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Bratislava

History

Prehistory and antiquity

The oldest archaeological finds date back to the Early Paleolithic period, around 270 000 years ago, and were found in the vicinity of Nové Mesto nad Váhom. These ancient flint utensils were made by means of a clactonic technique (particular striking technique).

Other stone tools date back to the Middle Paleolithic period (200,000-80,000 BC) and were found in the Prévôt cave near Bojnice and nearby locations. Artifacts found date back to the Paleolithic Stage, including the famous artfully carved skull of a Neanderthal, discovered near Gánovec in northern Slovakia.

Homo sapiens skeletons have also been found in this region. Numerous objects and remains have been found from the Gravettian period (named after the site, the cave La Gravette in Dordogne, France), especially in the river valleys of the Nitra, Hron, Ipel, Váh, even near the city of Zilina, and at the foot of the Virhorlat, Inovec and Tríbec mountains. A special find was the oldest known female (venus) figure made from a mammoth bone, found in Moravany nad Váhom. Numerous collars made of shells have been found in Zákovská, Podkovice, Hubina and Radošinaare, and these are also the oldest evidence of trade activities between the Mediterranean world and Central Europe.

All these finds lead inevitably to the conclusion that there was human habitation in the Neolithic period. The pottery from Zeliezovce, Gemer and the Bukové hory massif is remarkably sculpted, decorated with beautiful lines and the first attempts to use colours. These objects clearly show the development of an aesthetic sense.

Many caves have also been discovered, of which the Domnica cave is the most famous. The cave is 6,000 metres long and inhabited to a depth of 700 metres. The cave is one of the largest Neolithic sites in Europe and was inhabited for 800 years by the same tribes that produced the pottery of the Bukové hory massif.

The transition period to the Neolithic era is characterised by the arrival of Indo-European peoples, permanent settlement, the rise of agriculture, the clearing of forests to create pastures, the use of metal and ribbed pottery. During this time, several fortifications were built, some of which can still be found. The most famous one is Nitriansky Hrádok. Due to its central location, Slovakia became one of the most important trading centres in Europe, where shells, amber, jewellery and weapons were traded.

The Bronze Age (2000-800 BC) had three stages of development. The best known culture was the Urn Culture of the Carpathians and Middle Danube. The Late Neolithic was characterised by a growing number of culturally rich regions. This was a direct consequence of the emerging copper industry in central and northern Slovakia, which made the population increasingly rich. After the disappearance of some civilisations, the Lusacians built even stronger defences and other large buildings. During this time, trade also increased significantly and new agricultural techniques were developed.

The wealth of this people increased rapidly and beautiful weapons, shields, jewellery, plates and statues were made on a large scale. This good life was rudely interrupted by Thracian tribes and the local rulers disappeared during the last period of the Iron Age. This happened after battles between Scytho-Thracian peoples and Celtic tribes moved from the south to the north via Slovakian rivers. The victory of the Celts marked the beginning of the Late Iron Age. But this era also came to an end due to Germanic invasions and the expansion of the Roman Empire.

The Roman period started in the year 6 AD with a war against the Marrano tribe. At first, the Romans only managed to occupy a small piece of land on the right bank of the Danube and a small part of south-western Slovakia. Only in 174 did Marcus Aurelius penetrate deeper into the country through the river valleys of the Váh, Nitra and Hron. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Slovakia was invaded by various peoples during the era of the Great Migrations. The last ethnic group to arrive in Slovakia before the Slavs were the Goths, who were chased eastwards by the Huns and Lombards.

The Huns crossed the Danube in 377 and occupied Pannonia for 75 years. From this base, they undertook their raids in Western Europe. In 451, under the leadership of Attila the Hun, they crossed the Rhine, plundered Gaul and even crossed the Pyrenees. After Attila's death in 453, the Huns disappeared as quickly as they had come.

Middle Ages

In 568, an ancient Mongolian tribe, the Avars, invaded the region of Central Danube. This created the Samo Empire (named after the Frankish merchant Samo), which put up strong resistance against the Avars. It was the first political alliance of the Slavs, who defeated the Frankish army of King Dagobert near Vogatisburg in 631 and thus became independent of the Franks and the Avars. However, the empire disappeared again in 665 after the death of Samo. The supremacy of the Avars in this region ended in 803. That was the year when Charlemagne, with the help of the Slavs in the regions north of the Danube and of the principality of Nitra, defeated the Avars. After this, the Avars assimilated into the Slavic population.

The Slavs of the Danube suffered heavy losses in suppressing two large invasions of Asiatic tribes. But they held out and prevented any more Asian tribes from terrorising Europe.

A third invasion followed of six Magyar tribes, which took place at the end of the ninth century.

Emergence of the Slavic States

The first mention of a Slavic prince in the vicinity of Pannonia was in 803. In 805 there is again mention of a Slavic prince in the central Danube area, namely Prince Vratislav, lord of Bratislava Castle. In 822, the Slavs sent emissaries to Emperor Louis I the Pious in Frankfurt, and in 828 the Archbishop of Salzburg blessed the church at the court of Prince Pribina in Nitra. The earliest mention of the Christianisation of the Slavs dates back to the seventh century, by Bishop Amand of Belgica. After him, many Irish and Scottish missionaries would follow.

In 833 an important political event took place. Prince Mojmír I, of the principality of Moravia, conquered the principality of Nitra and thus created a kind of unified Slavic state, the Great Moravian Empire. Prince Pribina fled and later occupied the Trans-Danube region of Pannonia and founded the Principality of Balaton there. After his death in 861 he was succeeded by his son Kocel. The kingdom of Mojmír was further Christianised by the Franks, but the presence of iron, silver and copper also attracted the Franks. This was the reason why Louis II the German entered the kingdom, deposed Mojmír I and his son Ratislav took the throne in 846.

Prince Ratislav I proved to be an effective and wise ruler. He put an end to the aggressive intentions of the East Franks by forming an alliance with the Bulgars in 853. He also resisted several attacks by the Franks and finally made peace with them in 857. Ratislav also saw the importance of further Christianisation and in 861 asked the Pope to send a bishop. This request was not granted and Ratislav turned to the Byzantine emperor Michael III with the same request. The latter sent two apostles, Cyril and Methodius from Saloniki in Greece. It was they who, already in Byzantium, created the first Slavonic alphabet (Glagolitic alphabet) and translated several religious works into Slavonic or Old Slavonic. Once they arrived in the principality of Ratislav, the two set to work energetically and founded, among other things, the first Slovak school in 863.

Between 869 and 871, the attacks of the East Franks intensified and Ratislav was taken prisoner. He was succeeded by Svätopluk I, who was able to withstand the armies of Louis and maintain his independence. In 880, Svätopluk was crowned king by Pope John VIII, bringing the kingdom under the protection of the Holy See.

After Svätopluk's death in 894, the then largest Central European kingdom quickly disintegrated and disappeared after sustained attacks by the cooperating Bavarian and Hungarian armies. The disintegration of the empire had already begun in 895 when the Dukes of Bohemia (now: Czech Republic) seceded from the realm of Svätopluk.

In 897 Mojmír II tried in vain to recapture Bohemia and in 898 a struggle for the throne broke out between King Mojmír II and his brother Svätopluk II. Mojmír II also managed to deal with hostile Bavarian armies and he also managed to throw Svätopluk II into prison. In 899, the Slavs were again attacked by the Bavarian armies and Svätopluk was freed by them. In 900 Mojmír again managed to repel attacks by Czech and Bavarian armies. In the same year, the pope reaffirmed an archdiocese and three dioceses in the Slavic realm, and in 901 Louis IV the Younger and Mojmír II concluded a peace agreement in Ratisbonne. In 902 and 906 Mojmír repelled two attacks by the Magyars, but in the next attack both Mojmír II and Svätopluk II were killed and the Magyars occupied the southern regions of Slovakia. This would be the beginning of the end of the independent Slavic state.

The Magyars (Hungarians) occupied, after the collapse of the Slavic Empire, the plains between the Tisa and Danube, but adopted the lifestyle, religion etc. of the Slavs. In spite of that they often attacked German territories. Only in 955 were the Magyars definitively defeated in the Battle of Augsburg by King Otto I the Great. Until the end of the 11th century, the territory of present-day Slovakia was gradually absorbed into a multinational Hungarian state in which the Hungarians were a minority. Until 1106 Slovakia remained with a special status in the principality of 'Tertia pars Regni' with Nitra as its capital.

In 997 the chief of the Magyars, Geza, died and the question of succession arose. War broke out between his son Vajko and the pagan Koppany. Vajko was forced to flee to Slovakia and sought help from the Crusaders and defeated the rebellious pagans. In 1000 Vajko ascended the Hungarian throne as Stephen I the Holy. Pope Sylvester gave him the title of king and a crown, making him the first king of Hungary. The Slovak part of Moravia was separated from the other Slovak territories and became part of today's Czech Republic. At that time, the Slovakian areas were often the scene of bloody battles between the Hungarians and the neighbouring countries. This cost many human lives, and was further aggravated by the bloody Tatarian invasions of 1241-1243, with massacres and famines.

Slovakia was at that time, until the Turkish expansion, the richest and most developed area of the Hungarian Empire. This was also the reason why a number of Slovakian towns received royal privileges: Trnava in 1238, Zvolen, Krupina and Stary Tekov in 1240, Nitra and Košice in 1248, Banská Štiavnica in 1255, Banská Bystrica in 1255, Gelnica in 1270 and Bratislava in 1291. The participation of Slovaks in public life was confirmed in the 'Privelegum pro Slavis' in 1381, when King Louis I, nicknamed 'the Great', gave Slovaks half of the seats in the municipal councils.

Turkish invasion

In 1526, the Hungarian armies suffered a catastrophic defeat at Mohacs, which divided the Hungarian Empire into three parts and effectively ceased to exist.

The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire occupied the present-day Hungarian territory and turned it into a Turkish province. Transylvania became a Turkish protectorate from which the anti-Habsburg uprisings were led by Hungarian nobles in the period 1604-1711. All these uprisings took place on Slovak territory.

The third part of the kingdom, Slovakia, resisted the Turkish occupation and became part of the Habsburg monarchy in 1526. At the same time, the Austrian ruler took over as king of the 'kingdom of Hungary', and Slovakia's capital 'Bratislava' became the crown city of the Slovak 'Hungarian kingdom' between 1526 and 1784. Between 1526 and 1830, nineteen Habsburg monarchs were crowned in the Cathedral of St. Martin in Bratislava.

After the Turkish invasion, the country became the battlefield of the Turkish wars and paid dearly for the defence of the Habsburg monarchy against Turkish expansionism. Not only did it cost many lives, but Slovakia was also robbed of practically all its gold and silver that was in the soil there and used to pay for the wars.

In 1786, the Turks were driven out of Central Europe and Buda (later Budapest) became the new capital of Hungary.

Eighteenth to early twentieth century

During the 18th century, Slovak religious leaders founded a nationalist movement, which became even more important in the 19th century. A key role was played by the codification of the Slovak literary language by Anton Bernolák in the 18th century and its reform by L'udovit Štúr in the 19th century. Nevertheless, Hungarian control over Slovakia remained strict and a large Slovakian movement would not emerge until the 20th century.

The first signs of this became visible only at the end of the 19th century when it became clear to the Slovaks that they had to find allies in their struggle. The Slovaks were helped in their struggle by the Czechs and in 1896 the Czechoslovak Community was founded in Prague to strengthen cooperation and support Slovakia. At the beginning of the 20th century the growing democratisation of political and social life threatened the monarchy and the most heard call was for universal suffrage.

The Slovaks saw in this trend towards more democracy an opportunity to alleviate ethnic oppression and achieve a breakthrough in politics. The Slovakian political camp split into two directions. The leaders of the Slovak National Party focused strongly on Russia, while the Catholic part of the Slovak politicians, led by the clergyman Andrej Hlinka, focused on the small businesses in Slovakia. Shortly before the First World War, they founded the political party the Slovak Public Party. The Slovak liberal intelligentsia, concentrated around the Hlas (= voice) magazine, followed a similar path but focused more on the Czechoslovak cooperation.

