Country, central Europe.
Area: 18,933 sq mi (49,035 sq km). Population (2007 est.): 5,396,000.
Capital: Bratislava. More than four-fifths of the population is Slovak;
Hungarians form the largest minority. Language: Slovak (official).
Religion: Christianity (mostly Roman Catholic; also Protestant, other
Christians). Currency: euro. The Carpathian Mountains dominate Slovakia,
with lowlands in the southwestern and southeastern regions. The Morava
and Danube rivers form parts of the southern and western borders. Grain,
sugar beets, and potatoes are grown and pigs, sheep, and cattle are
raised, but the economy is based on services and manufacturing. Slovakia
is a republic with one legislative house; its chief of state is the
president, and the head of government is the prime minister. Slovakia
was inhabited in the first centuries ad by Illyrian, Celtic, and
Germanic tribes. Slovaks settled there around the 6th century. In the
9th century, part of what is now Slovakia belonged to Great Moravia,
which was conquered by the Magyars in the early 10th century. The Slovak
territory then remained in the kingdom of Hungary until the end of World
War I, when the Slovaks joined the Czechs to form the new state of
Czechoslovakia in 1918. In 1938 Slovakia was declared an autonomous unit
within Czechoslovakia; it was nominally independent under German
protection from 1939 to 1945. After the expulsion of the Germans,
Slovakia joined a reconstituted Czechoslovakia, which came under Soviet
domination in 1948. The fall of the communist regime in 1989 led to a
revival of interest in autonomy, and Slovakia became an independent
nation in 1993. It joined both NATO and the European Union in 2004.
Official name Slovenská Republika (Slovak Republic)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative
house (National Council )
Chief of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Official language Slovak
Official religion none
Monetary unit Slovak koruna (Sk)1
Population estimate (2008) 5,401,000
Total area (sq mi) 18,932
Total area (sq km) 49,034
1Slovakia adopted the euro on Jan. 1, 2009.
landlocked country of central Europe. It is roughly coextensive with
the historic region of Slovakia, the easternmost of the two territories
that from 1918 to 1992 constituted Czechoslovakia.
The short history of independent Slovakia is one of a desire to move
from mere autonomy within the Czechoslovak federation to sovereignty—a
history of resistance to being called “the nation after the hyphen.”
Although World War II thwarted the Slovaks’ first vote for independence
in 1939, sovereignty was finally realized on Jan. 1, 1993, slightly more
than three years after the Velvet Revolution—the collapse of the
communist regime that had controlled Czechoslovakia since 1948.
Of course, the history of the Slovak nation began long before the
creation of Czechoslovakia and even before the emergence of Slovak as a
distinct literary language in the 19th century. From the 11th century,
Hungary ruled what is now Slovakia, and the Slovaks’ ancestors were
identified as inhabitants of Upper Hungary, or simply “the Highlands,”
rather than by their Slavic language. Despite the Hungarians’ drive to
Magyarize the multiethnic population of their kingdom, by the 19th
century the Slovaks had created a heavily mythologized identity, linking
themselves with the 9th-century Slavic kingdom of Great Moravia. Because
they lacked a national dynasty, patron saints, and a native aristocracy
or bourgeoisie, their national hero became the 18th-century outlaw
Jánošík, sometimes called the Slovak Robin Hood.
Only in 1918, when World War I ended with Austria-Hungary on the
losing side, did Slovakia materialize as a geopolitical unit—but within
the new country of Czechoslovakia. Although a critical stocktaking of
the Czech-Slovak relationship shows more discord than harmony, there was
one splendid moment when the two nations stood firmly together. This was
in the summer of 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and
crushed the Prague Spring, the period during which a series of reforms
were implemented by Communist Party leader Alexander Dubček, arguably
the best-known Slovak in the world.
Today Slovakia has become increasingly infiltrated by modern
industrial infrastructure, but it still offers breathtaking views of
wine-growing valleys, picturesque castles, and historical cities. Its
capital, Bratislava, eccentrically located in the extreme southwest of
the country, has been known by several different names—Pozsony in
Hungarian, Pressburg in German, and Prešporok in Slovak—and for three
centuries served as the capital of Hungary. In Košice, the
second-largest Slovak city, there is an interesting symbiosis between
its distinguished history and the harsh recent past: medieval streets
run through the city centre, while the former East Slovakian Iron and
Steel Works stands as a monument of communist industrialization.
More-authentic Slovak culture survives in the cities of the central
highlands and in the country’s many villages.
Slovakia is bordered by Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east,
Hungary to the south, and Austria to the southwest. Its former federal
partner, the Czech Republic, lies to the west.
The Western Carpathian Mountains dominate the topography of
Slovakia. They consist of a system of three regions of
east-west-trending ranges—Outer, Central, and Inner—separated by valleys
and intermontane basins. Two large lowland areas north of the Hungarian
border, the Little Alfold (called the Podunajská, or Danubian, Lowland
in Slovakia) in the southwest and the Eastern Slovakian Lowland in the
east, constitute the Slovakian portion of the Inner Carpathian
The Outer Western Carpathians to the north extend into the eastern
Czech Republic and southern Poland and contain the Little Carpathian
(Slovak: Malé Karpaty), Javorníky, and Beskid mountains. Located roughly
in the middle of the country, the Central Western Carpathians include
Slovakia’s highest ranges: the High Tatra (Vysoké Tatry) Mountains,
containing the highest point in the republic, Gerlachovský Peak, at
8,711 feet (2,655 metres); and, to the south of them, the Low Tatra
(Nízke Tatry) Mountains, which reach elevations of about 6,500 feet
(2,000 metres) (see Tatra Mountains). Farther to the south are the Inner
Western Carpathian Mountains, which extend into Hungary and contain the
economically important Slovak Ore (Slovenské Rudohorie) Mountains.
Slovakia drains predominantly southward into the Danube (Dunaj)
River system. The Danube and another major river, the Morava, form the
republic’s southwestern border. The principal rivers draining the
mountains include the Váh, Hron, Hornád, and Bodrog, all flowing south,
and the Poprad, draining northward. Flows vary seasonally from the
torrents of spring snowmelt to late-summer lows. Mountain lakes and
mineral and thermal springs are numerous.
Slovakia contains a striking variety of soil types. The country’s
richest soils, the black chernozems, occur in the southwest, although
the alluvial deposit known as Great Rye Island occupies the core of the
Slovakian Danube basin. The upper reaches of the southern river valleys
are covered with brown forest soils, while podzols dominate the central
and northern areas of middle elevation. Stony mountain soils cover the
Slovakia’s easterly position gives it a more continental climate
than that of the Czech Republic. Its mountainous terrain is another
determining factor. The mean annual temperature drops to about 25 °F (−4
°C) in the High Tatras and rises to just above 50 °F (10 °C) in the
Danubian lowlands. Average July temperatures exceed 68 °F (20 °C) in the
Danubian lowlands, and average January temperatures can be as low as 23
°F (−5 °C) in mountain basins. The growing season is about 200 days in
the south and less than half of that in the mountains. Annual
precipitation ranges from about 22 inches (570 mm) in the Danubian
plains to more than 43 inches (1,100 mm) in windward mountain valleys.
Maximum precipitation falls in July, while the minimum is in January.
Snow remains on the higher peaks into the summer months.
Plant and animal life
Although Slovakia is a small country, its varied topography supports
a wide variety of vegetation. Agriculture and timber cutting have
diminished the republic’s original forest cover, but approximately
two-fifths of its area is still forested. Forestland is most extensive
in the mountainous districts. The forests in the western Beskid
Mountains on the Czech-Slovak border and those in central Slovakia near
Žiar nad Hronom are among the most endangered. The major forest types
include the oak-grove assemblages of the Podunajská Lowland, the beech
forests of the lower elevations of the Carpathians, and the spruce
forests of the middle and upper slopes. The highest elevations support
taiga and tundra vegetation. The timberline runs at about 5,000 feet
(1,500 metres). At these upper elevations, particularly in the Tatras,
the tree cover below the timberline consists largely of dwarf pine. At
about 7,500 feet (2,300 metres), alpine grasses and low-growing shrubs
give way to lichens.
Slovakia’s wildlife is abundant and diverse; the Tatry (High Tatras)
National Park shelters an exceptional collection of wild animals,
including bears, wolves, lynx, wildcats, marmots, otters, martens, and
minks. Hunting is prohibited in the parks, and some animals, such as the
chamois, are protected nationwide. The forests and lowland areas support
numerous game birds, such as partridges, pheasants, wild geese, and
ducks. Raptors, storks, and other large birds are protected.
More than four-fifths of Slovakia’s population are ethnic Slovaks.
Hungarians, concentrated in the southern border districts, form the
largest minority, making up about one-tenth of the republic’s
population. Small numbers of Czechs, Germans, and Poles live throughout
the country, while Ruthenians (Rusyns) are concentrated in the east and
northeast. There is a sizable and relatively mobile population of Roma
(Gypsies), who live mainly in the eastern part of the country.
Although the majority of the population identifies Slovak as its
mother tongue, a law that came into effect on Jan. 1, 1996, establishing
Slovak as the country’s official language was controversial primarily
because of its impact on Slovakia’s Hungarian minority. Widespread
fluency in Czech is a legacy of the period of federation. As members of
the West Slavic language group, Slovak and Czech are closely related and
mutually intelligible; both use the Roman rather than the Cyrillic
alphabet. In addition to Hungarian, Polish, German, Ukrainian, Rusyn
(related to Ukrainian), and Romany are among the other languages spoken
in Slovakia. Croatian speakers, living in a small number of villages in
western Slovakia, make up a tiny linguistic minority.
Four decades of official atheism ended with the collapse of
communist control in 1989, and the widespread persistence of religious
affiliation quickly manifested itself in both the sectarian and
political spheres. The majority of Slovaks are Roman Catholic, but
Protestant churches, particularly the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg
Confession (Lutheran) and the Reformed Christian Church (Calvinist),
claim a significant minority of adherents. Greek Catholics and Eastern
Orthodox Christians are found in Ruthenian districts. More than
one-tenth of the population professes no religious belief.
Largely because of its rugged terrain, Slovakia has a relatively low
density of settlement. Rural settlements with up to several hundred
inhabitants tend to prevail except in the more heavily urbanized
southwest. Highland villages, many of them dating from the Middle Ages,
conform to linear ridges and valleys. Historically, Turkish invasions
from the south, lasting up to the 18th century, forced much of the
population to resettle farther north. Dispersed settlement occurs along
the Czech border and in the central mountains, reflecting the later
colonization of the 17th and 18th centuries. The introduction of mining
in central Slovakia led to the foundation of independent mining towns
such as Banská Bystrica, Banská Štiavnica, Kremnica, and others. The
most concentrated population is found in the Podunajská Lowland.
Collectivization of farmland under Czechoslovakia’s communist regime
supplanted the ancient small-scale pattern of land use with a giant
agricultural grid. Reprivatization of farmland following the Velvet
Revolution of 1989 effected a gradual reconfiguration of the arable
Industrialization programs during and following World War II
increased urbanization in Slovakia. More than half of Slovakia’s
population lives in urban areas. In addition to Bratislava, regional
centres include Nitra, Banská Bystrica, Žilina, Košice, and Prešov.
Partizánske and Nová Dubnica, both in the west, are examples of new
towns founded, respectively, just before and after World War II.
Historically, emigration to Hungary (especially Budapest) and other
more urbanized areas of Europe, as well as to the United States, kept
Slovakia’s growth rate low. Well over half a million Slovaks emigrated
to the United States prior to 1914. During communist rule, emigration
virtually stopped, but industrialization policies were responsible for
significant internal migration. Slovakia’s birth rate fell by more than
half during the second half of the 20th century.
Richard Horsley Osborne
Francis William Carter
The brevity of the fanfare that greeted the rebirth of Slovakia
in 1993 was largely an acknowledgement of economic reality. Slovak
political autonomy was a popular idea, but many Slovaks viewed the
pursuit of it outside the relative security of a Czechoslovak federation
as potentially disastrous. Others argued that the conversion to a market
economy in a federated Czechoslovakia would favour the Czech region.
Geographic and historical conditions, including the central planning of
the communist era, had left Slovakia more rural and less economically
diversified than its Czech neighbour, which had roughly twice Slovakia’s
population. Indeed, the process of privatization undertaken after the
fall of the communist regime in 1989 had proceeded much more slowly in
Slovakia than in the Czech Republic.
The apportionment of government assets posed another vexing challenge
at the time of separation. Primary among these were the former
Czechoslovak military facilities. Although Slovakia had in the last
years of the Czechoslovak federation accounted for as much as two-thirds
of the federation’s armament production, this industry was in severe
decline. The majority of army bases, aircraft, and associated equipment
remained on Czech soil, where the frontiers with western Europe had been
more heavily protected.
The complexities of partition aside, both the Czech and Slovak
economies felt the drag of economic downturns in the early 1990s.
Acceleration of the privatization program was viewed as the most
promising means of increasing foreign investment. In January 1995,
however, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar’s government canceled the
privatization by voucher of a number of state-owned enterprises,
effectively suspending the privatization program. The cancellation was
declared unconstitutional, and in July the government instituted a
program called the National Property Fund, whereby citizens would
receive bonds that could be redeemed for shares in privatized
industries. Despite the erratic pace of privatization, by the turn of
the 21st century it was estimated that more than three-fourths of
Slovakia’s gross domestic product (GDP) was generated by the private
Initially, the engineers of the political separation of
Czechoslovakia had assumed that the nascent economies of the two
independent republics could share, for a limited period, the existing
monetary system. Such an arrangement quickly came to be perceived as
untenable: Czechs foresaw a contagious inflation in Slovakia, and
Slovaks feared economic “shock therapy” by the Czechs. The short-lived
plan that finally emerged—in an atmosphere rife with rumour, denial,
false starts, and delays—prescribed a stepped transition in which each
republic would recall a portion of its Czechoslovak currency supply for
stamping with a country mark, and then newly printed bills would
gradually replace the stamped ones. The agreement established an initial
exchange rate of 1 to 1 for the new currencies, known as koruny, but the
Slovak koruna soon became less valuable than the Czech koruna. Following
its entry into the European Union (EU) in 2004, however, Slovakia became
the first of the two countries to replace its currency with the euro,
which it adopted in 2009.
Although Slovakia started the process of transforming its economy in
less-favourable circumstances than the Czech Republic, on average
Slovakia achieved greater economic growth and lower inflation rates than
its Czech counterpart. Slovakia’s macroeconomic performance positioned
it as one of the most successful of the former Eastern-bloc countries. A
key feature of growth was the burgeoning service sector, which provided
employment to about half the labour force. Nevertheless, during the
1990s unemployment remained rather high, and inflation inched upward.
Foreign debt continued to increase at a rapid pace, and the country’s
budget and current account deficits widened. However, by 2004, when
Slovakia joined the EU, the economy had expanded, inflation had fallen
substantially, the current account deficit had shrunk, and foreign
investment in the country had greatly risen.
Francis William Carter
Agriculture and forestry
During communist rule, agriculture in the Slovak lands was
subordinate to industrialization, and today only about one-third of
Slovakia’s territory is cultivated. On the fertile lowlands, wheat,
barley, sugar beets, corn (maize), and fodder crops are the most
important crops, whereas on the relatively poor soils of the mountains
the principal crops are rye, oats, potatoes, and flax. Tobacco and
fruits are grown in the Váh valley, and vineyards thrive on the slopes
of the Carpathian ranges in Západní Slovensko kraj (region). On the
plains, farmers raise pigs and cattle. Sheep raising is prevalent in
The harvesting of wood and the production of other forest products
constitute a small part of the economy. About one-third of Slovakia’s
forests had been destroyed or seriously damaged by 1989, but
reforestation efforts following independence resulted in a modest
increase in forested areas.
Resources and power
Slovakia has limited reserves of brown coal and lignite, located in
the foothills near Handlová to the west and Modrý Kameň to the south.
The brown coal has been used in thermal power stations, as fuel in the
home, and as raw material in the chemical industry. Pipelines import
Russian oil (to a major refinery at Bratislava) and natural gas, the
latter supplementing existing coal gas supplies. Natural gas began to be
extracted near the western town of Gbely in 1985.
Substantial deposits of iron ore, copper, manganese, magnesite, lead,
and zinc are mined in the Slovak Ore Mountains. Imported bauxite and
nickel ore are refined at Žiar nad Hronom and Sered’, respectively.
Eastern Slovakia has some economically significant salt deposits.
The chief energy source is nuclear power, followed by fossil fuels
and hydroelectric power; the latter is generated by a series of dams on
the Váh, Orava, Hornád, Slaná, and Danube rivers. In 1977 the
Czechoslovak and Hungarian governments signed an agreement to build a
major hydroelectric project on the Danube southeast of Bratislava at
Gabčíkovo and Nagymaros. The project called for the diversion of the
Danube and the construction of two dams to be built by each of the
partners. In 1989 Hungary withdrew from the Nagymaros venture because of
environmental and other concerns. Slovakia’s completion of the project
on its own led to a dispute between the two countries that persisted
into the 21st century.
