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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter V. National Heroism: Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Requests of the Slovak nation

Traduction de Petr Roubal et Gordon MacLean

Texte intégral

1Title: Žiadosti slovenského národa (Requests of the Slovak Nation)

2Originally published: As a leaflet in May 1848 in Levoča (Ger. Leutschau, Hun. Lőcse)

3Language: Slovak

4Translated from Dušan Čaplovič et al., Dokumenty slovenskej národnej identity a štátnosti (Bratislava: Národné literárne centrum, 1998), pp. 307–310.


5By the mid-1840s, three complex problems crystallized in the Hungarian part of the Habsburg Monarchy, namely, the need to dismantle the Metternichian bureaucratic centralism, the inevitable reform of the feudal socioeconomic structures and, finally, the necessity to deal with the nationality question. Hungarian reformers called for modernization and Hungary’s administrative and economic emancipation from Vienna, envisioning a modern Hungary as a unified nation with a standardized language and a unified educational system. The steps towards creating a Hungarian nation-state provoked counter-reactions among many of the other ethnic groups living in Hungary, including the Slovaks.

6The second half of the 1840s is marked by an increased politicization of the Slovak national movement, previously oriented mainly towards cultural issues. In 1844, a nation-wide cultural society, Tatrín, was founded, followed by the ‘Union of Slovak Youth’ a year later. In subsequent years, many other Slovak organizations, including business companies, popular education societies and cultural associations were established. In August 1845, Ľudovít Štúr founded the first Slovak political newspaper, Slovenskje národnje novini (Slovak national newspaper), and made it a mouthpiece of the Slovak national movement. In this newspaper, written in the new orthography, he and his adherents presented their views on the language and education issues, but gradually they also shaped a new Slovak political program. It was based on the precept that the Slovaks were a nation with a right to their own language, culture, schools, and eventually political autonomy within Hungary. The latter point was a natural outcome of the development of the Slovak movement. However, it would have led to an administrative and territorial decentralization of Hungary based on ethno-cultural principles, which was unacceptable to the Magyar political elite, that wavered between the radical vision of modernist centralization and the outlook of traditional gentry liberalism with its focus on the county administration as the main locus of politics. In 1848, Slovak and Hungarian revolutionary claims came to clash in a violent way. In spring, the Slovak leaders started to spread their ideas among the Slovak peasantry and met with a certain popular response, especially in the western and central regions of the area populated by Slovaks. In May 1848, a public meeting gathered in Liptovský Mikuláš (Hun. Liptószentmiklós), where a Slovak national program, put together by the leading personalities of the movement (such as Štúr, Jozef Miloslav Hurban, Michal Miloslav Hodža, Ján Francisci, and Štefan Daxner) and known as the ‘Requests of the Slovak Nation,’ was proclaimed and accepted.

7In the ‘Requests,’ the Slovak leaders declared their patriotic allegiance to Hungary, but required that it should imply a guarantee of freedom and equality for every nation in Hungary. The Hungarian state ought to be changed to a union of free nations. As a distinct and self-contained national community living in the “Hungarian homeland,” the Slovaks demanded a proportional representation in the Hungarian Assembly, the creation of a Slovak Diet to administer their own region, the introduction of Slovak as the official language on Slovak territory, and the use of Slovak in educational institutions from elementary schools to universities. They also called for universal suffrage and democratic rights, including freedom of the press and of public assembly. Further, the peasants should be released from serfdom and their lands returned to them.

8The ‘Requests,’ combining as they do a national, a political and a social vision, can be considered the first consistent political program in modern Slovak history. However, the hope of its authors of bringing about at once a fully developed Slovak nation and of passing over the necessary social, economic and political stages in the forming of a modern nation by revolutionary means proved to be unrealistic. The provisional Hungarian revolutionary government formed in April 1848 hoped that its liberal constitutional and administrative reforms, including the abolition of serfdom and the extension of civil rights, would gain favor with the population irrespective of ethnic provenience. Hence they considered the activists, with their demand for territorial autonomy on an ethnic basis, as provocateurs and questioned their legitimacy. In the fall of 1848, the Slovak leaders changed their strategy. They ceased to link the future of the Slovaks with Hungary and tried to establish Slovakia as an autonomous unit under the direct control of Vienna, in the spirit of the Austro-federalist conception expressed by the Kremsier (Cz. Kroměříž) constitutional project. However, these hopes proved unreal following the triumph of the ultra-conservative circles at the Court and the consequent marginalization of the federal option. Thus, the eventual defeat of the Hungarian revolution brought a return to bureaucratic centralization rather than any federalization of the Monarchy. In the next Slovak political program, the ‘Memorandum of the Slovak Nation’ of 1861, the Hungarian-federalist option was again in the center, and this remained the basic orientation of Slovak political thought up until 1914.


Requests of the Slovak nation

10“Requests of the Slovak nation addressed to His Majesty the King-Emperor, to the Hungarian Diet, to His Excellency the Hungarian Palatine, the King’s Deputy, to the Hungarian Ministry and to all brethren by humanity and nationality,” on the 10th of May, 1848.

