How ethnoregionalist movements disappear: the story of Moraviansicelds
In its political manifestation, ethnicity is a rather mobile dynamic social construct. Various ethnic (including regionalist) movements have been emerging over the past few centuries. They become institutionalized, influence political decision-making, and … disappear from the public sphere. Especially striking dynamics can be observed among ethnoregionalist movements in the post-socialist space. After the collapse of socialism, a “rise of ethnonationalism” was observed nearly in all countries, the further development trajectories of these movements were significantly different. While in Transylvania, Istria, or Poland’s Silesia, ethnoregionalist parties have become a stable part of the political landscape, in other places ethnoregionalism became marginalized. A prime example is the Moravian movement in the Czech Republic.
History of the Moravian movement until the 1990s
Moravia is a historical region in the eastern part of today’s Czechia. The region’s population is Moravians who represent a West Slavic ethnic group. It is the Moravian language that forms the basis of the Moravian identity. It is nearly indistinguishable from the Czech language and is typically perceived as nothing else but its dialect. Moreover, the Moravian identity has deep historical roots that date back to the medieval Great Moravian Empire. In the Habsburg Empire, Moravia was a self-governing territory. Moravian political parties emerged in the region already at the beginning of the 20th century. After the collapse of Austria-Hungary, Moravia, along with Bohemia and Slovakia, received autonomy within the Czechoslovak Republic.
Under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, the autonomy of Moravia was abolished. As a result of the administrative reform, Moravia ceased to be an integral administrative-territorial unit. The only attempt to revive the agenda of the Moravian identity occurred during the short period of the Prague Spring in 1968. Back then, the general liberalization of political discourse opened ways to publicly express the aspirations of the country’s various minorities, including the demands for the reinstatement of the Moravian autonomy. The first claims of this kind were made by the staff of the Moravian Museum in Brno, who demanded that the status of the Moravian province should be updated. The Moravians were among the first to reiterate the idea of the Czech Republic’s federalization, but these ideas have been never implemented .
Moravian movement in the 1990-2000s: revival and fragmentation
The revival of the Moravian ethnoregionalism took place after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. During this period, many Moravian social and political organizations were created. The most significant was the Movement for Autonomous Democracy – Society for Moravia and Silesia (Czech: Hnutí za samosprávnou demokracii – Společnost pro Moravu a Slezsko, HSD–SMS). It was established on 1 April 1990. Boleslav Bárta (1929-1991), a leader of Moravian ethnoregionalism, played an important role in this organization. Under his leadership, the HSD–SMS achieved parliamentary representation both at the regional level and in the national parliament. In 1992, Czechoslovakia was about to collapse. By the analogy with Slovakia, the idea of creating an independent Moravian state or, at least, an autonomous Moravian region was quite popular among the Moravian leaders. Czech elites, however, rejected this option as they feared further disintegration of the country. As a result, in January 1992, representatives of the Moravian party left the Czech government. This seriously weakened their political positions. Barta’s death and the subsequent conflicts in the party leadership made a huge negative impact on the party. As a result, it split into two factions – the HSD-SMS I and the HSD-SMS II .
Disagreements and controversies among the Moravian political elites led to the marginalization of the party. Since January 1993, the Moravian parties have never received more than 2 percent of the vote at the elections. Jan Kryčer, head of one of the factions, continued the transformation of the movement by renaming to Movement for Autonomous Democracy of Moravia and Silesia (Czech: Hnutí samosprávné demokracie Moravy a Slezska, HSDMS), and subsequently to the Czech–Moravian Centrist Party (Czech: Českomoravská strana středu, ČMSS). In 1994, members of the other faction created the Movement of Autonomous Moravia and Silesia – Moravian National Union (Czech: Hnutí samosprávné Moravy a Slezska – Moravské národní sjednocení, HSMS-MNSj) . In 1996, these processes ultimately led to the situation when several Moravian lists ran for the Czech parliamentary election and all failed. Thus, the fragmentation of ethno-regional parties resulted in the electoral decline of the movement as a whole.
