The Czech and Slovak minorities in Romania

By Per Nilson.

INLEDNING

För artiklar som helt eller delvis behandlar ämnet nationella minoriteter i SERBIEN (tjecker, slovaker) här på Kultur i öst, se: kulturiost.se; klicka därefter på "Möten med människor och platser" och slutligen på "Tema fd Jugoslavien".

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Written for Rumänska årskonferensen, Marstrand, 12-14 May 2006

Introduction

My name is Per Nilson. I am here to tell you something about the Czech and Slovak minorities in Romania. I am running a small publishing company specialized on literature from central and eastern Europe; the company has got a web site with articles on literature and culture in the eastern half of Europe. There I have published some articles on Romania. For the time being there are five articles but there will be more, I am sure. One of the articles is about the Czech villages in Romania, originally published in a Czech magazine. I have translated it into Swedish. The other article is called ”Among Germans, Czechs and Slovaks in Romania. Report from a journey in 2005”. I have written it. I have always been interested in eastern Europe. I have visited Romania four times, the first time in 1986.
I will give you some facts about the Czech and Slovak minorities. I will concentrate on the Czech minority, but will also say something about the Slovaks.

The Czech minority
-how many are there and where do they live?

Six original villages: Gernik, Rovensko, Bigr, Eibenthal, Svatá Helena, Šumice. According to the census of population made in 1992 there were – in whole Romania - 5 800 individuals regarding themselves as Czechs. According to the census made in 2002 there were 3 938 individuals. (Biggest villages are Gernik: 512 inhabitants; Svatá Helena: 507; Eibenthal: 442.) The Czech minority has decreased by 30 % in those ten years. Many people have left for the Czech Republic. Not all Czechs live in the six villages. After 1873 settlers started to move, and move even today, to towns or villages not too far away. Thus Czechs can be found in places like Moldova Nouă, Orşova, Băile Herculane, Reşiţa, Caransebeş, Bozovici, Anina-Steierdorf. According to the census in 1992 the Czechs lived in the following judeţi (counties): Caraş-Severin (3 623), Mehedinti (990), Timiş (402), Arad (218), Hunedoara (125), Bucharest (119), in other judeţi (323). According to a book published in 1999, Česká menšina v Rumunsku (The Czech minority in Romania) by Jaroslav Svoboda, the number of Czechs living in the original six Czech villages today (1999) can amount to 2300-2400.

From the middle of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th there was also another kind of immigration to Romania, that is of individuals from Bohemia and Moravia who settled in Romanian cities, for example Bucharest, Ploieşti, Cluj, Craiova, Timişoara, Arad and other. However, many of them assimilated into the Romanian culture. An exception is Bucharest where, according to the census in 1992, 119 individuals still regarded themselves as Czechs.

-history

The Czech settlement in areas that now belong to Romania was, strictly seen, not a question of emigration/ immigration but migration within the same state – the Habsburg Empire. At that time Bohemia and Moravia were parts of this Empire as well as the Banat, the area where the Czechs settled.

In 1718 the Turks had to give up the Banat and the area was taken over by the Habsburg Monarchy. The area was underpopulated and needed colonization. Now different German and Slovak speaking people came to the area. The southernmost part of the Banat, that is the area between the rivers of Nera and Danube, was very underpopulated until the beginning of the 19th century.

The first wave of Czech settlement in the area took place in the beginning of the 1820’s. In the town of Oraviţa there was a Czech – his name was Magyarly - who owned large forests and sold the timber. He needed lumberjacks, people who could fell trees. He looked for workers in Bohemia and promised them advantages – they would obtain land, be exempted from military service and taxes – if they were willing to come and work for him in the Banat. Several hundreds of people accepted his offer and went to the Banat. In 1823 Magyarly founded the two villages Svatá Alžbeta and a year later Svatá Helena. However, Magyarly did not keep the promises that he had made to his workers. These were unhappy with the situation and asked therefore to be enrolled in the military border troops.

As for the second wave of Czech settlement in the area, it was initiated by the Austrian military officials themselves. The border troops needed reinforcement. So in the years between 1827 and 1828 new Czech villages were established: Bigr, Eibenthal, Frauvizn (Polana Muierii), Rovensko, Gernik and Šumice. The number of settlers during the first and the second wave amounts to 2000. They were mainly simple farmers, crofters, and poor workmen. The reasons why they left their home were economical and social: the obligatory military service was 14 years, the financial situation in Austria was very bad. Along the so called Banatian military frontier, however, the conditions of life were better, the laws here were less strict than in other parts of the monarchy.

The Czech settlers worked hard as lumberjacks in this area characterized by thick forests and steep hillsides. They managed to make the land arable. The Czech population reached its peak before WW1. Two of the villages that I have mentioned – namely Svatá Alžbeta and Frauvizn – ceased to exist. Svatá Alžbeta in 1847 due to lack of water. Its inhabitants moved to Svatá Helena. In the 1860’s Frauvizn ceased to exist by the same reason. The inhabitants of Frauvizn founded a new village near the Romanian village Ogradena and called it New Ogradena. However, also New Ogradena ceased to exist. It happened in the 20th century when the village was inundated by the Danube.

In 1861 the Banat came under Hungarian rule (except the Banatian military frontier that was ruled by the Austrians until 1873 when it ceased to exist). In this way, the third wave of Czech settlement was initiated by the Hungarian government. This time the Czechs settled in villages with often ethnically mixed populations. For example: in 1862 Czechs settled in Clopodia (with Romanian, German, Hungarian and Serbian inhabitants); in 1863-65 in Scaius (until then only Romanian population). In 1863 Czechs settled in Peregu Mare; until then the population was made up of Rusins or Ruthenes and Germans from Niederösterreich.

