Photo Essay: DiverseCity
by Marty Manor
Košice, Slovakia, is the country’s second-largest city and its rising star as the European Union has recently named it 1 of 2 “European Capitals of Culture” for 2013. The rich ethnic composition of Slovaks, Hungarians, Rusyns, Jews and Roma make Košice a singular laboratory for a study of recent historical tensions (extending to today) between the majority population and the Roma as well as between the Slovaks and the Hungarian minority.
Historically the city (and Slovakia) were under Hungarian control for roughly a thousand years leading up to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 at the end of World War I. At that time Slovaks and Czechs united to form the First Czechoslovak Republic, which lasted until 1938 when Košice was ceded back to Hungary for the duration of World War II. Approximately 12,000 of the city’s Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the war and only about 400 returned. The Soviet Red Army liberated the city in 1945 and it returned to the Czechoslovak Republic, which suffered under Communist control from 1948-1989.
Today’s Košice grapples to reconcile its diverse populations—succeeding on some levels (there is relatively little day to day friction between Slovaks and Hungarians) and failing on others (significantly, racism against the Roma). This photo essay seeks to illuminate a glimpse of the city’s color.
Gorilla Protests, Cont'd
Synagogues: This menorah is displayed in 1 of the city’s newly re-opened synagogues. Košice formerly had 5 synagogues but just 3 remain today, with only 1 renovated and functioning. This particular synagogue suffered disrepair not only under the Nazis but also when the Communists used it as storage space for the local state library. They mockingly posted the tenets of Marx and Lenin on the altar of this temple.
Dominican Church: The arresting symbol we know as a swastika (but which supposedly was an ancient religious symbol) was actually embedded in the mosaic floor of Košice’s oldest church, Dominican Church. When the city was occupied by the Nazis, a Gestapo commander came to the priests at this Roman Catholic Church and demanded to search the premises. The leading priest knew the church was hiding approximately 30-40 Jews and used the only escape measure he could think of: he pulled back the carpet to reveal the swastika-looking symbol. The Gestapo commander called off the search. Ironically the Jews were hidden in a crypt directly beneath the symbols!
Multiconfessional: Košice’s past and present also boast a rare concentration of Eastern Rite Catholics and Hungarian Reformed (Calvinist) believers. Shortly after the Second World War both groups were targets of discrimination as Slovaks deported many Hungarians from the city and the Communists liquidated the Czechoslovak Eastern Rite Catholic Church in 1950 (it was reinstated in 1968). Here you see a remarkable assembly of 4 ‘churches’ in 1 block—(from left to right) an Eastern Rite Catholic Church, Lutheran Church under construction, the city’s primary Communist administration building and thus known as the “Communist Church” along with a Roman Catholic Church.
Turkish Consulate: As with many EU countries, the issue of Turkey joining the EU is a contentious one. Many students from Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries come to Košice today to study at its universities. Here is a striking image of the Turkish flag outside its Honorary Consulate with the city’s 14th century St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral (Europe’s easternmost Gothic cathedral) in the background.
Linguistic Politics: This humorous statement (posted in the State Archive bathroom) reflects the common use of the Hungarian language in the city. (The first language shown here is Slovak, the second, Hungarian). Although public street signs are not printed in both languages, many shops and restaurants display both. Hungarians make up the largest ethnic minority in Košice with many whose families have lived here for centuries, dating back to the period of Hungarian rule.
Gorilla Protests: In early February 2012 crowds gathered in Košice and across the nation in what are known as “Gorila protests.” “Gorilla” is the name of a wiretapping operation the state security agency released in December ’11 revealing high level corruption in 2005-06 between the Prime Minister and other heads of state with the Penta Investment corporation. Here a girl protests alongside a sign, “Public against corruption,” a knock-off of the slogan used here in 1989 by anti-Communist demonstrators.
Gorilla Protests, Cont'd: All ages were represented despite below zero temperatures at the Gorilla protests.
Demonstration: A young girl demonstrates in front of the city’s landmark, St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral.
Roma: These final photos reflect life for the Roma in Košice, the second largest minority in the city and country, comprising 9.25% of Slovakia’s population according to a 2007 Amnesty International survey. Eastern Slovakia contains one of the largest concentrations of Roma in the EU.
"Lunik IX": A majority live in a ghetto known as “Lunik IX” in state-sponsored housing.
Roma Family: Here a boy and his mom smile after receiving a blanket from missionaries.
Cafe: No, these café signs don’t suggest segregated seating for “light and dark-skinned people,” but there is a shade of xenophobia in this scenario as in Slovakia (and much of East Central Europe) “dark people” are considered exotic and are therefore objects of fascination yet also discrimination.
Marty Manor is a Ph.C. in the History Department, currently conducting dissertation research abroad on a 2011-12 Mellon International Institute of Education Graduate Fellowship. Here she describes the vibrant collage of ethnicities, religions and races that make the eastern Slovak city of Košice a unique subject for her dissertation.