German [Deutsch] is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European family. Different varieties of German are spoken in Slovakia. The pre-war generation as well as the generation born immediately after the war still spoke German dialects of Austrian, Bavarian and Central German origins. The German standard language was directly taught to the latter only in exceptional cases, but some members of this generation acquired knowledge of the standard language at university and/or through stays in the German language area. The German dialects of the post-war generation contain much more Slovakisms than was the case for the oldest generation. The German language spoken in Slovakia contains, for example, Bohemisms which were typical of the Pressburg dialect. In the Spis, the German language was influenced by the Polish dialects spoken in that region.
The end of the 12th century marks the beginning of the German colonisation of the territories of today’s SR (at that time territories of Upper Hungary). The settlers came mostly from the German middle-eastern and southern regions as well as from Silesia. They settled in three main areas: Bratislava [Pressburg], the West Carpathian mining regions and the so-called Spis region with its centres of Kežmarok [Kesmark] and Gelnica [Göllnitz]. The peak of German settlement in current Slovakia was reached in the 15th century, the number of German speakers being 200,000-250,000 (approx. 25% of the total population). At this point, German became the second official language of former Upper Hungary. Due to Slovakisation and Magyarisation in the 16th century however, its influence gradually decreased. Until Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, the Germans in Slovakia were part of the 2 million Hungarian Germans. After World War II, the situation of the German speakers in Czechoslovakia changed completely. As a result of the Beneš decrees more than 3 million Germans were expelled.
In the 2001 census, 5,405 persons stated German as their nationality. The number of German native speakers was slightly higher (6,343). Since the 15th–16th century, the number of German speakers in the territory of today’s Slovakia has been gradually decreasing. In 1880 there were still 318,794 (12.8%) German speakers in Slovakia, in 1921 after the First World War 145,844 (4.9%) and after their expulsion in 1945 their numbers dropped below 1%. Since the 1960s their number, compared to the total population has remained relatively stable at 0.1%, that is approx. 5,000 persons. As to reproduction, the age structure of the German minority is however unfavourable as the over 65 years old German speakers outweigh the younger generation which is strongly ‘slovakised’.
The German speakers in Slovakia still live in parts of their original settlements.
The strongest concentration can be noted in the regions of Bratislava and Košice where more than 50% of the German speakers in Slovakia live. The others are dispersed all over the SR. Besides Slovakia, Carpathian Germans live in Austria and Germany as well as in North America.
Due to the heterogeneous religious (Bratislava, South-West and Central Slovakia: Roman Catholic; Spis: Protestant-Lutheran) and linguistic (vernacular) origins of the German minority, there was no strong notion of national identity within this minority in Slovakia after Czechoslovakia was founded. In addition, there were only sparse contacts because of the geographical distance. Although contacts with the more politicised Sudeten Germans strengthened in the 1920s, the development of a German educational system for example was largely borne by the Sudeten Germans.
In post-war Czechoslovakia the remaining German speakers were politically discriminated against. Not only were they disappropriated but German speakers in Czechoslovakia were also, especially shortly after the war, socially excluded. For many this meant a loss and denial of their identity and finally led to a language change. For example, Germans did not obtain Czechoslovak citizenship until 1953 and were acknowledged as minority as late as 1968. Compared to the German speakers in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia, the German minority in the Slovak part seldom used the possibilities of cultural gatherings. Since 1989 more attention has been paid to the issue of the German minority in Slovakia as now it is also supported by the state. Since 1995 the German speakers in Slovakia have been included in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The act on the use of minority languages (1999) also applies to the German language minority which reaches the 20% barrier in the town of Krahule (German: Blaufluß) with 150 inhabitants. If the barrier were lowered, to e.g. 10%, seven other towns would fall under the act.
The right to education in German language can be derived from the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Slovak Constitution. According to the chairman of the Carpathian German Society the change in 1989 also marked a new beginning for the educational system. German and bilingual schools and nurseries were established. According to Eurydice there was one German primary school in Slovakia during the school year 2002/2003. Moreover, there are five primary schools where all subjects are taught in Slovak except for German which is taught as a native language. In spring 2004 negotiations were held between representatives of the Carpathian German Society and the Slovak Ministry of Education in order to include the above-mentioned school in the network of minority schools under joint administration. Furthermore, there are discussions on the possibility of establishing bilingual classes at two grammar schools in Bratislava. Of the approx. 600,000 pupils attending the first to the ninth year in Slovakia approx. 340,000 learn German. In total, 10% of pupils in primary schools and 51% in secondary schools learnt German as a foreign language in the school year 1999/2000 which makes it the second foreign language in schools after English. German language and literature studies are offered by several universities in Slovakia: the Comenius University Bratislava, the Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, the University of Trnava, the University of Prešov and the University of Nitra. In addition, German is taught at the Technical University of Košice and the Cyril and Methodius University in Trnava.
The Slovak Constitution allows German to be used in legal proceedings as a minority language. However, Slovak is preferred in contacts with authorities. An exception might be municipalities with a larger number of German speakers (vernacular speakers) where German is also used in public.
