Meeting Slovaks from the 'Lower Land'
Dolna zem or Lower Land was the term used in the past to describe the southern regions of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In the past many Slovaks would leave home in search of a living in those regions. These expatriates may have left their homes behind but they took their culture with them.
Ethnographer Jarmila Gerbocova, explains which areas the term Dolna zem applies to:
"It is a part of Romania apart from the Bihor region. The term also includes a part of Hungary towards the Bekes Csaba village situated close to the Hungarian-Romanian border. And of course, we are speaking also about the Vojvodina region in Serbia and Montenegro."
Vojvodina ... Bekes Csaba .... Nadlak .... Kovacica ..... Well, when looking at the map of Europe one can see that Slovaks scattered all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire in their search for a better life. Their migration started about 3 centuries ago when it was hard for farmers to make a living in Slovakia's mainly hilly terrain. Mrs Gerbocova again:
"They did not leave only because of the lack of work opportunities. There were quite a few other reasons for their exodus. It was also their religion that drew them out of their homeland. The majority of the refugees followed the Lutheran tradition and faced persecution from the Catholic Church. And one of the main reasons for this migration was of course the strict Magyrisation of the 19th century's monarchy."
At the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the area of the "lower land" was devastated after Turkish dominion. After 200 years of hegemony over parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turks left the soil un-cultivated and many villages decimated. Landowners thus welcomed a new workforce coming not only from the territory of the highland - Slovakia but also from Germany, Croatia or Romania.
When listening to the flow of speech of a man from the Slovak village of Nadlak in Romania, Slovaks must feel as if he comes from the mid 19th century.
"The people leaving Upper Hungary were from villages. So the language they used is really the archaic one which can still be traced among the older and middle aged generation in the "lower land" villages today. However, the young are leaving to study abroad - even to Slovakia so they speak modern Slovak."
Jaromir Novak was born in the Romanian village of Nadlak. Today, he belongs to the young generation of Romanian Slovaks who have moved back to study and live in the country of their ancestors.
"People from this region are only interested to come back to Slovakia to work because of economic reasons. 200 years ago our predecessors came to Romania because of economic reasons and now we come back to Slovakia because the conditions for work are better here than in our home, Romania."
The number of Slovaks living in the territories of the so called "lower land" is decreasing. According to experts, there are active attempts to keep Slovak culture alive in Serbia and Montenegro. As well as a working school system and magazines published in Slovak, ex-patriots from Vojvodina can enjoy their own TV and Radio broadcasts. Ex-pats living in Hungarian enclaves remain the only exceptions. Despite Slovak schools and other institutions, the general means of communication for them remains the Hungarian language. Nevertheless, the lower land Slovaks are still proud of their origin whether coming from Romania, Serbia and Montenegro or Hungary. And as Rado Karkus from Romanian Nadlak says:
"Slovaks coming from the lower land are cheerful people, entertaining, and hard-working, we don't complain about things we don't have, we simply enjoy life as such."