Nazi-allied Slovak state emerged 80 years ago

Historian: The perception of the World War II Slovak state is full of contradictions.

Jozef Tiso meeting Adolf Hitler on March 13, 1939Jozef Tiso meeting Adolf Hitler on March 13, 1939 (Source: Archive of TASR)

Slovakia is remembering the darker period of its history. Eighty years have passed since the Nazi-allied Slovak state was established on March 14, 1939.

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One day later, Nazi troops invaded the Czech territories and subsequently created the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which in fact meant the end of Czechoslovakia. It was restored only at the end of World War II.

The establishment of the Slovak state did not represent the thinking of the entire population, Martin Posch, of the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV), told the SITA newswire.

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Critics of the break-up

The opposition was, for example, represented by 12 former Slovak members of the Czechoslovak Legions on March 14, 1939. As they stressed, brave Slovak nationalists were fighting and dying in World War I along with Czechs in order to liberate the Slovak nation. They also recalled the help that came from the Czechs at important moments, as well as what Slovaks could achieve in cooperation with Czechs.

The memorandum was important not only due to its content, but also authors. These included General Rudolf Viest and the writers Jozef Gregor-Tajovský and Janko Jesenský.

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“With the memorandum the members of the first Czechoslovak resistance expressed their will to stay in Czechoslovakia and were de facto against the creation of an independent state,” Posch told SITA. “They understood that it was created as a product of Nazi Germany, with the aim of breaking Czechoslovakia from the inside.”

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Another critic was the grandson of Jozef Miloslav Hurban, Vladimír, who at the time served as an ambassador to the USA, SITA wrote.

After the Slovak state was created, the representatives of the new regime decided to deal with their political and ideological opponents.

“The Slovak government decided to issue an order to detain the enemies of the Slovak state on March 24, 1939,” Posch said, as quoted by SITA.

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Then interior minister Vojtech Tuka transformed the prison in Ilava into a detention camp for people who would apparently hinder the creation of the Slovak state. This meant democratic and communist politicians, Posch explained.

The very first prisoners included three deputies, two senators and three journalists. In the years that followed members of the intelligentsia, ideological opponents and their family members were imprisoned in Ilava, the historian added.

Perception still full of contradictions

The public perception of the establishment of the Nazi-allied Slovak state is still full of contradictions, even though historians do not expect any fundamental turning point to be revealed, according to Martin Pekár from the History Department of Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice.

As he stressed, both Slovak and foreign historians focused on modern history are devoting more attention to this controversial period, also in the context of the 2016 parliamentary elections. The opinion that both internal and external factors influenced the events of March 14, 1939 prevails.

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“A deciding factor was the interest of German foreign policy to break Czechoslovakia,” Pekár said. “This was joined by several internal problems of the country, particularly the will of some Slovak political representatives led by Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party to collaborate with the Nazis and benefit from a deep international and domestic political crisis.”

The myth that March 14, 1939 was “a natural culmination” of the national emancipation of Slovaks and long-term policy of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party (HSĽS) was created only later, the historian added.

The impacts on recent history

Even though this period completed the formation of Slovaks into becoming a modern political nation, the cost was too high.

“Paradoxically, nothing else discredited the idea of the independent state of Slovaks like the statehood from years 1939-1945,” Pekár added. “It was based on huge moral failures that could not be excused by anything else.”

The fact that the perception is contradictory can be seen in the growing support of politicians that defend this historical period. Several reasons like behind the defence of the Slovak state, the politics of HSĽS and some of its representatives, including then-president Jozef Tiso.

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“One of them is the non-critical elevation of the idea of statehood among all other failures of the regime,” Pekár said.

Similarly to the turn of the 1930s and 1940s, this is associated to the feeling of threat and even fear from otherness and everything that is not national, Christian and traditional, allegedly threatening the state, national and traditional values.

“It needs to also be said that the solutions offered by the far-right to solve current global challenges are analogous to those in the past, based on abridged, seemingly simple, but misguided phrases that lead to the elimination of democracy, the search of imaginary culprits, the stigmatisation of otherness and conflict in society,” Pekár concluded.

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