20th Century

Fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

After the outbreak of world war, the Slovak cause took firmer shapein resistance and determination to leave the dual monarchy and form an independentrepublic with the Czechs. The decision originated amongst people of Slovak descent inforeign countries. Slovaks in the US were especially numerous and formed a sizeableorganization. These, and other organizations in Russia, and neutral countries, backed theidea of a Czecho-Slovak republic. Slovaks strongly supported this move. The most importantSlovak representative was Milan Rastislav Stefanik, French citizen of Slovak origin, whoas a French general and leading representative of the Czecho-Slovak National Council basedin Paris, made a decisive contribution to the success of the Czecho-Slovak cause.Political representatives at home, including representatives of all political persuasions,after some hesitation, gave their support to the activities of Masaryk and Stefanik. Thenational campaign amongst Slovak inhabitants was hindered by the fact that the Hungariangovernment had increased harassment of Slovaks during the war. Despite stringentcensorship, news of their success abroad got through to Slovakia and was received withmuch satisfaction. In the turbulent final year of the war, sporadic protest actions tookplace in Slovakia politicians held a secret meeting at Liptovsky Mikulas on May 1,1918. Finally the Prague National Committee proclaimed an independent republic ofCzechoslovakia on 28 October, and, two days later, the Slovak National Council at Martinacceded to the Prague proclamation.

World War II

Inaddition to Czechoslovakia’s internal conflicts, the rise of Nazi Germany in the1930s and the aggressive policies of German dictator Adolf Hitler led to the demise of the Czechoslovak federation. In 1938 the leaders of Great Britain, France, and Italy weretrying to avoid another war with Germany and were willing to negotiate with Hitler. Theresult of their negotiations, the Munich Pact, forced the government of Czechoslovakia tocede the Sudetenland, an area inhabited largely by Germans, to Germany. Fearing that thefederal government would not be able to protect Slovak interests, the Slovak leadershipnominated an autonomous provincial government and approved a new constitution, creatingthe short-lived Second Republic of Czechoslovakia. Faced with the threat of being dividedbetween Germany, Poland, and Hungary, the Slovak government decided to withdraw from thefederation and declare its independence. On March 14, 1939, the first independent SlovakRepublic was established, and Father Tiso was chosen as head of government.

With independence, Slovakia came underheavy German influence and protection. Tiso allowed German troops to occupy Slovakia inAugust 1939, and the country entered World War II as Germany’s ally. Governmentpolicies were closely aligned with those of Germany’s ruling Nazi Party, and between1942 and 1944 approximately 70,000 Slovak Jews and other "undesirables" weresent to concentration camps (See Holocaustin Slovakia). Although some Slovaks supported the state, an undergroundresistance movement also gained strength. In 1944 this movement organized the SlovakNational Uprising against German control.

When the war ended in 1945, the republic of Czechoslovakia wasresurrected, with the exception of Ruthenia, a small area in the east that was taken overthe by Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Prime Minister Tiso was hanged fortreason and collaboration with the Nazis, and other high party officials were alsopunished. Between 1945 and 1948, Communists and representatives of other political partiesruled the country in a coalition government, and a free press existed. Although theCommunist Party controlled many important positions, it had less support in Slovakia thanin the Czech lands.

The Communist Regime

In February 1948 the Communists provoked a political crisis andtook over the government in Prague. Under the leadership of Slovak Gustv Husk, the Communists patterned Czechoslovakia’s economy and government on those of the Soviet Union. The state took control of the country’s factories and many businesses; privateproperty was nationalized; and farmers were forced to join collective farms in which allland and equipment were jointly owned. The government prohibited opposition to the Communist Party and made efforts to decrease the influence of churches. The CommunistParty became the only effective party in Czechoslovakia.

In the 1960s party leaders andintellectuals in Slovakia and the Czech lands created a movement to reform the Communistsystem. The movement, which came to be known as "Socialism with a Human Face," was led by Alexander Dubcek, a Communist from Slovakia who became the head ofCzechoslovakia’s Communist Party in January 1968. The USSR feared that the reformswould threaten its influence in Czechoslovakia, and on August 21 of that year, the Sovietmilitary, assisted by troops from other Communist countries of Eastern Europe, invadedCzechoslovakia. As a result, nearly all the reforms that had been introduced wereeliminated. Dubcek was replaced by Husk in April 1969, andultimately was expelled from the party. Many other leaders and intellectuals who supportedliberalization also lost their positions. The Husk government reestablished tight partycontrol and censorship of the press. However, in January 1969 a new socialist federalrepublic was established, granting the Czech and Slovak republics autonomy over localaffairs.

During the 1970s and 1980s, dissent took different forms in thetwo republics. In the Czech lands, political organizing brought forth a powerful dissidentmovement called Charter 77. In Slovakia, subversive activity was confined largely to theprivate sphere. Historically a religious people, Slovaks turned to the practice ofCatholicism to express their opposition to the Communist regime. During this period anumber of mass pilgrimages and religious celebrations took place in Slovakia; becausethese events brought large numbers of people together, they effectively became nationalistdemonstrations.

