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[personal profile] rfmcdonald
It's perhaps revelatory that of the three hundred pages of text in A History of Slovakia: The Struggle for Survival, written by York University's Stanislav Kirschbaum, almost half is devoted to the experience of Slovakia and the Slovaks in the past century. In his readable history of this often-overlooked central European nation, Kirschbaum makes a convincing case that it's only recently that the Slovaks have become actors in their own right.

Throughout the Slovak lands' millennium of incorporation in the Kingdom of Hungary, the territory was rarely thought of as anything other than Upper Hungary, populated by speakers of a Slav idiom needing to be subjected to Magyarization, while in Czechoslovakia the Slovaks were thought of as little different from the Moravians of what is now the easternmost Czech land. In both cases, the dominant population groups in the state inhabited by the Slovaks were very reluctant to concede the Slovaks' language and culture equality with that of the state-forming nation. In the end, Kirschbaum convincingly argues, Czechoslovakia fell apart because the Czechs were unwilling to recognize the fact of Slovak distinctiveness.

There are some conclusions that seem somewhat premature and surprising to me, for instance the author's statement that "[t]he Warsaw Pact invasion on 20 August [1968], which ended the process of liberalization, compounded the problem [of federalization] as some felt that there were more important matters to deeal with than the federalization of Czechoslovakia" (243). His treatment of the Slovak First Republic, a Nazi satellite, and of the Slovak National Uprising of 1944, might also be taken issue with. Simple fact-checking would also have been nice to deal with simple mistakes like the statement that "that per capita foreign direct investments averaged $648 million US" over 1989-2000 (290). Nonetheless, A History of Slovakia is generally of such a quality to deserve its status as the standard historical reference in English on Slovakia. It's certainly a good enough start.
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