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History and politics:

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 neighboring 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. Only in 1686 was the Ottoman presence finally driven south of the Danube. The formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867 gave Hungary autonomy in domestic matters and a policy of enforced Hungarianisation was instituted in Slovakia between 1868 and 1918. In 1907 Hungarian became the sole language of elementary education. As a reaction to this, Slovak intellectuals cultivated closer cultural ties with the Czechs, who were themselves dominated by the Austrians. The concept of a single Czecho-Slovakian unit was born for political purposes and, after the Austro-Hungarian defeat, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Bohemia and Moravia united as Czechoslovakia. The centralizing tendencies of the sophisticated Czechs alienated many Slovaks and, after the 1938 Munich agreement that forced Czechoslovakia to cede territory to Germany, Slovakia declared its autonomy within a federal state. The day before Hitler's troops invaded Czech lands in March 1939, a clero-fascist puppet state headed by Monsignor Jozef Tiso was set up, and Slovakia became a German ally. In August 1944, Slovak partisan commenced the Slovak National Uprising which took the Germans several months to crush. In the wake of Soviet advances in early 1945, a Czechoslovak government was established at Kosice two months before the liberation of Prague.

The second Czechoslovakia established after the war was to have been a federal state, but after the communist take-over in February 1948 the administration once again became centralized in Prague. Many of those who resisted the new communist dictatorship were ruthlessly eliminated by execution, torture and starvation in labor camps. Although the 1960 constitution granted Czechs and Slovaks equal rights, only the 1968 'Prague Spring' reforms introduced by Alexander Dubcek implemented this concept. In August 1968, Soviet troops quashed democratic reform, and although the Czech and Slovak republics theoretically became equal partners, the real power remained in Prague. The fall of communism in Czechoslovakia during 1989 led to a resurgence of Slovak nationalism and agitation for Slovak autonomy. After the left-leaning nationalist Vladimir Meciar was elected in June 1992, the Slovak parliament voted to declare sovereignty and the federation dissolved peacefully on 1 January 1993. Meciar lost the prime ministership in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in March 1994 because of a failing economy and his increasingly authoritarian rule, but after general elections a few months later, he was able to form a new coalition government. Surprisingly, the economy has improved since 1995 but Meciar's semi-authoritarian rule has earned him criticism on other grounds. A law to protect the Republic can mean the arrest of anyone criticizing the government and the media is tightly controlled. Slovak has been declared the only official language, meaning that the large Hungarian minority is officially prohibited from using its mother tongue in public places.
The type of institution in Slovakia is Parliamentary democracy, now.
Parliament is called National Council of the Slovak Republic, located near the Bratislava Castle. It has one chamber with 150 members. Elections are held every 4 years, using proportional system within 4 regions: Bratislava, Western Slovakia, Central Slovakia and Eastern Slovakia. At least 5% of the votes are needed for a party (7% for coalition) to get to parliament. NR SR elects the President of the Slovak Republic.

Population and Religion:

The population of Slovakia is 5.4 million people, and the growth rate is 0.5%. The population density is 107 persons per one square kilometer. 447,000 people live in the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. 11% of the population are Hungarians, 1.5% Romans and 1% Checks.
Religion is taken quite seriously by the folksy Slovaks. Catholics are in a majority but Protestants and Evangelicals are also numerous. In East Slovakia there are many Greek Catholics and Orthodox believers.

There are only a few thousand Jews in Slovakia today; some 73,500 Slovak Jews were removed to concentration camps by the Nazi SS and the Slovak Hlinka guards. After the war most survivors left for Israel. Slovakia's Romany gypsies escaped deportation but many have left for the Czech Republic where jobs have been easier to come by. As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, there is much prejudice against sorgypsies.

Geography and Climate:

The area of Slovakia is 49,036 square kilometers. Slovakia sits in the heart of Europe, straddling the north-western end of the Carpathian Mountains and forming a clear physical barrier between the plains of Poland to the north and Hungary to the south. The spectacular High Tatra alpine range runs along Slovakia's north-eastern border, shared with Poland. Gerlachovsky Stit (2655m) is the highest of the mighty Tatra peaks. Although almost 80% of Slovakia is over 750m above sea level, the portion south of Nitra is a fertile lowland stretching down to the Danube River which forms the border with Hungary. Slovakia also shares borders with the Czech Republic in the north-west, Austria in the south-west and Ukraine in the east. Forests, mainly beech and spruce, cover 40% of the country despite centuries of deforestation. Wildlife includes bear, wolves, lynxes, marmots, chamois, otters and mink that live in the High Tatras. The national parks outside the Tatra include most of these animals in smaller numbers. Deer, pheasants, partridges, ducks, wild geese, storks, grouse, eagles and vultures can be seen throughout the countryside. The Slovak countryside is not as badly polluted as other European countries although larger towns that have seen rapid industrialization are suffering. The biggest natural resources are antimony ores, mercury, iron ores, copper, lead, zinc, precious metals, magnesite, limestone, dolomites, gravel, brick soils, ceramic materials, stone and salt.The fuel resources are brown coal and natural gas.

The damp continental climate over most of the Slovak Republic is responsible for warm, showery summers, cold, snowy winters, and generally changeable conditions. The weather in Slovakia is mild. July is the hottest month everywhere, January the coldest. From December through February, temperatures push below freezing even in the lowlands, and are bitter in the mountains. There is no real 'dry season', and the long, sunny hot spells of summer tend to be broken by sudden, heavy thunderstorms. The driest regions are Slovakia's southern lowlands. Winter brings 40 to 100 days of snow on the ground (about 130 in the mountains), plus fog in the lowlands.

Natural resorts:

The Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras) are the only truly alpine mountains in Eastern Europe and one of the smallest high mountain ranges in the world. Narrow, rocky crests soar above wide glacial valleys with precipitous walls. The lower slopes are covered by dense coniferous forest. Enhancing the natural beauty packed into this relatively small area (260 sq km) are 30 valleys, almost 100 glacial lakes and numerous bubbling streams. A network of 600km of hiking trails reaches all the alpine valleys and many peaks. The red-marked Tatranska magistrala trail follows the southern crest of the Vysoke Tatry for 65km through a striking variety of landscapes. August and September are the best months for high-altitude hiking; July and August are the warmest and most crowded months. Snow can begin falling as early as September and the higher trails are closed from November to about April, when skiers flock to the area. The best center for visitors is Stary Smokovec, a turn-of-the-century resort that is well connected to the rest of the country by road and rail.
The typical animals of higher level of Tatra are chamois and marmot, on the forest level also roebucks, stags, boar, bear, otter, and of course many squirrels always waiting at the trails for some nuts from tourists. The sky of Tatra belongs to the eagles.
The Mala Fatra (Little Fatra) Mountains stretch 50km across north-western Slovakia. Krivan (1709m) is the highest peak. At the heart of the national park is Vratna, a beautiful mountain valley
with forested slopes on all sides. Hiking possibilities vary from easy tourist tracks through the forest to scenic ridge walks; in winter the valley transforms into a popular ski resort. There are plenty of places to stay and eat, though midsummer accommodation is tight. The Mala Fatra is an easy day trip from Zilina.

Rivers and Lakes:

The Danube River is the biggest and most famost river in Slovakia. It flows through the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. The Danube River is an international waterway that connects the Slovak Republic with Danubian states and through the Rhine - Main - Danube canal it is possible to connect Slovakia to integrated waterways of western Europe. It is one of the biggest European rivers and it flows to The Black Sea. There is a large dam on the Danube called Gabcikovo. It is a large water space great for fishing and many other water sports. The Vah River is the longest Slovak river. The Vah River, with its tributaries Varinka, Kysuca, and Rajcianka, flows through the district.

The water reservoir, Hricov, that was built from the river Vah (with a dam which is 9.5 km high and 657 m long ) belongs to the Vah cascade. This river has two source springs: Biely Vah (White Vah), springing under a beautiful peak Krivan, and Cierny Vah (Black Vah), springing under Kralova Hola (it is a hill 1 948 m; "hola" means a hill without trees cover, but grass, rocks...). They flow together at a village called Kralova Lehota. The river ends besides Komarno (a town with 50000 inhabitants) and flows into the Danube River. There are not many big lakes around Slovakia, but there are couple of larger dams. Some of the biggest are Zemplinska Sirava, Liptovka Mara and Domasa. Counties and Towns:

Slovakia is divided in counties that are called “Okresy”. Every county is named by one of the towns that is a part of the county. The capital of Slovakia is Bratislava. It is the largest town with the biggest population. Bratislava plays a prominent role in Slovak economy not only as its economic, commercial, political, diplomatic and cultural center, but also as a center of tourism. Bratislava lies on the banks of the Danube River and at the foot of the Little Carpathians. Its importance as an industry and trade center grows thanks to its strategic position near Austria, Hungary and the Check Republic. Unique architectural, historical, natural and cultural sights make Bratislava a town of culture and tourism. The town lives an intensive intellectual and artistic life, it has a cosmopolitan character and the romantic charm of a town on the Danube River. The cultural life is traditionally varied: 12 theater houses, several concert halls, 22 cinemas, 20 cultural centers, 11 museums and 23 galleries.
The other larger towns in Slovakia are: Kosice, Banska Bystrica, Zilina, Presov, Martin and Trnava. Trnava is Slovakia's oldest town, the first to get a royal charter as a free borough (from Hungarian King in 1238). Though badly marred by modern development, its handsome walled old town, a legacy of almost three centuries as Hungary's religious center, was spruced up for the town's 750th birthday in 1988. Trnava was a center of the Slovak National Revival - some of the first books to use the Slovak written language were printed there. Trencianske Teplice is a smaller town known for it’s spa in West Slovakia. Hiking trails lead into the green hills flanking the resort. There's a thermal swimming pool and five hot sulphur springs in the resort itself. Those with a taste for the exotic should also visit the hammam, a Turkish bathhouse in the middle of town.

