Slovaks in the Czech Republic
Jožo lived in Poprad, a town located in the foothills of the High Tatras, the highest mountain region in Slovakia, more reminiscent of the Austrian Alps than the Czech Krkonoše. During the winter, there is fantastic skiing to be had, and hiking in the summer. In the Tatras, as in other Slovak mountains, a person can get lost very easily, and if it is not the tourist season will not meet anyone for several days, not a single living soul, let alone a village. On the other hand, you can meet up with a bear, lynx or wolf. Services are excellent in the Tatras, and tourists flock there from all around Europe.
When Jožo and his parents moved to the CR, there was 25% unemployment in Slovakia. Over the past few years, this number has decreased to 15%.
Jožo’s grandmother lives in a village in Spiš. This is a beautiful region east of the High Tatras with many historical sights. Unfortunately, there are high levels of unemployment there, and a high percentage of the population is Roma. In this region, the Roma people mostly live in small shacks within gypsy settlements built away from the village, usually without water, electricity and drainage. Unemployment amongst the Roma population is virtually one hundred percent. In certain regions and towns, the Roma are much better integrated, and their social status is also better.
The Slovak Republic came into being as an independent state on January 1st, 1993. Its area of 49,000 km2 and 5,400,000 population ranks it among the medium-to-large European states. The official language is Slovak, and the capital city is Bratislava.
Because of the close links between the CR and Slovakia, nobody here would confuse Slovakia with Slovenia, which happens to people from other parts of the world, even Europe, relatively often.
In the 20th century, Czechs and Slovaks lived in a common country, Czechoslovakia. The first integrated country located on the territory of what is today the CR and Slovakia was in the 9th century, Great Moravia. After its break-up, Slovakia became part of the Kingdom of Hungary. As part of Hungary, in 1526 it became a part of the Habsburg monarchy. In the second half of the 19th century, there was strong Hungarianisation in Slovakia, and from 1907 the only teaching language in basic schools was Hungarian. After World War I, along with Bohemia, Moravia Silesia and the Carpathian Ukraine, it became part of newly-created Czechoslovakia. The joint history of Czechoslovakia was interrupted during World War II from 1939 to 1945, when an independent anti-Hitlerian state was formed and the Czech lands became part of the Greater German Empire, as the protectorate Böhmen und Mähren. In 1948, the Communists took over the government and Czechoslovakia became a part of the Soviet bloc. After the fall of Communism in 1989, Slovakia was part of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic up until separation. Since January 1st, 1993, it has been an independent republic, and since May 1, 2004, along with the CR and several other countries, a member of the European Union.
Nationalities in Slovakia
Slovakia is more varied in respect of nationality than the Czech Republic. As well as the Roma population, which is densest in Eastern Slovakia, there is a sizable Hungarian minority in the south, up to 11% of the population of the country as a whole, a Russian community in the East, and in the North a Polish group called the Goralé. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that in several places in East Slovakia signs are written in Slovak and Cyrillic script – Russian. In the South of Slovakia, you will frequently find Hungarian signs.
Slovakia is a country where religion has a great influence on public life. In research carried out by the EU in 2006, three out of every five people said they believed in God. Of these, 84% were Roman Catholic, 7% were evangelicals, the Augsburg confession, and other Protestants, 4% were Greek Orthodox, and then small congregations of Jews and other religions. Along with ethics, religion is a subject on the syllabus of the first year of basic school.
In the Czech Republic, the term ‘close family’ usually refers to children, parents, grandparents and the parents’ siblings. When you ask a Slovak about their relatives, they will in all likelihood name, as well as their close family, the cousins of their partners, perhaps their children too, and their grandparents’ siblings. Quite simply, in Slovakia the family is much larger.
Slovaks in the Czech lands
As far back as the Middle Ages, Slovaks were coming to the Czech lands for work and in order to study. The modern history of their coexistence starts with the creation of an integrated state, Czechoslovakia, in 1918. Within this single country, many Slovaks came to Bohemia and Moravia for work and in order to study, started families here, and many Czech specialists and teachers went to Slovakia. The situation changed after the Munich Agreement of 1938. An independent Slovak state was declared on March 14th, 1939, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was created on March 16th, 1939. Many Czechs and Slovaks had to return home.
Czechoslovakia was re-established after the end of World War II, in May 1945. The result of the post-war policy was the evacuation of the German population from the Czech lands during 1945 to 1947, and the arrival of new populations to the emptied regions. From Slovakia, they arrived looking for work, as well as statutory military service or studies. They found work in industry and state institutions. They often found life partners here, got married, and had children in the Czech lands. Most Czech citizens of Slovak nationality moved to the CR between 1945 and 1993, when Czechs and Slovaks lived in a single country.
After the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, those who were living in the Czech lands could choose their nationality, and many decided for the Czech Republic. They form some 3% of the Czech population, something around 300,000 people.
At present, many Slovaks are coming to the CR looking for work. They have the advantage of a similar language. However, these are not Czech citizens, with most having long-term or permanent residence in the Czech Republic.
What Slovaks speak in the CR
From 1945 to 1993, Slovak was a state language, there were programmes in Slovak on the joint Czech-Slovak television, and practically everybody in the country understood both languages. After 1993, Slovakia ceased to be a state language in the CR. It is no longer possible to hear it every day on the radio and television. For young Czechs, in contrast to their parents, Slovak has become almost a foreign language, like Polish or Russian.
