The Evocation of the Slovak Nation


Problems of nation and nationalism, which currently are topical for sociologists, political scientists and historians, had emerged by the end of the eighteenth century and later became part of philosophic thought only of some authors. In the German tradition, especially with Herder, these issues developed into the theory of self-determination; in Britain, with Mill, they were directed toward the theory of self-government.(1) Especially, however, they set the agenda for political theory with both a prologue and an epilogue in literature.

A hundred years before Herder's historical praise of the Slavs, a tradition of apologetic works had been developing in Slovakia from its own sources. This became the most important contribution to efforts towards national emancipation. Originating from indigenous conditions and in direct relation thereto, it anticipated the main line of Herder's thought with the following ideas:

- The challenge to spread humanism by overcoming animosity, first, through understanding other nations and by national and personal tolerance, then through positive and productive coexistence, the rejection of violence, and the substitution of animosity by collaboration in culture and in education as goals of humanity.

- Stress upon the particular cultural qualities of nations--including the Slovaks--which for one reason or another could not assume their place "in the picture of humankind"(2). These works anticipated Herder's stress on the specificity and unique characteristics of such nations, even though they lacked the power and political structures of other nations and justified respect for each nation and its equal rights and privileges with other nations.

- Emphasis upon the democratic character of natural law as a counterpart to historical law, thereby acknowledging the right of a nation to choose freely its political destiny.

This literary tradition took on the characteristics of an apology, namely, of praise for the Slovak nation and of pleas for its rights. The literary tradition had articulated the fundamental problems connected with the nation's existence. Slovaks represented a nation, though awareness of this national identity was expressed through neither institutional self-determination nor political self-government.

Obviously, these apologies expressed the values whose bearers were people, hence their taint of popular linguistic nationalism. The concern of this paper, however, is not primarily with definitions(3) but to describe the fact of national consciousness as found in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Slovaks lived for centuries as an ethnically distinct part of the Hungarian kingdom without an institutional structure for their own protection and promotion. Their characteristics were those of a feudal state: a vertical structure, low social mobility, hierarchy of loyalties to religion, local authorities, crown, etc., cultural differentiation without lateral communication.(4) All are considered to be incompatible with nationalism. Two types of structures coexisted, each with its own limits.

The first structure was imposed by the heterogeneous nature of the kingdom, heterogeneity being present both in the political organization of the individual regions and at the social level comprising natives (Slavs), newcomers (Madjars) and hostes (Germans). This structure was further supported by the officially declared natio hungarica, comprising the nobility of all the nations of the kingdom and running across its ethnic structure. Last, but not least, these heterogeneous structures were combined with Hungarian patriotism which called for numerous sacrifices by all ethnic groups.

The second structure was reflected in the self-consciousness of individual ethnic groups. In the case of the Slovaks, their consciousness of being different from the Madjars and the Czechs survived both feudalism and Madjarization. It had been preserved through the centuries within the Hungarian political realm.(5) Historical documents(6) show that it was nurtured by the economic and political disadvantages for Slovaks who nonetheless were also able to distinguish themselves culturally.

Awareness of ethnic difference became apparent especially in towns where economic interests originally were connected unambiguously with the national culture, e.g., certain economic activities were granted exclusively to the German hostes. But because of its nature and goals, and despite contrary indications, national consciousness did not amount to nationalism.(7) The failure to develop into nationalism was due more fundamentally to a lack of the very possibility of political ambition. Any claims and conflicts were manipulated by the authorities to preserve the heterogeneity inherent to feudal society. This corresponded to the theoretical principle that, "in an agro-literate society, the political unit is not defined in terms of cultural boundaries," for "the factors determining political boundaries are totally distinct from those determining cultural limits, power and print-language mapped different realms."(8)

These two simultaneous structures were reflected in pleas for the vested rights of the Slovak nation in the form of patriotic arguments for lessening internal tensions in the Hungarian state. These were aimed at the preservation of cultural diversity based upon national equality. Congruent with the real situation, the praises and pleas in the literature expressed attitudes prevailing among Slovaks: pride in one's nation, advocacy of its interests, belief in its intrinsic excellence and the claim to an equal place among other nations.

