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|Ing. Marián Tkáč, PhD.|
This all-nation cultural institution of the Slovaks was established in 1863 as a result of the Slovak national efforts to lay the foundations of Slovak science, libraries and museums. Nowadays it is governed by the "Act on Matica slovenská" of 1997.
The anniversary of the 1863 establishment of Matica slovenská on August 4 is locally known as Deň Matice Slovenskej, a Remembrance Day in Slovakia.
The modern sense of the name is Slovak Foundation/Association, historically: Slovak (Bee) Mother. Matica slovenská's name is a source of puzzlement among many Slovaks. "Matica" used in this context is a Serbian word and means "source" or "mother bee". The Matica concept of volunteer cultural associations became popular in other Slavic countries.
In today's Slovak language, "matica" means "matrix". "Matica" used in this context is as well a Slovakian word and it means to: connect to something more solid (connect to motherboard): ["pritiahnúť ku, skrútiť, pripojiť, spojiť a neoddeliť"]. In this context "matica skovenská" could easily be understood as sort of attachment, being linked to its Slavic predesessors and its slavic history to its motherland.
The first Matica (1863 - 1875)
The founding of the Matica was inspired by the establishment of the Serbian Matica (Matica srpska) in 1826 and of the Czech "Matice česká" in 1831. The Slovak Matica went on from the Tatrín association (1844 – 1849, the first Slovak nationwide cultural institution).
Slovakia was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which in turn was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the Austrian emperor who – as a reaction to the many requirements of the 1861 Memorandum of the Slovak Nation - allowed the Slovaks to found a national cultural institution – they were allowed to found a "unity of lovers of Slovak life and nation". As a result, the Matica slovenská was founded on August 4, 1863 at an assembly of some 5000 Slovak patriots in Turčiansky Svätý Martin (today Martin). It was based in the same town and was financed exclusively by voluntary donations from Slovaks and from the Austrian emperor. The first chairman was Štefan Moyses and his vice-chairmen were Karol Kuzmány, Ján Országh and Ján Francisci-Rimavský. In 1873, the Matica had some 1300 members, many of which included entities such as municipalities, libraries, schools and associations.
The Matica slovenská drew members from all parts of the nation. It became the representative and symbol of Slovak "independence". From the beginning, the Matica was forbidden to be involved in political activities and to establish local branches. Nevertheless, its supporters could be found in many towns and settlements and its membership was quite large. The Matica was especially involved in collecting activities – it laid the foundation of national librarianship, and of archives and museum sciences in Slovakia. It also developed a broad education program for the public, published various practical manuals, calendars, readers, and scientific monographs, and initiated the development of amateur theatre and of social singing. It also supported research activities and published the results of the research in the first Slovak scientific journal "Letopisy" (literally: annals). Finally, the Slovak National Museum was founded within the Matica. The establishment of scientific departments (linguistics, law and history, philosophy, mathematics etc.) was in preparation in 1871, but could not be carried out anymore before 1875 (see below). Gradually, Matica became a center for organizing the national life of the Slovaks and served as a substitute for national political institutions, whose establishment was prohibited in the Kingdom of Hungary under the conditions of strong Magyarisation efforts.
The then Hungarian minister of the interior Kálmán Tisza had Matica abolished by force – by the decree No. 125 of April 6, 1875 and confiscation of its property (consisting exclusively of donations) in favour of the state. The official reasons given were that Matica was "against the government" and "anti-patriotic" – statements for which there was not the least evidence. The confiscated property went to support the process of enforced Magyarisation (e.g. the foundation of the pro-Magyarisation Upper Hungary Magyar Educational Society). When interpellated by a Serbian member of the Diet (there were no Slovak deputies in the Diet) why Matica's property was not returned to the Slovaks, the then prime minister Kálmán Tisza answered that he did not know of a Slovak nation.
