Unity in Diversity: Multiculturalism, Nationalism and the Representation of History in the Slovak National Museum

Justin Joque


This paper explores institutional social memory as presented within the Slovak National Museum, focusing on the museum’s contradictory and often overtly nationalist narratives. The various exhibits within the museum support both ethnocentric Slovak histories as well as a nominally multicultural view of history that recognizes other possible narratives. These exhibits are used to examine the functioning of various narratives of the past and their associated ideologies in Slovakia's current political context.

The ethno-nationalist narratives present in these exhibits attempt to remember a history that supports the nation, but they are ultimately faced with the ambiguity of the past. In response, two suggestions are offered within the exhibits. First, these multiple pasts are temporalized through the idealization of peasant culture, implying there exists a lost past where these difficulties were non-existent and both memory and the nations were homogenous. Second, multiculturalism is invoked to neutralize the impact of minority discontent. Multiculturalism is used to suggest both that ethnic minorities are respected and that the national community contains an irreducible number of ethnic demands. In both cases the exhibits argue that current political arrangements are the only possible solution to the ethnic tensions in the region.

There then arises a contradiction between a lost homogenous nation and a multicultural past that allows the nation and memory to opportunistically vacillate between homogenous and diverse. Thus, the history of Slovakia is able to represent both its idealistically homogenous, and its begrudgingly accepted, multiethnic aspects. The impossibility of a workable minority in politics combined with a satisfactory respect for the presence of these multiple historical narratives requires, and allows, the use of Slovak national symbols to represent the whole. The paper argues that this self-contradictory and dual view of history supports an understanding of the past and present in which a façade of democratic multiculturalism can be used to ignore current ethnic inequality.

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