Although the apologetic character of this literature reflects reactions to the real situation rather than a new and future-oriented concept, these writings managed to form a bridge from the past to the present and to create and mediate the inner continuity of the national consciousness. Thus, they underline the continuity and identity of national history.(9) To various degrees they capitalize upon the tension between the concrete historical facts and events and the subjective projection of desirable horizons--past or future. In some cases this is followed by a mythicization: with an imaginary people, the Slavs, the first and only state, Great Moravia, is shifted to the mythical lever and the national consciousness is preserved in mythical time as well. This sort of subjectivism must not be condemned and does not disqualify them as a sort of voluntarism, for it is widely acknowledged "to refer to independently verifiable characteristics or processes"10.

Consistent with Herder's line and the traditionally ethnic and cultural post-revolutionary national awakening, Slovak national consciousness has been evolving in the form of ideas on nation, language and culture, as anticipated by the praises and pleas argumentation. This is the first specific feature of the apologies which evolved a specific tradition. Its second feature is that it was not a gradual, linear and cumulative pursuit of emancipatory goals, but consisted rather in solving problems in the form of usually two ontradictory and competing modalities. These proceeded from the social heterogeneity mentioned above and were conditioned by the historical and cultural contexts and addressed to different horizons.

There are questions regarding the origin, character and effects of this tradition. It was not a genuine tradition for it operated dysfunctionally in the emancipatory process. Thus far, the term `tradition' has been used in two ways:

-In the sense of a historical tradition which was all the more important in the absence of a political dimension to national life. National consciousness was absorbed decisively into the historical tradition; to a certain degree the lack of factual knowledge of the nation's history was compensated by maintaining traditions. Further, besides positive and generally accepted forms of historical traditions, others came into being which were distorted by exaggeration or underestimation, mutual contamination of various events expressed in different traditions, or the idealization and politization of past historical events.(10)

-In the sense of national consciousness which, seen retrospectively, reflects in a certain perspective ideas of nation, language and culture.

Chronologically, the apologetic writings can be divided into three periods:



These can be discussed under Herder's motto, "The Slavic nations occupy more territory than history",(12) expressing rather precisely, although poetically, their real political situation.

The basis of the argument found in the praises and pleas is the vague idea of Slavs as defined by their origin, the size and extension of territory, and the idea of the rights and use of language. The argument proceeded from ethnic and geographic issues to cultural and moral ones. The cultural issues point out the importance of the merits of the bearers of culture, as well as the positive characteristics of Slavism as a whole. On the other hand, Slavism was seen through the optic of the national character, and the moral issues were derived from a profound religious feeling. This was expressed in the vernacular and their own writing (hlaholika) rather early, during the brief period of the emergence of a distinctive state. To these occasional historical justifications of nationhood such as the ancient origin and autochthonous existence of the Great Moravia and to the principle of natural right that founded the historical and social thought in Slovakia when the legal and political ones were still simply missing, we must add the elaborated idea of language.

The first pleas for language were devoted to the inhibitions in using and cultivating the language (Horika, Piscatorius). Later, the right and the usefulness of using the language was defended and supported by historical argument (the Golden Bull of Charles IV, old Slavonic as the fourth language of the Bible and liturgy, etc.). The vernacular as the main subject of the argument was analyzed more subtly. Finally, towards the end of the seventeenth century, the differences between the Czech language (used according to the norm of the Karlická Bible in Protestant liturgy), Slovakized Czech (used by the intelligentsia in writing) and the Slovak language (used in everyday communication) were articulated. Praises then turned into pleas for language education and for publishing linguistic text books.(13) All these efforts helped to justify the cultural and linguistic content of the notion of the Slovak nation as an ethnic whole.



