Country Listing

Czechoslovakia Table of Contents



The roughly 6 percent of the population who are neither Czech nor Slovak have had an uneven history in the postwar era (see fig. 12). The highly centralized rule of the KSC undermined the political leverage that the First Republic's multiparty politics had permitted to ethnic minorities. Beyond this, however, the sheer decrease in the German and Ukrainian populations of Czechoslovakia would have limited their influence in any event.

The events of the late 1960s brought calls for reform from ethnic minorities. The government's response was Constitutional Act No. 144 (October 1968), which defined the status of ethnic groups in Czechoslovakia and acknowledged the full political and cultural rights of legally recognized minorities. Minorities were granted the right, with state approval, to their own cultural organizations. The emphasis has been on cultural activities; minority organizations have had no right to represent their members in political affairs.

In the 1980s, Hungarians were the largest enumerated minority ethnic group. In 1984 approximately 590,000 Hungarians (concentrated in southern Slovakia) made up 11 percent of Slovakia's population. Despite significant anti-Hungarian sentiment in Slovakia, the postwar exchange of Slovaks in Hungary for Hungarians in Slovakia met with only limited success; the proportion of Hungarians in the population has changed little since 1930 (see table 4, Appendix A).

Although Hungarians were a distinct minority of the total population, they were highly visible in the border regions of Slovakia. There, Hungarians constituted nearly half the population of some districts. Furthermore, 20 percent lived in exclusively Hungarian settlements. Given Hungary's long domination of Slovakia, Hungarian-Slovak relations have not been easy; the two groups are separated by substantial linguistic and cultural differences. In 1968 some Hungarians in Slovakia called for reincorporation into Hungary. This was apparently a minority view; Hungarian Warsaw Pact troops entering Czechoslovakia in 1968 encountered as much hostility from Hungarians in Slovakia as they did from the rest of the population.

Before their relocation in 1945, Germans outnumbered Czechs in both the Krusne Hory and the Sudeten Mountains. Over 3 million Germans were included in the First Republic, constituting the largest German community in a non-German state. They were intensely pan-German and aggressively nationalistic. Their inclusion in the First Republic precipitated massive protests. Throughout the interwar period, Sudeten Germans were acutely aware of their minority status within Czechoslovakia; they found the contrast with their former preeminence galling.

The large, often unabashedly secessionist German minority ultimately proved to be the undoing of the First Republic (see Munich , ch. 1). With their expulsion, Czechoslovakia lost over one-fifth of its population. Some 165,000 Germans escaped deportation and remained scattered along the country's western border in the former Sudetenland. Through the mid-1970s, Germans represented a declining proportion of the population; younger Germans increasingly were assimilated into Czech society or emigrated to the West. Even those Germans who were not expelled after World War II were not permitted to hold Czechoslovak citizenship until 1953.

In 1968-69 Germans demanded more German-language publications and mandatory German-language instruction in areas having a substantial German minority. The 1968 Constitutional Act No. 144 recognized the Germans' legal status as an ethnic minority for the first time since World War II.

Poles (approximately 71,000 in 1984) were concentrated in the Ostrava mining region on the northern border. In addition to a large community of resident Poles, a substantial number commuted across the border from Poland to work or to take advantage of the relative abundance of Czechoslovak consumer goods. Official policies toward the Poles (resident or not) have attempted to limit their influence both in and out of the workplace. In 1969, for example, a Czech journal reported that a primarily Polish-speaking district in the Ostrava area had been gerrymandered to create two districts, each with a Czech majority.

Czechoslovak officialdom considered Polish influence in the workplace an insidious danger. The "seepage" from more liberal Polish regimes has concerned Czechoslovak communists since the 1950s, when Poles led the way in resisting increased work demands. The 1980-81 unrest in Poland exacerbated the situation (see Relations with Communist Nations , ch. 4). There were reports of strikes among the workers in the Ostrava area in late 1980.

Before World War II, Gypsies in Czechoslovakia were considered Czechoslovak citizens of Gypsy nationality. After the war, since they did not possess the properties of a nationality according to communist criteria, they were regarded by the communist regime as merely a special ethnic group. Based on this, the regime approached the matter not as a question of nationality but as a social and political question.

Eastern Slovakia had a sizable Gypsy minority. About 66 percent of the country's Gypsies lived in Slovakia in the 1980s, where they constituted about 4 percent of the population. Estimates of their exact numbers vary, but observers agree that their postwar birthrate has been phenomenal. In the early 1970s, there were approximately 200,000 to 300,000 Gypsies in the country. In 1980 estimates ranged from 250,000 to 400,000.

Gypsy intelligentsia agitated unsuccessfully for inclusion of Gypsies in the 1968 Constitutional Act No. 144, and they remained the largest unrecognized minority in Czechoslovakia. Policy makers have found them a conundrum. The Gypsy population combines continued high rates of crime and illiteracy with a cultural system that places low value on regular employment. According to Czechoslovak Life, in 1986, "the customs and thinking of the Gypsy population are somewhat different." A 1979 article in Bratislava's Pravda asserted that the crime rate among Gypsies was four times the national average. The author went on to call for "the incorporation of all Gypsy citizens of productive age to [sic] the working process" and to decry the number of Gypsies "who constantly refuse to work." A large number of Gypsies were involved in the black market.

