LOCATION: Slovakia, United States, Czech Republic, Serbia, Canada, United Kingdom, Hungary
POPULATION: 6 million (4.7 million in Slovakia)
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism (69%); Protestantism (11%); Other (20%)
RELATED ARTICLES: Czechs, Hungarians
Slavic peoples first settled on the territory of present-day Slovakia in the 5th century ad. The original territory inhabited by proto-Slovaks also included parts of present-day southeastern Moravia and approximately the entire northern half of present-day Hungary. A Slavic state was formed there under Samo, a Frankish merchant, in the 7th century. At this point, Slovaks were still indistinguishable from other Slavs. In the 8th century, the group of Slavs that would later become the Slovaks inhabited the Principality of Nitra, which eventually became a part of the Moravian Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries. It was during this period that the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius traveled to this region to convert pagan proto-Slovaks to Christianity. To aid in conversions, Cyril and Methodius developed Glagolithic, a precursor to Cyrillic, and provided Slavs with their first written alphabet. Great Moravia reached its peak during the reign of King Svatopluk between 870 and 894. In 907, Great Moravia was defeated by the Magyars, or Hungarians, in the Battle of Bratislava. Slovakia would continue to be under Magyar rule of some form until the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1526, Hungarians came under the rule of the Habsburg Empire. In 1867, Hungarians and Austrians struck a compromise and transformed the empire into a dual monarchy, but this changed very little for Slovaks. In the wake of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, Czechs and Slovaks united in 1919 to create the independent state of Czechoslovakia. Throughout the union of the two ethnic groups, the more numerous and powerful Czechs exercised greater political power than the Slovaks, and tensions between the two groups finally resulted in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia by 1939, when Slovakia declared its independence and allied itself with Hitler's Germany. The Slovak puppet government operated under German control during World War II. However, in 1944 Slovaks from the central and eastern parts of the country rebelled against the Nazis, but their revolt was quickly put down and an estimated 30,000 Slovaks were killed.
After the war, Czechoslovakia was reunited, and the Communists seized control of the country in 1948. Under Communist rule, as in the post–World War I era, the Slovaks were once again subordinate to the Czechs. In the 1960s, President Alexander Dubček, a Slovak, attempted to combine Communist ideology with democracy, an effort that culminated in the "Prague Spring" of 1968, which was crushed by military intervention from the Soviet Union, which occupied the entire country and abolished the democratic reforms of the preceding years. Twenty-one years later, through the peaceful "Velvet Revolution" led by dissident playwright Vaclav Havel and the Civic Forum party, the old order collapsed and Communism was overthrown. After the first democratic elections and the departure of the Soviet troops, old ethnic enmities resurfaced, with the Slovaks demanding separation from the Czechs. Prime Minister Havel and Slovak leader Vladimir Meciar agreed to dissolve the union of the two peoples, and on 1 January 1993, in an event known as the "Velvet Divorce," the Slovaks declared their independence, establishing their own parliament in Bratislava. In 1991, Slovakia joined the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia in the Visegrad Group, an alliance for the integration of these countries into greater Europe. In 1992, Slovakia joined the United Nations. Since 2004, Slovakia has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Slovakia is a small, landlocked country located in Central Europe. It is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Slovakia's neighbors are Poland (to the north); the Czech Republic (to the northwest); Austria (to the southwest); and Hungary (to the south). It also shares a short eastern border with Ukraine. Much of Slovakia consists of unspoiled mountains and forests. The High Tatras, a part of the Carpathian Mountains, are the second-highest mountain ranges in Europe after the Alps. The Kriváň mountain peak, a Slovak national symbol, is located in the High Tatras. The land of the Slovaks slopes down from this high mountain range into lakes and fertile river valleys, which are traversed by several tributaries that drain into the Danube River. The Danube forms part of the southern boundary of the country. Other rivers that flow through Slovak territory include the Váh and the Hron. Slovakia has fertile farmland. Its winters are cold, cloudy, and snowy, and its summers warm.
In total, there are over six million Slovaks in the world. The population of Slovakia is approximately five and a half million, of which ethnic Slovaks comprise roughly 86%. The rest of the population of Slovakia is made up of Hungarians, Czechs, Ukrainians, Carpatho-Rusyns, and Romany, or Gypsies. Just under half of Slovakia's population lives in rural areas, although significant migration from rural to urban areas is steady. The two largest cities in Slovakia are Bratislava, its capital, and Košice, in the east.
It is estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million Slovaks live outside of the Slovak homeland. Exact numbers cannot be determined since census takers use varying criteria to identify Slovaks abroad. Some counts reflect numbers of individuals who either still possess Slovakian citizenship or have emigrated from Slovakia, while other counts include individuals of Slovak ethnic descent. The largest numbers of Slovaks outside of Slovakia can be found in the United States, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Hungary. Hundreds of thousands of Slovaks emigrated to North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, making the number of Slovaks and those of Slovak descent range today between 800,000 and 1.2 million in the United States and 50,000 and 100,000 in Canada. An estimated 200,000 to 375,000 Slovaks live within the borders of the Czech Republic. Because of centuries of Magyar rule, a sizeable Slovak population could be found in Hungary until the beginning of the 20th century. Since the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the number of Slovaks living in Hungary has steadily declined. Currently, roughly 20,000 Slovaks can be found in Hungary.
Historically, a considerable number of Slovaks could be found in the Balkans, primarily in Serbia and Bulgaria. After World War II, thousands of Slovaks left Bulgaria for Czechoslovakia in a state-run initiative to repopulate the Czech and Slovak lands. As such, a very small number of Slovaks remain in Bulgaria today. Roughly 60,000 ethnic Slovaks remain in northern Serbia today, primarily in the autonomous province of Vojvodina. Slovaks are the third largest of over 26 ethnic groups in Vojvodina. Slovak is one of the province's six offi-cial languages. Most Slovaks in Vojvodina are the descendants of the late 18th and early 19th century Slovaks who settled in the region when it was still under Hungarian rule, after the retreat of the Ottoman Empire from the area. Since religion was a primary stimulant for many of the original Slovaks who immigrated to Vojvodina, one of the distinguishing factors of the Slovaks of Vojvodina today is that the majority of them are Protestant rather than Roman Catholic.
Slovak is a member of the Western Slavic language group. Of all other languages, Slovak is most similar to Czech. Although the two languages are clearly distinct from one another, they are mutually intelligible. Like other Western Slavic languages, Slovak received a number of formative characteristics from the Glagolithic alphabet and other standardizing initiatives developed by Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius during their efforts to Christianize the Slavs. The present Slovak alphabet has 43 letters and is written using Roman characters.
This reflects the early change in religious orientation from the Greek Orthodox East to the Latin Catholic West and remains a distinguishing factor between the Western Slavic language group and the Eastern Slavic language group, which uses Cyrillic characters. There are three major Slovak dialects: Eastern, Central, and Western. The Western dialects of Slovak shade onto the Moravian dialects of the Czech language. Slovak words have an accented first syllable, and words with more than three syllables have a secondary accent as well. Like those of other East European languages, Slovak words feature many clusters of consonants. Some Slovak words, such as smrt' (death), srdce (heart), slnko (sun), and yrt (to drill, or bore), have practically no vowels at all.
