Detailed Information

Slovak flag as country silhouette

Slovak flag as country silhouette

Slovakia, landlocked republic in Central Europe, bounded on the northwest by the Czech Republic, on the north by Poland, on the east by Ukraine, on the south by Hungary, and on the southwest by Austria. Bratislava is its capital and largest city.

Slovakia was considered part of Greater Hungary until 1918, when it united with the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, in addition to a small part of Silesia, to form Czechoslovakia. In 1939, shortly before the start of World War II, Slovakia declared its independence under pressure from German dictator Adolf Hitler, but in 1945 it was reunited with the rest of Czechoslovakia. From 1948 until 1989 Czechoslovakia was ruled by a Soviet-style Communist regime. In 1993 the country broke apart, and Slovakia and the Czech Republic became independent.

(For more information go to Slovak History)

Land and Resources

Slovakia’s total area is about 48,845 sq km (about 18,859 sq mi). The country’s maximum length from east to west is about 416 km (about 258 mi), and its maximum width from north to south is about 208 km (about 129 mi). The Danube River, located in the southwest, forms part of Slovakia’s border with Hungary.

Natural Regions

Slovakia is known for its numerous and impressive mountain ranges. Many of the country’s mountains give way to rolling hills and river valleys, where agriculture, winemaking, and livestock raising are practiced. Slovakia’s mountainous terrain has also influenced settlement patterns within the country.

The Carpathian Mountains, a major mountain system of central Europe, extend across much of northern and northwestern Slovakia and encompass the Little Carpathians, the White Carpathians, and the Tatry, which is the highest Carpathian range. The High Tatry mountains contain the country’s highest peak, Gerlachovsk Štt, which rises to an elevation of 2655 m (8711 ft). The High Tatry also contain one of Slovakia’s largest national parks and are a popular place for skiing and hiking. Other important mountains include the Low Tatry, in central Slovakia, and the Lesser and Greater Fatra ranges, in central and western Slovakia. The Slovak Ore Mountains, in eastern Slovakia, are named for their mineral deposits.

Southwestern Slovakia is dominated by the Danubian Lowlands, a fertile region that extends to the Danube River on the Hungarian border. Much of the country’s agriculture is produced in this area; Bratislava is its main industrial center.

Slovakia also contains a number of interesting and unusual caves. Among them are the Demnovsk caves, a series of caves linked by underground lakes and waterfalls, located in central Slovakia; and the Domica cave, known for its vaulted roof and colored stalactites, located near the Hungarian border in eastern Slovakia.

Man in Slovak folk costume

Man in Slovak folk costume

Rivers and Lakes

The Danube is Slovakia’s main navigable river. Other important rivers include the Vh, Hron, Ipel’ (Eipel), Nitra, Ondava, Laborec, and Hornd. Many small glacial lakes are located in the High Tatry Mountains.

Plants and Animal Life

Forty percent of Slovakia is forested. Species of fir and spruce are common in most mountain areas. At lower elevations, oaks, birches, and lindens predominate. Slovakia’s forests are home to foxes, rabbits, squirrels, weasels, and muskrats; wild boar and wolves are occasionally seen in remote mountain areas. Wildlife stocks have been diminishing in Slovakia, due to pollution, urbanization, and deforestation.

Natural Resources

Slovakia contains significant forest resources. The country’s main mineral resources are copper, lead, zinc, manganese, and iron. Lignite, a type of coal, is found near the cities of Modr Kame and Handlov.

Climate

Slovakia has a continental climate, with four distinct seasons. Winters are typically cold and dry, while summers tend to be hot and humid. The average daily temperature range in Bratislava is -3 to 2 C (27 to 36 F) in January and 16 to 26 C (61 to 79 F) in July; temperatures tend to be cooler in the mountains. Bratislava receives an average of about 650 mm (about 26 in) of precipitation annually. In areas of high altitude, snow is often present for as many as 130 days each year.

Environmental Issues

Citizen concerns about the environment—particularly air and water pollution—has increased in the 1990s. However, efforts to shut down pollution-producing industrial plants have been hampered by economic considerations, including concern about the high rate of unemployment.

