Luther Daniel

Abstract

On the model example of the Czech community, this paper focuses on the formation
of the collective identity of an ethnic minority in a present-day city.
The emergence of the community, its development in the 1st half of the 20th
century as well as the forced departure of most of the residents of Czech
nationality from the city during WW II have been firmly etched in the historical
memory of the minority members and represent the cornerstones of
their identity. In the 2nd half of the 20 century, processes of integration and
assimilation took place. Revitalization of the Czech community after the division
of Czechoslovakia points to the importance of macro-social processes in
the formation of minority communities.

Keywords

collective memory, identity, Czech community, Bratislava

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My paper focuses on the diversification of an urban community in a period of
great political and social changes and on implications of these processes for the
formation of individual and collective identities. According to current findings
of urban ethnology, it is apparent that the process of diversification of a stabilized
social structure brings about, in multiethnic cities, conflicts between
ethnic communities as well as smaller informal groups (family, friends, colleagues).
The studied setting is Bratislava, which, after the split up of Czechoslovakia,
became the capital of the Slovak Republic. My analysis of research
findings focuses on:
This paper was researched in the frame of a project of the Scientific Grant Agency at the Ministry
of Education of the Slovak Republic and Slovak Academy of Sciences – VEGA No. 2/5105/25.
a) the process of formation of the Czech community in the city and forcible
expulsions of the Czechs before WW II that influenced the formation of individual
identities of people of several generations. These historical events resonate
in the historical memories of contemporaries until today;
b) evaluation of these processes in the Czech community, which used to be
a majority in the city and now are in the position of an ethnic minority.
Czechs in Slovakia, just like Slovaks in the Czech Republic, became an
ethnic minority as a consequence of the political act of the division of the Czech
and Slovak Federal Republic on the 1st of January 1993. Activities of Czechs
in Slovakia have their historical reasons and political contexts. From the creation
of Czechoslovakia in 1918 throughout the whole interwar period as well as
after WW II, the Czechs who relocated to Slovakia came from another part of
the same state unit. Together with Slovaks, they were a so-called state-forming
nation and their legal social position in Slovakia was in no respect different
from that of the rest of the population. Their national identity, just like
their Czech, Moravian or Silesian origin, was interconnected with the common
Czechoslovak identity of belonging to the same state and they found their
home in Slovakia in the tolerant climate of peaceful coexistence with the rest
of the population. This was also facilitated by the linguistic proximity of both
nations. Majtánová (1999) sums up the position of a Czech in Slovakia in the
period of the former common state: “Czechs who permanently lived in Slovakia
considered Slovakia their home – their homeland. Of course, in addition to
the existence of central political, state and other bodies, these sentiments were
also backed up by the bilingual federal TV and radio, easy availability of newspapers,
equal opportunities in employment and career paths, mixed companies
and institutions” (Majtánová, 1999).
The split of the Czechoslovak federation put Czechs in Slovakia in a position
where they had to come to terms with the loss of their homeland and
with the fact that instead of being members of the national majority they now
belonged to an ethnic minority. They had to rethink the meaning of their Czechoslovak
identity and decide between either leaving Slovakia as their homeland
or the Czech Republic as their country of origin, i.e., decide between Czech and
Slovak citizenship. In the Slovak environment, many of them experienced the
“role of a stranger.” This also resulted in disrupted family ties, existential problems
and heightened sensitivity to social relations. The changes in individual
identities were also related to the possibility of becoming active members of the
ethnic minority, i.e., of accepting a new collective identity: “Before the demise
of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs living in Slovakia were not in a minority position;
the Czech community was never organized; there were no barriers that
would detach them from the dominant nation and homeland. Their homeland
was Czechoslovakia as a whole” (Majtánová, 1999).
