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Szaló, Csaba, Hamar Eleonóra. 2006.

„The Formation of Ethnic Minority

Identities and their Social Inclusion“ Tomáš Sirovátka et al. The Challenge
of Social Inclusion: Minorities and Marginalized Groups in Czech
Society.Brno: Barrister and Principal. pp. 245-266. ISBN 80-87029-06-2



Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar


“Czech society”, or, more precisely, society located in the territory currently
governed by the Czech state, is multiethnic, multireligious and multilingual in
its character. This is a result not (only) of contemporary social processes like
globalisation 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 movements
and dramatic historical changes in the last century. For example, although a
significant part of local Jewish and Roma populations was forced into exile
or exterminated by the Nazi regime during the Second World War, and
a vast majority of German population was displaced from the territory of
the re-established Czechoslovakia in the immediate post-war period, Czech
society did not lose its multiethnic character completely.
In contemporary Czech society there are a number of discourses and
institutions that claim to represent different ethnic collectivities. Official
government statistics (e.g. censuses) highlight the large number of non-
Czech nationals living within the Czech Republic. Quite significantly, a
Governmental Council for National Minorities (Rada vlády pro národnostní
menšiny) was established in order to deal with issues related to ethnic
minority groups in Czech society. There are several civic associations that
cultivate and preserve their members’ ethnic identity such as the Hungarian
and Bulgarian clubs (for a list of institutions and civil associations related
to ethnic minorities living in Czech society see appendix). There are many
newspapers and journals published in languages other than Czech, e.g.
Slovak Listy or Russian Russkaja Čechija (for a list of periodicals related to
ethnic minorities living in Czech society see appendix). There are stores
with books, music and food such as Russian Ruský salón in Prague and
246 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 and
noodles and networks of so-called “clients” co-ordinating thousands of semi-
legal Ukrainian construction workers.
The above mentioned discourses and institutions do not only demonstrate
the existence of various ethnic collectivities but, at the same time, reinforce
the ethnic identity of persons who make use of them. It is from this
perspective 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 these
institutions and discourses play in the processes of ethnic identity formation
(Brubaker 1996).1 We will focus on the practical constitution of ethnicity as
a 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 this
category in order to understand how identities are formed by institutions
and discourses which represent ethnic groups, minorities, and nations.
Ethnic identities – similarly to religious or sub-cultural identities – can be
defined as specific forms of social identities which typify persons as elements
of specific collectivities (Schutz, Luckmann 1973; Berger, Luckmann 1967).
Consequently, we treat terms such as “ethnic group”, “minority” and
“nation” as typificatory categories of practice. From the sociological point of
view these practical categories representing differences and distinctions
are not acceptable as interpretative, analytical categories for sociological
understanding (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 adequate
descriptions of social reality.

1 The social reality of these institutions and discourses is a more relevant indicator
of ethnic diversity than official statistics about the size of ethnically categorised
populations. Under social conditions of globalisation it is not useful to conceive
society as a population of permanently settled citizens. When we speak about Czech
society, 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 an
economic input they form a permanent part of local institutions and discourses.

The field of ethnicity: taxonomic differences and hierarchical


The identity-forming mechanism of institutions and discourses reveals

itself in concrete social events. While it seems that the processes of forming
ethnic identity are usually associated primarily with minorities’ social events,
we point out that the discursive forming of minority ethnic identities is
inseparably linked to dominant ethnic identities. In addition, the way
minority ethnic identities are constructed in hegemonic discourses has an
often unrecognised impact on the dominant ethnic identities since discourses
constitute taxonomic differences and hierarchical distinctions whose
symbolic consequences cannot be limited only to minority identities.
The cultural festival “Multicultural Brno” organised by a civic association
(MIP) in Brno in years 2001-2003 serves as a good example of a social event
in which discursive mechanisms of social identity forming are disclosed. To
explain these mechanisms, we shall concentrate on an exhibition that took
place in a prestigious Moravian Gallery in the centre of Brno in 2001.2
Using 18 panels, the exhibition represented the history and the present
of certain ethnic minorities living in Brno. In addition, the presence of
these minorities was illustrated by exhibited art work by “ethnic minority
children”. Along with Armenians, Bulgarians, Croats, Hungarians, Germans,
Poles, Roma, Greeks, Slovaks and Jews, two religious minority organisations
– the Islamic Foundation and the Russian Orthodox Church – were
included in this exemplification of the multicultural character of Brno.
The exhibition did not claim to provide a detailed portrayal of minorities’
lifestyles; the arrangement of panels rather emphasised the emblematic
representations of the minorities’ ethnic specificities. It was clear from the
exhibition setting that the organisers attempted merely to point out and
exemplify the diversity of “neighbouring cultures within one city.” It is with
the help of the exhibition catalogue that we can reconstruct the meanings
that were articulated in the organisers’ discourse. The catalogue stresses
that the exhibition stemmed from their personal experiences of the lack
of public knowledge of the actual ethnic diversity in Brno. More precisely
the organisers intended the exhibition to challenge the ignorance of those

2 The following interpretation is not intended to be a normative critique of the

exhibition and of the festival in general. We acknowledge the organisers’ effort to
counter ethnocentric attitudes of the so-called general public. It is clear to us that
they were obliged to express their idea in a form that was comprehensible to the
general public and thus they had to be sensitive to widely shared preconceptions.
However, it is precisely this feature that makes the exhibition analytically useful
and relevant for our purposes. It serves as a kind of discursive microcosm enabling
us to reveal symbolic constructions that are characteristic of other institutions and
discourses, too.
248 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