Prior to independence, Slovakia was the location of some of the
least effective state-run industries in Czechoslovakia. By the early
21st century, however, successful manufacturing industries produced a
substantial proportion of Slovakia’s GDP, and manufacturing workers
constituted a significant portion of the labour force. Bratislava,
Košice, and the towns along the Váh River are Slovakia’s main
manufacturing centres. Important industries include automobiles,
machinery, steel, ceramics, chemicals, textiles, food and beverage
processing, arms, and petroleum products. The former East Slovakian Iron
and Steel Works in Košice—one of the last monuments of large-scale
Soviet industrial planning in central Europe—was privatized in 1992
after a considerable fall in steel output; in 2000, U.S. Steel purchased
the firm’s steel-related assets. Slovakia’s armaments industry has
revived since 1993 and produces military equipment primarily for export.
Environmental pollution—the legacy of communist-era
industrialization—remains a pressing concern.
The National Bank of Slovakia succeeded the Czech and Slovak central
bank on Jan. 1, 1993, as the republic’s principal financial institution.
The bank’s first major accomplishment was its conversion to the new
republican monetary system. Following decentralization of the banking
system, a number of commercial and joint-venture banks came into being.
A stock exchange operates in Bratislava.
Slovakia’s well-educated labour force helps attract foreign investors
from The Netherlands, Germany, and Austria, as well as other Western
countries. For much of the 1990s, foreign investment in Slovakia lagged
behind that of other former Soviet satellites, owing to a lack of
confidence in Slovakia’s financial leadership and institutions as well
as to the Mečiar government’s restrictive policies toward foreign
investment in formerly state-owned properties. In 1998, however, the
government announced tax incentives designed to stimulate foreign
investment in Slovak enterprises, such as tax grants or credits for
every new job created in the country. Consequently, in the early 21st
century direct foreign investment increased greatly.
Slovakia has depended on foreign trade to boost economic growth.
Following the breakup of Czechoslovakia, trade with eastern European
countries declined, while that with Western countries expanded. After
joining the EU in 2004, Slovakia traded principally with other EU
states. The volume and profile of trade between Slovakia and the Czech
Republic remain significant in spite of occasional disruptions stemming
from political squabbles. Other important trade partners are Germany,
Italy, Poland, Austria, Hungary, and the United States. Slovakia’s main
exports include automobiles, machinery, and iron and steel. Major
imports include machinery, automobiles, and mineral fuels.
Economist Intelligence Unit
Richard Horsley Osborne
Francis William Carter
Service industries, an increasingly important part of Slovakia’s
economy, account for more than two-thirds of GDP. Since the 1990s
tourism has undergone considerable growth. During the communist period,
most visitors to the Slovak lands were from other eastern European
countries. Since independence, however, many more visitors from western
Europe and North America travel to Slovakia. Tourist attractions include
spectacular mountain scenery, caves, castles, other historic buildings
and monuments, arts festivals, and numerous thermal and mineral springs.
Labour and taxation
The vast majority of Slovak workers are employed in the
manufacturing and service industries. The participation rate of women in
the workforce is just under half. Most Slovak employees are members of
trade unions, which prior to 1989 were controlled by the Communist Party
of Czechoslovakia. The 1992 constitution guarantees the right to form
unions and the right to strike, and a sizable number of workers continue
to pay their membership dues. A number of unions, representing workers
in both manufacturing and service industries, are affiliated with the
Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic.
Higher wages prevail in the urban and industrial areas, but some
inhabitants of less-developed rural areas live at the subsistence level.
Unemployment is also a greater problem outside the major cities, though
unemployment rates remain high throughout the country.
Slovakia derives the bulk of its revenue from corporate and personal
income taxes and value-added tax (VAT). Taxes were simplified in 2005,
when a flat rate was introduced for corporations, VAT, and individuals.
Transportation and telecommunications
Slovakia has a modernized but relatively low-density transport
system. The most important element is the railways, which are especially
significant in freight transport—notably of coal, ores, metals, and
building materials. The basic network, which was taken over from the
Hungarian state, followed a north-south pattern to connect with
Budapest. Today, rail lines link Bratislava and the regional capitals,
but the system is somewhat inefficient. Many of the lines follow river
valleys through mountainous areas. During the communist era, rail links
with the Soviet Union were improved by an extensive program of
double-tracking and electrification. With assistance from the European
Investment Bank, Slovakia further upgraded its rail system in the early
21st century. The work included increased track electrification as well
as track modifications to allow high-speed train travel.
Development of the highway network proceeded at a slower pace than
that of the railway system. A superhighway begun in 1938 but completed
only in 1980 links Bratislava with Brno and Prague in the Czech
Republic. After independence, increased freight transport and automobile
traffic resulted in significant congestion in some areas. Slovakia
constructed additional highways in the late 20th and early 21st
The Danube River, forming the western third of the border with
Hungary, dominates Slovakia’s water transport. Komárno and Bratislava
are the country’s principal ports. The Komárno road bridge between
Hungary and Slovakia, destroyed in World War II, was rebuilt in the
early 21st century, with Slovakia and Hungary sharing the construction
costs. Slovakia’s interior rivers are not navigable.
There are airports at Bratislava, Košice, Žilina, Poprad-Tatry,
Sliač, and Piešt’any. Although the Bratislava and Košice airports are
ranked as international, the smaller airports also can accommodate
international traffic. Still, most international travelers to Bratislava
arrive at and depart from Vienna’s airport, some 40 miles (60 km) west
of Slovakia’s capital.
