|THE SLOVAKIA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Slovakia within the continent of Europe
Map of Slovakia
Flag Description of Slovakia: The Slovakia flag was officially adopted on September 1, 1992.
Red, white and blue are traditional Pan-Slavic colors. The centered Slovakian arms features a dominant white cross atop a blue symbolic reference to the country's mountains.
Official name Slovenská republika (Slovak Republic)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Council )
Head of state President: Andrej Kiska
Head of government Prime Minister: Robert Fico
Official language Slovak
Official religion none
Monetary unit euro (€)1
Population (2013 est.) 5,422,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 18,932
Total area (sq km) 49,034
- Urban: (2006) 54.7%
- Rural: (2006) 45.3%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2011) 72.2 years
- Female: (2011) 79.4 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2007) 100%
- Female: (2007) 100%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 17,170
1The euro (€) replaced the Slovak koruna (Sk) on Jan. 1, 2009, at an exchange rate of €1 = Sk 30.13.
Background of Slovakia
Slovakia's roots can be traced to the 9th century state of Great Moravia. Subsequently, the Slovaks became part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where they remained for the next 1,000 years. Following the formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867, language and education policies favoring the use of Hungarian (Magyarization) resulted in a strengthening of Slovak nationalism and a cultivation of cultural ties with the closely related Czechs, who were under Austrian rule. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the close of World War I, the Slovaks joined the Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. During the interwar period, Slovak nationalist leaders pushed for autonomy within Czechoslovakia, and in 1939 Slovakia became an independent state allied with Nazi Germany. Following World War II, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted and came under communist rule within Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize communist rule and create "socialism with a human face," ushering in a period of repression known as "normalization." The peaceful "Velvet Revolution" swept the Communist Party from power at the end of 1989 and inaugurated a return to democratic rule and a market economy. On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a nonviolent "velvet divorce" into its two national components, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Slovakia joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004 and the euro zone on 1 January 2009.
Slovakia, 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.
Demography of Slovakia
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 Depressions region.
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 highest regions.
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; 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.
Demography of Slovakia
- Ethnic groups
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 January 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.
- Settlement patterns
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 landscape.
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.
- Demographic trends
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.
Economy of Slovakia
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 sector.
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.
- 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 mountain valleys.
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.
ubstantial 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 January 1, 1993, as the republic’s principal financial institution. The bank’s first major accomplishment was its conversion to the new republican monetary system, with the koruna as the national currency (replaced in 2009 by the euro). 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.
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 centuries.
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 European countries.
Government and Society of Slovakia
- Constitutional framework
The Slovak National Council adopted a new constitution for the republic on September 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 Council.
- Local government
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.
- Political process
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 January 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 forces.
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 criminal gangs.
- 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 inferior.
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.
Culture Life of Slovakia
History of Slovakia
The Slovaks in History
The area now constituting Slovakia was settled by Slavic tribes in the 5th–6th cent. A.D. In the 9th cent. Slovakia formed part of the great empire of Moravia, under whose rulers Christianity was introduced by Saints Cyril and Methodius. From the Magyar conquest of Slovakia early in the 10th cent. until 1918, Slovakia was generally under Hungarian rule. German and Jewish settlements in Slovakian cities date from the Middle Ages; most of the Slovaks remained peasants in the countryside, although some became burghers. Czech-Slovak contacts, broken after the demise of the Moravian empire, were restored by the 14th cent.; and the 15th-century Hussite movement in Bohemia enjoyed influence in Slovakia.
After the Ottoman Turkish victory at Mohács in 1526 over Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia, Slovakia, along with western Hungary, fell under Hapsburg rule. It thus escaped Turkish domination but became a stronghold of the great Hungarian nobles, who owned most of the land and treated the Slovaks with contempt. Slovakia, however, played an important political role, with Bratislava serving as the Hapsburg capital, until all of Hungary was finally freed from the Turks in the late 17th cent. Slovakia also enjoyed more religious toleration than much of the Hapsburg empire, and Protestantism thrived.
In the 18th cent. Maria Theresa and Joseph II pursued religious freedom and social reform in Slovakia but greatly intensified Germanization. This policy spurred a Slovak national revival, which grew steadily in the 19th cent. The Catholic clergy, which constituted the only sizable body of Slovak intellectuals, exercised the main leadership of the nationalist movement. L'udovít Štúr became the father of the modern Slovak literary language. During the anti-Hapsburg revolutions of 1848, Štúr joined Czech representatives in a Pan-Slav congress at Prague. Also in 1848, the Slovaks formulated a set of demands for increased political and linguistic rights.
Some clashes between Slovaks and Hungarians occurred, and Magyarization lessened temporarily; but after the Ausgleich establishing the dual Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1867, Magyarization again intensified, thus further heightening Slovak nationalism. Large-scale immigration (1900–1910) of the landless Slovak peasants to America gave the Slovak independence movement considerable support in the United States during World War I, during which the Slovaks and other nationalities of the Hapsburg empire agitated for freedom.
- The Birth of Czechoslovakia
The so-called Pittsburgh Declaration, signed by Czech and Slovak patriots in May, 1918, provided for a united Czechoslovak republic, in which Slovakia would retain broad autonomy, with its own governmental institutions and official language. On Oct. 30 the Slovak National Council formally proclaimed independence from Hungary and incorporation into Czechoslovakia. The new republic's boundaries, established in 1920 by the Treaty of Trianon, encompassed areas where more than one million Hungarians lived. Hungary, meanwhile, continued to claim at least part of Slovakia, while a large Slovak People's party, led by Monsignor Andrej Hlinka, accused the Czechoslovak government of denying Slovakia the autonomous rights promised. Indeed, from 1918 until 1938, Slovakia held the status of a simple province, although the Slovak language was official within its boundaries.
The minority problem was complicated by religion: the majority of Slovaks were Catholic, while the Prague government was distinctly anticlerical. Monsignor Hlinka and his successor as leader of the Slovak People's party, Father Jozef Tiso, demanded full autonomy for Slovakia on a basis of complete equality for both Czechs and Slovaks. After the Munich Pact of 1938, Slovakia became an autonomous state within reorganized Czecho-Slovakia, with Father Tiso as Slovak premier. At the same time a large part of S Slovakia was ceded to Hungary and some northern districts to Poland. When the Prague government dismissed (Mar., 1939) Tiso as premier, he appealed to Adolf Hitler, who used this appeal as a pretext for making Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia a German protectorate.
Slovakia became a nominally independent state under German protection and Tiso's one-party rule. Tiso allowed German troops to occupy Slovakia in Aug., 1939, and entered World War II as Germany's ally. A Slovak underground movement gained strength, however, and powerfully aided the Soviet troops who drove the Germans out of Slovakia late in 1944. The Allied victory in 1945 restored Slovakia to its territorial status before the Munich Pact, and the constitution of 1948 recognized Slovakia as one of the constituent states of a reestablished Czechoslovakia; the other state was composed of Bohemia, Moravia, and a small part of Silesia. The constitution also established separate government organs for Slovakia.
- The Rise and Fall of Communism
The accession in 1948 of a Communist government in Czechoslovakia revived the old antagonism between Czechs and Slovaks. The Catholic clergy in Slovakia, militantly opposed to Communism, was persecuted, and the Slovak government came entirely under the control of the Czechoslovak Communist party, which began to transfer authority from Bratislava to Prague. In 1960 a new constitution seriously curtailed Slovakia's autonomy. The liberal Communist regime of Alexander Dubček, which came into power in 1967, responded to Slovak discontent by promising federalization of Czechoslovakia.
Despite the invasion (1968) of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union, the new Socialist Federal Republic came into being on Jan. 1, 1969; the constituent Czech and Slovak republics received autonomy over local affairs, with the federal government responsible for foreign relations, defense, and finance. The fall of the Communist regime at the end of 1989 revived Slovakia's drive for autonomy. Dissatisfied with their minority status in the federal government, many Slovaks called for a loose confederation of the Czech and Slovak Republics, while others advocated complete independence.
- An Independent Slovakia
In 1992, as free-market reforms brought on economic problems and widespread dissatisfaction, nationalists led by Slovak premier Vladimír Mečiar came to power. A constitution for an independent Slovakia was approved and on Jan. 1, 1993, the country became independent. An inefficient and obsolete industrial base, rising inflation, and high unemployment were among the problems facing the republic. Mečiar was ousted in Mar., 1994, and Jozef Moravčík became prime minister. Following elections in Oct., 1994, Mečiar returned to power at the head of a coalition government.
A continuing stalemate between Mečiar and Slovakian president Michal Kováč hindered Slovakian efforts to win credibility abroad and join the Western community. The Mečiar government was criticized for its handling of the privatization of state-owned businesses and for its backing of controversial legislation, including a law making Slovak the sole official language. Slovakia's inefficient, defense-oriented industrial base contracted, and the country did not receive needed foreign investment. When Kováč's term was up in Mar., 1998, a divided parliament was unable to appoint a successor; the constitution was amended to allow for direct election of the president.
The Mečiar government was defeated in Sept., 1998, by a four-party center-right coalition, and Mikuláš Dzurinda became prime minister. Mečiar ran for president in 1999, but was defeated by Rudolf Schuster, who pledged to steer a more pro-European course. Dzurinda's government overhauled the tax and social welfare systems and worked to attract foreign investment; the economy subsequently experienced significant growth. Dzurinda's coalition retained power after the 2002 parliamentary elections.
Slovakia became a member of NATO in Mar., 2004, and of the European Union in May. In April, Ivan Gašparovič was elected as Schuster's successor. Mečiar again mounted a campaign for the presidency and won the first round of voting, but he was soundly defeated in the runoff. In the June, 2006, parliamentary elections the leftist party Smer [direction], led by Róbert Fico, won the largest number of seats, and the following month Fico became prime minister of a coalition government that included Mečiar's party and the right-wing Nationalist party. President Gašparovič was returned to office in Apr., 2009, following a runoff election.
The June, 2010, parliamentary elections resulted in an increase to Smer's share of the vote, but a coalition of conservative parties secured a majority of the seats and formed a government. Iveta Radičová became prime minister; she was the first woman to hold the post. Coalition divisions over the eurozone rescue fund led to the fall of the government in Oct., 2011 (though the rescue was then approved with opposition support). Early elections were called for Mar., 2012; Smer won a majority of the seats, and Fico again became prime minister.
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