A unique problem of Czech-Slovak relations was the history of Czechs and
Slovaks in their common state which, to a high degree, influenced their opinion
about the division of the republic in 1993 and their views on the new identity
of citizens with minority status. As Majtánová writes, the Slovak and Czech
minorities “were formed under unusual conditions and their characteristics
are not typical. This is due to the relations of both nations before the creation,
during
the existence and after the demise of the common state, when its formation
and demise happened twice during the relatively short period of seventy
years” (Majtánová, 1999).
The objective of this paper is to shed light on the background of these
processes and to look at the extent to which historical memory influences the
identity of a minority.
Theoretical and Methodological Background
A study of the 1st half of the 20th century points to common collective attitudes,
goals and interests of communities formed on an ethnic principle. Similar
processes of group formation could also be observed after 1989 when all
urban ethnic minorities mobilized. We need not emphasize the important role
played by collective identity in the formation and maintenance of collective ties.
Collective identity is a supra-individual category and, in my understanding, it
expresses the commonality of values, cultural habits, traditions and history.
These sources of cultural identity were decisive for the formation of the Czech
community in Bratislava in the period of the division of the Czechoslovak Federation.
Especially their common history, related to the first years of the existence
of the Czechoslovak Republic when Czechs moved to Bratislava on a mass
scale and to their forcible relocation before and during WW II, points to the
need to study their historical memory. In this concrete context, collective identity
and historical memory are closely interconnected.
The above-mentioned historical events of the programmatic politically
organized arrival and departure of a large ethnic group are also an interesting
research topic from the perspective of the study of migration processes. In the
case of Bratislava, the arrival of the Czechs induced similar tensions to those
we encounter in present-day cities with a large ethnic diversity. At the time of
their mass arrival, the Czechs importantly changed not only the demographic
structure but also many aspects of everyday reality and the spiritual dimension
of the community. They left their mark on the economic, social and cultural
life, social relations, lifestyles and habits and other spheres creating the unique
character (identity) of the city. Its “Czechoslovakization,” but also “Slovakization,”
began. Diversification of the urban community caused by the growth of
this “foreign element” and deepening of its heterogeneity, but also later expulsion
of already integrated residents and reduction of diversity, are, from the
present-day perspective, model situations for the study of implications of forcible,
state-led interventions into developmental continuity.
The study of ethnic issues in historical societies encounters several problems.
Given the time lapse, we cannot speak with eyewitnesses of events; testimonies
are indirect, reduced and often dated. News of the period painted
the picture of interethnic relations in the usual schematic fashion as “Us” vs.
“Them.” They usually conveyed values, goals and intentions of their own group
and those of the other group in a confrontational fashion. For instance, for the
census of 1921, the following instructions on how to declare one’s identity were
issued: “Everyone who was born of a Slovak father and Slovak mother, everyone
whose mother tongue is Slovak is a Slovak.” Thus, critical reading of
the period news must distinguish between the declared and the “lived” identity
(Bittnerová, 2005: 10), created by everyday life in which one’s own identity
and difference is validated through experiences from social interaction and
communication. Some contradictory stances and reports on the degree of conflictuality
of interethnic relations in concrete historical situations can also be
explained on this basis.
In the process of the transformation of post-socialist society and the formation
of the Slovak republic, ethnic and national identity has had an important
function. In my understanding, these concepts express the “difference
between conscious identification with a certain ethnic group and its culture
and conscious identification with a certain national-political subject formed by
this ethnic group (Moravcová-Turková, 2001: 158). In the Czech-Slovak space,
the concept of national identity was replaced by citizenship complemented by
the term nationality in the meaning of the ethnic identity of an individual.
An article published in the republican press Bratislavský denník (The Bratislava Daily)
25 January
1921, p. 1.
For the purposes of collecting my research data on the studied topic, I proceeded
from excerpting written sources and archive documents to researching
the Czech community in Bratislava. I also used a survey to collect data, and its
summarized findings are presented in the publication “Minorities in the City”
(Luther, 2004: 9-56).
Integration of the Czech Community in the Interwar City
At the beginning of the 20th century, Bratislava was a multiethnic city. The largest
groups were Germans, followed by Hungarians, Slovaks, Jews and other
nationalities. However, the population was, to a large degree, Hungarized
although Germans were the dominant social and economic force.
