Servika Roma (Slovak Roma, kherutne/domaca Roma)

The term Servika comes from the words "Serbika", "Serbos", "Serbija". The Roma in Slovakia were so called because they came from Serbia. Some old Roma still know this term. The majority of Servika Roma in Slovakia now call themselves Slovak Roma or Kherutne (house dwellers) because some families had already begun to settle there in the sixteenth century. Noble owners of the Spišsky castle used "Gypsies" as "runners": on hunts the Roma would beat the game out of the woods for the hunters. At the same time, the Roma were required to gather wood, mushrooms, herbs and fruits in the forest for use at the castle. In the course of time, more and more Roma families settled in Slovakia. It is possible to say that Servika Roma have been settled for three or four centuries.

In 1893, civic authorities in Hungary - at that time Slovakia was administered by the Hungarian government – took an extensive census of "Gypsies": it turned out that, at that time, 36,231 Roma lived in Slovakia. Of them only 608 were nomadic . Thus, 35,623 lived in homes.

According to the Hungarian census, 4,597 Roma families made their living through metalwork; 4,075 through music; 1,817 through the production of adobe brick; 1,079 through string and brush making; other families made baskets and brooms; 509 women were embroideresses and lace makers. Servika Roma worked in fields for farmers or on the roads. Some were traders. It is clear that the absolute majority of Slovak Roma lived honestly.

At the end of the 19th century, some Roma emigrated to America, along with poor Slovak Gadže. For the most part, they still live in Chicago. Some got rich and returned home. After the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved and, in 1918, an independent Czechoslovak Republic was created. In those days, new opportunities opened up. Some Roma clans – mostly those who had become rich in America – began to trade in pigs. Three or four rich trader settlements arose around Prešov in eastern Slovakia. Roma traders bought up pigs from farmers, herded them to Prešov, where Czech traders took them to Prague and elsewhere in Bohemia. Roma traders lived in houses with brick walls at a time when even most farmers lived in houses made of adobi brick. They even had autos and trucks, which at that time seemed like a miracle in a Slovak village.

We can say that, at that time, more than one Rom received a higher education. There were Roma teachers, engineers, etc. - but we don't know about most of them because others ceased thinking of them as "Gypsies".

In 1939, Nazi maneuvering partitioned the Czechoslovak republic, and an independent Slovak republic was created. Unlike their counterparts in the other European states which were occupied or controlled by Nazi Germany, the Roma of Slovakia were not victims of genocide, even if they were persecuted and discriminated against by such treatment as removal to work camps; resettlement of "Gypsies" from villages; prohibition from entering cities, etc. The authorities separated Roma into "Gypsies" and "Gypsy-Slovaks". Those whom they considered to be Slovaks were better off. When the Slovaks rose up against fascism (August 29, 1944), many Roma fought with them. And when, in August 1944, the Nazi army invaded Slovakia and suppressed the uprising, many Roma remained in the partisan movement. Toward the end of the war, the Nazis prepared genocide for the Roma, but, thank God, the war ended before the plans for genocide were implemented.

In 1945, the Czech lands (Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia) were reunited with Slovakia to form the Czechoslovak Republic. The president at the time, Edvard Beneš, decreed that all Germans (ca. 3,500,000 people) must vacate Czechoslovakia. The extensive borderlands were depopulated. At the time, Czech "náboráří" (recruiters) went to Slovakia and lured people to work and live in the depopulated lands of Bohemia. Many Roma came. One can say that Roma who today live in the Czech Republic are descendents of those who came from Slovakia after the war. They are Servika, Ungrika and Vlach (Sinti and Czech Roma). "Czechs" were exterminated during the war; about 600 out of approximately 6,000 survived.) About one third of the Roma who lived in Slovakia until the end of the war gradually came to Bohemia, where they have been settled for four or five generations.

Under communism, the Roma were hit with harsh assimilation policies. The communists forbade the Roma from speaking Romani and they suppressed Roma culture. They tried to tear families apart; they took children off to "children's homes". Anyone who was unemployed was harassed and very often sent to prison. On the other hand, Roma became gradually accustomed to gadžikaňi buťi (Gadže work) in factories and on construction sites. Roma diggers dug the Prague metro.

After 1968's "Prague Spring" (attempt at political reform), an independent Roma organisation, the Union of Gypsies and Roma (SCR, 1969-1973) was formed. In its four years of existence, the Union raised the level of Roma culture. [Emancipatory activities on an international level] The SCR published "Romano ľil", in which there appeared first verses, short stories and articles in Serviko Romani.

