At last, we have a book by a professional historian that documents the important role American Slovaks played in the development of Slovak national identity, the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, and the autonomy movement throughout its history. Slovak leaders in the United States always knew about this, but the general public did not, and many scholars of Czechoslovakia largely ignored it. Michael R. Cude’s book will restore the leading role of American Slovaks to its rightful place in the history of the ill-fated Czechoslovak Republic.
The so-called Slovak question asked what place Slovaks held—or should have held—in the former state of Czechoslovakia. Formed in 1918 at the end of World War I from the remains of the Hungarian Empire, and reformed after ceasing to exist during World War II, the country would eventually split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia after the “Velvet Divorce” in 1993. In the meantime, the minority Slovaks often clashed with the majority Czechs over their role in the nation. The Slovak Question examines this debate from a transatlantic perspective. Explored through the relationship between Slovaks, Americans of Slovak heritage, and United States and Czechoslovakian policymakers, it shows how Slovak national activism in America helped the Slovaks establish a sense of independent identity and national political assertion after World War I. It also shows how Slovak American leaders influenced US policy by conceptualizing the United States and Slovakia as natural allies due to their connections through immigration. This process played a critical role in undermining attempts to establish a united Czechoslovakian identity and instead caused a divide between the two groups, which was exploited by Nazi Germany and then by other actors during the Cold War, and proved ultimately to be insurmountable.
Cude examines the Slovaks in America and their relationship to their homeland. They became instrumental in the development of Czechoslovakia during the First World War. Yet, following the war, they were marginalized, even vilified, by both Prague and Washington despite efforts to continue to advocate on behalf of their conationals before the 1948 communist coup virtually ended their role. This study is an important addition for our understanding of both East Central European and American history and politics.
When Czechoslovakia was created in the wake of the First World War, Czechs and Slovaks disputed many aspects of the new state and government. In succinct and organized fashion, Cude traces decades of fervent Slovak American political engagement on behalf of their erstwhile homeland and connects it to the late twentieth-century movement for Slovak independence after the fall of communism.