The statements under 2.2 also apply for contacts with public authorities. Due to the 20% barrier of the language act German can only be used at local authorities in the village of Krahule [Blaufluß] where about a quarter of the 150 inhabitants speak German. Here, the street signs are also bilingual.
In 2000 the Slovak public television broadcast 1.9 hours of German programmes and the Slovak radio 0.5 hours. The Committee for National Minorities founded in January 1999 in Košice is responsible for TV programmes in minority languages on Slovak television. Austrian and German TV and radio stations are also available. The German speaking Slovaks have their own monthly German periodical – the Karpatenblatt (16 pages) – which is published by the Carpathian German Society. It is also available on the internet. German and Austrian newspapers are also sold in the SR. In 2000 the German language periodicals in Slovakia received SKK 800,000 from the Slovak Ministry of Culture. A newspaper called Karpatenpost is published in Germany and basically contains information on the Carpathian German culture, different events, family and church news. The presence of the German minority on the internet is limited. The Carpathian German Society has a website which roughly informs about the Carpathian Germans and different current topics, the Carpathian German youth organisation IkeJA-KDJ and the Carpathian German Association. It also contains links to the Karpatenblatt and the Carpathian German Museum Bratislava.
The Museum der Kultur der Karpatendeutschen was founded in 1997 in Bratislava as a part of the Slovak National Museum. It aims at preserving and collecting items of Carpathian German material and intellectual culture and publishes the series Acta Carpatho-Germanica of which nine volumes already exist. The German speaking minority in the SR keeps its folk culture alive. Each year there are several folk festivals, since 1996, for example, there has been a yearly festival for culture and encounters in Kežmarok. The local groups and encounter centres of the Carpathian German Society have many singing and dancing ensembles. The editors of the Carpathian German working group annually publish the Karpatenjahrbuch (200-250 pages) which mainly consists of Carpathian German history as well as stories and anecdotes. In 2000 German cultural activities were financially supported with SKK 1,267,500 out of public funds of the Slovak Ministry of Culture.
In the beginning, the German minority in Slovakia worked in about the same professions as the total population. In the West Carpathian regions they mainly worked in mining. However, even before the Second World War a distinction became clear in comparison with the Slovak speaking population: German speakers (57.6%) worked to a larger extent than Slovaks (18.8%) in industry and trade whereas more Slovaks worked in agriculture (57.6%) than Germans (29.2%). The latest statistics date back to the 1970s when Juraj Valiska (1980, 1982) collected some social statistics while studying old vernaculars. At that time, nearly half of the German speaking population was in retirement (2,320). The active population basically consisted of employees (1,290) and workers (690). More recent data on the occupational and economic structure of the German minority unfortunately do not exist.
In 1990 the Carpathian German Society was founded. It is situated in Košice and has approx. 4,500 members in 32 local groups in five regions: Bratislava, Hauerland (Central Slovakia), Upper Spis, Lower Spis and Bodwa-valley. Its aims are the promotion of the German culture, the revitalisation of the German language and the support of youth activities of the German minority in Slovakia. The society also publishes the Karpatenblatt and German fine literature, technical literature and periodicals. The Carpathian German Society has a youth organisation – IkeJA-KDJ – which was founded in February 2004 after the interest group of the youth (IkeJA: International contacts – Youth Work) and the youth of the Carpathian German Society (KDJ) united into one organisation.
In order to better manage support measures from Germany for the German minority in the SR the Karpatendeutsche Stiftung was founded in 1993 and was transformed in November 1997 into a civil association called Karpatendeutsche Assoziation based in Košice. The support measures mainly consist of economic aid for small and medium sized private companies in the Carpathian German region. In this context, a total of SKK 107 million was allocated to 274 companies between 1993 and 2001. There are Karpatendeutsche Landsmannschaften in Germany as well as in Austria. In Germany there is also the Hilfsbund Karpatendeutscher Katholiken, the Hilfskomitee für die Evangelisch-Lutherischen Slowakeideutschen, Karpatendeutsches Kulturwerk Slowakei as well as the editorial office of the Karpatenpost and the Karpatenjahrbuches.
In the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which Slovakia ratified on 14 September 1995, the German minority is one of 11 minorities mentioned. Slovakia also ratified all three parts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages for the German language. The legal framework for cultural relations is the German-Slovak cultural cooperation agreement signed in May 1997. In this context, the German government supported cultural and community building activities of the German minority in Slovakia. The Carpathian Germans act as a link within the German-Slovak relationship.
German is mostly used by the German speaking minority within the family. Although the German minority still suffers from an ageing population, the new interest especially in German speaking schools can be regarded as positive for the reproduction of the German language in Slovakia. Even if the majority of pupils at bilingual schools are not from German families they obtain a high, native-speaker-like proficiency in German by attending those schools. It remains to be seen, though, how teachers will manage to get across not only the German but also the Carpathian/Slovak-German culture. This seems to be necessary in order to preserve the particularities of the German culture in Slovakia and the sense of identity attached to it.