Official policy has vacillated between forced assimilation and enforced isolation in carefully controlled settlements. The nomadic wandering integral to Gypsy culture has been illegal since 1958. Laws passed in 1965 and 1969 provided for "dispersion" of Gypsies, i.e., transferring them from areas where they were concentrated to other areas. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, assimilationist policies held clear sway. There were efforts to increase the participation of Gypsy children in preschool, kindergarten, secondary school, apprenticeship programs, and summer recreational and educational camps. There were also concerted government attempts to integrate Gypsies into the national labor force; in the early 1980s, some 90 percent of adult Gypsy males below retirement age were employed. In 1979 about 50 percent of working-age Gypsy women were employed; by 1981 this figure had risen to 74 percent.

Critics have contended that government policies verge on "genocide." They have charged that the government was taking children away from Gypsy parents and pressuring Gypsy women to undergo sterilization. The Gypsy birthrate was reportedly two and one-half to three times the national average; in the mid-1980s, it was 2.6 percent per year as opposed to 0.7 percent per year for the population as a whole.

Czechoslovakia lost most of its Ukrainian population when Carpatho-Ukraine was ceded to the Soviet Union after World War II. This had been the First Republic's poorest region, and, if Slovakia had fared badly under Hungarian domination, Carpatho-Ukraine's situation had been far worse. In the words of one historian, in 1914 the region was "little more than a Magyar deer park." Its people were wretchedly poor, having for centuries supplemented the meager living the mountainous area afforded with seasonal agricultural labor and service in the Hungarian infantry. Because of its strong cultural and linguistic links with the Ukrainians of the Soviet Union and interwar Poland, the region was a hotbed of secessionist sentiment throughout the interwar period. There were also calls for Ukrainian autonomy within the Czechoslovak Republic (see Problem of Dissatisfied Nationalities , ch. 1).

In 1983 the remaining 48,000 or so Ukrainians were clustered in north eastern Slovakia. They remained overwhelmingly agricultural; often they were private farmers scattered on small, impoverished holdings in mountainous terrain. They were generally Uniates and suffered in the 1950s and 1960s from the government's repression of that group in favor of the Orthodox Church (see Religion , this ch.).

A very small fraction of Czechoslovakia's pre-World War II Jewish community remained in the 1980s. Estimates of both the prewar and the postwar Jewish population are imprecise. Calculations based on either religious preference or the number of Yiddish speakers ignored the large numbers of assimilated Jews in Bohemia and Slovakia. Most estimates put the pre-World War II population in the neighborhood of 250,000. In 1975 Malcom Browne stated that there were some 5,000 practicing Jews remaining in Czechoslovakia, including about 1,200 in Prague, which once had a large, vibrant Jewish community dating back to the Middle Ages.

In the Czech lands, Nazi efforts to encourage anti-Semitic legislation had met with limited success until the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (see Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia , ch. 1). Bohemian Jews had been prominent members of the Czech elite, and anti-Semitism in the Czech lands had more often been directed toward Jews of the Sudetenland, who were condemned both as Germans and as "capitalist exploiters." Reinhard Heydrich, named Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia in 1941, vowed to make the region judenrein (free of Jews) within two months. Heydrich pursued the deportation and extermination of the Jewish population with a passion rare even among those most dedicated to the "final solution." On June 6, 1943, Hitler declared Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate to be judenrein. Most Czech Jews perished, along with sizable numbers of Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and Slovakia.

In Slovakia many Jews were Hungarian speakers; they identified and were identified with Hungarian domination. It mattered little that Slovak Catholic and nationalistic anti-Semitism had social and intellectual roots different from Nazi racism. Monsignor Tiso's government complied with Nazi deportation orders with little reluctance; even baptized Jews were not exempt. Eventually, in 1943, the Vatican intervened, informing Tiso in no uncertain terms that deporting Jews meant sending them to their deaths. After the Slovak National Uprising in 1944 and the Nazi occupation of Slovakia, more Jews were deported. At the time of the Soviet "liberation" of Bratislava, only about 20,000 survived.

Some anti-Jewish sentiment still existed in the 1980s. The government's vehemently anti-Israeli stance, coupled with a persistent failure to distinguish between Israelis and Jews, gave anti-Semitic attitudes continued prominence. Official denunciations of dissidents having purportedly Jewish names added a distinctly anti-Semitic flavor. One Charter 77 signer was condemned as "an international adventurer" and another, more pointedly, as "a foreigner without fatherland who was never integrated into the Czech community"--notorious euphemisms long used in anti-Jewish rhetoric. Officials alleged that the signers were under orders from "anticommunist and Zionist centers."

Data as of August 1987

Country Listing

Czechoslovakia Table of Contents