These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Slovakia's Garibaldi

By James Thomson

    Štúr greets passers-by in Modra, near Bratislava.
 Štúr greets passers-by in Modra, near Bratislava.
 Photos by James Thomson

For Slovakia, Ľudovít Štúr fulfils a similar role to the principal cultural leaders of the other emergent European nation states of the nineteenth century. He has been compared to the Italian nation-builder Guiseppe Garibaldi, but there are parallels with Taras Shevchenko in Ukraine, Alexander Pushkin in Russia, Petar Petrović Njegoš in Serbia-Montenegro and even Lajos Kossuth in Hungary.

He was born in Uhrovec, in modern-day Trenčín Region, in 1815 and later worked as a teacher at the Lutheran Lyceum in Bratislava. He served briefly as the representative for Zvolen in the Hungarian Diet (Slovakia was then part of the Hungarian Kingdom), where he lobbied for recognition of Slovak nationhood.

He had an eventful and very productive life, in some ways embodying through his actions, writing and work the emergence of the modern Slovak nation. His literary output was prodigious - as well as editing a national newspaper and writing countless articles and books, he is credited with having codified modern Slovak.

In an event which has since become a celebrated moment in Slovak history, Štúr led a band of fellow Slovak patriots, among them Jozef Hurban, to Devín, near Bratislava, on April 24, 1836. There, by the ruins of the ancient castle, they adopted Slavic middle names (Štúr's was Velislav; Hurban's Miloslav), pledged themselves to promote the Slovak nation, and sang Samuel Tomášik's song 'Hey, Slovaks' (which later became a rallying call for the national movements of many Slavic countries; its tune was even adopted as the Yugoslav national anthem).

His finest hour was probably 12 years later, when he and other Slovak patriots took part in an uprising against Hungarian forces - in the hills around Myjava - during the revolutionary upheavals of 1848-9. They were not then seeking full independence, and mercifully few lives were lost, but it was the first time that men had fought and died explicitly for Slovakia.

After the events of 1848-9, and in an atmosphere of increasingly strident Hungarian nationalism, Štúr was marginalised from public life. In the 1850s he turned increasingly to pan-Slavism - the philosophy that the Slavic peoples' destiny was as a single nation, led by Russia.

He died in Modra in 1856 after accidentally shooting himself in a hunting accident and, thanks to his huge body of work and romantic deeds, has since become an icon for the nation which he helped to create.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2009, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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