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 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 the two 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 national 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 century
A collection of a number of different ethnicities (Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Hungarians, and Ukrainians), Czechoslovakia was first formed shortly before the end of World War One
, on October 28th-30th 1918, at a time when Austria-Hungary was already falling apart into a collection of new nation states. Czechoslovakia's independent status 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 the local populations. During the inter-war years, Czechoslovakia prospered and was perhaps the most consistently democratic of the new central European countries, but its diversity also made it unstable. The government didn't mistreate the ethnic minorities, but was suspicious of them because Czechs and Slovaks only had a relatively narrow ethnic majority for their nation state (the Czech Germans being the third biggest 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 inter-war 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 the later years, because the country wasn't federalised as was promised back in the days of World War One
and Slovaks and Czechs still weren't fully equal in managing domestic politics and the economy. Many Slovaks also felt cheated by the misuse of Czechoslovakism as a cheap excuse for glossing over the unique issues and economic situation endemic to their part of the republic, and for not fullfilling the promise to give Slovakia more decentralised local rule, as opposed to the then standard government approach, which basically centralised every important institution in Prague. As if this wasn't enough, the ethnic Germans and Hungarians also wanted a bit more autonomy, also formerly promised at Versailles, but similarly not delivered. As the First World War entered history, people in other European countries (like the UK) started to feel sorry for the 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 Czechoslovak people were not. Hundreds of thousands went to the 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 sub-human and useful only for labour. 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 and lackey of Germany
, very similar to Vichy France. And even though they often acted like a laughable example of the Fascist, but Inefficient
trope, the local nazi symphatizers sitting in the war-time government
still managed to eagerly send nearly all of Slovakia's Jewish population into concentration 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
, the head honcho of the Czech and Moravian Protectorate. As if that wasn't Bad Ass
enough, after much careful planning, they managed to launch one of the largest and most determined anti-Nazi uprisings
of World War II on the 29th of August 1944
. Though the uprising was eventually crushed by the invading German army, it certainly helped a lot in quelling the presence of the Third reich 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 Rememberance Day in Britain.
Sadly, in the aftermath of the war, the new Czechoslovak government had revanchist feelings
and made sure all the ethnic Germans and Hungarians in the country
were deprived of citizenship and expelled or forcefully resettled en-masse. Luckily, this sentiment quickly faded away, the ethnic Hungarians got better, but most of the German population moved to German-speaking countries. Bad business all around
, and best left unmentioned aloud in some circles
After a brief transitional period, during which the renewed post-war Czechoslovakia definitely went under the Soviet sphere of influence
, the leaders of the Czech communists seized power in 1948. Czechoslovakia soon became Commie Land
via one of the "defenestrations of Prague". The 1950s saw rapid post-war industrialization overseen by the 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 officialy changed to "The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic" (as if it hadn't been one before)
. In the 1960s and especially 1968, Czechoslovakia's leadership decided to liberalise and started making some first steps towards this plan... The Soviets sent in the tanks and put the thing down. The Seventies
and The Eighties
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 the GDR's Stasi). Tensions increased again in 1988 and 1989, with people fed up by the government'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 the peaceful student demonstrations of November 1989. The resulting public outrage led to spontaneous country-wide strikes and gigantic 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 Hole In Flag
, 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 Nineties
, today's Slovakia eventually became a prosperous country 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 (it seems to be getting better though, and more uncompromising civic activism has been firmly on the rise). The country has been a member of both The European Union
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.
- 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 Cats 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. 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 Lukáš. 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.
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.
- 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:
The Slovak flag
- Amicably Divorced: The Separation of Czechoslovakia is one of the more peaceful seperations 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 Association 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 One, he also doubled as an Ambadassador for the Entente powers (particularly the French government). 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, while returning to the newly independent country he helped establish (the mysteriousness of the crash gave birth to several conspiracy theories over the decades). Despite his scientific and political/diplomatic achievements, he was a hated historical figure during the Communist era (since he had a firm stance against communism). Most Slovaks still regarded him highly in secret and his public fame was successfully revived in the 1990s.
- Big Fancy Castle: Lots, both preserved and ruined ones. Spišský hrad in particular stands out note . Even many of the hundreds of smaller castles, fortified manor houses and mansions strewn across the country are quite awesome and pictoresque.
- 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 in the times of perestroika (when compared to the rather liberal 1980s Hungary and Poland).
- Crowning Music of Awesome: 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.
- Fascist, but Inefficient: The WWII puppet state of Nazi Germany 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 injustices and atrocities. Special mention goes to the Jewish deportations of 1942-1945 and the practicing of terror and mass murder on its own citizens in the last year and a half of World War II (because of their support of the resistance groups).
- Foe Yay: During the 19th and early 20th century, this was the common 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 occassional Cultural Posturing snipe between a Slovak and Hungarian politician (especially during the silly season).
- 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.
- Istanbul Not Constantinople / I Have Many Names: The capital city of Bratislava only got its modern name after World War One 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 tenth 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 nobleman of Czech origin called Břetislav. This assumption was proven false already by inter-war historians, but the name just stuck (partly because it resembled the archaic Brezalauspurc name anyway). Also, fun fact : 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).
- La Résistance: The WWII resistance 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 One).
- 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 colourful 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).
- Reign of Terror : Most of the second half of WWII for the ones persecuted by the puppet state, then 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 1950s (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...
- 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, Association Football.
- Underdogs Never Lose: Played straight, subverted and averted numerous times. Though the country was mostly lucky during its long and intricate history.
- We Used To Be Friends: Related to the aforementioned Foe Yay. 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 affraid about the Slavic nationalities rebelling and disrupting the country. The most paranoid of them took their stubborn suspicions to ridiculous new heights, which escalated in the late 19th and early 20th century, when several laws were passed about the hungarianization of all non-Hungarian inhabitants and the complete abolition of education in any other language than Hungarian. The irony is not lost to those who know that a large number of the most avid supporters of the idea were turncoat politicians of Slovak descent. It took at least a century to cure the messed up relations between the two 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.