Many Slovak families preserve traditions which they brought from home. Several are attempting to preserve their language and national consciousness in clubs and cultural institutions. The most important of these are the Club for Slovak Culture and the Limbora Folk Ensemble.
However, their dispersed settlements, their various jobs, and their frequent moves to and from Slovakia mean that Slovaks have never formed a closed national group within the Czech Republic. If the entire family is from Slovakia, they speak Slovak at home, but at school and work they very soon begin to speak Czech. They also usually speak Czech with their Czech partners.
Even though there are many Slovak national associations in the CR, this community is not integrated. Even ten years after the division of Czechoslovakia, they have not yet agreed in Prague, where they are most numerous, on a class to teach Slovak or establish an open course in the language.
Common history of Czechs and Slovaks in dates
5th – 6th century the arrival of Slavs on the territory of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia
623 – 658 Samo Empire
828 – 833 Pribin principality of Nitra, after 833 becomes part of Greater Moravia
in the 9th century government of princes in the Czech lands. The prince of all Czechs is elected, individual families have their princes who probably inherit their titles.
822 – 906 Greater Moravia
after 874 the Czech principality, part of Greater Moravia
895 Czechs break away from Great Moravia
896 the invasion of Hungarian tribes to Panonie (present-day Hungary and Southern Slovakia)
997 – 1038 the government of the first Hungarian king, Stephen I (crowned in 1000), the crown is hereditary
1085 Prince Vratislav I crowned Czech king
1212 Golden Bull of Sicily – the Czech lands become an inherited kingdom
1301 – 1305 Czech Prince Wenceslas III. Governs as the Hungarian King Ladislav V.
1419 – 1437 Sigmund Luxemburský, Hungarian king, Czech king
1436 – 1437 Sigmund Lucemburský accepted by the Hussites to the Czech throne
1437 – 1439 Albrecht Habsburg, Czech king
from 1490 Hungarian Czech union (Vladislav Jagellonský)
1515 treaty of succession between Habsburg and Jagellovec
from 1526 Ferdinand I. Habsburg, Czech king
1526 – 1918 Habsburg monarchy
after 1781? German becomes the (sole) official language in the Austrian part of the monarchy
1867 Austria-Hungarian monarchy, Hungary has an equal status with Austria
From the end of the 18th century, the national revival takes place in the Czech lands and Slovakia
1846 codification of written Slovak, until that time Czech Bernolak’s Slovak had been used in Slovakia as the written language, and the official language was Hungarian until the formation of Czechoslovakia
1917 the idea of a Czechoslovak state appears for the first time, i.e. a single country for Czechs and Slovaks as a reaction to the unwillingness to recognise two small national states.
30 May 1918 the Pittsburgh Treaty on the organisation of the single country of Czechs and Slovaks
28 October 1918 the announcement of the Czechoslovak state in Paris
30 October 1918 the Martin Declaration, under which the Slovaks confirm the announcement of a single Czechoslovak state
29 September 1938 the Munich Agreement reached, the creation of the second republic curtailed by the surrender of territory
6 October 1938 announcement of an autonomous Slovakia
14 March 1939 announcement of an independent Slovak republic
16 March 1939 the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
5 April 1945 Kosicky government programme on the post-war joint state of Czechs and Slovaks
28 February 1948 Communist coup, Czechoslovakia loses its freedom and becomes a Communist country
1960 change of name to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR)
1989 democracy returns
1991 change of name of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (CSFR)
1 January 1993 creation of an independent Czech Republic and Slovak Republic
1 January 2005 the Czech and Slovak Republics become member states of the European Union
When I moved to Prague from Slovakia shortly after the division of the countries, I spoke English with most of my business partners, and sometimes German or Russian. I met Czechs mainly at my children’s school or amongst neighbours. Everyone spoke about my poor Czech and were enthusiastic about the Slovak. “Wow, you speak Slovak, that’s nice. I’ve got Slovak friends and I’m sorry we had to split. Please speak Slovak, I like it.” I like it too, and so I am one of the few Slovaks who after more than ten years in Prague does not speak Czech in public, even though my Slovak contains more and more Czech words.
Jana is 21 today. She says:
I come from Western Slovakia, from Malacky, and I came to the Czech Republic when I was sixteen. I went to basic school and some secondary school in Slovakia.
So do I feel more Czech than Slovak these days?
Neither one nor the other. I’m Czechoslovak, and that’s how I always present it, if I am beyond the borders or in Slovakia. There, I encountered not quite resistance, but more negative acceptance of the fact that I feel Czechoslovak. Czechs are more like, “Yeah, right on!” and give a smile, otherwise there is no way they expect me to be Slovak, because it isn’t audible. But in Slovakia, they have all these strictures, and so if I was born in Slovakia then I’m Slovak, and I have to observe their traditions.
As for foreigners in the Czech lands and Slovakia, there’s only a small difference. And in my opinion, Czechs are more kindly disposed to Slovaks than the other way around – I’m going by what I’ve experienced. Slovaks are welcome here. Czechs like going on holiday to Slovakia, though a Slovak would rarely travel to the Czech Republic on holiday.
I could never live in Malacky again, only under extreme circumstances. I always look forward to being in Prague, here there are nationalities, differences, and nobody cares a jot. Prague is now my home. But I shouldn’t say that in Slovakia, they hate hearing that kind of thing. But perhaps it’s a matter of education, and town versus countryside, and people from various circles.