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The history of volunteering in Slovakia is closely linked to the history of civil society development. Nowadays, two lines of civil society exist (Brozmanova Gregorova and Hirt, 2006), while volunteering (including youth volunteering) has been developed within:
- Organisations fulfilling public benefit aims (e.g. social and charity related activities);
- Organisations developing mutual benefit and associative life of citizens (mutually beneficial activities, outreach and social aims).
From the Middle Ages to 1918
The first civil society organisations were linked to the activities of church and middle class. These were aimed at assistance to poor people, etc. Such activities were voluntary, philanthropic and individualistic, but often incidental (Kováčiková, 2000). Target groups care was not sufficient and it encouraged the development of so-called brotherhoods and guilds, which functioned on the principles of solidarity and mutual help.
In the middle of the 19th century, the national movement represented a strong impulse for the establishment and development of several associations, while student associations were significantly developed (Brozmanová, et al., 2009). After the unsuccessful revolution aimed at recognition of the independence of Slovaks in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the majority of associations ceased to exist. All associations were kept under state surveillance, and they were obliged to get registered and submit statues. Till 1860, only a few associations were approved, some functioned secretly (Dudeková, 1998).
The national cultural organisation Matica Slovenská started to operate in the sixties of the 19th century. Despite the official restrictions, it influenced the establishment of various associations. Young people representing the middle class participated significantly in their activities.
Restrictions towards freedom of associations and assemblies became more intense during the World War I. Associations were paralyzed; many people were under police surveillance.
From independent state towards the communist regime (1918 – 1989)
The period of the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918 – 1939) has also been called ‘the age of associations. The freedom of associations was guaranteed by the Constitution. The number of voluntary associations increased enormously. Social and health associations were strongly positioned. Mass associations operating in the whole territory of Slovakia were established (Buerkle, 2004).
Voluntary work tradition was interrupted by the military occupation and World War II., and later, by the establishment of a socialist state – the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Any activities of associations were purposefully and systematically reduced or strictly controlled (Tošner and Sozanská, 2002).
After 1945 the activities of about 10 thousand associations involving more than half-million members were renewed. Associations recognized by the military totalitarian regime were dismissed within the whole of Slovakia, but some organisations such as Matica Slovenská, Živena (organisation supporting women), various good causes, and fire services maintained. These organisations were obliged to change their Statutes (Dudeková, 1998).
In 1945 uniform mass organisations were created by the decision of the communist government: for trade unions (ROH), women (Živena), sport (Sokol), and youth (Czechoslovak Socialist Union of Youth). All the other associations were obliged to become their members. From 1948 the leading role of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was established. The existing associations were changed to “voluntary organisations” by law and thus forced to become a part of the “approved” organisations or terminate. The usage of terms, such as association or assembly, was canceled as well as voluntary membership and inner democracy. The property of associations and foundations was nationalized. “Civil organisations” were given political tasks to build a socialist society. From 1948 the third sector lost independence from the state and practically did not exist. Space for voluntary activities was offered mainly in secret activities of the Catholic Church and in some environmental organisations and some groups of Socialistic Union of Youth (Dudeková, 1998).
According to some authors volunteering (including youth volunteering) had (or acquired) three forms during socialism. The first one was ‘socialist volunteering’ supported by the state and ideology. Activities were aimed at welfare services. The second form of volunteering was ‘pragmatic volunteering’ motivated by careerism, fear of penalties, reciprocity, but also by escape into a social micro-world (e.g. activities in small informal organisations aimed at children’s leisure). The third type of volunteering was recognized as ‘dissident’, which was offered by the church and dissident organisations (Frič and Pospíšilová, 2010).
Revolution 1989 – present day
In 1990 a law was adopted, which guarantees the right to free assembly. For a long time, denied right for self-determination resulted in the establishment of many political parties and non-governmental organisations. Together with the development of civil society, the phenomenon of volunteering has been developed, too.
Youth volunteering was dealt within one of the first complex national youth strategies (National Youth Policy Conception till 2007) first from 2001, in connection with Youth Participation. The arrival of the European Union programmes in the youth field, in particular in terms of European Voluntary Service, raised this topic of international volunteering and the adoption of relevant legal documents.
The definition of “youth volunteering “has not appeared in the Slovak legislation yet. However, other terms such as “youth volunteer “or “voluntary service in youth work “are sufficiently covered in the legislation.
The Act on Volunteeringprovides, first of all, the legal status of a volunteer and legal relations in providing services, activities, and other performances to volunteers. The Act influences youth volunteering by defining the minimal age for voluntary engagement to 15 years and through the clear distinction of volunteering and practical training during education (especially in social services or social care areas).
The Act on Youth Work Support defines who is a youth volunteer and what a voluntary service in youth work is.
On the basis of the above-mentioned Acts and complex research (Brozmanová, et al., 2009, Brozmanová, Siekelová, Šolcová, 2018) it is possible to define youth volunteering in Slovakia as conscious unpaid activities provided by individual persons aged 15 – 30 years on the basis of freedom of choice for the benefit of other people, society or environment, except for family members and a household of a volunteer.
Based on the latest research on participation in civil society in Slovakia conducted in 2019 as a part of the National project “Better public policies thanks to the better understanding of civil society“, 38.0% of young people aged 15 up to 30 were involved in formal volunteering (volunteering within the organization). The participation of the overall population in the formal volunteering was in 2019, around 36.0%, and there were no significant differences according to age.
The greatest space for the involvement of volunteers is provided by non-governmental organisations followed by communities, municipalities, and state administration organisations. To the most frequent areas in which young volunteers operate belong the field of environment, sports, health and social services.