Efforts to standardize the Slovak language began as early as the 17th century, primarily in the form of literature. The two main individuals credited with contributing the most to the standardization of the Slovak language were Anton Bernolák in the 18th century and L'udovít Štúr in the 19th century. While Bernolák worked with the western Slovakian dialect, Štúr's use of the central dialect has become the basis of standardized Slovak today. The Slovak political experience, however, has proven to curtail the development and standardization of Slovak during the last three centuries. Under the Hungarian Empire, the Hungarian language was privileged over Slovak and Slovaks experienced heavy Magyarization efforts in education and other public spheres. During the existence of Czechoslovakia, the Slovak language was considered an official language of the country, but Czech was privileged over Slovak in politics, professions, education, and other public spheres. As a result, the Slovak language was heavily influenced by Czech and took on many Czech borrowings.
The Slovak Language is the official language of Slovakia, but both Czech and Hungarian are also widely spoken. Th ose who speak Hungarian primarily populate the southern region of Slovakia. Because of the rapid pace of globalization, borrowing from both Czech and other languages still occurs.
Slovaks possess a very rich oral history that deals, like most peoples' folklore, with all aspects of life and nature. Because of Slovakia's predominantly agrarian history, however, themes of love, marriage, health, and agricultural bounty are particularly common.
Almost every ruined castle in the Slovak Republic has its legend. Sometimes these legends are extremely violent, like the story of Csejte, a ruthless countess who murders three young girls and bathes in their blood in an effort to renew her youthfulness. There are also many stories about Janosik, a well-known folk hero whose adventures date back to the Turkish invasions of the 16th and 17th centuries. These kinds of folk tales provided a great deal of inspiration for later Slovak literature. In the mid 19th century, Pavol Dobšinský worked to collect and publish anthologies of Slovak folk fairy tales like these. Such activities were closely related with the Slovak National Awakening.
Belief in witches, ghosts, and other supernatural beings persists as a remnant of pre-Christian paganism. One such figure is Morena, a goddess of death who is the object of a springtime custom by which young girls ritually "drown" a straw doll in waters that flow from the first thaw. In rural areas, some Slovaks still believe that illness and misfortune can be caused by witches, demons, or the "evil eye" and seek the services of traditional healers who use folk remedies and rituals to protect or exorcise villages and homes.
Slovak folklore also includes a number of means by which individuals can determine and try to control their futures, most occurring around Christmas and the New Year. On November 30, lead is poured into boiling water, and the shape it takes is used to make predictions about the coming year. Young women have many ways of trying to discover who their husbands might be, such as peering upside-down at the water's surface in a well. On Christmas Eve, nuts are cracked and their contents are examined to determine what the coming year will bring. Additionally, food from the Christmas Eve feast is given to livestock in hopes that they be granted good health.
Most Slovaks (about 70% of the population) belong to the Roman Catholic Church and are closely affiliated with their church communities. Slovak Catholicism is generally more traditional than the more liberal Czech version. The next largest group, 13% of the population, consists of those who claim either atheism or no religious affiliation. This is quite small compared to the 59% of neighboring Czechs in this category. Roughly 11% of the population identifies itself as Protestant and roughly 4% as Greek Catholic, a Christian religion that acknowledges the Catholic Pope but whose liturgical traditions follow those of Eastern Orthodoxy. Others include Calvinist Reformed, Eastern Orthodox, and Baptist. Slovakia's once populous Jewish community was destroyed in the Nazi Holocaust.
Churches and religion presented a strong obstacle to the Communists after World War II. The government banned religious activity and closed all private religious schools. In 1989, with the fall of Communism, churches were restored and religious schools reopened. Although most Slovaks have returned to the traditional Slovak religion of Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Evangelical movement in Slovakia, as in other former Communist countries of Eastern Europe, continues to grow in order to fill the religious vacuum created by the Communist ban on organized religion.
National holidays in Slovakia include New Year's Day (January 1), Liberation Day (May 8), Cyril and Methodius Day (July 5), Slovak National Uprising Day (August 29), Constitution Day (September 1), Independence Day (October 28), and Day of the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy (November 17), which simultaneously commemorates Slovak demonstrations against the Nazis in 1939 as well as the demonstrations in 1989 that are said to have triggered the Velvet Revolution.
In late October, Slovakia hosts the Bratislava music festival, which attracts national and international performers. Many towns and villages host annual folk festivals in the late summer or fall, with plentiful singing, dancing, and drinking.
Most Slovaks also observe the major feast days and holidays of Roman Catholicism, such as Easter and Christmas. The Slovak celebration of Easter extends to the Monday after Easter Sunday as well. September 15, the Day of Our Lady of Sorrows, is an important holiday for Slovaks since the Virgin Mary is considered to be the patron saint of Slovakia. The largest of Slovak celebrations culminates around Christmas, over a period of three days. On Christmas Eve, Slovaks attend church services. Christmas trees are decorated, gifts are exchanged, and there is a traditional Christmas Eve dinner called vilija , consisting of mushroom soup, fish, peas, prunes, and pastries. December 26 is the Feast of Saint Stephen and is called "Second Christmas Day" by Slovaks. Slovaks usually celebrate birthdays with their families, and name days, days dedicated to the saint for which one is named, with friends and co-workers.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Most Slovaks observe major life events, such as birth, marriage, and death, according to the religious traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.
Shaking hands is a standard form of greeting; men generally wait for women to extend their hands first. Upon parting, a man may hug a woman or kiss her on both cheeks. Standard salutations include Dobrý den (good day), Velmi ma tesi (pleased to meet you), and the more informal Ahoj (the equivalent of "hi"). Dovidenia means "good-bye," and the more casual terms Ciao and Servus mean either "hello" or "good-bye." In rural areas, some older residents still greet each other with S Bohom ("God be with you").
When not among family or close friends, Slovak forms of address are very formal and courteous, including both Pán (Mr.) or Pani (Mrs.) and any professional title, such as doctor, professor, or engineer. As in many other languages, modes of expressing respect and courtesy are built into Slovak grammar. Slovak has a second, more formal case for the second person. For example, in addressing a close or familiar acquaintance, Slovaks use the word ty for "you." When addressing someone unfamiliar, or to convey a more formal, respectful relationship, Slovaks use the word vy for "you."
Slovaks enjoy entertaining at home. It is customary for guests to bring to their hosts a bottle of wine or some sort of alcohol. Upon entering a Slovak home, guests generally remove their shoes; their hosts often provide them with slippers. Fresh flowers are often given, and when they are presented, they are always unwrapped and in odd numbers, since it is the custom to bring even numbers of flowers to funerals. The gesture for wishing someone good luck (the equivalent of crossing one's fingers in the United States) is to fold the thumb inward and close the other fingers around it.
Roughly 21% of Slovakia's population lives below the poverty line. Life expectancy for Slovaks averages 75 years of age, and the rate of infant mortality is 7 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The adult prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS is less than 0.1%, and it is estimated that fewer than 200 people in Slovakia are HIV positive. There is virtually universal access to medical care and a high rate of immunization for infants in the first year of life. Slovakia's health spas are known around the world and have many international visitors.
Most city dwellers live in modest-sized apartments built during the Communist era. Varied types of housing are found in rural Slovakia, ranging from two-room detached dwellings to two-story apartment buildings with up to six units. Indoor plumbing has been standard in rural areas for the past 40 years. Common building materials are cinder blocks and fired bricks. In the wake of the fall of Communism, Slovakia experienced a serious housing shortage as housing units were recovered from state control. The privatization of state housing units resulted not only in the slowing of new construction, but also in the increase in the amount of owner-occupied housing. Both of these trends have affected the rental market, causing the creation of a rental black market and making housing unaffordable for many. Additionally, the shift of maintenance responsibility from public to private has caused repair and upkeep of lower income rental properties to be neglected. The Slovakian government is addressing these problems by building new rental properties. Now, approximately two million housing units exist in Slovakia, but it is estimated that over 150,000 units are still needed.
Most Slovak families own a car, but public transportation, including buses, trolleys, and trains, is widely used due to the high price of gasoline. There are rail links and highways between major cities. Because of the growth in cellular services and access to the internet, communication technology in Slovakia has expanded dramatically in recent years and is widely accessible.
The most common family unit in Slovakia is the nuclear family, although extended families can still be found in rural areas, where houses may have extra rooms to accommodate the family of a grown son or daughter. The average Slovak family has one to two children. Women receive paid maternity leave and a cash allowance when each child is born. Most women work outside the home (women account for 47% of the Slovak labor force.) Women and men have equal rights under the law, including property and inheritance rights.
Slovaks wear modern Western-style clothing, including business attire for work, and jeans and T-shirts for casual wear. On special occasions, or during festivals or holidays, some Slovaks still wear traditional dress. For women, this includes puffed-sleeve blouses, vests, full skirts, aprons, boots, and a bonnet or headscarf depending on marital status. For men, this includes hats, shirts, vests, boots, and either form-fitting or flared pants. Such costumes are usually very colorfully embroidered. Traditionally, they were made of homespun cloth and sheepskin, but this is rarer today. Styles, colors, and accessories historically varied depending on region.
Pork is the most common meat consumed in Slovakia, although beef, poultry, fish, and game, such as boar, rabbit, and venison, are also regularly eaten. Slovaks also make various types of spiced sausages, primarily from pork. The Slovak national dish is bryndzové halušky, dumplings made with potatoes, flour, water, eggs, and salt and served with processed sheep's cheese, and occasionally, bits of pork. In some regions, halušky is also served with cabbage and onions. Other Slovak favorites include Kapustnics, or cabbage soup, and rezen, or breaded steak. Fresh fish and wild game are often served in Slovak homes, and fresh-baked bread and soup are dinnertime staples. Favorite desserts include tortes, frosted, multilayered cakes, and kolác, or rolls with a nut or poppy seed filling.
Pilsner beer and dry, white wine are both produced and regularly consumed in Slovakia. The vineyards of Slovakia are primarily located in the southern part of the country, in the Male Karpaty region near Hungary. As in the Czech Republic, slivovice (plum brandy) is also very popular.
The traditional main meal of the day in Slovakia is lunch, but more Slovaks are increasingly making dinner their main meal.
Slovakia has a literacy rate of over 99%. Schooling is compulsory for 10 years, from ages 6 through 16. As in the United States, students go to school for five days a week, Monday through Friday. There are many secondary schools in Slovakia that prepare children for a higher education, as well as a variety of vocational schools. Most schools are still owned by the state, although since the fall of Communism there has been an increase in church-run schools and other types of private schools. There are over 30 schools of higher education in Slovakia, several of which opened after the fall of Communism. The oldest Slovak university is Comenius University in Bratislava, founded in 1919. Despite pending plans to implement tuition fees, there is still no charge to attend a university. Admission, however, is limited and highly competitive. The grading system in Slovakia uses a scale ranging from one to five, with one being the highest grade and five being the lowest.
Since the fall of Communism, public schools and universities have struggled to overcome a lack of adequate funding. Instructors are underpaid and a great deal of the teaching material is outdated. As a result, corruption has become widespread as educational administrators and instructors are more prone to turning to illegal bribes in exchange for giving students entrance to schools, better grades, and more. Additionally, the quality of teachers has diminished since schools cannot compensate better qualified professionals and experts.
Regardless, Slovakia's secondary education is ranked as thirtieth in the world, just behind the United States, which is ranked twenty-ninth.
Folk music is one of the most important elements of Slovakian culture. Slovakian national music was greatly strengthened and popularized in the early 19th century, although the origins of traditional Slovakian music are located in early Christian liturgical music. The Slovaks' pride in their musical tradition is expressed in the saying Kde Slovák, tam spev ("Wherever there is a Slovak, there is a song"). Villages have amateur musical groups that perform at school graduations and harvest festivals. Characteristic Slovak folk instruments include the bagpipes (gajdy), pipes (píst'ala), the fujara, a large shepherd's flute held vertically in front of the body, and native instruments similar to the fiddle and dulcimer. One popular series of folk songs, Janosik songs, are based on the exploits of a well-known folk hero. A common theme in many Slovak folk songs is Slovak subjugation to other national groups, such as Hungarians and Turks. Immigrants from Romania, Germany, and Hungary have also brought varying music styles to Slovakia. More recently, contemporary composers have begun to incorporate Slovak folk melodies into their works. Slovaks also have a strong folk- dance tradition, with dances such as the Kolo, Hajduch, Verbunk, Czardas, polka, waltz, a shepherd's dance called the Odzemok, and the Chorodový, a communal women's dance. Although popular music began to replace folk music after World War II, folk music remains an important element of Slovak culture and is celebrated, along with other folk arts, at a major folk festival every year in July.
Slovak literature began to experience great vibrancy in the early 19th century, when talented poets, such as Andrej Sladkovic and Jano Kral, produced some of the most original Slavic Romanticism. Such writing was heavily inspired by Slovak folk tales. Slovak literature came of age after World War II, but during the four decades of Communist rule after World War II, Slovak writing underwent a general decline.
Slovakia has more or less completed its transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. Like other Eastern European countries, Slovakia became highly industrialized during the Communist era, creating manufacturing jobs in steel, chemicals, glass, cement, and textiles. Since the end of the Communist era, the Slovakian economy has undergone a major shift in composition. In 1991, for example, 43% of the labor force was employed in heavy industry. In 2003, however, 56% of the labor force was employed in the service industry, with 29% in heavy industry, 9% in construction, and 6% in agriculture. Workers in Slovakia have benefited from the country's sustained, strong economic growth, which has occurred even during a more general European slowdown. In the midst of privatization, the rate of unemployment went as high as 19.2% (in 2001). By the beginning of 2008, it had dropped to 8%. Despite its generally successful transition to a market economy, however, Slovakia is still in need of greater investment in research and development in order to cultivate a modern knowledge-based economy and remain competitive with the rest of Europe and the world.
Popular sports among Slovaks include soccer, tennis, and skiing, although Slovakia is known best around the world for ice hockey. Ice Hockey became popular in Slovakia in 1925 when the European Ice Hockey Championship was held in the High Tatras in 1925. This established the beginning of the Tatra Cup, which is now the second oldest tournament in Europe. In 2002, Slovakia won the world hockey championship.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
In their leisure time, Slovaks enjoy attending movies, local festivals, and cultural events and participating in outdoor activities including hiking, swimming, and camping. Slovakia also has over 1,000 mineral and hot springs. In rural villages, men meet after work at the local bar to drink, play cards, and socialize.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Folk arts and crafts, which include pottery, porcelain sculpting, woodcarving, metalworking, toy making, and glass painting, have a long and popular tradition in Slovakia, especially in rural areas. Many women knit, sew, embroider, and make lace. Popular patterns are handed down from generation to generation. Slovakia also possesses very rich folk architecture in the forms of wooden churches, brightly painted houses, and more.
Despite the large improvements in the economy over the last several years, Slovakia still has the highest unemployment rate of any country in the European Union. Many Slovaks have moved abroad in search of employment, and Slovakia's accession to the European Union has aided in such movement. This trend of emigration contributes to Slovakia's extremely low population growth rate of 0.14%. The fertility rate in Slovakia, 1.33 children per woman, is one of the lowest in the European Union. In the coming years, this may not only negatively impact Slovakia's economy, but as work force and age distributions of the population change, Slovakia's social security system, infrastructure, educational system, and other systems may become unsustainable. These trends comprise the greatest long-term social threat to Slovaks.
