My pre-trip reading has also included Štefan Blaško’s “ABC Slovak Language Vol. 5: Slovakia Geography & History” ( (c)1973 Štefan Blaško, 60 Crescent Terrace, Belleville, N.J., 07109).
Here are a couple useful maps from Blaško’s pages:
Apparently the 9th century is something of a highwater-mark for the region’s position in European power politics!
I’m skipping historical periods wildly here, but let’s examine some cultural regions of Slovakia, as they stood in the 19th century:
My ancestors lived (and my current cousins live) in Šarišska (see northern Eastern Slovakia on the map). There, the home language is Šarišski, as distinct from the standard national Slovak adapted from spoken central Slovak in 1843.
Let’s keep on skipping through the ages… Blaško’s brief entry on World War II blew me away:
Wow. (Um, yes, but did anything else happen during that period, besides postage stamps?)
Actually, this omission hints at the complexity of nationalism in 20th century Central Europe. (Allan Stevo has written on Slovak Nationalism over at his blog, “52 Weeks in Slovakia”.) From an American perspective, the Slovak Republic collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War II. From a Slovak perspective (speaking nationally, ignoring ethnic narratives), the war years presented a brief period of relative autonomy and possibility…
Consider Blaško’s opening passage for another period of Slovak history:
(I should say here that, as a native of the US state of New Hampshire, I get a little antiquity-thrill whenever I read histories dealing with thousands of years at a time!) And a thousand years later, Blaško can’t forget and forgive. A thousand years of history are still right there directly impacting his life — as a young teacher in southern Slovakia, he lost his job following WWII when Hungary took over the school systems once again and fired all Slovak-speaking school teachers.
My great-grandmother studied in Hungarian language school system in Šarišska at the end of the 1800s (just before she emigrated to the US), which fact of course makes me take special notice of map sequences like “Penetration of Magyar Newspapers and Magazines into Slovakia, 1870-1910” (Blaško p.212):
(FYI, Magyar = Hungarian)
We’re watching here a wave of cultural struggle between the Magyar empire and Slovaks striving over a thousand years for cultural & political autonomy. My great-grandmother’s homeland near Prešov is finally overtaken in the last two decades of the map… but by 1910 she was in Connecticut, learning a new language and way of life.
Blaško ends his historical essays with a monumental inscription across the final page:
Oppression… struggle for liberty… sweeping epic scope… invading newspapers… glorious epoch-defining postage stamps… This all has the feel of a great historical graphic novel!