The Slavs

slovakia02Slavic tribes came from the region east of the Vistula river and occupied what is now Slovakia in the 5th century AD. They have elected a frankish merchant Samo as their King. In 833, the prince of Moravia captured Nitra and formed the Great Moravian Empire, which included all of present Central and West Slovakia, the Czech Republic and parts of neighbouring Poland, Hungary and Germany. The empire converted to Christianity with the arrival of the Thessaloniki brothers and missionaries, Cyril (Constantin) and Methodius, in 863. They knew the language of southern Slaves and invented a new alphabet for it. They translated the most important liturgical texts. After they arrived to Moravia in 863 they founded a school for priests there. The new Moravian Prince Svatopluk started to christianise and annex the neighbouring Slavonic territories (Krakow region, Silesia, Bohemia, Lusatania, Pannonia). Svatopluk sent Methodius to Rome to ask for direct protection independent of the Frankish Empire. The pope agreed and sent Svatopluk a letter “Industrie tue”. After Methodius died in 885 no new archbishop was immediately appointed and the new Pope demanded abolition of Slavonic liturgy.

After the pupils of Methodius were expelled from the country in 886 a high-rank papal delegation failed to find suitable candidates for higher church posts. New frankish attacks followed soon as well as ones of Magyars, who invaded Pannonia. After Svatopluk died in 894 the Czech princes offered their submission to Franks. Svatopluk’s sons quarrelled over whether the country should submit to Franks or defend its independence.

In 899 another papal delegation arrived and appointed an archbishop and bishops but it was too late. Franks and Moravians denounced each other to the Pope for the use of Magyar mercenaries in their permanent wars. The third (Magyars) won. The Great Moravia ceased to exist in 906 and Bavarians lost the battle of Bratislava in 907. The Great Moravian Empire collapsed as a result of the political intrigues of its rulers and invasion by Hungary.

By 1018 the whole of Slovakia was annexed by Hungary and remained so for the next 900 years, although the Spis region of East Slovakia belonged to Poland from 1412 to 1772. To prevent external involvement, the country called itself the Apostolic Kingdom. Latin became the official and literary language. After a Tatar invasion in the 13th century, the Hungarian king invited Saxon Germans to settle the depopulated northeastern borderlands. When the Turks overran Hungary in the early 16th century, the Hungarian capital moved from Buda to Bratislava. Only in 1686 was the Ottoman presence finally driven south of the Danube.

The struggle for rights and sovereignity

In 1792 A. Bernolak, a Catholic priest, established a Slovak Learned Society in Trnava to publish and distribute books in the first version of Slovak language based on local dialects of Western Slovakia. In 1803 the Lutheran high school in Bratislava set up a centre of Czechoslovak literature. Some Slovaks like P.J Safarik and J. Kollar wrote in Czech.The formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867 gave Hungary autonomy in domestic matters and a policy of enforced Magyarisation (‘Hungarianisation’) was instituted in Slovakia between 1868 and 1918. The policy of Magyarization made the question of literary language and its political consequences absolutely crucial. In 1840 the Hungarian diet (that was transferred to Pest after Bratislava had been damaged during the wars with Napoleon) passed an alarming legislation that replaced Latin with Magyar as the official language in the whole Hungarian Kingdom. Young Slovak intellectuals, headed by Ludovit Stur from Bratislava Lutheran school, decided to develop the central Slovak dialect as probably the most likely to unite all Slovaks. In 1845 they began to publish the Slovak National News.
After the outbreak of the World War I on July 28, 1914 most of the Czech and Slovak politicians adopted the policy of two irons: it meant that whatever the final outcome of the war their nations would come out as victors. Professor T.G. Masaryk, leader of the small Realist party, made trips to neutral countries in the fall of 1914. He decided to stay abroad and join the pro-independence movement of Czech and Slovak emigrants that he soon led. As early as August 1914 Czech units including Slovaks were set up within the French and Russian armies. The Czech Alliance and the Slovak League of America reached an agreement in Cleveland in 1915, in which they demanded the liberation of Czech and Slovak nations and their union “in a federative form of State, with complete autonomy for Slovakia, with its own parliament, political and financial administration, having Slovak as the language of the state”. A further similar agreement was co-signed by T.G. Masaryk (who had a Slovak father) in Pittsburgh in May 1918.

