Slovaks on display. Otherness of the 'Eastern brothers' at the czechoslavic ethnographic exhibition in Prague 1895
Akademiai Kiado Rt.
This paper is devoted to how the Slovaks were staged, encountered and recognized by the Czechs at the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition organized in Prague in 1895. The Slovaks, living during the last period of the Hungarian Kingdom, were perceived by the Czechs as an ostensibly familiar collective of 'Slavic relatives.' The less the Czech urban society in the last decades of the 19th century kept its ties with the slowly, but inevitably modernized countryside, the more the picture of the 'Czechoslavic' imagined community required a different area for placing its 'native cottages' into. In reconceptualizing the modern Czech 'geography of knowledge', even the most notable Czech specialists in Slavic studies have adopted the notion that Slovaks were in fact an 'eastern branch' of the 'Czechoslavic people settled in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia as well as the Northwest of Hungary'. Consequently, the idea of an ethnocentric, 'national' exhibition needed a demonstrative extension of the 'Czech territory' on to the East. To achieve a public demonstration of the idea, the later renowned architect Dušan Jurkovič invited a small group of people from the Trenčín and Zvolen/Detva regions to act as 'Slovaks' at the exhibition and so they did, wearing 'typical' folk costumes, singing and dancing in a peculiar style. They were viewed as a strangely exotic 'Slovak colony' by visitors and Czech journalists alike. The public response to the show only reinforced the petrification of the Czech collective stereotype of the 'Slovak people' as an underdeveloped poor community, 'unspoiled' by 'western' civilization, yet still resisting Hungarization. This ingrained discourse of 'otherness' survived among most of the Czechs until the establishment of the Czechoslovak republic in 1918, resulting in a growing wave of mutual misunderstandings.
Czechoslavic Ethnographical Exhibition 1895, Czechoslovakism, Dušan Jurkovič, Geography of Knowledge, Groupness, Otherness, Slovak ethnology