Two of the larger immediate social problems facing Slovaks are drugs and prostitution. Both drugs and humans are trafficked through Slovakia. Synthetic drugs are produced in Slovakia and distributed throughout Eastern and Central Europe. The drug ecstasy is also used in Slovakia.
Women and men in Slovakia are roughly equal when it comes to literacy, education levels, employment, and civic and political rights. Some of the main social and economic problems of the post-Communist transition, however, have had a disproportionately negative impact on the female gender. Generally, the Communist period is thought by experts to have had a negative impact on the feminist movement. Under Communism, women and men in Czechoslovakia were officially declared equal by law, but this did not translate into practice beyond the most visible public spheres. The Communist government's version of equal rights was simply ensuring that women were employed at a comparable rate to men. They did little to address the other domestic and societal conditions, expectations, and stereotypes of women. Often, gaining employment outside the home actually worsened conditions for women, who were still largely expected to perform all of their domestic tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, in addition to their work outside the home. Many experts argue that the Communist rhetoric of equality among men and women produced a false comfort among Slovaks, as among other peoples under Communism, that the gender imbalance had been solved. This sense diffused and undermined the feminist movement by making women's rights a non-issue in society.
The feminist movement in Slovakia does not have much strength and it is not a part of mainstream Slovak culture. Inequality, at least in societal expectations of women, still exists when it comes to reproductive issues, family life, work, political affairs, and public life. Slovak women themselves, however, do not consider their situation to be inappropriate or in need of being changed. Studies show that only 30% of women in Slovakia have positive or neutral views on the idea of feminism, while 24% have a negative view and 46% are not even familiar with the concept. Even more Slovak men are ignorant or possess a negative view of feminism. In both men and women, social demographics seem to affect awareness levels of feminist issues, but not attitudes. The more highly educated men in Slovakia are actually more negative toward the feminist movement, which poses problems for educated Slovak women attempting to pursue women's rights.
The post-Communist period has also taken its toll on certain groups of women in a very concrete way. High unemployment, the rising cost of living, and increased contact with larger markets since the fall of Communism have caused an increase in prostitution activities of Slovak women, both in Slovakia and abroad. Within Slovakia, authorities have done little to regulate prostitution, which has been detrimental to both women practicing prostitution and inhabitants of areas where prostitution activities occur. Before the fall of Communism, prostitution was prohibited in the streets, making many of these problems new to Slovak society. The lack of regulation or restriction leaves women who practice prostitution with no rights or protection and has led to the increase in other problems connected to prostitution, such as violence and drug abuse. These problems penetrate broader portions of Slovak society because they occur in residential areas. Since no official laws exist to regulate prostitution, police are often not able to respond until other crimes surrounding the activity, such as pimping, drug distribution, and theft, are committed. Often, it is the female prostitutes who are punished by law enforcement rather than the male perpetrators. Official regulations have still yet to be put into place, leaving only non-governmental organizations to address the issue. Such organizations focus on health education, social and legal issues, the provision of contraceptives, and widespread preventative activities in an effort to alleviate the problem. Such organizations are few and lack sufficient state support for their activities. Additionally, due to the nature of prostitution, many of the women who need to access these services cannot since they are outside of the mainstream social system. Prostitution is highly stigmatized in Slovak society, making it even harder for these women to break away from their situations.
Prostitution is equally, if not more dangerous for Slovak women outside of Slovakia's borders. Since the fall of Communism, the illegal trafficking and prostitution of women from former Eastern Bloc countries in Western Europe has grown immensely. The European Commission estimates that over 2,000 Slovaks per year are trafficked as prostitutes to France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Germany. Young Slovak women are most often told by traffickers that they will be employed in high-paying jobs as waitresses and au pairs in their new country of residence. Upon arrival, their personal identification and travel documents are stolen and they are forced to work as prostitutes on streets or in brothels against their will. Such women are not only limited by not knowing the local language, but are also beaten and threatened. These women become susceptible not only to heavy drug use, but to murder as well. Contrary to the call for regulation of prostitution at home, some experts believe that legalization and toleration of prostitution in Western Europe has only aided human traffickers in seeming more legitimate. Police and various non-governmental organizations are working to create a system for locating and retrieving victims, but due to widespread Slovak social attitudes toward prostitution, many of the victims who do make it back to Slovakia are ostracized from their communities.
Legitimate agencies that seek to employ young Slovak women abroad as au pairs do exist, but when Slovak women arrive in foreign countries, they are often treated not as au pairs on a cultural exchange but as live-in migrant domestic workers, making them vulnerable to exploitation. Both forms of exploitation are made possible by the unemployment rate in Slovakia and by the economic disparity between Slovakia and its richer western neighbors.
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-by Sarah Dixon Klump
ETHNONYMS: Slováci, Slovák
Identification. The Slovaks are Western Slavs who speak Slovak and live in Slovakia, the easternmost third of Czechoslovakia, in 1992 renamed the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. Slovaks are most closely related to two other Slavic peoples located to their west: Moravians and Czechs.
Location. Slovakia is located between 47° and 50° N and 17° and 23° E. Slovakia occupies an area of approximately 49,995 square kilometers and is bounded on the north by Poland, on the east by Ukraine, on the south by Hungary, on the southwest by Austria, and on the west by the Czech Republic of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. The topography of Slovakia is extremely varied, ranging from the Carpathian Mountains in the north to the Danube Basin and fertile plains in the south and west. The climate is typical of continental Europe with hot summers and cold, snowy winters.
Demography. The 1986 estimated population of Slovakia was 5,200,000 with Slovaks constituting 88 percent of that number. About 1,000,000 live outside Slovakia, with approximately 750,000 residing in the United States and others scattered throughout Europe, Canada, and South America. The population density in Slovakia averages 106 persons per square kilometer, and the population is growing at an estimated rate of 0.3 percent per year. Hungarians, Ukrainians (Rusins), Poles, Romany peoples, and Germans account for the remaining 12 percent of Slovakia's population.
Linguistic Affiliation. Slovak is a Western Slavic language (along with Czech and Polish) of the Indo-European Language Family. It is most closely related to, but distinct from, Czech. Slovak is an inflected language, and stress is fixed on the first syllable of a word; words of more than three syllables also have a secondary accent. Generally, Slovak words have as many syllables as they have vowels. Some words appear composed entirely or mostly of consonants: smrt' (death); slnko (sun); srdce (heart); and yrt (bore, drill boring). There are three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and forty-three letters. The three main dialects represent western, Central, and eastern subareas of Slovakia. The dialect spoken in central Slovakia was the one adopted by Slovak scholars as the norm.
History and Cultural Relations
Slavs who became known as the Slovaks settled between the Danube River and the Carpathian Mountains of east-central Europe by the fifth or sixth centuries a.d. and have occupied that territory continuously. Evidence of growing cultural complexity, from tribe to prefeudal alliances to feudal state, is found in their permanent settlements in the Váh, Nitra, Torysa, Ipel, and Morava river valleys. The settlement of Nitra became the home of the Slovak princes and the location of the first Christian church in east-central Europe. During the reign of King Svatopluk (a.d. 870-894), the Great Moravian Empire of the Slovaks reached its greatest development and size, consisting of some one million inhabitants and 350,000 square kilometers, including Polish and Czech subjects. After Svatopluk's death and the defections of Czech and Polish peoples, the Magyars (Hungarians) began to invade Slovak lands. The Magyars controlled Slovakia from the time of the battle of Bratislava in a.d. 907 to the end of World War I. About midway into the millennium of Hungarian rule, the Turkish invasion of 1526-1683 reduced the Magyar Kingdom to the size of modern-day Slovakia.
