Slovakia these days finds itself enjoying an economic and cultural heyday. Farsighted economic policies, including adopting a 19% flat-rate income tax and restructuring the public pension system, have allowed the government to reduce its budget deficit so much that the country qualified to adopt the European Union's common currency, the euro, as of January 1, 2009. This was no small achievement: Slovakia's euro adoption came years ahead of its main rivals, the Czech Republic and the country's former overlord Hungary. While switching to the euro caused some initial confusion and may even have allowed some shops to make a one-time price gouge, this was far outweighed by the pride Slovaks felt in meeting one of the E.U.'s toughest financial challenges.
But there were some concerns on the horizon. At press time, the global economic crisis was threatening to end -- or at least significantly slow -- the country's long-running economic boom. With fuel and energy costs rising, interest rates heading upward, and consumers cutting back, Slovakia's recent extraordinary economic growth rates of over 5% a year were in jeopardy. Visitors are not likely to notice the effects of any slowdown, but recent big drops in the value of both the U.S. dollar and British pound mean that Slovakia is no longer the budget destination it once was for many travelers.
Slovak People & Culture
With the country's expanse of unspoiled nature, Slovaks, generally speaking, tend to see themselves as a simple folk with a taste for fun, rich food, and strong drink. Folk music, while certainly an anachronism, can still be heard in some of the smaller towns and villages. Slovaks are known for being gregarious, generous, and loyal. On the negative side, they can be stubborn and nationalistic. Of course, these are generalizations. In reality there are as many "typical Slovaks" as there are people living there.
The vast majority of the population is ethnic Slovak, though a sizable minority of around half a million Hungarians lives in the south along the Hungarian frontier. There's also a large community of Gypsies, or Roma, spread out around the country, most living in squalor in the countryside or in decrepit public-housing projects in or near the large cities. The Roma represent a seemingly intractable problem for Slovakia. The Roma, with some justification, say they are routinely discriminated against and forced into substandard schools and living quarters. The Slovaks, for their part, say the Roma rigorously resist integration into mainstream life. There's truth on both sides, but no solution in sight.