Subsistence and Commercial Activities. During the many centuries of Magyar rule when nearly all the land of Slovakia was owned by Hungarian nobility, most Slovaks were peasants (actually landless serfs). They cultivated the land, growing and harvesting crops for the manor. Initially, the fertile plains in the west and south were heavily populated, but by the twelfth century AD., Slovaks began moving into the central region, which was more suited to animal husbandry. Other Slovaks were court servants and their villages were named for their trades or occupations. They worked at making metal pots, being forest wardens, fishing, goldsmithing, etc. The years of Magyar rule resulted in a mostly peasant Slovak population. Agriculture is still extremely important in late-twentieth-century Slovakia, with key crops such as rye, wheat, corn, clover, potatoes, and sugar beets being grown since the 1950s on large collective farms. Vineyards and wine making are important in the region surrounding Bratislava, while the spas of Piešt'any, Trenčianski, Teplice, and Bardejov still attract foreign visitors. Many rural families keep gardens, fruit trees, and livestock and thus do not experience the frequent shortages in urban stores. Barter is still active in Slovak villages, with families that keep chickens trading eggs for milk with neighbors who have cows. For several decades there also has been an active black market for all sorts of commodities, such as building materials, parts for motor scooters, and currency. In recent decades Slovakia received an Economic boost during the tenure of Gustav Husak, a Slovak who took national office in 1968 and served as president of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic from 1975 until 1989. However, the steelworks, chemicals industry, and aluminum works established in Slovakia during the Husak years are experiencing difficulties as the economy languishes in the post-cold war era.
Industrial Arts. Slovakia has a long tradition of ceramic manufacturing, lace making and embroidery, linen and wool garment making, wood carving, metalworking, and the sewing of traditional costumes.
Trade. Prior to the twentieth century, Slovak trade was controlled by the Magyars. Routes leading into Slovakia from the west were popular entryways for enemies of the Hungarians, so these roads were frequently gated and guarded. On numerous occasions, the Slovak lands were devastated by invading armies. Therefore, growth of trade with neighboring groups was difficult. During the era of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance, Slovakia was an active trade participant, but remained primarily agricultural. Light industry (underwear manufacturing) and the growing importance of the amount of electricity being generated by Slovakia' s nuclear power facility in the village of Jaslovské-Bohunice have been emerging as significant economic factors in recent years, along with the development of some heavy industry. Now with the demise of COMECON, new trade problems have appeared and old ones have grown worse. Some Slovak collective farms are moving toward a farm-co-op type of arrangement, which will entail local control of production and the ability to enter directly into an assortment of economic relationships.
Division oí Labor.
The traditional division of labor was by age and sex. In peasant agricultural life, adult males tended to the draft animals and performed the heavier tasks in the fields, such as plowing. Adult females would plant, weed, and help with the harvest. Children of both sexes could be placed in charge of the family's geese, cows, or other livestock to take to pasture. In addition, girls would be expected to help their mothers and boys would be sent to work alongside their Fathers. In the home, the bulk of child-rearing responsibility fell to the females of the household. Women cooked, tended the household gardens, stripped the geese of feathers to make the featherbeds, cleaned the house and immediate yard areas, washed the clothes, wove, and performed all the other sorts of handiwork, such as lace making and embroidery.
Formal schooling for peasant children even in the first quarter of the twentieth century rarely went beyond the third grade. Learning a trade, such as tailoring, enabled boys to live in a village or town and not be locked into agricultural activities. Some men worked at trades in addition to cultivating crops and keeping livestock. Some girls might learn to be midwives or traditional curers from their mothers or grandmothers.
Land Tenure. Prior to the onset of Magyar rule, property was probably held and used in common by related Individuals, as is reported for many Slavic groups. Feudalism resulted in vast numbers of landless peasants, so that by the twentieth century, Slovaks were emigrating at a rate second only to the Irish. With the establishment of Czechoslovakia after World War II, land reform brought some degree of prosperity to those who held plots. In the 1950s, land was once again confiscated as large collective farms were established. There are now measures to repatriate land taken by the Communists, but few individuals expect to return to the agricultural pursuits of their fathers or grandfathers and will probably sell the land for cash.