To understand the troubled waters through which Slovakia hadto steer as WW2 approached, the reader is encouraged to study the map half-way down in the introductory post while considering her political and border problems: (1) the historical resentments connected with the domination by their near cousins to the west, the Bohemians, coupled with the forced union by the Allies forming “Czechoslovakia” as part of the Versailles settlement; (2) the historical rivalries and border disputes with Poland to the north, and Hungary to the south; (3) the realpolitik necessitated by the rising tidal wave of national resurgence in Germany to the west; (4) the sense of national pride through decades-long struggle for independence of the Slovakian people themselves; (5) contradictory and self-serving pronouncements from the “Allies.”
The Anschluss of Austria in March 1938 set the stage for Czechoslovakia’s vulnerability when the Sudetenland — the German-settled regions that had fallen within the bureaucrat-created borders of Czechoslovakia after WW1 — became the spring that caused events to unravel quickly. The London meeting of Chamberlain and Daladier Sept 18-19 led to those gentlemen informing Minister of Foreign Affairs Benes to accept the plan unconditionally. This led to the Czech government failing and a new government being formed Sept 22; Benes emigrated to America.
In parallel to these developments, the brewing sense of national autonomy led to all the Slovak parties coming together Oct 6, 1938 in Zilina, where they declared independence. Though Prague approved its autonomy Nov 19, and the first Slovak legislative elections were held Dec 18, the arrangement was not fully settled. A Czech putsch was attempted the following March; this was put down at length by students and the “Hlinka guard,” which appears to be something like a citizen militia analogous to the SA in Germany.
Joseph Tiso, the new head of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party, went to Berlin and agreed that, due to its 20-year struggle for autonomy, Slovakia would not stand with Bohemia in the coming struggle. On March 14, 1939, Czech President Hacha, caught between a rock and a hard place, petitioned Berlin for a “protectorate over Bohemia and Moravia.” These were then occupied on the following day; Slovakia however maintained its independence.
Immediately Slovakia had to prove its mettle militarily with a border war with Hungary over the eastern border, from Mar 23 to April 4, 1939. Her Constitution was ratified July 21. Joseph Tiso was elected the first President. When Germany invaded Poland in Sept 1939, Slovakia seized the opportunity to retake regions on the northern frontier that had been grabbed by Poles in 1920 and 1938.
Slovakia was left alone by Germany, and prospered. Businesses sprang up, trade flourished with Switzerland, railroads were laid down, and the government ran without deficit. Schools were started, and a new national literature blossomed.
But in Feb 1940 Britain declared that the “restoration of Czechoslovakia” was a war aim. Benes set himself up in London as “President of the Provisional government”. In May 1943 he tried to work a post-war deal with Roosevelt but was refused. So he flew to Moscow and concluded a “20 year alliance” promising the Communists would have a “free hand” — Dec 12, 1943.
“Although the Red Army was to come as a liberator, it pillaged, pilfered, murdered, and raped. Every moveable object was taken, from watches to furniture, and shipped to Russia.” (110)
“Thus ended the Slovak Republic. Six years of plenty and happiness were wiped out. The Red Army brought naught but tears and hunger. Members of the Slovak government escaped to Germany and Austria for they knew the habits of the Reds and Benes’ desire for revenge.” (111)
The Americans captured Tiso and sent him back where he was executed in Bratislava April 18. Parochial schools were nationalized, as well as industry and business. Though the Slovak Democratic Party received 62% of the vote in 1946, it was forced to share power with the Communists, who seized complete power in Feb 1948. The only non-Communist remaining in the government was Jan Masaryk; he was thrown from a window Mar 10, 1948.
Resistance continued in the form of the Slovak National Council Abroad, headed by Karol Sider. He sought to publicize the plight of the Slovaks, and how they were forced against their will to recreate Czechoslovakia.