Germans were the strongest economic and social layer in the city. They
considered themselves to be autochthonous, culturally developed and tolerant
of other ethnicities. They justified their own importance by “the right gained
over the course of centuries through our work, diligence, virtue and conscientiousness.”
They regarded the city as unquestionably “theirs” and they did not
show open resistance towards the aggressive Hungarian minority. This was
probably related to the size and degree of integration of the German community,
the facts that they could freely use their mother tongue and that they had
their own religious and cultural life etc., so they did not feel as threatened as,
e.g., Slovaks. Command of the Hungarian language was very important in the
public and economic sphere and command of German was another advantage
in terms of individual success. Still, “what prevailed in the urban elite, which
was, in spite of assimilation, still dominated by ethnic Germans, was covert
resistance to Hungarization” (Mannová, 1999: 61). Their cultural model to
emulate was Vienna and the developed German world, but they also looked
up to Budapest. They regarded themselves as “Hungarian Germans” and also,
according to their statements (although not made in a really free climate), as
The research was conducted in 2004. Given the number of active members of the Bratislava
Czech Community we gave out 150 questionnaires (return rate 40%). Respondents were not selected
according to some particular key; the only condition was that they be of Czech ethnicity, reside in
Bratislava and be of age. We also asked about their (or their parents’) presence in the city before 1938.
In 2004 in Bratislava, there were 8,693 residents of Czech ethnicity (Czech, Moravian, Silesian), i.e.,
2.04% of the population. Source: Štatistická ročenka hlavného mesta SR Bratislava 2005. Štatistický
úrad SR – Krajská správa v Bratislave. (Statistical Yearbook of the Capital of the Slovak Republic
Bratislava 2005. Bureau of Statistics of the Slovak Republic – District Office in Bratislava).
Pressburger Zeitung, No. 34, 6. 2. 1919, pgs. 1-3. The article was published In: Bratislava, 1977 : 263.
Hungarian patriots. Their ties with Hungarians were so close in the ethnically
mixed city that they were regarded as ethnically nondescript Pressburger,
Kraxlhuber. They considered themselves to be old settlers, i.e. autochthonous
residents of the city.
I attempt to characterize the ethnic position of the Hungarians through
some Slovak and German attitudes with a different degree of empathy towards
Hungarians. According to them, they behaved like the ruling nation, they “took
their privileged position for granted” and they “never envisioned that their
national borders could be shattered by any power in the world” (Medvecký,
1934: I. /374). In terms of its culture and population, the initially German city
was gradually becoming Hungarian (in 1910, the number of German and Hungarian
residents was already balanced). The principle of the Hungarian public
administration was characterized by the statement: “slave-like submission to
those on the top; tyranny towards those on the bottom,” in which strong deference
towards Budapest can be sensed. Cultural affinity to and open admiration
of the Hungarian metropolis were an important point of orientation.
The number of Slovaks and their social influence in the city was steadily
decreasing because of the assimilationist policies of the Hungarian government.
As one of the memoirs of the social climate before WW I says: “Bratislava
was not as German-Hungarian as is often thought. Slovak could be heard
mainly in marketplaces, suburbs, around factories. There was less of it in the
inner city streets as it was used more inside people’s homes, usually in those
rather poor ones. The Slovak element was usually poorer and hence silent, hidden.
It came together only with difficulty; there wasn’t enough cohesion, it
was fragmented…” (Krčméry, 1931: 64). About a half of the Slovaks in the city
belonged to the working class. Alongside them, there also lived Czechs, who
constituted a small group of residents. The platform of common activities was
the Slovak division of the workers’ association “Forward” and the association
of Czech workers “Brotherhood.” More than 120 other associations were German,
Hungarian and mostly German-Hungarian (Mannová, 1991: 68-69).