During the first quarter of the 20th century Czechs emigrated from the Banat – to South America, North America, Serbia and Bulgaria. From 1947 till 1949 about a third of Romania’s Czech minority (5 000 persons) moved back to their homeland Czechoslovakia. Also many Slovaks returned. After the year 1990 hundreds of Czechs left Romania for Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. According to Jaroslav Svoboda (in his book Ceská mensina v Rumunsku, published in 1999) maybe 700-800 Czechs moved back to the homeland: from Gernik nearly 300 persons (one third of the village), Svatá Helena 200 persons (a quarter of the village).

-education, schools, culture

Schools:
The first real school was built in Eibenthal in 1848. In the other villages schools were built after 1850.
In 1873 the Banatian military frontier ceased to exist and the area came under Hungarian rule. Hungarian became the language of the administration. The Czech language was used in the Czech schools without any problems until 1907 when the schools were nationalized and Hungarian became the language of instruction. In the Banat the law was not applied until 1910. In 1914 the Czech teacher in Svatá Helena had to leave his job. The hungarian pressure could be felt in the other Czech villages, too. The Hungarian authorities didn’t like Czech names or Czech songs. During WW1 there was nearly a total lack of school instruction in some Czech villages (Rovensko, Šumice, Bigr).

In 1919 and 1920 the Czech villages came under Romanian rule. The Romanian authorities allowed the Czech as a language of instruction. Teachers from Czechoslovakia were allowed to work in the Banat.

The situation for the basic school education in 1999:

-Compulsory eight-year schools in all Czech villages except for Bigr. The school in Bigr has only four forms and after that the pupils must go to Berzasca, situated 23 kilometers from Bigr. The school in Berzasca is a boarding school.

-Only in Šumice the instruction language is Czech trough all the years, from the first till the eighth year. That school had four pupils.

-In Gernik, Svatá Helena, Rovensko and Bigr Czech is obligatory as language of instruction from the first to the fourth year.

-In these schools schools (except for Bigr) the Czech language is an optional subject three hours a week from the fifth till the eighth year.

-Only in Eibenthal the Romanian is the only language of instruction through all the eight years.

-In the 1990’s a great majority of the Czech and Romanian teachers were unqualified. The Czech government started a programme. Five Czech teachers were sent to the Czech villages. After half a year they would go home and be replaced by another five teachers. This programme should go on until year 2000.

-future

-In 1995 the Czech government decided to support the Czech villages financially: 30 million Czech crowns.

-Organizations help: Človĕk v tisní (humanitarian aid) try to help, for example the Bobbintronic factory in Gernik.

-Twin cities. The Czech twin city of Rovensko has helped to renovate the school; exchange of school children during summer holiday.

-Agrotourism – a possibility. In Brno in the Czech Republic there is a travelling agency, Kudrna, that arranges trips to the Czech villages. Their home page is: www.kudrna.cz

-Will the Czech villages survive, will this tiny minority save its culture, its language, its religion?

Problem (in 1999): the age structure after the emigration. Best situation in Svatá Helena. Worst: Šumice: among the 170 inhabitants the elderly are in majority. The school children are fewer than five.

The Slovak minority

-how many are there and where do they live?

I will say just a few words about the Slovak minority. Their number amounts to 17 226 persons according to the census made in 2002.

Most of them live in the following judeţi:

Bihor:
7 370

Arad:
5 695

Timiş:
1 908

Sălaj:
1 366

Caraş-Severin:
340

Satu Mare:
186

Other judeţi:
361

-history

The Slovak settlement started in the 18th century and intensified during the first half of the 19th century.

-education, schools, culture

A very important centre for the Slovak ethnic group is Nadlak. In this town close to the Hungarian border lived in 2002 3 844 Slovaks. Here is a gymnasium, J G Tajovský. It comprises the forms 5 to 8 of the compulsory school. It also plays an important role as a teacher training institute: it trains future Slovak and Czech teachers.

The Slovaks in Romania are very active in the cultural field. In Nadlak you find an important institution, the publishing house Ivan Krasko. It publishes each year a number of books in Slovak language, written by Slovaks in Romania, Hungary and Serbia, but also translations of works by Romanian authors into Slovak language as well as works by Czech and Slovak authors – and other nationalities – translated into Romanian.

Important Slovak writers living in Romania are, among others, Dagmar Mária Anoca and Ondrej Štefanko. Both are members of Romanian Writers’ Association.

A number of Slovak magazines are printed and appear in Nadlak, at the printing house of Vydavatelstvo Ivan Krasko:

Naše Snahy (the magazine of Demokratický Zväz Slovákov a Čechov v Rumunsku/Demokratický Svaz Slováků a Čechů v Rumunsku)

My – published by DZSCR/DSSCR for the Slovak youth

The cultural magazine Rovnobežné zrkadlá Oglinzi paralele (bilingual)

Dolnozemský Slovak (cooperation between Slovaks in Vojvodina, Romania and Hungary)

In 1990 the organization Demokratický Zväz Slovákov a Čechov v Rumunsku/ Demokratický Svaz Slováků a Čechů v Rumunsku was founded in Nadlak.

It is one of many minority associations in Romania. The organization is represented in the Romanian parliament in Bucharest. The organization also contributes financially to different cultural projects.

An important source for this summary has been Česká menšina v Rumunsku (The Czech minority in Romania) by Jaroslav Svoboda (1999); see www.banat.web.worldonline.cz. Then choose ”publikace” from the list to the left. I have also read ”Z historie českého osídlení Banátu” (From the history of the Czech colonization of the Banat), see www.kudrna.cz/galerie1/cesi1.htm. It is a summary of the chapter in Svoboda’s book that deals with the history.

Other source: O Slovákoch v Rumunsku by Ondrej Štefanko (Vydavatelstvo Ivan Krasko, 2004).