- -  Day # 315  + +

EU > Slovakia > Kosice

Hungarians and Roma

Kosice, SK (View on map)

Some voices in Slovakian polities want Slovakia for the Slovakians: a situation that is quite far from current day reality. Slovakia has a wealth of minorities, of whom Hungarians and Roma make up the biggest share. How do they seen by the Slovakians and how well do they integrate? Here`s a quick round-up of randomly collected opinions from Kosice.

Peter (18):

`I have contact with Slovakians, Hungarians and Roma and I think that the difference between them are exaggerated`
The presence of Hungarians in Slovakia is explained by a few centuries of Hungarian dominance over most of the area that now belongs to Slovakia. The size of the (Austrian-) Hungarian Empire was drastiscally reduced after World War I, which made room for the creation of the first independent republic of Czechoslovakia. Although Czech Republic and Slovakia later decided to split, the border with Hungary has so far remained where it was drawn by the Trianon Treaty in 1919.

Keeping traditions alive
The Hungarian population living in the area that changed ownership turned out to be almost as immobile as the border. They now make up a separate community within Slovakia, bravely respecting their Hungarian roots and culture, drinking more wine and less beer than the Slovaks do, and also protecting the Hungarian language. Up until today, Hungarians living in Slovakia can freely attend Hungarian schools up to and including university level. They will even receive financial support from the Hungarian state for following education in Hungarians.

Many Slovakians criticise the Hungarians for embracing their original culture with too much passion. `They want everything to be available in Hungarian`, says Lukas (30), who otherwise thinks that Hungarians and Slovakians are not that much difference. `I have many Hungarian friends. In some cases, I only found out that they were Hungarian because they told me. It`s really not such a big thing. In Kosice at least, we don`t have Hungarians who hang Hungarian flags out of their window and proclaim that the South of Slovakia should be united with Hungary again. The whole problem is created by history and politics, not by people themselves`, Lukas says.

Matej (22) think that quarrels between Slovakians and Hungarians are mainly political. `It`s stirred up by Jan Slota, the leader of the Slovak Nationalist Party. I personally don`t care about the issue at all. I have many Hungarian friends, even though I don`t speak any Hungarian myself. I speak Slovak with them, just like I do with my other friends.` Matej also thinks that Hungarians keep a low profile when it comes to everything that is not related to education in their native language. There are no separate Hungarian neighbourhoods or shops or anything. Maybe Hungarian villages along the southern border of Slovakia.`

Erika (24) tells me that Slovakians have quite some jokes about Hungarians, even though she temporarily cannot remember any of those. `We like to make fun of the accent they have when they speak Slovakian. I think Hungarian is a stupid language. It has stupid grammar and the voices of Hungarians sound like frogs. Still, Slovak sometimes copies words or expressions. We have `Gulas` here, and we use the Hungarian word Tesik for `please``.

Erika admits that apart from the language, it`s quite difficult to distinguish between Hungarians and Slovaks. `Sometimes you can tell by the name. I have a colleague named Zoltan. No need to guess where he is from. I think Slovakian girls are on average prettier than their Hungarian counterparts. For the boys, I am not sure. I hear many girls say that they prefer the look of Hungarian guys.`

Portuguese Abel (24) is in Kosice on an Erasmus exchange. He is aware of the occasional rivalry between Slovakians and Hungarians, and has also learnt to notice differences between Hungarian and Slovakian girls. `I find Slovakian girls more beautiful, but their fashion taste is not as good as that of Hungarians. The rest of what I know about Hungary is that Budapest is a beautiful city.`

Eva (24) likes to go to Hungary every now and then. `They have nicer swimming pools than we do. I think the swimming pools and spas make up the most common reason for Slovakians to travel to Hungary.`

Peter (18, photo) says that Hungarian Slovaks are a lot more likely to travel to Hungary for holidays. `I went there a lot when I was younger. My father is Hungarian, my mother Slovakian. Mixed marriages are quite common and they barely ever cause any problems. I sometimes get annoyed when my father insists to much on the fact the he is Hungaria, or that I am. Apart from that slight inconvenience, I think that my mixed background is actually an advantage. Many people speak only one language. I can switch between two without any problem. Apart from that, I am also learning English and German and I wonder why so few others do the same.`

Hungarians and Slovaks are not the only different cultural backgrounds that Peter has been exposed to. `I have also worked with gypsies on a construction site. I didn`t find them very different from Hungarians or Slovaks. Of course, some of them have quite severe problems with alcohol, drugs and the fact that they keep getting children. I have one Roma friend who is 25 years old and she has 10 children. That makes it a bit difficult for her to participate in society in the way most others do`, Peter says.

