Slovaks - History and Cultural Relations



Slavs who became known as the Slovaks settled between the Danube River and the Carpathian Mountains of east-central Europe by the fifth or sixth centuries A.D. and have occupied that territory continuously. Evidence of growing cultural complexity, from tribe to prefeudal alliances to feudal state, is found in their permanent settlements in the Váh, Nitra, Torysa, Ipel, and Morava river valleys. The settlement of Nitra became the home of the Slovak princes and the location of the first Christian church in east-central Europe. During the reign of King Svatopluk ( A.D. 870-894), the Great Moravian Empire of the Slovaks reached its greatest development and size, consisting of some one million inhabitants and 350,000 square kilometers, including Polish and Czech subjects. After Svatopluk's death and the defections of Czech and Polish peoples, the Magyars (Hungarians) began to invade Slovak lands. The Magyars controlled Slovakia from the time of the battle of Bratislava in A.D. 907 to the end of World War I. About midway into the millennium of Hungarian rule, the Turkish invasion of 1526-1683 reduced the Magyar Kingdom to the size of modern-day Slovakia.

The first half of the nineteenth century marked the Beginning of a Slovak national renaissance and desire for ethnic independence as a minority in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but in 1868 the Hungarians initiated a formal program of assimilation or "Magyarization." Hungarian was declared the official language in Slovakia, the last three Slovak secondary schools were closed, and in 1869, the Matica Slovenská (the Slovak Institute of Sciences and Arts founded in 1863) was suppressed. As World War I got under way, Slovaks in the United States urged Czech-Americans to join in efforts to promote a joint nation and by 1919, the federated state of Czecho-Slovakia was established and recognized to be a union of two ethnic groups.

The Czechs, who were more numerous and powerful, soon insisted on Czechoslovak unitarism in an effort to eliminate the national individuality of Slovakia. Slovak relations with the Czechs worsened until Czecho-Slovakia disintegrated in 1938-1939. The Slovak Republic (1939-1945) was established as the result of growing international pressures and became dependent on Hitler's Germany. In 1944, anti-Nazi Slovak partisans mounted an armed rebellion, but they were quickly crushed by German forces who reportedly killed 30,000 Slovaks while Soviet troops waited in the nearby Carpathian Mountains. The nation of Czechoslovakia was reconstituted at the end of World War II; by 1949 Communists had gained total control of the country and Slovaks were once again placed in a subordinate position by the Prague government.

When the "Czech Spring" movement emerged in 1968 under the leadership of a Slovak, Alexander Dubcek, it was crushed by a Soviet-led invasion of Warsaw Pact troops who occupied the entire Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, including Slovakia. In November 1989, the Czech dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, led the Civic Forum party in the "Velvet Revolution," a peaceful overthrow of the republic's Communist government. Public against Violence was the Slovak counterpart of Civic Forum. National elections were held in 1990, and the name of the country was changed to the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. In 1991, a vocal Slovak nationalistic party called Movement for a Democratic Slovakia began to demand independence for Slovakia. Its showing in the June 1992 elections further widened the rift between the Czech and Slovak republics.


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