The first half of the nineteenth century marked the Beginning of a Slovak national renaissance and desire for ethnic independence as a minority in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but in 1868 the Hungarians initiated a formal program of assimilation or "Magyarization." Hungarian was declared the official language in Slovakia, the last three Slovak secondary schools were closed, and in 1869, the Matica Slovenská (the Slovak Institute of Sciences and Arts founded in 1863) was suppressed. As World War I got under way, Slovaks in the United States urged Czech-Americans to join in efforts to promote a joint nation and by 1919, the federated state of Czecho-Slovakia was established and recognized to be a union of two ethnic groups.
The Czechs, who were more numerous and powerful, soon insisted on Czechoslovak unitarism in an effort to eliminate the national individuality of Slovakia. Slovak relations with the Czechs worsened until Czecho-Slovakia disintegrated in 1938-1939. The Slovak Republic (1939-1945) was established as the result of growing international pressures and became dependent on Hitler's Germany. In 1944, anti-Nazi Slovak partisans mounted an armed rebellion, but they were quickly crushed by German forces who reportedly killed 30,000 Slovaks while Soviet troops waited in the nearby Carpathian Mountains. The nation of Czechoslovakia was reconstituted at the end of World War II; by 1949 Communists had gained total control of the country and Slovaks were once again placed in a subordinate position by the Prague government.
When the "Czech Spring" movement emerged in 1968 under the leadership of a Slovak, Alexander Dubcek, it was crushed by a Soviet-led invasion of Warsaw Pact troops who occupied the entire Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, including Slovakia. In November 1989, the Czech dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, led the Civic Forum party in the "Velvet Revolution," a peaceful overthrow of the republic's Communist government. Public against Violence was the Slovak counterpart of Civic Forum. National elections were held in 1990, and the name of the country was changed to the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. In 1991, a vocal Slovak nationalistic party called Movement for a Democratic Slovakia began to demand independence for Slovakia. Its showing in the June 1992 elections further widened the rift between the Czech and Slovak republics.
Slovaks live in small hamlets or colonies, villages, towns, and cities. The hamlet or colony (osada ) typically contains less than ten households of closely related people, usually with a common surname, which may also be the name of the Community. The village (dedina ) can have upwards of 3,000 to 4,000 people, frequently including the inhabitants of the surrounding hamlets. A town (mesto ) commonly has a population in excess of 5,000 and a city (velkomesto ) many thousands more. The largest cities of Slovakia are Bratislava, the capital (417,100), and Kosice (222,200). Traditional Slovak homes in hamlets and villages were constructed of plastered-over mud bricks in western Slovakia or wood in the heavily forested regions of central and eastern Slovakia. Roofs were thatched or shingled. Typical peasant homes built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries contain one room, or at most, two rooms: a kitchen that would also double as a bedroom, and a separate room that would serve as a bedroom by night and a room to entertain guests by day. A large oven would be accessed from the kitchen, while the body of the oven would extend into the second room where it would provide a warm surface for children to sleep on. Sometimes additional rooms were added linearly to this basic design to accommodate families of married sons or daughters and/or provide for the sheltering of livestock. Many hamlets still exhibit this traditional Slovak house, though most now have tile roofs. Villages in present-day Slovakia usually contain a jumble of varied house types, from the basic two-room plan of a detached home to the newer four- or six-unit two-story apartment houses. Cinder blocks and fired bricks have replaced mud bricks and wood as building materials, and indoor plumbing has been the norm for three decades even in rural areas. Stepwise migration, with people leaving hamlets and villages for larger communities (cities), is ongoing throughout Slovakia. In some regions, nearly 10 percent of the hamlets have been abandoned over the past fifteen years.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. During the many centuries of Magyar rule when nearly all the land of Slovakia was owned by Hungarian nobility, most Slovaks were peasants (actually landless serfs). They cultivated the land, growing and harvesting crops for the manor. Initially, the fertile plains in the west and south were heavily populated, but by the twelfth century AD., Slovaks began moving into the central region, which was more suited to animal husbandry. Other Slovaks were court servants and their villages were named for their trades or occupations. They worked at making metal pots, being forest wardens, fishing, goldsmithing, etc. The years of Magyar rule resulted in a mostly peasant Slovak population. Agriculture is still extremely important in late-twentieth-century Slovakia, with key crops such as rye, wheat, corn, clover, potatoes, and sugar beets being grown since the 1950s on large collective farms. Vineyards and wine making are important in the region surrounding Bratislava, while the spas of Piešt'any, Trenčianski, Teplice, and Bardejov still attract foreign visitors. Many rural families keep gardens, fruit trees, and livestock and thus do not experience the frequent shortages in urban stores. Barter is still active in Slovak villages, with families that keep chickens trading eggs for milk with neighbors who have cows. For several decades there also has been an active black market for all sorts of commodities, such as building materials, parts for motor scooters, and currency. In recent decades Slovakia received an Economic boost during the tenure of Gustav Husak, a Slovak who took national office in 1968 and served as president of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic from 1975 until 1989. However, the steelworks, chemicals industry, and aluminum works established in Slovakia during the Husak years are experiencing difficulties as the economy languishes in the post-cold war era.
Industrial Arts. Slovakia has a long tradition of ceramic manufacturing, lace making and embroidery, linen and wool garment making, wood carving, metalworking, and the sewing of traditional costumes.
Trade. Prior to the twentieth century, Slovak trade was controlled by the Magyars. Routes leading into Slovakia from the west were popular entryways for enemies of the Hungarians, so these roads were frequently gated and guarded. On numerous occasions, the Slovak lands were devastated by invading armies. Therefore, growth of trade with neighboring groups was difficult. During the era of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance, Slovakia was an active trade participant, but remained primarily agricultural. Light industry (underwear manufacturing) and the growing importance of the amount of electricity being generated by Slovakia' s nuclear power facility in the village of Jaslovské-Bohunice have been emerging as significant economic factors in recent years, along with the development of some heavy industry. Now with the demise of COMECON, new trade problems have appeared and old ones have grown worse. Some Slovak collective farms are moving toward a farm-co-op type of arrangement, which will entail local control of production and the ability to enter directly into an assortment of economic relationships.
Division oí Labor.
The traditional division of labor was by age and sex. In peasant agricultural life, adult males tended to the draft animals and performed the heavier tasks in the fields, such as plowing. Adult females would plant, weed, and help with the harvest. Children of both sexes could be placed in charge of the family's geese, cows, or other livestock to take to pasture. In addition, girls would be expected to help their mothers and boys would be sent to work alongside their Fathers. In the home, the bulk of child-rearing responsibility fell to the females of the household. Women cooked, tended the household gardens, stripped the geese of feathers to make the featherbeds, cleaned the house and immediate yard areas, washed the clothes, wove, and performed all the other sorts of handiwork, such as lace making and embroidery.
Formal schooling for peasant children even in the first quarter of the twentieth century rarely went beyond the third grade. Learning a trade, such as tailoring, enabled boys to live in a village or town and not be locked into agricultural activities. Some men worked at trades in addition to cultivating crops and keeping livestock. Some girls might learn to be midwives or traditional curers from their mothers or grandmothers.
