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SZALO HAMAR The Formation of Ethnic Minority Identities

SZALO HAMAR The Formation of Ethnic Minority Identities

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Published by: cszalo on Jul 01, 2009
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Szaló, Csaba, Hamar Eleonóra. 2006. „The Formation of Ethnic MinorityIdentities and their Social Inclusion“ Tomáš Sirovátka et al.
The Challengeof Social Inclusion: Minorities and Marginalized Groups in CzechSociety.
Brno: Barrister and Principal. pp. 245-266. ISBN 80-87029-06-2
“Czech society”, or, more precisely, society located in the territory currently governed by the Czech state, is multiethnic, multireligious and multilingual inits character. This is a result not (only) of contemporary social processes likeglobalisation and trans-regional migration, but also, from a historical point of view, of the ethnic composition of local inhabitants in Czech towns and villages which was always diverse, in spite of the many nationalist movementsand dramatic historical changes in the last century. For example, although asignificant part of local Jewish and Roma populations was forced into exileor exterminated by the Nazi regime during the Second World War, anda vast majority of German population was displaced from the territory of the re-established Czechoslovakia in the immediate post-war period, Czechsociety did not lose its multiethnic character completely.In contemporary Czech society there are a number of discourses andinstitutions that claim to represent different ethnic collectivities. Officialgovernment statistics (e.g. censuses) highlight the large number of non-Czech nationals living within the Czech Republic. Quite significantly, aGovernmental Council for National Minorities (
Rada vlády pro národnostní menšiny 
) was established in order to deal with issues related to ethnicminority groups in Czech society. There are several civic associations that cultivate and preserve their members’ ethnic identity such as the Hungarianand Bulgarian clubs (for a list of institutions and civil associations relatedto ethnic minorities living in Czech society see appendix). There are many newspapers and journals published in languages other than Czech, e.g.Slovak
or Russian
Russkaja Čechija 
(for a list of periodicals related toethnic minorities living in Czech society see appendix). There are stores with books, music and food such as Russian
Ruský salón 
in Prague and
Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar 
Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar 
 Vietnamese ethnic markets for customers of the given ethnic identities.Finally, we can mention specific ethno-economic institutions such as small Arab exchange offices, Vietnamese and Chinese buffets with beer andnoodles and networks of so-called “clients” co-ordinating thousands of semi-legal Ukrainian construction workers.The above mentioned discourses and institutions do not only demonstratethe existence of various ethnic collectivities but, at the same time, reinforcethe ethnic identity of persons who make use of them. It is from thisperspective that we will focus here on the formation of social identities of minority groups in the ethnically diverse social space of the Czech Republic.Rather than concentrating on the demographic description of ethnically defined groups and populations we will instead map the role theseinstitutions and discourses play in the processes of ethnic identity formation(Brubaker 1996).
We will focus on the practical constitution of ethnicity asa constitutive element of ethnic identities.First, terminology should be clarified. In this text, we use the term“ethnic identity” as a
category of analysis 
(Brubaker 1992). We apply thiscategory in order to understand how identities are formed by institutionsand discourses which represent ethnic groups, minorities, and nations.Ethnic identities – similarly to religious or sub-cultural identities – can bedefined as specific forms of social identities which
persons as elementsof specific
(Schutz, Luckmann 1973; Berger, Luckmann 1967).Consequently, we treat terms such as “ethnic group”, “minority” and“nation” as
categories of practice 
. From the sociological point of  view these practical categories representing differences and distinctionsare not acceptable as interpretative, analytical categories for sociologicalunderstanding (Bourdieu 1992; Bourdieu, Wacquant 1992). Being usually codified in political and public discourses, as well as in common sense, they should be treated rather as signs of power relationships than as adequatedescriptions of social reality.
1The social reality of these institutions and discourses is a more relevant indicatorof ethnic diversity than official statistics about the size of ethnically categorisedpopulations. Under social conditions of globalisation it is not useful to conceivesociety as a population of permanently settled citizens. When we speak about Czechsociety, we have to take account also of foreigners with a long-term residence,illegal and semi-legal foreigners as well as short time visitors like tourists. Semi-legal workers and short-term visitors as individuals may only spend days or months“in the society,” nevertheless, as a social force, as a cultural phenomenon and aneconomic input they form a permanent part of local institutions and discourses.

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