History - a short overview

Almost 2,000 years ago, present-day Slovakia was one of many border provinces of the Roman Empire, but the Romans had to withdraw after a while. At the end of the 5th century, the first Slavic tribes arrived and settled down. The newcomers gradually dislodged other tribes, but they often faced tough fights with the Avars of present-day Hungary (see →History of Hungary). At the beginning of the 9th century, first principalities emerged - among them the Moravian Principality in the west and the Principality of Nitra, named after the city of Nitra in southwestern Slovakia.

In 833, the Principality of Nitra became part of mighty Great Moravia (see also →Czech History), which was much larger then present-day Slovakia. Some 20 years later, two monks, later known as Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius from →Ohrid initialized the christianisation of Great Moravia. But the latter was finally overrun by the Hungarians.

The Principality of Nitra was conquered by Hungarian tribes as well. The large principality broke apart into many small territories, which were gradually taken by the Hungarians. In 1000, when the First Hungarian Kingdom was founded, most parts of present-day Slovakia belonged to that kingdom. The Hungarians assimilated parts of the Slavic administration and many Slavic words. To cut a long story short - until 1918, most parts of Slovakia were to remain under Hungarian control. Only a small part in the north belonged to →Poland. But the border principality of Nitra (also: Neutra) enjoyed a rather liberal administration. Thanks to gold and silver in the area, Nitra became comparatively wealthy. After devastating attacks by the Mongols around 1241, many Germans were invited to settle down in depopulated areas.

After the victory of the Ottoman Empire over Hungary in 1526, present-day Slovakia became the centre part of that part of the Hungarian Kingdom, which was not occupied by the Ottomans. It still wasn't independent - instead it was controlled by Austria's Habsburgs. Bratislava was declared capital; meanwhile, →Buda gradually lost its importance. The Ottomans posed a permanent threat to the kingdom. The spreading reformation was soon suppressed by the counter reformation. The area also saw some violent uprisings against the Habsburg rule.

Only the Peace of Sathmar (see →Satu Mare) in 1711 could bring an end to the war between Ottomans and the Habsburgs. As a result of the treaty, Ottomans retreated from Hungary. Hungary started to rebuild its nation and used present-day Slovakia as base to do so. This again meant that Slovakia became less and less important. Around 100 years later, the Napoleonic Wars hit the region hard - as they did almost everywhere in Middle Europe. In 1831, an epidemic outbreak of Cholera decimated the population, followed by a powerful peasant uprising in the eastern part of the area.

Industrialization of Slovakia started around the middle of the 19th century, but at the same time the process of Magyarization had an increasing influence on everyday life. Slovakian schools that were founded before were closed again. Hungarian became the only official language. Things got worse after the so-called Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867, when Hungary's influence on Slovakia grew even stronger. At the same time, →Czech could develop much faster under the rule of rather progressive Austria. Already at that time, some Slovak nationalist movements developed strong ties to Czech political parties. The overall situation for Slovaks was a disaster, and so an estimated half a million Slovaks emigrated to America at that time.

Following the defeat of Austria and Hungary in the First World War, Czech-Slovak ties started to show results - independence of a united Czechoslovakia was declared. This lasted only until 1939 when the Czech part was occupied by Nazi-Germany. Slovakia became an independent country now. At least on the paper - Slovakia under Jozef Tiso was nothing more than a fascist puppet regime. The majority of the Jewish community in Slovakia was surrendered to the Germans - which means that very few of them survived the war.

From August to October 1944, the Slovak National Uprising shook the country, but the uprising was finally brutally surpressed by the fascists - using the SS and other forces. In 1945, the Red Army liberated Slovakia from the east. A provisional government was formed in the eastern town of →Košice. Once again, Czechoslovakia was founded, and in 1948, the communist party took over the government - backed by the Soviet Union.

For more information on the history of Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1993 see →Czech History. On 1 January 1993, Slovakia became independent for the second time in its history - as a result of the so-called velvet divorce. Vladimír Mečiar was the first prime minister, but his way of ruling the country was suspicious to many other politicians in Slovakia and abroad. Although he won the elections in 1998 and 2002, he had to leave his post in 1998 because he couldn't form a coalition. Additionally, some rumours about mafia-like structures in Slovak politics and economy spread beyond Slovakia's borders. Nevertheless, Slovakia joined the NATO in 2004 (5 years after the Czech Republic) and finally also the European Union. Today, Slovakia is characterized by rapid economic growth but also by comparatively low wages.




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