Land Tenure. Prior to the onset of Magyar rule, property was probably held and used in common by related Individuals, as is reported for many Slavic groups. Feudalism resulted in vast numbers of landless peasants, so that by the twentieth century, Slovaks were emigrating at a rate second only to the Irish. With the establishment of Czechoslovakia after World War II, land reform brought some degree of prosperity to those who held plots. In the 1950s, land was once again confiscated as large collective farms were established. There are now measures to repatriate land taken by the Communists, but few individuals expect to return to the agricultural pursuits of their fathers or grandfathers and will probably sell the land for cash.
Kin Groups and Descent. Modern Slovak kinship is bilateral, resulting in large numbers of relatives. In many regions, Slovaks can travel to village after village and continue to find individuals with whom they share some kin relationship. In the past, Slovaks were patrilineal, organized in male-headed units termed rod (sing.), and were virilocal. The term for a small village, dedina, is derived from a kin term for elderly male relative or grandfather, dedo. Several families, closely related through males, formed residence colonies. This pattern survives today in the tiny hamlets that surround Slovak Villages. The modern term for family in Slovak is rodina.
Kinship Terminology. Although Slovaks now exhibit bilateral kinship and are moving toward an essentially Eskimo terminology, they retain a Hawaiian-type terminology for Ego's generation: terms for brother and sister are, respectively, brat and sestra, while male cousins are called bratanec and female cousins sesternica. In many parts of Slovakia and especially in rural areas, portions of what was once a descriptive kinship system is still in use. For example, there are Different terms for father, mother, father's brother, mother's brother, father's brother's wife, mother's brother's wife, brother's son, sister's son, brother's daughter, and sister's daughter.
Marriage. Slovaks practice monogamy, with divorce and remarriage becoming a frequent occurrence in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In the past, there was a high degree of village endogamy or, at least, local endogamy (marriage within a group of villages representing a particular regional enclave). Religious endogamy is still prevalent, but is growing less important. In the past, everyone married and staying single was not possible, save for those unable to secure a spouse because of disability. Dowry was important, with cash being the preferred item. A daughter ordinarily could not marry until her female relatives had completed a set of featherbeds for her, her prospective husband, and their first offspring. There was a strong emphasis on virilocal residence. On the day of the wedding, the groom and his entourage would arrive at the bride's home and, after her attendants had sent several imposters outside to "trick" him, they would finally send the bride out. She would then bid a ritual farewell to her parents and be carried off with her possessions in a wagon to the groom's home. At some point following the ceremony, her wedding headdress would be removed and the distinctive, folded cap of a married woman would be placed on her head, accompanied by the singing of another ritual song. Once she was in her husband's home, her mother-in-law would call her nevesta (bride) for several months, and she would be assigned many of the heavy household chores. Today postmarital Residence is ambilocal and even neolocal when financial circumstances permit or when employment cannot be secured near relatives.
Domestic Unit. Increasingly, the domestic unit is the Nuclear family. However, the extended family, three generations deep, was once the norm and can still be found in villages and hamlets. Some homes have an additional room or two at the end of a house to provide a separate kitchen or bedroom for a son's wife and children.
Inheritance. Inheritance is partible. In the past, if a Peasant family had some land, the brother or brothers might attempt to buy out the sister's share and thereby provide her with some dowry while keeping enough land to farm. Partible inheritance reduced landholdings in some areas to small ribbons of land that were ultimately too small to support a Family. Today, grown children of deceased parents feud over shares in houses. The married offspring who occupies the Parents' home is forced either to sell it and divide the proceeds or to come up with the cash to pay off the claims of siblings.
Socialization. Babies remained under the care of their mothers, who would take them into the fields. Young children were placed in the care of their grandmothers, most Commonly their father's mother. When they reached about the age of 7, children would be assigned chores usually specific to their gender; both boys and girls would be sent off with geese, cows, or sheep to tend. The Communist government established preschools throughout Slovakia by the 1970s, thus changing the old pattern of socialization. Liberal maternal leaves permitted new mothers to stay home with pay. These factors have combined to lessen the degree of cultural continuity across the generations. Today formal education is compulsory, but in the past it was common for Slovak peasant children to leave school in the early grades with many dropping out after the third grade to go to work.
Social Organization. In hamlets the basis of social Organization is a loose grouping of related families and in villages, one or more groups of households. This local organization takes responsibility for villagewide events such as facilitating weddings and funerals. The leadership of the collective farms in the rural sector took over some of these activities and Certainly was responsible for directing the work force in the Villages. Informal, voluntary associations of amateur musicians exist on the village level and play for various events, including the end-of-the-school-year procession and the end-of-theharvest celebration. Males, related and unrelated, congregate nightly in the village bar to play cards, drink, and visit. Females, related and unrelated, visit in the evenings and do a considerable amount of the planning for communal events.
Political Organization. Prior to 1990, the Slovak Socialist Republic of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was divided into eighteen administrative districts (okres ), each with a large town or city serving as a district seat. The boundaries of the districts were drawn in 1949 and correspond somewhat to yet older political divisions, župa, that were in place from 1886. The Slovak Republic of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic instituted a local government system of elected mayors and councils in 1990 several months after holding elections for national representatives, republic representatives, and national and republic leaders. Therefore, at least on the community level, the prospect is for more flexibility in local decision making.
Social Control. Widely accepted expectations and obligations among the peasants who lived in virtual daily contact with one another resulted in broad compliance within the parameters of acceptable behavior. Antisocial behavior would ordinarily be dealt with directly by the offender's and victim's relatives in order to maintain harmony in the community. As communities grow larger and more diverse, disputes more frequently are settled in the courts.
Conflict. Today there is still conflict over inheritance and, with the changes since 1990, renewed conflict over land occurs as the government attempts to repatriate plots confiscated by the Communist government since the 1950s. Theft from the collective farms and from village construction may be overlooked if the offender is a local person, but intruders from other villages (operating at night) are confronted outright by local men, who may beat the thief, relieve him of his loot, and then telephone the police the next morning when the post office opens. Villages do not have police in residence.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Cyril and Methodius brought Christianity to the Slovaks in the ninth century, but there are Numerous examples of an earlier, widespread, traditional religion characterized by a pantheon of supernatural beings. Among them is Morena, the goddess of death who, represented by a straw doll, is still ritually "drowned" in the first meltwater of the spring by a group of young girls in some mountain villages. Some Christian Slovaks, even those Educated beyond high school and holding professional positions in villages, still believe in the existence of witches, ghosts, and the evil eye. The vast majority of Slovaks are Roman Catholic, but there is a strong minority presence of Protestants (Evangelical Lutherans), especially in western Slovakia, where many villages have churches of both faiths and some have only a Lutheran one. Jewish Slovaks, once numerous in some villages, towns, and cities, lost their lives in the Holocaust; businesses and farm plots were confiscated and sold off to Christian Slovaks by banks and other agencies during the years of the independent Slovak Republic. Few synagogues remain and Jewish Slovak cemeteries in the villages are abandoned and in ruin.
Religious Practitioners. Full-time religious practitioners, Roman Catholic priests and Evangelical (Lutheran) pastors, experienced diminished influence and authority between 1949 and 1989. Sermons or any departure from the prescribed liturgy were required to be tape-recorded for review by a government official. Secular authorities held full control over their activities and priests or pastors could be jailed if they held religious services during government-mandated harvest periods. In 1990, some Roman Catholic priests began taking an active role in local and national politics by promoting one candidate or one party over another to their parishioners. Slovaks also recognize part-time religious practitioners who are traditional curers and mostly female.
Ceremonies. Historically, Slovaks observed an annual round of rituals common to European agricultural peoples that were ultimately linked with and incorporated into events in the Christian calendar. On the village level, these rituals involved virtually everyone and provided settings for village cohesion and solidarity.
