Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Slovakia : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Slovakia : Overview, 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce25c.html [accessed 20 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Environment

Slovakia is bordered by Poland to the north, Hungary to the south, Austria and the Czech Republic to the west, and Ukraine to the east. Most of Slovakia is mountainous, being crossed by the western arc of the Carpathians.


Peoples

Main languages: Slovak, Hungarian, Romani, German, Ruthene/Ukrainian

Main religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (mainly Calvinist), Greek Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity

The 2001 census recorded 520,528 Hungarians (9.7%), 89,920 Roma (1.7%), 44,620 Czechs (0.8%), 24,201 Ruthenians (0.4%), 10,814 Ukrainians (0.2%), 5,405 Germans (0.1%), 2,602 Poles 0.06%, 2,348 Moravians (0.05%), 1,179 Bulgarians (0.02%), 890 Croats (0.02%) and 218 Jews (0.004%). Other estimates put the number of Roma at between 350,000 and 500,000 (or up to 10% of the population). This variance is attributed to Roma identifying themselves as Hungarian or Slovak.

In recent years the number of Russians has grown and representatives of the Russian national minority were admitted to the Council of the Government for National Minorities and Ethnic Groups in 2003.

Slovaks speak a language closely related to Czech and other West Slav languages. Hungarians live almost entirely in the southern part of the country in the regions adjoining the Danube river and the border with Hungary.

The census distinguished between Ruthenians (Rusyns) and Ukrainians. Ruthene/Ukrainian identity is weak and the minority is susceptible to assimilationist trends. Television and radio respectively broadcast ten minutes and seven hours a week in Ruthenian/Ukrainian; and there is a small network of Ruthenian/Ukrainian-language schools. Ruthenians often belong to the Greek Uniate Church and Ukrainians to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Most Germans lived in Bratislava and in the Kosice region. Some German communities in the Carpathians are reported still to use a form of High German. Since 1990, there have been radio transmissions in German, but no state-funded educational institutions teaching in German have been set up.


History

For most of the twentieth century, Slovakia was a part of Czechoslovakia, although a separate Slovak state was briefly established as a satellite of Nazi Germany. On 31 December 1992, the union between the Czech lands and Slovakia formally dissolved and Slovakia became an independent state.

Slovaks settled in the Carpathian region during the seventh century but were subsequently conquered by the Hungarians. From the tenth to the early twentieth centuries, Slovakia formed a part of the Kingdom of Hungary. In 1918, Slovakia was joined with Bohemia, Moravia, Austrian Silesia and Ruthenia in the state of Czechoslovakia. Slovak resentment of the centralizing policies pursued by the government in Prague facilitated the disintegration of Czechoslovakia in 1939. After 1939, Hungary occupied the southern portions of Slovakia together with Ruthenia. At the end of the World War II, southern Slovakia was reincorporated in the restored Czechoslovak state, and Ruthenia was ceded to Ukraine, which was then a part of the Soviet Union.

Although minorities living in Slovakia alleged discrimination against them during the period of the first Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938), the most flagrant violation of their rights occurred during and after World War II. In the Holocaust, Nazis and their sympathizers deported and murdered almost all of Slovakia's Jewish population, which had numbered approximately 70,000 in 1939. By the 1990s only 3,000-6,000 Jews remained. Most of the 150,000-strong German population living in Slovakia and a part of the Hungarian minority fled or were expelled after 1945. After World War II, Hungarians experienced substantial discrimination at the hands of the Czechoslovak, Slovak and occupation authorities. Their properties were confiscated, between 70,000 and 90,000 were expelled to Hungary, and a further 44,000 were resettled in Bohemia and Moravia. Along with Roma, Hungarians continued to bear the brunt of communist assimilation policy between 1948 and 1989. Nevertheless, following the 'Prague Spring' of 1968, Hungarians, Poles and Ukrainians were accorded the legal status of minorities and their rights to education in the mother tongue and to representation in state and local bodies were legally guaranteed. In practice, however, these rights were ignored. The government provided no education in the Romani, Ruthene/Ukrainian or German languages, and between 1970 and 1989 the number of Hungarian children receiving mother-tongue instruction fell by almost a half. Although conditions for Hungarians improved after 1989, they were still a frequent target of abuse for nationalist politicians and parties.