The transition to the new quality of pleas and praises continued, but some new issues appeared.(14) The fuzzy notion of "natio Slavica" as one organic whole, was substituted by the more defined contours of the new understanding of Slovaks and of the Slovak language. Slovaks were considered a separate tribe within the Slavic nations. The idea of the Slovak language as a specific dialect of the Slavic language to be cultivated replaced the previous idea of one common Slavic language. The remote imaginary Slavic horizon was replaced by the much nearer horizon of Hungarian patriotism. Slovak national consciousness, still lacking support of its interests from the part of the state, did not acquire a centrifugal character but, in reaction to Madjar nationalism and to the exaggerated arguments of illegitimate historicizing, appeared clearly anti-nationalistic.(15) In relation to the Hungarian state, the arguments, taken partly from the preceding century, acquired an anti-ideological function. For one hundred years the authors of apologies did not cease to discriminate strictly what was national from what belonged to the state, and thus to defend national equality before the state.(16) This can be illustrated with Balthasar Magin's question: "Is it true that the Slovaks inhabiting the vast regions of Hungary should remain forever serfs and renters on this Earth?"(17) He answers by defending the freedom and equal rights of these peoples, who, by their sacrifices for the common state, can legitimize their claims of origin and right to the country of which they are natives. Magin is very sensitive to the difference between civic equality and national equality vis-à-vis the political nation--natio Hungarica--equality, while preserving linguistic and cultural specificity. An anonymous author(18) emphasizes that from factual coexistence it is necessary to develop a conscious sociability which promotes the state.

The idea of national equality was supported also by an historical reconstruction of the glorious past. All forms of this reconstruction, which concentrated upon the Great Moravian empire and the mission of Constance and Methodius,(19) (different as they were), emphasized this historical legacy of the Slovak nation as its contribution to a common Hungary. In these authors, the idea of state took precedence over the idea of nation, thus preferring Hungarian patriotism to national pride. The authors appreciated language as an irreplaceable value, an attribute of a nation and a tool of national growth. The cultivation of language was considered a humanizing mission.(20)

To sum up: in the apologies, the tendency, emanating from the ethnos, if not the nation, deepened the idea that a nation as described by all its characteristic features, especially the vernacular, is more important than the state. This idea serves to form the national consciousness of the ethnic community. The argument is carried on without any political claims, except the legal arrangement of existing relations. But towards the end of the century, when the praises and pleas seemed to be reaching their finest form, instead of focusing concisely and unambiguously upon the problems, a gap developed so that, since that time, each relevant problem appears in at least two differentlly profiled competing and irreconcilable modalities. This dichotomic character of approaches to solving the problems connected with national emancipation has become the decisive tradition until the present day.

The Linguistic Bifurcation

While the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century writers already differentiated the Slovak from the Czech, in the last two decades of the eighteenth century the tendency to prefer one to the other was clear. Some of the authors(21) established and maintained contacts with enlightened Czech authors and aimed at bringing the Czech language into general use in Slovak literature and culture, beyond its use in the Protestant liturgy.

On the other hand, Anton Bernolák and his generation, members of the Societas Excolendae Linguae Slavicae, implemented the use of the West Slovak dialect as an independent literary language by the codification of its first norm in 1787.(22) Thus, the earlier efforts of Trnava as the center of Slovak culture came to usage because the Catholic intelligentsia was not committed to the Czech linguistic norm as were the Protestants. This shows how ideas connected with the national existence were bound primarily to confessional positions. Although not generally accepted, this first Slovak literary language became the language of the enlightened works of Juraj Fándly and the poetry of Ján Hollý, to mention but the most important representatives.

