Useful Notes: Slovakia
Slovakia (Slovak: Slovensko), also known as the Slovak Republic (Slovak: Slovenská republika). The other half of the former Czechoslovakia. Less famous, formerly poorer and with less people (it has a rather low birth rate too), the Slovenská republika (Slovak Republic) became independent in 1993 in the Velvet Divorce. Linguistically and culturally, it is a western Slavic and central European country, just like Poland and The Czech Republic. It has a lot of mountains, with the Carpathians taking up much of the country. The Gerlach Peak in the alpine-like High Tatras (in the northern part of country) is the highest mountain of the entire Carpathians. The southern portions of the country have three lowlands of varying size (all of them a northern extension of the Danubian/Pannonian lowlands). They're Slovakia's main breadbasket. The ethnic minorities mostly correspond to the nationalities of the surrounding countries, the biggest being the 8.5% of ethnic Hungarians in the south. Considering the fact that during the glory days of Austria-Hungary, a lot of Hungarians (especially their leadership) tried their best to pretend there was no such thing as a Slovak nation (or any Slavic nation, for that matter) within their territory, a lot of Slovaks aren't thrilled about having a bunch of them still living in Slovakia. The historical bad blood between both countries that started in the 19th century has led to various culture clashes over the years, with a recent highly-publicized law about the usage of the Slovak language getting eventually skewered by the EU. Thankfully, most of the population of modern day Hungary and Slovakia aren't and never were a bunch of militaristic nationalists like in former Yugoslavia.
The country's history during the 20th centuryA collection of a number of different ethnicities (Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Hungarians and Ukrainians), Czechoslovakia was first formed shortly before the end of World War I, between October 28 and 30, 1918, at a time when Austria-Hungary was already falling apart into a collection of new nation-states. Czechoslovakia's independence was solidified in the Treaty of Versailles and the hard-to-define Slovak-Hungarian border was settled according to then-existing statistics about the ethnicity of local populations. Between the wars, Czechoslovakia prospered and was perhaps the most consistently democratic of the new central European states, but its diversity also made it potentially vulnerable. The government didn't mistreat ethnic minorities, but was nevertheless suspicious of them, because Czechs and Slovaks only had a relatively narrow ethnic majority for their nation-state (Czech-born Germans being the third largest group back then, even larger than the entire Slovak population). In an attempt to justify the Czech and Slovak majority and the country's independence, the government had to resort to the invention of an odd political idea known as "Czechoslovakism": The cultural and political oneness of Czechs and Slovaks. Unfortunately, this caused several problems, especially in later years, because the country wasn't federalized as was promised back in the days of World War I, and both ethnic groups still weren't fully equal in managing domestic politics and economy. Many Slovaks also felt cheated by the misuse of Czechoslovakism as a cheap excuse for glossing over unique issues and economic situations endemic to their part of the republic, and for not fulfilling the promise to give Slovakia more decentralized self-rule, as opposed to direct rule from Prague. As if this wasn't enough, Germans and Hungarians also wanted a bit more autonomy, also formerly promised at Versailles, but similarly not delivered. As World War I became a thing of the past, people in other European countries (like Britain) started to feel sorry for Czech Germans — who weren't maltreated but didn't have any political autonomy — but this sentiment was ultimately hijacked by Those Wacky Nazis and used as an excuse to gradually take control of the country. Prague was pretty untouched. The Czechoslovaks were not. Hundreds of thousands went to death camps and the Lidice massacre, one of the most notorious war crimes of the war, took place. As Slavs, the Nazis considered the Czechs subhuman and fit only for labor. As the remaining Czech lands were made into a protectorate of the Third Reich, Slovakia itself became an independent country for the first time in history — but it was actually nothing more than a puppet state of Germany, very similar to Vichy France. And although they often acted like a laughable example of the "Fascist, but Inefficient" trope, local Nazi sympathizers sitting in Bratislava still managed to eagerly send nearly all Slovak Jews into the camps. Thankfully, the Czech and Slovak anti-Nazi La Résistance later got their act together and proved absolutely vital in the assasination of Reinhard Heidrich, head of the Czech and Moravian Protectorate. As if that wasn't badass enough, after much careful planning, they managed to launch one of the largest and most determined anti-Nazi uprisings of World War II on August 29, 1944, and though it was ultimately crushed by the Nazis, it certainly helped a lot in quelling their presence in central Europe, helping pave the way to an Allied victory. The event is known today as the Slovak National Uprising and is one of the historical national holidays, much like Remembrance Day in Britain. In the