Social Distance from the “Others” or Tolerance of Diversity? Attitudes of Young People in Slovakia

Authors: Daniel Gerbery and Roman Džambazovič Comenius UniversitySlovakia

A tolerance of diversity represents one of the fundamental values of the liberal democracies. Accepting diversity means, inter alia, that people do not maintain a social distance from the members of particular groups or social categories. Thus, by measuring social distance from various groups, which may face risk of social marginalization or exclusion, one can reveal the extent of in/tolerance in a given society. At the same time, it is also a good proxy indicator of interpersonal trust that forms a basis of social cohesion.
In Slovakia, several sociological studies report a growing intolerance and distrust against social groups that are perceived as being different by the surrounding society. There are also data on increasing prevalence of prejudice, chauvinism and extremist far-right values, as – for example – index DEREX (Demand for Right-Wing Extremist) reports. Among the V4 countries, Slovakia shows the strongest (potential) support of far-right extremism, far above the level of the support in the west European countries.
Data from the four waves of European Values Study, shown in the Table, confirm that a significant part of the young people in Slovakia aged 18 to 24, keep distance from various groups of people. Social distance was measured by asking individuals whether they would or would not like to have member of different groups as neighbours. Table shows development of social distance in the period 1991-2017.
In 2017, Muslims and Roma people represent social groups that the majority of young people refused as neighbours (60.3 % and 58.2 % respectively). There is also a high level of intolerance in relation to immigrants and foreign workers (41.8 %), as well as homosexuals (36.4 %). Around one in five persons aged 18 to 24 refused people of different race.
There are some alarming tendencies. The proportion of young people keeping distance from Muslims has increased by almost 35 percentage points between 1991 and 2017. The proportion of young people who did not want immigrants and foreign workers as neighbours has grown by more than 24 percentage points. On the other hand, intolerance against Roma people has decreased, but still remains at a high level. Generally speaking, two periods can be distinguished: while the presence of social distance has fallen between the years 1991 and 2008, it has significantly increased in the recent period.
A high level of social distance against “different” social groups partly reflects the language and communication of some political parties in Slovakia, characterised by xenophobic and homophobic hate speech. These parties are popular among young people and make the upcoming general election (February 29) a very sensitive issue. According to the recent polls, the far-right party Kotlebovci – People’s Party Our Slovakia is on the rise, representing one of the strongest opposition parties in Slovakia. The popularity of the party, which attracts young voters , relies on the mix of racism, xenophobia and homophobia. It seems that the high level of social distance of young people against vulnerable and “different” social groups has been translated into political preferences to a certain extent.
Data on social distance of young people as well as on their inclination to the far-right represents a big challenge for policy-makers, civic society, as well as academia. A detailed knowledge about cultural determinants of the youth’s values and attitudes, which will stem from the CHIEF project, can contribute to better understanding of these phenomena.

Table: Social distance to various groups of people – percentage of individuals refusing selected groups as neighbours (%)

1991 1999 2008 2017
People of different race 23.1 19.7 10.3 20.6
(28.3) (17.0) (12.8) (26.5)
Immigrants/foreign workers 17.4 20.7 16.8 41.8
(23.4) (22.8) (15.5) (43.1)
Homosexuals 63.6 38.3 31.7 36.4
(61.9) (44.0) (31.1) (37.1)
Jews 27.3 9.5 12.6 15.5
(26.1) (9.8) (11.8) (22.7)
Roma 75.2 85.6 40.0 58.2
(70.8) (77.2) (44.5) (62.4)
Muslims 25.6 22.3 15.8 60.3
(26.1) (24.4) (20.9) (54.5)

Sources: European Values Study Longitudinal Data File 1981-2008, ZA4804, v.3.0.0 (2015-10-30), doi:10.4232/1.12253. Strapcová, K. – Zeman, M. (2019): Výskum európskych hodnôt 2017 – Slovensko. (European Values Study 2017 – Slovakia). Bratislava: SÚ SAV.
Note 1: Table shows positive answers to the following question: “On this list are various groups of people. Could you identify any that you would not like to have as neighbours?” Some groups are not included in the table (heavy drinkers, drug addicts).
Note 2: The numbers in parentheses represent percentages of the total population refusing selected groups as neighbours.


About the authors

Daniel Gerbery is a Sociologist at the Comenius University in Bratislava.

Dr. Roman Džambazovič is a Sociologist at the Comenius University in Bratislava. His research interests are social stratification and social mobility; many aspects of social inequalities; marginalized groups; poverty and social exclusion; family behaviour; youth (sub)culture.