"The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks"
Slovak Peasant, 1908, Bovill, W.B. Forster
Public DomainSlovak Peasant, 1908, Bovill, W.B. Forster - Credit: wikimedia commons

Slovaks are a western Slavic people, who today mainly inhabit Slovakia, with small populations also found in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Serbia (and the U.S. and Canada).

 

As Jonathan travels across Hungary and Romania he sees a large cultural mix of people from Hungarian, Romanian and Slavic ethnic groups, such as the Czechs (western Slavic), Magyars (Hungarians), Szekelys (Hungarians in Transylvania), Wallachs (Romanians), Servians (archaic term for Serbians), and Slovaks.

 

In the Victorian writer Edith Durham's account of travelling in the Balkan lands, she notes that the Slavic people are split into many different cultures who have a long history of conflict. This antagonism and suspicion is still strong in her (and Bram Stoker's) day:

 

"Inability to cohere is ever the curse of Slav lands. Only a strong autocrat has as yet welded them." - Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle

 

Current distribution of Slavic languages in Europe (2008)
Public DomainCurrent distribution of Slavic languages in Europe (2008) - Credit: Brianski/wikimedia commons

Later, this suspicion causes trouble for the Victorian traveller:

 

"I made things worse by enlarging on my Montenegrin experiences for I had no idea then of the fact that there is nothing one Slav State hates so much as another Slav State, and truly thought to please him."  Read Twenty Years of the Balkan Tangle on Gutenberg here.

 

Emily Gerard, in The Land Beyond the Forest, also notes a general attitude of suspicion:

 

"This defensive attitude towards strangers which pervades the Saxon’s every word and action makes it, however, difficult to feel prepossessed in their favor...

...As a natural consequence of this mistrust, the spirit of speculation is here but little developed—for speculation cannot exist without some degree of confidence in one’s neighbor. They do not care to risk one Florin in order to gain ten, but are content to keep a firm grasp on what they have got. There are no beggars at all to be seen in Saxon towns, and one never hears of large fortunes gained or lost. Those who happen to be wealthy have only become so by the simple but somewhat tedious process of spending half their income only, during a period of half a century; and after they have in this manner achieved wealth, it does not seem to profit them much, for they go on living as they did before, nourishing themselves on scanty fare, and going to bed early in order to save the expense of lights."