The Journey to Freedom for the Czech and Slovak People

840s to 1840s: The First Millennium

840s Great Moravia grows under Mojmír I. He unifies Slavic tribes north of the Danube River but is deposed by neighboring Frankish King Louis the German in 846 who puts his nephew, Rastislav, on the throne.

863 Rastislav asks Byzantine Emperor Michael III to send teachers to interpret Christianity in Slavic vernacular. Saints Cyril and Methodius arrive in 863. Cyril developed the first Slavic alphabet and translated the Gospels into Old Church Slavonic. Rastislav also builds many castles.

880s-890s Under Svätopluk I the Great Moravian Empire reached its greatest territorial extent, and incudes Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bohemia, Silesia, and the Carpathian foothills in southern Poland.

907-910 Hungarians conquer Moravians in a series of battles around present Bratislava (Bitka pri Bratislave).

997-1038 King Stephen I of Hungary makes Christianity the official state religion. Creates new legal code. Confiscates Slovakian forests as royal hunting grounds. Expands trade with Constantinople.

 1230s St. Agnes of Prague, daughter of King Ottokar I of Bohemia, opens hospital and founds first Czech military order, a nursing corps, the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star.  She confiscates Teutonic Knights’ property to build hospital.

1241-1242 Mongol invasion of Slovakia followed by Austrian invasion. One third of Slovak population dies from famine and disease. Spis Castle built.

1250s to early 1400s Rebuilding, height of castle construction and mining-related prosperity. One quarter of Europe’s gold output comes from Slovakia.  Royal charters: Spišské Vlachy (1243), Košice and Nitra (1248), Banská Štiavnica (1255), Nemecká Ľupča (1263), Komárno (1269), Gelnica (before 1270), Bratislava (1291) and PrešovVeľký Šariš and Sabinov (all in 1299)

1335 King Charles I and Casimir the Great of Poland expand trade on the commercial routes leading from Košice to Kraków and from Žilina to Brno.

1346-1378  Charles IV reigns as King of Bohemia. He founds Charles University in Prague two years later and becomes Holy Roman Emperor. Under his rule the Bohemian crown territory included MoraviaSilesia, portions of Germany, included area around Nuremberg called New Bohemia and Luxembourg. Prague thrives and becomes the third-largest city in Europe (after Rome and Constantinople).

1526 Kingdom of Hungary loses the Battle of Mohács to the Ottoman Empire The Ottoman victory leads to the partition of Hungary for several centuries between the Islamic Ottomans, the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Principality of Transylvania.

 1541 Ottoman Empire conquers what is now Budapest. Bratislava serves as capital of Hungary until 1784 and coronation city for Hungarian soveriegns until 1830.

 1620 Battle of White Mountain Combined Habsburg and German forces defeat Bohemian army near Prague during Thirty Years War. Ends rise of Protestantism in Czech lands and cements  Habsburg rule until 1918.

 1683 Battle of Vienna. Polish King Jan Sobieski saves the city and the Ottomans are later ousted from Slovakia. The Ottomans had also laid siege to the city in 1529.

 1740-1780 Reign of Maria Theresa. Mother of 16 children, the Hapsburg Empire’s only female ruler introduced financial, agriculture, military and educational reforms while suppressing non-Catholics. Mother of France’s Maria Antoinette. Popularized smallpox vaccination. Conducted agricultural census as part of tax reform to reduce exploitation of peasant serfs.

Prelude Under Monarchy

1848 First Slavic Congress convened by Czechs. Serfdom officially ended in Austrian Empire. Unsuccessful rebellions throughout Central Europe. A 65-year-long wave of emigration to the U.S. from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia begins.

1867 The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary is set up after Hapsburg emperor Franz Josef compromises with rebelling Hungarian nobles. Slovakia becomes part of the Hungarian area.

August 1914 Outbreak of World War I. Russia mobilizes after Archduke Franz Ferdinand is shot. Franz Josef and German Kaiser Wilhelm declare war. Austrian-Hungarian Army retreats; Eastern Galicia lost.

