Hungary and the Slovaks

Czech Republic Table of Contents

In Hungary the government gave full sway to Hungarian nationalism. Only a year after the Compromise of 1867, the Nationalities Act established Hungarian as the exclusive official language. Slovak was relegated to private use and was regarded by the authorities as a peasant dialect. Franchise laws restricted the right to vote to large property holders (approximately 6 percent of the total population), thus favoring the Hungarian aristocracy. As a result, Slovaks rarely elected parliamentary representatives. The Slovaks, nevertheless, formed the Slovak National Party. Supported by Catholics and Protestants, the Slovak National Party was conservative and pan-Slavic in orientation and looked to autocratic Russia for national liberation. It remained the center of Slovak national life until the twentieth century.

Fearing the evolution of a full-fledged Slovak national movement, the Hungarian government attempted to do away with various aspects of organized Slovak life. In the 1860s, the Slovaks had founded a private cultural foundation, the Slovak Matica, which fostered education and encouraged literature and the arts. At its founding, even the Austrian emperor donated 1,000 florins for the Slovak Matica. In 1875 the Hungarian government dissolved the Slovak Matica and confiscated its assets. Similar attacks were made against Slovak education. In 1874 all three Slovak secondary schools were closed, and in 1879 a law made Hungarian mandatory even in church-sponsored village schools. The Hungarian government attempted to prevent the formation of an educated, nationally conscious, Slovak elite.

It is remarkable that the Slovak national movement was able to survive. Most Slovaks continued to live as peasants or industrial laborers. Poverty prevailed, and on the eve of World War I about 20 percent of the population of Slovakia had emigrated to other lands. This emigration aided the national movement, for it received both moral and financial support from Slovaks living abroad, particularly in the United States. The Slovak national movement was aided also by the example of other nationalities struggling against the Hungarians (particularly the Romanians) and by contacts with the Czechs.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress