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Hungarian puzzle only surprise in new census

The typical Slovak is white, female and Catholic, according to the results of the May 2001 census released last week.
But despite an inexplicable decline in the number of ethnic Hungarians the survey contained few surprises.
"No remarkable changes took place in the country over the last 10 years," said Peter Mach, head of the Slovak Statistics Office at an October 30 presentation of the census results.
According to the figures Slovakia has a total population of 5.38 million - a 2% increase since the last national census in 1991. Women account for 51.4% of inhabitants.

The typical Slovak is white, female and Catholic, according to the results of the May 2001 census released last week.

But despite an inexplicable decline in the number of ethnic Hungarians the survey contained few surprises.

"No remarkable changes took place in the country over the last 10 years," said Peter Mach, head of the Slovak Statistics Office at an October 30 presentation of the census results.

According to the figures Slovakia has a total population of 5.38 million - a 2% increase since the last national census in 1991. Women account for 51.4% of inhabitants.

More than 84% of Slovaks now say they are religious, largely of the Catholic denomination, a jump from 73% 10 years ago. In real numbers this means that 680,000 more Slovaks now practice a faith than in 1991.

There has been an 8% decline in the number of ethnic Hungarian living in the country. Neither social affairs analysts nor Hungarian political representatives could offer a unified explanation of the decrease.

In 1991, 567,296 inhabitants reported their ethnicity as Hungarian; in 2001 the number dropped by 47,000 to 520,528.

"The decrease in the Hungarian population is so substantial that it can't be explained by migration to Hungary or by saying there are less Hungarian births in the country every year than deaths," said Michal Vašečka, a sociologist with the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) thinktank.

Opinions on the decrease varied within the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), with members saying they needed more time to study the results.

SMK vice-chair Miklós Duray insisted that the decrease was "predominantly caused by migration of young Hungarians to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria." But his party colleague and Deputy Prime Minister for Minorities Pál Csáky said the situation was more complex.

"We can't rule out a process of gradual assimilation of Hungarians in Slovakia," said Csáky. He added that other factors could include greater mortality and lower birth rates among an ageing ethnic Hungarian population, as well as the possibility that some Hungarians may have identified themselves as Slovak with Hungarian as a mother tongue.

Csáky said he would have to wait for more detailed census results before making a definitive statement. Comprehensive results are due to be made public by the end of this year, and will include information such as the mother tongues claimed by census respondents.

The results released last week contained basic data only from the first page of the census document.

Miroslav Kusý, a political analyst with the Bratislava-based Comenius University, offered another explanation for the decrease in ethnic Hungarians. He linked it to the slight increase in Roma living in Slovakia which was also recorded in the census.

Although estimates put the actual number of Roma living in Slovakia at 380,000, only 90,000 respondents claimed Roma ethnicity this year. That figure is up by 14,000 since 1991.

Kusý argued that the number of people who said they were Roma "could constitute part of the [Hungarian decline] difference".

The Roma remain the second largest minority ethnic group, followed by the 44,600 strong Czech community, the 24,200 Rusyns and 10,800 Ukrainians. Only 218 people claimed Jewish ethnicity in the current census.

Adding to the variety of nationals living in the country, Mach of the Statistics Office also said there were "about 5,400 jokers who said they were Sioux or Eskimo".

Although some demographers said that the 105,000 increase in overall population figure was alarmingly low, Peter Guráň, head of the family issues section with the Labour Ministry, said this number was merely a sign that Slovakia was following "the European trend".

"Young people are behaving more responsibly in terms of starting families," he said, explaining that this was partly due to a lack of economic security in a changing society.

It was also a sign, he said, that "the young prefer to pursue careers, to travel and study abroad than to get married."

KEY FINDINGS

Select figures from the 2001 national census
Total number of inhabitants: 5,379,455
Of which women: 51.4%
Proportion of economically active people: 49.6%
Total number of towns and villages: 2,883

Ethnic Groups in Slovakia:
Slovak: 85.8%
Hungarian: 9.7%
Roma: 1.7%
Czech: 0.8%
Other or not identified: 2%

Religion in Slovakia:
People professing a faith: 4,521,549 (84.1%)
Atheists, agnostics or undeclared: 857,906 (15.9%)
Largest denomination: Roman-Catholic 3,708,120 (69%)

Standard of living in Slovakia:
Percentage of households with
* central heating: 76.3%
* bath or shower: 92.8%
* automatic washing machine: 61.0%
* car: 39.1%
* computer: 12.4%

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