The Austro-Hungarian monarchy ceased to exist in 1918 and the era of
the Czechoslovak city began. We do not know exactly how many people were
expelled or left the city voluntarily, but it was a substantial number. Unrest
related to army-assisted forcible incorporation of the city into the newly created
republic contributed to the situation. From the news of the period, it is
clear that it was mostly Hungarian families who left the city. The mass population
influx to the newly established capital was mostly represented not only by
Slovaks but also by Czechs. Their number can only be estimated, as the first
census of 1921 did not record Slovak or Czech nationality – only Czechoslovak
nationality. But place of birth and length of residence in the city were recorded.
These data indicate that about 15,600 Czechs and fewer than 12,000 Slovaks
moved in the city (Sčítání lidu, 1921). The Czechs were a rather numerous
group (about 17%) who identified themselves as Czechoslovak. Bratislava was
not only a multiethnic city, but also a city of immigrants.
The political goal of the Czech immigrants was to build Czechoslovak political,
educational, cultural, social, health-care and other institutions. Among
the main tasks was the reform of the Hungarian educational system in order to
swiftly educate the new Slovak intelligentsia. For instance, during the first year
of the existence of the republic, Czech experts in Bratislava took part, to a large
degree, in the restructuring of the Hungarian university to a Czechoslovak university,
in establishing a business school, a secondary comprehensive school,
a library, a music school, and so forth. The number of students enrolled in these
schools was the best proof of the importance of these efforts. While, in the last
years of the Hungarian era, only 4% of the Slovak children went to in elementary
school, in the first year of the existence of the Czechoslovak Republic the
figure was 97%; secondary comprehensive school went from 4% to 65%, and
secondary school attendance for girls rose from 2% to 55% (Matula 2006: 37).
Activities of Czechs in Slovakia were accepted at the beginning with gratitude
and respect: “The Czechs placed in all offices are capable, qualified clerks, professors,
and teachers who fulfill their duties with laudable enthusiasm and to
the great benefit of all.” (Holuby 1958: 102) . But merit bred problems.
How did the German and Hungarian residents, until then dominant, come
to terms with the new situation? In general, it can be said that they did not
accept the new republic as theirs. They were a serious obstacle to social change
because they held important offices and posts. After the regime change, the
Hungarian community found itself in a difficult situation as they felt the impact
of the disruption of the continuity of their statehood and ties with their home
In 1921, Czech together with Slovaks constituted 42% of residents, compared to 30% of Germans
and 24% of Hungarians.
The article by J. Ľ. Holuby “Slováci a Česi” (Slovaks and Czech) was originally published in
Slovenská čítanka (Slovak Reader) in Prague in 1925.
Dr. J. Jesenský, for instance, wrote: “Various municipal, county, district, administrative, financial,
railroad and judicial bodies have been occupied by foreigners. It is necessary to purge Slovakia
of them and fill all position with our people. Many of them will turn into Slovaks in merely 24 hours,
many will become our best friends only to stay in their offices...” In: Medvecký, 1934: Vol. I., p. 323.
nation. They gave up their positions of the ruling nation only reluctantly. In
the city, they constituted the class of state bureaucrats directly jeopardized
by changes in the public administration. The Germans from Bratislava were
overtly more loyal to the new political regime since, as the class of entrepreneurs,
they took into account the economic implications of their positions.
However, they were more outspoken when it came to a higher visibility of Slovaks
and Czechs in all spheres of the life of the city. They published the following
opinion in their daily Deutsche Zeitung: “Important first class citizens are
real cuckoos in the good German nest; they are aliens and newcomers… A good
German loathes to hear that unpleasant language that has replaced Hungarian
as the state language” (1922). In 1924, a Czech living in Bratislava wrote:
“Nowhere else is old Austria moldering as much as in Bratislava. Every time
somebody else is holding the flag: one time it the domestic element, then the
corrupted element, then the bureaucrat, and the next time it is the clergy.” Difficulties
of Slovaks and Czechs in the city were testified to, e.g., by the mayor of
Bratislava Dr. Krno who, after almost 15 years of the existence of the republic,
wrote: “Still today, a Slovak or a Czech cannot go to city hall, to his local representatives,
with trust. This is because the elements of the so-called old settlers
have been tightly holding on to their positions.”
