History of the Slovakia
Slovakia has a population slightly greater than
five million people and is located in Central Europe, just east of the
The earliest evidence of human habitation in the
area is from archaeological artifacts dating back to 270,000 BC, in the
early Paleolithic Era. The most famous archaeological discovery was of a
female statue (Venus of Moravany) carved from mammoth bone and dating
back 22,800 BC. Other artifacts of that age give evidence of trade
between Central Europe and the Mediterranean.
Slovakia entered the bronze age from 2000 to 800 BC
and became a major producer of copper, this success resulting in a
marked increase in the population and construction of fortresses. But
the power generated from this trade was squashed as Thrace and, later,
Celtic tribes attacked from the south during the later part of the Iron
Celtic dominance in turn gave way to Germanic
incursions, and eventually to expansion of the Roman Empire, which set
its foothold in the area around 6 AD.
But even this mighty power was overthrown, this
time by the Huns of Central Asia during the second and third centuries.
This lasted until 453, when Attila died.
With the Asians gone the Germanic tribes filled the
void, settling the area during the 5th and 6th
In 568 a nomadic tribe, the Avars, invaded and
settled the area, established an power base and even made encroachments
into the Byzantine Empire. In 623 the Slovakian population seceded from
the empire and, after the Avars and Persians failed to capture
Constantinople, their grip on the region slowly faded until the end of
their reign in 804.
Most historians believe that the Slavic tribes
began populating the area around the 6th century, although
some archeological evidence points to their existence their as early as
thousands of years BC. Their existence was also mentioned by occasional
historical writers throughout the centuries. Ancient German-Slavic and
Celtic-Slavic settlements have also been found in northern Slovakia.
The first real presence of the Slavs in Slovakia
was in 623 when they were united by King Samo during his overthrow of
the Avars, and later the Frankish army in 631. But this fame was
short-lived, ending in 665 with the king’s death and when the Slavs
rejoined the Avars.
In the 670s archaeological evidence indicates that
a Slavic upper class began to form and which later led to the creation
of Great Moravia. The Avars held onto their reign until 803, when they
were overthrown by the Slavs with the help of Charlemagne. With this a
Slavic foothold began to take form around Nitra, extensive settlements
developing well into the 9th century.
From 830 the Slavic people were united and gave
birth to Great Moravia, which attained a certain degree of independence
from the Frankish and Byzantine empires. The Byzantines sent teachers to
interpret Christianity in the local dialect, and Saint Cyril developed
the first Slavic alphabet, translating the Gospel into the Old Church
Slavonic language. Great Moravia continued to expand until it peaked in
894, when it is said to have covered modern-day Moravia, Slovakia,
northern and central Hungary, Lower Austria, Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia,
southern Poland and northern Serbia.
This peak came to an end with the death of King
Svatopluk, as the realm was divided among his two sons, whose bitter
rivalry resulted in internal conflict that weakened the empire until it
lost its peripheral territories.
By 907 the Hungarians were waging war against the
Bavarians, which led to the official end of Great Moravia. But the
empire left a lasting legacy in terms of an alphabet disseminated among
surrounding Slavic populations, and by its cultural footprints.
The Hungarians continued to exercise their power
over the region until 970, when they were crushed by the Germans. But
until then the Hungarians conducted raids into present-day Italy,
Germany, France, Spain and the Byzantine Empire. Even though this defeat
stopped the Hungarians from their constant raids, they continued to
maintain administration over the Slovakian lands until the 12th
century. By this time Slavs from neighbouring Poland and Moravia began
to settle in Slovakia and the region developed independent prosperity
with the discovery of rich stores of raw materials, such as gold,
silver, copper, iron and salt, which led to the formation of a healthy
Prosperity continued until 1241, when the Mongols
entered Europe and devastated the north-western parts of Slovakia. They
left a year later and fortresses were strengthened, but the later part
of the 13th century was characterized by discords among the
royal families as aristocratic power was on the rise. This shifted the
power base to local nobility (“noble counties”), but who in turn were
not able to stop the rise of the oligarchs.
