|From the 11th until the early 20th century, present-day Slovakia was under Hungarian rule, either directly or as a part of the Habsburg Empire. Intellectuals seeking to revive the Slovak language and culture began the Slovak national revival in the 19th century. The formation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 following World War I satisfied the common aspirations of Czechs and Slovaks for independence from the Habsburg Empire.
Although Czechoslovakia was the only east-central European country to remain a parliamentary democracy from 1918 to 1938, it was plagued with minority problems, the most important of which concerned the country's large German population. In 1938, the Allies concluded the Munich Agreement that forced Czechoslovakia to cede the predominantly German region known as Sudetenland to Germany. Then, in March 1939 Germany invaded what remained of Bohemia and Moravia and established a German protectorate. Slovakia had already declared its independence on March 14, 1939 and had become a Nazi German puppet state led by Jozef Tiso.
On August 29, 1944, 60,000 Slovak troops organized by the underground rose up against the Nazis and the Tiso regime in what became known as the Slovak National Uprising. Although ultimately unsuccessful, this act of resistance became an important historical landmark for the Slovaks. At the close of World War II, Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia, Moravia, and much of Bohemia.
Reunited after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks held elections in 1946. In Slovakia, the Democratic Party won the elections, but the Czechoslovak Communist Party won 38% of the total vote in Czechoslovakia and eventually seized power in February 1948. The next four decades were characterized by strict communist rule, interrupted only briefly in 1968 when Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak, became party leader. Dubcek proposed political, social, and economic reforms in his effort to make "socialism with a human face" a reality. Concern among other Warsaw Pact governments that Dubcek had gone too far led to the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, by Soviet, Hungarian, Bulgarian, East German, and Polish troops. Dubcek was removed as party leader and replaced by another Slovak, Gustav Husak, in April 1969.
The 1970s and 1980s became known as the period of "normalization," in which the apologists for the 1968 Soviet invasion prevented, as best they could, any opposition to their conservative regime. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. Because the center of the reform movement had been in Prague, normalization was less harshly felt in Slovakia. In fact, the Slovak Republic saw comparatively high economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s relative to the Czech Republic.
The 1970s were also characterized by the development of a dissident movement, especially in the Czech Republic. On January l, 1977, more than 250 human rights activists signed a manifesto called Charter 77, which criticized the government for failing to meet its human rights obligations. On November 17, 1989, a series of public protests known as the "Velvet Revolution" began and led to the downfall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. A transition government was formed in December 1989. In the days following the "Velvet Revolution," Charter 77 and other groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who was elected President of Czechoslovakia in December 1989. Its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence, was based on the same ideals.
The first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1948 took place in June 1990. In these elections, Civic Forum and Public Against Violence won landslide victories. Civic Forum and Public Against Violence found, however, that although they had successfully completed their primary objective--the overthrow of the communist regime--they were less effective as governing parties. In the 1992 elections, both Civic Forum and Public Against Violence were replaced by a spectrum of new parties.
In 1992, negotiations on the new federal Constitution deadlocked over the issue of Slovak autonomy. In the latter half of 1992, agreement was reached to peacefully divide Czechoslovakia. On January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic were simultaneously and peacefully founded. Both states attained immediate recognition from the United States and their European neighbors.
In elections held in June 1992, Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party won in the Czech lands on a platform of economic reform, and Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) emerged as the leading party in Slovakia, basing its appeal on fairness to Slovak demands for autonomy. Meciar and Klaus negotiated the agreement to divide Czechoslovakia, and Meciar's party--the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS)--ruled Slovakia for most of its first 5 years as an independent state. Meciar's semi-authoritarian government seriously breached democratic norms and the rule of law until being ousted in the parliamentary elections of 1998 by a coalition led by Mikulas Dzurinda. The first Dzurinda government made political and economic reforms that enabled Slovakia to enter the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), close virtually all chapters in European Union (EU) negotiations, and make the country a strong candidate for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) accession. However, the popularity of the governing parties declined sharply, and several new parties gained relatively high levels of support in public opinion polls. Meciar remained the opposition leader, and HZDS continued to receive the support of 20% or more of the population during the first Dzurinda government.
In the September 2002 parliamentary election, a last minute surge in support for Prime Minister Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) gave him a mandate for a second term. He formed a government with three other center-right parties: the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Christian Democrats (KDH) and Alliance of New Citizens (ANO). Following a summer 2003 parliamentary shake-up, the government lost its narrow parliamentary majority and now controls only 67 of the 150 seats; however, the coalition is relatively stable because of the parties' similar political philosophies.
Slovakia officially became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004 and joined the EU on May 1, 2004. The government strongly supported Slovakia's NATO and EU accession and will continue the democratic and free market-oriented reforms begun by the first Dzurinda government.
The main priorities of the coalition are ensuring a strong Slovak performance within NATO and the EU, fighting corruption, attracting foreign investment, and reforming social services such as the health care system. Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, which received about 27% of the vote in 1998 (almost 900,000 votes) received only 19.5% (about 560,000 votes) in 2002 and again went into opposition, unable to find coalition partners. The HZDS is joined in opposition by Smer, the party of populist politician Robert Fico, and by the Communists, who obtained about 6% of the popular vote.