The National Bifurcation

The seventeenth century knew only the notion of natio Slavica, considered to be an organic whole. During the eighteenth century two ideas emerged and competed: one is that of Slovaks as an independent tribe within Slavism as advocated earlier by Magin and afterwards by Papánek and Fándly; the second is the notion that Slovaks belong to the Czechoslovak tribe of Slavism. The representatives of this latter notion were Bohuslav Tablic, Juraj Palkovic and Ján Kollár. Authors Ján Belnai and tefan Tichý contributed the democratic ideas of civic equality, of equal access to education and to all public offices which traditionally were reserved for the representatives of the natio hungarica, that is, only for the nobility.(23)

To complete the characteristics of this period, two catechisms of Ignác Martinovi's secret Societas Reformatorum should be noted. Encouraged by the secret efforts of Leopold II and especially by the ideas of the French revolution, Martinovi called for a "holy insurrection" to change the Hapsburg monarchy into the Hungarian Republic. His political ideas were very clear and well defined: a federation of national provinces with their own constitutions, forming a union by contract. Each nation was to be granted the right to use its own language, to cherish its own traditions, customs and religious liberty. At the time, his criticism and proposal were ahead of the real situation. In his second catechism he defined the principles of a civic society: parliamentary democracy, rule of law and protection of rights based on natural law. In the liberal tradition he upheld the rights of man to life, liberty, property and equality. His position was that of a Hungarian patriot, "defending with all his force the integrity of the Hungarian republic."(24)


This last period of pleas and praises inherited the traditional problems connected with the position of the Slovak nation, on the one hand, and the conflicting tradition of their solution, on the other. It opens with Kollár's work on the philosophy of history(25) whose theoretical innovations continue the argument of the seventeenth century and do not pursue those of the eighteenth century. That is why his theory of Slavic reciprocity delineates an unclear, fuzzy and elevated vision of Slavism, theoretically supported by Herder's ideas of including Slavism in the picture of all people embracing humanity. Kollár's conception of the interrelationship between Czechs and Slovaks proceeded from the old aim to slovakize Czech under the new aim of one common Czechoslovak language, that of one united, though non-existent, Slavic tribe. The consequences of Kollár's conception, compared with those of the eighteenth century, are not political. His conception was neither oriented toward the attainment of national independence through linguistic or cultural self-expression, nor was it state-oriented. ("All Slavs have but one fatherland" . . . "a Slav bears his fatherland in his heart"). It was antinationalistic because of the subordination of nationalism to humanity and had huge cultural and humanistic impact. Cultural and linguistic reciprocity binds the Slavs over and above actual political boundaries. These ideas, however, were contradictory to the real historical situation and could not be implemented. They provoked, however, "a European political ghost" named panslavism. Curiously enough, since Kollár the superiority of the national over the state has been stressed in different modalities, recalling Kollár's deeds (e.g. collecting of folk songs).

The national revival activity of Bernolák's co-workers ran parallel to Kollár in the first decades of the nineteenth century, but in the opposite direction. They not only advocated the linguistic, cultural and national specificity of Slovaks as an independent nation in the family of Slavicnations, but they also managed to manifest this idea by continuing to write in literary Bernolák's Slovak.(26)

The stream of praises and pleas strengthened in response to the open Madjarisation when, by law, the Madjar language was introduced in multinational and multilingual Hungary as the only language of public administration, education, etc. Unlike the older pleas, these comprise the complete register of cultural polycentrism.(27) Its aim was "to conceal the discrepancy between the national and the dynastic realm".(28) The parliamentary session in 1832-36 discussed the reform claims expressed by the gentry, together with liberal ideas and a new concept of a nation. "But their identification of the supranational state Hungarian nation" with the totally unilingual Madjar nation, whose ethnic boundaries were soon to become identical with those of Hungary, produced a justified anxiety among the non-Madjars. The apologies became one of the manifestations of this fear."(29)

Unlike older apologies these(30) cover the complete register of cultural polycentrism. Characteristically, all were published anonymously and abroad. The official Hungarian nationalism, on the other hand, could make use of state means for manipulating its inhabitants. Thus, it spread through the state administration, school system, church, legal system, etc., as its channels, using thereby:

- Legislation (a continuous flow of language laws were passed, such as laws No. 16/1791, 7/1792, 4/1805, 8/1830, 3/1836, and finally 6/1840, which introduced the Madjar language as the sole and universal official language).

