In discourses on history, “the controlled discourse of the Socialist era was replaced by a plurality—even a cacophony—of voices.”
Developments in post-communist memory politics in Slovakia are discussed in a comparative collection.
“A gap opened up between academic discourse, cultivated in the environment of universities and scientific institutes, and a public discourse, cultivated by and enthusiastic amateurs and witnesses (often returning émigrés) claiming to be the rightful interpreters of history.”
“The clash of these groups was most dramatically observed in the mid-1990s in the so-called Ďurica case. It was launched by the publication of an auxiliary textbook by the émigré historian and professor of theology .”
“The Slovak National Uprising (SNP), one of the most celebrated historical events after 1945, became a litmus test.”
“Some sociological surveys after 1989 have revealed that many Slovaks are able to view both the Slovak National Uprising and the Tiso regime positively.”
Titles from the backlist, contemporary topics on top, older themes below.
“Slovakia still has a way to go. Its citizens need to broaden their definition of democracy from simply free and fair elections to include the rule of law, a well-cultivated civil society, and democratic political values.”
Statements like this were voiced, often at variance with other views spelled out during the scholarly debate on Czech and Slovak achievements and failures twenty years after separation.
Slovakia’s economy did not collapse after independence, as many western observers had predicted. In fact, “Slovakia experienced one of the fastest convergence rates of all new member states of the EU.”
Independent Slovakia has become “ordinary” in East-Central Europe and is, therefore, a success. “Ordinary” implies also corruption. “The Slovaks stole openly while the Czechs stole discreetly” – said wryly a former prime minister.
“All the scholars agreed that relations between the Czechs and Slovaks have never been better. Thus, the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, like Norway’s secession from Sweden in 1905, may be a good model for other nations who live in a common state but wish to go it alone.”
“Why, in spite of the country’s well designed ‘success story’ prepared by liberal intellectuals, Milan Hodža has not become a national hero? Why is it that his political contemporary, Andrej Hlinka, who never achieved the Europe-wide reputation of Hodža, became such a highly commemorated personality?” The dispute over the legacy of Hodža and Hlinka models the symbolic post-communist battles over the interpretation of the 1944 Slovak National Uprising (SNP).
Modern Slovak national identity-building is analyzed in the collective volume that explores the past twenty-five years of east-central Europe in the perspective of intellectual history.
The “red nationalist” discourse appears to have become the dominant master narrative of the Slovak identity-building process. A course that took early momentum when Mečiar as ”fighter, boxer in the ring, matador in the arena, took the destiny of the nation in his own hands against contemplative, cowardly political leaders from other parties.”
The book about the many ways of looking back to the communist past sorts Slovakia among countries with “society-wide anticommunist consensus”, while at the same time detects a steep rise of those who “favor a return to the communist model of rule. Slovakia made the most obvious jump between 1993 and 2004 (from 16 to 28%).”
It was in this period—especially between 1994 and 1998—that Slovakia behaved oddly as described in another essay, representing a temporary exception from the rule of “neighborhood democratization”, i.e. adapting to the geopolitical environment.
Part of the hardships that the Roma communities must live with is environmental deprivation, which is discussed on examples from Slovakia. Another adversity of the Roma, educational segregation is examined also in Slovakia in a comparative volume.
"The mayor complained of a 'continuous fiscal stress'. It was not so much that the village's own revenues were reduced, but rather that the central government component was being reduced. The first substantial casualty was the creche, which had been in operation since 1982; it was closed for good a decade after opening."
The analysis of the dramatic transition from communism to capitalism in rural communities is based on 54 village studies. The Slovak findings are matched against experiences in Bulgarian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian villages.
"Co-operatives in Mečiar's Slovakia became a feature of Slovakia's special path to post-socialism. Slovak farm managers were more likely to say that nothing had changed, when in fact it had, while Czech managers were keener to report how they had adapted to the market; essentially private company initiatives continued to call themselves co-operatives."
"The mayor could refer to 'no village unemployment' in one breath and '88 long-term unemployed Roma' in the other, which speaks volumes for the degree of Roma social exclusion that existed in eastern Slovakia in the early post-transition years."
"There were several major attempts in the small transition countries to institute and institutionalize an oligarchic order. Slovakia between 1993 and 1998 proved to be a fertile ground for such an experiment under the populist rule of Vladimír Mečiar. The magic bullet was to be provided mainly by the insider privatization, i.e. the firesale of huge chunks of industrial assets to wellconnected people, mostly incumbent managers of the old socialist behemoths at extremely preferential prices."
