During World War II Slovakia was a more or less independent nation led by a priest named Tiso. It was very sympathetic to the Nazi ideals. When the Germans invaded Poland the Slovaks lent a hand. They got a tiny piece of Polish territory added to Slovakia as a reward. They also sent several divisions to fight alongside the Germans during their invasion of the Soviet Union.
When it became clear to all but the most fervent believers in an ultimate German Endsieg many former allies became turncoats and changed sides. Italy for example. But also Slovakia tried.
The Slovak National Uprising erupted mostly in the middle of the country. In the mountainous region of Banska Bystrica. This city also boasts a great museum documenting the uprising. Well worth a visit.
The uprising failed. It did give the Germans yet another headache to deal with. Some Slovak units joined the uprising and some did not. Those who fought against the Germans are known as ‘partizans’. They got support from the allies as well.
It wasn’t enough though and it would take thousands and thousands of dead Soviet soldiers before Slovakia was liberated. In part because the Soviet leaders didn’t mind wasting the lives of their men in senseless attacks.
Not everyone sees the arrival of the Soviet army as a liberation however. To some Slovakia was better off under the Germans. I often hear older people say that German soldiers were more polite than the Soviet ones.
Maybe those people and their families were lucky to meet those German soldiers in favorable circumstances, because the Germans wiped out whole villages in Slovakia. They did so in the Czech Republic as well. These events tend to be more well known than the German atrocities that were perpetrated in Slovakia. I am sure many of you have heard of Lidice.
Slovakia has also the very questionable ‘honor’ of being the only country to actually pay the Germans to round up their jews. 500 Reichsmark per jew…
This Slovak National Uprising is a great source of national pride. In Bratislava a gigantic bridge and a big square are named after it for example. If you are in Slovakia and you see the abbrevation SNP then you know it has something to do with this uprising. It’s the biggest piece of evidence that not all Slovaks were ok with the ties of their country to the murderous Nazi regime.
The communists would later try to falsify history – they love to do that – and they tried to pretend that only the communists had been the motor behind this well-intentioned uprising. Though they played their part it’s a lie to claim this was a communist uprising.
It’s also worth mentioning that nothing is black and white and that at the end of World War II Slovakia drove out its German inhabitants. These were often very cultured people who had made up the intellectual layer of society. They often had nice houses, cultivated gardens, businesses, etc, but in this purge they often lost everything. I suppose some those were guilty of supporting the Nazis, but am pretty sure some of them were completely innocent. Among Slovaks there is the feeling that these Germans exploited the local Slovak population as cheap labor. This is probably true, but at the same time Slovakia lost a huge chunk of its intellectual class by driving out these Germans.
Soon after the war the communists took over. I often hear people say that Slovakia was part of the Soviet Union, but this was never the case. After the war Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia and this country was never a part of the Soviet Union. It did fall clearly under the influence of the Soviet Union, but Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were always too separate nations. Czechoslovakia was led by locals and was autonomous, unless they reformed communism a bit too much. Then the tanks of the Warshaw pact (Romania refused to participate though) invaded to reverse the reforms in 1968.
Many people are not a fan of the Russians around here. The western media sometimes likes to suggest that Russian propaganda is very effective in these parts, but that is not my experience. To find pro-Russian sentiments you would have to go and talk to the extreme right wing party of Mr. Kotleba. Serious people are not pro-Russian and probably never even get to see or hear any Russian propaganda.
A bit sad is that most Slovaks I meet have absolutely no idea what the Slovak National Uprising was. If you ask them why the 29th of August is a national holiday they often can’t tell you.
Is that a problem? To me it is, but am biased. I was raised to devote perhaps an exaggerated amount of energy to read about historic events. Still, I think Slovaks would come to appreciate their country more if they had a clearer picture of the many uprooting events that took place here in rapid succession.
This country has been through a lot…
Fun fact: My favorite American diplomat Matt Pehrson is considering to make a movie about the Slovak National Uprising. If you are interested in discussing this topic with him you can drop me a line and I will introduce you to each other. He is half serious about it, but maybe with the help of the right people his project could gain momentum. During his time here he soaked up anything there was to know about Slovakia and its culture and history.