Vida Tomšič

Vida Tomšič (detail), secretary of the Federal People’s Assembly of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia and president of Antifascist Women’s Front of Yugoslavia, 1948. AFŽ Archive

Born in 1913 in Ljubljana, where she died in 1998. Lawyer, partisan, politician and the first Slovenian female Minister in the first Slovenian government in Yugoslavia.

Vida Bernot enrolled in the Ljubljana Faculty of Law in the 1930s, when more and more women opted for university studies. Her general disappointment over the political conditions in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia drove her to join the Yugoslavian Communist Party as one of few women to do so. According to her, members of this banned and radical organization “were bound by common, untamed interest in changing the old world!”

In the party, she met her future husband Tone Tomšič, but political activism soon got her into trouble. She was convicted, arrested, and put in the Ljubljana jail, where she spent eleven months. This, however, did not prevent her political work. As she continued being active in this field, she was threatened to be sent to a stricter jail in Bosnian Bileća, where the Yugoslavian authorities held a concentration camp for political prisoners. This was when she moved to illegality.  

Despite hiding from the authorities, in 1941, she obtained a university degree, but World War II started the same year. The occupier kept exerting a larger pressure on Slovenian Communists and, again, she was to be jailed. At first saved by pregnancy, both her and her husband were arrested immediately after the birth of her son, left in the care of Vida’s mother. Tone was executed, and Vida arrested and tortured. She was in jail until Italy capitulated in 1943, when she joined the resistance movement and co-founded the oversea brigade in which the Yugoslavians and the Allies fought German forces. Already during the war, she returned to Slovenia to take over several important functions in the partisan movement. This was an outstanding achievement, since few women took part in the armed resistance (around 4%). Vida Tomšič was relentless to her political opponents, which was typical of most revolutionaries, who could overcome numerous obstacles, hardships, personal distress, and near death only by harbouring deep dedication to the values of their cause.

Immediately after the war, on 5 May 1945, the first Slovenian government in new Yugoslavia was established, with Vida Tomšič as the first Slovenian female Minister of Social Politics. After the war, she was appointed to several top functions on the republic (Slovenian) and state (Yugoslavian) level. She was an MP and member of the republican governing body, as well as member of Communist Party and Liberation Fighters’ Association highest bodies. She was active in the United Nations, where she tackled social politics and promoted women’s and children’s rights. Her field was family planning, in which she collaborated with her second husband, prominent gynaecologist and former partisan doctor Franc Novak. Her merits include the drafting of a better post-war legislation, granting women voting rights, prolonging and managing birth- and maternity leave, introducing kindergartens, enabling women the access to birth control, and legalizing the right to artificially terminate pregnancy.

“We have to change the old world!”

Throughout her life, Vida Tomšič was dedicated to political work, thus manifesting her vision of a better world. As a very recognisable woman in politics, she could not avoid questions on managing her professional and family life, which every woman politician is asked even today. She replied: “I have a husband, three children and nine grand-children. For a long while, they were all dissatisfied with me, although my mother filled in for me in many ways. It was perhaps her who helped me get accepted by my family for who I am.” She added that her work was beneficial to all, including her children. She wrote numerous articles and books on the position of women, human rights, social politics, and the Yugoslavian political system. In the late 1970s, she began to lecture at the Ljubljana Faculty of Law, and in the 1980s, despite her retirement, she remained active in national and international organizations. After Slovenian independence in 1991, she lost influence in political life, yet women in Slovenia even today – knowingly or not – reap the fruits of her labour.

First Slovenian Government Hall

In Ajdovščina, the first post-World War II Slovenian government was founded on 5 May 1945 at the Bratina Hall venue. Commemorating this event, the Ajdovščina municipality celebrates its local holiday on 5 May. The hall was renovated in 2005 and renamed the First Slovenian Government Hall. Guided tours are available upon preliminary request at the Ajdovščina Tourist Information Centre. The hall is accessible to people with reduced mobility.