Inspiring Identity: how heritage connects community in Southern Slovakia – Lišov Múzeum

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By Rachel Backshall, Scottish Crannog Centre

My name is Rachel Backshall and I am a Community Archaeologist for the Scottish Crannog Centre. This year I was lucky enough to take part in an ARCH Network Erasmus+ trip to Lišov Múzeum in rural Southern Slovakia. I was extremely excited to be involved in this project as working at the Scottish Crannog Centre these past few years has opened my eyes to new strategies for public engagement and how a museum can matter to people in a deeper way. Lišov Múzeum in many ways embodies this approach on a community wide scale.

While visiting Lišov I was strongly struck by the desire to keep alive a certain identity and way of life that is disappearing from many rural areas of Slovakia. This identity was strongly represented in the artwork around the museum, in the traditional dress and textile skills, and even in the popular music shared one evening with a few glasses of Burcak. For most people we have multiple identities; most notably our individual identity and our group identity. Both are enormously affected by our own understanding of our culture, heritage and history, it influences how we understand who we are and why we are. This, in my mind, is what makes museums so vitally important now, the recent past and recent future have seen and will see more rapid change than ever before in human history. Museums have the opportunity to actively influence the way people see themselves, both as an individual but also as a group viewing other cultures. We can bring people together, to uphold values rather than borders and to help people engage with what makes them, and everyone else, special.

Lišov village is made up of roughly 250 Slovaks and 40 Romany, but there is little to no employment and no factories, an issue cemented by the cooperative communist farms and their closure. As a result, many people have left the area, moving away to areas of greater economic growth. We spent time with two such young men who commute to Bratislava on a Monday and come home to the village, their families, farms and most importantly wine cellars on a Friday!

Lišov Múzeum is a charity run by Jakub Dvorsky, Adriana Patkova and Martin Clarke (Grampus Heritage) and is a partner in the Green Village Project. It is built from two houses in the village and comprises a reconstructed house from 1916-1985, a Celtic Roundhouse replica, and an international mask gallery. The museum aims to support the four pillars of Sustainability, whilst promoting tourism, and encouraging people to come back to rural areas by creating and preserving a sustainable lifestyle and community. The museum takes part in multiple projects linking it to centres across Europe and is also able to send local people from Lišov to these places as part of this exchange. Jakub and Adriana both stressed the fact that they can’t and shouldn’t tell local people how to change, but they can support them to explore what others do and to be inspired as a result.

These projects also form the main income for Jakub and Adriana, and are partnered/supported/inspired by Martin Clarke, director of Grampus heritage. The projects are based on archaeology and history, heritage and traditional crafts and include 5 or 6 week placements, and one four week placement for students. The vision is to create a village that stands on the four pillars of sustainability; the social pillar, cultural pillar, agricultural pillar and economic pillar.

Money from the projects is spent in the village supporting local people, and it really feels like the museum is alive and making a positive impact on the community. Locals come to the museum to have a chat, to learn skills, meet friends, eat and drink, and to curiously see what is happening next! It is like a community centre, but uses gifts, food, and skill sharing to bind people more than money.

The museum’s strategy is ambitious, and an interesting case study to learn more about how centres can preserve local traditions/skills and keep them alive and relevant, whilst bringing new jobs to the rural community. They are linking the village to the wider political history of the area, giving the visitor a deeper understanding of the nature of the geography and its effect on recent conflicts. The museum also has a clear future, with multiple opportunities presenting themselves, a very impressive achievement considering it has only been open to the public for two years.

However, the approach I was most inspired by was the museums attitude to developing and promoting networks. During the trip we visited:

  • Olej Hont Oil – a new business established in 2014 by a Swiss couple that promotes local resources and has the potential to boost the economy in the area.
  • A café and shop plus accommodation project in Bhrlovce – linked to the Bhrlovce cave houses museum, developed by Miroslav Sedlak, who hopes to bring tourism to the area, as well as organising a craft village, and developing accommodation for residential artists in the cave houses.
  • Lišov Múzeum – renovating an 1887 house into a coffee shop which will employ a local person as well as bringing further income to the museum, plus the opportunity to part time employ a local woman to bake. The museum already offers part time employment to a local Romany woman.
  • Dobry Kraj meeting in Krupina with local officials to discuss and promote rejuvenating agricultural areas. The meeting brought together local business owners such as Jakub, entrepreneurs, projects and councils to network, and allow local people to speak to/question the policy makers.
  • Cave house owned by local landowner, who is keen to help develop more tourism draws to the area such as camping in the vicinity of the cave houses, and who also runs weekly classes at the community centre to teach local Romany children basic skills pre-school. This ties into Jakub’s plans to promote the cave houses as places of significant touristic interest, including working to produce a map with cave house walks for museum visitors to use.

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The museum has, in only four years, fostered meaningful relationships with multiple young businesses, as well as with individuals and local officials. The relationships are built on the knowledge that they all have similar aims and values; to promote/preserve local culture, to boost the local economy, to bring people back, to make traditions relevant to the 21st century, and to highlight local produce and people. The trip highlighted how important it is to keep this as simple as possible, to keep your aims and values at the very top of everything you do, and to use them as a sounding board for decision making. The museums network is both local, and International, working with projects in Spain, Germany and Cyprus to name a few, which broadens peoples’ sense of belonging and openness. The network is stronger than the individual, facilitating more opportunities and offering a fall back of support and advice.

The museum champions the lifestyles of people in the years current and previous, and the skills and knowledge linked to this are being upheld, celebrated and rejuvenated. Lišov Múzeum is less a museum about archaeology and artefacts and more a museum about a way of life, and a community. It feels like it preserves less of a specific time period, but looks towards history as more of an template for our modern world, assessing what we can learn from the past to improve what we do today, which on a much broader scale allows us to asses our own identities in the process.

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Images for map of Lisov that we are producing as part of our report. The map will guide visitors to local points of interest, as well as walks to the cave houses.

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