Slovakia, the former Czechoslovakia's less glamourous partner, emerged dishevelled and sleepy after the 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989. Although it's now holding its own in a rebuilding Eastern bloc, there's a refreshing absence of Prague-style glitz and clamour. The capital, Bratislava, is small and cheerful with a surprisingly accomplished cultural life; the High Tatras are as rugged a range as any in Eastern Europe and the peasant traditions of rural Slovakia are still evident in the villages. You'll find the Slovaks to be extremely warm, friendly people prepared to go out of their way to help you enjoy their country.
Full country name: Slovak Republic
Area: 49,036 sq km (19,124 sq mi)
Population: 5.4 million
Capital city: Bratislava (pop 452,000)
People: Slovak (85.6%), Hungarian (10.7%), Romany (1.5%), Czech (1%)
Language: Slovak, Czech & Hungarian, German
Religion: 60% Roman Catholic, 10% Protestant, 4% Orthodox
Government: parliamentary democracy
Executive: President: Rudolf Schuster (SOP)
Prime Minister: Mikulás Dzurinda
GDP: US$46.3 billion
GDP per head: US$8600
Annual growth: 6%
Major industries: Metal products, electricity, gas, coke, oil, rubber products, agriculture
Major trading partners: EU (esp. Germany), Czech Republic, Austria, Poland
Member of EU: no
Slavic tribes occupied what is now Slovakia in the 5th century AD. In 833, the prince of Moravia captured Nitra and formed the Great Moravian Empire, which included all of present Central and West Slovakia, the Czech Republic and parts of neighbouring Poland, Hungary and Germany. The empire converted to Christianity with the arrival of the Thessaloniki brothers and missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, in 863.
In 907, the Great Moravian Empire collapsed as a result of the political intrigues of its rulers and invasion by Hungary. By 1018 the whole of Slovakia was annexed by Hungary and remained so for the next 900 years, although the Spis region of East Slovakia belonged to Poland from 1412 to 1772. After a Tatar invasion in the 13th century, the Hungarian king invited Saxon Germans to settle the depopulated north-eastern borderlands. When the Turks overran Hungary in the early 16th century, the Hungarian capital moved from Buda to Bratislava.
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