Data from census have confirmed that an exclusive national identity is a myth. This should also translate into the laws concerning national minorities
In the last few weeks, we have finally seen the first results of the census conducted last year(1). This census was different from the past ones in several aspects. Apart from it being conducted elctronically, it was also different because people had an option to choose more than one nationality for the first time in census history in Slovakia.
A large number of experts perceived the possibilitiy to choose multiple national identity positively even though there were critical vocies objecting to creating a hierarchy of nationalities in giving the option to choose one’s first and second nationality(2). In the end, members of minorities did not have to choose one exclusive identity when, in real life, they may feel affiliation to their own minority community, as well as to the majority community or multiple minority communities. The new methodology could thus provide a more real image of the national composition of Slovakia.
Concerns about multiple identities
Critical voices and calls for a choice of one nationality only, the minority one, were also heard from minoroties. Such an attitude was caused by concerns about potential „scattering“ of minoritiy communities stemming from the fact that it was unclear how the laws concerning national minorities will deal with the data on the second nationality. Currently, these laws only recognise the term national minority or a citizen of the Slovak Republic belonging to a national minority. Data from censuses inform the individual legal measures such as the possibility to use one’s mother tongue or to have names of municipalities in a national minority language (Act no. 184/1999 Coll. of laws on the use of national minorities languages), national education system and political participation.
Number of people with a minority identity has increased
The first results of the census show that the opportunity to report multiple national identity has resulted in the increase in the number of people who feel they belong to a national minority (officially recognised or not). In 2011, for instance, 33,482 people chose to report Ruthenian nationality as compared to 66,556 people in 2021, out of which 23,746 reported it as their first nationality. We have seen similar increase also in case of Roma, German and Jewish minorities(3).
Based on the current, but also past data from the census, it can be concluded that many people who felt an affiliation also to minority nationalities chose to report Slovak nationality in the past for different reasons (e.g. stigmatisation). Some of them may have chosen it in the name of maintaining support for minority rights even though it may not have been their „only“ identity. However, as soon as the option to report multiple national identities was intorduced, the total number of members of the individual national minorities increased in most cases because the methodology allowed people to better express their real experiencing.
We have seen a slight decrease only in case of Hungarian nationality – from 458,467 in 2011 number of Hungarians in Slovakia has decreased to 456,154 (out of which 422,065 people have chosen Hungarian nationality as their first nationality).
By and large, however, the census has shown that more than 15% of inhabitants have chosen to report a minority identity either as the first or the second one (another 6% of people have not chosen either their first or their second nationality). The image of Slovakia as a culturally homogenous country is thus significantly shattered. It is clear that a universally valid exclusive national identity is a myth. It can apply to some people, but the identity of many other people is layered and changes in time.
Conditions for the recognition of a national minority have been unclear for a long time
The census has also revealed that there are more people with affiliation to the Vietnamese community than there are members of some of the recognised national minorities – a total of 3,282 people. The Vietnamese community has lived in the terriroty of Slovakia for several decades and it is about time it got recognised as a national minority. Nevertherless, it is not clear what criteria a group of people who wish to be defined as a national minority has to meet in order for the law to recognise it.
According to the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, Slovak citizenship and an individual‘s wish to belog to a minority is a condition for recognising one’s minority rights(4). Apart from that, no other criteria such as a different language, culture or a certain number of people need to be met. In 2013, when the Vietnamese community started to enquire about the criteria it needed to meet in order to be recognised as a national minority by the state, a representative of the Office of the Plenipotentiary for National Minorities stated that the existence of an original community that has traditionally and for a long time lived in the territory of the Slovak Republic(5) was the criterion to meet, which is rather vague.
The last two oficially recognised national minorities were the Russian minority (in 2005) and the Serbian minority (in 2010). The available resources and documents show that their recognition meant they were granted the membership in the Government Committee for National Minorities based on the expert opinions developed by the Slovak Academy of Science(6). It would be beneficial if the actual cirteria were made clear as we see growing cultural diversity. It should reportedly happen with the national minorities bill that is currently being drafted by the Office of the Plenipotentiary for National Minorities(7).
What will the date mean for the rights of national minorities?
Apart from the above findings, the crucial question is how the data will be reflected in the laws related to national minorities. The information about the number of national minorities is vital for the implementation of several national minorities’ rights. The language of a national minority can be used to deal with official matters only in municipalities where at least 15% of inhabitants with permanent residence in its territory claim affiliation to a particular minority based on the data from the last two censuses(9). Which data will be taken into consideration from 2021 census? The change in perception of a national identity introduced by the 2021 census methodology should gradually translate also into legislation, so that the census data is not there only to illustrate the cultural diversity of our country without a real and positive impact on those who claim their affiliation to minorities. If it does not happen, the assimilation trends we saw in the years before the last census will continue or it will encourage nationalists inside national minorities. They will call for their members to report their affiliation exclusively to their minrotiy identity because anything else is a therat to them. This would lead to further divides in the society, which we certainly do not need now.
- For more information go to: www.scitanie.sk
- Surová, S. (2020), ´What the change in census brings in relation to minorties and data collection on nationalities´, Minority Policy in Slovakia 03/2020.
- 105,738 citizens claimed Roma nationality in 2011 and 156,164 claimed it in 2021 (with 67,179 people stating it as their first nationality). 8,573 citizens claimed German nationality, out of which 3,318 stated it was their first nationality (compared to the total of 4,690 in 2011). A significant increase has been reported also in case of Jewish nationality – from 631 in 2011 to 1,838 in 2021 (596 claimed it as their first nationality).
- Article 12 para. 3 and Article 34 of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, Act no. 460/1993 Coll. of laws as amended.
- Krempaský, J. (2013), ´The Vietnamese want to be a minority´, SME, 9th January 2013.
- Lajčáková, J. (2012), ´Definition of a minority´, in: Lajčákova, J. (Ed.), Minority Policy in Slovakia in 2011. Annual report, Bratislava, Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture; Život (2016), ´Vietnamese community in Slovakia wants to be a minority: We don’t want conflicts, we want to stay here for good´, Život, 14th February 2016.
- Hamárová, T. (2021), ´Will the Vietnamese community become a national minority?´, [fjúžn], 4th October 2021.
- Act no. 184/1999 Coll. of laws on the use of national minority languages as amended, Section 2, para 1
- Act no. 184/1999 Coll. of laws on the use of national minority languages as amended, Section 4, para. 1
Photo: JJ Ying, www.unsplash.com
This article was written thanks to a financial support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada represented by Canadian Embassy in Bratislava.