Slovakia expanded and modernized its telecommunications system in the
early 21st century. Cellular telephones became increasingly popular, and
cellular service is now widely available. The rates of personal computer
ownership and Internet usage are comparable with those of nearby eastern
Government and society
The Slovak National Council adopted a new constitution for the
republic on Sept. 1, 1992, four months before the partition of the
federation. In general philosophy, this document—like its Czech
counterpart—reflects the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
passed by the former Czechoslovak Federal Assembly in 1991. The
constitution provides for a unicameral legislature (the National
Council), consisting of deputies chosen by direct general election. The
head of state, the president, is elected for a five-year term. The 1992
constitution specified that the president was to be elected by a
three-fifths majority of the National Council; however, in 1999 the
government approved a constitutional amendment that changed the
procedure so that subsequent presidents would be directly elected. The
supreme executive body of the republic is the government formed by the
prime minister, whom the president appoints. The prime minister is
usually the leader of the majority party or coalition in the National
The constitution addresses the issue of local administration only
cursorily, defining the single unit of municipality as a territorial and
administrative entity exercising jurisdiction over its permanent
residents. Actually, Slovakia is composed of eight administrative
regions (including Greater Bratislava), with each region divided into a
number of districts. In March 1996 the Mečiar government implemented a
new scheme of local governments that resulted in a redrawing of the
political borders of many southern districts, with borders running from
north (where the population is solidly Slovak) to south. The ultimate
aim of this reconfiguration was transparent: to reduce the number of
ethnic Hungarians elected to the municipal and district councils.
However, the reconfiguration of 15 existing southern districts and the
creation of 37 new ones did not substantially change the ethnic balance
in the southern councils, as was shown in subsequent elections. Mečiar’s
other attempt to introduce ethnic quotas in municipal elections
procedures in 1998 was turned down by the Constitutional Court.
The apex of the Slovak judicial system is the Supreme Court, to
which district and regional courts are subordinated. The Constitutional
Court, comprising a panel of judges appointed by the president, occupies
a special position, as it deals with matters arising from the
constitution and the application of international treaties. The lower
courts of justice resolve civil and criminal matters and assess the
legality of administrative rulings. Slovakia’s civil law code is based
on Austro-Hungarian codes, as amended after 1918 and 1945, but has been
revised to eliminate language dating from the communist era and to
comply with requirements set by the Organization for Security and
Co-operation in Europe.
All Slovaks gain the right to vote at age 18. Because delegates to
the National Council are elected through a system of proportional
representation, many political parties combine in the legislature. Major
parties include the populist Smer (“Direction”), the Slovak Democratic
and Christian Union, the Slovak National Party, the Party of the
Hungarian Coalition, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, and the
Christian Democratic Movement.
In 1991, with the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the dissolution of
the Warsaw Pact, federated Czechoslovakia assumed control of its own
military affairs. This responsibility, in turn, devolved to Slovakia and
the Czech Republic on Jan. 1, 1993. The apportionment of formerly
federal military property between the two new republics was a major
hurdle in the partition process, as was the creation of separate armed
Slovakia’s armed forces comprise an army and an air force. The
country also has separate civil defense troops and internal security
forces. The right to conscientious objection is enshrined in the 1992
constitution; however, this right does not apply to those who are
already serving in the military. In 2004 conscription was reduced from
one year to six months of service; in 2006 it was phased out. The
transformation from conscript army to professional army was undertaken
to comply with the standards of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO), which Slovakia joined in 2004.
Since the late 1990s, Slovakia has participated in many NATO and
United Nations peacekeeping forces. Slovakia also supported the 2003
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with a small contingent.
National and local police forces enforce the law. As in the Czech
Republic, democratization and liberalization precipitated an increase in
crime, which overburdened the existing police forces for a time. Since
independence, Slovak police also have had to contend with international
Health and welfare
The 1992 constitution retains the federal guarantees of free health
care under a public insurance program. The health care system remains
largely under state control, though private facilities and private
medical insurance have been introduced. Factory and community clinics,
first aid stations, and other outpatient facilities supplement the
national system of hospitals. In addition, spas such as those at
Piešt’any and Bardejov and sanatoria in the High Tatras long have been a
feature of Slovak health care.
An act introduced in 2003 required employers to contribute a
percentage of their payroll and the self-employed to contribute a
portion of their earnings toward social insurance. Old-age pensions are
paid to both men and women.
Most employed Slovaks enjoy an adequate standard of living. However,
members of the Roma minority frequently have a much lower standard of
living than the general population, owing to high unemployment and
instances of discrimination.
A housing shortage continues to be one of the most severe problems
affecting the country. In addition, many of the urban high-rise housing
estates dating from the 1970s are badly in need of repair. In the cities
and towns, almost all housing units are supplied with electricity,
water, and bathrooms. Housing in some rural areas is considerably
The Slovak constitution guarantees free public education at the
primary and secondary levels for all citizens. There are also a number
of private and church-affiliated schools. Kindergartens are available
for children ages 3 to 6. Education is compulsory between the ages of 6
and 15 and usually includes instruction in a major foreign language.
General secondary schools offer preparation for university study.
Vocational secondary schools provide training in technical and clerical
fields and the service industries.
Slovakia has a number of institutions of higher education, of which
the largest and oldest is Comenius University in Bratislava (founded
1919). Also in Bratislava are the Slovak University of Technology, the
University of Economics, and several arts academies. Košice also has
universities and a school of veterinary medicine. Since independence,
additional colleges and universities have opened in Trnava, Banská
Bystrica, Nitra, Prešov, Zvolen, and Trenčín. There is a Roman Catholic
university in Ruomberok.
The significant Hungarian minority in Slovakia has been provided with
primary, secondary, and vocational schools. The training of Hungarian
schoolteachers in Slovakia is secured through special classes at the
Bratislava and Nitra universities. For the first time, a
Hungarian-language university opened in 2004 in Komárno.
Richard Horsley Osborne
Francis William Carter
The antecedents of a distinct Slovak culture date from the Christian
mission sent to Moravia in ad 863 by the Byzantine emperor Michael III
at the request of the Moravian prince Rostislav; the Moravian state then
encompassed at least part of the territory of present-day Slovakia.
Byzantine influence was short-lived, however, and did not survive the
competition with Latinized western Christianity. Slavic liturgy
disappeared from the region after the invasions by nomadic Magyar
(Hungarian) tribes toward the end of the 9th century. These Magyar
invasions also succeeded in separating the West Slavic ancestors of
today’s Slovaks, living north of the Danube River, from the South Slavs.