Aristocratic rule continued to gain strength,
favouring, as was the tradition, the Germanic populations settled in the
area. But in the 14th and 15th centuries, with the
ascension of King Charles I, a shift began towards greater status and
support of the Slavic population. Later kings mortgaged many “Saxon”
towns to the Polish, who held onto them until 1769.
Now the Ottomans had a go on the European
continent, but who failed to extend their rule much beyond present-day
Hungary. Slovakia and northern Croatia succeeded in resisting occupation
and the “Royal Hungary” established its capital in Slovakia’s present
capital of Bratislava, until 1848. But this resistance proved costly, as
it marked the frontier battlefield between the Europeans and the Turks.
The region was depleted of much of its wealth to fund the war
resistance, and the population often suffered double taxation.
Eventually the Ottomans were ousted from Europe and
the Habsburg Monarchy moved its capital back to Budapest, but the Slovak
people remained strong because much of the bloodshed was spilt by the
predominantly Hungarian population located in the southern region of the
During the 18th century the Slovak
National Movement emerged, and although there remained resistance by
entrenched Hungarian interests, this movement was supported by Czech
counterparts, who sought to bring the two languages (Czech and Slovak)
closer together. The Slovak language was further developed until it was
accepted officially by both the Catholics and Lutherans in 1847.
In 1848 the Hungarian Revolution broke out against
the Austrians. Many Slovaks sided and fought with the Austrians to
fulfill their aspirations of independence from the Hungarians. The
Hungarian uprising was defeated and administrative control of some parts
of Hungary were handed to the Slovaks. The Slovaks took advantage of the
weakened Hungarians to further their nationalistic aspirations,
culminating in the formation of the Slovak National Party in 1871.
But this fervour of independence was rather
short-lived, because the Hungarians and Austrians came to a compromise
to form Austria-Hungary. Because of Slovakia’s betrayal during the 1848
revolution, the Hungarians greatly mistrusted them and dissolved many of
But by the end of the 19th century the
Slovaks regained their independence momentum, this time with great
support by the Czechs, when the concept of Czecho-Slovak Mutuality was
born in Prague in 1896, eventually leading to the secession of Slovakia
Democratic forces were rising, which increased
strain on the monarchy and Slovakia’s ties to Hungary. Deadly revolts
broke out in the streets and used in propaganda campaigns against Astria-Hungary.
A last ditch attempt at incorporating Slovakia into Austria-Hungary
through federalization of the monarchy was made by Archduke Ferdinand.
Unfortunately, his efforts were cut short by his assassination, which
sparked World War I.
This major conflict gave rise to stronger
autonomous aspirations and the Slovaks joined with the Czechs to form a
Czecho-Slovak republic, strongly backed by many Slovaks living on
foreign soil, such as in the US and Russia. But the greatest
contribution was made by a French citizen of Slovak origin, Milan
Rastislav Štefánik, who served as a French general and was a leading
representative of the Czecho-Slovak National Council based in Paris. The
Hungarians attempted to stifle news of such events outside of the
country but reports trickled through nevertheless and inflamed great
confidence for the cause.
The turbulence of great war led to the dissolution
of Austria-Hungary and the opportunity was seized by the Prague National
Committee when it declared an independent Czechoslovakia on 28th
of October, 1918, at the end of the war. The Slovak National Council
consented and the new country encompassed the lands of Bohemia, Moravia,
a small part of Silesia, Slovakia, and Carpatho-Ukraine, its new capital
However, for strategic and economic reasons, the
Paris Peace Conference ruled to shift the Slovak-Hungarian border south,
as such absorbing a population of 570,000 Hungarians into the newly
formed Czechoslovakia (almost 30% of the Slovakian population).
