Spotlight - Slovaks in the Czech Republic

18-12-2002

Ten years after the split of Czechoslovakia, there are an estimated half a million Slovaks here in the Czech Republic. To find out just why so many Slovaks choose to live, study and work in the Czech Republic, I first spoke to Marek Vozar, who is from Kosice and studies at the Prague School of Economics.

Slovak flagSlovak flag "Because the economic situation is better here, and also the living standards are higher than in Slovakia, because in Slovakia it's not as good as here."

Another reason so many Slovaks have chosen to make their homes in the Czech Republic is politics, with many people leaving the country during the rule of the autocratic former prime minister Vladimir Meciar. Marek Vozar again.

"Many of them left because of the Meciar politics, and stuff like that."

Meciar was famously not very democratic. Now the government is more democratic - do you think people might return?

"No, at least not yet. Because now there are still not so good wages…in ten years time, maybe yes."

Under a mutual agreement, Czechs can study in Slovakia for free, and vice versa. The traffic is largely one-way however, with an estimated 2,000 Slovak students here, and less than a hundred Czechs there. What's more, a lot of Slovak students don't return home when they graduate. Eva Matonokova is from Banska Bystrica, and has lived in Prague since she came here to study interpreting at the age of 18.

"Out of my Slovak friends who studied with me, in my department we had four Slovak people in my grade, and all of us stayed out of Slovakia, that's true. I came here when I was 18. When you are 18, it's that very special age where you are making friendships for the rest of your life. You complete your education in a certain place, where you already have a certain background, certain sources of not only friendship but also contacts, networking of your acquaintances, people you know, contacts for possible jobs, etc."

Eva adds that she has many more opportunities to find work as an interpretor in Prague than she would in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, which she doesn't even know very well.

"All my adult life is connected with the Czech environment. I came here very young."

So how many years have you been here?

"Ha ha ha ha ha."

Ten?

"Ha ha ha ha, many!"

Dara Rolins is a Slovak singer who lives in the Czech Republic, and says she is never going back to Slovakia. Many leading Slovak singers and other artists are based in Prague. One of them, filmmaker Fero Fenic, says that if he'd stayed at home, he'd now be working as a tractor driver. I asked student Marek Vozar whether his countrymen at home resented losing their cultural elite.

"Some of them think that it's a bad thing. But most people would think that it's OK, because it doesn't matter where you live, it depends what you create. And that is something that in Slovakia could not happen, what those people have achieved here. Because in Slovakia it's a difficult situation, and the state doesn't support culture as much as here."

Do you think it harms Slovakia that some many of your brightest, most talented people leave the country?

"Yes, and we will see in the long term that it will happen that there will be nobody talented left in Slovakia. They'll all be in the Czech Republic or the European Union or…any place."

While some Slovak artists like singer Jana Kirschner are popular in the Czech Republic, the cultural traffic, so to speak, is also largely one way, with Slovaks being exposed to far more Czech culture than vice versa. Interpreter Eva Mantonokova again.

"That's what people say mainly in western Slovakia. In central Slovakia we do not have that much opportunity to listen to Czech radio, Czech TV. I think the closer to the border the more Czech programmes and media you can…listen to. I guess, yes, you are right that the Czech presence in Slovakia, especially in western Slovakia is bigger than (the Slovak presence) in the Czech Republic, yes, maybe, yes."

Having lived the first half of her life in Slovakia and the second half here, Eva Mantonokova is in a good position to be able to compare the two nations.

"From many aspects there are loads and loads of similarities. But despite that fact I would say if you had a chance to live in both parts of the country, Czechoslovakia that is, you see quite a few, little, subtle differences. I would say Slovaks are more spontaneous. They probably still, even nowadays, tend to follow certain traditions, especially during bigger holidays, even in towns, although obviously mostly in the countryside and in the villages. I would say more than Czech people, yes."

Eva will not be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the split of Czechoslovakia, in two weeks time.

"For my family, the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993 was the moment when all of us lost our country. We were born in Czechoslovakia, we loved that country, we wanted it to stay together. We were very much against the separation of the two republics. And we all felt very sad about it. We feel very sad about the fact that when I go back to the place where I was born I have to show my passport. That's one of the main reasons why I always hold only my ID on me, so I don't go around with my passport. Because If I go to Slovakia I just feel funny to show the passport to enter the country where I was born, to go out of the country where I was born, because it was Czechoslovakia."

Eva says she loves Czech people, but I after a bit of arm-twisting I finally got her to make one criticism.

"There not the funniest nation in the world, they're certainly not the most humorous and they probably sometimes take themselves too seriously."

Do you think Czech people consider it rude when Slovaks here speak Slovak in a shop, for example?

"I wouldn't say they consider it rude. I would say that often they find it difficult to understand some words, some expressions, which make them maybe a little bit nervous about the fact that they suddenly hear a language that they don't have an opportunity to listen to regularly any more."

Back at the Prague School of Economics, I asked Marek Vozar whether Czechs ever reacted negatively to him, as a Slovak.

"Some of them do, but most of the people not. Because Slovaks are still kind of like brothers to Czechs. So it's OK. The negative reactions were like, you're coming here, stealing our jobs, and so on. Which is not true, because the jobs which are being done by Slovaks, and not only Slovaks, also Ukrainians, are not so qualified."

Are Czechs only negative about Slovaks ‘stealing their jobs'?

"No. Mostly it's nationalism, the Czech country for the Czech people, that's it."

Do you think Czech people think Slovaks as their equals?

"No. They think we are still something less, and need some help. Like we are not so good as they are. But I can see here at university that it's not true because every year there are more and more Slovaks studying here, so it's not true."

18-12-2002