The history of Slovakia can be divided into four epochs of greatly unequal length:
- From the arrival of Slav tribes in Central Europe by the 5th century CE to the establishment of the Kingdom of Hungary in approximately 1000 CE. Several organized Slav states that included at least portions of the territory of modern Slovakia rose and fell during this period. The best known of these is Great Moravia.
- The Kingdom of Hungary, of a thousand years duration. Throughout this entire period, from 1000 to 1918 CE, the region occupied by Slovaks was an integral part of Hungary. From 1526 to 1867 the Kingdom of Hungary itself was part of the Habsburg Empire. From 1867 until 1918 it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
- Czechoslovakia, 1918 – 1992, of approximately seventy-five years duration but interrupted during World War II.
- Modern Slovakia, independent since 1993.
In this span of over 1500 years, from the 5thcentury CE to the present, Slovakia appears as an independent state only recently: temporarily during World War II and definitively starting in 1993. The main narrative of the Slovak nation is its emergence from the status of a remarkably persistent and resilient minority within states dominated by others to full independence in its own state. Here are some highlights of this history.
- During the 10th century, the Danubian plains as well as the territory of today’s Slovakia were conquered by a new wave of immigrants, the Magyars, speaking a non-Indo-European language.
- Magyar rule over the large region they conquered lasted up to the end of World War I. The state was known as the Kingdom of Hungary and included numerous ethnic groups besides the Magyars. Chief among them were Slovaks, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, and Germans; collectively they formed the majority of the state’s population and for many years were treated on a par with the Magyars.
- In 1526 most of the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary fell to the Ottoman Turks. The small northwestern crescent, including today’s Slovakia and part of Croatia, remained as so-called Royal Hungary.
- Also in 1526 the nobles of both Hungary and Bohemia elected Ferdinand I of the House of Habsburg as their king. This was the birth of the Habsburg Empire.
- A century and a half later, following their failed siege of Vienna in 1683, the Ottomans were driven back approximately to Belgrade, and the Kingdom of Hungary re-established its former expansive boundaries. It continued to be a component of the Habsburg Empire.
- Starting in the 18th century nationalism developed in Europe. In Hungary this took the form of elevating the Magyars above all other ethnicities in the kingdom and initiating a policy of forced assimilation, Magyarization, directed most severely against Slovaks.
- In response, the mid 19th century saw a flowering of Slovak national identity known as the Slovak National Awakening. My great-granduncle Michal Miloslav Hodža was one of this movement‘s most influential leaders.
- In 1848 the Magyars unsuccessfully revolted against Habsburg rule. At the same time, seeking freedom from increasing Magyarization, many Croats and Slovaks took up arms against the Magyars. For the first time Slovaks made formal demands for a politically autonomous region within Hungary.
- In the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Kingdom of Hungary forced the emperor to recognize equality between the Austrian and the Hungarian parts of his realm and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was born. Today’s Czech Republic was part of the Austrian region, today’s Slovakia continued to be a part of Hungary.
- In the following years, the pressures of Magyarization intensified substantially and an estimated quarter of Slovaks succumbed to it. The economic situation was also dismal, and another quarter of the Slovak population emigrated, chiefly to the United States.
- Following the defeat of Austria-Hungary in World War I, political boundaries in Central Europe were redrawn, largely at the expense of Hungary. In 1918 Slovakia joined the traditional lands of the Bohemian Crown, Bohemia and Moravia, as well as a region bordering Ukraine known as Subcarpathian Rus’, to form Czechoslovakia. My grandfather Milan Hodža played a significant role in this process.
- Czechoslovakia idealized democracy and brought many benefits to its people. Over time, however, many Slovaks once again felt themselves to be an aggrieved minority struggling for its rights, this time in the face of the dominant Czechs. In response, a powerful movement for Slovak autonomy within the combined state developed. Milan Hodža was one of the central political figures in the Czechoslovakia of this period.
- The existence of Czechoslovakia was interrupted altogether during World War II. In 1939, under pressure from Hitler, the country was divided into two parts: the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, governed directly by Germany; and the Slovak Republic, nominally independent but effectively also under German control.
- In 1944 there was a large-scale but ultimately unsuccessful revolt against the Slovak government and German control, the Slovak National Uprising. Its principal leaders included followers of Milan Hodža.
- In 1946 Czechoslovakia was re-established.
- In 1948 the Communists seized control, which they maintained until 1989.
- In 1968 there was a brief period of relaxation of Communist political control. Though this event is generally known as the Prague Spring, the Slovak contribution to it was commensurate with the Czech. Even its leader, Alexander Dubček, was a Slovak.
- Communism collapsed in 1989.
- In 1990 Czechoslovakia was reorganized into the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic.
- January 1, 1993, saw the birth of two new states: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (Slovakia).
- In 2004 both states were admitted into the European Union and into NATO.
- Slovakia and the Czech Republic maintain exceptionally close and friendly relations.