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 Austro-Hungarian Years

The convulsions of 1848 also greatly increased tensions between Hungary and its Slovak subjects. Thus when Austria and Hungary formed the dual monarchy in 1867, a newly empowered Hungary lashed back at its northern region by attempting to totally assimilate Slovak speakers and other minorities.

Magyarisation, which had started around mid-century, thus gained new force. Magyar became the sole language of education, administration, and commerce. This forced young Slovak-speakers seeking upward mobility to abandon their Slovak roots and essentially become Hungarian.

The only other option for ambitious Slovaks was emigration. "With the exception of the Irish, few other Europeans experienced such an exodus as Slovakia," writes Karen Henderson in The Escape from Invisibility. "[Nearly] 20 percent of the population emigrated to the USA in the last half-century of Hungarian rule, a majority to never return." She adds an astonishing fact: by the end of Hungarian sovereignty in the early 20th century, both Budapest and Vienna "contained larger concentrations of Slovaks than any town in what is today Slovakia."

So even as Slovaks chafed at the Magyarisation programme, organising a unified political response proved difficult. As literate Slovak speakers fled or assimilated, the territory's relatively small urban population was dominated by "Hungarian bureaucrats and aristocrats and German traders," Henderson writes. And in the villages, "the leading figure of authority was the priest, but since the Catholic Church was organised territorially as part of Hungary, priests were subject to the normal Magyarisation pressures."

That left the burden of political organising largely to the territory's relatively small Protestant population. "Although [Upper Hungary] was largely Catholic, Slovak Protestants were pivotal to nineteenth century nationalist movements...their vernacular bibles were written in the Czech biblical language, and this created a natural affinity with their Slav neighbours to the west." This marked the birth of the idea of Czecho-Slovak unity.

Yet the effort was futile: the Slovak National Party, founded in 1871, could gain little impetus in a country where "a limited franchise, no secret ballots and widespread bribery and corruption rendered standing for election virtually pointless." Henderson adds a chilling coda to her account of the territory's pre-1918 history: "The Hungarian attempts to totally assimilate the Slovaks might have been successful had it not been for the First World War and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire."

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

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