Should Moravians be treated as an ethnic minority?

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Czech law gives special rights to minorities who make up at least ten percent of the population of a town or village. This gives them the right to have public signs in their own language, and to use their mother tongue when dealing with government authorities. According to the last census Moravians - who live in the eastern half of the Czech Republic - are the second largest ethnic group in the country. That would give them special rights as a minority - but are they one?

In the last census taken in 2001, there were about 380 thousand people in the Czech Republic who claimed to have Moravian nationality. But unlike Poles on the Czech-Polish border, for instance, Moravians are not treated as a minority group at all. The cultural as well as language differences are very small, and most people in the Czech Republic - Bohemians and Moravians alike - would not even think of regarding Moravians as a minority group. However, the law on ethnic minorities defines them as such. And although the authorities know that the law is not observed, the Interior Ministry, which is in this case responsible for the definition of minorities, is not going to make any changes to it.

Whether Moravians should enjoy the same rights as other ethnic minorities seems more than questionable; politicians, experts and Moravians themselves are not unanimous on the matter. Also, there is no official Moravian language. It is rather a dialect which does not differ very much from Czech. I spoke with the leader of the Moravians party, Pavel Dohnal, and asked whether he thought they should be treated as a special minority.

"There's no reason for it and I think it wouldn't be justified because we Moravians consider the whole law concerning ethnic minorities to be bad. What we particularly dislike about the law is that it doesn't define Moravians as an ethnic majority, just like Bohemians. It is one of the ethic majorities in the Czech Republic. According to the law we are an ethnic minority, but we naturally do not feel like a minority in our own country!"

Many experts question the existence of Moravian nationality, but Mr Dohnal says this mainly concerns Bohemian experts, and that they have their own reasons for doing so.

"It depends on who those experts are. Experts in the Czech Republic have been working in support of some politicians who wish to suppress the promotion of Moravian identity. I can give you a practical example from Slovakia: In Slovakia they have a governmental committee for ethnic minorities. Besides the representative of the Czech minority, there is also a representative of the Moravians on that committee. And it is only logical that if there's a Moravian ethnic minority in Slovakia, there has to exist a majority somewhere. And I don't see where this majority is supposed to be, if not in the South-East of the Czech Republic, in Moravia. So, it is always a question of these would-be experts and their political view of the matter."