"Slovakia is perhaps the greatest surprise in the region as it managed the transition from being a quasi pariah in the region to a model country within a decade. After being the laggard among the Visegrad countries and almost excluded from the first round of eastern enlargement during the rule of Vladimír Mečiar, a change in government in 1998 meant stepping on the path of reform and achieving first accession to the EU, as well as the introduction of the euro in 2009."
The first quote is from the erudite and sweeping essay on the political economy of transition from command to market economy, and the second from a book that discusses the impact of institutional trust on economic growth.
Under Communism Slovaks felt more optimistic than Czechs, in cases at a rate of two to one: e.g. in 1970 10% of SSR citizens expected markedly better standard of living in the coming years against 5% in the Czech side of CSSR. Possession of color TV distinguished party members from non-members more than any other consumption item (in 1984 the difference was 18%). Such data from previously unpublished surveys are from the fresh interpretation of the revolutions of 1989. The volume matches the seminal CEU Press title on the collapse of Soviet domination (see extracts at bottom).
"The most public expression of civic initiative took the form of a public demonstration in Bratislava on March 25, 1988. František Mikloško and Ján Carnogurský, who had become two of the most politically oriented members of the Slovak secret church, organized the demonstration, though they both acknowledged that the idea for the initiative came from a Slovak active in the émigré community living in Canada, the hockey player Marián Štastný".
A comparative monograph examines the grass-roots activism of the secret Catholic Church in Slovakia and the Lutheran Church in East Germany that confronted state socialist rule and contributed to its eventual dismantling.
"On August 4, 1989, Hnutie za občiansku slobodu announced in a letter to the Slovak government its plans to lay flowers at two sites in Bratislava where Slovak students had been killed in 1968".
“The extent and diversity of Slovak artists’ engagements in the natural environment at the turn of the 1960s and during the 1970s are exceptional in the context of Eastern European art practice, where in general artists’ commitments to work in nature or to deal with environmental issues were more isolated and individual endeavors”.
In comparison to Western land art the main feature of Slovak art was its responsiveness “to ecological and ethical issues related to the environment discussed by artists and scientists at unofficial meetings.”
This certainly relates to the practice of Rudolf Sikora, who was among the leading artists engaged with environmental issues. His iconic action Out of Town was carried out during the Christmas holidays of 1970 on the outskirts of the town of Zvolen. Outside Slovakia, the work became internationally known in 1972, when it was chosen for the cover of a rare anthology of contemporary Eastern European art, Aktuelle Kunst in Osteuropa .
Sikora managed to have one solo exhibition, predominantly with works from the Topography series, organized in May 1970 in the Gallery of Youth in Bratislava, before the normalization commission terminated further exhibition projects in that gallery.
In addition to the unparalleled resource of primary documentation on the Prague Spring, a recent release re-asses the significance and consequences of the events associated with the year 1968 – highlighting, of course, events in Czechoslovakia.
"There was something rotten at Post Office 120 in Prague. We appealed to Comrade Jirsa of the Central Publications Administration, who acted under the name of Post office Prague 120, to explain what has been done to normalize this problem so that at last we will fall into step with the civilized world." A reader's letter to Kulturny život in Bratislava in the spring of 1968 quoted in the volume on huge book distribution program of the CIA that reached hundreds of thousand East-Europeans and involved a broad network of institutional and private supporters in the west. The archival analysis covers the first 20 years of the programme. Issues of Naše snahy, the emigre journal published in Toronto, and works by Ladislav Mnačko among others were asked for and mailed in great numbers.
The New York Times published an announcement on 26 February 1949: "Yesterday, on the one-year anniversary of the Communist takeover in Prague, the newly formed Council of Free Czechoslovakia announced its determination to liberate its country from the yoke of Communist tyranny".
Honor is due to the Council, which showed all symptoms of exiled political formations between 1949-1989, yet could not have done much better. This is the conclusion in the volume that reviews how the US government sponsored political movements against communism during the Cold War, based extensively on the archival records of Radio Free Europe.
"Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, which had been ceded by Czechoslovakia to the Soviet Union in 1945, was discussed briefly in Council deliberations, as was the ethnic Hungarian minority in Slovakia, but a general consensus emerged (with a handful of dissenters) that these issues did not represent a Council priority".
“There will be no collectivization in Czechoslovakia, we shall go on our own way” - announced Klement Gottwald in February, 1948. Then, in October, Gottwald visited Stalin in Crimea, which changed his mind. The process began and soon led to economic disruption and chaos in agriculture, so that rationing of bread had to be re-introduced in 1951.
Based on a wealth of archival materials, a critical overview is taken of the main stages and features of the collectivization of agriculture in the former Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. The volume is related to another recent work on how the dramatic transition from communism to capitalism affected rural communities.
”Mr. Majkút from Dolný Kubín in Orava took his team of oxen to help with the repair of a bridge. But only the oxen returned home, because Mr. Majkút ended on a transport to the Soviet Union.” The research had to tackle the lack of proper record about the tens of thousands of civilians whom the Red Army abducted for years of forced labor from Slovakia in the months after WWII.
“As soon as the villagers were gathered, the soldiers’ behavior changed and the men were escorted ‘under bayonets’ like criminals.”
Diplomatic efforts on various levels to reach their return were hindered by the subdued position of the country. “President Beneš awarded the Order of the White Lion to twenty-two members of the NKVD for their rapid interventions disposed of the disturbers of order.”
“On April 1, 1944, the Sicherheitsdienst office in Kassa (Košice) requested that all Jews in the Carpathian region be placed in ghettos in three cities and within three days.”
The book on the Shoah in Hungary covers also the area under Hungarian rule between 1938 and 1945, with references to the Slovak Republic.
“In Slovakia, Romania, and France, citizens of the country who were Jewish generally did not have to wear the yellow star, and many of them escaped the first wave of deportations. This applied to two out of three Jews in France, to everyone in the Romanian regions of Southern Transylvania and the Regat, and to one in four Jews in Slovakia.”
“Prime Minister Sztójay justified the halting of the deportations to Veesenmayer by citing the fact that thousands of Jews were free to live in peace in Slovakia.”
Before World War I “the main region in which Hungarian Jews did show significant interest in Zionism was formed from the northwestern counties of the country, centering around Pressburg (Pozsony, later Bratislava), which became part of Czechoslovakia.”
The case of Rusyns in Prešov Region (and other parts of Slovakia) occupies an important part of the encyclopedic work that follows the history of Carpatho-Rusyns over centuries.
The long-lasting friendship and mutual respect between Rusyns and Slovaks broke down after WWI, and even more after WWII. Guidelines came first from the Comintern, then directly from the Kremlin “that the East Slavic inhabitants of the Prešov Region and all of Carpathian Rus, regardless what they may have called themselves, were Ukrainians… All Greek Catholic lay people, should they wish to continue in the faith, had to become Orthodox.”
The Prague Spring, and especially the 1989 regime change, have improved chances for emancipation, yet could not prevent continued assimilation. The headquarters of the World Congress of Rusyns was set up in Prešov, and world congresses of the Rusyn language (1992 and 1999) were also held in Slovakia.
The fifteenth volume in the CEU Press Classics series was first published in 1940 and has remained popular with generations of Slovaks—now is the chance to acquaint readers in English to this short novel. Three Chestnut Horses takes place in a mountain village. It is a love story that combines naturalism with sentimentalism, involving the triangle of Peter, Magdalena and her seducer, Jano Zapotočný.
Similarly to Margita Figuli’s other writings, the book is a meditation on the meaning of love and compassion in the context of current social problems. The film made in 1966 from this gem of Slovak naturalism for Czechoslovak television has kept its appeal until our days.
The last volume of the grand CEU Press undertaking entitled Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe 1770–1945 presents forty-six texts under the heading of “anti-modernism”. The series is a challenging collection of essential primary sources, accompanied by introductory essays and contextual analyses in the best senses of the term: their high level of scholarship demands the intelligent engagement of the reader throughout.
Slovakia is represented in this concluding volume by Tiso: The ideology of the Slovak People’s Party, Hanus: Slovak statehood, and Polakovič: Slovak National Socialism.
Moravian Slovakia’s famous son, the first president of Czechoslovakia remained true to his roots. “If anything, Masaryk was a Slovak, and later in life he identified himself as such both privately and publicly. When he first came to the Bohemian capital at age thirty-two, Masaryk had little knowledge of the city. He even had trouble writing in Czech.”
The letters that Alice Masaryková, founding director of the Czechoslovak Red Cross sent her father “ sometimes wrote in English, the language of Masaryk’s wife, and sometimes in Slovak, the language of Masaryk’s youth.”
Masaryk attributed great symbolic importance to the restoration of Prague Castle, which he commissioned to Jože Plečnik, Slovenia’s most revered architect. The project was not independent form Masaryk’s hope to establish his personal religious philosophy as the civil religion of the country.
Christian-socials in Austria demonstrated erratic attitudes vis-à-vis Czechs and Slovaks. “They were blamed for undermining the German character of Vienna by mayor Karl Lueger, while at the same time his party supported Czech and Slovak critics of Magyar dominance at the imperial level as well as within Hungary”. Processes of nation-building within the Habsburg Empire – including suppressions of national aspirations – are examined in parallel with related trajectories in other empires in Europe.
“Linguistic research was carried out in Vienna, and Viennese publishing houses printed grammars, dictionaries, and literature. So the non-Magyar languages—Croat, Serb, Slovak, and Romanian—developed in spite of Magyar dominance, rendering Hungary less homogeneous than the official ideology proclaimed”.
“When Matica slovenska, the Slovak Foundation was prohibited in 1875, Slovak national activities concentrated in Budapest. In 1900 more than 60,000 Slovaks lived in Budapest, rendering the Hungarian capital the biggest Slovak town”.
“In towns with a Slovak, Serbian, or Romanian majority, assimilation to the Magyar language did not promote the same social advancement as it did in Magyar core regions or in Budapest, where Magyarization was effectively carried out” .
The evolution of modernism as reflected in the representation of national cultures is the theme of the latest volume of the CEU Press undertaking of comparing documents on national identities in east and central Europe. Two Slovak texts are presented and commented: Bohdan Pavlů: Pokrokovosť a konzervativizmus na Slovensku (Progressivism and conservativism in Slovakia) from 1910, and Ladislav Novomeský: Dnešný stav a vývoj slovenskej kultúry (The current state and development of Slovak culture) from 1936. Earlier volumes contained writings from Hrdlička (1785), Kollár (1821), Šuhajda (1834), Štúr (1846), Palárik (1860), Lajčiak (1920), Chorvath (1939), and Hodža (1942).
References to Slovaks and the Slovak land abound in a number of more books on the backlist of the Press:
- The Gesta Hungarorum of Anonymus has been familiar to Slovak historians for long. See extract below from the Latin-English bilingual publication;
- Deeds and vicissitudes of Jesuit communities in the Eastern half of the Habsburg empire, particularly in Spiš, Prešov, Banska Bystrica, Klaštor pod Znievom, Levo?a, Košice, Trnava and their environs;
- The position of the Catholic Church in the new Slovakia between 1945–1948;
- How did the Czechoslovak road to Stalinism differ from the other stories in Eastern Europe?
- What impact did Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America have on Eastern Europe?
- Slovak historiography in the 1990s between the national and trans-national agenda;
- and similar dilemmas around creating a Slovak collective memory in the post-communist world;
- as well as the analysis of the political use of history in Slovakia's neighbors (Poland, Ukraine, Hungary).
- Together with twenty-eight more post-communist transition countries, the political and economic performance of Slovakia is also examined as part of a search of varieties of transition models.
Bilingual extract from Gesta Hungarorum:
Et dum uterque exercitus ad fluvium Nitra pervenissent, Zuardu, Cadusa et Huba volebant transpire fluvium, sed Zubur dux Nitriensis et sui milites contra eos diutissime certantes nullomodo eis transitum concedere volebant. Et cum diu inter se certassent, Hungarii ex Boemis et Sclavis ictibus sagittarum multos interficiebant, sed per tres dies nullo modo Hungarii propter inundationem aquarum transitum habuissent.
When both armies arrived at the Nitra River, Zovárd, Kadocsa and Huba wished to cross the river, but Zobor, duke of Nitra, and his warriors fought them for a very long time and were in no way willing to concede the crossing. And as they fought lengthily together, the Hungarians killed many of the Czechs and Slavs with arrow shots, but for three days the Hungarians were in no way able to make a crossing on account of the swell of the waters.
Extracts from Masterpieces of History:
Document No. 16: Notes of CC CPSU Politburo Session in November 1987
Gorbachev: Štrougal is a good prime minister, but it is unlikely that he would be able to unite the leadership as a general secretary. The split there is coming from Bil'ak. I hinted at this to him.
Ryzhkov: Against the background of the other socialist countries' prime ministers, Štrougal stands above everyone. But the struggle for power consumes everything and distracts from important affairs. And the ethnic question has come up as well. Before, Slovakia was the periphery, now it is in command. They come to us for advice. This is very important. But now we must not tell them who goes where. Let them decide everything for themselves.
Document No. 56: Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher in April 1989
Thatcher: More complicated developments are under way in Czechoslovakia. In our analysis, everything is unclear there. And there is some evil irony in this, because Czechoslovakia was one of the most affluent and democratic states in Europe.