SLOVAK IN AUSTRIA
29-05-1998
http://www.uoc.es/euromosaic/web/document/eslovac/an/i1/i1.html
Research Centre of Wales
Version française
SLOVAK IN AUSTRIA

1. General information on the language community

1.1 Linguistic, geographic and economic description

It is necessary to recognise that the question concerning language group membership in the Austrian decennial census pertains to the language used in everyday life. This question demands considerable interpretation on the part of the respondent. Other cases in Austria indicate that within this interpretative context there are those who are fluent in the minority language and use it daily but conceive of 'everyday life' as pertaining to interaction outside of the home which tends to be dominated by German. Thus the figure of 1,015 given for Slovak-speakers must be treated with care. Of this number 619 live in Vienna. Not only must we be aware of Slovak-speakers who do not respond to the census question by reference to Slovak, but also the relatively large increase in the number of Slovaks who have recently entered the Austrian labour market, mainly in Vienna. Many of these commute on a daily basis from Bratislava. Thus the empirical figures can be misleading.

Within Vienna, Slovak-speakers can be found in all of the 23 urban districts indicating that a concentration of the language group does not exist within the city. Outside of Vienna there is again a wide spatial dispersal with something of a tendency for them to congregate in Upper Austria and Styria. Of the 2,120 who claim to use Slovak as the everyday language in the 1991 census only 1,015 were Austrian citizens. Of the 1,645 living in Vienna and Lower Austria only 835 were Austrian citizens indicating even at this time the relatively high incidence of cross frontier movement.

1.2 General history of the region and the language group

The Slovaks have a long history of settlement within what are today the borders of the Austrian state. Between the 5th and 9th centuries AD they controlled the eastern edge of Lower Austria and this has remained the main location of concentration of Slovak-speakers. As the demographic data indicates most of them now live within Vienna where they can be found widely dispersed within the city. However it is difficult to separate the Slovaks from the Czechs in the official literature. Thus it is claimed that between 1880 and 1890 about 230,000 Czechs and Slovaks moved to Vienna, most of them as construction workers. Inevitably this was the period of major immigration for the Slovaks but the period after the two World Wars and the recent shift in political regime have also been demographically momentous. Indeed, there was substantial return emigration after the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. In 1900 it is estimated that there were 70,000 Slovak-speakers living in what is now Austria, mainly in Vienna and Marchfeld. By 1914 this number had dropped to 20,000.

The creation of Czecho-Slovakia in 1918, following the break-up of the Haubsburg Empire, led many to leave Austria to be part of the new independent state. By 1923 fewer than 5,000 Slovak-speakers lived on Austrian territory.

1.3 Legal status and official policies

The Slovaks are subject to the same conditions as other language groups within Austria. Most of these legal conditions pertain to the Treaties of St. German and Brno and the Austrian Ethnic Groups Act of 1976. It recognises them as an autochthonous ethnic group. These legal concessions grant equality and the freedom to use the Slovak language within different contexts, often subject to self-financing by the language group. Since public funding often depends upon the size of the group the small size of the Slovenes is prohibitive. Article 7 of the Vienna State Treaty of 1955 made no mention of the Slovak language group.

2. Presence and use of the language in various fields

2.1 Education

The 1920 Treaty of Brno between Austria and Czechoslovakia allowed the possibility of establishing Slovak as a medium of public education. It focuses exclusively upon Vienna. At the kindergarten level they have produced a music preparatory kindergarten taught by trained music teachers. Attempts to develop a more orthodox kindergarten has proved impossible because of the dispersed nature of the limited population. There is a Czech Komensky school available but this is not supported by the Slovak-speakers, despite the close proximity of the two languages. The Association has set up the structure for voluntary language classes for children currently being attended by two groups of nine pupils. The funding of this activity has recently being assumed by the Vienna school board. At the higher level the business secondary school in Vienna, the Viennese University of Business and Commerce, the University of Vienna and the Volkhochschule all offer training in Slovak. This is likely to expand as commercial links with Slovakia increase.

Discussions are under way to establish and International Ethnic Group Secondary School in Vienna. In effect this would be a bilingual school with one or other of the minority languages in Austria being taught side by side with German. It is conceivable that Slovak could be included but there is doubt about the level of demand.

2.2 Judicial authorities

The relatively small size of the language group means that the state is not obliged to make the same provision as they do for other language groups within the state. Czech-speakers can use the right granted to those unable to speak German.

2.3 Public authorities and services

Again the small size of the language group manifests against receiving public service provision through the medium of Slovak.