who were unaware of the presence of other “ethnic minorities” than the
Roma living alongside “the majority society” in Brno. The exhibition was
explicitly built on the assumption that the knowledge of a shared past and
the recognition of the present ethnic diversity will improve “the coexistence
of the majority society with ethnic minorities.”
Several aspects of this event are of particular importance for the
construction of ethnic identities. Firstly, it is the manner of classification
which rules the discourse of the event. In other words, it is the way in which
multicultural diversity is mapped. The exhibition apparently represented
and celebrated Brno cultural diversity by focusing on ethnic and religious
minorities living in the city. However, the assumption that the exhibition
was articulated in a discourse that conceives of multicultural society in terms
of ethnic and religious diversity is mistaken. The notion of multicultural
society, as it is expressed in the exhibition’s discourse, does not have a dual
(i.e. multiethnic and multireligious) character. Even if social identities are
conceived both in ethnic and religious forms3, it is ethnic identities that are
represented as constitutive of cultural diversity. The significance of religious
identities seems derived from their role in the reproduction of ethnic
identities. Both the Islamic Foundation and the Russian Orthodox Church
were included in the exhibition because they play a major role in some
ethnic minorities’ culture. The exhibition discourse represents cultural
diversity as if it was essentially ethnic diversity. This assumption clarifies why
other churches and religious movements were missing from the exhibition
and why they were unthinkable within this discourse as components of
multicultural society. The exhibition’s discourse rules out the possibility to
situate the historically dominant churches in the same semantic field with
ethnic minority institutions.
Along with the historically dominant churches there were other subjects
whose absence was symptomatic. The Czechs and Moravians apparently
were not incorporated into the field of cultural diversity. They had no
panels in the exhibition; still, these ethnic identities were present under
the pseudonym of “the majority society” (used by the organisers in the
exhibition catalogue, on the festival website etc.). This pseudonym enables
the symbolic displacement – similarly as in the case of dominant religious
identities – of dominant ethnic identities from the semantic field in which
identities of the ethnic Others are located. This symbolic repositioning
reveals the second aspect of the discursive construction of identities – the
specific mode of symbolic domination. In other words, it discloses how the
field of multicultural diversity is hierarchically structured.

3 Sexual or other sub-cultural forms of social identity are clearly excluded from this
discourse of multicultural diversity.

Statements such as “the coexistence of the majority society with ethnic

minorities” articulate the hierarchical structure of relationships in the
field of cultural diversity. The field of ethnic identities is divided into
segregated spaces of “us” (the majority society) and “them” (minorities).
These spaces are not merely segregated but are set hierarchically. One
of the subjects of coexistence is positioned into a privileged position
as its relationship to the others is treated as decisive. This hierarchy is
legitimised by reinterpreting the identity of dominants by means of a
pseudo-democratic concept – the majority society. In this manner, the
constitutive principle of hierarchy is represented as if it was mere quantity.
At the same time, dominant ethnic identities became represented as if
they were post-ethnic identities. The pseudonym “the majority society”
establishes a symbolical borderline separating dominant identities from
the minority ones. The dominant identities are established as distinct
from the minority identities on the grounds of the idea that they
represent a collectivity that is larger and “higher” than ethnic collectivity.
The pseudonym “the majority society” tries to avoid, but at the same time
preserves, the hierarchic structure of nationalist discourse that operates
with the taxonomy of collectivities grounded in the metanarrative of
historical development. According to this nationalist taxonomy, ethnic
identities were characteristic only of less developed people while the
national identity is conceived as more than ethnic, i.e. as national
identity. The pseudonym “the majority society” represents a dominant
social identity that is claimed to be distinct from the minorities’ ethnic
identities. In fact, it represents Czech national identity. The crucial
question is whether this particular form of the Czech national identity (as
it is articulated in discourses on “the majority society”) is more than an
ideological representation of a dominant Czech ethnic identity.
Our interpretation of the exhibition shows how a particular discourse
constitutes taxonomic differences and hierarchical distinctions at the same
time. One of the central themes represented by the exhibition’s discourse was
ethnic collectivity. Both taxonomic differences and hierarchical distinctions
were constructed in reference to the symbolic attribute of ethnicity. In
accordance with this, multicultural diversity (using the example of Brno)
was represented as ethnic diversity. The hierarchy between dominant and
minority cultures was embodied in the distinction between ethnic identities
which have already transcended ethnicity and those which are merely
ethnic or still trapped in ethnicity. The central paradox of this hierarchical
distinction lies in the fact that the dominant social identity claims to be
ethnic, yet more-than-ethnic at the same time. It is, however, crucial for
our argument’s sake that ethnicity constitutes a frame of reference both
for minority and dominant identities. In order to analyse the formation
of minority ethnic identities it is always necessary also to speak about the
formation of dominant ethnic identities.
250 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

The complex relationships among various ethnic identities constitute the

“field of ethnicity.”4 As should be clear from the above analysed example,
the dominant and minority ethnic identities are both present in this field. To
understand, as well as to set up, the discussed exhibition requires a certain
acquaintance with the field of ethnicity. We suppose that both the organisers
of and the visitors to the exhibition had a particular sense of ethnicity which
enabled them to enter this social field, to be able to play the game and to
get involved in it.5 In the text below, we seek to understand what this sense
of ethnicity is, how it works as a social construction and in what sense it can
be an intersubjective product of institutions and discourses.

The sense of ethnicity: the practical knowledge of ethnic attributes

The sense of ethnicity can best be characterised as an act of classification

practised by social actors themselves. If we, as sociologists, want to understand
how the field of ethnic identities works, that is if we want to theorise about
the formation of ethnic identities, we have to take into account the practical
knowledge of society produced and used by social actors themselves (Bourdieu
1990). The sense of ethnicity as a form of practical knowledge is present not
only in the ways we imagine the society and world around us, in narratives
about ourselves and others, in our everyday social interactions, but also in
social system institutions such as censuses, questionnaires and administrative
practices. Through these practices, society is commonly conceived of and
experienced as a space of ethnic relations, as a field of ethnic identities.
In this practical sense, society is a space where (we) the Czechs and (they)
the Roma live, where (we) the Slovaks and (they) the Hungarians struggle,
where (we) the Hungarians and (they) the Jews work hard.
In its elementary form, the sense of ethnicity is present in everyday as well
as spontaneous conversations. “Are you already in Iraq?” could a friend ask
referring to the recent political situation and she/he would, indeed, mean
whether the military troops of the Czech or Hungarian state are already there
(War in Iraq in 2003). This question situates a debate about faraway events
into the local field of ethnic identities. In this case, the sense of ethnicity as
a classificatory act operates with the metonymical function of the personal
pronoun “you”, which stands for a whole ethnically conceived collectivity and
creates a social bond between a concrete person and the ethnic collectivity
she/he is supposed to belong to. The well-known exclamation of a football
fan “Who is not jumping, is not a Czech!” constitutes the field of ethnicity
via the boundary lines of national football teams and, on the mental level,
excludes the possibility of acting contrary to one’s sense of ethnicity. For
a Czech to support an Italian football team would be unimaginable in

