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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter III. “National projects” and their regional framework

The Slovak as a national individuality

Ján Lajčiak
Traduction de Pavol Lukáč

Texte intégral

1Title: Slovak ako národné indivíduum (The Slovak as a national individuality)

2Originally published: In Slovensko a kultúra, ed. by Samuel Stefan Osuský, Bratislava, Slov. Ev. a v. Theol. Akademia, 1920

3Language: Slovak
The excerpts used are from the re-edition Ján Lajčiak, Slovensko a kultúra, ed. by Borislav Petrik and Kveta Daškova (Bratislava: Q111, 1994), pp. 67–72.

About the author

4Jan Lajčiak [1875, Pribylina (Hun. Pribilina) – 1918 Vyšná Boca (Hun. Király-boca) near Liptovský Mikuláš (Hun. Liptószentmiklós)]: Lutheran priest, philosopher, theologian, orientalist and translator. He studied theology in Prešov (Hun. Eperjes) and Erlangen between 1898 and 1899. While in Erlangen he also started his studies on philosophy and oriental languages. Between 1900 and 1902, Lajčiak moved to Leipzig, where he attended lectures in Semitic studies and Semitic epigraphy and learned several languages (Syriac, Ethiopian, and Arabic). He received a doctorate for his study entitled Die Plural und Dualendungen am semitischen No-men. From 1904 until 1905, Lajčiak continued his studies in Paris at the Faculty of Protestant theology at the Sorbonne, where he obtained a second doctorate in theology for his study Ezechiel sa personne et son enseignement. Upon his return to Slovakia his critical liberal views on society, confessional issues and national life were met with strong opposition among the conservative Slovak national intelligentsia as well as the Church circles. He was ostracized by the Slovak cultural elite. In 1906, he became a priest in the small mountain village of Vyšná Boca, where he served until his death. Here Lajčiak started to work on his unfinished opus magnum, Slovensko a kultúra (Slovakia and culture), a broad sociological analysis of Slovak cultural life. As the author of this book Lajčiak has been appreciated in Slovak expert sociological circles. His philological and philosophical work has been re-evaluated after 1989; nevertheless, Lajčiak as a historical figure is still far from being accepted into a broader Slovak cultural canon.

5Main works: Die Plural-und Dualendungen am semitischen Nomen [The plural and dual endings in Semitic nouns] (1902); Ezechiel, sa personne et son enseignement (1905); Slovensko a kultúra [Slovakia and culture] (1920).


6In turn-of-the-century Hungary Magyarization policies towards non-Magyar nationalities reached their climax. Not long after the 1867 Austro-Hungarian Compromise, the three Slovak-speaking grammar schools, along with the national cultural institution the Matica slovenská, were closed down and became the first victims of the new approach of central Hungarian authorities pursuing the policy of the linguistic unification of the state. The key question of the contemporary Hungarian political discourse became how to turn Hungarian society, with more than half of its population being non-Magyar, into a unified, ‘organic’ nation-state. Subsequently, towards the end of the century the assimilation policies spread to various levels of public and political life. In the realm of education Magyarization culminated in the ‘ Ap-ponyi School Law of 1907’ which allowed only one lesson a week in elementary schools for teaching the mother tongue. These measures in education, along with the fact that increasingly only voluntary Magyarization opened the way to a professional career and higher social status in Hungary, led to the so-called denationalizing (odnarodnovanie) of its own cultural elite as feared by Slovak nationalists. The reaction of the major Slovak political force, the National Party, placed greater stress on the implementation of the 1868 Act on Nationalities that, indeed, introduced Hungarian as the only official language but allowed for all other constitutional freedoms for the nationalities. Later, they sought closer cooperation with Romanian, Serb and other non-Magyar political representatives in the Hungarian Diet that led in the end to the creation of the Central Club of the Nationalities Party in 1912. The younger generation of Slovak intellectuals, though critical of the conservative leaders of the Slovak National Party, were looking for other ways to counter the assimilatory pressure of Hungarian modernization and what they felt to be a torpidity of Slovak national life. They proposed various solutions such as social and cultural education among the broader strata of Slovak society, ‘petit work’ and grass-roots national agitation.