A linguistic committee developed spelling rules - actually for the "Slovak"Romani (Serviko) dialect. [Roma encyclopedia and Standardised Writing] With the August 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of its ally Czechoslovakia, the Communists again took politics into their own hands, dissolved the SCR, and once more attempted to assimilate the Roma. In November 1989 came the "Velvet Revolution": the people overthrew the Communist regime. Officially, anti-Roma policies were nullified. The road to politics was opened to the Roma. Many Roma organisations were formed. On the very second day of the revolution, Roma founded their first political party, ROI (Civic Roma Initiative), whose founders were Dr. Emil Ščuka, today the president of the IRU (International Romani Union) and Jan Rusenko (who emigrated to Belgium in 1996). Until 1992, there were eleven (!) Roma members of Parliament. Naturally, the democracy opened possibilities for extremists - skinheads, who physically attacked and murdered Roma. We do not know the exact number of victims, but at least 50 Roma have been murdered. [Racism and human rights] The social situation of the Roma has worsened rapidly. Unemployment is high; there is not enough work not only for Roma, but even for Gadže. On the other hand, social differentiation among the Roma has grown. More than one Rom has become a successful businessman.

Fear of skinheads, in a nation, which has not been able to protect its Roma minority sufficiently, and their own economic plight have caused many Roma to emigrate to western lands: Canada, Belgium, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand. The Czech Republic is losing its best Roma: Roma writers (Margita Reiznerová and František Demeter are in Belgium; Ilona Ferková is in England; Malvina Lolová is in Australia), and also other important Roma personalities.

At the end of 1992, Czechoslovakia was once again divided into two nations, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The government passed a law about "national citizenship", which discriminated against the Roma. It was an attempt to push out to Slovakia even people who had never in their lives been there and whose parents may also have been born in Bohemia. Therefore, many Servika (Slovak) Roma have begun to insist: "We are not "Slovak", but "Czech Roma"" – even though they speak "Slovak"Romani. For this reason they have returned to the old term: Servika Roma.

Serviko (Slovak) Romani is ancient. Original Indian words and grammatical constructions are still preserved in the language of old Roma. Since Servika Roma have been living in one place (Slovakia) for three or four centuries, most "Slovak"Romani is spoken in Slovakia. However, this dialect extends to the west of the Ukraine and to the south of Poland. Postwar migrants brought Roma to Bohemia and Moravia. If Servika emigrant Roma do not stop speaking their mother tongue, it is possible that it will be spread to the lands to which they have emigrated.

Just as with every tongue which is not yet standardised, "Slovak"Romani has several dialects: "Eastern", which is spoken in eastern Slovakia; "Western", which is spoken in the west. In the east, there are two main dialects: the "Humenné" and the "Prešov" regional varieties, and a few additional local dialects. In the south, the language is influenced by Hungarian and so, in Serviko Romani, we find Hungarian elements. But undoubtedly all Servika Roma understand each other, no matter which dialect they speak.

After the "Velvet Revolution", the road to publication was opened to Roma writers. In only two years after the revolution, more Romani books were published than in the previous 800 years during which Roma have lived in the Czech lands and Slovakia. There were new newspapers and magazines, but each issue usually had only three or four contributions in Romani and the rest in other languages.

Speakers of the Serviko Romani dialect wrote the most. More and more Roma are trying to put their feelings and opinions on paper. Among the outstanding writers belong: Ilona Lacková (1921), Tera Fabiánová (1930), Jozef Fečo (1940), Andrej Giňa (1936), Vlado Oláh, PhD. (1949), Vojta Fabián (1949), František Demeter (1948), Margita Reiznerová (1945), Ilona Ferková (1955), Ján Horváth (1959), the late Andrej Pešta (1921), Helena Červeňáková-Laliková (1963), and others. They all write in Serviko Romani dialect (except Helena Červeňáková-Laliková, who expresses herself in a specific dialect called Roštár. This dialect, which is a mixture of Slovak and Hungarian dialects, is spoken by Roma in several villages around Rožňava, Slovakia.

Image Printable version
Image The author Tera Fabianová with her family (Slovakia)
The author Elena Lacková (Slovakia)
Jakubovany (Slovakia), 2001
Jarovnice (Slovakia), 2001