4 On the concept of fields see Bourdieu (1998)

5 On the concept of interest as illusion see Bourdieu (1998)

the fan discourse, as far as other than national identities, for example
religious identities like Catholicism, were treated as irrelevant. The sense
of ethnicity is present also in a seemingly harmless statement “the Jews
remember Holocaust victims on this day.” This statement demonstrates the
exclusionary character of ethnic classification since its logic of “othering”
lies in the presumption that to mourn and remember the Holocaust are
ethnically specifiable acts, and, what more, they should be treated as such.
To mourn on the Holocaust Remembrance Day out of a shared “sense of
humanity” or a “sense of fellow citizenship” is inconceivable according to
the ethnic discourse.6
As the above-mentioned examples indicate, the sense of ethnicity can
be conceived as a part of doxic experience that treats the experienced
state and division of the world as necessary, or, in other words, as natural
(Bourdieu, Wacquant 1992). Doxic experience not only represents but
also constitutes the world we live in through everyday discourse. Two
general, closely related points should be made here. Firstly, it is necessary
to emphasise that social actors’ practical knowledge cannot be reduced to a
mere reflection of social reality. The sense of ethnicity is not only a product
of the recognition that there are ethnic collectivities in the real world,
rather the practical knowledge is constitutive of the social reality of ethnic
identities. As all forms of knowledge, practical knowledge of ethnicity is also
an act of interpretation (or an act of the construction of meaning) using
“schemes of thought and expression” (i.e. language) for responding to the
challenges of the social world. This process is not thinkable without actors’
constitutive activity. It means that social actors do not react mechanically
to their conditions of existence; they respond actively by means of their
practical structuring activity. It is then essential to reflect how the knowledge
of ethnicity contributes to the social reality of ethnic identities.
This leads us to our second point. The knowledge of ethnicity this paper
explores is not a theoretical form of knowledge, but a practical one. It means
that the knowledge of ethnicity cannot be reduced to theoretical thinking
using systematic forms and categories, precisely because the sense of ethnicity
is oriented towards practice. It is not produced for the sake of a pure and
truthful representation of reality; the criteria of this practical knowledge are
not its internal coherence or truthfulness in relation to the objective world.
Rather, its criteria of relevance are to be found in its practical usefulness.
To put it differently, the sense of ethnicity is present not only in people’s
minds but also in their acts – it is embodied in practices which produce
both (further) knowledge and institutions. As an internalised scheme of
thought and expression the sense of ethnicity is played out continually in

6 All these examples from field notes were collected in the Czech Republic over the
last two years, but according to our comparative observations, they could easily
illustrate the situation in Central European societies in general.
252 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

the practices of everyday life, similarly as in institutionalised rituals and

festive ceremonies. Consequently, the sense of ethnicity is encoded in habitus
(Bourdieu 1984), it is a disposition to classify the world and act in the world
in a particular manner.7 To speak about the sense of ethnicity as a part
of habitus requires a reflection on how social actors’ practical knowledge
about ethnicity contributes to their ethnic identity.8 Without this practical
knowledge of ethnicity there can be no ethnic identity.
The practical relevance of the sense of ethnicity lies in its social effects,
its social usefulness and usability. It functions like a guide for basic social
orientation. As such, it has weighty consequences for social action, it
labels some routes as dangerous, others as good and worth following.
Only a limited range of practices, relationships and ideas are identified
as adequate; relationships of solidarity and loyalty are only possible in a
specifically restricted manner. The sense of ethnicity as an instrument of
social orientation defines one’s place in the world by relating her/him to
a specific ethnic collectivity. Consequently, the sense of ethnicity defines
one’s place as well as that of others. It is exactly this sense of one’s own and
other people’s place that constitutes the field of ethnic positions and ethnic
borders. The sense of ethnicity operates in accordance with the belief that
every person naturally/necessarily has to belong to an ethnic collectivity.9 In
this sense, no person finds themselves without an ethnic identity – everyone
has her/his own proper place in the field of ethnicity.
As an instrument of social orientation, the sense of ethnicity is not merely
a sense of ethnic difference, it is a sense of ethnic distinction.10 The sense
of distinction demands, as Bourdieu says, “that certain things be brought
together and others kept apart, which excludes all misalliances and all
unnatural unions – i.e., all unions contrary to the common classification”
(Bourdieu 1984: 474). The sense of ethnicity is interrelated with the
competency to distinguish between socially appropriate/inappropriate
companionships and affinities. This competency to make ethnic distinctions
can be compared to the competency required by the practical-aesthetic
judgement of taste. The sense of ethnicity, similarly to taste, generates

