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Slovaks in Czechoslovakia (1960 - 1990)

This article is part of the article Czechoslovakia

The division between Czechs and Slovaks persisted as a key element in the reform movement of the 1960s and the retrenchment of the 1970s, a decade that dealt harshly with the aspirations of both Czechs and Slovaks. Ethnicity still remains integral to the social, political, and economic affairs of the country. It is not merely a matter of individual identity, folklore, or tradition. Perhaps one measure of how profoundly important ethnicity and autonomy were to Slovaks was a Slovak writer's 1968 call for a more positive reappraisal of the Slovak Republic. Although as a Marxist he found Monsignor Jozef Tiso's "clerico-fascist state" politically abhorrent, he acknowledged that "the Slovak Republic existed as the national state of the Slovaks, the only one in our history. . . ." Comparable sentiments surfaced periodically throughout the 1970s in letters to Bratislava's Pravda, even though the newspaper's editors tried to inculcate in their readership a "class and concretely historical approach" to the nationality question.

The post-1948 government has put a high priority on redressing the socioeconomic imbalance between the highly industrialized Czech lands and underdeveloped Slovakia. Slovakia made major gains in industrial production in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1970s, its industrial production was near parity with that of the Czech lands. Although Slovak planners were quick to note that capital investment continued to lag, it was clear that Slovakia's share of industrial production had grown tremendously. Slovakia's portion of per capita national income rose from slightly more than 60 percent of that of Bohemia and Moravia in 1948 to nearly 80 percent in 1968, and Slovak per capita earning power equaled that of the Czechs in 1971.

A general improvement in services, especially in health and education, accompanied Slovakia's industrial growth. In the mid-1980s, the number of physicians per capita slightly exceeded that for the Czech lands, whereas in 1948 it had been two-thirds the Czech figure. From 1948 to 1983, the number of students in higher education in Slovakia per 1,000 inhabitants increased from 47 percent of the Czech figure to 119 percent .

Postwar political developments affected Slovaks less favorably. Party rule in Czechoslovakia took a turn that quashed Slovak hopes for federation and national autonomy. In the 1950s purges, prominent Slovak communists who had played major roles in the 1944 Slovak National Uprising (incl. the future president Gustav Husak) were tried and sentenced as "bourgeois nationalists" (see Stalinization). Eventually, Czechs also fell victim to the purges, but Slovaks remained convinced that Prague Stalinists were responsible for the trials. Neither the 1948 nor the 1960 constitution offered much scope for Slovak autonomy. In the 1960s, Laco (Ladislav) Novomesky echoed the feelings and frustrations of many Slovaks when he commented that they had become "a tolerated race of vice-chairmen and deputy ministers, a second-class minority generously accorded a one-third quota in everything. . . ."

The regime of Antonin Novotny (first secretary of the KSC from 1953 to 1968) was frequently less than enlightened in its treatment of Slovakia. Novotny himself demanded "intolerant struggle against any nationalism" and suggested that the real solution to Czech-Slovak relations would be mass intermarriage between the two groups. The Slovaks found this recommendation--to deal with ethnic differences by eliminating them--all too typical of Prague's attitude toward them.

Political developments in the late 1960s and 1970s provided a portrait of Czech and Slovak differences. Slovak demands for reform in the 1960s reflected dissatisfaction with Czech hegemony in government and policy making. Whereas Czechs wanted some measure of political pluralism, the Slovak rallying cry was "No democratization without federation." It was less a difference in emphasis than a study in contrasts, and the Slovak focus was institutional change--"federalizing" the government apparatus with largely autonomous Czech and Slovak structures. Slovaks called for the full rehabilitation of the "bourgeois nationalists" and a reappraisal of the 1944 Slovak National Uprising .

Even economic demands split along ethnic lines, although there was considerable variation within both republics in response to calls for economic reform. Czech KSC planners called for implementing the New Economic Model, an integrated economic system allowing substantial autonomy for individual enterprises and intended to promote a general increase in efficiency . Slovaks wished economic reform to be adapted to their particular needs. Rather than a single, integrated economic system, they had in mind parallel Czech and Slovak national economic organizations.

Czech reaction to these concerns annoyed Slovaks further. In the Czech view, their own focus on the rehumanization of Marxism was universalistic, whereas the Slovak preoccupation with national autonomy was provincial and anachronistic--certainly too trivial for those whose concern was "socialism with a human face." The Constitutional Law of Federation of October 27, 1968, responded to the Slovak desire for autonomy. Significantly, however, the KSC remained strongly centralized. Developments in the 1970s further weakened the two republics' newly established government structures. KSC efforts, although not necessarily motivated by anti-Slovak feelings, were heavily weighted in favor of centralization . A thoroughgoing adherence to Soviet dictates undermined autonomy as effectively as any overtly anti-Slovak sentiment might have. Whatever the ultimate fate of federalization, its prominence as an issue among Slovaks--the general populace as well as party members--gave an indication of how important the Czech-Slovak division remained. A 1960s survey found that 73 percent of Slovak respondents supported federalism; 94 percent wished that Czech-Slovak relations might be restructured. A subsequent survey in the mid-1970s, when the new federal structures were in place, found that Slovaks thought the new government organization, in contrast to much of their historical experience, treated Czechs and Slovaks equally.