Banska Bystrica is situated in Central Slovakia in a picturesque basin which is washed by the river Hron and surrounded by the Low Tatras Great Fatra and Kremnica Mountains Banska Bystrica is an important tourist point offering many possibilities for summer and winter recreation. The first report of the town dates from the 13th century, in 1255 it was given the privileges of a royal borough by the Hungarian king Bela IV and came one of the most prominent mining towns in Slovakia. This was the source of the wealth of its citizens in the 15th and 16th century. Prosperity was influenced by the mining of silver, copper and eventually, iron ores. Since 1989 Banska Bystrica has been dramatically changing its character. Many fine historic houses have been renovated and the main square has regained its old-time charm. Banska Bystrica became the center of culture, education and administration for Central Slovakia. The town has more than 85,000 inhabitants. Banska Stiavnica is one of the most picturesque towns in Slovakia. There it is possible to admire the artistic and architectural styles of several periods in the sacral building. You may there learn about the history of the town and of the mining and forestry industries. One of the most attractive parts of the Slovak Mining Museum's instructional exposition is the Skanzen or Open Air Mining Museum. Adding to Banska Stiavnica's attractiveness it is surrounding scenery, which draws hikers to nearby mountains and lakes. Recreational areas near are Lake Klinger, Sitno Mountains and lake Pocuvadlo offer visitors enjoyable holidays both in winter and summer. Kremnica, also known as Golden Kremnica, was one of the most important gold mining towns in the Middle Ages. Kremnica became well-known with its mint, Kremnica ducats and gold florens. Kremnica lies on terraces in the central portion of the Kremnicke vrchy (Kremnica Hills), the northernmost mountains of volcanic origin in Slovakia. The highly varying landscape relief, picturesque woods, and mountain meadows in Kremnica'shinterland create, together with historic buildings of the town, a unique complex of a former free royal town. Castles:

In Slovakia you may visit hundreds of castles and mansions, from ruins of settlements from era of Roman Empire to mansions from the 19th century.
Bratislava Castle dominates the center of Bratislava and its four towers became a symbol of the city. It was inhabited from neolithic Hallstadt and Roman eras. It reached its highest importance during the reign of Queen Maria Theresa. In 1761-66 the fortress was rebuilt into a typical royal residence. Today, after reconstruction, it shelters the historical part of the Slovak National Museum.

Bratislava Castle is also residence of the President of Slovak Republic and Slovak Parliament resides in the new building nearby.
Devin Castle was built on the limestone rock over the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers. Oldest written evidence of it is from 864, but the hill was inhabited much earlier. Today it is ruin, destroyed in 1809 by Napoleon armies.
Spis Castle is the largest castle in Slovakia and one of the largest in Central Europe. Today it is an exposition of archeological findings. Spis Castle is listed in UNESCO World Heritage List.

Cuisine and Events:

Slovak cuisine is basic central European fare: meat, dumplings, potatoes or rice topped with a thick sauce, and a heavily cooked vegetable or sauerkraut. The standard quick meal is knedlo-zelo-vepro (dumplings, sauerkraut and roast pork). Caraway seed, bacon and lots of salt are the common flavorings. The Slovaks have three meals in their day. For breakfast they have a cup of tee or coffee, a roll or a slice of bread, some cheese, salami, or a cake. Most Slovaks don’t take much time in eating their breakfast. The Slovakian midday meal is the main meal of the day. They may have it at home, at work, in canteens , dining halls, cafeterias, or in a restaurant. It is usually a three-course meal. This meal includes soup, the main course, and a desert. As for soup they may serve beef, chicken, vegetable, potato, tripe, fish and other soups. The Slovakian national dish is "bryndzove halusky". There are many other meals that may be served for supper. For example, roast pork with potato dumplings and sauerkraut, Vienna steak with potato salad, fried chop pork with boiled potatoes or chips and vegetable, or goulash with dumplings. Beer or any soft drink may be served with it. The Slovakian evening meal may be for some people the same as the midday meal, or it may be not so nutritious as a hot meal at midday. It may be some cold meat, salami, ham, cheese, eggs, bread or rolls, and some vegetables. Vegetarians aren't going to have a great choice - beware of apparently meatless dishes cooked in animal stock or fat and get ready for lots of fried cheese, omelettes, and potatoes. Slovaks are known as wine rather than beer drinkers - the Tokaj region along the Hungarian border squeezes out a good drop.
Practically every day is a Saint's Day in the Slovak Republic, and 'special days', festivals and public holidays are widely acknowledged. Public holidays include New Year's Day (1 January), Three Kings Day (6 January), Labour Day (1 May), Cyril and Methodius Day (5 July) and Christmas (24-26 December). The Bratislava Lyre in May or June features rock concerts.

During June or July folk dancers from all over Slovakia meet at the Vychodna Folklore Festival, 32 km west of Poprad. The Bratislava Jazz Days are held in September.

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