Population and Settlement

The Slovaks are descendants of a Slavic people who settled near the Danube between 400 and 500 AD. Slovaks comprise about 86 percent of the country’s inhabitants; Hungarians, who constitute the largest minority group, comprise close to 11 percent; and Roma (Gypsies) represent less than 2 percent. Small numbers of Czechs, Moravians, Silesians, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Germans also live in Slovakia.

The country is divided informally into the three regions of Western Slovakia, Central Slovakia, and Eastern Slovakia, corresponding to administrative divisions that were abolished in 1989. Most of Slovakia’s 600,000 Hungarians live in the southern parts of Western and Central Slovakia, which served as the cultural center of Hungary for several centuries after Hungary proper was invaded by the Ottomans in the 16th century. The Ruthenian and Ukrainian minorities are concentrated in the northern regions of Eastern Slovakia. At the time of the 1991 census, Slovakia’s total population was 5,274,335; the 1996 estimated population was about 5,374,362. The population density in 1996 was about 110 persons per sq km (about 285 per sq mi). Nearly 57 percent of the population lived in urban areas.

Principal Cities

Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital and largest city, had an estimated population of 441,453 in 1994. Other important cities include Košice (234,840), an industrial city; Nitra (89,788), a food-processing center; Prešov (87,788), known for electrical-engineering; Bansk Bystrica (85,007), in a mining and manufacturing area; and Zilina (83,883), a business center.

Language

Slovak, a language of the West Slavic subgroup of Slavic languages, is the official language of Slovakia; Slovak is closely related to the Czech language. Hungarian is also widely spoken. In July 1994 a law was passed allowing the use of Hungarian as the official language in areas of Slovakia where at least 20 percent of residents speak Hungarian. Other languages spoken in Slovakia include Ukrainian, Romany, and Czech. Most members of minority ethnic groups speak Slovak in addition to their own native languages.

Religion

About 60 percent of Slovaks consider themselves Roman Catholics. Protestant churches, including the Lutheran Church, the Slovak Evangelical Church, and the Reformed Christian Church, are also common, and the Orthodox and Uniate churches maintain active followings among the Ruthenians and Ukrainians of Eastern Slovakia. Most of Slovakia’s Jewish community was decimated during World War II in the Holocaust. Religion plays a major role in everyday life in Slovakia, with 73 percent of Slovaks claim church membership. Even under the Communist system, which explicitly opposed religious practice, the majority of Slovaks baptized their children and were married and buried according to religious traditions.

Education

Nearly all of Slovak adults are able to read and write. Compulsory education begins at age six, when children enter primary school; primary education takes nine years to complete, the first eight of which are compulsory. After completing primary school, students may choose among three types of secondary education: vocational or technical schools, schools of general education (gymnasia), or teacher-training institutes. Slovakia has 14 institutions of higher education. Comenius University of Bratislava was founded in 1467 and is the country’s oldest university. Technical universities are located in Bratislava, Košice, Zilina, and Nitra.

Way of Life

The reintroduction of a market economy in the early 1990s produced a sharp increase in unemployment, a high rate of inflation, and therefore a decline in living standards for many Slovak families. However, most households are relatively well-equipped with consumer goods, such as refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, and automobiles. Most urban residents live in high-rise buildings; many also own small cottages in the countryside. In rural areas, single-family homes predominate.

The Slovak diet relies heavily on pork. Bryndzov halušky (noodles with goat cheese) and Hungarian dishes including goulash are also widely enjoyed. Wine, beer, slivovice (plum brandy), and borovicka (an herb-flavored drink), are popular beverages.

Attending soccer games and other sporting events is a popular pastime in Slovakia. Many Slovaks ski and hike in the mountains; and urban dwellers attend the opera, the ballet, concerts, and plays. Socializing with friends in wine cellars and taverns is also common.

Social Problems

Slovak society suffers from many of the problems found commonly in developed Western societies. Crime, prostitution, and drug abuse increased after 1989, when the Communist government collapsed, political controls were lifted, and borders were reopened. Poverty has also increased, particularly among single mothers and the elderly.

In recent years, tensions have mounted between the Slovak government and Hungarians residing in Slovakia. Many Hungarians have complained of discrimination and have pressed for educational and cultural autonomy in addition to the right to use Hungarian as their official language. Tensions have also increased at the local level in areas populated by both Slovaks and ethnic Hungarians.