7 The sense of ethnicity is a disposition that can be developed by particular institutions

and discourses into complex ideological forms such as nationalism.
8 Analogically, when speaking about ethnicity as a feature of collectivities, the object
of inquiry should include the practical knowledge that members of the given
collectivity have about ethnicity.
9 On how ethnic collectivity is imagined in practice see Geertz (1973) and Eriksen
(2002). The practical category of ethnicity enables a person to think about oneself
and others as members of a quasi-natural collectivity. This quasi-natural collectivity
is usually articulated in practical discourses as an object of attachments assumed
to be primordial.
10 On the concepts of difference and distinction see Bourdieu (1998)

certain judgements about what is likely and what is unlikely. When we claim
that the sense of ethnicity is not merely a sense of difference but a sense
of distinction we point to the hierarchical structure of the field of ethnic
identities. Some positions in this field are horizontal but others are ordered
hierarchically. Some ethnic identities are treated as equal to “our” ethnic
identity but others are treated as qualitatively distinct. As we showed in the
introductory analysis of the MIP exhibition, the qualitative distinction can
assume various forms in various discourses: it can be a distinction between
minorities and the majority society, between nations and ethnic groups, or
between historically well developed and less developed nations. The core
(usually our) ethnic identity is not automatically to be found at the top
of the hierarchy. For instance, Central European national identities are
marked by the syndrome of small nations which are not, in their modernist
narratives, conceived as positioned at the top of the hierarchy but as slowly
moving upward to this position.11 From this presumption it is just a step to a
practical assumption that both the existence and the hierarchical distinction
of ethnic collectivities are natural/necessary. Thus everyone has his/her
proper place in the field of ethnicity which is hierarchically ordered.
In summary, the sense of ethnicity, as an instrument of social orientation,
operates through practical knowledge of ethnic differences and ethnic
distinctions. Therefore a person with an ordinary sense of ethnicity will be
competent to recognise other people’s ethnic identity, and will be able to form
judgements about ethnic attributes of persons and objects. In other words,
the practical knowledge of the ethnic field consists in the competence to
regard certain attributes of persons and objects as ethnically relevant. These
judgements can be regarded as modes of stigmatisation. If we understand
how stigmatisation works we can easily understand the working of the sense
of ethnicity, too. Stigmatisation is a practice of classification built around a
core feature (stigma), which is treated as essential for the identity of a given
person and their envisaged future behaviour (Goffman 1986). The practice
of stigmatisation isolates a specific attribute from all other attributes which
are classified as unimportant or even remain unrecognised. Similarly, the
sense of ethnicity identifies persons as members of an ethnic collectivity on
the basis of certain attributes. The recognition of ethnic attributes is always
based on an interpretative selection from a huge set of potentially available
attributes. Behind this selective classification lies a shared knowledge that
can be revealed through a phenomenon termed by Bourdieu (1984) the
pertinence principle. It can be observed, for example, in discursive events
in which listeners spontaneously affirm the relevance of the labelling

11 Alternatively, in anti-modernist narratives, a substitutive moral hierarchy is

constructed. The impossibility to reach the top of the power-based hierarchy is
compensated for by a sense of moral superiority on the part of the sufferers (see
Brubaker 1992; Brubaker 1996; Verdery 1996; Schulze 2003).
254 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

judgement expressed by the speaker. Jokes about Gypsies or Jews (present

also in current everyday conversations or media shows in Czech society)
operate on the basis of this principle. These jokes work only in reference to a
shared background knowledge of typical behaviour, personal characteristics,
bodily features and habits of those who are the objects of mockery. Only
those who share this knowledge can decode the joke and laugh at it.
In Central European societies, specific ethnic identity is usually
recognised in reference to a person’s language performance, “body image”
and/or symbolic representations of descent.12 Judgements classifying
persons in reference to their language performance do not require merely
the competence to recognise particular ethnic or national languages but
usually also the competence to recognise foreign or regional accents, and a
limited vocabulary usage. The competence to classify a person in reference
to her/his “body image” cannot be reduced to classificatory judgements
about their physical body. It is more appropriate to speak about the
recognition of social and cultural inscriptions on a person’s physical body,
about the classification of body as part of the person’s habitus. We usually
do not meet our ethnic others naked. In the practice of ethnic recognition,
clothes, hairstyle and appearance are inseparable from pure physical body
because they are equally relevant objects of judgements. The last form of
competence is related to the recognition of symbolic representations of
descent. These can be names, self-identity expressions present in life-stories
or everyday conversations, administrative information about personal
identity13 contained in documents (a birth certificate, an identity card,
a passport etc.). These symbolic representations serve to confirm the
ethnic identity attributed to a person in reference to her/his language
performance and/or body image. However, in some cases, these symbolic
representations point to a different ethnic identity than that indicated by the
person’s language performance or body image. Such cases are particularly
important for us because they show that recognition of ethnic identity is not
independent of institutions that mark persons with identity signs, and, even
more importantly, it is not independent of discourse that demands sincerity
of self-expression.14

12 The authors studied the processes of ethnic identity formation on the basis of
a narrative analysis of autobiographical interviews with second generation Jews
who currently live in the Czech Republic and Hungary (Hamar 2002a; Hamar
2002b) and qualitative interviews focused on cultural assimilation practices of
Hungarians and Roma living in the Czech and Slovak Republics (Szaló 2002;
Szaló 2004).
13 On the conceptualisation of the difference between self-identity and personal
identity see Goffman (1986).
14 On the sociology of social identity formation, especially on the discursive
formation of ethnic identities see Szaló (2003a, 2003b) and Hamar (2003).

