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: Delayed Birth of a Nation

By Tom Philpott

Imagine you're a villager born 90 years ago in present-day Slovakia. In your lifetime, you would have seen your capital city shift from Budapest to Prague to Bratislava, back to Prague and finally to Bratislava.

    A statue in Nitra depicting Pribina, the prince who established the first Christain church in Slovakia in 828.
 A statue in Nitra depicting Pribina, the prince who established the first Christain church in Slovakia in 828.
 Photo: Ján Svrček

You would have answered to the ultimate political authority of such diverse figures as Franz Jozef I - the Austro-Hungarian emperor from 1848 to 1916 - Hitler, Stalin, and Václav Havel. You might have seen Nazi (and Slovak) troops moving through on their way to invade the Soviet Union - and Jews being rounded up and sent to sham "work" camps in Poland. You would have lived in a nation that was essentially a Nazi vassal state - and which was also the site of the most significant civilian revolt against Nazism after the Warsaw Uprising.

You would have experienced a delayed version of the Industrial Revolution, and seen industry and agriculture collectivised - and later privatised. You would have become familiar with the concept of the communist purge, and then seen the communist state wither away.

You would have seen your nation celebrated by the Western media for the Prague Spring (1968) and the Velvet Revolution (1989); later, that same media would be flummoxed by the Velvet Divorce (1993), the surprise leap to independence, executed not by a popular uprising, but rather by fiat of two politicians meeting in a back room.

In short, a century of political whiplash, of shifting alliances and survival strategies at the very center of Europe in its bloodiest era.

And yet, for all the tumult and sharp turns, it would have been a remarkably calm century compared to that of your neighbours. No sustained Nazi invasion and occupation, unlike the Czech Republic or Poland; no outright Soviet annexation, as happened to the east in Ukraine; and no post-Communist collapse into ethnic violence, as happened to the south in the Balkans. Indeed, at least on the surface, Slovakia entered the new century virtually unscarred, with no major city levelled or seriously damaged by war.

What, then, to make of this nation, just ten years old and yet settled by the same historic people for more than 1,500 years? What follows is a brief history of the territory occupied by present-day Slovakia. The main sources are Stanislav J. Kirschbaum's A History of Slovakia: The Struggle for Survival (1995) and Karen Henderson's Slovakia: The Escape from Invisibility (2002).

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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