Culture

(See the Culture section of this website)

Economy (Foreign Trade, Investment, Infrastructure, Currency)

(See the Economy section of this website)

Transportation

Slovakia currently has about 17,700 km (about 11,000 mi) of roads, with about 450 km (about 280 mi) more planned for construction. About 3660 km (about 2274 mi) of railroad track exist, linking all of the country’s major cities and many smaller towns as well. Tram and light rail networks have been developed in Bratislava and Košice, where Slovakia’s main airports are also located.

Communications

The constitution adopted in 1992 prohibits censorship and provides for freedom of expression and the right to information. There are currently about 20 daily newspapers published in Slovakia. Those with the largest circulations are Nov cas (New Time) and Pravda (Truth), both published in Bratislava. More than 500 magazines and journals are also published in the country. Slovakia has two national television stations, both owned by the state; several independent local stations also exist. Although private radio stations were permitted after 1990, these stations have had difficulty competing with state radio channels.

Government

In November 1989 massive demonstrations by citizens in cities throughout Czechoslovakia brought about the end of Communist rule. A non-Communist government took office, and the country’s new leaders began the difficult process of transforming Czechoslovakia’s political system, recreating a market economy, and reorienting foreign policy. The country’s first multiparty elections were held in June 1990.

During the early 1990s, Czech and Slovak leaders within the government began to disagree on economic and political issues. Parliamentary elections held in June 1992 brought a leftist government to power in Slovakia, while a center-right group won control of the Czech Republic. Later that year, the leaders of the two republics decided to split the federation into two independent nations. A new constitution of Slovakia, adopted on September 1, 1992, went into effect with independence in January 1993. The constitution declares Slovakia to be a parliamentary democracy. The first parliamentary elections of independent Slovakia were held in 1994.

Executive

Slovakia has both a president and a prime minister. The president is elected by the people for a five-year term and is responsible for naming the prime minister to head the government; the prime minister is typically the leader of the party with the majority of seats in parliament or the head of a coalition. Under the advice of the prime minister, the president also appoints a cabinet.

Legislature

Slovakia has a single-chamber parliament called the Slovak National Council. The parliament’s 150 members are elected to four-year terms by popular vote. All citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in Slovakia.

Judiciary

Slovakia has a constitutional court composed of ten judges. These judges are appointed to seven-year terms by the president, from a list of names proposed by the parliament. The country’s judicial system also includes the Supreme Court, regional courts, district courts, and a military court. Most judges for these courts are elected by parliament or appointed by the minister of justice.

Political Parties

Many political parties are active in Slovakia. The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (known by its Slovak acronym, HZDS) is currently the most popular. Other important parties include the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), which consists of several smaller parties including the Christian Democratic Party; the Democratic Union and other smaller parties. The ethnic Hungarian coalition (SMK) as well as a nationalist party (SNS) also have enough support to be represented in parliament.

Local Government

Slovakia is divided for administrative purposes into 8 regions and 79 districts. The regions are directly subordinate to the federal government, and regional officials are nominated by the federal parliament. Administrative districts are directly subordinate to the regions, and their officials are elected by the people.

Health and Welfare

Slovakia’s social welfare system remains largely as it was during the Communist period. The health care system is still run largely by the state, and citizens continue to receive low-cost health care. A national insurance company opened in January 1993; payments into the company’s funds are made by employers, employees, the self-employed, and the state. Many of Slovakia’s childcare centers have closed in recent years, due to lack of funds.

Defense

After the breakup of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia gained control over those units of the armed forces that were based on Slovak territory. All males age 18 and older are required to serve 9 months in the military or civil service. In the mid-1990s the total strength of the Slovak armed forces was 47,000 soldiers; 33,000 were in the army and 14,000 in the air force.

International Organizations

Slovakia is a member of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe (CE), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Central European Initiative (CEI), a group promoting regional political and economic cooperation. In February 1994 the Slovak government signed the Partnership for Peace accord with Western nations, considered a precursor to joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In October 1993 Slovakia became an associate member of the European Union (EU), and in 1995 the country applied for EU membership and formal negotiations were started in 1999.