official positions in the socialist regime. In 1953, she was awarded the highest recognition for her work – the Order of the National Hero.

After retiring, she collaborated with the Association of Veterans of the National Liberation War and the Institute for the History of the Workers’ Movement of Dalmatia. Until the end of her life, she was a tireless revolutionary, a fighter for the self-governing and non-aligned Yugoslavia and for the unity of its peoples, making great contributions in the process, especially within the framework of her native Split.

Photography by Fred Romero, Wikimedia Commons

the former cinema Sirius, Marmont Street / Gajo Bulat Square, Split

After the police broke up the massive gathering of women at the Public High School for Women in 1935, in which they demanded the right to vote and workers' rights, another gathering was organized in October that same year at the cinema Sirius (later Cinema Central – now closed) and was attended by about 700 women.