Thereafter, until the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the history of
the Slovaks was closely connected with that of Hungary.
Slovak culture, particularly the Slovak language, survived despite
Hungarian hegemony and the widespread use of Czech, Latin, and German.
In the 15th century, Hussites from Bohemia brought the Czech language
and culture to Slovakia, and Slovak Lutherans used Czech as both their
liturgical and literary language, but they remained a distinct minority.
Roman Catholicism continued as the majority religion, and Latin was used
not only for liturgical purposes but also as the main administrative
language until almost the mid-19th century, when it was replaced by
Hungarian. German was widely used by the aristocracy and the urban
middle class, owing to the influence of the Habsburg monarchy. The first
Slovak intellectuals to be concerned with the preservation of the Slovak
language and culture emerged during the Enlightenment and the French
revolutionary wars. Although primarily educated in Hungarian, the Slovak
intelligentsia—whether priests, lawyers, or doctors—communicated with
Slovak peasants and servants in their language and helped to accelerate
the spread of modern Slovak literacy. Hungarian nationalists reacted by
enforcing Magyarization at every level of education beyond primary
school; contemporary experts predicted the extinction of the Slovak
nation within a generation. Nevertheless, the number of Slovaks
attending secondary schools and colleges in Hungary continued to
increase, and selective censorship could not stop the spread of Slovak
newspapers and books. With the creation of Slovakia within the new
country of Czechoslovakia, the durability of the Slovak language and
culture was confirmed. Shortly after Slovakia’s independence, Slovak
became enshrined as the country’s official language.
Daily life and social customs
The rich folklore and customs of many Slovak regions have survived
into modern times. They are on full display in the Catholic parishes,
especially during the two main Christian holidays. A genuine Roman
Catholic Christmas in Slovakia includes the three days of Christmas
(December 24–26) and is carried over to Three Kings’ Day (January 6).
Traditional Christmas carols are typically a part of the festivities. In
some regions Easter, particularly Good Friday, is the biggest religious
holiday of the year. Apart from religious celebrations, numerous folk
music festivals take place in Slovakia. These may feature both Slovak
and Roma performers.
Slovak food and drink have been influenced by the surrounding, mostly
Hungarian and German, cuisine. Traditional Slovak food consists of a
wide range of soups, gruels, boiled and stewed vegetables, roasted and
smoked meats, and dairy products, especially sheep’s milk cheese
(bryndza). Bryndzové halušky, small potato dumplings mixed with bryndza,
is a Slovak specialty. Viticulture was brought to Slovakia by the
ancient Romans as they advanced along the Danube 2,000 years ago, and
vineyards still are found along the Danube and Váh rivers. In addition
to wine, brandy is a popular drink in Slovakia. Typical Slovak brandies
include the plum-based slivovica and the juniper-based borovička.
Literature and drama
Although Slovak dialects had been distinct from Czech since the
Middle Ages, a Slovak literary language did not develop until the late
18th century. The Catholic priest Ján Hollý (1785–1849) was the first
Slovak writer to use the Slovak language successfully in his poetry. The
language had been recently codified by another priest, Anton Bernolák,
who had based his codification on the Western Slovak dialect. Yet
Bernolák’s Slovak failed to catch on, owing to a lack of followers and
strong opposition by educated Slovak Lutherans, who used Czech as their
literary language. Even Ján Kollár’s Slávy dcera (1824; “The Daughter of
Sláva”), considered a principal work of Slovak literature and among the
impulses behind Pan-Slavism, was written in Czech. It was up to a
younger group of Slovak Lutheran writers, headed by L’udovít Štúr, to
abandon Czech in favour of Slovak. This time the codification was based
on the Central Slovak dialect. Later poets, using a refined form of
literary Slovak, continued to produce nationalistic and Romantic works,
such as Marína (1846), by Andrej Sládkovič (Andrej Braxatoris), and the
ballads of Janko Král’, whose exploits in the Revolutions of 1848 made
him a legend.
In the first half of the 20th century, poetry, particularly lyric
poetry, continued to be the chief strength of Slovak literature. Notable
poets included Hviezdoslav (Pavol Országh), Svetozár Hurban Vajanský,
Ivan Krasko (Ján Botto), Martin Rázus, Janko Jesenský, and Emil Boleslav
Lukáč. However, important Slovak novelists—such as Timrava (Božena
Slančíkova), Milo Urban, and Margita Figuli—also emerged.
With the foundation of Czechoslovakia and the further expansion of
Slovak education, Slovak writings multiplied. The difficulties of World
War II and its aftermath of communist rule found vivid, personal
expression in the work of Ladislav Mňačko, Alfonz Bednár, and Dominik
Tatarka. Mňačko was among the first eastern European writers to
criticize Stalinism, in his popular novel The Taste of Power (1967),
while Tatarka attacked the Gustav Husák regime’s process of
“normalization” in Czechoslovakia after 1969 in Sám proti noci (1984;
“Alone Against the Night”). In the years leading up to the Velvet
Revolution of 1989, such novelists as Ladislav Ballek, Vincent Šikula,
and Ján Johanides asserted a distinct Slovak voice. During the late 20th
and early 21st centuries, a new generation of writers—including Dušan
Mitana, Pavel Vilikovský, and Martin Šimečka—distinguished themselves.
