In the 19th century, things were looking dire for the poor Slovaks. The Hungarians in Austria-Hungary had unceremoniously bullied them for centuries, with no one to truly champion their cause. Step forward Ľudovít Štúr. Strange name, I know. Born in Uhrovec in 1815, Štúr would go from fairly simple beginnings to become the leader of the Slovak national revival in the 19th century. He was the man who codified the Slovak language after centuries of the Slovak people using either Czech or biblical Czech, which had barely changed in its 250 years. He was the political leader of the Slovaks in the 19th century, which could be argued as the most important century out of all of the centuries for the nation.
Štúr was educated at home initially, before going to school in Gyor and heading to the Lutheran Lyceum in Bratislava in 1829. Once in Bratislava, Štúr quickly became a member of the Czech-Slav Society. It was a time of development and national awakening for the people of Europe, the Slavs in particular, but the Slovaks hadn’t really got the message at this point. Štúr changed this. He was immensely active in the historical and literary circles of the Czech-Slav Society, and would become vice-president of the whole darn thing within four years. It was around this time that Štúr wrote a letter to František Palacký, one of the men considered a father of the Czech nation, proposing the creation of a unified Czech-Slovak language as the one currently used was nigh on incomprehensible to most Slovaks. Palacký and his Czechs were unwilling to bow to this request however, seeing it as Slovak withdrawal from the idea of a common Czecho-Slovak nation, so Štúr and his learned chums decided to go ahead and create their own language, based on the central Slovakian dialect in use at the time.
They needed a little inspiration first, because why the heck not? On April 24, 1836, Štúr and other members of the Slovak National Movement decided to make a pilgrimage of sorts to the ruins of Devin Castle, where the legends of the Slovakian history roam on. This was epic enough for them, and from then on they all committed to the Slovak cause, total personal dedication. Castle ruins will do that to you.
Štúr wrote more and more poetry and set out to increase the numbers of the Czech-Slav Society, all the while working on the Slovak language. Their work was initially hindered with the prohibiting of the Czech-Slavic Society in 1837, but Štúr found his way around this by founding the Institute of Czecho-Slovakian Language and Literature. This was essentially the previous society under a different name. Good work Ľudovít. Štúr swanned off to Halle to study Linguistics, History and Philosophy at the Protestant University there, where the great German philosophers became a huge influence on him. He also spent large amounts of time with Czech patriots on his journeys to and from Halle, further imbuing his nationalist spirit inside.
By 1841, Štúr had begun his attempts to publish a Slovak political newspaper. Unsurprisingly these attempts were futile. This was mostly because the empires of the time only really cared about the national minorities when they needed them to be lined up and shot by enemies. This was exemplified when Štúr sent a petition to the Royal Court in Vienna asking for protection from Magyarisation. It basically led to the Magyarisation increasing. In response, Štúr did what any great intellectual of the 19th century would do and wrote a report on the state of the Slavs. His new Slovak language was spreading though, and many of his students began to use it despite the troubles it may have brought them. As the summer of 1844 came around, the first book published using this new catchall Slovak language hit the printing press. It was called ‘Nitra’.
Success spread. The very first Slovak newspaper, the imaginatively titled ‘Slovak National News’, was published, as well as a sister literary publication. By 1845, Ľudovít Štúr was universally recognised as the political leader of the Slovak people. His political program was beginning to take real shape. Contrasting with the Hungarian political movement of the time, which was essentially the plaything of the nobility, the Slovak movement was a true popular and democratic movement, with Slovaks from all walks of life backing it up. Štúr wanted to build Slovakian industry, railroads and develop new technology. By the end of 1847, he made history by becoming the only Slovakian representative in the Hungarian parliament, where he gave a series of key speeches calling for liberation for the peasants of the empire. Which obviously went down fabulously.
Things were bubbling though and in 1848 Štúr attended the Slavic Congress of Prague, a meeting of all the Slavic nationalities in the Hapsburg Empire. This was essentially the first Pan-Slavic show of resistance to the empire, although ironically Germany was the language used throughout. It also kinda ended up in fights. Still, Štúr was inspired enough to be one of the authors of ‘Requirements of the Slovak Nation’, sort of a point by point program for eventual Slovak independence. It called for autonomy from Hungary, as well as free use of Slovak as the official language and to release the peasants from serfdom. Again, the Hungarians weren’t too chuffed with this, calling it ‘pan-slav rabble rousing’, and the authors were put on to the wanted list. Štúr went to Zagreb (Croatia), and began to prepare for a fully armed uprising.
In September of the same year, that uprising began. Štúr and his Slovaks declared full independence from Hungary, and the fight was on. The Hungarians themselves were going through something of a revolutionary time as well, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Heck, the Hapsburgs were even on their side, as Hungary had begun making noises about splitting from Vienna. The Slovak National Council was established in Vienna, and Slovak volunteers would eventually help the Hapsburgs defeat the Hungarians. Their prize? Well Franz Josef eventually became absolute emperor, and the Slovaks were back at the bottom of the barrel. Sure, the language was allowed, but Štúr’s dreams of an independent Slovakia were dead. Dead as a dead dead thing. Ľudovít Štúr did what anyone would do, and headed home.
Unfortunately, the story only gets a little grimmer for our hero from here. Sure, by October 1851 the Slovak language was reformed to the version that is still in use today. After this however, his brother died. Then his father died. Then his girlfriend died. Then his mother died. Then he died. His death came about by accident, as he managed to shoot himself whilst hunting near Modra. He died a few days after his mishap of utterly excruciating pain. I assume anyway, I’ve never been shot.
Even so, Ľudovít Štúr holds a special place in Slovak history. He is regarded as the greatest of all Slovak patriots, a man who was the unquestioned leader in their national revival. His passion alone reinvigorated the Slovak national consciousness when it was at its lowest ebb. Ľudovít Štúr was truly the Slovak’s Slovakian
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