SLOVAKS in Serbia and Montenegro belong to the most vivid branch of Slovaks living abroad. They mostly inhabit the autonomous region of Vojvodina, which is divided into three historic regions Báčka, Banát, and Sriem.
"The migration of Slovaks to the territory of the former Yugoslavia was part of internal migration within the former Hungarian empire. The Slovak population, mainly from the regions of Hont and Novosad, headed south to this devastated land. The first Slovak settlements on the territory of Vojvodina [in the northeast of Serbia] were established near Novi Sad," Mária Katarína Hrkľová, deputy director of the House of Foreign Slovaks.
"In autumn 1744, lance-corporal Matej Čáni of Malinec brought a large number of subjects there. The motives behind this migration were social; against the reformation and in search of the possibility for a new self-realisation," said Hrkľová.
"The most significant settlements of the Slovak population in Vojvodina include Báčsky Petrovec, Kysáč, Pivnica, Kulpín, Hložany, Nový Sad, Sibaš, Báčska Palanka, Kovačica. According to the latest census, carried out in December 2002, there are 59,021 Slovaks living on the territory of Serbia and Montenegro, and 56,637 out of them live in the Vojvodina region," Rastislav Surový, the head of Matica Slovenská, the main organisation of Slovaks living in Serbia and Montenegro.
"According to the census carried out in 1991, 66,863 Slovaks lived in the country, which indicates a 12 percent drop over 10 to 12 years.
"The main reason for this decrease is a low birth rate. A certain number of young people and whole families emigrated to other countries, largely to Slovakia due to poor prospects for employment and the socio-political situation in our country in the last 10 to 15 years," Surový added.
Slovaks in Vojvodina lead a full cultural and social life.
In the first half of 19th century they had already begun establishing national cultural institutions and associations.
"The main organisation of Slovaks living in Serbia and Montenegro is Matica Slovenská in Yugoslavia, established in 1932. It has 10,000 to 12,000 direct members or people who support its activities," said Surový.
Slovaks in Vojvodina are extraordinarily active in every area of cultural and social life. Slovak associations have been functioning there for decades, Hrkľová said. Retaining and improving education has been among the basic priorities of the Vojvodina Slovaks, she added.
"As regards education, there are 10 elementary Slovak schools, one Slovak elementary school in Báčsky Petrovec, and instruction in the Slovak language as well as Slovak departments in elementary schools in Stara Pazova and Kovačica. There is also a department of Slovak studies at the philosophical faculty of Novi Sad University," said Surový.
In Novi Sad and Báčsky Petrovec there are TV stations with Slovak sections.
In addition, there are also local Slovak TV stations in other towns. Slovaks in Vojvodina also have several radio shows - the weekly Hlas Ľudu and the monthly Rovina, Vzlet, and others.
Cultural activities also grow from the ground up. "It can be said that in Serbia and Montenegro 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 Ex-patriates.
According to Surový, Slovaks in Serbia and Montenegro have the right to use their mother tongue when dealing with state bodies and local administration, however they can largely speak Serbian, so they do not use this privilege extensively.
"Although Slovaks have no representation in the national parliament, they have one deputy in the Serbian parliament and one or two members in the Vojvodina regional parliament," said Surový.
16. Aug 2004 at 0:00 | Robert Valjent