Governance

The collapse of communist rule in 1989 promised a rapid improvement of the rights of minorities in Slovakia. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, adopted by the Czechoslovak federal assembly in January 1991, prohibited all forms of discrimination and reaffirmed the right to education in the first language.

Elections held in 1992 demonstrated sharp divisions between Czechs and Slovaks over economic issues, but parties advocating a split of the country failed to get a majority in either area. Nevertheless, without a referendum and over the objections of Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel, the nationalist Czech and Slovak prime ministers agreed to Czechoslovakia's division into two independent states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

For its part, the 1992 Slovak constitution gave minorities the right to develop their culture, to deal in their own language with state officials, and to be educated both in Slovak and in their mother tongues. Beginning in 1992, however, nationalist Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar displayed increasing authoritarian tendencies, sparking fears for the rights of minorities, while the more general weakness of democratic institutions in Slovakia provoked criticism from the United States and from European foreign ministers in October 1995. From 1992 to 1998, the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party under Jan Slota was a partner in the Meciar government. Slota routinely employed anti-Hungarian, anti-Roma, and anti-homosexual rhetoric, with Slota even threatening to 'flatten Budapest' with a tank. Specific legislative measures in the first half of the 1990s affirming the state language as Slovak and prohibiting bi-lingual signposts aroused additional misgivings, although the latter was overturned allowing bi-lingual signposts in communities where the minority population exceeded 20 per cent.

However, under increasing international pressure, Slovakia found itself in danger of falling behind its neighbours, including the Czech Republic, on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration. In 1998, voters replaced the Meciar government with one dedicated to democratic reforms and inter-ethnic tolerance. From 1998 ethnic Hungarian parties participated in coalition governments and the condition of Slovakia's Hungarian minority steadily improved.

The new Slovak government was aware that its minorities' policy would influence the speed of Slovakia's accession to the European Union. In 1998 it created a Council for Minorities and Ethnic Groups, an advisory body consisting of government officials and representatives from 15 minority groups. The 1999 Law on the Use of National Minority Languages attempted to address the legal protection of minority languages, affecting predominantly persons belonging to the Hungarian minority but also Roma, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Croats and Germans in the municipalities where the minority concerned made up more than 20 per cent of the population. A shortage of minority-language speakers working in public administration has hampered implementation, especially for Roma. A new Anti-Discrimination Act passed in 2004 incorporated European Commission directives, and banned discrimination on the basis of sex, race, nationality or ethnicity in areas including employment, provision of government benefits, healthcare, and education. The new act authorized the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights (SNSLP), which had been created in 1993, to represent persons claiming discrimination.

With approaching EU accession, the Slovak government took increasing steps to implement the constitutional guarantee of citizens to be educated in their mother tongues. Legislation in 2002 expanded minority-language university courses for minority teachers in order to bolster the state's capacity to fulfil the guarantee. The government also authorized creation of a new Hungarian-language university in Komarno, which opened its doors in January 2004.

For several years the government has subsidized minority-language press and cultural activities.

In 2004 Slovakia became a full member of both NATO and the EU.


Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

General elections in 2006 in Slovakia returned the ultra-nationalist party of Jan Slota to government as a junior partner. Anti-Roma rhetoric during and after the campaign worried Roma rights advocates, especially in light of the continued problem of hate crimes directed at the community. Slovak statistics provided to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights showed an average 45 per cent annual increase in recorded incidents of racist violence between 2000 and 2006, with a 55 per cent jump between 2005 and 2006. In 2007 a Czech senator and district mayor in the city of Ostrava openly called for Roma to be segregated behind an electric fence. And in May 2007, Romanian President Traian Basescu called a reporter 'a stinky Gypsy'; two months later, Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu reportedly made comments calling all Roma criminals.

Anti-Semitism persists, despite the tiny remaining Jewish population, among organized neo-Nazi groups, estimated to have some 500 active members and around 3,000 to 5,000 sympathizers. The EU has expressed concern at the reported increase in incidents against the Hungarian minority since the far-right Slovak National Party joined the coalition government in June 2006.

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