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Czechoslovakia Table of Contents


Ethnic Considerations

Another essential ingredient in Czechoslovak political culture has been the varying political aspirations of the nation's two major ethnic groups, the Czechs and the Slovaks (see Ethnic Groups , ch. 2). Slovaks were never as satisfied as the Czechs with the nation created in 1918 because they felt dominated by the numerically superior Czech nationals. Slovak nationalists fought diligently throughout the 1920s for greater Slovak autonomy, and in the next decade they succeeded in obtaining constitutional changes granting more autonomy to Slovakia. In March 1939, Slovakia, encouraged by Hitler, seceded from the new state and allied itself with Germany, calling itself the Slovak Republic. Although nominally independent under the leadership of Monsignor Jozef Tiso, the new Slovak state in reality functioned as a Nazi satellite. After Hitler's defeat, Slovakia was reunited with the Czech lands.

The communist takeover in 1948 did not lead to equitable treatment of Czechs and Slovaks. The Stalinist purges of the early 1950s were particularly harsh on Slovaks; indeed, the definition of "bourgeois nationalism" coincided quite precisely with the aspirations of Slovak nationalism. Among the Slovak leaders arrested and jailed in the early 1950s was Gustav Husak. Husak later was rehabilitated and eventually named general secretary (the title changed from first secretary in 1971) of the KSC and president of the republic.

Slovak aspirations for greater autonomy played an important role in the political environment during the 1960s. The reform movement associated with the Prague Spring advocated greater independence for Slovakia. The 1968 constitutional amendments redefined Czechoslovakia as a federation of two equal states, the Czech nation and the Slovak nation, and increased the responsibilities of the constituent republics. However, this decentralization of power did not survive the 1968 invasion and subsequent normalization policies. On paper, the federation remained and the Slovak Socialist Republic retained its separate communist party organization and republic-level government organs. In practice, whatever power the 1968 amendments gave to the Slovaks was diminished when the Husak regime reestablished centralized party and government control in the 1970s.

Data as of August 1987