Map of Europe


General information

Slovakia is a small country in central Europe, bordered on the north by Poland, on the east by Ukraine, on the south by Hungary, on the southwest by Austria, and on the northwest by the Czech Republic. Its capital is Bratislava. For many centuries Slovakia belonged to the kingdom of Hungary; more recently it was part of Czechoslovakia. It became independent on Jan. 1, 1993.


The northern part of Slovakia is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains. These include the High Tatra (Tatry) range--whose highest peak, Gerlach or Gerlachovsky, rises to 2,655 m (8,711 ft)--the Low Tatras, and the Slovak Ore (Slovenske) Mountains. The Slovak lowlands to the south are drained by the Vah, Hron, and Hornad rivers; the first two are tributaries of the Danube, which forms part of Slovakia's border with Hungary.

Vegetation and Soil

About 40% of Slovakia is forested, mainly with coniferous trees in the north, but human settlement has eradicated much of the natural vegetation. About one-third of the land is cultivated. The principal crops are grains, potatoes, and beets. Vineyards are located in the southwest, on the slopes of the Little Carpathian Mountains.


Slovakia has a continental climate. Winters are colder in the mountainous regions, and snow covers the High Tatra peaks for a good part of the year. Summers are hot in the lowlands and moderate in the mountains. Average rainfall is about 609.6 mm (24 in) in the south, and twice that in the mountain areas. Resources Natural resources include iron ore, copper, magnesite, lead, zinc, mercury, siderite, and perlite. Silver and gold are also mined. Some hydroelectric power and natural gas have been developed. In 1992-93 Slovakia was involved in a dispute with Hungary over its Gabcikovo hydroelectric project on the Danube, which Hungary opposed as a danger to the region's ecology.


Slovaks comprise nearly 86% of the population. The largest ethnic minority are Magyars (ethnic Hungarians), who compose about 11%. Gypsies and Czechs form about 1.5% and 1% respectively. Small numbers of ethnic Germans, Poles, Moravians, and Rusins (Ruthenians) also live in Slovakia. Kosice (1991 pop., 235,160) is the country's second largest city.


The largest religious group are Roman Catholics, who comprise about 60% of the population. The Slovak Lutheran church accounts for another 6% and the Slovak Reformed church for about 2%. There are also small numbers of Orthodox Christians and Jews.


A distinctive Slovak literature first emerged in the 19th century. Two of the great pioneers of Slavic ethnic consciousness, Pavel Safarik (1795-1861) and Jan Kollar (1793-1852) were Slovaks. Kollar's epic poem Slavy dcera ("Daughter of Slava"), in particular, had wide influence as an early expression of the ideal of cultural unity among all the Slavic peoples. Slovakia has a rich tradition of folk art and music, and its cities and countryside also contain many fine examples of Gothic, baroque, and rococo architecture.

Education and Health Care

The Communist government of Czechoslovakia provided free education from the elementary to the university level in Slovakia, and school attendance is compulsory for a ten-year period. The educational system is currently being reexamined, and free post-secondary schooling is to be discontinued. The Communist-instituted system of universal medical care is also being reevaluated.

Economic activity

After World War II the Czechoslovak Communist regime undertook the industrialization of Slovakia. Postwar development was centered largely around heavy industry and processing of raw materials, focusing on mining, manufacture of armaments, paper production, petrochemical industries, and power generation. The Czechoslovak economy shared in the stagnation that eventually overtook the whole Communist system, and after the overthrow of Communism in 1989, the country moved rapidly toward conversion to a market economy. The impact of this shift, however, was unfavorable for Slovakia. The move away from unprofitable heavy industry, especially arms production, had immediate negative consequences for the Slovak economy. The growing imbalance in the economic situations of the Czech and Slovak republics contributed to the push for Slovak independence. As in many former Communist countries, the hardships caused by privatization have caused Slovakia to slow the pace of conversion to a free market system. Nevertheless, the economy has done well since independence. The growth rate in 1994 (5%) was higher than that of the Czech Republic. Especially noteworthy was the performance of the privatized VSZ ironworks in Kosice, which accounted for 25% of the country's export earnings. On the other hand, projects such as a dam at Gabcikovo and a nuclear plant at Mochovce have caused disputes between Slovakia and its neighbors, Hungary and Austria, which feared they would damage the environment.