aftermath of the war, the new government had revanchist feelings and made sure all ethnic Germans and Hungarians were deprived of citizenship and expelled or forcefully resettled en masse. Luckily, this sentiment quickly faded away, and ethnic Hungarians remained intact, but most of the German population moved to German-speaking countries. After a brief transition, during which the renewed government definitely went under the Soviet sphere of influence, Czech communist leaders seized power in 1948. Czechoslovakia soon became Commie Land via one of the "defenestrations of Prague". The Fifties saw rapid industrialization overseen by local communist governments, but also the incredibly brutal persecution of clergy, private landowners, dissenting intellectuals and the setting up of kangaroo courts for pretty much anyone who looked even vaguely suspicious to the Party. Naturally, the Propaganda Machine and People's Republic of Tyranny tropes were in full force. After 1960, the country's name was officially changed to "The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic" (as if it hadn't been one before). In 1968, Czechoslovakia's leadership decided to liberalize and started making some first steps towards this plan... then the Soviets sent in the tanks and put the thing down. The Seventies and The '80s were the infamous era of "normalization", symbolized by resigned and bitter sentiments of the citizens, who started feeling more and more betrayed by the regime. This period was also the heyday of the ŠTB Secret Police (pretty much the local cousin of East Germany's Stasi). Tensions increased again in 1988 and 1989, with people fed up by Prague's inability to enact reforms and embrace perestroika like other Warsaw Pact countries. The last straw was the adoption of the so-called "baton law" in early 1989, which gave state police ridiculous powers to crush public dissent by any means necessary. It was put into motion by riot police during peaceful student demonstrations in November 1989. The resulting public outrage led to spontaneous strikes and mass protests of people of all ages. The Communist Party was overwhelmed by the protests and forced to abandon their power to a new, democratically elected government, literally overnight. And so, in 1989, as part of the Hole in Flag era, Czechoslovakia finally became a democracy again in the Velvet Revolution. Three years later, the two halves of the country separated in the "Velvet Divorce", with much of the national property (such as the Su-25 ground attack aircraft) being split 2:1 for the Czechs because of their larger population. After the turbulent political era of The '90s, modern Slovakia eventually became prosperous with a steadily growing economy. Of course, not everything is perfect, with various corruption scandals in politics on the local and national level still being a major problem, though recently the situation seems to be improving, with more uncompromising civic activism starting to influence Bratislava. The country has been a member of both The European Union and NATO since 2004. In January 2009 it replaced its previous monetary unit, the Slovak crown, and is now using the euro, unlike the Czech Republic. For its modern day military, see Slovaks with Sappers. For an overview on the evolution of its statehood in the 20th century, look here. For a brief but detailed overview of its entire history, visit this site.
Some notable and famous Slovaks :
- The late Paul Newman was half-Slovak.
- Jon Voight and his daughter Angelina Jolie also have Slovak ancestors.
- Michael Strank, one of the six Marines who raised the US flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and was killed in action a week later.
- Coloratura soprano singer Edita Gruberova initially got rejected by the Slovak National Theater after auditioning right out of college. Biggest. Mistake. Ever.
- Peter Lorre, ethnically Hungarian Jewish, was born in Ružomberok as László Löwenstein. He lived there during his childhood years, until his family moved to the US.
- Male and female Slovak sportsmen like Daniela Hantuchová, Dominik Hrbatý (tennis), Pavol Demitra, Miroslav Šatan (ice hockey, both for Slovakia and in the NHL), Veronika Zuzulová (downhill skiing), Pavol Hurajt (biathlon), Michal Martikán and the two Hochschorner brothers (kayaking), Peter Velits, Martin Velits and Peter Sagan (cycling), etc.
- Several others are mentioned in the Tropes section below.
Slovaks and Slovakia in fiction :
- Handicapped Badass Viktor Vasko of Lackadaisy hails from Bratislava.
- Hostel : Notable because the actual filming took place in a small Czech village. On the day of the premiere in Bratislava, people were streaming out of the cinemas doubled-over in laughter. No joke. Most of the things viewers can see in the movie are not true (e. g. Russian police uniforms, emphasis on communist era buildings and people speaking more in Czech or mangled Russian rather than actual Slovak). The Slovak movie-going audience was divided into those who were offended by the movie and those who laughed their asses off.
- Notably, the sequel had the Ax-Crazy head of Elite Hunting be played by former Minister of Culture Milan Kňažko.
- Similar to the above, in Eurotrip, Bratislava stands in for a generic East European city straight out of a Commie Land / Ruritania hybrid. It seems to be more of a deliberate Played for Laughs portrayal though. And yet again, the scenes were actually filmed in the Czech republic...
- The Living Daylights has a section set around Bratislava, and has a memorable Chase Scene culminating with Bond and celloist Kara Milovy fleeing into Austria riding on her cello case. It was filmed in Vienna though. (Of course, the film was made during the Cold War, so it's not like they had a choice.)
- A large part of Jaroslav Hašek's classic The Good Soldier Švejk is set in easternmost Slovakia (where the frontline of World War One went through several times). Notably, the chapter where the characters arrive in Humenné has Švejk trying to buy rum from a seller at the train station◊ and getting caught by lieutenant Dub. The existence of this and other side plots has led to Humenné becoming the unofficial "Švejk capital of Slovakia" and to the unveiling of Švejk's statue at the train station◊ as a minor tourist attraction.
- The first Command & Conquer game has a mission set in Slovakia.
- IL-2 Sturmovik features the air forces of both the WWII state and the partisans, complete with voice acting by native speakers in period-accurate Slovak. Also, one of the later official patches added summer and winter maps of 1940s Slovakia to the game.
- Mesto tieňov, a contemporary Slovak TV crime series set in Bratislava and its surroundings.
- The Shop On Main Street, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, dramatizes the deportation of the Jewish population of a small Slovak town in 1942.
Some movies (actually) filmed in Slovakia:
- Behind Enemy Lines
- Dragonheart : Various locations around the country double for early medieval Britain, with Spišský hrad representing the ruins of Camelot visited by Bowen and Draco late in the film.
- Eragon: Seriously, what's with all the dragon movies being filmed here?
- Nosferatu: Yep, one of the earliest and most famous vampire movies was filmed on Orava castle and in its vicinity in northern Slovakia in 1921.
- Speaking of horror films, the 1999 historical horror Ravenous, despite its American-Mexican War setting, had the snowed-in scenery of the Tatras stand in for the Sierra Nevada range.
- The Peacemaker: That 1997 thriller starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. In a humourous inversion to The Living Daylights, scenes shot in Bratislava stand in (quite badly) for parts of Vienna... and Sarajevo !
- Uprising : The 2001 miniseries about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Tropes about Slovakia:
- Amicably Divorced: The separation of Czechoslovakia is one of the more peaceful separations of post-communist Europe, compared to Yugoslavia. To this day, relations and trade do fine between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, thanks to the good history, especially since their shared anti-Nazi revolution during World War II. At worst is the big rivalry in ice hockey and football.
- Badass Bookworm: Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who was kind of a Renaissance Man (astronomer, photographer, soldier and later army pilot for the Third French Republic). During World War I, he also doubled as an Ambadassador for the Entente (particularly France). Considered one of the most important figures in modern Slovak history and one of the founding fathers of interwar Czechoslovakia. Ironically, he died in a plane crash in May 1919, en route to the newly independent country he helped establish (the mysterious nature of the crash gave birth to several conspiracy theories over the decades). Despite his scientific and political/diplomatic achievements, he was a hated figure during the Communist era (since he was a firm anti-communist). Most Slovaks regarded him highly in secret, and his public fame was successfully revived in post-communist Slovakia.
- Big Fancy Castle: Lots, both preserved and ruined. Spišský hrad in particular stands out (it wouldn't look out of place◊ in an episode of Game of Thrones). Even many hundreds of smaller castles, fortified manor houses and mansions strewn across the country make for much Scenery Porn.
- Commie Land: As a part of the "Fourth Republic" of Czechoslovakia from 1948-1989. It was a notably rich and developed East Block country (compared to, say, East Germany), but also had more dogmatic political leaders, even during perestroika (when compared to the rather liberal 1980s Hungary and Poland).
- Fascist, but Inefficient: The Nazi puppet state was this most of the time, to the point of being nicknamed "the leaky dictatorship" by its detractors. Unfortunately, the quislings running the country still managed to commit a lot of atrocities. Special mention goes to deportations of Jews between 1942 and 1945 as well as terrorizing and murdering its own citizens in the last year and a half of World War II (because of their support of the resistance groups).
- Folk Hero: Several, the real 18th century outlaw Juraj Jánošík being the most famous.
- Gadgeteer Genius: The country was the birthplace of quite a huge number of influential and famous scientists and inventors. Notable examples from the 19th and 20th centuries include Jozef Murgaš, Josef Maximilian Petzval, Aurel Stodola and Ján Bahýl.