Arts. Wood carving, embroidery, lace making, burn etching in wood, egg painting, ceramics, and weaving were and still are the traditional arts. There are also very rich folk dance, folk music, and folk song traditions that distinguish one Slovak region from another, along with the sewing of distinctive regional costumes. The fujara, a shepherd's giant flute held vertically in front of the body when played, is a particularly Slovak instrument. Hviezdoslav (1849-1921), the pseudonym of Pavol Országh, is probably the best-known Slovak poet.
Medicine. Until fairly recent times, Slovak peasants relied on the knowledge of traditional curers to diagnose their illnesses and provide them with appropriate remedies. Rural populations also shared popular cures among themselves and had extensive information about how to make teas and poultices to relieve certain symptoms and about which plants to use to stem bleeding. Curers were still diagnosing evil eye in the 1970s through a particular divination ritual. Modern Slovak medical care on the village level revolves around the clinic, a community building where patients come to be treated by the regional dentist, pediatrician, obstetrician/gynecologist, and general practitioner who stop by at regular intervals. Usually the resident health-care delivery system consists of a midwife/paramedic and a nurse. Pharmacies in towns display colored charts bearing drawings of medicinal plants and urge people not to destroy them. Although Modern medicine is mostly relied upon and doctors with formal educations are trusted, Slovaks in some areas still believe that certain illnesses and symptoms are the work of witches or the evil eye and will seek out traditional curers.
Death and Afterlife. Christian Slovaks believe in an afterlife, and burials are primarily inhumations in conventional cemeteries. Pre-Christian Slovaks apparently cremated the dead, placed the ashes in ceramic urns, interred them with grave goods of various types, and then covered these features with clay and stone mounds. Death is not borne lightly by the surviving relatives and friends. In the recent past, the deceased was washed and prepared for burial at home, with a wooden coffin being made as soon as possible and brought to the house. The family then kept vigil with the corpse through the night and visitors paid respects the next day, at which time a religious service would be held in the church and then the coffin would be carried off for burial. Normally, a funeral procession would form and walk through the village, accompanied by the village band. Widows would adopt black skirts, aprons, vests, and sweaters as permanent attire following the death of a spouse.
Kirschbaum, Joseph M., ed. (1978). Slovak Culture through the Centuries. Toronto: Slovak World Congress.
Mikus, Joseph A. (1977). Slovakia and the Slovaks. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press.
Oddo, Gilbert L. (1960). Slovakia and Its People. New York: Robert Speller & Sons.
Pleuvza, Viliam, and Jozef Vladár, general eds. (1984). Slovenská Socialistická Republika: Encyklopedický prehl'ad. Priroda, dejiny, hospodárstvo, kultúra. Bratislava: Slovensky Akademie Vied.
Seton-Watson, R. W. (1943). A History of the Czechs and Slovaks. Hutchinson & Co. Reprint. 1965. Hamden, Conn.: Archon.
POPULATION: 4.7 million
1 • INTRODUCTION
Slavic peoples first settled in present-day Slovakia in the fifth century ad, eventually forming the short-lived Moravian Empire. Throughout much of history, Slovakia was dominated by the Magyars (Hungarians). In 1919, political union of the Czechs and Slovaks created the independent state of Czechoslovakia. Slovakia accounted for about 40 percent of the country's total area. Throughout the union of the two ethnic groups, the more numerous and powerful Czechs have had more political power than the Slovaks.
After World War II (1939–45) the communists seized control of the country. Under communist rule, the Slovaks were once again less powerful than the Czechs. In 1989, the communist empire in Eastern Europe collapsed. After the first democratic elections and the departure of the Soviet troops, old ethnic problems resurfaced. The Slovaks demanded separation from the Czechs. On January 1, 1993, the Slovaks declared their independence, establishing their own parliament in Bratislava, capital of the new country, Slovakia.
2 • LOCATION
Slovakia is a small, landlocked country in Central Europe. It is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Slovakia's neighbors are Poland (to the north), the Czech Republic (to the northwest), Austria (to the southwest), and Hungary (to the south). It also shares a short eastern border with Ukraine.
Much of Slovakia consists of unspoiled mountains and forests. The High Tatras are the second-highest mountain range in Europe after the Alps. Sloping down from this high mountain range are the fertile river valleys. These small rivers drain into the Danube River. The Danube forms part of the southern boundary of the country. Slovakia has fertile farmland. Its winters are severe, and its summers warm.
The population of Slovakia is almost 5.5 million. Forty-three percent of the people live in rural areas. The largest cities are the capital city of Bratislava and Kosice. Ethnic Slovaks make up about 86 percent, or 4.7 million, of the population. Hungarians, the largest ethnic minority, account for 11 percent of Slovakia's population. According to official figures, the Romany (Gypsies) account for 1.5 percent of the population. The true figure may be higher.
3 • LANGUAGE
Slovak is a member of the Western Slavic language group. Of all other languages, it has the greatest similarity to Czech, although the two languages are clearly different. The Slovak alphabet, which has forty-three letters, is written using Western-style letters.
Like those of other Eastern European languages, Slovak words feature clusters of consonants; some words have practically no vowels at all. Examples of such words include smrt' (death), srdce (heart), slnko (sun), and yrt (to drill, or bore).
4 • FOLKLORE
Almost every ruined castle in Slovakia has its legend. Sometimes these legends are bloodcurdling. One such legend is the story of Csejte. In this tale, a ruthless countess murders three young girls and bathes in their blood, thinking it will renew her youthfulness. Janosik is a well-known folk hero whose adventures date back to the Turkish invasions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Belief in witches, ghosts, and other supernatural beings persist in some areas. Morena, a goddess of death, is the object of a springtime custom. In it, young girls ritually "drown" a straw doll in waters that flow from the first thaw.
In rural areas, some Slovaks still believe that illnesses can be caused by witches or by the "evil eye." They seek the services of traditional healers who use folk remedies and rituals.
5 • RELIGION
Most Slovaks (about 60 percent of the population) belong to the Roman Catholic Church. They have close ties to their church community. Slovak Catholicism is generally more traditional than the more liberal Czech version.
Besides Catholicism, there are also a number of other Christian faiths in Slovakia. The largest denominations are Evangelical Lutherans and Greek Catholics. Others include Calvinist Reformed, Eastern Orthodox, and Baptist. Slovakia's once populous Jewish community was destroyed in the Nazi Holocaust. Close to 10 percent of Slovaks are declared atheists.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
National holidays in Slovakia include New Year's Day (January 1), Easter Monday (in March or April), Liberation Day (May 8), Cyril and Methodius Day (July 5), Slovak National Uprising Day (August 29), Constitution Day (September 1), Independence Day (October 28), and Christmas (December 24, 25, and 26).
Christmas has the largest celebrations. On Christmas Eve, Slovaks attend church services. Christmas trees are decorated, gifts are exchanged, and there is a traditional Christmas Eve dinner called vilija, consisting of mushroom soup, fish, peas, prunes, and pastries. Slovaks usually celebrate birthdays with their families, and celebrate name days (days dedicated to the saint for which one is named) with friends and co-workers.
In late October, Slovakia hosts the Bratislava music festival. Musicians from around the world perform. Many towns and villages host annual folklore festivals in the late summer or fall, with plentiful singing, dancing, and drinking.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Most Slovaks observe major life events such as birth, marriage, and death within the religious traditions of the Catholic Church.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Shaking hands is a standard form of greeting. Men generally wait for women to extend their hands. Upon parting, a man may hug a woman or kiss her on both cheeks.