7Another sort of response was a thorough analysis of the nation’s current situation by using the instruments of modern science. One of the best examples in this respect is the unfinished manuscript ‘Slovakia and Culture,’ a tentative comprehensive sociological analysis by Jan Lajčiak. The book clearly shows the theoretical inspiration that he drew during his studies in Germany such as the Völkerpsychologie of Wilhelm Wundt or social Darwinism. The Spencerian idea of social evolution, Lajčiak hoped, would help dispel the torpidity and conservatism of Slovak life. Another crucial idea was the concept of culture that Lajčiak took up from Karl Lamprecht as a notion that unified human history, a key-stone of all creativity giving meaning to all of the material and spiritual efforts of every individual and the whole nation. For Lajčiak these two notions, evolution and culture, were clearly superior to other ideas such as the nation, language and Slavdom, which represented only partial needs of the society but which, nevertheless, still prevailed in the current Slovak concerns. Lastly, under the influence of the sociologist Ludwik Gumplowicz, Lajčiak interprets the dialectic of ideas and needs in connection with respective social conditions. In contrast to Gumplowicz’s determinism and collectivism, however, Lajčiak ascribed a greater role in the creation of new ideas to subjective factors, to the “powerful culture-formative individualities.” Apart from his scientific inspirations, one can trace in Lajčiak’s writing the strong impact of Protestant moral philosophy. His main aim was to analyze the specific model of Slovak culture in order to shape various fields of everyday life, “since the development of culture gives value to life and meaning to its efforts.”

8In his elaboration on various forms of Slovak life, Lajčiak harshly criticized the religious fundamentalism and patriarchal order that in his view generated only masses of passive and abashed people that could easily be manipulated. Additionally, he also pictured the other downsides of Slovak reality such as poverty, alcoholism, Magyarization and mass emigration. He saw the positive turns with the younger generation of ‘petit work’ activists, the Prague-educated adherents of Tomáš G. Masaryk with their positivist evolutionist program. He also observed the signs of evolution in the works of Slovak female realist writers such as Terezie Vansová, Eudmila Riznerová-Podjavorinská, Elena Maróthy-Šoltésová or Božena Slančíková Timrava, authors often expressing contemporary feminist and socialist ideas. In the sub-chapter ‘Slovak as a National Individuality’ presented below, Lajčiak displays the strong influence of Spencer’s view that society consists of individuals who create the “permanence of the relations.” Hence, it is the individual subject and its constitution where the ‘character’ of the national whole originates. In this respect, the book refers to the initial descriptions of the Slovak national character as articulated in Slovak belles-lettres by authors such as Božena Slančiková Timrava or Albert Škarvan.

9Lajčiak’s unfinished book was posthumously prepared for printing by Samuel Štefan Osuský in 1920, but it proved to be an uneasy legacy for the Slovak intelligentsia at the time. One of the founders of modern sociology in Slovakia, Anton Štefánek, was rather critical of Lajčiak’s work, which he considered to be hypercritical and overly concerned with the downsides of Slovak public life. In contrast, another sociologist, Alexander Hirner, described Lajčiak’s ‘Slovakia and Culture’ as the “first scientific approach to the reality of Slovak life.” Certainly, the book was not only one of the pioneering works in Slovak sociological thought, but also one of the first modern critical analyses of Slovak national identity. In the literary canon Lajčiak is treated as someone very close to the intellectual groups around the critical reviews Hlas (Voice) and Prúdy (Streams) (see Bohdan Pavlů, Progressiv-ism and Conservatism in Slovakia). Even more than those groups, however, Lajčiak remained an outsider voice in mainstream Slovak culture despite the fact that the re-edition of ‘Slovakia and Culture’ in 1994 became a kind of cultural event.


The Slovak as a national individuality

11In the previous chapter, I analyzed the principles governing the development of Slovak cultural life. I emphasized that cultural life cannot be described in a few short words, and that each form of cultural life covers a measureless variety of its manifestations.

12We should also keep this principle in mind when we analyze the national character of a Slovak.

13Our approach would be mistaken and embarrassment would soon follow if we were to limit our analysis of the national character of a Slovak only to certain static psychological schemes. Human characters vary much in real life, and hence it is not possible to meet two people who are completely the same. This principle should be emphasized in order to avoid the application of certain static rules on the classification of Slovaks.

  • 1 . ‘Magyaron’: a term with strong negative connotations used by Slovak patriots for those ethnic Slo (...)

14The most trivial classifications say: this Slovak is a patriot and that one is a Magyaron.1 The two-category classification is overly simplistic in evaluating people’s attitudes. We should admit that the two-category classification, which aims to purify and refine Slovak national awareness, is partially justified, but fails to take into consideration psychological principles, and the countless stages leading from the character of the pure Slovak to that of the Magyaron. Observing the national character of a Slovak, we must strictly keep this principle in mind. If we fail to do so, we will not be able to understand the soul of the Slovak nation or the soul of the Slovak as an individual at all.

  • 2 . Journal of the Slovak National Party published between 1868 and 1914, first as monthly and later (...)

15The Národni hlásnik2 revue published an interesting article dealing with the definitions of different Slovak characters. This article does not provide a thorough classification of the national characters of Slovaks, even though the author admits that the Slovak nation embraces a large variety of national characters. The published classification is incomplete and is not based on the psychological analysis of the Slovak national character.

16Let us deal with this issue in more detail. [...]

17Ideas are basic factors determining the nature of different national characters. Observing different Slovak characters, we have to take into account the ideas having an impact on the development of Slovak national life. The conclusions stated in the previous chapter clearly show that Slovak national life is under the significant influence of a wide range of ideas. The days of patriarchal order, when people were united due to the enforcement of uniform attitudes are gone, and the attitudes of people, who had previously shared the same ideas, have become alienated from one another. [...]

18Until recently, religious ideas played the most significant role in the lives of Slovaks, and people followed nothing but the church’s regulations.

19National ideas represent the second factor having a significant influence on Slovak national life. Slovaks can be divided into five categories pursuant to the national ideas governing their lives: 1. pure Slovaks, 2. immature Slovaks, 3. schizophrenic Slovaks, 4. Slovak Magyarons and 5. Magyarized Slovaks.

20I am fully aware that such categorization is far from being perfect, but I think it is necessary to develop some system to be used for the purposes of scientific study in this field. Observing the situation in Slovakia, its struggles and desires, its failures and suffering, we can find the above mentioned categories of Slovaks throughout the country. Readers able to enter into the psychological causalities of the Slovak soul and to reasonably assess the spiritual life of the nation will understand that national life implies many different types of Slovaks.

1. Pure Slovaks

21Pure Slovaks represent the type of national character, which is rarely found in Slovakia, I must say. General experience has shown that a large number of national leaders in Slovakia, upon whom thousands of people pinned their faith, passed themselves off as national martyrs who struggled for the holy national ideas, who were imprisoned for their convictions, who were even ready to lay down their lives for their ideas, who were respected as unbreakable fighters for the idea of the Slovak nation—and yet who suddenly disclaimed or suppressed their national awareness, or directly crossed over to the adversary. Such cases are dreadful and they greatly damage the Slovak national efforts.

22Taking such experiences into account, we might ask whether there is a man in Slovakia, who meets the pure-Slovak requirements. Raising this question, I definitely do not lessen the efforts of many Slovaks working hard to promote national objectives. However, my question shows that there is a lack of men who have been steeled in the fire of the national struggle in Slovakia and who are able to resist all temptations.

23We can also meet those Slovaks, whose national awareness cannot be reproached with any failure but whose physical and spiritual lassitude keeps them away from the tasks aimed at promoting Slovak national ideas, especially in the event that these tasks would require them to work hard. Quite a high number of such people also document the weakness of the Slovak national character.

24It is not easy to describe the features of a pure Slovak. This task is even more complicated since pure characters do not exist in real life. The model character is perfect and, as such, never exists. Speaking about model characters, about typical Slovaks, we do not take these models to really exist. Brief characteristics of the Slovak national characters are not based on physical but on psychological attributes. However, the basic features of the pure Slovak character are not dreamt-up—they are taken from real national life.

25A pure Slovak is a man with pure Slovak intellectual and mental features functioning in full harmony. We fully accept that pure Slovak characters may vary to a large extent in real life, if we realize that the spiritual life of a man is the existing world of feelings, ideas and will, and that the behavior of a particular person is usually governed by one of these attributes.

26Vigorous national awareness is the most significant attribute expected of the pure Slovak. His or her spiritual life should be immersed in purely Slovak ideas and feelings. His or her ideas and feelings should be mature, deeprooted and never affected by immediate and short-lived influences. Such a character should be a substantiation of the nation itself, of national struggles and desires, and represent the consciousness of the Slovak nation. Dignity should be the predominant feature of this character and it should be also far from cynical and indifferent.

2. Immature Slovaks

27There are many immature national characters within the young Slovak nation. Immature national awareness is typical of these characters. They are expected to mature into different specific characters afterwards, according to the forces to which they will be exposed in their lives. These national characters have not politically matured yet; they are political and national waverers who are able not only to hide their national conviction but even to cross over to the side of their adversaries. Let us not mention the names; anybody familiar with Slovak circumstances can easily find many of them. This national character includes also the men, who hide their national conviction because of their marriages. Such cases are definitely not rare.

28I admit that such people would have matured into pure Slovak characters under favorable circumstances, but they did not mature into pure characters due to the lack of them.

29The tolerance of these people to the abuses endured by Slovaks, even though they themselves do not offend anybody, also demonstrates the weakness of their character.

3. Schizophrenic Slovaks

  • 3 . An incomplete paragraph [original editorial note].

30Schizophrenic Slovaks represent a specific kind of national character. This character is not standard; it should fall under social psychopathology studies, since it can be understood only when considered as a pathological condition. We will define this category of individuals, but we have to digress in order to understand the nature of a schizophrenic national character.3

4. Slovak Magyarons

31Slovak Magyarons represent an interesting subject for psychological studies. As for their nationality and language, Slovak Magyarons are Slovaks, but they are Hungarians in their souls and hearts. These people are aware of their Slovak origin, but feel ashamed of it. Such people willingly speak poor Slovak in order to keep their origins a secret. Some of them Magyarize their names so as to conceal their origins.

32This national character has been established for various reasons. Schools are the most significant factors in this case. Schools inculcate the Magyaron spirit in secondary and university students. Young men, who have not been nationally purified and refined at home, are left unprotected against the fire of temptation and many of them are not able to overcome it. The things that happen are really interesting and they should be recorded and observed. We can meet families in which the parents are firmly convinced of their Slovak nationality, while some children in these families are convinced of their Slovak nationality and others of their Magyar nationality. Observing such cases, we can discover that it is often the school that inflicts this denationalization.

33However, the school is not the only cause of denationalization. We can find other examples. People employed in the state administration, having maybe not the best-paid, but also not the worst-paid jobs, often throw off their national awareness for the benefit of some welfare advantages and cross over to the adversary. Slovak national awareness suffers from moral decay. It is dreadful how often the youth who have not been nationally fire-refined and purified at home convert into Magyars. Even more appalling are the cases of adult men who often back off from the lines of national fighters even though they are expected to be nationally mature.

5. Magyarized Slovaks

34In examining the reasons for denationalization, we can find several interesting facts. I think it is necessary to analyze these reasons in more detail before I formulate a final statement.

35The basis of the denationalization of so many young Slovak men is laid in their homes. Slovak families, which consider themselves intellectuals, often do not bring up their sons and daughters in pure national awareness and in the Slovak spirit. It is true that we all often thunder against our adversaries, but that is definitely not what true national education should be about. When sending their sons to schools, Slovak fathers and mothers usually do not forget to instruct them to behave carefully towards Hungarian students. They usually recommend that they not speak Slovak in their presence.

36The circumspection, having nothing but unpleasant consequences, is imprinted into the hearts of Slovak youth that way. Young Slovak men often live in such conditions, that during their secondary school studies they only speak Slovak at home. I think it is clear, that such behavior inevitably plants a seed of denationalization. If Slovak national awareness has not penetrated deep—either by chance or by a personal inspiration—into the blood and belief of a young man, such a man is often lost to the nation forever. Sons with completely different attitudes may grow up in the same family—one can grow up as a man with pure and genuine national awareness, the second as a totally fanatic Magyaron and the third as a man who is neutral—seemingly, at least—but ready to vote against the Slovak candidate in national elections. If you know such families, you can fully understand the situation in which the parents live fully aware and proud of their Slovak nationality. I personally know a mother who weeps for her son who has become a fanatical Magyaron and for her Magyarized daughter.

37National intellectual circles make mistakes in the education of their teen-aged children. The national awareness of Slovak intellectuals is not deep-rooted and experienced enough, and they have not obtained the satisfactory education based on national history. Several Slovak magazines have repeatedly mentioned the sorrowful and miserable knowledge of Slovak intellectuals of recent national history and national culture. Admittedly, the individual nation-oriented education of young people at home is far from perfect and this is incorrect. This situation should be considered as a pathologic social phenomenon, since it is a result of Slovak national idleness.

38Philosophers dealing with history, including Nietzsche, say that human spirit is usually paralyzed due to historical events. However, the opposite statement applies to the small Slovak nation. As I see it, the current highly treacherous and perfidious environment in Slovakia arose from our spiritual and character weakness. We have little knowledge of our national history, moreover, the current development does not make us happy at all, and that is why we have turned into such an uncertain and timid nation. We need to refresh the Slovak national awareness in the young men, who usually enter real life unprepared and unequipped with sufficient knowledge. The lack of knowledge of national history and consequently the lack of national awareness have weakened the capability of our youth to resist various temptations and attacks.

39Personal economic conditions, or rather economic dependency, represents the second source of denationalization. If a Slovak who is aware of his nationality and able to get enthusiastic about national ideas during his studies is offered a profitable position with the adversary, we can be nothing but sure that he will desert the Slovak nation. It is easy to find sons born to nationally aware Slovak fathers, who for bread have become indifferent if not alienated to the Slovak national perspectives.

40Some intellectuals sold out their nationality for more profitable positions, even though their Slovak bread was already ensured. They represent the most shameful wounds on the body of the Slovak nation. Many books could be written to narrate the sad stories about these people. In truth, no position in Slovakia provides great financial resources, but it is more respectable to eat one’s own bread than to become rich by selling out the nation.

41Family life is another factor of denationalization, and it is of the same seriousness and importance. Young Slovak intellectuals often marry Hungarian girls; and so two people of diverse opinions establish a family in the name of love.

42I admit that love is one of the strongest movers of human life and of life in general, and that even gods were not able to withstand the temptation of love. However, Slovaks need to be careful and they also need to be advised in these matters. We have to accept the fact that nationally aware Slovak intellectuals will probably quite often marry Hungarian or Magyaron girls, as they have always done, and that nationally mature Slovak girls will marry Magyaron boys or native Magyars, as they have also always done. Matters of love stand above all others in human life. A man is prepared to sacrifice much, even everything, for love.

43I consider marriages with persons of different nationalities as a significant problem with respect to Slovak national interests. In my opinion, this problem is even more significant than marriages with persons of different religious convictions. The nature of the Slovak soul and the weakness of our national character, analyzed in the previous theoretical chapter, result in the sad fact that the Slovak partner in the nationally mixed marriage is most often the object of denationalization. It would be definitely useful to weigh these facts. Our indifferent attitudes to this issue also demonstrate the weakness of our national character.

44The summary statement based on the conclusions presented in this chapter is this: Guard your heart! And good advice can be given to everybody: Slovak boys, marry Slovak girls! Slovak girls, marry Slovak boys!


1 . ‘Magyaron’: a term with strong negative connotations used by Slovak patriots for those ethnic Slovaks who have accepted Hungarian language and culture at the expense of their own Slovak heritage.

2 . Journal of the Slovak National Party published between 1868 and 1914, first as monthly and later as a weekly.

3 . An incomplete paragraph [original editorial note].


Pavol Lukáč (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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