Slovak drama developed at about the same time as Slovak literature;
Juraj Palkovič’s play Dva buchy a tri šuchy (1800; “Two Bumps and Three
Rubs”) is considered the first example. Ján Chalupka produced a lively
satire, Kocúrkovo, in 1830, while Ján Palárik wrote popular comedies,
including Inkognito (1857; “Incognito”) and Zmierenie (1862; “The
Reconciliation”). The best-known Slovak playwright of the 20th century
was Peter Karvaš, author of The Diplomats, The Midnight Mass, and
Antigone and the Others, among many other plays. (See also Slovak
Music occupies an important place in Slovak cultural life. Its
development has been traced to Roman times, and it was nurtured by the
Roman Catholic Church and by the Magyar nobility. In addition, a strong
folk tradition developed; this became an object of scholarly interest in
the first half of the 19th century, when a separate national musical
tradition began to emerge under the influence of such composers as Frico
Kafenda. Modern Slovak music has drawn from both classical and folk
traditions, particularly with such 20th-century composers as Ján Cikker,
Gejza Dusík, Eugen Suchoň, Andrej Očenáš, and Alexander Moyzes. Slovak
opera singer Lucia Popp performed internationally during the 1970s and
1980s. Bratislava and Košice have symphony orchestras and opera
Slovak painters typically have looked outside the country for
inspiration, particularly to Prague. At the end of the 19th century,
however, Slovakia was “discovered” by Mikoláš Aleš from Bohemia and Jóža
Úprka from Moravia. At the same time, a national school of Slovak
painters emerged with Peter Michal Bohúň and Jozef Boetech Klemens.
After 1918 a number of Slovak painters studying in Prague developed the
“descriptive realism” school. In the 1950s and ’60s a younger generation
of painters began to leave this school behind and follow other European
trends. Among the early 20th-century painters, Dominik Skutecký, Lajos
Csordák, Július Jakoby, Martin Benka, Mikuláš Galanda, L’udovít Fulla,
and Cyprián Majerník became prominent. By the end of the 20th century
the following painters made their imprint: Daniel Brunovský, Stano
Bubán, Laco Teren, and Ivan Csudai.
The Slovak motion picture industry emerged in the 1920s. Notable
from this period is the silent film Jánošík (1921), based on the life
and legend of the so-named Slovak folk hero. Of the films produced after
World War II, perhaps the best known internationally is The Shop on Main
Street (1965), directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos. It received an
Academy Award (for best foreign-language film), the first ever awarded
to a Czechoslovakian production. Among internationally recognized Slovak
film directors is Juraj Jakubisko, who first gained acclaim during the
late 1960s as part of the Czech New Wave. His strongly visual,
metaphorical films include It’s Better to Be Healthy and Wealthy Than
Poor and Ill (1993) and An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World
(1997). Other Slovak directors who have received international attention
include Martin Sulik and Dušan Hanák, best known for their documentary
Paper Heads (1995). Film continued to be a respected art form in
Slovakia in the early 21st century, as evidenced by the country’s film
festivals and the work of the Slovak Film Institute. Slovak animation
also gained in importance.
The Slovak National Library is in the city of Martin, which is also
the seat of the foremost Slovak cultural society, the Matica Slovenská
(founded 1863). The Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical
Information (formerly the Slovak Technical Library) and the University
Library are in Bratislava. The last, founded in 1919, is the oldest and
largest academic library in Slovakia. In addition, Slovakia has a large
network of smaller public libraries and branch libraries.
Most major museums, including the Slovak National Museum (founded
1893) and the Slovak National Gallery (founded 1948) are located in
Bratislava. The Museum of Jewish Culture, a part of the Slovak National
Museum, opened in 1991. The Museum of Carpathian German Culture and the
Museum of Hungarian Culture in Slovakia are both in Bratislava, while
other regional ethnographic museums are located throughout the
country—for example, the Museum of Ukrainian-Ruthenian Culture in
Svidník. Other noteworthy museums include the Slovak Museum of Mining in
Banská Štiavnica and the Slovak Agricultural Museum in Nitra. A unique
museum of visual arts, the Warhol Family Museum of Modern Art, opened in
Medzilaborce in 1991; its collection includes a number of works by Andy
Warhol, whose parents were from the region.
The first professional theatre featuring performances in the Slovak
language was the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, established in
1920. In addition to plays, the theatre also mounts ballets and operas.
A new theatre building was built in 2007, but productions also continued
to be mounted at the original Neo-Renaissance theatre built in 1886. The
state subsidizes a number of theatre companies, including professional
companies focused on ethnic minorities. The Slovak Folk Artistic
Ensemble and the dance ensemble Lúčnica perform programs of traditional
Slovak music and dance; both have played a role in disseminating Slovak
folk culture to other parts of the world. Slovakia’s leading orchestra
is the Slovak Philharmonic.
Slovakia boasts several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Spiš
Castle, one of the largest castle complexes in central Europe. Among the
other sites are the wonderfully well-preserved village of Vlkolínec, the
medieval town of Bardejov, the historic town centre of Levoča, and the
traditional wooden churches in the Carpathian Mountains.
Sports and recreation
Slovaks take full advantage of the mountainous terrain of their
country; hiking, mountaineering, downhill skiing, and rock climbing are
popular pursuits. Other outdoor recreational activities—such as fishing,
white-water rafting, ice skating, cycling, spelunking, horseback riding,
and bathing in thermal or mineral water—also attract large numbers of
enthusiasts. Among spectator sports, football (soccer) and ice hockey
draw the largest crowds. Slovak athletes participated in the Olympics as
members of the Czechoslovak team until 1994, when the republic first
competed as a separate country at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer,
Nor. Slovakia won its first Olympic medals in canoe events at the 1996
Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The republic has several national parks. Two of these, the Tatry
(High Tatras) and the Pieniny national parks, are situated along the
Polish border and are administered in cooperation with Polish
authorities; the Low Tatras National Park is located in the interior.
These areas feature glacial landscapes, alpine flora and fauna, and
relict species from the Pleistocene Epoch (about 2,600,000 to 11,700
years ago). Smaller nature reserves also protect distinctive wilderness
Media and publishing
Slovakia has a number of daily Slovak-language newspapers. SME and
Pravda, the latter formerly the organ of the Communist Party but now
independent, have large circulations. The state subsidizes a number of
periodicals in such minority languages as Hungarian, Czech, Ukrainian,
German, and Romany. The number of book publishers in Slovakia increased
dramatically following the collapse of communism, but a substantial
number did not survive their first book launchings.