The first independent state – Czechoslovakia

slovakia04In 1915 Masaryk was joined by his chief assistant Dr. E. Benes and a Slovak, M.R. Stefanik, a French citizen and a Major of French Air Force, who had many influential friends in French, Italian and American governmental circles. The fall of Tsarist regime offered the Czechs and Slovaks an opportunity to play a more significant role in the war. T.G. Masaryk who travelled to Russia, was enabled by the Provisional Government of Russia to organise two Army Corps from among both the Czech and Slovak settlers and prisoners-of-war.
In May 1918 a conflict broke out between the Czechoslovak Legion and the Soviet Government in Siberia. The speed and ease with which the Czechoslovak Legion seized the Siberian railway made the Allies consider their intervention. The Legion would become the pivot of their intervention forces. In summer 1918 – preparing the intervention in Russia – France, Great Britain and USA recognised the Czechoslovak National Council, led by Masaryk, as a “de facto government” of Czechoslovakia. On October 28, after securing the acquiescence of the Austrian military authorities, the Prague National Committee declared the independent Czechoslovak state, with its first president Masaryk. The population of 13.6 million was formed by Czechs (6,7), Slovaks (2,05), Ruthenians (0,46), Germans (3,2), Magyars (0,69), Jews (0,18) and Poles (0,08). The national currency (the Czechoslovak crown – Kcs) was introduced in April 1919. The Language law designed “Czechoslovak” as the country’s official language. Since in reality a single Czechoslovak language never existed, the Czech and Slovak enjoyed the status of official languages. However, neither of them has ever been taught in the partner part of the country, which gave rise to increasing dualism. The law assured the national minorities full freedom in the use of their languages in everyday life and in schools, as well as in dealing with authorities in district in which they constituted at least 20 % of the population.

The initial rapid growth of industry in 1920’s was accompanied with the growth of larger enterprises and wide spread of cartels. Through direct investment a quarter of the Czechoslovak economy was in the hands of foreign investors (British, French, Belgian, Dutch) during the interwar period. The most important foreign investment in mechanical engineering industry was Schneider Creusot in Skoda Plzen. The Czechoslovak chemical industry was dominated by the companies that were closely linked to the Belgian Solvay Company and to the Anglo-Dutch trust of Lever Brothers. Only in the shoe industry the foreign capital played no important role. Thanks to a monopoly position of Bata Works Czechoslovakia held the first place among the world’s leading shoe exporters in 1930’s after overtaking Great Britain and the USA. During the world economic crisis of 1929-1933 Czechoslovakia was very hard hit.
The centralising tendencies of the sophisticated Czechs alienated many Slovaks and, after the 1938 Munich agreement, where the French and British Prime Ministers, together with Mussolini and Hitler agreed that the Sudeten districts would be separated from Czechoslovakia and Slovakia declared its autonomy within a federal state. The day before Hitler’s troops invaded Czech lands in March 1939, a clero-fascist puppet state headed by Monsignor Jozef Tiso (executed in 1947 as a war criminal) was set up, and Slovakiabecame a German ally.

WWII and the Slovak national uprising

Between March and August 1942 alone 56000 of Jews has been deported to the concentration camps. For two years Tiso resisted the pressures of Tuka, Mach and Germans to resume the deportations. In May 1944 the Diet passed a law to stop the transports and to confine Jews in relatively “humane” Slovak concentration camps. Unfortunately, in September 1944, when Germany occupied Slovakia, the SS seized many Jews, most of whom did not survive the German special treatment.
In August 1944, Slovak partisans commenced the Slovak National Uprising, which took the Germans several months to crush. The Soviet army, waiting in the Carpathian Mountains, passively witnessed this national tragedy as they had done near Warsaw during the Polish revolt.

The Soviet bloc era

prague charles bridggeIn the wake of Soviet advances in early 1945, a Czechoslovak government was established at Kosice. They went to Prague on May 10, having been preceded by the Red Army that entered the capital one day after the end of the war. The second Czechoslovakia established after the war was to have been a federal state, but after the communist takeover in February 1948 the administration once again became centralised in Prague. Many of those who resisted the new communist dictatorship were ruthlessly eliminated by execution, torture and starvation in labour camps. Although the 1960 constitution granted Czechs and Slovaks equal rights, only the 1968 ‘Prague Spring’ reforms introduced by Alexander Dubcek (a rehabilitated Slovak communist) implemented this concept.

