Slovakia (Slovensko), officially the Slovak Republic (Slovenská Republika), is a landlocked country in Central Europe bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, and Hungary to the south. Slovakia’s territory spans about 19,000 square miles (49,000 square kilometers) and is mostly mountainous. The population is over 5 million and comprises mostly ethnic Slovaks. The capital and largest city is Bratislava. The official language is Slovak.
The Slavs arrived in the territory of present-day Slovakia in the 5th and 6th centuries. In the 7th century, they played a significant role in the creation of Samo’s Empire and in the 9th century established the Principality of Nitra. In the 10th century, the territory was integrated into the Kingdom of Hungary, which itself became part of the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Slovaks and Czechs established Czechoslovakia. A separate (First) Slovak Republic (1939–1945) existed in World War II as a client state of Nazi Germany. In 1945, Czechoslovakia was re-established under Communist rule as a Soviet satellite. In 1989, the Velvet Revolution ended authoritarian Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Slovakia became an independent state on January 1, 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia, sometimes known as the Velvet Divorce.
Slovakia is a high-income advanced economy with a very high Human Development Index, a very high standard of living and performs favorably in measurements of civil liberties, press freedom, internet freedom, democratic governance and peacefulness. The country maintains a combination of market economy with a comprehensive social security system. Citizens of Slovakia are provided with universal health care, free education and one of the longest paid maternity leaves in the OECD. The country joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone on January 1, 2009. Slovakia is also a member of the Schengen Area, NATO, the United Nations, the OECD, the WTO, CERN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the Visegrád Group.
The Slovak economy is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and third fastest in the Eurozone. Although regional income inequality is high, 90% of citizens own their homes. In 2016, Slovak citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 165 countries and territories, ranking the Slovak passport 11th in the world. Slovakia is the world’s largest per-capita car producer with a total of 1,040,000 cars manufactured in the country in 2016 alone and the seventh largest car producer in the European Union. The car industry represents 43% of Slovakia’s industrial output, and a quarter of its exports.
Radiocarbon dating puts the oldest surviving archaeological artifacts from Slovakia — found near Nové Mesto nad Váhom — at 270,000 BC, in the Early Paleolithic era. These ancient tools, made by the Clactonian technique, bear witness to the ancient habitation of Slovakia. Other stone tools from the Middle Paleolithic era (200,000 – 80,000 BC) come from the Prévôt (Prepoštská) cave near Bojnice and from other nearby sites. The most important discovery from that era is a Neanderthal cranium (c. 200,000 BC), discovered near Gánovce, a village in northern Slovakia.
Archaeologists have found prehistoric human skeletons in the region, as well as numerous objects and vestiges of the Gravettian culture, principally in the river valleys of Nitra, Hron, Ipeľ, Váh and as far as the city of Žilina, and near the foot of the Vihorlat, Inovec, and Tribeč mountains, as well as in the Myjava Mountains. The most well-known finds include the oldest female statue made of mammoth-bone (22,800 BC), the famous Venus of Moravany. The statue was found in the 1940s in Moravany nad Váhom near Piešťany. Numerous necklaces made of shells from Cypraca thermophile gastropods of the Tertiary period have come from the sites of Zákovská, Podkovice, Hubina, and Radošina. These findings provide the most ancient evidence of commercial exchanges carried out between the Mediterranean and Central Europe.
The Bronze Age in the geographical territory of modern-day Slovakia went through three stages of development, stretching from 2000 to 800 BC. Major cultural, economic, and political development can be attributed to the significant growth in production of copper, especially in central and northwest. Copper became a stable source of prosperity for the local population. After the disappearance of the Čakany and Velatice cultures, the Lusatian people expanded the building of strong and complex fortifications, with the large permanent buildings and administrative centers. Excavations of Lusatian hill forts document the substantial development of trade and agriculture at that period. The richness and the diversity of tombs increased considerably. The inhabitants of the area manufactured arms, shields, jewelry, dishes, and statues.
The arrival of tribes from Thrace disrupted the people of the Kalenderberg culture, who lived in the hamlets located on the plain (Sereď) and in the hill forts like Molpír, near Smolenice, in the Little Carpathians. During Hallstatt times, monumental burial mounds were erected in western Slovakia, with princely equipment consisting of richly decorated vessels, ornaments and decorations. The burial rites consisted entirely of cremation. The common people were buried in flat urnfield cemeteries. A special role was given to weaving and the production of textiles. The local power of the “Princes” of the Hallstatt period disappeared in Slovakia during the last century before the middle of first millennium BCE, after strife between the Scytho-Thracian people and locals, resulting in abandonment of the old hill-forts. Relatively depopulated areas soon caught interest of emerging Celtic tribes, who advanced from the south towards the north, following the Slovak rivers, peacefully integrating into the remnants of the local population.