The constitution of the sense of ethnicity: the symbolic power of

institutions and discourses

There is no sense of ethnicity without the competence to recognise other

people’s ethnic identity. This competence requires a practical knowledge
of ethnic attributes. Both this competence and practical knowledge are
produced and cultivated in particular institutions and discourses. People
are not born with the competence to recognise specific ethnic or national
languages or a foreign and regional accent. Rather, such competence is
acquired in the processes of socialisation. Similarly, the practices of language
performance, attributes of “body image” as well as symbolic representations
of descent are objects of practical knowledge that is cultivated in discourses
and transferred to the young generation through institutions of socialisation.
Therefore if we are to understand how the sense of ethnicity is constructed
we need to focus on discourses that articulate practical knowledge of ethnic
attributes and on institutions that transmit this practical knowledge to the
young generation. Perhaps equally important seems to be the question
how this practical knowledge is reproduced in everyday life. We claim that
the family, peer groups, school as well as mass communication media play
a significant role in this process. Thus concrete ethnic identities and, on
a more general level, a shared sense of ethnicity are formed at the same
The link between the sense of ethnicity and institutionalised forms of
knowledge is disclosed in ambivalent situations when judgements related
to ethnic identities become uncertain, that is in situations when individual
ethnic attributes are not easily recognisable and the so-called mixed ethnic
descent is involved. In these cases – when the pertinence principle does
not work and judgements about ethnic identity are not obvious –, the
judgements have to be justified, a part of the reason being that, in these
obscure cases, judgements and justifications can be challenged by other
participants in the discourse. What will be the assumed ethnic identity of
a person from a mixed marriage, for example, with a Roma mother and a
Czech father, or of a person whose parents are classified as Hungarian and
Czech? In these cases, judgements draw on discourses of expert knowledge
or institutionally ascribed labels as present in personal documents. Usually,
one of the “original” ethnic identities is erased and a purified descent
line is constructed.15 Persons are forced to choose or are simply classified
by institutions as belonging to only one of their dual “original” ethnic
identities. These cases reveal that not only that institutions and discourses
register and describe ethnic identity, they are actually constitutive of these
social identities.
15 On the fear of ambivalence and its relation to modernity in general see Bauman
256 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

However, it is not only the ethnic identity of the Other that can be
ambivalent. A sense of ambiguity can be found in self-identity narratives
when a person either unexpectedly discovers her/his dual descent line,
or tries to resolve the dilemma of her/his authentic ethnic belonging. A
change of the family name is a good example of a possibility to gain a new
ethnic identity through cultural assimilation and be adopted into a new
ethnic collectivity in Central Europe. Nevertheless, for the second or third
generation assimilates, authentic ethnic origin is in many cases a matter for
an inquiry. Also these cases show that institutions and discourses (here in
the form of expert knowledge or nostalgic narratives circulating in ethnic
groups) can greatly facilitate coping with a potential identity crisis.16 From
the sociological perspective, it is crucial how these forms of knowledge and
the institutions that help to settle identity-related dilemmas are constituted.
Therefore we have to turn our attention to institutional structures of
modernity, more precisely to the modern strategy of national unification.
The strategy of national unification plays a crucial role in the cultivation
of the particular ethnic identities as well as of the general sense of ethnicity
in Central Europe. This strategy not only played an important role in the
past, it is of analogous importance today, too. The sociological discourse
acknowledges the creative role that local national movements of the 19th and
early 20th century played in the constitution of national identities in Central
Europe – national identities were invented by the nationalist movements as
ethnic identities. Besides the formative phase of invention, also the phase of
identity reproduction has to be acknowledged. To focus on the reproductive
phase of the national unification strategy means to concentrate on the
institutions and discourses which cultivate, replicate and preserve these
national identities in the form of ethnic identities – that is to study how the
strategy of national unification constitutes the field of ethnicity. It is evident
that apart from national movements, these institutions and discourses also
include institutions and discourses governed by the state and controlled by
commercial markets.
One of the key components of the strategy of national unification is the
linguistic and cultural unification of society. Against local dialects, cultures
and identities it is the primacy of national language, culture and identity
that is promoted. This strategy subordinates traditional local cultures
and identities by reinterpreting them. Local cultures and identities are
mythologised as authentic sources of culture and moved into the past as
exotised folklore. They are treated as signs of authenticity that have to be
preserved as museum exhibits, rather than cultivated as an appropriate
basis for modern national development. It is not only linguistic unification
but even the whole of cultural unification that are subject to normalisation.
National institutions and discourses are promoted and established both in

16 On expert knowledge and self-identity see Giddens (1991).


the sense of “national as territorial” (present anywhere in the territory of a

given state) and national in the sense of the nationalist ideology (treating
nations as anthropomorphic subjects and privileging national identity
as an ultimate ground for loyalty and solidarity). National normalisation
means nation-wide (territorial) dissemination of particular forms of
knowledge, practice and identity – for example by inventing a national
culture of memory institutionalised in museums and memorials. Further,
the development of an institutional field of administration and education
as well as the formation of nation-wide commercial and labour markets
is crucial in this process. The circulation of discourses, texts, books and
newspapers exemplifies the normality of ethnic identities. For instance,
discourses on history and literature – that represent the history and literary
field in a particular ethnic mode – play a crucial role in cultivating the sense
of ethnicity among students at basic and secondary schools.
To deconstruct the sense of ethnicity we can proceed with questions that
reveal institutionalised forms of knowledge behind actors’ classificatory
judgements: How did you discover that you are Jewish?17 Who told you that
you are Roma? How do you know that your neighbour is Bulgarian? How do
you know that you are of Czech descent? How do you know what it means
to be Hungarian? Where did you gain your knowledge of the Vietnamese
mentality? These questions cannot be answered without participating in
specific discourses that produce knowledge of the field of ethnicity and
without accepting the institutionalised authority of such knowledge. Thus
when we speak about discourses and institutions we also speak about a
circulation of practical knowledge of ethnic differences and distinctions
influenced from the positions of power.

