Czechs and Slowaks in Vienna - Identity Constructions and Migration Experiences
A cooperation between the FZHM and the Department for Science Communication and Academic Research at the Klagenfurt University / IFF Site Vienna

Hardly any other cultural minority has left its imprint on the city of Vienna as deeply as did the Czech and Slovak immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries - and this not only in terms of cuisine. However, since 1945 these ethnic groups have faded from public awareness, in spite of the manifold activities undertaken by their societies and organisations. A reason for this, apart from gradual assimilation, is the fact that many Czech names and other traces found in everyday life have become so familiar that they are no longer recognised as foreign elements.
The project "Czechs and Slovaks in Vienna - Identity Constructions and Migration Experiences" pinpoints the integration processes of minorities just as much as the efforts for self-assertion made by them. The focus on Czechs and Slovaks in Vienna makes it possible to investigate migratory movements through longer periods. After all, representitives of these ethnic groups flocked to the then residential capital in great numbers already at the time of the Habsburg monarchy. The first were above all migrant workers. Later on, political reasons - such as the suppression of the "Prague Spring" in 1968 or the pressure exerted on signatories of the "Charta 77" - made people leave the country. Not only are there different reasons for migratory movements, these movements also take on different forms: Migrants react in different ways to the change in their situation, vis-à-vis the society that will offer them a new home and the place of origin they have left. Here, too, a movement takes place: between processes of integration and the preservation of a cultural heritage and identity.

Under the project, narrative autobiographical interviews are conducted with Czechs and Slovaks living at and around Vienna. The autobiographical narratives obtained are also expressions of specific constructions of identity, in the course of which diverse correlations and differentiations are made. The central issue is the question of how the life and the narratives of the interviewees are determined by the fact that they belong to or feel that they belong to a minority. The interviewees selected are persons
  • who are long-term residents of Vienna and members of a recognised ethnic group,

  • who fled to Austria on account of the political events of 1968 and 1977,

  • who came to Vienna after the fall of the "Iron Curtain" in 1989, from what was then Czechoslovakia or later the Czech or the Slovak Republic.

The change in the political and social conditions after the fall of the "Iron Curtain" made the borders to the neighbouring countries more easily penetrable and thus triggered off new migratory movements in anticipation of growing globalisation. The question is whether the new political map also affects the old-established Czech and Slovak residents of Vienna. The research project therefore directs particular attention to the year 1989. This year is being accorded a special significance by the persons interviewed, depending on whether they have seen the breakdown of "Socialism" and the period before, actually living in Czechoslovakia, whether they emigrated after the suppression of the "Prague Spring" in 1968, whether they already left the country after the advent of the Communists in 1948 or whether they were born as descendants of Czech or Slovak immigrants at Vienna. These varying interpretations are not restricted to purely individual experiences but also offer information about collective affinities on and dissociations from national, cultural, social, political and ideological aspects of migrants and their descendants.

Research team:

Project head:
Regina Wonisch (FZHM & IFF Wien)
Gert Dressel (IFF Wien)

Scientific co-workers:
Edith Auer
Nicole Bauer
Angelika Brechelmacher (IFF Wien)
Matej Kundracik (FZHM)
Jana Starek



Photograph illustrating interview situation
Oral History Review, Vol. 31/1, 2004