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The Mathias Bel Institute

The Mathias Bel Foundation was founded in 2014 as a think-tank focusing on supporting the idea of a civic Slovakia through strengthening civic initiatives, fostering interethnic cooperation and promoting democracy. Since then, we have worked on advancing the idea of a civic Slovakia, where everyone can equally feel at home regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender, region of residence and any other demographic characteristic. We have sought to do this through academic work, educational activities, public discussion and an intensive field work component. The founding president of the Institute was Mr. Rudolf Chmel, former vice prime minister of Slovakia for human rights and national minorities. The founding executive director was Mr. Ábel Ravasz, former plenipotentiary of Slovakia for Roma communities. Currently Mr. Ravasz serves as our president, Mr. Péter Morvay as our executive director and Mr. Chmel is president emeritus.

Our primary demographic groups are minority communities in Slovakia, with a special focus on the Hungarian, Roma, Ruthenian and Goral ethnic minorities, which make up some 20 % of the total population of Slovakia. We have a strong commitment to interethnic communication between the Slovak majority and minorities, as well as between minorities.

Our foundation’s namesake is Mathias Bel, who was a writer, scientist, politician and priest living in 18th century Hungary. He embodies a tradition of interethnic communication, stating about himself that he was Slovak by language, Hungarian by nationality and German by education. For us, Mathias Bel represents academic excellence, an understanding for the importance of tolerance and a commitment to educating one’s fellow countrymen. The legal name of our organization is bilingual, representing the Slovak and Hungarian names for Mathias Bel, whereas in English communication we usually use the Anglicized version of the name.

Since 2015, we have been organizing a flagship discussion series with experts, activists and politicians on current policy issues under the label “Orange Salon”. Since 2021, we have rebooted this discussion series under the label “Common Ground”, hoping to bring together people that support centrist, civic-oriented solutions in an ever more polarized political environment. In this continuing program we gradually work our way through key policy topics such as the rule of law, health care, regional development, empowering women and minority policy.

Since 2019, our Institute has been organizing an annual Internship Program for young leaders. This month-long academy focuses on minority policy, the integration of Roma and a yearly topic such as ethnic data, Goral communities and others. The internship program is an intense, six-week course consisting of presentations, workshops and trainings on the above-mentioned topics. The highlight of the program is a unique three-day field work session, where our interns get to visit Roma communities, key regional stakeholders and ethnic communities throughout Slovakia. The program is designed for 6 to 10 participants, both students from Slovak universities and Slovak students studying abroad.

A new but significant initiative for our institute is our MP Contact Group. For the first time in the history of Slovakia, there is no ethnic minority party in the parliament, which has resulted in a decline in the quality of minority-oriented legislation. To remedy this, we created a unique MP contact group which consists of the best experts in minority issues in Slovakia and MPs that work with these issues. The experts create policy recommendations based on the parliamentary agenda and we brief the MPs about them, allowing them to make better decisions. Due to the high amount of interest generated by it, we plan to continue this program indefinitely.

One of the key activities of our institute is the cooperation with the pro-Roma activist network PURT. PURT works in the Gemer region of Slovakia, and over the last 8 years has supported over 200 small community development projects in over 50 communities. PURT works in a democratic fashion, our activists (primarily from Roma communities) present their small ideas for improving their communities in our bimonthly meetings, and then the community can vote to support or decline these projects. PURT, now a formal NGO, is a sister organization of our institute, with several shared founders and currently 3 of 5 board members in PURT being also members of the Mathias Bel Institute’s own board. Our Institute has a long running Roma Ambassadors program, which trains and develops the activists working with PURT (www.purt.org).

One of the specializations of our Institute is work with ethnic data. Over the years, our colleagues worked on Slovakia’s ethnic data best practice initiative, the Atlas of Roma Communities 2019, and we are currently creating the Atlas of Goral Communities that will for the first time properly map this little understood ethnic group living in the Slovak – Polish border area.

Since 2020, we are the co-founders of the initiative Regional Development Now!, a program that connects experts working in the field of regional development. The initiative organizes discussions, creates policy materials as well as a yearbook in this topic. The idea is to divorce the agenda of regional development from the political cycle and help develop local communities in a meaningful and democratic way.

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