The double face of social inclusion: institutional integration and

symbolic exclusion

Both national unification strategies and multicultural strategies of social

inclusion necessarily reproduce the field, as well as the sense of ethnicity.
The processes of social inclusion are inevitably conditioned by the relative
closeness of particular ethnic identities within the field of ethnicity.
Examples of intermarriage and cultural assimilation show that particular
ethnic identities are open to one another in their specific ways – particular
ethnic borders selectively close and open.18 Social inclusion is not possible
without a modification of the relationship among particular ethnic identities.
Political strategies of social inclusion through integrating minority ethnic

17 See Erős et al. (1985).

18 On the relative closeness of various ethnic identities in relation to cultural
assimilation and social inclusion see Alexander (1988) and Laitin (1998).
258 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

identities inevitably modify the whole structure of the field of ethnicity. If

this restructuration of the field does not occur then – from a sociological
point of view – we cannot speak about social inclusion.
In the text below, we demonstrate how discourses and institutions of
social inclusion reproduce the sense of ethnicity. If minority ethnic identities
are successfully adapted (by effort of minority activists) to the sense of
ethnicity present in dominant discourses and institutions then they have a
good chance of social inclusion. We illustrate the relationship between the
processes of social inclusion and the reproduction of the sense of ethnicity
on the example of the institution of Roma advisors and assistants. The
institution of Roma advisors (romský poradce) and Roma assistants (romský
asistent) was established by the Czech government in 1997. The title “Roma
advisor and assistant” indicates both that the advisor is routinely a person
with a Roma ethnic identity and that he/she is to advise and assist the local
Roma community (Sirovátka, Hamar 2001).
The official social function of Roma advisors and assistants is to integrate the
Roma population into Czech society by solving the (mostly social) problems
of the Roma community. They facilitate communication and mediate
between local administration and local Roma communities. Advisors are
employed by local administration, while assistants function as social workers
in schools and Roma neighbourhoods. Other civil servants employed by local
government administration tend to pass all issues related to persons with a
Roma ethnic identity to these advisors and assistants, regardless that before
this institution was established, these tasks and responsibilities had been in
their competence. This transfer of competence takes place spontaneously,
in other words, it is not a result of an organisational restructuration of local
The institution of Roma advisors and assistants latently reproduces the
sense of ethnicity. It reproduces the practical knowledge of the difference
and distinction between Czech and Roma ethnic identities. Moreover, it
reproduces not only the Roma clients’ and assistants’ sense of ethnicity,
but also that of persons with Czech and other non-Roma ethnic identities.
Firstly, civil servants who work for the same local administration have
a direct experience of the institution of Roma advisors and assistants.
Secondly, through hearing or reading about the work of Roma advisors
and assistants other persons have an indirect experience of the institution.
In both cases, this institution reproduces the sense of ethnicity only if it
bears some relevance19 to these persons. In the case of local civil servants,
the institution may be relevant at least with respect to their organisational
interest. They are clearly interested in transferring their work tasks to the
newcomers. But what relevance can this institution have to persons who

19 On structures of relevance see Berger and Luckmann (1967).


have only indirect experience of it? What interest may these persons have
in this institution?
Accordingly, the sense of ethnicity – to apply Bourdieu’s wordplay – as a
selective attribution of ethnic attributes, is inseparable from material and
ideological interests. The reason why some attributes are interesting for us is
never completely independent of our interests in observing these attributes
as relevant (Bourdieu 1984). More precisely, it does not mean that particular
persons necessarily have to gain personal advantages from recognising some
of other persons’ specific attributes. Rather, these interests are articulated in
discursive structures of taxonomic differences and hierarchical distinctions
which are inherent in structural positions in a particular social field. In our
example, these interests are related to structural positions in the field of
ethnicity. Minority ethnic identities can be defined by their subordinated
structural position in the field of ethnicity. The sense of ethnicity which
treats some collectivities as minorities is articulated from the perspective of
dominant positions. However, this dominant perspective is not necessarily
unchallenged. Social identities are not only the moving forces behind social
struggles, their definition and representation is also an instrument of social
struggle (Bourdieu 1992). Moreover, this classificatory struggle is not only a
struggle of the dominant against the subordinated – who are usually regarded
as powerless –; it also includes tricks and practices of resistance on the part
of the subordinated. The practices of ethnic identity formation are thus
interrelated with the ideological and material interests of all participants in
the field of ethnicity. More precisely, the practical knowledge of ethnicity is
constituted in line with the structural positions of its bearers. The question
thus emerges: whose interest is it to represent these collectivities as ethnic
Another interesting feature of the institution of Roma advisors and
assistants consists in its potential to transgress the dominant sense of
ethnicity which treats the Roma as a homogenous collectivity. This
presumption of homogeneity is not addressed openly at a discursive
level, rather it is transgressed by the institutional practice of privileging
local people in holding the position of Roma advisors and assistants.
This institutional practice can, in this case, face the local ethnic diversity
of communities officially classified by the umbrella term: Roma. For
this practice, it is more important to guarantee the performance of the
institution using local tactics than to challenge the homogenising discourse
by employing a reform strategy. This homogenisation of differences and
distinctions is a core feature of the sense of ethnicity working both in
official institutions and in the life world. Some differences and distinctions
– such as those between Vlach Roma and Rumungre – are interpreted as
internal to the collectivity and thus as unimportant. Local minority cultures
can constitute their own sense of ethnicity as different from the officially
institutionalised one. Their practical knowledge of ethnic identities can
260 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

stress differences and distinctions that are perceived as irrelevant from the
dominant perspective.20
The focus on group boundaries, the ignorance of internal divisions and the
stress on external differences which characterise homogenising classifications
are not necessarily instruments of exclusion. This homogenising effect cannot
be restricted to ethnic classifications since discourses forming citizenship
identities provide this homogenising practice by claiming equal rights for
persons belonging to the political community. The inclusion of citizens into
the political community depends on the ignorance of particular internal
divisions among those to be included. Similarly, the sense of ethnicity can
constitute exclusions and inclusions at the same time.
From a sociological perspective, we need to point out the symbolic
power of that particular form of the sense of ethnicity that conceives ethnic
collectivities as biologically or genetically grounded. The ideology of pure
ethnic descent may be false from the scientific point of view, nevertheless, it
has real social effects. The practical effect of this ideology is to deny choice
and free will regarding ethnic identity. The sense of ethnicity based on the
practical knowledge of ethnic purity – even if it is a myth – can contribute to
what the ideology of pure ethnic descent claims there exists, that is ethnically
closed communities. This can be done, for example, through marriage
preferences and through influencing children’s marriage choices. To put it
differently, the assumed reality of ethnic descent is in fact a utopia of a pure
ethnic community. It is something that ideological discourse discovers and
identifies in the past as an authentic value, but, in fact, it is a normative vision
that has to be realised in the future. The trick of ideology is the following:
the description of the past is in fact a prescription for the future. However,
it is important to stress that this utopian ideology of pure ethnic descent is
present both in the dominant and minority ethnic discourses.
The field of ethnic identities in Central Europe is structured by
judgements about who looks and/or speaks differently or has a different
ethnic origin. From the perspective of minority cultures´ social inclusion it
is crucial to what extent these ethnic attributes are recognised and treated
as significant, more precisely to what extent and in what contexts these
attributes are treated merely as significant signs of ethnic differences or
rather as distinctions.21 The sense of ethnicity will probably be always present
in Central European societies, however, there is still a theoretical possibility

