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Brief History of Slovakia



 

Slovak history can find its roots in the Great Moravian Empire, founded in the early ninth century. The territory of Great Moravia included all of present western and central Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and parts of neighboring Poland, Hungary, and Germany. Saint Cyril and Methodius, known for the creation of a Cyrillic alphabet, came to Great Moravia in the early tenth century as missionaries to spread Christianity upon the invitation of the king.

The empire collapsed after only eighty years as a result of the political intrigues and external pressures from invading forces. Slovaks then became part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where they remained for the next 1,000 years. Bratislava became the Hungarian capital for nearly two and a half centuries when the Turks overran Hungary in the early 16th century.

Revolutions inspired by nationalism swept through Central Europe in 1848, which led to the codification of the Slovak language by Ludovit Stur in 1846 and later the formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867. As language and education policies favoring the use of Hungarian, which came to be known as Magyarization, grew stricter, Slovak nationalism grew stronger. Slovak intellectuals cultivated closer cultural ties with the Czechs, who were themselves ruled by the Austrians. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian State after WWI, the concept of a single Czecho-Slovakian unified state came to fruition. Tomas Masaryk signed the Pittsburgh Agreement, declaring the intent of the Czech and Slovaks to found a new state in May 1918, and a year later become Czechoslovakia's first president.

After the 1938 Munich agreement that forced Czechoslovakia to cede territory to Germany, Slovakia declared its autonomy. Slovakia became a Nazi puppet state led by the Catholic priest Jozef Tiso. During this period, approximately 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to concentration camps to perish in the Holocaust. Roma, while persecuted under the Tiso regime, were not deported by the Slovak Hlinka guards. An undetermined number of Roma were deported from the southern part of Slovakia when it was occupied by Hungary in 1944. The Slovak National Uprising, a resistance movement against the fascist Slovak state, occurred in 1944 with the participation of Slovaks, Russians, Jews, and some allied forces but was put down by Nazi forces.

At the conclusion of WWII, the reunified Czechoslovakia was considered within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. The communist party, supported by the U.S.S.R., took over political power in February 1948 and began to centralize power. The next four decades were characterized by strict communist rule, interrupted only briefly during the Prague Spring of 1968. The Slovak born Communist leader Alexander Dubcek presided over a thawing of communist power and proposed political, social, and economic reforms in his effort to make "socialism with a human face" a reality. Concern among other Warsaw Pact governments that Dubcek had gone too far prompted an invasion and Dubcek's removal from his position.

The 1970s were characterized by the development of a dissident movement. On January 1, 1977 more than 250 human rights activists signed a manifesto called Charter 77, which criticized the government for failing to meet its human rights obligation. The so-called "Candle Demonstration," which took place in Bratislava in March 1988, was the first mass demonstration of the 1980s against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. The Demonstration, organized by Roman Catholic groups asking for religious freedom in Czechoslovakia, was brutally suppressed by the police.

On November 17, 1989, a series of public protests, known as the "Velvet Revolution," began and led to the downfall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Dissident groups, such as Charter 77 in the Czech Republic and Public Against Violence in Slovakia, united to form a transitional government and assist with the first democratic elections since 1948. Several new parties emerged to fill the political spectrum.

In June 1992, the Slovak parliament voted to declare sovereignty and the federation dissolved peacefully on January 1, 1993. Slovakia officially became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004 and joined the EU on May 1, 2004.

 
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