Magazines move in on Marxist man

European Times WARSAW
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The Independent Online
MARXIST MAN, that square-chinned muscular specimen forged on the anvil of class struggle, is kaput, killed off by his capitalist competitor, "new man".

New man has finally made the leap from West Kensington to Warsaw. More likely to sneak a glance at their girlfriend's copy of Cosmopolitan than The Communist Manifesto, Polish males are snapping up copies of the new men's magazines that have launched here.

It is a regional phenomenon. In Budapest, QG has just launched. Its glossy lifestyle pages echo those of Conde Nast's men's magazine GQ, whose lawyers are doubtless taking note. From the Baltic to the Balkans, eastern European men are learning from these magazines that the old methods of dealing with the opposite sex are no longer applicable in the Nineties.

Now the region's new generation of career women are bracing themselves for an outbreak of caring masculine empathy, and sensitivity to their needs. The new Polish men's magazines such as CKM and Gentleman are the vanguard of this struggle to change attitudes. CKM's name is a pun: the letters in Polish stand for "magazine for every man", but CKM is also a Polish acronym for "heavy machine gun".

CKM's publisher says the magazine's mix of articles about careers, health and grooming - leavened with girls in various stages of undress - sold 100,000 copies of its summer launch issue.

The editor, Piotr Gontowski, said: "CKM is something totally new in Poland. Everyone told us that Polish men don't read, but I knew that there was a great market for a men's magazine. CKM is like a western men's lifestyle publication, and we write about the things that interest us."

Such magazines, their publishers say, are not to be confused with the likes of Playboy, which has launched local language editions all over eastern Europe. Under Communism, copies of glamour titles were prized possessions and market vendors would hire them out for a few zloties.

Now, with a free press, publishers hope to emulate the success of British magazines such as Esquire and Men's Health, which aim to teachmales everything from changing a tyre to ridding themselves of a spare one, while juggling career and girlfriend.

"Our men have been subjected to a new kind of pressure over the past decade - the pressure to look good. Forced by their employers and partners to take care of their appearance, they have to wear the right clothes, smell nice and keep fit," said Jacek Santorski, a psychologist, in the Warsaw Voice newspaper.

"Men's magazines help them swim in these new tricky waters. They also take their readership on to higher planes, exploring issues concerning masculine identity and the roles men play in modern society."

But replacing Marxist man with new man will be a long haul. The ideological revolutions of the Sixties that eventually elevated feminism and gay rights on to the mainstream political agenda, passed by eastern Europe, then sealed off by the Iron Curtain.

The Communist regimes paid lip-service to equal rights for women, but in reality were politically dominated by men. A woman's place might be in the factory as well as in the kitchen, but not on the party central committee.

And in many former Communist countries, adultery and infidelity are almost national institutions, among both sexes. In Budapest, one marital ther- apist described a client speaking of her "current husband".

Most men still think of women only as either trophy girlfriends or potential mothers, said Dora Czuk, a Budapest television reporter. "They are more interested in their cars or jobs than their relationships. Men here still think of women as sex objects or good wife material, but not as equal partners. But we aren't going to iron their shirts any more."

Diets as well as attitudes need overhauling. Heavy or fatty food, plenty of beer and wine and strong cigarettes are the essential ingredients of a night out in eastern Europe.

No wonder Men's Health, the bible of the six-pack crowd - that is six- pack as in perfect abdominal muscles - which already publishes in Russia, is considering a Polish edition.

The man standing next to me at a bus stop, spooning piles of lard into his mouth out of a jar could certainly use a copy.