In particular, the weakening of the Moravian movement had implications for the modern administrative-territorial division of the Czech Republic. It was adopted in 1996 when the country was divided into 14 regions. The ideas to create Moravia as an integral political-administrative region were rejected. Currently, Moravia is divided between several regions (Czech, plural: kraje): Moravian-Silesian (Czech: Moravskoslezský), Olomouc (Czech: Olomoucký), Zlín (Czech: Zlínský), South Moravian (Czech: Jihomoravský) and a part of the Vysočina region.
Moravian movement since 2005: decline or transformation?
In 2005, Moravian activists managed to overcome the fragmentation. A single party, the Moravané (Czech for The Moravians) was formed as a merger of the HSMS-MNSj and the Moravian Democratic Party (Czech: Moravská demokratická strana). Thus, it remains the only political party that claims to represent Moravians . The party declares the creation of a federal republic as its main goal, with Bohemia and Moravia as autonomous units of this entity. In June 2006, the party participated in Czech parliamentary election for the first time. It received only 0.23 percent of the votes and failed to reach the electoral threshold. Also later, at various elections, the party’s performance was just as weak. Except for some local legislatures, its candidates were never elected .
Although there is currently no party fragmentation in the Moravian movement, it remains marginal. The lack of a strong leader and a lack of resources, including financial ones, pose serious problems for the movement since businesses are reluctant to invest in a marginal political party.
What are the reasons behind the electoral decline of the ethnoregional movement in Moravia? Firstly, it is the organizational instability of the actors representing the movement. The lack of significant financial resources coupled with internal party conflicts led to a significant decline in the potential electorate’s support for the Moravian party.
Secondly, support for the Moravian identity declined. In 1990, 13.2 percent of the region’s identified themselves as Moravians. According to the 2011 population census, it was as low as five percent . The identity of Moravians is rather blurred, fragmented, and subjected to political influences.
All these factors together led to the absence of significant political representation of the Moravians in the regional and national politics of Czechia. However, one can hardly consider that because of this the Moravian movement has become history. Perfectly aware of their political weakness, the Moravian leaders are striving to find new strategies and tactics. During the 2020 regional election, the Moravané party declared that its goal was not to promote its candidates to the regional councils, but rather to create conditions for the self-identification as Moravians of as many citizens as possible . The party changed its name and is now called “Moravians, to preserve Moravia, let’s again declare our Moravian nationality during the 2021 census” (Czech: Moravané, pro zachování Moravy se při sčítání lidu 2021 opět přihlasme k moravské národnosti) Thus, there is a clear shift in priorities. Instead of the political goal to create an autonomous Moravian region within its historical borders, the emphasis is now placed on the development of the Moravians’ cultural and historical identity. According to the leaders of the party, this will attract more attention to the party, expand its support among the population, and increase the resource base.
To sum up, the Moravian movement is a vivid example of an ethnoregional movement’s transformation. In just three decades, it institutionalized into a political party and achieved significant success in the electoral arena, then it lost its electoral support and is now transforming into a predominantly ethnocultural organization that abandons autonomist demands. The results of the 2021 population census in Czechia could answer the question of how successful this attempt will be. In general, the Moravian case once again proves the constructability and variability of ethnic groups and movements. Even if, for some reason, ethnoregional movements lose their influence, the potential of ethnic identity remains and under certain conditions can be achieved.
 Hloušek V. (2015) From region to nation and back again: Moravian parties’ rhetoric and politics in the course of time. The Annual of Language & Politics and Politics of Identity, IX: 5-22.
 Strmiska, M. (2000). Rise and Fall of Moravian Regionalist Parties. Středoevropské politické studie, 2(4).
 Musil, L., L. Rabušic, and P. Mareš (1991) Is the Moravian movement the last straw which the Moravians grasp? Sborník prací Filozofické fakulty brněnské univerzity, 40(G34): 51-61.
 Moravané, political party’s official website. http://www.moravane.cz/
 Results of Elections and Referendums, Czech Statistical Office. https://www.volby.cz/index_en.htm
Author: Maria Isobchuk is a research fellow, Perm Federal Research Center, Russian Academy of Sciences, Department of Political Institutions and Processes.
Note: This work was supported by the Russian Science Foundation under Grant No. 19-18-00053; the project “Subnational Regionalism and Dynamics of Multi-Level Politics (Russian and European Practices)”.
Image: The Moravané, political party’s Facebook page.