10
From Autonomy to
Federation, 1938–68

JAN RYCHLÍK


I

In 1938 the programme for the political autonomy of Slovakia which had been drawn up by Hlinka's Slovak People's Party (the HSPP or the socalled 'L'udáks')1 nineteen years previously, finally became reality. Taking advantage of the Munich Agreement, which had weakened the Czechoslovak Republic, the party, at its Executive Committee meeting in Žilina on 6 October, presented an ultimatum to the Czechoslovak government and forced it to transfer power into the hands of the newly established autonomous Slovak authorities.2 It was made clear to the representatives of other political parties (except those of the Communist Party and the Social Democrat Party, with which the L'udáks had refused to communicate) that they had to support the autonomy project or be swept off the political scene. The Prime Minister, General Jan Syrový, who was acting as president (instead of Edvard Beneš, who had resigned), capitulated and appointed the vice-chairman of the HSPP, the Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso, firstly Minister for Slovakia and later – after the installation of other ministers – Prime Minister of the autonomous Slovak government.

The request for autonomy was the consequence of the failure of the concept of a coherent Czechoslovak political nation. During the twenty years of Czechoslovakia's existence the Slovak nation had matured culturally and socially, and had acquired a different awareness from that of the Czechs. Consequently the Slovaks required separate and independent political representation. However, it was a tragedy for the development of Slovakia that the leading force in this process was the HSPP, because since 1936 this party had rejected democracy and oriented itself towards authoritarian regimes. There were two wings within the HSPP. The moderate wing, led by Jozef Tiso, wanted to model Slovakia on the Austrian corporatist 'estate

-180-

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