SLOVAKIA belongs to those European countries for which emigration has been an inseparable part of national history. Across the world Slovak communities were established as Slovaks migrated to other countries in search of a new life and new opportunities.
For most of the past 300 years, Slovakia was a part of other states and so emigration also offered a chance for self-realisation.
"Flows of emigrants started to stream out of Slovakia in the 17th century and to a large extent they have continued until now. Religious wars, anti-Hapsburg uprisings, Turkish rule, plague and other disasters uprooted all the "Lower Land" (Hungary, Serbia, Romania), which needed to be re-settled and cultivated.
Whole Slovak villages started to flow to these territories hoping to improve their economic situation, with a faith in religious freedom and with the aim of securing a better future for themselves and their successors," Mária Katarína Hrkľová, Deputy Director of the House of Foreign Slovaks, told The Slovak Spectator.
Apart from the cult of work, Slovaks also brought their language, culture, customs and their faith in God to these unwelcoming and boggy territories.
"A mass emigration of the Slovak people to North and South America started at the end of the 19th century. Tens of thousands of Slovaks left for the United States, Canada and the countries of South America, but also for the industrially more developed European countries such as France, Belgium and others. Emigration on a mass scale lasted until the beginning of the First World War, continued on a smaller scale in the 1930s, but was also formed by political emigration, especially during the years 1945, 1948 and 1968," Hrkľová added.
In the free world, after overcoming initial obstacles, Slovak emigrants, who had often left the poorest parts of Slovakia, became accomplished in various walks of life. In such favourable conditions the vitality and talent of Slovaks were revived. They founded associations, schools, built churches and print houses.
"Traditional culture is most alive in the surrounding countries, primarily in Serbia and Montenegro, where it can be said that almost every Slovak village has its folk ensemble or group. And each year Serbia holds a contest for these ensembles," said Vilma Prívarová, the head of the Office of the General Secretary for Slovak Expatriates and coordinator of the Days of Slovak Expatriates in Slovakia Festival, which took place in the Bratislava and Nitra regions between July 1-11 2004.
She added that many ensembles could be found in Romania, Croatia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Slovak folk traditions also survive in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and the USA. A few are also in Australia.
"Interestingly, Brazil and Argentina also have groups that promote Slovak folklore, though their members are non-Slovaks," Prívarová said.
"In some countries, Slovaks are able to express their nationality through politics. In Hungary, Slovaks have there own local governments. In Romania, every nationality, including the Slovaks, has its representative in the parliament," Hrkľová added.
Slovaks also express themselves through the electronic and print media. In short, they take advantage of every possible means of expression. It is satisfying to know that Slovaks have stepped out of the shadows. In Canada they publish two newspapers, The Canadian Slovak and Slovak Heritage Live while in Yugoslavia their newspaper is called Voice of the People.
In America there are currently around 16 Slovak-American magazines and newspapers. Since the 1930s Slovaks have had a regular Sunday radio show broadcast in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Youngstown. And there are many more around the globe. As far as cultural events are concerned Slovaks organise exhibitions, folk performances, fairs and other events.
"At the beginning of the 21st century, Slovaks and their successors live in almost all countries of the world. According to the latest figures the numbers of Slovaks and their successors range from 2,735,000 in 1990 to 2,016,000 in 2001. These figures come from censuses and also self-counts and estimates of associations and organisations of foreign Slovaks," said Hrkľová.
According to figures published on the Internet page of the Slovak Ministry of Culture, the largest communities of Slovaks live in the United States (1.9 million), the Czech republic (314,000), Hungary (120,000), Canada (85,000) Serbia and Montenegro (64,000), Poland (25,000) and Australia (20,000).
However the daily SME recently reported that newly released estimates suggest that the number of Slovaks living abroad had fallen by 50 percent over the last decade. The paper reported that embassies and national groups estimated in 2001 that the number of Slovaks living outside Slovakia stood at 1.28 million.
The statistics, part of a document published by the General Secretariat of the cabinet's plenipotentiary for Foreign Slovaks, shows that the number of foreign Slovaks is much lower. According to the document only about 820,000 live in the US, 183,749 in the Czech Republic, 59,021 in Serbia and Montenegro, 50,860 in Canada, 17,693 in Hungary, and 4,712 in Croatia.
Government commissioner for foreign Slovaks, Claude Baláž, said at the recent Days of Slovak Expatriates in Slovaki' event, that all of the neighbouring countries give greater support to their expatriates than Slovakia. At the same time he noted that the country had done a number of positive things for its expatriates since the creation of the independent Slovak Republic in 1993.
At the same event Dušan Klimo, Chairman of the World Association of Slovaks Living Abroad, commented that Slovakia, by joining the European Union, had committed itself to solving the situation of Slovaks living outside Europe since the European Union pays serious attention to diasporas. For example, the EU held a meeting of Europeans living outside the borders of their countries in Thessaloniki, Greece, last year.
The meeting recommended that governments pay appropriate attention to the development of diaspors and maintain connections with their national culture and language.
At the Regular Conference on Questions of Mutual Relations and Cooperation Between Slovakia and Slovaks Living Abroad, which took place during the festival, representatives of Slovaks from 19 countries worldwide called on the Slovak Republic to adopt a compact of support.
Their request included free access to Slovak public television, the creation of an office for Slovaks living abroad, and more money to support their activities.
9. Aug 2004 at 0:00 | Robert Valjent