From around 500 BC, the territory of modern-day Slovakia was settled by Celts, who built powerful oppida on the sites of modern-day Bratislava and Devín. Biatecs, silver coins with inscriptions in the Latin alphabet, represent the first known use of writing in Slovakia. At the northern regions, remnants of the local population of Lusatian origin, together with Celtic and later Dacian influence, gave rise to the unique Púchov culture, with advanced crafts and iron-working, many hill-forts and fortified settlements of central type with coinage of the “Velkobysterecky” type (no inscriptions, with a horse on one side and a head on the other). This culture is often connected with the Celtic tribe mentioned in Roman sources as Cotini.
From 2 AD, the expanding Roman Empire established and maintained a series of outposts around and just north of the Danube, the largest of which were known as Carnuntum (whose remains are on the main road halfway between Vienna and Bratislava) and Brigetio (present-day Szöny at the Slovak-Hungarian border). Such Roman border settlements were built on the present area of Rusovce, currently a suburb of Bratislava. The military fort was surrounded by a civilian vicus and several farms of the villa rustica type. The name of this settlement was Gerulata. The military fort had an auxiliary cavalry unit, approximately 300 horses strong, modeled after the Cananefates. The remains of Roman buildings have also survived in Devin castle (present-day downtown Bratislava), the suburbs of Dúbravka and Stupava, and Bratislava Castle Hill.
Near the northernmost line of the Roman hinterlands, the Limes Romanus, there existed the winter camp of Laugaricio (modern-day Trenčín) where the Auxiliary of Legion II fought and prevailed in a decisive battle over the Germanic Quadi tribe in 179 AD during the Marcomannic Wars. The Kingdom of Vannius, a kingdom founded by the Germanic Suebian tribes of Quadi and Marcomanni, as well as several small Germanic and Celtic tribes, including the Osi and Cotini, existed in Western and Central Slovakia from 8–6 BC to 179 AD.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the Huns began to leave the Central Asian steppes. They crossed the Danube in 377 AD and occupied Pannonia, which they used for 75 years as their base for launching looting-raids into Western Europe. However, Attila’s death in 453 brought about the disappearance of the Hun tribe. In 568, a Turko-Mongol tribal confederacy, the Avars, conducted its own invasion into the Middle Danube region. The Avars occupied the lowlands of the Pannonian Plain, and established an empire dominating the Carpathian Basin.
In 623, the Slavic population living in the western parts of Pannonia seceded from their empire after a revolution led by Samo, a Frankish merchant. After 626, the Avar power started a gradual decline but its reign lasted to 804.
The Slavic tribes settled in the territory of present-day Slovakia in the 5th century. Western Slovakia was the center of Samo’s empire in the 7th century. A Slavic state known as the Principality of Nitra arose in the 8th century and its ruler Pribina had the first known Christian church of the territory of present-day Slovakia consecrated by 828. Together with neighboring Moravia, the principality formed the core of the Great Moravian Empire from 833. The high point of this Slavonic empire came with the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius in 863, during the reign of Duke Rastislav, and the territorial expansion under Duke Svätopluk I.
Great Moravia arose around 830 when Mojmír I unified the Slavic tribes settled north of the Danube and extended the Moravian supremacy over them. When Mojmír I endeavored to secede from the supremacy of the king of East Francia in 846, King Louis the German deposed him and assisted Mojmír’s nephew Rastislav (846–870) in acquiring the throne. The new monarch pursued an independent policy: after stopping a Frankish attack in 855, he also sought to weaken influence of Frankish priests preaching in his realm. Duke Rastislav asked the Byzantine Emperor Michael III to send teachers who would interpret Christianity in the Slavic vernacular.
Upon Rastislav’s request, two brothers, Byzantine officials and missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius came in 863. Cyril developed the first Slavic alphabet and translated the Gospel into the Old Church Slavonic language. Rastislav was also preoccupied with the security and administration of his state. Numerous fortified castles built throughout the country are dated to his reign and some of them (e.g., Dowina, sometimes identified with Devín Castle) are also mentioned in connection with Rastislav by Frankish chronicles.
