Ethnic Minorities Comparative Study in Slovakia

Bachelor Thesis, 2001

35 Pages, Grade: Bachelor Thesis




Chapter I. Culture
1.1. Definition of culture
1.2. Minority rights – definition of human rights
1.3. Romany history in the Slovak territory
1.4. From the history of Afro-Americans and slavery in the United States
1.4.1. Reconstruction period

Chapter II. Implementation of the policies towards minorities
2.1. Romanies in the post-war Czechoslovakia
2.2. The life and assimilation measures taken on the Romanies in the post-war Czechoslovakia
2.3. Segregation
2.4. Origins of the Civil Rights movement
2.5. Desegregation

Chapter III. Consequences
3.1.1989 – A shift to reality
3.2. From the Civil Rights movement to the present
3.3. Attitudes of majority towards the Romanies in Slovakia and the survey outcomes




Most countries today are culturally diverse. According to recent estimates, the world’s 184 independent states contain over 600 living language groups, and 5,000 ethnic groups.[1] Although some of the minorities enjoy the advantages which the country they live in offers, these advantages are expensively paid for. The members of minority groups often complain about discriminatory behaviour even from the side of state officials.

Ethnical diversity gives rise to many important and divisive questions, many opinions that make people stand against each other. Minorities and majorities increasingly clash over such issues as language rights, regional autonomy, political representation, education curriculum, land claims, immigration and naturalization policy.

Various efforts have been made historically to protect cultural minorities, and to regulate the potential conflicts between majority and minority cultures. However, these were inadequate and did not prevent racial hatred, cultural intolerance and discrimination to persist.

To achieve the ideal of a homogeneous polity, governments throughout history have pursued a variety of policies regarding cultural minorities. Some minorities were physically eliminated, either by mass expulsion (what we now call 'ethic cleaning') or by genocide. Other minorities were compelled to assimilate, forced to adopt the language, religion, and customs of the majority. In yet other cases, minorities were treated as resident aliens, subjected to physical segregation and economic dependency, and denied political rights.

The USA and Slovakia are the countries which can serve as an example of these trends. The United States is a country of many inhabitants of various races and nationalities which coexist in one continent. Not only of different races they are, but they also speak many languages, follow different religions practise diverse cultures. For many years this multicultural country has been called "the melting pot" by many authors. Except for Afro-Americans, all nations came and settled in America willingly. Black Africans, were sailed to America to serve as a cheap man-power, they came unwillingly, and were denied their rights as a minority. This is the reason for choosing them out of a variety of minority groups and ethnics.

On the other hand, Slovakia is a country, which Slovaks, as a part of the great nation of Slavs, have been residing at for centuries. There were several minority groups arriving gradually to Slovakia during the migration. However, none of them made such a huge and rapid increase in population as the Romanies. Today they form the greatest minority group in Slovakia.[2]

In Slovakia, not enough is known about the Romanies. Still indifference, antipathy, hatred prevail, especially in the East of the country. Also the image of the Romanies in the eye of foreign public is poor, and so casts a bad light on the whole country.

The image of African-Americans in the whole Eastern Europe, not only in Slovakia, is misrepresented. This can be brought into account of the fact that people are naturally afraid of what they do not know and better refuse it. Especially, the Slovaks are very dismissive towards the issue of minorities and tend to compare the Romanies to the Afro-Americans.

The aim of this final work is to prove that this comparison is irrelevant; firstly by investigating the lives of both minority groups, the Romanies and the Afro-Americans, from the history to the present, to present some of the grave problems connected with their coexisting with majority societies; secondly, to analyse the policies used by the majority groups to cope with the problems related to minority groups, and thirdly; to clear up the effects these policies had on the social status and life of the Romanies and the Afro-Americans and to provide an insight into contemporary Slovak view on Romany society through the survey conducted in order to gain up-to-date and uncoloured facts about the character of race relations among the Slovaks and the Romanies.

Chapter 1. Culture

1.1. Definition of culture

According to Clifford Geertz, culture can be defined as:

- "the total way of life of a people"
- "the social legacy the individual acquires from his group"
- "a way of thinking, feeling and believing"
- "an abstraction from behavior"
- "a theory on the part of the anthropologist about the way in which a group of people in fact behave"
- "a storehouse of pooled learning"
- "a set of standardized orientations to recurrent problems"
- "learned behaviour"
- "a mechanism for the normative regulation of behavior"
- "a set of techniques for adjusting both to the external enviroment and to other men"
- "a precipitate of history"
- "a behavioral map, sieve, or matrix"[3]
- “... the tendency to apply one’s own cultural values in judging the behaviour and beliefs of people raised in other cultures ... people everywhere think that familiar explanations, opinions, and customs are true, right, proper and moral. They regard different behavior as strange and savage“2

These are the two possible definitions of culture which may, however, not apply to everybody.

