Office for Slovaks living abroad
After the establishment of an independent Slovak Republic in 1993, relations with Slovaks living abroad began to take a qualitatively different form. The state policy started to be orientated not only to indigenous Slovak minorities in Central and Eastern Europe but also to all compatriots living in abroad without distinction regarding them as an organic and integral part of the Slovak nation.
The first manifestation of the new policy of the Slovak republik in relation to the Slovaks living abroad was the establishment of the Department of Cultural Relations and Compatriots at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic in 1993. Its task was, among other things, to organize the historically first meeting of Slovaks from around the world on Slovak soil. It took place in May 1993 in a recreational facility of the National Council of the Slovak Republic in Papiernička near the city of Modra. Its goal was to find optimal modalities of mutual relations and cooperation in a joint dialogue.
This meeting became the basis for the “Permanent Conference of the Slovak Republic and Slovaks Living Abroad”, which takes place at 2-year intervals. Its last 14th session took place in 2018. These conferences are attended by about 100 delegates from about 20 countries. Each permanent conference is thematically profiled. The conference in 2014 was devoted to the issue of the position of Slovak national minorities and Slovak communities in their home countries, in 2016 it was devoted to the amendment of the Act on Slovaks Living Abroad and in 2018 to generational challenges in strengthening the national awareness of Slovaks living abroad.
Gradually, as relations with expatriates intensified and expatriate issues became more important, the institutional basis for cooperation and development of these relations grew: a separate Department for Expatriate Affairs was established at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; The Department for Foreign Slovaks was established at the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic. The Ministry of Culture established the House of Foreign Slovaks in 1995, and in December 1999 the Government of the Slovak Republic appointed its first Plenipotentiary for Foreign Slovaks. This process finally resulted in the adoption of Act no. 474/2005 Coll. on Slovaks living abroad and subsequently in 2006 – on the basis of this Act – was established today’s Office for Slovaks living abroad.
The Office for Slovaks Living Abroad initially operated under the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic. After the change of the so-called competence law from 1 October 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs became responsible for the implementation of state policy in relation to Slovaks living abroad, and the Office came under the political responsibility of this ministry.
According to the Act on Slovaks Living Abroad, the Office the tasks of the Office are:
- a) participates in the creation of state policy in relation to Slovaks living abroad,
- b) ensures the implementation of measures aimed at supporting Slovaks living abroad,
- c) develops proposals of the conception of state policy in relation to Slovaks living abroad,
- d) coordinates and ensures documentation activities on Slovaks living abroad,
- e) cooperates with organizations associating Slovaks living abroad, as well as with Slovaks living abroad and maintains mutual contacts with them,
- f) cooperates and maintains contacts with similar authorities of other states,
- g) decides on the issuance of Certificates of Slovaks living abroad and keeps their records,
- h) decides on the provision of subsidies as part of state support for Slovaks living abroad.
The key agendas of the Office include the provision of subsidies and the issuance of certificates for Slovaks living abroad. Let’s say a few words about these two agendas:
- a) Provision of subsidies, that means state support for the activities of Slovaks living abroad is focused on 4 basic areas: 1. education, science and research, 2. culture, 3. information area and 4. media area.
- b) Part of the implementation of state policy in relation to Slovaks living abroad is also the issuance of certificates of Slovaks living abroad, which serve for the purposes of exercising the rights and benefits of its holder established by special laws in the Slovak Republic. In addition to confirming the identity of a Slovak living abroad, the certificate gives the holder the opportunity to obtain a temporary residence in Slovakia, which allows him to work in Slovakia (does not need a work permit unlike a foreigner), to obtain Slovak citizenship after three years of permanent, resp. continuous residence and travel (stay) in other EU countries.
The Office cooperates closely with compatriots in the implementation of the state policy of the Slovak Republic in relation to Slovaks living abroad. The Office set up the Commission for Education and Training, which consists of two sections: Sections for Central, Eastern and Southern Europe and Sections for Western Europe and Overseas. The chairmen and members of these sections are experts who work in the environment of Slovak communities abroad in the field of education and training. These sections serve as a framework / platform for dialogue between compatriots with the Office and, above all, with representatives of the Ministry of Education. Solutions to various problems in the educational process of Slovak children abroad are being sought together. Similarly, the Office has set up a Cultural Commission and a Commission for Media and Publishing.
Every year, the Office submits to the Government and the National Council of the Slovak Republic a Report on state policy in relation to Slovaks living abroad, where it informs about the implementation of state policy in this area for the past year and plans for next year.
In addition to the standard tasks that follow from the law for the Office, the Office is currently solving the preparation of a new law on Slovaks living abroad. At the same time, the Office is preparing the third Concept of state policy in relation to Slovaks living abroad. Both documents will respond to the dynamic changes that have occurred in the external environment in which state policy takes place, for example Slovakia’s membership in the EU, the emergence of new expatriate communities as a result of the migration within the EU as well as political and social changes in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in which live numerous historical Slovak national minorities.