The second Matica (since 1919)
The Matica slovenská could not resume its activities until after the dissolution of the Kingdom of Hungary and establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, when the conditions for the national life of the Slovaks improved. On August 5, 1919, it was reopened and rededicated in the presence President Tomáš Masaryk. Matica slovenská played an important role in further development of Slovak culture and scholarship. lt was supported by a wide membership (in 1950, it had 1,125 local branches with more than 100,000 members). Institutional offices were built gradually. Local branches throughout Slovakia were primarily engaged in public education and cultural activities. The Matica also played a significant role in the development of amateur theatre. The Matica founded and operated one of the largest and most significant publishing houses in Slovakia, Neografia, which published scholarly journals, public education literature, classic and contemporary Slovak authors, translations of world literature, and especially supported and enhanced the publishing of literature for children and young people. The Matica established a unique collection of prints, manuscripts and pictures related to the development of Slovak national culture, which became the basis of the Slovak National Library. It also established several research sections (for history, literature, history, linguistics, ethnography, philosophy, sociology, psychology etc.), which publish series of books, journals etc. Before the establishment of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, the Matica was also the regulator of the Slovak language.
The establishment of the Communist regime in 1948 initially threatened the existence of the Matica slovenská, since communist ideology, policy and the principles of socialist culture contradicted the principles upon which the Matica slovenská had been established. Local branches were dissolved, its research sections, journals and publishing activities gradually were transferred to other institutions or abolished. According to an act of the Slovak National Council of 1954, the Matica slovenská was reduced to the Slovak National Library and Biographic Institute with a limited role within the fields of librarianship, bibliography and archives. The Matica came under severe ideological and political control of the Communist party and of state organs. Many of the members of its staff were persecuted, discriminated or dismissed. The Communists did not manage to fully uproot the traditions and spirit of the Matica. They were manifested openly in 1963 during the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Matica slovenská and culminated in 1968-69 (the Prague spring period) when Matica became a significant cultural and political institution again. An act of the Slovak National Council re-established the local branches, new working places were established and the foundations for a new modern building were laid. After the defeat of the reform movement in Czecho-Slovakia in 1969, the normalization regime almost liquidated the effort to renew the Matica slovenská.
The collapse of the communist regime in November 1989 brought new environment for the development of Matica slovenská and the possibility for the public to become members has been renewed. In 1993 Matica made an agreement with the authoritarian prime minister of Slovakia Vladimír Mečiar. In exchange for Matica's political support for his political party HZDS, he gave Matica the Neografia publishing house for 1 Slovak crowns, even though Matica was allowed to sell it at any time for over 600 million Slovak crowns. Neografia then started printing among others hard pornography, fascist memoirs of members of clerical separatist Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana or the poetry of war criminal Radovan Karadžić.
The attitude of Matica and its members during the social and political struggles in Slovakia around 1989 – 1995 was that it supported the ultra-conservative Languages Act, forcing the SNR to sign into law the VPN-version of the Languages Act and Matica also supported the Declaration of Independence of the Slovak Republic, both in 1992 (under Vladimír Mečiar Slovakia declared independence without anyone as much as asking the Slovak public). Matica slovenská was also strongly against the integration of Slovak Republic into the European Union and NATO, despite the fact that this very integration had even been part of Vladimír Mečiar's isolationist government declaration.
Matica slovenská was also responsible for the collection of voluntary goods and money for the so-called "National Treasure", created in 1992, whose purpose was to help finance the activities of the Matica. The value of the "National Treasure" was almost 40 million Slovak crowns after 12 years (in February 2005).
In 1994, Matica had some 450 local branches and approximately 60,000 members with club houses in many towns.
The Matica includes the following institutions:
- the Scientific, Informational and Members' Headquarters
- Monument of National Culture
- Slovak Literary Institute
- Slovak Historical Institute
- MS Archives
- MS Center for relationships of nationalities,
- MS Museum of Slovaks living Abroad (Krajanské múzeum),
- information and culture centers of Matica slovenská abroad,
- MS publishing house (publishes i.a. the journals Slovenské národné noviny, Slovenské pohľady, Slovensko)
- Lending Office of Folk and Other Costumes
- Cabinet for the Research of the History of Slovak Exile
Associated entities are especially:
- Nadácia Matice slovenskej – a foundation
- Neografia, a. s. – a printing company taken over by Matica in 1993; historically for decades the most modern and significant printing house of Slovakia producing for Western Europe;
- Vydavateľstvo MS, s. r. o. – the company of the above-mentioned publishing house
Since its establishment, the Matica has been headed by important figures from Slovak social and cultural life.
