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 National Awakening

    Ľudovít Štúr
 Ľudovít Štúr
 Courtesy: Museum of the City of Bratislava

With the Hungarian elite brought temporarily to heel, the Habsburgs began to liberalise. Emperor Leopold II decreed in 1790 that Hungary was a "wholly independent be ruled by its own lawfully crowned kings in accordance with its own customs." He also reversed the Empire's "Germanisation" policy, allowing Magyar to be used at universities (although Latin was to remain the official administrative language).

This decree - along with a wave of nationalism sweeping through Europe on the heels of the French Revolution - gave momentum to Slovak intellectuals who had been working to codify their own language. The logic went like this: if Magyar could be used in education, then other dialects used by inhabitants of the Empire, including Slovaks, could be used as well.

Until this time, Slovak was mainly a spoken language with two major language-integration areas, a central Slovak one and a western Slovak one. The existence of these two forms made codification difficult. More vexing still was the challenge from Biblical Czech, which had gained ground among Slovaks during the anti-Catholic Hussite period of the 14th century. Later, during and after the Reformation, Slovak Protestants used a Czech biblical translation in their liturgy.

Through those channels, Biblical Czech gained such ground as a written language that the first Slovak newspaper in Bratislava (then Pressburg) was published in that language.

For decades, the codification project floundered amid a welter of rival agendas. Then, in 1844, the Hungarian legislature, bristling against renewed Habsburg attempts to Germanise the Empire, replaced Latin with Magyar as the sole language of administration, and also declared Magyar the sole language of instruction.

Thus began the era of Magyarisation - Greater Hungary's attempt to consolidate its national identity within the Habsburg Empire. That process in turn galvanised national feeling among Hungary's subject peoples, including the Slovaks, leading to what has since become known as the National Awakening.

Enter Ľudovít Štúr, one of the heroes of the Slovak nation, immortalized in many a statue across the country and on the Sk500 note. Štúr developed a grammar based on Central Slovak, choosing it partially because of that region's rich popular oral culture. After more infighting and amendments, Štúr's literary Slovak gained wide acceptance in 1851.

The codification process by no means marked the birth of the idea of the Slovak nation. As early as 1642, the writer Jakub Jakobeus had published, in Latin as was customary at the time, the memorably titled poem, "The tears, sighs and demands of the Slovak nation." But codification spurred an outpouring of literature, most of it in the Romantic style, and helped shape a national identity among a largely rural, peasant people.

    Detail of a statue celebrating the Matica Slovenska, the institute created by Štúr to codify the language.
 Detail of a statue celebrating the Matica Slovenska, the institute created by Štúr to codify the language.
 Courtesy: Museum of the City of Bratislava

Meanwhile, anti-royalist fervor swept through Europe in 1848, inspiring Štúr and other young Slovak leaders to demand official status for the Slovak language, as well as the abolition of the robot, the obligation of peasants to work 104 days each year for their lords.

Simultaneously, tension between Hungary and Austria was intensifying. Hungary declared independence, prompting a military response from the Empire. Emboldened by the chaos, Slovak nationalists took up arms. On Sept. 19, 1848, the Slovak National Council, an organisation that had been hastily created by Štúr and his associates, declared Slovakia's independence from Hungary and exhorted Slovaks to join a national military effort.

After a brief and failed uprising in September 1848, Slovak troops, collaborating with Imperial forces, gained control of much of eastern and central Slovakia in December. But those gains evaporated amid power politics between Austria and Hungary. When Austrian forces decisively quelled the Hungarian uprising in August 1849, any semblance of Slovak independence ended. It was folded back into Hungary, under Austrian control.

But all was not lost. In a slap against the landed nobility that controlled Hungary, the Empire abolished the robot during the battles of 1848, effectively freeing Slovak peasants from the most onerous of their obligations. And Slovakia's uprising, such as it was, established it as a force to be reckoned within a multinational, multilingual empire.

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

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