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The first inhabitants of Slovakia were Celtic and, later, Germanic tribes. From probably the sixth century A.D. on, Slavic peoples settled into the region in several waves of migration. By the seventh century the Slavs had fallen prey to the Avars, a nomadic Turko-Tartar tribe. In 624 Samo, a Frankish merchant, succeeded in uniting the Slavic people of the region and led them into battle against the savage Avars. Samo defeated the Avars and established the first Slavic state near the central Danube. Samo’s kingdom disintegrated after his death in 658. The Avars regained control of the area until they were driven out by Charlemagne’s Frankish armies in 799. In the 830s a Slavic state called the Great Moravian Empire arose on the northern bank of the Danube. It extended over the territory of present-day Slovakia and Moravia. The independence of Great Moravia was threatened not only by German military power, but also by the missionary activity of the German priests. At the request of the Great Moravian prince, Rastislav, the Byzantine Empire in 863 sent missionaries Constantine (later known as Cyril) and Methodius who introduced a Slavic liturgy. After the death of Methodius in 885 Slovak priests were expelled and replaced by German priests effectively ensuring the dominance of Roman-Catholicism in the region. In 894 the German King Arnulf called in the Magyars (Hungarians) to help in his struggles against Moravia. In the early 900s Great Moravia fell into obscurity and by the year 1001 Slovakia was under the control of the Magyars. From 1001 A.D. to 1918 Slovakia was dominated by the Magyars. Following the Turkish defeat of Hungary in 1526, Slovakia came under Habsburg rule but the Magyar land owners still held their position of power over the Slovak peasants. Under the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, established in 1867, the Slovaks remained under Hungarian dominance.
After the First World War, in October 1918, Czechoslovakia was established as an independent sovereign state. The new republic consisted of the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, the former Austrian controlled part of Silesia, and Hungarian Slovakia. For twenty years democracy flourished in Czechoslovakia and the country became one of the most prosperous and industrialized in Eastern Europe. During the 1920s and 1930s the Czechoslovak government attempted to industrialize Slovakia. These efforts were largely unsuccessful, however, due in part to the worldwide economic slump of the 1930s. In many respects developments during this period favored the Czech majority over the Slovak minority. For example, most positions in state administration, education and the economy were filled by Czechs. Slovaks, who were greatly outnumbered by the Czechs, differed in many important ways from their Czech neighbors. The Slovak economy was more agrarian and less developed than its Czech counterpart; most Slovaks were practicing Catholics while the Czech leadership believed in limiting the power of the church, and the Slovak people had generally less education and experience with self-government than the Czechs. These disparities, compounded by centralized governmental control from Prague, left many Slovaks disappointed with the structure of the new state.
In 1938, the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia and established a pro-Nazi, nominally independent state in Slovakia. The ultra Slovak nationalist president, Father Jozef Tiso, allowed Hitler to occupy Slovakia and cooperated with him through the war. Following the Second World War, the state of Czechoslovakia was reestablished. In elections in May 1946, the Communists emerged as the strongest political party and from 1948 until 1989 the country was ruled by a Communist government. In 1989, the wave of political reform that swept through central and eastern Europe quickly led to significant changes in the political structure of Czechoslovakia. By November of 1989, the Communist leadership stepped down and, in December 1989, a new government was established. Free elections were held in 1990 but there was apprehension about how the Czechs and the Slovaks would work together. Other elections in June 1992 revealed a growing rift between the two national parliaments and efforts to find a compromise at the federal level fell apart. In July 1992, the Slovak parliament voted in favor of complete sovereignty for the country. In November 1992, the federal parliament voted to dissolve Czechoslovakia as of 31 December 1992, and on 1 January 1993 the Slovak and Czech Republics became two separate, independent states.