Winter 1914-1915 Tens of thousands of Austrian-Hungarian troops die in the Carpathian foothills amid bad weather, poor equipment and incompetent military leadership; Czech and Slovak troops rebel.

May 1915  Germans push back Russians at Gorlice, Poland and take over battlefield leadership from Austrian-Hungarian Army in Carpathians. Eastern Galicia retaken.

Spring 1916 French military aviator and Slovak astronomer Milan Rastislav Stefanik forms Czechoslovak National Council with Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Benes. Masaryk would eventually be the first president of Czechoslovakia.

June 1916  Russia enjoys temporary renewed military success against Austria-Hungry, but then suffers setbacks amid troop rebellions.

November 1916 Franz Josef dies, and new leader Karl I watches the empire implode as independence movements begin to strengthen.

February 1917 Stefanik organizes Czech Legions in France to fight for Allies, visits Russia and the U.S. to build support. 90,000 Czech and Slovak volunteers sign up.

November 1917 Communist revolution in Russia, Communist activists step up activity in Austria-Hungary.

Dawn of Freedom 100 Years Ago

Jan. 8, 1918  U.S President Woodrow Wilson calls for self-determination for Central Europe based on national and ethnic identity as part of the 14 Points speech to Congress.

March 1918 Russia signs Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Czech Legions struggle to leave Siberia.

Oct. 20, 1918 President Wilson rejects request from Austrian-Hungary to preserve the monarchy after the war.

Oct. 28, 1918  The independence of Czechoslovakia was officially proclaimed in Prague  in Smetana Hall of the Municipal House, Slovaks officially joined the state two days later in Martin.

Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice on Western Front. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapses.

January 1919   Brief Czechoslovak border skirmish with Poland over Cieszyn territory in Silesia that had been divided during Treaty of Versailles negotiations

January-April  1919  Carpatho-Rusin area unifies with Czechoslovakia following the prior year’s Philadelphia Agreement, which called for Rusin autonomy. Process included a referendum held among American Rusin communities.

April to Summer 1919 Hungarian Communists invade Slovakia and set up Slovak Soviet Republic in Presov. France convinces Hungary to withdraw after Romanians invade Hungary and depose Communist leader Bela Kun on August 1.

May 1919 Milan Stefanik dies in plane crash at age 38 near Bratislava.

September 1919 Treaty of St. Germain formally recognized the new Czechoslovak Republic

June 1920 Ruthenia officially added to the Czech lands and Slovakia by the Treaty of Trianon

August 1920 Czechoslovakia refuses Hungary’s request to send 20,000 troops across its border to Poland to help stop Soviet invasion. Some train supplies get through to help Poles win Battle of Warsaw.

Betrayal and Tyranny 1938-1945

Sept. 30, 1938 Germany, Britain, France and Italy sign the Munich Agreement, allowing Hitler to take over western provinces of Czechoslovakia bordering Germany. Hitler later invades the rest of the country. Hungary takes over Ruthenia.

March 1939 Collaborator dictator Jozef Tiso establishes the Slovak State as a Nazi satellite.

May 1942 Czech and Slovak Allied soldiers assassinate notorious SS leader Reinhard Heydrich

December 1943 Edvard Beneš, leader of the Czechoslovak government in exile in London, forms the underground Slovak National Council, and signs the Christmas Treaty  to recreate Czechoslovakia after the war. The council prepares for Slovak National Uprising

April 1944 Slovaks Rudolf Vrba and Alfreed Wetzler escape from Auschwitz concentration camp by hiding in a woodpile for three days doused with gasoline. In Zilina they a write a first-hand account of the camp’s atrocities. Report convinces Allies of the severity of the Holocaust.

August to October 1944 Slovak National Uprising. Two Slovak army divisions and air units rebel at Banská Bystrica and hold off German SS counterattack from Hungary. US airlifts supplies from Italy to Tri Duby Airport. Soviet Army stalls at Dukla Pass and Krosno, Poland 40 miles north while Stalin orders Communist partisans in Slovakia not to coordinate with rebelling Slovak army.

April 1945   Third Republic formed in Kosice

May 1945 Prague Uprising. Czech Resistance attempts to liberate city but German forces hold out. Soviet Army moves in, assaulting civilian population.