M. R. Štefánik

M. R. Štefánik

Slovakia after Communism

In 1989 revolts against the Communist governments swept through many eastern European countries, including East Germany, Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. In November Slovaks joined with Czechs in mass protests against the Communist government. Less than one month later, the government resigned and non-Communists took control of the country. A new movement called Public Against Violence (PAV) was formed in Slovakia, bringing together political dissidents, intellectuals, and Catholics to lead the transition to an open democratic society. The federation's first free elections since 1946 were held in June 1990, and were won by PAV in Slovakia and Vaclav Havel's Civic Forum in the Czech lands. Havel was chosen as president of Czechoslovakia, and Marian Calfa, a Slovak, became vice president. Within Slovakia, the new non-Communist government was led first by Vladmir Meciar, then a member of PAV, and then in 1991 by Jan Carnogursky, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement.

One of the major tasks facing the new government of Czechoslovakia was the reestablishment of an economy based on free enterprise. The country began a mass privatization program with the goal of shifting hundreds of state-owned companies into private hands, and took steps to encourage foreign investment. However, as these and other reforms got underway, tensions developed between the two republics. Because Slovakia had industrialized during the Communist period, it inherited an inefficient, defense-oriented industrial base; the transition to a market economy thus resulted in greater unemployment and economic hardship in Slovakia than it did in the more economically advantaged Czech lands. Because of their economic differences, Czechs and Slovaks held opposing views about the appropriate pace and nature of economic reform; they also disagreed about how power should be divided between the federal and republic-level governments. These differences complicated the reform process and prevented the adoption of a new federal constitution.

The Breakup of Czechoslovakia

The results of the elections of June 1992 reflected the growing split between the two lands. The liberal Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by Slovak Vladmir Meciar, and the conservative Civic Democratic Party, led by Czech Vaclav Klaus won the two largest representations in parliament; each leader became the prime minister of his own republic. Disagreements between the republics intensified, and it became clear that no form offederal government could satisfy both. In July 1992 Slovakia declared itself a sovereign state, meaning that its laws took precedence over those of the federal government.

Throughout the fall of that year, Meciar and Klaus negotiated the details for disbanding the federation. In November the federal parliament voted to dissolve the country officially on December 31, despite polls indicating that the majority of citizens opposed the split. In January 1993 Czechoslovakia was replaced by two independent states: Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Slovaks gathered for celebrations in their new nation's capital at Bratislava.


Under Meciar's leadership, the process of privatization slowed in Slovakia. In February 1993 Michal Kovac was elected president of the country. Although a fellow member of the HZDS party, Kovac was not a Meciar ally, and conflicts soon developed within the government. Meciar's position was further undermined by the resignation and defection of a number of party deputies in early 1994. In March of that year, Meciar resigned from office after receiving a vote of no confidence from the Slovak parliament. An interim coalition government comprising representatives from a broad range of parties was sworn in, with Jozef Moravcik of the Democratic Union of Slovakia Party as prime minister. Moravcik's government revived the privatization process and took steps to attract more foreign investment to Slovakia. It also helped to calm the increasingly strained relations between Slovaks and resident Hungarians, who had begun campaigning for educational and cultural autonomy. In May a law was passed by parliament allowing ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia to register their names in their original form; this replaced previous legislation requiring Hungarians to convert their names to the Slavic form.

In elections held in the fall of 1994, the HZDS Party, led once again by Meciar, received 35 percent of the popular vote and announced its plans to form a government with the support of the ultranationalist Slovak National Party. Although the two parties did not control enough parliamentary seats to command a majority, this situation was resolved in November when the left-wing Association of Slovak Workers joined Meciar's coalition. The new government took office in December, and Meciar became prime minister for a third time. In an effort to reverse Moravcik's liberalization policies, the Meciar government returned radio and television communications to state control and blocked the privatization of state-owned companies. These and other measures aimed at centralizing power in Meciar's hands were met with concern by a number of Western governments.

In the months that followed, tensions mounted between Meciar's government and President Kovc. In May 1995 the Slovak National Council passed a vote of no confidence in Kovac over his alleged failure to control the activities of the Slovak Information Service, the intelligence agency that had been transferred from Kovac's authority to that of the government the previous month. The vote, which had no legal consequence, was declared unconstitutional by Kovac. Prime Minister Meciar backed the resignation demand. In June Kovac was stripped of his role as head of the armed forces.

Since becoming independent, one priority of Slovak foreign policy has been to maintain good neighborly relations with the Czech Republic and other central European nations. However, relations with Hungary have at times been strained, mainly over status of Slovakia's large ethnic Hungarian population and by fears among Slovaks of Hungarian expansionism. In March 1995 the two countries took an important step toward peaceful relations when prime ministers signed an historic treaty of friendship and cooperation; the treaty reaffirmed the Slovak-Hungarian border, contained pledges on the part both governments to protect and foster the rights of ethnic minorities residing in their countries.

Slovakia and Hungary have also been involved in a dispute over the Gabcikovo dam, located on the Danube on the Slovak-Hungarian border. The dam was initially part of a joint hydroelectric project between Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The project called for the diversion of the Danube and the construction of two major dams, one in each country. However, in 1989 Hungary withdrew from the project, citing environmental concerns. Czechoslovakia proceeded with the construction of the Gabcikovo dam, which was nearly completed by October 1992. Hungary continued to object to the project, claiming that by diverting the flow of the river, the Czechoslovak government had unilaterally altered the border between the two countries. Slovakia inherited the dispute when it became an independent country in 1993. That year, the EU demanded that the two governments forward the issue to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for arbitration. In January 1995 Slovakia agreed to release more water from the Gabcikovo dam in order to reduce its effect on the downstream environment. In March 1997 the International Court began hearing oral arguments in the dispute. The court did not reach a conclusive decision and subsequent negotiations have not resolved the issue.