Slovaks in Czechoslovakia (1918–38)

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Whereas Czechs wished to create a Czech and Slovak nation, Slovaks sought to have their own federal republic in 1918. The new Czecho-Slovak republic ("First Republic"), with its predominantly Czech administrative apparatus, hardly responded to Slovak aspirations for at least some form of autonomy. In the Slovak view, Czech domination had simply replaced Hungarian domination, since Czechs who were unable to find positions in Bohemia or Moravia took over local administrative and educational posts in Slovakia. Linguistic similarity and geographic proximity was generally considered to be an inadequate basis for a nation-state. A Protestant minority of Slovaks (educated and influential in government) was generally sympathetic to the republic, but the Slovak Catholic clergy, the rural bourgeoisie, and the peasantry wanted autonomy. The Slovak Republic during World War II (1939–45) was, among other things, the culmination of Slovak discontent with Czech hegemony in the country's affairs (see The WWII Slovak Republic).

Political autonomy was a particularly grave issue for the Slovaks. In 1918 Tomáš Masaryk had signed an agreement with Slovak-Americans in Pittsburgh, promising Slovak autonomy. The provisional National Assembly (i.e. Czecho-Slovak parliament), however, agreed on the temporary need for centralized government to secure the stability of the new state. The so-called Hlasists, centered around the journal Hlas ("voice" in English), continued to favor the drawing together of Czechs and Slovaks. Although the Hlasists did not form a separate political party, they dominated Slovak politics in the early stages of the republic. The Hlasists' support of Prague's centralization policy was bitterly challenged by the Slovak People's Party. The party was led by the Catholic priest Andrej Hlinka. Hlinka argued for Slovak autonomy both in the National Assembly and at the Paris Peace Conference. He made Slovak autonomy the cornerstone of his policy until his death in August 1938.

The Slovak People's Party was Catholic in orientation and found its support among Slovak Catholics, many of whom objected to the secularist tendencies of the Czechs. Religious differences compounded secular problems. The Slovak peasantry had suffered hardships during the period of economic readjustment after the disintegration of Austria-Hungary. Moreover, the apparent lack of qualified Slovaks had led to the importation of Czechs into Slovakia to fill jobs (formerly held by Hungarians) in administration, education, and the judiciary. Nevertheless, at the height of its popularity in 1925, the Slovak People's Party polled only 32 percent of the Slovak vote, although Catholics constituted approximately 80 percent of the population. Then, in 1927, a modest concession by Prague granted Slovakia the status of a separate administrative province, and the Slovak People's Party joined the central government in Prague. Monsignor Jozef Tiso and Marek Gažík from Slovakia were appointed to the cabinet.

Although Hlinka's objective was Slovak autonomy within a democratic Czecho-Slovak state, his party contained a more radical wing, led by Vojtech Tuka. From the early 1920s, Tuka maintained secret contacts with Austria, Hungary, and Hitler's National Socialists (Nazis). He set up the Rodobrana (paramilitary organization) and published subversive literature. Tuka gained the support of the younger members of the Slovak People's Party, who called themselves Nastupists, after the journal Nastup. Tuka was arrested and tried in 1929, after which the Slovak People's Party resigned from the government in Prague as a sign of protest. The result of being in a centralized government while itself opposing centralization caused a slight drop in the party's popularity. In 1935 it polled 30 percent of the vote and again refused to join the government. In 1936 younger members of the party criticized the pro-Soviet orientation of the Republic, favoring instead good relations with its closest neighbors, especially Poland and Austria. In September 1938, the party was pressured by Hitler to press its demands for Slovak autonomy.

For further details on this topic see Slovak People's Party.

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