Late 1945 Czechoslovakia re-established, without the province of Ruthenia, Czech Communists dominate.

Soviet Domination and Dissent

July 1947 Czechoslovak government sends representatives to Allied Marshall Plan discussions. Moscow objects.

February 1948 The Soviet Union engineers a coup that tightens Communist control over Czechoslovakia under the guise of restoring political stability, and reducing Central Europe’s last democracy to a satellite state.

July 1960 Communists change name of country to Czechoslovak Socialist Republic

January 1968 Prague Spring Reform Movement. Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak, introduces a new governing philosophy dubbed socialism with a human face. Dubcek’s reforms included decentralization of the economy and reducing restrictions on mediaspeech and travel.

August 20, 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet UnionBulgariaHungary and Poland. Some 250,000 troops attack at night, with Romania and Albania refusing to participate. East Germany supported the invasion but did not send troops.  137 Czechoslovakian civilians were killed and 500 seriously wounded during the occupation.

April 1969 Dubček replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák. Husák reversed Dubček’s reforms, purged the party, and dismissed from public office professionals who disagreed with his dictatorship, expansion of police powers and takeover of the economy.  The only significant change that survived the Prague Spring was the federalization of the country, which created the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic.

May 1979 to February 1983 Author and playright Vaclav Havel, after co-founding the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted, is put in prison and writes Letters to Olga and The Power of the Powerless.

Velvet Revolution and New Identities

1989 Amid movements across Eastern Europe, beginning in Poland, mass protests and demonstrations bring down the Communist regime and the resignation of Husak. Formerly jailed dissident Vaclav Havel assumes the Czechoslovak presidency. Privatization of the public sector a top priority

1992 Vladimir Meciar, Prime Minister of the Slovak part of the newly reworked Czech and Slovak Federal Republics, starts a dialogue with Prague that will lead to the disbanding of the confederation.

Jan. 1, 1993 Birth of the Second Slovak Republic. The peaceful split of the former Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics is dubbed a Velvet Divorce.

1995 U.S. funded Radio Free Europe; radio liberty relocated from Munich to Prague.

1999 Czech Republic joins NATO

2002 Prague suffered worst flooding in 200 years; European Union summit in Copenhagen formally invites Czech Republic to join

2004 Czech Republic and Slovakia join the European Union. Slovakia joins NATO.

2008 Long-lost opera, Argippo, written for the Czech capital by Antonio Vivaldi, was performed for the first time in 278 years in Prague

November 2017 Forbes says Slovakia is the “most stable” country in Europe.

 

Sources: Wikipedia articles on History of the Czech Lands, History of Slovakia, Austrian-Hungarian Empire; 2002 European Floods, websites of the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Slovak-Republic.org; Visegradgroup.com; MyCzechRepublic.com; Radio Slovakia International; www.praguemonitor.com; www.momus.hu
 Forbes Nov. 29, 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/katyasoldak/2017/11/29/slovakia-thinks-globally/#2739c4bc5313
 Prague TV https://prague.tv/en/s72/Directory/c217-Sightseeing-Attractions/n11627-Czechoslovakia-to-celebrate-100th-anniversary-in-2018

 Books in English for Further Reading

Vaclav Havel & John Keane  The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe

Olga Drobna, Eduard Drobny, and Magdalena Gocnikova, Slovakia: The Heart of Europe. 

Pavel Dvorak, The Early History of Slovakia in Images. Budmerice, Slovakia: Vydavatel’stvo Rak Budmerice.

Karen Henderson, Slovakia: The Escape from Invisibility. 

Rob Humphrey, The Rough Guide to the Czech and Slovak Republics. 

Owen V. Johnson, Slovakia 1918–1938: Education and the Making of a Nation. 

Stanislav Kirschbaum, A History of Slovakia: The Struggle for Survival. 

Elena Mannová, A Concise History of Slovakia. 

Anton Spiesz and Dusan Caplovic, Illustrated Slovak History: A Struggle for Sovereignty in Central Europe. 

 John Palka My Slovakia, My Family