One component of the political and ethnic conflict right after the formation
of the new republic was anti-Czech propaganda. Its goal was to break the
ties between both nations, and its main slogan was that the Czechs wanted to
rob the Slovaks of their mother tongue and their faith. In this respect, it was
in line with the ideas of the Slovak Catholic clergy and political parties with
national orientation. Especially problematic was the employment of Czechs at
the expense of Slovaks, the resistance of Czech teachers to religious education
in the schools and also the use of the Czech language in official communication
and schools. The anti-Czech attacks occurred more or less intensely during
the whole interwar period. Factors in their background were described by
a supporter of Czechoslovak unity Karol A. Medvecký (1934: I./375): “Besides
a religious and moral breakdown, some Czechs have also brought to Slovakia
their political sentiments, mindless bureaucracy, clientelism, untamed egoism,
By the domestic element is meant the German-Hungarian community, in the period press Jews
were labeled as the corrupted element; many complaints about behavior of the municipal office point
to the power of bureaucrats, and by the clergy are meant activities of local priests. Slovenský denník
22. 7. 1924, s. 1.
The daily newspaper Politika (Politics) 1932, no. 4, p. 39.
and national chauvinism, which was abused by Hungarian sympathizers to discredit
Czechoslovak unity.”
This paper does not provide enough space for a more detailed characterization
of ethnic relations in the first Czechoslovak republic which, despite many
difficulties, were kept within the limits of a democratic regime, acceptance of
national claims, ethnic differences and customs. The fostering of Czechoslovak
identity had an important impact on changes of the situation in the city and
on attitudes of the German-Hungarian community toward Czechs and Slovaks.
Although, officially, the “ruling nation” was the Czechoslovaks, German and
Hungarian residents constituted an equal political force in the urban community.
In daily life, mutual tolerance prevailed. This was very different from the
era of Hungarian dominance in the city. At the beginning of the 20th century,
Bratislava was an open, multicultural city.
Change in the tolerant character of the city was induced by the nationalistic
orientation among German residents and by the politics of the strongest Slovak
political parties. Among their programmatic goals were Slovak autonomy, departure
of the Czechs and vacancies for jobs for Slovak applicants. In Bratislava
they had no significant civic support. Anti-Czech activities started to take place
after 1932 (the assembly of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party) where a nationalistic
program exemplified by the slogan “One God, one nation, one leader” was
set up. The programmatic slogans of “Slovakia to the Slovaks” and “In Slovakia
speak Slovak” were especially aimed at the Czechs living in Slovakia. While the
former expressed the demand that Czech state employees leave Slovakia, the latter
had a linguistic and cultural background and was aimed at Czech teachers.
Interethnic relations in the city gained sharp edges after Austria was
annexed by Nazi Germany (12 March 1938). There are testimonies about
the conceited demeanor of one part of the Bratislava Germans who inclined
towards the Henlein’s political current. Fascists in uniforms marched through
the streets and cases of physical attacks on Jews and demolition of their businesses
occurred. Social life also showed traits of German chauvinism and
separation of ethnic communities. One example of theses developments is
a newspaper comment about wine cellars of the Bratislava Germans: “Wine
cellars are empty because only Germans and Hungarians go there. Slovaks and
Czechs go elsewhere. But when some Slovak or Czech wanders in, joy is great
and he is served with enthusiasm. But the fact is that they only visit a German
In the local elections of 1935 the People’s party gained 3 seats, in 1938 it was 6 seats out of total
48 seats in the municipal council.
wine cellar either by mistake or out of ignorance of the local situation.”10 In
this unfavorable social climate, thousands of Czechs decided to leave Slovakia.
