VARIOUS reasons have led Slovaks to leave their homeland and start new lives abroad. During the previous, totalitarian regime these reasons were often political, but after the fall of the Iron Curtain Slovaks began to go abroad to study, work or just travel. One of their destinations has been Italy. While it is impossible to determine the exact number of Slovaks living there, their activities are tangible.
“In this country, where there is no central [database] of citizens, and during this period, when there is no longer a duty for Slovak citizens to register with the embassy within three days of their arrival, the number of Slovaks [here] can be estimated only very roughly,” Stanislav Vallo, Slovak Ambassador to Italy, told The Slovak Spectator. “This is true for those living in Italy permanently, as well as for those arriving here for short-term study or work stays.“
The Slovak Embassy is in contact with both communities, especially via its consular department.
“We know, for example, that probably the biggest and most densely-populated community of students on short stays is in Forli; and that our expats live in bigger numbers in Rome and its vicinity, Florence and Naples, but also in Sicily and Turin,” said Vallo, adding that estimating the size of the Slovak community in Italy would be a bit irresponsible. “From the viewpoint of the embassy it is important that during each visit to the regions prefects assure me that the local Slovak community is integrated into society … and that it really can be a positive example for all other minority communities.”
The fact, that Slovaks living in Italy are integrated into mainstream society does not mean that they do not cherish their Slovak origin. They have created a number of groupings to maintain their affiliation to the Slovak nation, as well as spread Slovak culture.
“After the Winter Olympic Games in Turin in 2006, there emerged in this important northern Italian city and centre of the Piedmont region an association, My@Vy [Noi e Voi, in Italian; or We and You], which is very active in spreading contacts amongst our expats, of course with the stress on the city and the region in which it operates,” said Vallo. “The association has already organised a number of successful events and has ambitions plans ahead. In another northern Italian city, Milan, another, less numerous, grouping has been active for a long time. We have also registered attempts to create at least a core of a grouping of expats in Naples, the Tatra association, and in Florence.”
The Slovak Embassy tries to cooperate with expat communities; its most active contacts are with My@Vy in Turin.
The embassy building in Rome has been used to host receptions by the Milan association, and the embassy says it also has lively contacts with the community in Forli, especially with regards to events organised by the local honorary consulate.
My@Vy in Turin
“The My@Vy grouping clusters Slovaks living and working in Italy, more specifically in Turin,” Maja Straková, the chairwoman of the organisation told The Slovak Spectator. “We officially emerged only in 2006, but behind us are decades of work in all segments of the life of Slovaks abroad as well as many specific events and international projects whose aim is to make Slovakia more visible in the world.”
As Straková as well as deputy chairwoman Lucia Kubicová explained to The Slovak Spectator, Slovaks living abroad are united by a common fate which has led them into other countries. After leaving their native country, regardless of the reasons behind their departure, they have to integrate into a new society and a new cultural context and confront new lifestyles. This process is always complex, and often harsh and painful. In the past they did not have the chance to visit their native country, separated by the Iron Curtain from the rest of Europe. Nowadays, the situation in the united Europe is much more favourable, but their love of their native country has remained with them and thus the chance to organise in national associations and groupings, where they find a piece of their native country, is very important, according to the My@Vy chairwomen.
“Our goal is to increase the cohesion of the Slovak community, as well as its integration with other communities of foreigners and the Italian community in general,” said Straková, adding that the Slovak community in Italy consists of professional and educated people who are not exploiting the Italian welfare system. “We set a goal for us not to be isolated from the context in which we live, but to cooperate closely with Italian administrative bodies… The Slovak community in Italy has a sound name and a high reputation. Also, many Italians and citizens of other nationalities who are friends of Slovakia are members of our association.”
My@Vy highlighted the support it gets from the Office for Slovaks Living Abroad, both financial and in the form of consultancy services. The Slovak Embassy in Italy led by Ambassador Vallo plays a no less important role in the successful operation of My@Vy.
“The personal attendance of Ambassador Vallo at our events and his active representation upgrades our gatherings, inspiring and deepening the interest of Italians in Slovakia and enhancing the sound reputation of Slovakia,” Kubicová said.
The list of events organised by My@Vy includes photographic, fine-art and architectural exhibitions, participation in film festivals, sports events, performances by Slovak musicians, and many others.
Slovak expats in Milan
The Association of Expats and Friends of Slovakia in Milan was the first independent association of Slovaks in Italy to be established after the separation of the Czech and Slovak Republics. It was officially established on February 26, 1994. Its aim and mission is to organise cultural and social events, to maintain and develop Slovak national awareness abroad, explore Slovak cultural and religious traditions, but also to spread knowledge of Slovak language and literature, folklore, and national and historical knowledge.
“For Slovaks living in Italy the association also represents a chance to attend cultural activities and entertainment, make mutual contacts, and take part in meetings – but also to get support during difficult periods, or when homesick,” Elena Cengelová Carina, the chairwoman of the association told The Slovak Spectator. “The number of Slovaks living in northern Italy is estimated to be between 2,500 and 3,500 people. But this number changes very often based on work, study, family and other conditions.”
14. Jun 2010 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková