The Czechoslovak state, although multinational in composition when it was created in 1918, was often considered an example of the successful application of the principle of self-determination that was invoked in re-organizing Central Europe from the ashes of the Habsburg, Romanov and Ottoman empires on the morrow of the Great War. This perception has survived, despite the fact that in a little more than seven decades it faced three major challenges to its existence from a minority nation. 1 Within 20 years, in 1938-39, Czechoslovakia was modified and then dismembered for six years as a result of external as well as internal factors; half a century after its creation, in 1968, the country underwent a major constitutional change; and again, in 1990-92, the former socialist federal republic, which had become the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, faced a constitutional challenge which it failed to resolve. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia disappeared and was replaced by the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is now clear that it was a state that knew more conflict than stability in the relations between its constituent nations and national minorities.
There are two ways to approach the study of this state, which was once described as 'the island of democracy' in Central Europe. One is the minority management approach, brilliantly used by Carol Skalnik Lef f in her study of national conflict in Czechoslovakia over the period 1918-87. 2 However, as we indicate below, this approach does not explain satisfactorily the direction and options of Slovak politics which brought about these challenges to the common state. The other approach, which is used here, is to focus on Slovak strategy and goals and their consequences for the stability and survival of the state.
From the moment of its creation, Czechoslovakia faced the necessity of having to deal with nationality relations and to offer solutions if nationality conflict were to be avoided or at least minimized. Two