Soviet leaders, unable to face the thought of a democratic society within the Soviet block, invaded their Czech and Slovak “friends” in August 1968. More then 200000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops rolled through Slovakia into Prague, killing 58 people. One of them has been shut on the main square in Poprad. Dubcek has been replaced by Husak as first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Although Czechoslovakia was formally a federation of two national states with separate governments and national councils, the organisation structure of the Communist Party remained asymmetric and most of real power was centralised in the hands of its Presidium in Prague. Husak’s only credit seems to be that no show trials of reform leaders have occurred. Around 14000 Communist Party fubctionaries and 500000 members, who refused to renounce their believe in reform were expelled from the party. Many professionals, including doctors, teachers and writers were forbidden to work in their field. In 1977 the rock group Plastic People of the Universe, inspired a group of 243 intellectuals, writers and artists, including Vaclav Havel, to sign a public demand for basic human rights known as Charta 77. This became a focus for opponents of the regime.

The Velvet Revolution

Forced by the popular movement, Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Soviet Premier Gorbachov embraced perestroika and glasnost, the Communist Party dropped its claims to “a leading role” in November and December 1989. On 17 November 1989 Prague`s communist youth movement organized an officially sanctioned demonstracion inmemory of nine students executed by the Nazis in1939. A peacefull crowd of 50000 was cornered in Narodni trida in Prague, some 500 were beaten by the police and about 100 arrested. The following days saw constant demonstrations by students, artists and writers, and finally by most of the populace. Though news of the uprising was kept from many Czechoslovaks, demonstrations spread throughout the country. President Husak was replaced by Vaclav Havel, playwright and dissident, who led the strongest political organisation of that era, Civic Forum (CF). An allied (formally independent) organisation Public Against Violence (PAV) was founded in Slovakia. The most outspoken representatives of the old regime were ousted and replaced by those of new political organisations.

slovakia03The days after the 17 November demonstration became known as “Zamatova revolucia” (The Velvet Revolution – on the picture), because there were no casualties.The system of central planning was abandoned. The country has been striving to reintroduce market economy and to forge close links with the international economic and financial community. A serious Czecho-Slovak conflict suddenly emerged when the Federal Assembly discussed the proposal to drop the attribute “socialistic” (introduced by A. Novotny in 1960) out of the name of the country. Many Slovak deputies demanded that the country return to its original name Czecho-Slovakia. After unexpectedly fierce discussions the country was renamed as Czech and Slovak Federal Republic in April 1990. At the same time Slovak National Party (demanding the independence of Slovakia) was founded.

slovakia05

The election in June 1992 were won by CDS led by V. Klaus, in the Czech Republic and MDS led by V. Meciar in Slovak Republic. Both of them gained more than one third of seats within their republics where they can easily form coalitions with sympathising parties. In July, goaded by Meciars fiery rhetorics, the Slovaks parliament voted to declare sovereignty. Meciar held negotiations woth Klaus, as neither could form a stable government. The incompatibility of Klaus and Slovak leader Meciar became apparent and they decided (or Klaus persuaded Meciar) that splitting the country was the best solution. Many people, including President Havel (on the picture), called for a referendum (Havel actually proposed two), but even a petition signed by a million of Czechoslovaks was not enough for a federal parliament to agree on how to arrange it. On the 1 January 1993 Czechoslovakia ceased to exist for the second time in the 20th century. Prague became capital of the new Czech Re public and Havel was elected its first president.Meciar lost the prime ministership in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in March 1994 because of a failing economy and his increasingly authoritarian rule, but after general elections a few months later, he was able to form a new coalition government.Immediately after the elections, Meciar cancelled the sale of state-owned enterprises, halted Slovakia’s privatisation scheme and threatened independent radio stations and newspapers with legal action if they dared criticise the government. Not surprisingly, many Slovaks started to lose patience with Meciar’s heavy-handed rule. The passing of anti-democratic laws brought criticism from various human rights organisations, European leaders and US President Clinton.

Modern era

euflagThe elections of 1998 saw Meciar ousted by the reform-minded Mikulas Dzurinda, leader of the right-leaning Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK). His tenure was dogged by poor economic performance, high unemployment and ethnic tensions with the country’s Hungarian and Roma minorities. Nevertheless, Dzurinda completely changed the course of recent Slovakian history by launching a policy of economic and social reforms and accelerated economic and political integration into western Europe. Perhaps goaded by the advances of their neighbours, majorities of parliamentarians and ordinary Slovakians voted in favour of key reforms. In 2004, Slovakia joined both NATO and the EU, completing a remarkable transformation. In 2007 Slovakia joined the Schengen Area and in 2009 Slovakia joined the Eurozone.