A Brief History of Slovakia

By Tim Lambert

Early Slovakia

Slavs settled in what is now Slovakia in the 6th century AD. They were soon conquered by a people called the Avars but at the end of the 8th century they drove out the Avars.

In the 9th century, Slovakia became part of the state of Great Moravia, which included parts of Germany, Hungary, and Poland. The Moravian Empire lasted from 830 to 906. During its lifetime St Cyril and St Methodius converted Slovakia to Christianity.

However, in the early 10th century a people called the Magyars (ancestors of modern Hungarians) destroyed the Moravian Empire. The Magyars settled down and formed the state of Hungary but they still ruled Slovakia. Hungary was to rule Slovakia for the next 1,000 years!

During the Middle Ages, some economic development took place in Slovakia. Mining of gold, silver, and copper developed and Slovakia exported fur and amber. In the 13th century, Germans settled in the country and town life flourished.

In 1526 the Turks won the battle of Mohacs. Afterward, Hungary was dismembered. Part of it, together with Slovakia came to be ruled by the Hapsburgs of Austria. So Slovakia became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Meanwhile, in the early 17th century the Reformation reached Slovakia. Protestantism spread rapidly but the Catholic Counter-Reformation reconverted many people.

Slovakia in the 18th Century and 19th Century

For most of the 18th century Slovakia was in the doldrums. However, at the end of the century Slovak nationalism began to grow. In 1792 Anton Bernolak founded the Slovak Learned Society and in the 19th century, a Slovak National Revival began. It was led by Ludovit Stur (1815-1856). In 1845 he published the first periodical in the Slovak language.

Then in 1848, Europe was rocked by revolutions. The Hungarians rebelled against the Austrians. However, they refused to make any concessions to the Slovaks. The Slovaks drew up a list of demands called the Demands of the Slovak Nation but the Hungarians refused all of them. However, the Austrians managed to regain control and the old order returned.

Then in 1867, the Austro-Hungarian Empire became a dual monarchy. It was split into two parts, Austria and Hungary with both parts sharing an emperor. In the late 19th century the Hungarians tried to ‘Hungarianize’ Slovakia. For instance, only the Hungarian language could be used in schools. To escape the oppression many Slovaks emigrated to the USA.

Slovakia in the Early 20th Century

In 1914, not surprisingly the Slovaks were not keen to fight for the Austrians. Many defected and fought n the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the eastern front. Czechs and Slovaks now demanded independence. They formed an alliance and in May 1918 they signed the Pittsburgh Declaration agreeing to form a new state after the war. On 30 October 1918 as Austria collapsed the formation of a new Czech-Slovak state was announced. It was called Czechoslovakia.

The 1920s were year of prosperity for Czechoslovakia. However like the rest of the world the country suffered in the depression of the 1930s.

Meanwhile, there were many Germans living in the border region of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland. In 1938 the Germans demanded they be allowed to cede from Czechoslovakia and join Germany. Hitler, of course, also demanded the Sudetenland. On 30 September 1938, the British and French allowed the Germans to absorb the Sudetenland – without consulting the Czechs. However, on 15 March 1939, the German army occupied the rest of what is now the Czech Republic. Slovakia became nominally independent (although it was really a German puppet).

The new Slovak government was led by Jozef Tiso, who introduced a repressive regime. Furthermore, during World War II about 73,000 Slovakian Jews were deported to be murdered. Many Slovakian Roma shared their fate.

Then in August 1944 a rebellion called the Slovak National Uprising took place. However German troops crushed the rebellion. Yet by the end of 1944 Czech and Russian troops had entered Slovakia and on 4 April 1945, a provisional government was formed. It consisted of Socialists, Social Democrats, and Communists.

Communist Slovakia

In 1946 the Communists emerged as the largest party and they dominated the coalition government. Then in 1948, the Communists staged a coup and introduced a full Communist regime. Under the new repressive regime, industry was nationalized and agriculture was collectivized. Meanwhile, many people were imprisoned or executed. At first, the opponents of the Communist Party were arrested but then a purge of party members took place, and show trials were held. It was also an era of economic stagnation.

However on 5 January 1968 Alexander Dubcek, a Slovakian became head of government. Dubeck led a reform movement known as the Prague Spring. Censorship ended and in April 1968 the Party published its Action Program promising ‘socialism with a human face’ in other words democracy and freedom of speech. The Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies were alarmed and they decided to invade.

Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia on 20 August 1968. Dubcek was arrested and dictatorship was reimposed. Many communists were expelled from the party and many people lost their jobs. However, the repression did not work. In 1976 a band called the Plastic People of the Universe were arrested and charged with crimes against the state. As a result, a group of 243 dissidents formed Charter 77 to campaign for human rights. They included the playwright Vaclav Havel.

Then in 1989, the Communist tyranny crumbled. On 17 November the police attacked a student demonstration. Events then moved quickly. On 19 November human rights activists formed the Civic Forum. On 20 November huge demonstrations were held. More followed in the next few days. On 24 November the government resigned but the demonstrations continued. On 27 November a 2-hour strike was held.

Eventually, the Communist party agreed to end 1 party rule. They also promised to form a coalition government. However, on 3 December it turned out that Communists dominated the coalition. The people were not satisfied and they held more demonstrations. Finally, on 10 December, a new government was formed. This time Communists were a minority. The Federal Assembly elected Vaclav Havel president on 29 December.

Modern Slovakia

In June 1990 multi-party elections were held and the process of turning Czechoslovakia into a market economy began.

However, the Velvet Revolution was followed by the velvet divorce when Slovakia and the Czech Republic separated. The split took place on 1 January 1993. n Independent Slovakia faced many problems. At first, its economy performed poorly but in the early 21st century the situation improved. Slovakia also suffered from high unemployment.

In 2004 Slovakia joined the EU. In 2009 it joined the Euro. Furthermore, in 2009, Slovakia joined NATO. Meanwhile, in the early 21st century the economy of Slovakia grew strongly although the country suffered from high unemployment. In 2019 Zuzana Caputova was elected the first woman president of Slovakia. In 2020 the population of Slovakia was 5.4 million.


Last revised 2022