The Pistil in the Flower of Eastern Europe
By Jheri St. James
centuries of conflict, domination and warfare in Slovakia—with
Moravia, Hungary and Germany between 1868 and 1918—a
policy of enforced “Hungarianisation” (“Magyarisation”)
was instituted. By 1907, the Hungarian language was instituted
as the sole dialect of elementary education. As a reaction
to this, Slovak intellectuals cultivated closer ties with the
Czechs, who were simultaneously being dominated by the Austrians.
The concept of a single Czecho-Slovakian unit was born and,
after the Austro-Hungarian defeat in World War I, Slovakia,
Ruthenia, Bohemia and Moravia united as Czechoslovakia. In
1938, Slovakia declared its autonomy within a federal state;
the former Czechoslovakia’s less-glamorous partner emerged
disheveled and sleepy following the “Velvet Revolution” of
1989; and in 1993 the former federation of Czechoslovakia dissolved
little country, about twice the size of New Hampshire, is bordered
by Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and the Ukraine,
and has no coastline. On a globe it resembles an amoeba-shaped
pistil of what can easily be viewed as a flower on the map
of Eastern Europe, whose actual, geographical center is located
not far from the historic town of Kremnica, Slovakia, known
as the “heart of Europe”. Spring wildflowers bloom
in the 30 scenic valleys and almost 100 glacial lakes surrounding
the Tatra Mountains in the north. The north and central portions
of this country are rugged, mountainous land; the south is
made up of lowlands. The Vysoké Tatry (High Tatras)
are the only truly alpine (above the timberline) mountains
in Eastern Europe and one of the smallest high mountain ranges
in the world.
has mastered much of the difficult transition from a centrally
planned economy to a modern market economy. Major privatizations
are nearly complete, the banking sector is almost completely
in foreign hands, and the government has helped facilitate
a foreign investment boom with business-friendly policies,
such as labor market liberalization and a 19% flat tax. Slovakia’s
economic growth exceeded expectations in 2001-2004, despite
the general European slowdown. Slovakia joined both NATO and
the EU in 2004. The country’s production of metal products,
foods, electricity, gas, coke, oil, nuclear fuel, chemicals
and manmade fibers, machinery, paper and printing, earthenware
and ceramics, transport vehicles, textiles, electrical and
optical apparatus and rubber products is blossoming into a
beautiful monuments survive Hungarian rule in the old capital
town of Bratislava in the Carpathian Mountains, which begin
at the “Iron Gate” mountains of Romania. These
mountains meet the Danube River by way of grapevines on the
slopes of the Little Carpathian Mountains. The numerous museums
and opera productions in Slovakia rival anything in Europe.
Slovakia’s architectural wonders include the Gothic St.
James Church in Levoca and the Renaissance buildings in Bardejov.
There are also many castle ruins.
is a land of deep spirit, where folk traditions have survived
the domination of foreign rulers, untold wars and civil conflicts
to which a plethora of castles and chateaux pay testament.
Traditional Slovak folk instruments include the fujara (a 6.5
ft. long flute), the gajdy (bagpipes) and the konkovka (a shepherd’s
flute). Folk songs helped preserve the Slovak language during
Hungarian rule, and in East Slovakia ancient folk traditions
play an important part in village life. Slovakia’s oldest
town is Trnava, which celebrated its 750th birthday in 1988,
and was a center of the Slovak National Revival. After the
decades of enforced Hungarian speech, some of the country’s
first books written in Slovak were printed here. Nationalist
L’udovit Stur was the creator of this Slovak literary
language, which enabled the emergence of a Slovak national
consciousness. Slovaks take great pride in their language.
In rural Slovakia, most people speak only their native tongue.
One of the leading artists of the Revival was poet Pavol O.
Hviezdoslav, whose works have been translated into many languages.
the United States, doting parents lovingly call a highly energetic
child a “pistol”, as in “he/she’s a
real pistol”. Slovakia could be called a “pistol” of
evolution in Europe, organizing itself as Slovenska Republika,
growing its industrial base and domestic wealth with great
energy and verve. We at Common Ground 191 salute Slovakia and
thank Alena and John Bouska for their participation in collecting
soil from Slovakia for our project.
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