20 This homogenisation was typical also of colonial institutions which classified

various non-European ethnic identities with etnonymes like Chinese, Indian,
Indonesian. See Anderson (1991). This practice of homogenisation can be
detected in discourses on trans-regional migration.
21 Particular institutions and discourses differ perhaps in the extent to which a
person can ignore the ethnic identity that others ascribe to her/him. On the
logic of stigma, information control and passing see Goffman (1967).

that ethnic identity of others is recognised, yet ignored. This is made possible
by the existence of such social interactions that establish solidarity among
actors having differing ethnic identities, for instance on the basis of shared
faith in the possibility of creating a godly and virtuous earthly existence, or
in the existence of good and evil spirits in everydayness. It can also be on
the basis of shared hatred for those who do not abide by the word they have
given or for foreign invaders, on the basis of shared belief in the value of
individual freedom or family life, shared passion for certain sports or sports
clubs etc. In other words there are other senses of difference and distinction
in society which constitute other than ethnic forms of social identities. There
are institutions and discourses in which ethnic distinctions are overwritten
by social identities grounded in nation, religion, gender, family, kinship,
region, occupation, education, political ideology and honour. Nevertheless,
the question remains whether the dominant institutions and discourses will
privilege the sense of ethnicity over other social identities.
The practices of social inclusion are double-faced. On the one hand,
they lead to institutional integration of ethnic minorities. At the same
time, though, they lead to the minorities’ symbolic exclusion from the
Czech national identity. Discourses in which Czech citizens with the Roma
or Polish ethnic identity are not treated as Czechs exclude the possibility
of a dual Czech-Roma or Czech-Polish identity. Certainly, this is the case
only if the Czech national identity is conceived purely as an ethnic identity.
The formation of minority and dominant identities are inseparable, they
are constituted in the same discursive and institutional field. The sense
of ethnicity dominating Czech society until recently, has led to an ethnic
delimitation of the Czech national identity. That is to say, it apprehends
minorities as ethnic collectivities and conceives the cultural diversity of
Czech society in the form of ethnic diversity. This form of social inclusion
has an unintended consequence: by treating the Czech national identity as
a dominant ethnic identity, all other – that is minority ethnic – identities
are excluded from the imagined community of the Czech nation. From the
perspective of social inclusion, the most important question is whether the
dual – ethnic and political – character of the Czech national identity will
be indicated in discourses of symbolic power. In other words, the question
is whether official discourses and institutions are able to articulate the
difference between: “Czech nationality” conceived as an ethnic identity and
“Czech citizenship” conceived as a political identity.22 The latent symbolic
exclusion of non-ethnic Czechs from the Czech nation – in this case

22 The objectified representations of ethnic and national identity in emblems, flags,

and rituals are impossible to separate in Central Europe. The Hungarian flag
is the objectified representation of Hungarian national identity in the sense of
citizenship but also of the Hungarian ethnic identity, for instance in a minority
262 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

imagined as an ethnic community – has recently been counterbalanced by

an inclusive political-legal provision that stresses the non-ethnic character
of Czech citizenship and, consequently, the political character of the Czech
nation – in this case imagined as a political community of citizens.

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Institutions and civil associations related to ethnic minorities living in Czech
Armenian: Armenský dům (Mladá Boleslav).
Bulgarian: Bulharská kulturně osvětová organizace Sv. Cyrila a Metoděje (Praha),
Hyshove (Praha), Sdružení pro Bulharsko (Brno), Bulharské kulturně osvětové
sdružení (Brno), Zaedno (Praha), Vazraždane (Praha).
Belorussian: Osvětový a vzdělávací spolek Skaryna (Praha), Svaz Bělorusů v zahraničí
Chinese: Krajanské sdružení Číňanů žijících v ČR (Praha).
Croatian: Sdružení občanů chorvatské národnosti (Grygov).
English speakers/American: Expats (Praha).
German: Kulturní sdružení občanů německé národnosti v ČR (Brno), Německé
kulturní sdružení, region Brno (Brno)., Německý jazykový a kulturní spolek
Brno DSKV (Brno), Kulturní združení občanů německé národnosti (Praha),
Organizace Němců v západních Čechách (Plzeň), Shromáždění Němců v
Čechách, na Moravě a ve Slezku (Praha), Svaz Němců, regionální skupina
264 Csaba Szaló and Eleonóra Hamar