During Rastislav’s reign, the Principality of Nitra was given to his nephew Svätopluk as an appanage. The rebellious prince allied himself with the Franks and overthrew his uncle in 870. Similarly to his predecessor, Svätopluk I (871–894) assumed the title of the king (rex). During his reign, the Great Moravian Empire reached its greatest territorial extent, when not only present-day Moravia and Slovakia but also present-day northern and central Hungary, Lower Austria, Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia, southern Poland and northern Serbia belonged to the empire, but the exact borders of his domains are still disputed by modern authors. Svatopluk also withstood attacks of the semi-nomadic Magyar tribes and the Bulgarian Empire, although sometimes it was he who hired the Magyars when waging war against East Francia.
In 880, Pope John VIII set up an independent ecclesiastical province in Great Moravia with Archbishop Methodius as its head. He also named the German cleric Wiching the Bishop of Nitra.
After the death of Prince Svatopluk in 894, his sons Mojmír II (894–906?) and Svatopluk II succeeded him as the Prince of Great Moravia and the Prince of Nitra respectively. However, they started to quarrel for domination of the whole empire. Weakened by an internal conflict as well as by constant warfare with Eastern Francia, Great Moravia lost most of its peripheral territories.
In the meantime, the semi-nomadic Magyar tribes, possibly having suffered defeat from the similarly nomadic Pechenegs, left their territories east of the Carpathian Mountains, invaded the Carpathian Basin and started to occupy the territory gradually around 896. Their armies’ advance may have been promoted by continuous wars among the countries of the region whose rulers still hired them occasionally to intervene in their struggles.
It is not known what happened with both Mojmír II and Svatopluk II because they are not mentioned in written sources after 906. In three battles (July 4–5 and August 9, 907) near Bratislava, the Magyars routed Bavarian armies. Some historians put this year as the date of the break-up of the Great Moravian Empire, due to the Hungarian conquest; other historians take the date a little bit earlier (to 902).
Great Moravia left behind a lasting legacy in Central and Eastern Europe. The Glagolitic script and its successor Cyrillic were disseminated to other Slavic countries, charting a new path in their sociocultural development. The administrative system of Great Moravia may have influenced the development of the administration of the Kingdom of Hungary.
Following the disintegration of the Great Moravian Empire at the turn of the 10th century, the Hungarians annexed the territory comprising modern Slovakia. After their defeat on the Lech River they abandoned their nomadic ways; they settled in the center of the Carpathian valley, adopted Christianity and began to build a new state — the Hungarian kingdom.
From the 11th century, when the territory inhabited by the Slavic-speaking population of Danubian Basin was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary, until 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed, the territory of modern Slovakia was an integral part of the Hungarian state. The ethnic composition became more diverse with the arrival of the Carpathian Germans in the 13th century, and the Jews in the 14th century.
A significant decline in the population resulted from the invasion of the Mongols in 1241 and the subsequent famine. However, in medieval times the area of the present-day Slovakia was characterized by German and Jewish immigration, burgeoning towns, construction of numerous stone castles, and the cultivation of the arts. In 1465, King Matthias Corvinus founded the Hungarian Kingdom’s third university, in Pressburg (Bratislava, Pozsony), but it was closed in 1490 after his death. Hussites also settled in the region after the Hussite Wars.
Owing to the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Hungarian territory, Bratislava was designated the new capital of Hungary in 1536, ahead of the old Hungarian capital of Buda falling in 1541. It become part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy, marking the beginning of a new era. The territory comprising modern Slovakia, then known as Upper Hungary, became the place of settlement for nearly two-thirds of the Magyar nobility fleeing the Turks and far more linguistically and culturally Hungarian than it was before. Partly thanks to old Hussite families, and Slovaks studying under Martin Luther, the region then experienced a growth in Protestants. For a short period in the 17th century, most Slovaks were Lutherans. They defied the Catholic Habsburgs and sought protection from neighboring Transylvania, a rival continuation of the Magyar state that practiced religious tolerance and normally had Ottoman backing.
Upper Hungary, modern Slovakia, became the site of frequent border wars and changes to the frontier, which was on a constant state of military alert and heavily fortified by castles and citadels often manned by German and Italian troops on the Habsburg side. The Ottoman wars, rivalry between Austria and Transylvania, and the frequent insurrections against the Habsburg Monarchy inflicted a great deal of devastation, especially in the rural areas. In the Austro-Turkish War (1663–1664) a Turkish army led by the Grand Vizier decimated Slovakia. Even so, Slovaks from the Principality of Upper Hungary fought alongside the Turks against the Austrians at the Battle of Vienna of 1683. As the Turks withdrew from Hungary in the late 17th century, the importance of the territory comprising modern Slovakia decreased, although Pressburg retained its status as the capital of Hungary until 1848, when it was transferred back to Buda.