Slovakia has a multiparty, parliamentary type of government. The legislative body is the National Council (Narodna Rada), composed of 150 deputies serving four-year terms and a chairperson elected by an absolute majority of the deputies. The National Council elects the president, who is the head of state, to a five-year term. The executive branch consists of the prime minister (appointed by the president but responsible to the legislature) and his cabinet. In 1995 the prime minister was Vladimir Meciar, of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and the president was Michal Kovac. Kovac, a former leading member of the HZDS who left the party, is now a political foe of Meciar.


Early inhabitants of what is now Slovakia included Celtic, Illyrian, and German tribes. The first Slavs arrived in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Part of the Slavic empire of Great Moravia in the 9th century, Slovakia became a territory of Hungary in the 11th century. For a long time the Slovaks formed an integral part of Hungary, sharing in its political and cultural history, experiencing the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, subjection to Turkish rule in the 16th and 17th centuries, and incorporation into the Habsburg empire in the 18th century. The 18th century witnessed the rise of a distinctive Slovak consciousness, concurrent with that of the Magyars. During the next century and a half the Slovaks struggled to preserve their national identity in the face of efforts to transform the multinational Hungarian kingdom into an ethnic Magyar state, especially after the establishment of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867. A key component of the national awakening was the codification of the Slovak literary language by Ludovit Stur (1815-56). In its Memorandum of 1861, the Slovak National party of Bishop Stefan Moyses petitioned Emperor Francis Joseph to grant the Slovaks territorial, linguistic, and political rights but to no avail. Instead, the pressure to Magyarize increased. The principal Slovak cultural organization, Matica Slovenska, was disbanded in 1875, and Slovak secondary schools were closed. In response, the Slovak nationalists sought allies among the Czechs and other nationalities of Austria-Hungary. The "Cernova massacre" (1907), an incident in which Hungarian police fired into a crowd of Slovak demonstrators, killing 15, was widely publicized abroad, winning sympathy for the Slovak cause. World War I put an end to most internal activities, but a group of Czechs and Slovaks abroad, led by Tomas Masaryk and Milan Stefanik (1880-1919), conducted a successful drive to create a Czecho-Slovak state, which was formed by the victorious Allies in 1919 from territory of the defeated empire of Austria-Hungary. Within the framework of Czechoslovakia, the Slovaks obtained political rights and educational opportunities in their own language, and Slovak national life flourished. Nevertheless, economic disparities and centralized rule from Prague caused growing Slovak dissatisfaction with the structure of the new state. The Slovak People's party, led by Andrej Hlinka (1864-1938), a Roman Catholic priest, called for constitutional revision and autonomy for the Slovaks. Hlinka's party became the strongest political group in Slovakia, but it exerted little influence on Czech leaders. Meanwhile, another Slovak, Milan Hodza (1878-1944) of the Agrarian party, served as premier of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938. Hodza faced the growing crisis caused by Nazi Germany's increasing pressure on Czechoslovakia. In October 1938, following the Munich Conference, Slovakia achieved autonomy in the short-lived Second Czecho-Slovak Republic, which was demolished by Hitler in March 1939. With the collapse of Czechoslovakia, a Slovak Republic was formed under the presidency of Jozef Tiso (1887-1947), another priest who had succeeded Hlinka as head of the Slovak People's party. Created under the aegis of Hitler's Germany, the Slovak Republic shared the fate of its German ally in World War II. In August 1944 the Slovak National Council, an anti-fascist coalition of Slovak democrats and Communists, began an uprising against Tiso's government, and in April 1945, Slovakia was occupied by Soviet troops. After the war Tiso was hanged as a collaborator. The pre-Munich Czechoslovak state was restored, and in February 1948 the Communists seized control of the government. From then until the late 1960s both the Czech and Slovak lands were ruled by a rigid Stalinist dictatorship. Following the brief thaw of the "Prague Spring" government of the Slovak reform Communist leader Alexander Dubcek in 1968, the USSR imposed a new hard-line Communist regime headed by Gustav Husak (also a Slovak). The Communist system finally disintegrated in the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989, and in 1992, Vladimir Meciar's HZDS came to power in Slovakia. Meciar at first tried to negotiate a new confederation with the Czechs, but when that attempt failed, a peaceful "divorce" was arranged, and the Czech and Slovak republics went their separate ways.

The 1997 Grolier multimedia encyclopedia.