19th Century

During the 18th century, a Slovak national movement was founded with the aim of fostering a sense of national identity among the Slovak people. Advanced mainly by Slovak religious leaders, the movement grew during the 19th century. A key component was the codification of a Slovak literary language by Anton Bernolak in the 1700s, and the reform of this language by Ludovit Stur the following century. Hungarian control remained strict, however, and a large Slovak movement did not emerge until the 20th century.
Andrej Hlinka

Andrej Hlinka

New signs of national and political life appeared only at the very end of the century. Slovaks became aware of the fact that they needed to ally themselves with others in their struggle. One result was the Congress of Oppressed Peoples of Hungary, held in Budapest in 1895, which alarmed the government. In their struggle Slovaks received a great deal of help from the Czechs. In 1896, the concept of Czecho-Slovak Mutuality was established in Prague to strengthen Czecho-Slovak cooperation and support Slovakia. At the beginning of the 20th century, growing democratization of political and social life threatened to overwhelm the monarchy. The main rallying call was for universal suffrage. In Hungary only 5 percent of inhabitants could vote. Slovaks saw in the trend towards democracy a possibility of easing ethnic oppression and a break through into politics again. The Slovak political camp, at the beginning of the century, split into different factions. The leaders of the Slovak National Party based in Martin, expected the international situation to change in the Slovak's favor, and they put great store by Russia. The Catholic faction of Slovak politicians lead by Father Andrej Hlinka focused on small undertakings among the Slovak public and, shortly before the war, established a political party named the Slovak Public Party. The liberal intelligentsia rallying around the Hlas (Voice) journal, followed a similar political path, but attached more importance to Czecho-Slovak cooperation. An independent Social-Democratic Party was founded in 1905. The Slovaks achieved some results. One of the greatest of these was the election success in 1906, when, despite continued oppression, seven Slovaks managed to get seats in the Assembly. This success alarmed the government, and oppression was stepped up. One result was the passing of a new education act known as the Apponyi Act, named after education minister Count Albert Apponyi. This was the climax of the Magyarization process. The new act stipulated four years of compulsory schooling, and that only Hungarian was to be taught. The reign of terror claimed the lives of 15 Slovaks killed during consecration of a new church at Cernova near Ruzomberok. The local inhabitants wished their new church to be consecrated by the popular priest and patriot Andrej Hlinka. But the Hungarian authorities decreed that the church should be consecrated by their own nominee. The public uproar was put down by the police with guns. All this added to estrangement and resistance towards Hungarian rule.

The Federation of Czechoslovakia

In 1867 the Habsburg domains in central Europe were reconstituted as the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. During World War I (1914-1918) Czechs, Slovaks, and other national groups of Austria-Hungary were joined by Czechs and Slovaks living abroad in campaigning for an independent state. In October 1918, at the end of the war, Slovakia announced its independence from the empire and incorporation into the new republic of Czechoslovakia. The new republic included the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, a small part of Silesia, and Slovakia; within these boundaries were areas inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Hungarians. A parliamentary democratic government was formed, and a capital was established in the Czech city of Prague.

Slovaks, who were greatly outnumbered by the Czechs, differed in many important ways from their Czech neighbors. The Slovak economy was more agrarian endless developed than its Czech counterpart; the majority of Slovaks were practicing Catholics while the Czech leadership believed in limiting the power of the church, and the Slovak people had generally less education and experience with self-government than the Czechs. These disparities, compounded by centralized governmental control from Prague, produced discontent among Slovaks with the structure of the new state.

In the period between the two world wars, the Czechoslovak government attempted to industrialize Slovakia. These efforts were not successful, however, due in part to the Great Depression, the worldwide economic slump of the 1930s. Slovak resentment over what was perceived to be economic and political domination by the Czechs led to increasing dissatisfaction with the federation and growing support for extreme nationalist movements. Father Andrej Hlinka and his infamous successor, Father Jozef Tiso, were joined by many Slovaks in calls for equality between Czechs and Slovaks and greater autonomy for Slovakia.