The state-controlled monopolies on newspaper and book publishing were
broken up with greater ease in Czechoslovakia after 1989 than was the
monopoly in broadcasting. The division of Czechoslovakia, however,
brought about the collapse of the federal broadcasting system, which
ended on Jan. 1, 1993. Both state-sponsored and commercial radio and
television stations operate in Slovakia.
For earlier history of the area, including Czechoslovakia, see
Czechoslovak region, history of.
The Slovak Republic came into being on Jan. 1, 1993, following the
dissolution of the Czechoslovak federation. The new prime minister,
Vladimír Mečiar, and his Czech counterpart, Václav Klaus, had been among
the strongest proponents of separation, but their enthusiasm did not
extend to the general populace. Although a renewed sense of national
pride welled up in Slovakia, so, too, did a feeling of apprehension
about the republic’s future. This sense of uneasiness was manifested in
the large numbers of Slovaks who began applying for Czech citizenship
immediately after partition.
Slovakia generally had been perceived as the junior partner in the
federation, but that arrangement also had provided the republic with a
degree of political security and economic stability that became less
certain with independence. Long-standing political differences and
tensions with neighbouring countries that had been suppressed during the
period of Soviet hegemony reemerged; notable among these were Hungary’s
concerns about the future of the large Hungarian minority in southern
Slovakia. In addition, economic forecasts for Slovakia generally were
less optimistic than those for the Czech Republic. Slovakia inherited an
economy dependent on large-scale but obsolete heavy industry, and the
country faced rising unemployment and poor prospects for foreign
investment. Furthermore, since Czechs had long dominated the federal
leadership of Czechoslovakia, the Slovak regional leaders lacked
experience at the national level.
In February 1993 Michal Kováč, the deputy chairman of the Movement
for a Democratic Slovakia (Hnutie Za Democratické Slovensko; HZDS),
became president of the republic. Difficulties immediately arose in
maintaining a coalition government, with the result that the HZDS and
the rather autocratic figure of Mečiar tended to dominate. Mečiar
favoured a brand of populist nationalism that left Slovakia’s minorities
at a disadvantage. Neither was he overly interested in forging alliances
with western Europe nor in tolerating dissenting voices from the
opposition parties. In March 1994 Mečiar lost a vote of confidence and
was forced to resign. A new five-party interim coalition headed by a new
prime minister, Jozef Moravčík, adopted a policy of closer alignment
with western Europe.
In the September 1994 elections, however, the HZDS regained power,
and Mečiar was reinstalled as prime minister, forming in mid-December a
coalition composed of the HZDS, the right-wing Slovak National Party,
and the leftist Association of Workers of Slovakia. Once back in office,
Mečiar attempted to recentralize state authority by blocking further
privatization of state-owned companies. In addition, the rivalry between
Mečiar and Kováč, who had never seen eye to eye, deepened. The Mečiar
government’s stance toward Slovakia’s minorities and its tenuous
commitment to democratic principles did not go unnoticed by the
international community, and in March 1995, under pressure from Western
powers, Slovakia and Hungary signed the Treaty of Friendship and
Cooperation, in which the Slovak government pledged to protect minority
rights. The commitment was called into question, however, when in
November the government made Slovak the republic’s official language, a
move that caused great consternation among the nation’s Hungarian
minority. The Hungarian government declared the policy to be in
violation of the treaty. Throughout 1996 there was increasing concern
over the Mečiar government’s antidemocratic direction, which included a
so-called antisubversion law that would curb freedom of expression,
which Kováč refused to sign. The law later passed in an amended form.
In June 1997 a European Union–Slovakia parliamentary committee made
it clear that, in order for Slovakia to qualify for EU membership, the
government would have to make adjustments in its policy toward the
opposition and its treatment of minorities. Kováč and Mečiar agreed to
the stipulations in October. However, at an EU summit held in December,
it became evident that Slovakia would not be among the first wave of
former Soviet-bloc countries admitted to the union.
During the early part of 1998, several attempts to elect a new
president failed, and on March 2, when Kováč’s term expired, a number of
presidential duties devolved to Mečiar, in accordance with the Slovak
constitution. Mečiar immediately made several unilateral decisions that
clearly benefited his own interests. His actions, condemned by the EU
and the United States, spawned a series of protests in Slovakia. The
country remained without a president for much of the year. Parliamentary
elections held in September resulted in the removal of the HZDS from
power. A four-party coalition composed of the centre-right Slovak
Democratic Coalition, the Party of the Democratic Left, the centre-left
Party of Civic Understanding, and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition
took over the reins of government, with Mikuláš Dzurinda, the chairman
of the Slovak Democratic Coalition, as prime minister.
Mečiar offered his name as a presidential candidate in the election
held on May 29, 1999, but he was defeated decisively by Rudolf Schuster,
a member of the Carpathian-German minority and the chairman of the Party
for Civic Understanding. The new ruling coalition declared its intention
to ready the country for membership in the EU and NATO, to take measures
to halt environmental degradation, and to crack down on organized crime,
which had become an increasingly worrisome problem in the latter part of
the 1990s. The coalition also introduced a wide-ranging austerity
program intended to arrest Slovakia’s economic decline. The program met
with a wave of protests and strikes but was favourably received by the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which
Slovakia joined in 2000.
Political difficulties continued into the 21st century; however, the
economy began to turn around, and the government continued the
privatization of state-owned industries. After parliamentary elections
in 2002, Dzurinda retained his post as prime minister. The new
centre-right ruling coalition approved additional economic and social
reforms but lost its parliamentary majority in 2003. The year 2004 was a
momentous one, as the country joined both NATO and the EU. Ivan
Gašparovič of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union defeated Mečiar
in the presidential election that year, and the economy continued to
grow. Parliamentary elections in 2006 resulted in yet another coalition
of ruling parties, with the leader of the populist party Smer, Robert
Fico, becoming prime minister. Fico promised to fortify social welfare