Vladimir (24) says that Roma are often thought of as a separate society next to the Slovakian one. `They even have their own language, although most of them can speak Slovak as well. I personally don`t have any bad experiences with Roma, except for a group of Roma children once stole my shoes in the swimming pool and another time my wallet. It`s hard to say who is to blame of the problems we have with Roma. Until a few years ago, people in my home village had no problems with Roma up until the moment that one local Slovak turned into a neo-nazi and collected a group of 6 followers around him. That`s when the situation started to become tense, also because the Roma share in the population rose from 200 out of 6000 to 600 out of 6000.`

`For every 2 children an average Slovakian family gets, a Roma family will have up to 10. Each of the children is a source of income until he or she reaches the age of 18. The Slovakian government offers grants from children up to that age. For many Roma, this child aid constitutes most of the money they earn. The fact that many end up in children`s homes, become unemployed or have no future does not seem to be of importance to them. I think a big share of their culture has been reinforced during communism. The communist system allowed them to be employed while doing nothing, and still get paid. Or sometimes, somebody for example needs eight good workers who only ask for small salaries. He will go to a Roma neighborhood, the Roma will fight who can get the job and the next day, the winning ones will be collected with a minibus and taken to the working site.`

Education and work
`It bet it`s hard for Roma to become accepted by Slovaks or Hungarians. The image of Roma is that of a smelly, uncivilised group of people who may be good at making music but otherwise cause more nuisance than pleasure. Hungarians have their own different schools, but Roma people don`t. They go to the same school as Slovakians, but hardly ever complete more than just primary school.`

`Lunik #9 is the name of the neighbourhood where the biggest concentration of Roma live. It`s almost like a ghetto and very few Slovakians will ever go there. They are to scared and simply have no reason to go there. The area gets quite some media attention and is oftentimes visited by EU people and other officials. The Roma living there like to complain about how bad their situation is, how nothing works and everything is on the verge of falling apart. But I have seen with my own eyes that whenever they are given new buildings to live in, it is the Roma themselves who manage to turn them into rubbish in no time. They also often mess up the electrical system whenever they try to create their own electrical infrastructure. Fortunately, the power breaks they produce remain on the outskirts of the city and do not extend to where I live.`

Martina (25) knows a couple of what she calls normal Gypsies. She explains that the best possible carreer opportunity for Roma is to become assistant to doctors. `I know one girl who does that. Roma are different people and when you explain them complicated things like health issues, it`s better for doctors to be assisted by somebody who understands the Roma background. One friend of mine is doing that job. She is Roma, but she grew up as a Slovakian and behaves like a Slovakian. Which is quite different from the glue-sniffing kids that hang around in the streets, or their parents who are also known for doing nothing and depending on the social welfare system. They are given houses to live in, they are given subsidies to attend school, but only very of them succeed when measured against Slovakian standards.`

Clear opinions
Not everybody I speak to has such a broad view on the situation. Matej (22) summarises his view on Roma in the following way: `They are smelly, dirty and lazy`. Some people elegantly add that Roma people are untrustworthy and dangerous, which is another part of the negative reputation they have. After one day in Kosice, I can confirm that many of the Roma kids hanging in the city centre smell of anything but a recent shower. Grown-ups are not much better although they are selling magazines instead of begging money from tourists. I suspect that the Roma who do reach some degree of success in society remain largely invisible. The most unsuccessful ones hang around on the city`s most frequented squares, undeliberately but effectively nourishing all negative stereotypes that Slovaks have about their community.

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