According to methodologically different statistical surveys, either 44, 2,000 or
28,000 Czechs left (Bystrický, 2000: 30). With the declaration of an autonomous
Slovak Country in 1938, political power in Slovakia was taken over by the
Hlinka People’s Party and this move was accompanied by the introduction of
totalitarian practices.
The totalitarian regime influenced the development of Slovak towns by ideological
interventions into their structure and social relations. This discontinuous
development was induced by the state dirigisme, constraints put on civil
liberties and rights of certain groups of the population while privileging some
others (political, ethnic, religious, economic), but also by forcible deportations.
During the period of autonomy, 80 Jewish families were deported from the city
and, during the wartime Slovak State, most Jewish citizens were deported to
concentration camps.
Disintegration of the Czech Community
In Slovakia, Czechs constitute a rather large population group. In the first
phase they arrived within the scheme of state aid to Slovakia. The reason for
this organized movement of people from one ethnic milieu to another was that
after the fall of the Monarchy there was a lack of politically reliable Slovak intelligentsia
who could run the state and ensure its defense. Also, it was important
to reform the educational system as teachers in Hungarian education had been
fostering an assimilationist program, i.e. Hungarization of the Slovak people.
Therefore, most of the Czechs who moved to Slovakia were soldiers, police
officers, civil servants, teachers, railroad employees, postmen and also, in Bratislava,
entrepreneurs.
After the declaration of autonomy in 1938, the main theme of the domestic
policy in Slovakia was ethnic cleansing of the country from “undesirable elements.”
One of the measures was the program of expulsion of the Czechs. The
government, via various legislative provisions and international treaties, launched
the expulsion of one part of the Czech civil servants and tried to take over Czech
companies and the whole private sector (Rychlík, 1989; Šisler, 1989). According
to available data, about 62,000-63,000 people were expelled (Bystrický, 1997).
10 Daily newspaper Slovenský denník, 1 July 1938, p. 4
However, expulsion plans elaborated by local authorities revealed that, even
after twenty years of the existence of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs were not fully
replaceable and authorities could individually take this fact into account.
The population expulsion had both an individual and social dimension. The
expellees, of course, condemned this act as unjust and as ingratitude for their
work. Much criticized also was the manner in which the expulsion was carried
out. They had to face a journey filled with insecurity because of the bad situation
in the protectorate ruled by Nazi Germany. Many of the expellees were leftists
and they expected repressions. In the memories of those who were children
at that time, we can find their parents’ fear and loathing of the regime of the
Slovak State. At first, the Slovak society perceived the expulsions as inevitable
and just. Nevertheless, in some individual cases, the local community took into
account individual characteristics, and the human dimension of the issue outbalanced
its “overall benefit.” Ordinary people showed them their gratitude.
An example of this unequal evaluation was events that took place at Bratislava
University. Czech professors at the Faculty of Philosophy were under
continuous pressure from Slovak students to teach in Slovak. The professors
backed up their disagreements not with the state language law but with a pragmatic
argument: “I wouldn’t lecture in bad Slovak even if my life depended
on it as I know how offended I would feel if I had to listen to a speaker with
bad Czech.”11 There was also an item of news in the press that, at the opening
ceremony of a new student dormitory, the Czechoslovak premier delivered
his speech in Slovak, even though he was a Czech. However, a Czech professor
who for years had been teaching in Slovakia delivered his speech in Czech. This
was considered to be disrespectful and stubborn insistence on the concept of
a unified Czechoslovak nation that was quite unpopular in Slovak society. The
decision to discharge these Czech professors was accepted. The situation was
different with professors at the Faculty of Medicine, about whom this decision
was questioned. It was emphasized that they were irreplaceable and their merits
in building the faculty and education of Slovak physicians were praised.