- Setting up of new journals and newspapers published in the Madjar vernacular.

- Censorship (as mentioned above, all Slovak apologies as differing from the official nationalism, had to be printed abroad in different languages).

- Instructions of the state administration directed, e.g., to the Protestant church or schools by their inspectors, but also decisions about parliamentary sessions (none between 1812-1829). All these measures came unambiguously under the motto "only by bonding with the Madjars will the Slavs be able to secure their own religion, liberty and education."(31)

Without ever being able to name it, the apologies of this period expressed the vantage point of popular nationalism as a counterpart to the official nationalism of the Hungarian state. That is why they described their position as "sober patriotism" (J. Melczer). Therefore, "where their own defense will not be strong enough, they will request the king's help for protection",(32) for "not only have the nations of Hungary their nationhood or national characteristics, but also they love it and hold to it because . . . it is the condition of the existence of every nation."(33)

An exceptional place among them belongs to L. M. uhajda's Magyarisierung in Ungarn. Traditional historical arguments concerning the origin of a common state through military alliance rather than by conquest aim not at confrontation but at the defense of national equality:

Slovaks, the people, differing from all their neighbors by their language, thought, customs and in other ways as well, have all the attributes of a nation, even though the state is not named for them and the country is multilingual; it is not a mass without history but an important element building the state.(34)

In the theoretical part of his plea, uhajda differentiates between the political and ethnic concepts of fatherland, which difference corresponds to the situation of Hungary and to the position of Slovaks therein. Of four types of state, he considers the national state to be the best type of congruence between a nation and a state. But where history seemed to ordain differently, it is necessary to protect by legal norms the relations of various nations within one state.

Against Madjarization and history, appeals not only to natural law, but also to international law; "when Madjarization offends international law, it cannot have political importance." He considers loyalty to the state to be dependent upon the justice of a state governed by the rule of law. His brief and modest proposal for change consists in the introduction of a union of national states based on mutual consent. According to him, one cannot neglect the fact that the Slavs in Hungary developed a national consciousness and are a nation of their own.

uhajda was right in disguising the ultimate aim of Madjarization as exclusively political (hegemony), and not literary (aiming at education and improvement), "welding together the new national and the old dynastic principles"(35) without proposing or backing any political change. On the other hand, uhajda's apology--despite his use of the term "the people" in an ethnic rather than a political sense, and despite his not very elaborated federalist proposal--was misinterpreted by Madjar historians as aiming at the territorial fragmentation and cultural atomization of Hungary.(36) Both these evaluations prove that both parties, Slovaks and Madjars, "were quick to realize, that the right to have one's own language, courts, newspapers, indigenous literature and art, local institutions and proper customs has immediate political consequences."(37) The Madjar part, moreover, realized that it was ideologically fruitful not to discriminate official from popular nationalism, for this makes it possible to slander the other party regarding the same objectives and methods one has oneself. As . túr wrote:

By our enemies all of these are called panslavs. That is, what the Madjars consider to be their highest virtue, love of their own nation, they condemn in us as our deadly sin. Does this virtue, then, belong only to one nation; is it impossible for others?(38)

It would be quite natural to expect that the dichotomous character of the national emancipation would disappear with the generation following . túr. Its representatives were reared on Kollár's humanistic ideas and Hegel's theory of state; they accepted the understanding of nation coined in Bernolák's camp. But the unity was attained only as far as the codification of the second norm of literary language is concerned (1843), which was due to the fact that the solution had been found outside the dichotomy of Bernoláks' and Czechoslovakists' views. In this way, the Slovaks abandoned the fifty-year old tradition of the first literary Slovak language and abandoned for the time being the linguistic, as well as national, conception of one Czecho-Slovak tribe. The túrians, however, failed to realize their political program in the revolution of 1848.