2.4 Mass media and information technology

The internal media organ produced by the Slovaks is the Pohl'ady bulletin which appears four times a year and has a circulation of 1,200. The language is Slovak but also contains some German language items. of course the interaction with Slovakia does provide an avenue for receiving publications and radio and television materials. However the difference of context does not make this as relevant as may seem since contact with Slovakia between 1948 and 1989 was minimal.

2.5 The Arts

As part of the activities of the language group there is a strong emphasis upon choral and folk dancing activities which symbolically convey their distinctiveness. These are sometimes organised by the Association but there is also a degree of spontaneity about such activities and it is this which serves as the basis for the networking which operationalises the social component of the group. there is also a library run by the Association. To an extent this serves as meeting point for some but the focus upon 19th century archives is something of a deterrent in this respect. Most importantly perhaps is the increasing tendency to hold concerts by artists from Slovakia.

2.7 Family and social use of the language

The comparison of the German and Slovak language groups suggests that the distinction between them is limited. if anything the Slovaks are a younger population:

AGE German LG Slovak LG
0-19 20.6% 23.7%
20-39 29.7% 30.4%
40-59 26.6% 28.2%
60-79 19.2% 14.7%
80+ 4.9% 3.0%

This suggests that, given the limited immigration from Slovakia of people who achieved Austrian citizenship, there has been a fairly successful degree of language reproduction through the family.

The data on education suggests that the Slovaks have a higher degree of educational attainment:

EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT GERMAN LG SLOVAK LG
Higher education 5.7% 25.2%
Vocational schools 5.3% 10.9%
Secondary schools 6.3% 16.3%
Vocational schools 13.0% 9.5%
Apprenticeships 33.9% 14.1%
Mandatory education only 35.8% 24.0%

This is compatible with the impression of this language group as consisting of professionals who left their homeland for political reasons, who have retained their social position within the new alignment of the Austrian state, and who have retained the combined transmission of economic status through education with the reproduction of the language to a greater extent than would otherwise be expected. The social networks which are the focus of much of the activity of the language group also serve economic purposes.

Unlike the Slovenes in Carinthia there is no organised political involvement among the Slovaks. Following the gaining of power by the Communists Party in Czechoslovakia in 1948 there was an ideological split among the Czechs and Slovaks in Austria. Those who supported the new regime in the homeland formed the Union of Czechs and Slovaks in Austria. However the majority joined the Minority Council of the Czech and Slovak Ethnic Group in Austria. On the other hand the Austrian-Slovak Cultural Association is a voluntary organisation which was founded as recently as 1983 and relates to a much older context, that of the Slovak Cultural Associations found in Vienna and Linz during the 19th century. Among the young there is the Junak-Skaut federation. Religion is also a central organising force for Slovak-speakers.

The relatively small number of Slovak-speakers has proved something of a hindrance for organisation since acknowledgement by the Austrian authorities partly depends upon group size. Indeed they were only recognised as an 'ethnic' group in 1992 when the 1977 Ethnic Group Act was amended to include them. Consequently the Volksgruppenbeirat for the Slovaks was established in 1993. These developments avails them of the relevant state subsidies. In the case of the Slovaks most of these funds go towards paying the running costs of the Austrian-Slovak Cultural Association, but are insufficient to pay all of these costs. In addition cultural activities which they organise can receive support from the city authorities in Vienna. In 1995 the Slovaks received a total of 1,100,000 Austrian schillings (approx. ECU 80 000) in such subsidies.

2.8 Transnational exchanges

Between 1948 and 1989 contact with what is now Slovakia was limited. This was partly because many members of the language group saw themselves as refugees from the ruling political system. Of course there remained some kinship links with the homeland. The recent political changes have afforded an opportunity to refocus the relationship and there is a considerably enhanced degree of cultural collaboration and a reactivation of kinship links. There is also a certain degree of economic interaction which is of advantage to both language groups.

3. Conclusion

The Slovaks are a relatively small language group which consists of a population which has moved into Austria from the homeland during different periods and the descendants of Slovak-speakers who had a longer residence in the area. In this respect it is not entirely clear on what grounds they are to be treated as an autochthonous language group as it is ascribed in Austrian law. This should not be surprising given the various changes in political-territorial contexts of the region in recent centuries.

It is also difficult to conceive of such a small population by reference to an existence as a social group rather than as a series of individuals which constitute social networks and which operate on the basis of such networking. Nonetheless there is a degree of social organisation that does support the social networks.

[Top of page]

©Euromosaic