During the revolution of 1848–49, the Slovaks supported the Austrian Emperor, hoping for independence from the Hungarian part of the Dual Monarchy, but they failed to achieve their aim. Thereafter relations between the nationalities deteriorated, culminating in the secession of Slovakia from Hungary after World War I.
In 1918, Slovakia and the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, Czech Silesia and Carpathian Ruthenia formed a common state, Czechoslovakia, with the borders confirmed by the Treaty of Saint Germain and Treaty of Trianon. In 1919, during the chaos following the break-up of Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia was formed with numerous Germans and Hungarians within the newly set borders. A Slovak patriot Milan Rastislav Štefánik (1880–1919), who helped organize Czechoslovak regiments against Austria-Hungary during the First World War, died in a plane crash. In the peace following the World War, Czechoslovakia emerged as a sovereign European state. It provided what were at the time rather extensive rights to its minorities and remained the only democracy in this part of Europe in the interwar period.
From 1918 to 1939, stamps of the Czechoslovak Republic were in use on Slovakia, marked either Česko-Slovensko or Československo. Before then, stamps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were in use.
During the Interwar period, democratic Czechoslovakia was allied with France, and also with Romania and Yugoslavia (Little Entente); however, the Locarno Treaties of 1925 left East European security open. Both Czechs and Slovaks enjoyed a period of relative prosperity. There was progress in not only the development of the country’s economy, but also culture and educational opportunities. The minority Germans came to accept their role in the new country and relations with Austria were good. Yet the Great Depression caused a sharp economic downturn, followed by political disruption and insecurity in Europe.
There after Czechoslovakia came under continuous pressure from the revisionist governments of Germany and Hungary. Eventually this led to the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which allowed Nazi Germany to partially dismember the country by occupying what was called the Sudetenland, a region with a German-speaking majority and bordering Germany and Austria. The remainder of “rump” Czechoslovakia was renamed Czecho-Slovakia and included a greater degree of Slovak political autonomy. Southern and eastern Slovakia, however, was reclaimed by Hungary at the First Vienna Award of November 1938.
In January 1939, self-government was granted to Slovakia and Ruthenia within the federal area. The Slovak government met on January 18 and the Ruthenian (Carpatho-Ukraine) on March 14, 1939. After the Munich Agreement and its Vienna Award, Nazi Germany threatened to annex part of Slovakia and allow the remaining regions to be partitioned by Hungary or Poland unless independence was declared. Slovakia declared full independence on March 14 and, on the same day, Germany marched into Bohemia and Moravia. Slovakia allied itself, as demanded by Germany, with Hitler’s coalition. Secession had created the first Slovak state in history. The government of the First Slovak Republic, led by Jozef Tiso and Vojtech Tuka, was strongly influenced by Germany and gradually became a puppet regime in many respects.
The first Slovak stamps were issued on March 21, 1939, applying an overprint on Czechoslovakian stamps reading Slovensky Stat 1939 in either red or blue ink. The first non-overprinted stamps, inscribed SLOVENSKA POSTA were released later that year; later stamps were inscribed SLOVENSKO. Slovakia remained an independent stamp-issuing territory under German dependence and control until 1945. Bohemia and Moravia used overprinted German stamps initially and remained a German protectorate until 1945.
The Czechoslovak government-in-exile, sought to reverse the Munich Agreement and the subsequent German occupation of Czechoslovakia, and to return the Republic to its 1937 boundaries. The government operated from London and it was ultimately considered, by those countries that recognized it, the legitimate government for Czechoslovakia throughout the Second World War.
75,000 Jews out of 80 000 who remained on Slovak territory after Hungary had seized southern regions were deported and taken to German death camps. Thousands of Jews, Gypsies and other politically undesirable people remained in Slovak forced labor camps in Sereď, Vyhne, and Nováky. Tiso, through the granting of presidential exceptions, allowed between 1,000 and 4,000 people crucial to the war economy to avoid deportations. Under Tiso’s government and Hungarian occupation, the vast majority of Slovakia’s pre-war Jewish population (between 75,000–105,000 individuals including those who perished from the occupied territory) were murdered. The Slovak state paid Germany 500 RM per every deported Jew for “retraining and accommodation” (similar payment, but only 30 RM was paid by Croatia).
After it became clear that the Soviet Red Army was going to push the Nazis out of eastern and central Europe, an anti-Nazi resistance movement launched a fierce armed insurrection, known as the Slovak National Uprising, near the end of summer 1944. A bloody German occupation and a guerrilla war followed. Germans and their local collaborators completely destroyed 93 villages and massacred thousands of civilians, often hundreds at a time. The territory of Slovakia was liberated by Soviet and Romanian forces by the end of April 1945.