11I. After sleeping for nine hundred years, the Slovak nation is awakening as the autochthonous nation in this Hungarian homeland, realizing that this holy country and homeland—being the spring and cradle of legends of the ancient glory of its ancestors, and the stage on which our Slovak fathers and heroes spilled their blood for the Hungarian Crown—has been until recently only a stepmother, treating the Slovaks mercilessly and constraining their language and nationality in the iron bonds of disgrace and humiliation. Nevertheless, in this moment of its awakening, the Slovak nation wishes to forget the centuries of injustice and disgrace, it forgives itself as well as its jailers, and nothing else moves its cheerful heart more than the holy zeal of love of and burning desire for securing its freedom, nationality and homeland. As the autochthonous nation and the once sole possessor of this holy land, it calls, under the banner of this age of equality, all the nations of Hungary to respect equality and brotherhood. And for its part it proclaims that it does not wish to oppress, offend, curtail, even less to uproot any nationality in Hungary—but it also demands from the Hungarian nations that they too, for their parts, be filled by such Hungarian patriotism and that by respecting Slovak nationality they become worthy of friendship and love of the Slovak nation. […]

12Therefore we request:

13II. That one general parliament of brotherly nations be established on a basis of equality composed of all nations living under the Hungarian Crown and represented there as nations—and each of the national representatives be bound to represent his nation in its language as well as to know the languages of the nations at the parliament represented. Besides this parliament of the country, we request:

14III. That independent national parliaments, which will debate the issues concerning the good of both nation and country, be established, with the aim to decide geographic boundaries, in such a way that each nation would and could relate strongly to its national center; so that as a result there would not be a Slovak minority forced to serve and submit by a Magyar majority or a Magyar minority by a Slovak majority. Therefore, we request the strictest protection of national rights and freedoms.

15IV. That the representatives of all the Hungarian nationalities would be bound by an oath to work in the general parliament according to the guidelines formulated by those who delegated them; and in the case of faithlessness and treason to the nation, they would be subjected to a penalty determined by those who delegated them. The Slovak nation, in particular, has sufficient reason to stress and support this request, as it hosts in its ranks the highest number of national traitors.

16V. We request that the law according to which Hungarian—already at this early stage of the reform of the country—has been prescribed as the mandatory official language, thus forcing our nation by law to lawlessness, be changed at once so as to introduce the mother-tongue into general public proceedings. Because the holy word of freedom is disgraced when the Slovak nation, which does not understand Hungarian, is condemned to silence during the proceedings carried out in an incomprehensible language. […]

17VI. We request the establishment of national schools, that is, elementary schools, burgher and council-schools, grammar schools, and institutes for the education of teachers and priests, and then institutes of higher learning, particularly gymnasiums, lyceums, academies, polytechnic institutes and a university. All these educational institutions are to be established on the basis of free education: the language of teaching for the sons and daughters of the Slovak nation should be none other than Slovak, so the Slovak nation could thus educate its children in loyalty to the nation and to the country.

18VII. We request that the Magyar counties in their schools and in higher and lower literary institutes establish departments of the Slovak language for Magyars and that the Slovak counties establish departments of the Magyar language for Slovaks, so that these nations may move closer to each other and particularly that the Slovaks may understand the Magyars and the Magyars the Slovaks when each is speaking their own language in the Parliament.

19VIII. Led by the spirit of the equality of nations, we request that all dominance of certain nations over other nations be uprooted, and thus no nation be forced to abandon in the least its aspirations: therefore, we request that the Slovak nation be able without any obstacle to demonstrate its nationality with its own colors and flag. We consider the red-white colors to be Slovak, the red-white-green colors, Magyar, the red-white-green colors with the Hungarian emblem, those of the country. Also we request that the head and staff of the Slovak national guard be only Slovak.

20IX. We request that the right to vote be determined not by the property and estate but by the spirit and right of equality, and therefore we demand that every Hungarian citizen loyal to his nation, unstained by crime or offence, be allowed, if older than twenty years of age, the right to vote, and if older than twenty-four years of age, the right to be elected. […]

21X. We request the freedom of the press without a press law, freedom to publish newspapers and journals without a bond, freedom to establish presses also without a bond; furthermore we request complete freedom of assembly and association for the sake of public debate about issues of the common good; we also request personal freedom while travelling in the country, as we have unfortunately to complain that the newly acquired constitutional freedom is suppressed by a campaign of terrorization and intimidation spreading in the Slovak districts to such an extent that even a speech to a gathering in the open is considered an instance of riotousness.

22XI. We request that measures be taken towards the restitution of the rights and properties of our fellow-citizens living in villages, small towns and hamlets, who have been, since ancient times by various people in various ways, cheated of and forced to abandon their hills and pastures, fields and trades and their other property. These measures are to ensure that these wronged citizens receive back their property, that is, their hills and pastures, fields and trades etc., and that they and their descendants obtain all the corresponding property rights. Furthermore, we request that the allodial serfs be freed from their duties, especially those who have served for thirty-six years of corvée, in the same way as the urbarial serfs were freed from their urbarial duties. We also request that the regalia beneficia be granted to the towns and villages. […]

23XIII. Knowing that in the neighboring region of Galicia, which too is under the rule of Austria, the brotherly nation of the Poles has not yet achieved the freedoms that we are enjoying, because a wretched bureaucracy is constantly creating great obstacles, we request that all nations which are under the Hungarian crown sound through their official channels the voice of Christian and human compassion and address His Majesty with the plea that to this unfortunate nation finally freedom and mercy be granted.

24XIV. The Slovak nation considers the fulfillment of these just requests as the condition for its national security and happiness; expressing in advance its respect, gratitude and trust to the glorious Ministry, as well as to all the Hungarian citizens who will support these requests, while we would consider the postponement or circumvention of these our requests as a condemnation of our nation to its former blindness and serfdom.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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