When talking about minority groups, majority societies tend to describe minorities as uncivilized, barbaric and undeveloped, and that all on the base of their beliefs that only their way of doing things is the best one. People often misuse the term civilization and savageness when comparing the primitives and the modern.

Culture can be defined as a type of civilization, as a set of beliefs traditions, customs, art, morals, identity and language which is practised by a certain human society. Each society has its culture. Culture guides the ways in which attitudes and habits are formed. "The value of being formed by culture rather than instinct is that it can be done in so many ways."[5] Therefore each society developed its culture its own typical and original way; and this is the reason why societies, nations differ, more or less, from one another.

1.2. Minority rights

To express its culture, each nation, however of minor population, has to have the opportunity, the right ensured by law to keep its identity. Historically, many (however not enough) attempts have been expended to protect cultural minorities, and to regulate existing conflicts between majority and minority cultures. At the beginning of the 20th century, bilateral treaties were introduced to regulate the treatment of fellow nationals in other countries. These treaties were widened, and given a more multilateral basis, under the League of Nations.2 In spite of that, this system was insufficient. Firstly, because a minority was guaranteed protection from discrimination and oppression only if there was a strong “kin state” around which, took care about keeping the treaty conditions. Secondly, the treaties were unstable because where such kin states existed they often misused treaty provisions as reasons for interfering or invading in weaker countries. Later, after WW2 it was clear that a different approach to minority rights was required. Many liberals believed that the new view on human rights would help in dealing with minority conflicts. Basic human rights like freedom of speech, association and conscience, while ascribed to every single person, are typically exercised in general with others, and so provide protection for group life. Where these individual rights are strictly protected, liberals supposed no special rights to the members of specific ethnic or national minorities are needed to be attributed.

The post-war general tendency of the movements for the promotion of human rights has been to subsume the problem of national minorities under the broader problem of ensuring basic individual rights to all human beings, without reference to membership in ethnic groups. The leading assumption has been that members of national minorities do not need, are not entitled to, or cannot be granted rights of a special character. The doctrine of human rights has been put forward as a substitute for the concept of minority rights, with the strong implication that minorities whose members enjoy individual equality of treatment cannot legitimately demand facilities for the maintenance of their ethnic particularism.[6]

Based on this philosophy, the United Nations deleted all references to the rights of ethnic and national minorities in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Many post–war liberals have thought that religious tolerance based on the separation of church and state provides a model for dealing with ethno-cultural differences as well. On this view, ethnic identity, like religion, is something which people should be free to express in their private life, but which is not the concern of the state. The state does not oppose the freedom of people to express their particular cultural attachments, but nor does it nurture such expression.2 Among post-war liberals a surmise overwhelmed, that religious tolerance based on the separation of church and state provides a model for removing ethno-cultural matters as well. As asserted by this view, ethnic identity, like religion, is something that people are (or should) be free to represent in their private life, but that is not the involvement of the state.

The members of ethnic and national groups are protected against discrimination and prejudice, and they are free to maintain whatever part of their ethnic heritage or identity they wish, consistent with the rights of others. But their efforts are purely private, and it is not the place of public agencies to attach legal identities or disabilities to cultural membership or ethnic identity. This separation of state and ethnicity precludes any legal or governmental recognition of ethnic groups, or any use of ethnic criteria in the distribution of rights, resources, and duties.[8]

1.3. Romany history in the Slovak territory

The history of the Romany people is a howling, poignant and sad story, which can not be read by any European without feeling the guilt and pity for his ancestors.

In the 12th and 13th century started the Romanies-Gypsies entering Central Europe, alongside the Danube. First mention about their residence dates back to 1322 in Spišská Nová Ves. A larger group of Romanies passed through Slovakia in 15th century. It wandered from Budín to Košice and through Southern Slovakia to Bratislava and further to Moravia and Czech. At first, native inhabitants accepted the Romanies, hospitably and positive towards them were also authorities. Since 15th century the relationship towards nomadic Romanies is changing. The Church refused to treat them as Christian penitents as they often claimed themselves to be. Hospitability was gradually displaced for distrust, later open antagonism in connection with merciless persecution.[9]

Romanies originally came from India. Most probably the lack of livelihood was the reason for migration that lasted for many centuries. Leading a nomadic life helped them to express their craftmanshift, especially blacksmithing but also the ability to entertain people through their music, dance and various exploits. During the time of distress they helped each other, often by begging.