After World War II, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted and Jozef Tiso was executed in 1947 for collaboration with the Nazis. More than 80,000 Hungarians and 32,000 Germans were forced to leave Slovakia, in a series of population transfers initiated by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference. Out of about 130,000 Carpathian Germans in Slovakia in 1938, by 1947 only some 20,000 remained.
As a result of the Yalta Conference, Czechoslovakia came under the influence and later under direct occupation of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact, after a coup in 1948. The country was invaded by the Warsaw Pact forces (with the exception of Romania and Albania) in 1968, ending a period of liberalization under the leadership of Alexander Dubček. In 1969, Czechoslovakia became a federation of the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic. Czechoslovakia was never part of the Soviet Union and remained independent to a degree.
The end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989, during the peaceful Velvet Revolution, was followed once again by the country’s dissolution, this time into two successor states. The word “socialist” was dropped in the names of the two republics, i.e. the Slovak Socialist Republic was renamed Slovak Republic. In July 17, 1992, Slovakia, led by Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, declared itself a sovereign state, meaning that its laws took precedence over those of the federal government. Throughout the autumn of 1992, Mečiar and Czech Prime Minister Václav Klaus negotiated the details for disbanding the federation. In November the federal parliament voted to dissolve the country officially on December 31, 1992.
The Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic went their separate ways after January 1, 1993, an event sometimes called the Velvet Divorce. Stamps issued from that date have been inscribed SLOVENSKO as they had been between 1939 and 1945. Stamps of the former Czechoslovakia continued to be valid until September 30, 1993. Slovakia has remained a close partner with the Czech Republic. Both countries co-operate with Hungary and Poland in the Visegrád Group. Slovakia became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004, and of the European Union on May 1, 2004. On January 1, 2009, Slovakia adopted the Euro as its national currency.
Scott #29 is a 30 halierov stamp printed in deep violet on unwatermarked paper, perforated 12½. and released in 1939. It was part of the first definitives with the Slovak name inscribed on the stamps rather than overprinted. The eight stamps in this set (Scott #26-33) bear a portrait of Andrej Hlinka, a Slovak Catholic priest, journalist, banker and politician who was one of the most important Slovak public activists in Czechoslovakia before the Second World War. He was the leader of the Slovak People’s Party starting in 1913, papal chamberlain from 1924, and inducted papal protonotary in 1927. He was also a member of the National Assembly of Czechoslovakia (the parliament) and chairman of the St. Vojtech Group which was an organization that published religious books.
At the end of his life, Hlinka was more a living symbol of the Slovak People’s Party than a real policymaker. In 1936, the party got closer to authoritative and undemocratic political ideas. Hlinka sympathized with authoritarian regimes like Salazar’s Portugal or Dollfuss’ Austria which attracted him by certain type of clericalism. Already during his life, his party was internally divided into two wings — the conservatives led by Catholic priest Jozef Tiso and the radicals, mostly young dissatisfied members. Hlinka tried to balance them and for tactical reasons supported them alternately. Hlinka, who never well understood foreign policy, considered cooperation with Konrad Henlein and János Esterházy. In February 1938, he refused closer cooperation with German minority parties, criticized the persecution of Christians in Germany and declared that Hilter is a “cultural beast”.
On June 5, 1938, Hlinka made a speech in a demonstration in Bratislava where he again raised a demand for Slovak autonomy. He signed the third proposal for the autonomy but died before he reached his goal. Only after the Munich Agreement when Czechoslovakia got into the Nazi sphere of influence, the loss of the Czech borderland and under the threat of territorial demands of Hungary, HSLS exploited the weakness of the state and declared autonomy on October 6, 1938, less than two months after Hlinka’s death.
During the period of the first Slovak Republic (1939–1945), Hlinka was considered by the regime as a national hero. In Communist Czechoslovakia, Hlinka was portrayed as a “clerofascist”. After the fall of Communism, Hlinka once again became a respected person, mostly to nationalist sympathizers and to Christian democratic organisations, while the rest of current Slovak society seemed mostly indifferent towards his memory. Hlinka’s image could be found on the Slovak 1000-crown banknote, before Slovakia’s adoption of the Euro in 2009. A motion in the Parliament of Slovakia to proclaim him “father of the nation” nearly passed in September 2007.
Today, Andrej Hlinka is honored in his native Černová where his house is open to the public as a museum. The Mausoleum of Andrej Hlinka in Ružomberok can also be visited.