A legal and, first of all, moral problem related to the expulsion was the
fact that Czechs had merits in the creation of Slovakia as an independent territory,
demarcation of its borders and in the economic and cultural development
after 1918. This concerned state employees who had lived in Slovakia for 10-20
years, and who in many cases lived in mixed families with Slovak partners, or
11 Daily newspaper Slovenský denník, 13 November 1937, p. 1
they had children who were born and raised in Slovakia. Their right to live in
Slovakia was unquestionable; therefore the expulsion was based on agreements
with the government in Prague, but also on some judicial prevarications and
personal pressures. After the annexation of the Czech lands by Nazi Germany,
the fascist Slovak government utilized the legal system of the former Czechoslovakia,
according to which Czech citizens in Slovakia did not have a domicile
in Slovakia and, therefore, they were not eligible for Slovak citizenship. Czechs
became citizens of the Reich and fell under its jurisdiction. The German government
negotiated with the Slovak government, but did not accept the request
for the total “solution of the Czech problem” and expulsions were stopped.
Therefore, in Slovakia, about 30,000 people of various professions who lived in
complicated social situations and encountered political pressures and derision
stayed (Bystrický 2000: 29).
As a consequence of the war, most of the Germans and one part of the Hungarians
were expelled after 1945. This political and social revenge led to speedy
assimilation of the rest of the German and Hungarian residents with the Slovak
majority. A consequence of the Holocaust was assimilation of some of the Jews
and emigration of others to Israel (Salner, 2004). Czechs returned to the city in
only small numbers12; they became an integral part of the mainstream population
and they gradually assimilated linguistically. These were turning points that
changed the multiethnic development of the city. It was also markedly impacted
by the communist regime with its planned economy within the scheme of which
mass population influx from other parts of Slovakia took place. This resulted
in the social and cultural unification and domination of Slovak ethnicity – both
in terms of numbers and culture. In the former Czechoslovakia, Czechs were in
the majority and, in the Slovak part of the republic, they were not considered
an ethnic minority and had no minority community life. In Bratislava there was
only the Moravian Club (Slovácký krúžok), active since 1922.
The Czech Minority in the Independent Slovak Republic
In the recent social process after 1989, the multicultural character of the city
has been gradually restored. But this multiculturalism is of a different quality
from that known from the interwar times. Activities of minorities have been
12 In 1950 in Bratislava there was 9 296 and in 1980 there was 12126 residents of the Czech nationality.
revived; they started to reformulate their relations with the majority and their
activities have made them visible. The Czech minority13 has also become part
of this multiculturalism, although inadvertently.
In the process of the restructuring of post-communist society, attention
started to be paid to themes that can be considered as occurring repeatedly in
history. They are related to problems of coexistence in the ethnically and religiously
multifaceted central-European space. It appears that, in times of great
social changes, it is only a matter of time when they resurface. Currently we
are also witnessing a gradual escalation of the Czech-Slovak conflict. It was
progressing in accordance with the transformation process when economic
and political interests and ideas about the further development of the country
started to be justified on the basis of historical examples and experiences. On
one hand, there was the myth about the “old golden age” of interwar Czechoslovakia
when ethnic relations were successfully regulated by a democratic
framework; on the other hand, there were reminiscences about the big conflict
of the political struggle for Slovak autonomy, the formation of the Slovak State
and the expulsion of Czech residents.
The Czechs in Slovakia also became a party to and victims of these conflicts.
The division of the common state put many in a difficult situation. Therefore,
according to estimates, several hundreds of families moved to the Czech
Republic. Citizens with Czech citizenship living in Slovakia, expected – as politicians
had promised – to get citizenship of both new states, but, according
to Czech law of that time, they had to choose only one14: either Czech and the
status of foreigner in their Slovak homeland or Slovak and foreigner status in
the country of their origin. This was a serious dilemma in which an important
role was played by the historical memory of the Czech community in Slovakia.
Memories of the fascist Slovak State and the wartime expulsion of the Czechs
were revived and worries about the “old-new” Slovak Republic emerged.
At that time, people of Czech nationality were an integral part of Slovak
society. According to Miškufová there were generational differences in
the degree of their assimilation. The oldest generation born in Slovakia of
13 In the city the regional organization of the Czech Association in Slovakia and the Local Club of
Czech Citizens are active. According to its bylaws, the mission of the Association is to “maintain the
Czech identity as well as the identity of next generations of the Czechs, Moravians and Silesians in
Slovakia.”