Kollár's romantic conception, as a projection of values and goals completely different from the actual needs and possibilities, operated dysfunctionally and was abandoned in the 40s. This all-Slavic conception reappeared later, permanently in the metamorphosed form of Messianism motivated by the situation of a defeated small nation in 1960s or as a prelude to the First Republic at the turn of the nineteenth century, etc.

The struggle for liberation proceeded in a paradoxical manner: the defense against Madjar domination was not bound to an unambiguously formulated Slovak distinctiveness, but in some cases was allied with the prospective of participation in larger or smaller Slavic aggregates and with messianism. In the nineteenth century, the idea of determination in the direction of Slavic horizons reappeared to unify Kollár's anti-úruian work, Voices for the Need of a Common Language for the Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks (1846), with Messianic variants reflecting upon national problems in the 60s and 70s, as well as the fin du siécle initiative of the journal Hlas (Voice), encouraged by T.G. Masaryk.

Thus, two separate orientations concerning the concept of nation continued to co-exist:

1. The idea of the common Czechoslovak tribe combined with the humanistic attribute of Slavic reciprocity. The differentiating mark of the modern nation--the state--was dissolved through an abstract dialectic of whole and parts into a non-existent Slavic universalism, and in the twentieth century into the idea of artificial Czechoslovak unity. On this basis, the second concept was criticized as particularism or separatism.

2. The idea of an independent nation (in the nineteenth century referred to also as a tribe) stressed the primary obligations of a nation to itself, i.e., the obligations which a nation as an organic part of humankind must fulfill as belonging to historical nations. The nation can come alive only in terms of its own identity as a real functioning unit, in contrast to an abstract notion of supra-national understanding. In this conception, cultural and humanistic ideas clearly aim at the political articulation of national aims. In the twentieth century they formed successively the background of the political strivings for autonomy within the monarchy, then within the Czechoslovak Republic, and grew into the idea of an independent Slovak state.

It seems that the bifurcation mentioned above was the turning point at which the historical opportunity for necessary minimal consent on fundamental common aims was lost. These aims were articulated in an unambiguously political manner, in a nationalist doctrine calling for a national state--as was the case at that time in most European countries--that makes a national community vital and active. This gives the nation a consciousness of its indisputable identity that can then function as a part of modern nationalism.(39) A division of the nation into Catholics and Protestants played a role in contrasting the units, thus contributing to the persistence of the dichotomy.

Until the present day, mutatis mutandis, the idea of national distinctiveness (seen in the European context as too narrow and interpreted pejoratively) competes with the idea of identification with broader units, diachronically with the Czechoslovak context, Sovietization and finally Europeanism (thus as the opposite of the previous idea, i.e., as openness, inclusion, compliance with either social progress or the trend of the present day).

Some results of this dichotomic development can be summarized as follows: Slovaks have developed a distinct culture and achieved a common literary language, but have not formed a common national consciousness nor a common understanding of the place of the Slovak nation in the state-political and, state-legal sense. The national interests and aims are traditionally contaminated, linguistically and culturally. This is a result of the need to confirm the national identity. This desire for a national identity continues despite the bifurcation of its articulation. Though the cultural and social structures and a fragmentary national consciousness are present, the definite shape of a national unit in the form of a political national program is still missing.

The question arises whether this dichotomic, and, on the whole, ambiguous, character of national emancipation is to be blamed for a misunderstanding of its decisive phases (the national revival, the origin of the first republic, the federalist efforts and current attempts to define the Czecho-Slovak relations) on the part of non-Slavic and non-Slovak power centers as well as on the part of the broader milieu, and eventually for their resistance.

The Institute of Philosophy, Slovak Academy of Sciences,