Standard greetings include Dobrý den (good day), Velmi ma tesi (pleased to meet you), and the more informal Ahoj (the equivalent of "hi"). Dovidenia means "good-bye," and the more casual terms Ciao and Servus mean either "hello" or "goodbye."
In rural areas, some older people greet each other with S Bohom (God be with you). When not among family or close friends, Slovak forms of address are very formal and courteous, including both Pán (Mr.) or Pani (Mrs.) and any professional title, such as doctor, professor, or engineer.
Slovaks enjoy entertaining at home. Upon entering a Slovak home, guests generally remove their shoes. Their hosts often provide them with slippers. Fresh flowers are always presented unwrapped and in odd numbers. It is the custom to bring even numbers of flowers to funerals. The gesture for wishing someone good luck (the equivalent of crossing one's fingers in the United States) is to fold the thumb inward and close the other fingers around it.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Life expectancy for Slovaks averages seventy-one years of age. The rate of infant mortality is eleven deaths for every one thousand live births. Almost everyone has access to medical care, and there is a high rate of immunization for infants during their first year.
There is a serious housing shortage in Slovakia. In 1992, approximately 80,000 people were on waiting lists for new apartments. The government plans to build 200,000 new units by the year 2000. Most city dwellers live in modest-sized apartments built during the communist era. Varied types of housing are found in rural Slovakia. These range from two-room detached dwellings to two-story apartment buildings with up to six units.
Indoor plumbing has been standard in rural areas for the past thirty years. Common building materials are concrete blocks and bricks. Most Slovak families own a car, but public transportation, including buses, trolleys, and trains, is widely used due to the high price of gasoline. There are rail links between major cities, and major highway expansion is planned.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
The most common family unit in Slovakia is the nuclear family (father, mother, and children). Extended families can still be found in rural areas, however, where houses may have extra rooms to house the family of a grown son. The average Slovak family has two or three children. Women receive paid maternity leave and a cash allowance when each child is born. Most women work outside the home (women account for 47 percent of the Slovak labor force). Women and men have equal rights under the law, including property and inheritance rights.
11 • CLOTHING
City and town people in Slovakia wear modern Western-style clothing, including business attire for work, and jeans and T-shirts for casual wear. On special occasions, peasants in the hill country still wear traditional dress. Such outfits include dark woolen suits and knitted hats for men and full skirts, aprons, blouses, and scarves for women.
12 • FOOD
The Slovak national dish is bryndzové halusky, dumplings made with potatoes, flour, water, eggs, and salt, and served with processed sheep's cheese. However, this dish is not often eaten at home. A recipe for kolác follows.
Another favorite is Kapustnics, or cabbage soup. Rezen (breaded steak) and potatoes is common. A variety of meat served with dumplings, rice, potatoes, or pasta and sauce are also regulars. Fresh fish and wild game are often served in Slovak homes. Fresh-baked bread and soup are dinnertime staples.
Favorite desserts include tortes (frosted, multilayered cakes) and kolác (rolls with nut or poppy seed filling). Dry, white wine is a popular drink, especially wine from the Male Karpaty region near Hungary. As in the Czech Republic, slivovice (plum brandy) is also popular.
13 • EDUCATION
Nearly all Slovakians are literate. Schooling is compulsory for ten years, from age six through sixteen. There is no charge to attend a university. Admission is limited and highly competitive, however. There are thirteen universities, of which the oldest is Comenius University in Bratislava.
(Dumplings with Cheese)
- 1½ pounds uncooked potatoes, grated
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- ¼ pound cooked bacon, crumbled
- Mix together grated potatoes, whole wheat flour, and salt
- Form into small, walnut-sized dumplings using a teaspoon.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil.
- Sprinkle dumplings with cold water and smooth surface. Drop into gently boiling water.
- Dumplings are done when they float to the surface. Remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon.
- Transfer to a bowl and mix with crumbled feta cheese. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and serve.
Adapted from recipe provided by Slovak Heritage Council and Cultural Society of British Columbia.
Although Slovak parents and children take education very seriously, once a year it has its comic side. Every spring, high school seniors play hooky on Wenceslas Square, dressing in pajamas to symbolize a popular lateness excuse—oversleeping. Others wrap their heads in bandages to represent toothaches, and still others make signs saying that they have stomach aches.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Slovakia is rich in folk music. The Slovaks' pride in their musical tradition is expressed in the saying Kde Slovák, tam spev (Wher-ever there is a Slovak, there is a song). Villages have amateur musical groups that perform at school graduations and harvest festivals.
Characteristic Slovak folk instruments include the bagpipes ( gajdy ), pipes (píst'ala ), and the fujara, a large shepherd's flute held vertically in front of the body. The Janosik songs are based on the exploits of a well-known folk hero. Immigrants from Romania, Germany, and Hungary have also brought their music to Slovakia. More recently, composers have been incorporating Slovak folk melodies into their works.
The Slovaks also have a strong folk-dance tradition, with dances including the Kolo, Hajduch, Verbunk, Cardas, polka, a shepherd's dance called the Odzemok, and the Chorodový, a communal women's dance. There is a major folk festival every year in July.
Until the eighteenth century, there was no attempt to establish a literary language based on the the Slovak dialects. In the early nineteenth century, literary Slovak was established and this "new" language was used by such talented poets as Andrej Sladkovic ("Marina") and Janko Kral, a poet and revolutionary. Kral's ballads, epics, and lyrics are among the most original of Slovak literature. Another famous poet was Ivan Krasko. After 1918, Slovak literature was at its peak, but during the four decades of communist rule after World War II Slovak writing underwent a general decline.
15 • WORK
Like other Eastern European countries, Slovakia became highly industrialized during the communist era. There are manufacturing jobs in steel, chemicals, glass, cement, and textiles.
In 1994, the country had an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent. This was caused mainly by the change from communism to capitalism. Employees commonly receive four weeks of paid vacation and retire between the ages of fifty-three and sixty. About 80 percent of Slovak workers belong to a labor union.
16 • SPORTS
Popular sports include soccer, tennis, skiing, and ice hockey.
17 • RECREATION
In their leisure time, Slovaks enjoy attending movies, local festivals, and cultural events. They also enjoy participating in outdoor activities including hiking, swimming, and camping. Slovakia also has over one thousand mineral and hot springs. In rural villages, men meet after work at the local bar to drink, play cards, and socialize.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Slovak artists are well known for their pottery works. They also make small porcelain figurines. Throughout Slovakia there are artists selling painted Easter eggs, cornhusk figures, hand-knit sweaters, wood carvings, walking sticks, cuckoo clocks, and toys of many varieties. Popular hobbies for women are sewing, embroidering, and lacemaking. Most embroidery work is done in the winter, and many designs have special names: the "lover's eye" or the "little widow." Sewing skills are also used for making traditional Slovak costumes. Other crafts include metalworking and woodcarving.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Slovakia is struggling with the challenges of changing from a centrally planned economy run by the government to one based on free markets. Many government-owned companies have yet to be transfered to private ownership. In addition, unemployment and inflation continue to cause economic problems.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Mikus, Joseph A. Slovakia and the Slovaks. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1977.
Momatiuk, Yva, and John Eastcott. "Slovakia's Spirit of Survival." National Geographic (January 1987): 120–146.
Palickar, Stephen Joseph. Slovakian Culture in the Light of History, Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Cambridge, Mass.: Hampshire Press, 1954.
Pollak, Janet. "Slovaks." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.
Skalnik, Carol. The Czech and Slovak Republics: Nation vs. State. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.
Embassy of Slovakia, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.slovakemb.com/, 1998.
World Travel Guide, Slovakia. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/sk/gen.html, 1998.