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.

The Slovak National Uprising

By Slavomír Danko and Matthew Evans

 photo: The Slovak Spectator archives

Slovakia is laden with 'SNP' monuments and squares, and 'August 29' streets commemorating the Slovenské Národné Povstanie (Slovak National Uprising - SNP), a stubborn armed rebellion against German troops which were protecting the fascist Slovak government of President Jozef Tiso. It officially began on August 29, 1944 and was eventually crushed by Hitler's army.

The meaning of the SNP, however, has long been disputed. Since the uprising meant the end of the first ever Slovak nation, nationalists have often regarded it as a foreign-inspired act of treason against a legitimate state. Communist interpreters, on the other hand, have hailed the SNP as a socialist victory against the evils of Nazism that led to the Communist take-over of Czechoslovakia.

Historian Stanislav Kirschbaum, a Canadian-Slovak who teaches political science at Toronto's York University, offers one of the most balanced treatments of the SNP in his 1995 study A History of Slovakia: The Struggle for Survival, which is summarised below.

Until the beginning of World War II, Slovakia was a part of the first democratic Czechoslovak Republic. In September 1938, Adolf Hitler annexed the Sudetenlands of the Czech Republic, then played upon Slovak frustration as the 'little brother' of the Czechoslovak government, and encouraged Slovaks to form an independent state. On March 14, 1939 the Slovak Provincial Assembly proclaimed independence, and appointed catholic priest Jozef Tiso as its president. For the remainder of the war, Tiso was a Nazi puppet ruler who managed to keep Slovakia out of combat by making concessions to the Germans, such as the deportation of some 70,000 Slovak Jews to concentration camps.

The mood among Slovaks was mixed. Everyone understood that Slovak 'independence' was only guaranteed by German troops and the Treaty of Protection signed between the two states. There was, however, little opposition to the arrangement and the country prospered economically under the Tiso regime.

Nevertheless, it became increasingly obvious to many Slovaks, especially after the Soviet victory in Stalingrad in 1943, that their pro-Nazi government was leading the country to the loser's camp rather than the winner's circle. The allies had already recognised the exiled Czechoslovak government in 1941, so there was little hope that an independent Slovakia would survive the war.

During the summer of 1944, partisan warfare against occupying German troops broke out in various parts of Slovakia, as part of a coordinated uprising being planned from London and Moscow. When Tiso saw the reluctance of Slovak soldiers to fire on their countrymen, he asked the Germans for help. With the murder of German troops during the night of August 27, Tiso got his wish - Nazi troops arrived in Slovakia the next day, touching off the SNP.

Partisans in western Slovakia were quickly captured, but the mountains around Banská Bystrica made it a perfect centre for the resistance movement. The allies supported the uprising with massive aid, the Soviet Union and the US flew tons of supplies into partisan territory, and French troops participated in the actual battles.

After a major offensive by the Czechoslovak and Russian Armies in September, the Germans began bringing in reinforcements. The final German counter-offensive took place on October 17, when some 35,000 troops were launched from Hungary. Ten days later, Banská Bystrica fell. The movement leaders were captured and perished in German concentration camps, the remaining Czechoslovak and Soviet groups were disarmed - but the partisans in the hills continued fighting until the end of the war.

The most painful fact of the SNP for Slovaks then and now is that Tiso sacrificed Slovak Jews and Roma for the sake of peace with the Germans. Slovaks who see him as a hero must rationalise his betrayal of thousands of Slovak citizens, as well as his decision to use German troops to put down an uprising of his own countrymen. On the other hand, the fact that Slovaks themselves put an end to the nation's dreams of statehood leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of nationalists.

Whatever the interpretation, the SNP remains a key event in the history of the Slovak nation and has shaped the development of the country.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2001.

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