Hřebečsko (Moravská Třebová), Svaz Němců – region Chebsko (Cheb), Svaz

Němců – Severní Morava, Orlické hory (Šumperk), Svaz Němců – Liberec, Lužice
– Severní Čechy (Liberec), Kruh přátel Německa (Kravaře).
Greek: Asociace řeckých obcí v ČR (Bohumín), Lyceum Řekyň (Brno), Hellenika
nadační fond (Brno), Řecká obec v Brně (Brno).
Hungarian: Svaz maďarů žijících v českých zemích (Praha, Brno, Ostrava, Plzeň,
Teplice, Litoměřice), Svaz maďarských studentů-KAFEDIK v Brně (Brno), Klub
maďarských studentů AED (Praha), Spolek Iglice Egylet (Praha).
Jewish: Federace židovských obcí (Praha), Židovské obce (Praha, Brno, Děčín,
Karlovy Vary, Liberec, Olomouc, Ostrava, Ústí nad Labem, Teplice, Plzeň), Bejt
Elend (Praha), Pražská židovská otevřená komunita – Bejt Praha (Praha), Bejt
Simcha (Praha), Česká unie židovské mládeže (Praha), Židovská liberální unie
(Praha), Židovské muzeum v Praze (Praha), Památník Terezín (Terezín).
Korean: Česko-korejská křesťanská společnost (Praha).
Polish: Kongres Polakůw w RC (Český Těšín), Harcerstwo Polskie w RC (Dolní Lutyně),
Klub Polski (Praha), Koło Polskich Kombatantów (Horní Suchá), Macierz Szkolna
(Třinec), Miejscowe Koło PZKO Karwina-Nowe Miasto (Karviná), Polonus – Klub
Polski w Brnie (Brno), Polski Związek Byłych Więźniów Politycznych (Ostrava),
Polskie Towarzystwo Medyczne (Karviná), Polskie Towarzystwo Artystyczne “Ars
Musica” (Český Těšín), Polskie Towarzystwo Śpiewacze Collegium Canticorum
(Karviná), Polskie Towarzystwo Turystyczno-Sportowe “Beskid Śląski” (Třinec),
Polski Związek Kulturalno-Oświatowy (Český Těšín), Stowarzyszenie Dziennikarzy
Polskich (Těrlicko), Stowarzyszenie Emerytów Polskich (Horní Suchá),
Stowarzyszenie Młodzieży Polskiej w RC (Český Těšín), Stowarzyszenie Osób
Pracujących i Uczących się za Granicą (Český Těšín), Stowarzyszenie Rodzina
Katyńska (Dolní Lomná), Stowarzyszenie Szkoła Polonijna w Pradze (Praha),
Towarzystwo Nauczycieli Polskich (Český Těšín), Towarzystwo Avion (Český
Těšín), Zrzeszenie Literatów Polskich (Český Těšín), ZŚM Przyjaźń (Karviná),
Gorole (Mosty u Jablunkova), Základní škola s polským jazykem, (Třínec).
Roma: Demokratická aliance Romů v České republice (Valašské meziříčí), Dětský
hudební a taneční soubor Cikne čhave (Nový Jičín), Komunitní centrum Chánov
(Most), Nedrog (Rakovník), Občanské sdružení Romodrom (Praha), Občanské
sdružení slovo 21 (Praha), Občanské sdružení Žijeme spolu v 4 ZŠ (Sokolovo),
Romská misie (Plzeň) ROS – Klub (Hořice v Podkrkonoší), Romské sdružení
občanského porozumění (Nymburk), Romské sdružení (Šluknov), Sdružení dětí
a mládeže Romů ČR (Zlín), Společenství Jan 10 (Dolní Ždanov), Společenství
Romů na Moravě (Brno), Společenství přátel časopisu Romanu džaniben (Praha),
Drom (Brno), Muzeum romské kultury (Brno).
Rusin: Společnost přátel Podkarpatské Rusi (Praha, Brno), Folklorní soubor Skejušan
Russian: Artek (Praha), Ruský klub (České Budějovice), Sdružení krajanů a přátel
Ruské tradice v ČR (Praha), Sdružení ruských občanů v ČR (Brno), Asociace
ruských spolků v České republice (Brno), Ruský institut (Pardubice).
Silezian: Matice slezská (Opava).

Slovak: Obec Slovákov v Brně (Brno), ČeskoSlovenská scéna (Praha), Folklorní

sdružení PÚČIK (Brno), Folklorní soubor Šarvanci (Praha), Klub slovenské
kultury (Praha), Limbora – slovenské folklórní sdružení (Praha), Obec slováků
v ČR (Praha), Slovensko – český klub (Praha), Spolok Detvan (Praha),
Ukrainian: Sdružení Ukrajinců a příznivců Ukrainy (Praha), Sdružení Ukrajinek
v ČR (Praha), Ukrajinská iniciativa v ČR (Praha), Fórum Ukrajinců (Praha).
Vietnamese: Sdružení vietnamsky hovořících občanů ČR (Praha).
Yugoslavian: Společnost přítel jižních Slovanů v ČR (Brno).

Periodicals related to ethnic minorities living in Czech society, ordered according to

publishers’ ethnic identity and/or language of publication:
Armenian: Nairi (monthly), Orer (monthly).
Bulgarian: Roden glas (information not available), Bulhaři (bimonthly).
English: The Prague Tribune (monthly), The Prague Post (weekly).
German: Landes-Zeitung (weekly), Prager Volkszeitung (weekly), Brünner Zeitung.
cz (online daily).
Greek: Kalimera (every second month).
Hungarian: Prágai Tükör (five times a year).
Italian: La Pagina (monthly).
Jewish: Hatikva (monthly in Czech), Roš chodes (monthly in Czech), Maskil
Korean: Nanumto (monthly).
Polish: Glos Ludu (every second day), Zwrot (monthly), Jutrzenka (monthly),
Ogniwo (monthly), Nasza Gazetka (fortnightly), Kurier Praski (monthly), Wiarus
(four times a year).
Roma (we do not know in what kind of “Roma language” are these periodicals
published: Romano Kurko (fortnightly), Amaro gendalos (monthly), Kereka
– Kruh (monthly), Romano hangos (fortnightly).
Russian: Vesti (information not available), Russkaja Čechija (weekly), Čechija
Segodňa (monthly), Ogni (monthly), Ruske slovo (monthly).
Slovak: Listy (monthly), Dotyky (monthly), Korene (monthly).
Ukrainian: Porohy (every fourth month).
Vietnamese: Cay Tre (monthly), Vietnamcenter.cz (online daily).