In any case, the glee of Slovakians for their
newfound independence from Hungary quickly took a sour note. First of
all, Slovakians were more agrarian as opposed to the industrial
powerhouse of the Czechs, they were outnumbered two to one, they were
less educated, were devout Catholics as opposed to the predominantly
atheistic Czechs, and now the centralized government was located in
Czechoslovakia was the only east/central European
country to function as a democracy, but suffered from discontent by its
minority German population, while Slovakian interests sought
independence, achieving so in 1939. Up until then the Czechs tried to
help the Slovaks industrialise, but this effort was hampered by the
global depression of the 1930s and the Slovaks felt bitter due to a
perceived economic dominance by the Czechs.
The peaceful period between the first two world
wars was coming to an end, Germany was rising in power and, in the
Munich Agreement of 1938, won concessions from France, Italy and the UK
to force the Czechs to surrender Sudetenland to Germany and the Slovaks
their southern borders to Hungary.
In March of 1939 the Slovak Republic became
nominally independent, but under Nazi German administration. The next
day the Germans invaded and took control of Bohemia, Moravia and
Silesia, while Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence from Slovakia.
But the Hungarians marched in to take back what they controlled before
1920, and then some from Eastern Slovakia, leading to the brief
During the early part of WWII the Slovaks enjoyed
their independence under Nazi administration, fighting symbolically for
them against the Russians and Polish. As part of their allegiance to the
Nazis, the Slovak’s agreed to surrender much of their Jewish population,
57,000 of them sent to German occupied Poland, where they were almost
all executed. But when the Slovaks heard of this they put a stop to the
deportation of the country’s remaining 24,000 Jews, although 12,600 were
still deported by the occupying German forces following the Slovak
National Uprising in 1944. Some 10,000 Slovak Jews escaped this horrible
fate when they were hid by locals, with a further 6-7,000 officially
protected by the Slovak authorities.
The Slovaks once again joined forces with the
Czechs, this time to expel the German army, although at great cost and
with help from the Red and Romanian armies. By 1945 Bratislava was
occupied by Soviet troops.
After the second world war the Hungarian minority
in Slovakia suffered further disenfranchisement, and 62% of the
Slovakian population voted for the Democratic Party. But the greater
population of the Czechs voted for the Czechoslovak Communist Party,
forcing the Slovakian population to become a satellite state of the
Four decades of firm communist grip followed, until
in 1968, a Slovak by the name of Alexander Dubček and First Secretary of
the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia paved the
way for the Prague Spring by proposing extensive reforms in the shape of
“socialism with a human face”. Communist interests felt he had gone too
far and troops were drawn from Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany
and Poland to restore strict communist rule in Czechoslovakia.
Since the bulk of the liberation movement
originated in Prague, Slovakia saw little change with the new, strict
rule and in fact experienced greater prosperity than their Czech
counterpart, who were repressed under “normalization” efforts and
suffered a long period of stagnation. This relative prosperity continued
through the 1970s until the present day.
But liberal forces festered away in the Czech part
of the country, culminating in the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Communist
rule in the country was shattered, and so eventually was the country,
with a peaceful separation in 1992. Polls say that the peoples of both
countries preferred to stay together, but political ambitions differed.
Czechoslovakia’s president, Vaclav Havel (a playwright and formerly
jailed dissident under Communism), remained president of the Czech
Republic, while an acting prime minister was formed for each country.
Both prime ministers are said to have gained great wealth during the
capitalization and sale of family silver shortly after the dismantling
of the Soviet Union.
Since then Slovakia has joined the European Union,
the Schengen Agreement, and has adopted the Euro as its currency (unlike
the Czechs). Although its currency has weakened against the Czech’s
following separation, the country has experienced stable prosperity (now
dubbed the “Tatra Tiger”) and many large manufacturing firms, such as in
the auto industry, have set up shop there (since 2007 Slovakia has been
the world’s largest producer of cars per capita).
Slovakia achieved high growth rates of as much as 14%
(the highest of all OECD countries in 2006) and by 2008 switched from
being an aid receiver to an aid provider for the World Bank. It is a
beautiful, clean and mostly forested country attracting much tourism due
to its famous mountain range and close proximity to Western Europe.
Slovak Translation Links
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