Chairmen and/or vice-chairmen of the Matica:
- 1863 – 1869 Štefan Moyzes
- 1870 – 1875 Jozef Kozáček
- 1919 – 1926 Matúš Dula
- 1919 – 1921 Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav
- 1919 – 1926 František Richard Osvald
- 1919 – 1950 Vavro Šrobár
- 1922 – 1930 Juraj Janoška
- 1926 – 1943 Marián Blaha
- 1931 – 1939 Ján Vanovič
- 1931 – 1949 Jozef Országh
- 1945 – 1954 Jur Hronec
- 1945 – 1950, 1968 – 1973, 1974 – 1976 Laco Novomeský
- 1973 – 1990 Vladimír Mináč
- 1990 Viliam Gruska
- 1990 – 2010 Jozef Markuš
- 2010 – present Marián Tkáč
Over the years secretaries and/or administrators of the Matica have included:
- Pavel Mudroň, Michal Chrástek, Jozef Škultéty, Ján Vlček, Štefan Krčméry, R. Klačko, Jozef Cíger Hronský, J. Martík, P. Vongrej. I. Sedlák and M. A. Kováč.
Matica slovenská's funding remains unclear and complicated. Matica's position, functions and financing were amended by several acts, the last major one being Law no. 68 from February 13, 1997 Z.z. The very first definition dictated by the law is that Matica slovenská is a "verejnoprávna ustanovizeň" a coupling of words that has never been explained in any law ever codified in the Slovak Republic (a problem that plagued the Slovak Television for a long time). Verejnoprávna can roughly be translated as "having the right to do in the public's good". Among Matica's functions are such nonsensical and vague definitions as for example "making the national cultural heritage current" (sprítomňovať národné kultúrne dedičstvo). According to this law, Matica is also allowed to create textbooks for both elementary schools and high-schools in Slovakia.
Matica slovenská is allowed by law to receive money from the state and at the same time make business with its own property. Moreover, Matica receives purpose-bound donations from the State budget of the Slovak Republic for fulfilling various tasks. Matica also receives resources from its members, from sponsors, other gifts and finally funds of the European Union (Matica being strongly anti-EU). Matica slovenská also seeks to establish and manage various foundations devoted to the support of Slovak national culture and research.
Today, Matica slovenská does not fulfill only the duties for which it was created. With the Slovak people having their own independent state, the Slovak Republic, fully integrated into the European Union and Slovakia having its own Ministry of Culture taking care of cultural development in Slovakia in a transparent way, Matica slovenská serves many other, controversial purposes.[clarification needed]
Its financial activities are not transparent, despite receiving funds from taxpayers. According to an article by Eva Mihočková published in major Slovak weekly Plus 7 Dní on October 7, 2010, there is proof that Matica slovenská lost almost all of the money (23-28 million Slovak crowns) of the so-called Slovak national treasure, by investing it through a now-bankrupt company Capital Invest, into the Podielové družstvo Slovenské investície (PDSI), a Non-bank financial institution. The total value of the National treasure was approximately 995 000 EUR, of which approximately 232 000 EUR consists of artworks and gold.
Also, Matica slovenská recently started to publish its newspaper "Matičné zvesti" as an annex of a newspaper published by Slovenské hnutie obrody, an association praising the WWII Slovak Republic and its leader Jozef Tiso. The editor of Matičné zvesti said that the reason was lack of money for an own newspaper.
- article of the daily SME
- "Matica Slovenská working with extreme right group". The Slovak Spectator - Slovakia's English Language Newspaper.
- Jewish online newspaper
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