The first reference to the Gypsies in Slovakia dates back to 1322 in Spiš. In 15th century they provided services to the nobility of Spiš castle and played an important role at wars with Turks. During the 16th century they forged weapons for Hungarian nobles. In the 18th century, Gypsies made their livelihood particularly as blacksmiths and musicians. The Romany blacksmiths were first mentioned in Slovak territory during the 16th century in reference to their permission to settle in towns and to develop their blacksmith’s trade. The 17th century noticed an influx of the Romany people from Western Europe where they were persecuted. Regulations against them can be found in archives of Spiš district. In the following centuries, as is documented in registers and books from the 18th century, the Romany people found their most frequent employment in the blacksmithing. At the turn of the 20th century the Romany blacksmiths worked in almost every community.[10] They produced nails, horseshoes, chains door fittings, etc, and sharpened iron articles like axes, hoes, and ploughs. A particularity of their smithcraft was utilisation of used material. As the Romany did not own land, they offered various services including blacksmithing work to farmers in turn for food. In the 18th century the aim of the effort of Habsburg Enlightenment rulers was, in contrary to cruel persecution and physical liquidation of Gypsies in Western Europe, their gradual settling and participating into the life of the then society. Surprising is approach of the rulers Maria Theresia and Jozef 2, which was very mild in comparison to other countries. With her legal act from 1761, Maria Theresia was the first to implement an assimilation policy towards Romanies. According to a decree, Gypsies had to be called 'new peasants' or 'new Hungarians'. According to Ríčan (1998) : they had to work in agriculture, dress like the rest of inhabitants, fulfill the duties of villains towards nobility and devotional duties towards the Church - and under the treat of punishment (25 blows naked) must not speak Romani. They were intentionally 'dispersed', in order not to settle more than one Romany family per each village. Romanies were offered half tract of land, cattle and tool. The principalities were obliged to care for their education and church weddings. The children of those who were not subordinated were taken away and placed to decent families to acquire better education. The 19th century did not notice any striking changes in relationships between other inhabitants and Romanies. Governmental measures tried to prevent the nomadic way of life. The law of 1885 on migratory Gypsies, introduced punishable pursuit by imprisonment and forced labour. Sometimes their children were taken away, they were returned to their home village and variously degraded – but also forcefully cured, deloused, etc. After the break-up of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy and the birth of the Czechoslovak Republic, many legal measures, directives from the past century, remained valid. The inter-war Czechoslovak Republic was not successful in societal integration of Romany population. The state bodies in 1920 were much interested in the police registration of the Romany people, the aim of their interest were repression measures towards Romanies. Of such kind was the law restricting migratory Gypsies (No. 117 of July 15, 1927), which limited their personal freedom, implemented identification cards for the Gypsies, enabled the "nationality" to be taken away from Romanies under 18 years of age and to place them in special institutions. In Spiš the law was concretized in such a way that Romanies were banished from villages surrounding and including the High Tatras and spas. The growing prejudices between the domestic population and Romanies were revealed in the 1930`s in the law courts when representatives of some towns and villages tried to get rid of Romany inhabitants living in their territory. During this inter-war period the settled Romanies, who lived mainly in settlements near villages, lost their traditional job opportunities as musicians and blacksmiths. The economic depression was marked also in lives of the Romany population. The only way to earn some money was finding jobs as seasonal non-qualified workers or leaving Czechoslovakia in search for work. The state also supported people in need by social and cattering actions on which most of the Romanies were depended.


[1] Kymlicka, W., (1996), Multicultural Citizenship. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 1

[2] The most often mentioned present expert’s estimations (1998) on Roma population are between 330 to 350 thousand (about 7-7,5% of total population). Buček, (1999) http: // (29 Nov. 2000)

[3] Geertz, C., (1973), The Interpretation of Cultures. Hanover : Wessleyan University Press, p. 48

[4] Kottak, C.P., (1991), Cultural Anthropology. New York : Macgraw-Hill, p. 44

[5] Landis, P.,(1975), Sociology. Lexington Gin and Company, p. 50

2 Kymlicka, W., p. 2

[6] Claude, I., (1955) National Minorities: An International Problem. Cambridge, Mass : Harvard University Press, p. 211

[7] Kymlicka, p. 3

[8] Kymlicka, p. 4

[9] Kováč,D., (1998) Dejiny Slovenska. Bratislava: SPN, p. 56

[10] Mann, A. (1992) Nezn ámi Rómovia. Bratislava: ISTER SCIENCE PRESS, p. 115

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Ethnic Minorities Comparative Study in Slovakia
American History - Ethnic minorities
Bachelor Thesis
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ethnic, minorities, comparative, study, slovakia
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Ladislava Ivančová (Author), 2001, Ethnic Minorities Comparative Study in Slovakia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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