Slovaks and Czechs, 1918–1989
Within three years of the 1989 fall of Communist rule, the Czechoslovak state split into two separate and sovereign entities, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The breakup of the country, which had been unified since 1918, came quickly and took politicians, voters, and concerned outsiders by surprise. A closer look at how the split occurred shows that the division of Czechoslovakia grew out of a long period of tension between the Czech and Slovak peoples and offers some lessons about the difficulty of controlling the growth of ethnocultural nationalism, especially its corrosive impact on otherwise stable and secure political communities.
SLOVAKS AND CZECHS
Though sharing a common Slavic heritage, Czechs and Slovaks had different political, economic, and cultural characteristics. Before World War I, Hungary had ruled the Slovaks; for the most part, its regime was direct, centralized, and repressive, especially regarding Slovak culture. Indeed, it is possible to speak of a “Magyarization” of Slovak language and culture, especially after the creation of the “Dual Monarchy,” sometimes called the Ausgleich (compromise), in 1867, which gave the Hungarian government in Budapest direct control over territory inhabited predominantly by Slovaks.1
Austria in this same period administered territory inhabited by Czechs, notably Bohemia and Moravia. Having granted Czechs a mea