- La Résistance: The anti-Nazi version is the most famous one, but Slovaks fought in a lot of defensive wars throughout the various centuries (e.g. during the 15th-17th century wars with the Ottoman Empire, the Napoleonic Wars and World War I).
- Lyrical Dissonance: The national anthem of Slovakia, Nad Tatrou sa Blýska ("Lightning over the Tatras"). Despite its badass-sounding melody, its lyrics are notably milder in tone — allegorically advocating courage, honesty and resolve in the face of adversity, hardships and doubts about self-confidence. The anthem was created in the 1840s, based in part on the melody of a central Slovak folk ballad called Kopala studienku, pozerala do nej.
- Multinational Team/Culture Chop Suey : Slovakia has long been one giant crossroad of various European ethnicities, cultures, languages and customs, and it shows. Also, the country itself was a part of colorful multinational empires for much of its history — the (short-lived) empire of Great Moravia, then the (much longer-existing) Kingdom of Hungary, and finally the Habsburg Empire and Austria-Hungary. Czechoslovakia, especially the inter-war one, was also naturally multiethnic, but not on such a grand scale.
- Oop North: Not literally, but works as an analogy in the case of people from eastern Slovakia (who tend to share the same characterization and associated stereotypes in jokes with English Northerners).
- Please Select New City Name/I Have Many Names: Bratislava only got its modern name after World War I and the creation of Czechoslovakia. Its traditional name was Prešporok (Slovak) / Pozsony (Hungarian) / Pressburg (German) — probably based on the oldest known one from the late 10th century, Brezalauspurc. During the Middle Ages, it was also occasionally referred to by the Latin name Istropolis ("Danube City"). "Bratislava" was chosen as the new name with the reasoning that it referred to a supposed early ruler of the area, a Czech-born nobleman called Břetislav. This assumption was proven false already by interwar historians, but the name just stuck (partly because it resembled the archaic Brezalauspurc name anyway). Also, one of the odder proposals for a new name after the war was Wilson City (after Woodrow Wilson, since he aided the creation of the successor states to Austria-Hungary).
- Reign of Terror: Most of the second half of World War II for the ones persecuted by the puppet state, then cranked Up to Eleven during the last year of the war. And, after a few short years of relief, the terror started again in 1948 (when the communists took power) and lasted for most of The Fifties (though it calmed down by the end of that decade). To say that the 1940s and 1950s were not the most fortunate time for Slovakia would be the understatement of the century...
- Quirky Neighbour Country: To the Czech Republic, at least according to traditional media stereotypes.
- Scenery Porn: The country is small, but has many a cool scenery and a lot of variety in its natural riches (especially in its geological structure and many species of endemic flora).
- Serious Business: Ice hockey, the unofficial national sport. And like the rest of Europe, at close number two, football.
- Underdogs Never Lose: Played straight, subverted and averted numerous times. Though the country was mostly lucky during its long and intricate history.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: During the 19th and early 20th centuries, this was the relationship between Slovak and Hungarian politicians, thanks to the rise of European nationalism taking up firm roots in the Kingdom of Hungary as well. Today, this is largely a thing of the past, though you can still expect an occasional Cultural Posturing snipe between a Slovak and Hungarian politician (especially during the silly season).
- We Used to Be Friends: Slovaks and Hungarians had peaceful relations with each other for centuries, but with the rise of nationalism in the 19th century and the growing desire of both nations to carve the old and conservative Hungarian kingdom into an independent modern state, the Berserk Button in their political debates was born. Many Hungarian politicians were afraid about the Slavs causing chaos. The most paranoid of them took their stubborn suspicions to ridiculous new heights, more so during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when several laws were passed about "Hungarianization" of all non-Hungarian citizens and complete abolition of education in any other language than Hungarian. The irony is not lost to those who know that a large number of its supporters were turncoat politicians of Slovak descent. It took at least a century to cure the screwed-up relations between both nationalities, and even today, some fans of Misplaced Nationalism on both sides love to casually fuel up a Flame War or two about the whole matter.
The Slovak Flag
The flag's white, blue and red colors are based on the pan-Slavic scheme; at the hoist side is the coat of arms, a red shield showing a white patriarchal cross, symbolizing Christianity, brought by Greek brothers and missionaries Cyril and Methodius, standing atop three blue mountains symbolizing the Tatra, Matra and Fatra mountain ranges.
The national coat of arms (first designed in the 1840s) is partly based on the royal Hungarian one, denoting the historical and cultural traditions shared with modern day Hungary. A pre-1840s version of it, with green hills instead of blue, was commonly used as the coat of arms of Upper Hungary, largely congruent with Slovakia's modern territory.