14 Slovaks laws made possible for citizens of the Czech nationality to have dual citizenship. At
present, they can also apply for dual citizenship in the Czech Republic.
Czech parents in the interwar period is aware of its Czech roots, but is to
a large extent assimilated. The degree of assimilation of younger generations
who came to Slovakia from the Czech lands between 1945 and 1992 is much
lower. They mostly live in mixed marriages and only a small percentage of
their children are of Czech nationality (Miškufová, 2000: 154). The survey
among the Czech community indicates that the Czechs in the interwar period
consciously maintained their mother tongue as a preferred ethno-cultural
trait as a well as a sign of their declared Czechoslovak identity. In the critical
period before the establishment of the Slovak State and during its existence,
the majority Slovak society ascribed to them the position of an ethnic majority.
The generation of grown-up children of the first generation living in Slovakia
has a different attitude to their mother tongue and origin. Due to war
events, in the setting of Bratislava (and the whole of Slovakia) the process of
assimilation was faster.
To identify the pillars of collective identity, it was also important to know
the perceived importance of the above-mentioned historical events and conflicts.
The question related to the activities of the Czechs in Bratislava shows
that the arrival of Czechs in Slovakia is mostly interpreted as generous aid to
the Slovaks in their struggle against Hungarians (76%), less as a career opportunity
(12%), and that the arrival of the Czech employees was important in the
first years of the existence of the republic (65%) but also during its whole existence
(31%). This is also how the opinions that the Slovaks have never shown
adequate gratitude to Czech merits in building of the republic are interpreted.
However, people are of the opinion that in Bratislava anti-Czech attitudes in
interpersonal relations occurred only rarely (37%) or did not occur at all (27%)
and a rather large group was of no opinion or not sure (30%). The expulsion of
the Czechs is viewed as a necessary measure (62%) or as a forcible act (38%).
None of the respondents viewed it as fair to the Slovaks.
In contrast to these, there was a question related to the political intervention
from Prague that worsened anti-Czech feelings in Slovakia and precipitated
the declaration of the Slovak State. The occupation of Bratislava by the Czech
gendarmerie and military troops (on the night of 9 March 1919) and arrests of
Slovak politicians induced numerous demonstrations, skirmishes with the military
and street shooting. Nowadays, these events are almost unknown among
the members of the Czech community (63%), and the rest leaned towards the
view – in line with the Czech or Czechoslovak public opinion of that time – that
it was a good decision.
Reflections on historical events show that positive sides of the Czech
presence in the city are rather firmly anchored in memory; the negative ones
are losing their accuracy or are left out of the collective memory. Only those
events and memories that are meaningful for the formation of the collective
identity and for the continuation of the community have been preserved. Ethnological
analyses backed up by survey findings point to main factors that
influence the process of the formation of the Czech minority in Bratislava after
1992. These were disagreement with the division of the common state, the
previously unknown minority status, attitudes of Czech and Slovak politicians
and state bodies toward the claims of the citizens of Czech nationality in Slovakia,
reactions of the Slovak society to the declared Czech nationality, family
tradition, cultural awareness and historical memory.
Daniel Luther received his doctoral degree in ethnology from the Faculty of
Arts, Comenius University, Bratislava. Since 1973, he has been working at the Institute
of Ethnology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. His main research interests
include urban ethnology, post-socialist transformation, diversity, minorities, identities
and traditional folk culture. He lectured visual anthropology at the Department
of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at Comenius University in Bratislava.
Daniel Luther is the author or co-author of several publications, e.g.: The Czech
community in Bratislava in the 20th century (2004); Forgotten spinning rooms: On
social life of youth in Slovakia (1999); Slovakia: European Contexts of the Folk Culture
(2000); Encyclopedia of the folk culture of Slovakia (1994); This was Bratislava
(1991); Ethnographic atlas of Slovakia (1990).
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