In 1905, a Social Democratic Party was founded. All in all, the Slovaks achieved some success. In the 1906 elections the Slovaks won seven seats in the Hungarian assembly. The government was shocked by this and the oppression of the Slovaks was increased. It was decided to continue the "magyarisation" and to oblige children to be taught only in Hungarian for the first four years of schooling. The consecration of a new church ended in riots and 15 people were killed. The Slovaks wanted Andrej Hlinka to do it, but this was forbidden by the Hungarians. Because of all this, the discontent and resistance among the Slovaks increased.

Federation of Czechoslovakia

After the outbreak of the First World War, it became clear that Slovaks were determined to leave the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary and form an independent republic with the Czech Republic. Even Slovaks living abroad supported these ideas. Russia and other neutral countries also supported the idea of a Czechoslovak republic. An important figure was Slovak general Milan Rastislav Stefanik living in France. In Slovakia, there was broad agreement on the actions of Stefanik and Czech Masaryk. In the turbulent last year of the war there were some small uprisings in Slovakia and a secret meeting took place in Liptovsky Mikulas on 1 May 1918. Finally on 28 October 1918 the independent republic of Czechoslovakia (consisting of Bohemia, Moravia, a small part of Silesia and Slovakia) was proclaimed by the Prague National Committee and two days later the Slovak National Council agreed with this Prague proclamation.

In October 1918, at the end of the war, Slovakia separated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was incorporated into the new Czechoslovak Republic, which then consisted of Bohemia, Moravia, a small part of Silesia and Slovakia. Within the borders of this new republic there were still several hundred thousand Hungarians living. A parliamentary democratically elected government was formed, and the new capital city was Prague. From the beginning, however, there were big differences between the two population groups. There were many more Czechs than Slovaks, for example, and the Slovakian economy was primarily agricultural and therefore much less developed than the Czech economy. Many Slovaks were practising Catholics, whereas the Czech leaders wanted to severely curtail the power of the church. Furthermore, the Slovaks did not have as much experience of self-government as the Czechs and their level of education was lower.

These differences, added to the fact that the government was based in the Czech city of Prague, always caused tensions between the two population groups. Between the two world wars the Czechoslovak government tried to industrialise Slovakia, an attempt that was doomed by the global economic depression of the 1930s. The Slovaks were very dissatisfied with the amalgamation with the Czech Republic and the economic and political domination by the Czechs, and extreme nationalist movements soon emerged.

Andrej Hlinka and his infamous successor Jozef Tiso were supported by a large part of the population in their quest for equality between the Czech and Slovak Republics and for greater autonomy for Slovakia..

Second World War

Besides internal conflicts, the rise of Hitler-Germany in the 1930s led to the collapse of the Czechoslovak federation. In 1938, the Allies wanted to prevent another war and concluded the "Pact of Munich". This took Sudetenland away from Czechoslovakia because many Germans lived there.

he Slovaks assumed that the federal government could not adequately represent Slovakian interests. So the Slovak leaders proclaimed an autonomous provincial government and a new constitution, creating the short-lived Second Czechoslovak Republic. Fearing to be divided between Germany, Poland and Hungary, the Slovakian government decided to withdraw from the federation and on 14 March 1939 the first independent Slovakian republic was proclaimed and Tiso became the new head of government.

As an independent republic, Slovakia came under heavy influence and protection of the Germans on the eve of the Second World War. Tiso allowed German troops to occupy Slovakia in August 1939 and so Slovakia entered World War II as an ally of Germany. The Slovakian government was strongly linked to the Nazi party in Germany and this meant, among other things, that between 1942 and 1944 about 70,000 Jews and other "undesirable" individuals were deported to concentration camps.

Although some Slovaks supported the government, a resistance movement also emerged and organised a revolt against the Germans in 1944. When the war ended in 1945, the Republic of Czechoslovakia was re-established. Prime Minister Tiso was hanged for treason and collaboration with the Germans and other senior party officials were also severely punished.

Czechoslovakia under communism

Between 1945 and 1948, Czechoslovakia was ruled by a coalition which included the communists. The communists occupied many important positions in the government but did not have nearly as many supporters as in the Czech Republic.

In February 1948, the communists provoked a political crisis and took over the government completely. Under the leadership of the Slovak Gustáv Husák, the government's economy was then completely aligned with that of the Soviet Union. The state controlled all factories and many other businesses, private property was abolished and peasants were obliged to work on collective farms where everything had to be shared, both land and tools. Furthermore, all opposition to the communists was silenced and they tried to reduce the influence of the churches. Czechoslovakia was formally a one-party state from that time on.

In the 1960s, party leaders and intellectuals founded a movement to reform the communist system. The movement, called "Prague Spring", was led by Alexander Dubcek, a Slovakian communist who became leader of the Czech Communist Party in January 1968. The Soviets feared that their influence would be eroded by the announced reforms and on 21 August 1968 Soviet troops, militarily supported by other Eastern European countries, invaded Czechoslovakia. The result was that all reforms were reversed and Dubcek was replaced by Husák in April 1969. He was eventually expelled, along with many supporters, from the Communist Party and other social organisations.

The party again controlled all social life and the press was muzzled. Nevertheless, there was a small success when a new federal socialist republic was established in 1969, which gave the Czechs and Slovaks a little more autonomy over local affairs. In the 1970s and 1980s, resistance to communist rule slowly increased, but in different ways in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In the Czech Republic, a strong political organisation like Charta '77 took control. In Slovakia, on the other hand, it happened mostly underground and in the private sphere, especially through Catholicism to oppose atheistic communism. During this period, many pilgrimages and religious celebrations were organised, which brought so many people together that they turned into outright nationalist demonstrations.

Czechoslovakia after communism

In 1989, uprisings against the communist regimes rolled across Eastern Europe. In November of that year, the Czechs and Slovaks jointly organised mass protests against the communist government. Less than a month later, the communist leaders resigned and were replaced by non-communists. In Slovakia the movement People Against Violence (VTG) was founded in which political dissidents, intellectuals and Catholics strived for an open and democratic society.

The first free federal elections since 1946 were held in June 1990. The VTG won the elections in Slovakia and Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia and MariánCalfa, a Slovak, became vice president.

In Slovakia itself the non-communist government was led initially by Vladimir Meciar, a member of the VTG, and in 1991 by Ján Carnugorský, the leader of the Christian Democratic Movement. One of the main tasks of the Czechoslovak government would be to change the economy to one based on free enterprise. They started a massive privatisation programme and tried to attract foreign investors.

While these developments were taking place, the relationship between the two republics became increasingly tense. Slovakia had an outdated, inefficiently defence-oriented industry and its transition to a market economy was accompanied by high unemployment and very difficult economic times. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, was much more industrially developed and this situation led to the Czechs and Slovaks having different visions of the future. They also differed in their views on how power should be distributed between the federal government and the state governments of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These different views complicated the economic reform process and prevented a new federal constitution from being drafted.

Czechoslovakia falls apart

The results of the 1992 elections showed exactly how things stood at that time. The liberal HZDS of Slovak Vladímir Meciar and the conservative Union of Democratic Citizens (ODS) led by Czech Václav Klaus became the largest parties in parliament, and both became prime ministers in their own republic. Disagreements increased further and it soon became clear that no federal form could satisfy both parties.

In July 1992, Slovakia declared itself a sovereign state, which meant that all Slovak laws took precedence over federal laws. In the autumn of that year, Meciar and Klaus negotiated the division of the federation. In November, the federal parliament decided to officially split the country on 31 December, despite polls showing that the population was not in favour of this. January 1993 was the date: Czechoslovakia was replaced by two independent states, Slovakia with its capital in Bratislava and the Czech Republic with its capital in Prague. This silent division is called the "Velvet Revolution".

Slovakia independent

Under Meciar's leadership, the process of privatisation in Slovakia slowed down. In February 1993, Michal Kováctot was elected president. Although a party colleague of Meciar's, problems arose fairly quickly between the two people and thus also in the Slovakian government. Meciar's position was further undermined by the resignation of a number of party representatives in early 1994. In March, Meciar resigned after a vote of no confidence in the Slovak parliament. An interim coalition government consisting of a number of parties was formed with Jozef Moravcik of the Democratic Union of Slovakia as Prime Minister. Moravcik's government resumed the privatisation process and tried to attract more investors to Slovakia.

Meanwhile, there were also major problems with the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, who were fighting for cultural autonomy and educational freedom. In May 1994, a law was passed allowing ethnic Hungarians to register their original names. Previously, Hungarians had to change their name to a Slavic form.

The elections in the autumn of 1994 were won by Meciar's HZDS with 35% of the votes and he wanted to form a government with the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party, although there was no way they could form a majority with each other. This problem solved itself when the leftist United Slovak Workers joined Meciar's coalition. The new government was installed in December and Meciar became prime minister for the third time. Moravcik's liberal plans were completely reversed, radio and television came back under state control and the privatisation of state enterprises stopped for the time being.

This was to the great disquiet of Western countries. In the following months, the tensions between Meciar's government and President Kovác escalated again and a bitter power struggle unfolded. A vote of no confidence in the president followed, but it had no effect because the necessary three-fifths majority was lacking. In March 1998, Kovácerop's term of office came to an end without a successor in place. In such a special case, the parliament constitutionally takes over a number of tasks and powers and, moreover, Meciar had no problem with there being no president for the time being.

In the parliamentary elections held in 1998, Meciar's HZDS remained the largest party despite significant losses, but the results did not provide a majority for the existing government coalition. One month later, four opposition parties formed a new cabinet with SDK President Mikulás Dzurinda as Prime Minister.

At the end of May 1999, Rudolf Schuster, candidate of the ruling coalition, was elected president with 57.2% of the votes (turnout 75.5%). Previously, the president had been elected by the parliament, but due to a lack of consensus on a candidate, the post had been vacant since March 1998. An amendment to the constitution made direct presidential elections possible in the autumn of 1998.

Despite strong criticism from the ruling SMK party, in July 1999 the parliament passed the Minority Languages Act, which allows minorities to use their mother tongue in contacts with the authorities in places where they make up 20% of the population. This decision concerned the Hungarian minority in particular.

In September 1999, the Slovak Government announced a special education programme for the Roma, while a Slovak-language schoolbook was introduced on the history of this group.

21th century

The presidential elections of April 2004 were surprisingly won by Ivan Gašparovic, who succeeded Rudolf Schuster. Vladimir Meciar had won the first round with more than a third of the votes, and it was generally assumed that the former prime minister would claim the office in the second round. However, the opposite happened: 63-year-old Gašparovic won almost 60% of the voters in the second round (turnout around 30%).

Meciar still supported Gašparovic in the 1990s, when Slovakia was slowly becoming unstable and isolated. In 2002, Gašparovic officially distanced himself from Meciar and founded his own party.

On 1 May 2004, Slovakia joined the European Union. The surprising result of the presidential elections held on 3 and 17 April 2004, in which Ivan Gašparovic was elected president, is attributed by many to the support of the social democratic opposition party SMER. The head of government has been Robert Fico since 4 July 2006. In July 2008 the EU gave Slovakia the green light to adopt the euro on 1 January 2009. In April 2009, Ivan Gašparovic was re-elected president.

In July 2010, Iveta Radicova became prime minister of a centre-right coalition following elections in June. In October 2011, the coalition falls over an EU austerity plan. Early elections are held in March 2012. They are won by the left-wing opposition party Smer, led by Robert Fico, who is also elected prime minister. In regional elections in November 2013, the far-right anti-Roma party Our Slovenia wins one of the provinces. The other provinces are ruled by Fico's Social Democrats. In March 2014, Andrej Kiska wins the presidential election. Since March 2016, Fico has been prime minister of a coalition government after his party won the elections. In July 2016, Slovakia gets the rotating EU presidency.

Opposition candidate Zuzana Caputova defeats government candidate Maros Sefcovic in the second round of the March 2019 presidential election with 58% of the vote. Finance Minister Heger becomes head of government in April 2021, swapping places with Prime Minister Igor Matovic.


Sources

Lacika, J. / Tatras
Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc

Meyer, M. / Tsjechië, Slowakije
ANWB

Samuhel, S. / Mountain walks in the High Tatra
Rother

Wilson, N. / Czech & Slovak Republics
Lonely Planet

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info