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.

A turbulent priest

    Andrej Hlinka greets shoppers.
 Andrej Hlinka greets shoppers.
 Photos by James Thomson

Andrej Hlinka, the Slovak priest and politician was born in Černová (in what is now Žilina Region) in 1864 and ordained as a Catholic priest in 1889. Priests had an important role in Slovakia's long struggle for independence, especially under Hungarian rule, since this was one of the few routes to higher education for Slovak-speakers. Hlinka went into politics soon after his ordination and established a reputation as an ardent Slovak nationalist.

This upset Slovakia's Hungarian rulers (not to mention the church) and he was sentenced to two years in prison in 1906. He returned to prison briefly in 1919 during the establishment of Czechoslovakia, in part because of a failed adventure to the post-war Paris peace conference (he was not given a hearing) at which he had intended to argue that Slovak national interests were not being observed in the formation of the new state.

He was nonetheless elected to the Czechoslovak parliament in 1920 and his People's Party, which in 1925 was named after him, continued to press in sometimes strident tones for Slovak self-determination. Its chance came just after Hlinka's death in 1938, when Czechoslovakia was dismembered following the infamous Munich Agreement between Hitler, Chamberlain and Daladier.

Hlinka's followers included a motley bunch of proto-fascists who proved willing to rule in a manner compatible with the totalitarian style embodied by Hitler and Mussolini. In March 1939 Jozef Tiso, who succeeded Hlinka as party leader, went to meet Hitler himself. Immediately after returning he proclaimed Slovak independence, which Nazi Germany recognised while simultaneously invading the Czech lands. Tiso remained Slovakia's leader and Hitler's ally until the Axis defeat in 1945.

Hlinka's successors also did his legacy no favours by naming a fascist militia - the Hlinka Guard, which was styled on the SS and which carried out wartime atrocities - after him.

However, the ultimate fulfilment of his goal - an independent Slovakia - has led to a reassessment of Hlinka's role as an important - if controversial - figure in modern Slovak history.

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

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