We are modern humanists, some kind of enlighteners of 21st century

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Some Definitions of Humanism  -   The Golden Rule 
Humanism and the Humanist Tradition  -   Humanism Throughout Western History  


Humanism is:
"The rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts"(Collins Concise Dictionary)

".....a non-religious philosophy, based in liberal human values." (Little Oxford Dictionary)

".......seeking, without religion, the best in, and for human beings." (Chambers Pocket Dictionary)

"...an appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and the destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality...Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God." (Oxford Companion to Philosophy)

"Humanism is a progressive life stance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity." (American Humanist Association)

"Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values - be they religious, ethical, social, or political - have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny." (The Humanist Magazine)

"Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality." (The International Humanist and Ethical Union, Minimum Statement on Humanism, 1996)

"Humanism is a philosophy, world view, or life stance based on naturalism - the conviction that the universe or nature is all that exists or is real. Humanism serves, for many humanists, some of the psychological and social functions of a religion, but without belief in deities, transcendental entities, miracles, life after death, and the supernatural. Humanists seek to understand the universe by using science and its methods of critical inquiry - logical reasoning, empirical evidence, and skeptical evaluation of conjectures and conclusions - to obtain reliable knowledge. Humanists affirm that humans have the freedom to give meaning, value and purpose to the lives by their own independent thought, free inquiry, and responsible, creative activity. Humanists stand for the building of a more humane, just, compassionate, and democratic society using a pragmatic ethics based on human reason, experience and reliable knowledge - an ethics that judges the consequences of human actions by the well-being of all life on earth. (Steven Schafersman)


In common with many non-Humanists, Humanists value other people and their happiness. Versions of the simple moral principle, commonly known as 'The Golden Rule' can be found in many cultures and religions around the globe. Humanists do not believe it was given to us by God or sacred texts but was developed by people, based on a desire to be treated well by others.


The following readings are from only a few of the people who have contributed to the Humanist tradition down the centuries. Although not all selected texts were written or spoken by people who are generally thought of as Humanists, they do express ideas and values indicative of modern Humanism. The organisation of the readings into four dimensions is for ease of understanding only and should not be interpreted as indicating that there are four discrete strands to the subject. All parts interconnect and overlap. This collection of readings is far from comprehensive, but will hopefully provide a glimpse into the Humanist tradition.


Humanism is a coherent system of belief which rejects supernaturalism (such as the 'God' concept) and promotes a scientific, experience based approach to reality, including:

PROTAGORUS (484 - 414 BCE) "About the gods, I am unable to know whether they exist or do not exist, nor what they are like in form: for there are many things that hinder sure knowledge - the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life. On the Gods

ĽUDOVÍT ŠTÚR (1815 - 1856) Slovak patriot, teacher, linguist, writer, politician, founder of literar slovak language"And thinks (catolic denomination) yet, based on its own unmistakablility, that they will stay national oracularity, when obstructing any spiritual research...?" ("A myslí si (katolická cirkev) ešte, opierajúc sa o svoju neomylnosť, že bude môcť zostať orákulom národov, keď bude potierať akýkoľvek výskum v duchovnej oblasti...?")

DAVID HUME (1711 - 1776) Scottish philosopher, regarded by some to be the greatest philosopher to have written in English. "That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish." An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748

SIR JULIAN HUXLEY (1887 - 1975) "I use the word Humanist to mean someone who believes that man is just as much a natural phenomenon as an animal or a plant, that his body, his mind and his soul were not supernaturally created but are all products of evolution, and that he is not under the control or guidance of any supernatural Being or beings, but has to rely on himself and his own powers."The Faith of a Humanist (Talk broadcast in 1960)

ISSAC ASIMOV (1920 - 1992) He was best known as a science fiction and science fact writer. He was also a committed Humanist and was President of the American Humanist Association until his death in 1992. "I believe in the scientific method and the rule of reason as the way of understanding the natural universe. I don't believe in the existence of entities that cannot be reached by such method and such a rule and that are therefore "supernatural". I certainly don't believe in the mythologies of our society, in heaven and hell, in God and angels, in Satan and demons. I've thought of myself as an "atheist", but that simply describes what I didn't believe in, not what I did".

Gradually though, I became aware that there was a movement called "Humanism", which used that name because, to put it most simply, Humanists believe that human beings produced the progressive advance of human society and also the ills that plague it. They believe that if the ills are to be alleviated, it is humanity that will have to do the job". (It's Been a Good Life).


Humanism is a coherent system of belief promoting an emphasis on freedom and liberty, including:

FRANCOISE AROUET DE VOLTAIRE (1694 - 1778) (attributed) "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)  "Why do I write? What I have in my heart must come out; and that is why I compose...

Liberty and progress are the goals of art just as in life in general. If we are not as solid as the old masters, the refinement of civilization has at least enlarged our outlook." Beethoven and Handel, The Waverly Music Lovers Library, undated.

OSCAR WILDE (1854 - 1900) One of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian Era. "Truth in matters of religion, is simply opinion that has survived." A Short Course on Humanism, British Humanist Association.

H. J. BLACKHAM (1903-) Known as the 'Father of British Humanism. He is a philosopher, writer and teacher. He founded and was the first director of the British Humanist Society. He co-founded and was the first secretary of the International and Ethical Union, "Man is not born human, he becomes human in society........Man becomes a person when he is able to choose and make himself because he finds alternatives." Humanism, 1968


Humanism is a coherent system of belief promoting an emphasis on freedom and liberty, including:

BRIDGID BROPHY (1929 - 1995) British novelist, critic and dramatist. "Our case against complusory religious worship in schools ought to be simply that it is immoral to impose on children what both sides agree to be a matter of faith, and not of demonstrable or rationally arguable - and rationally rescindable, if better evidence turns up - fact......

We are (of all the synonyms the one I most prefer to "humanist") freethinkers.....We are liberated into and given the freedom of the whole kingdom of imagination, which includes the imagery of religion.

The religionist is pinned down by his literal belief in the images of one religion and forced to shun those of all the other contradictory religions as false idols. We, by dissolving literal belief, become free to offer aesthetic belief to them all......Religious emotions are simply aesthetic ones which their owners have misinterpreted." Faith Lost - Imagination Enriched, in The Humanist Outlook, (Ed.) A.J.Ayer, 1968

ROY BROWN (1937 - ) President of the International andEthical Union (IHEU) "Fifty years ago, the founding fathers of IHEU could look back on two centuries of almost uninterrupted progress in the secularization of western society. And they looked forward with confidence to a world in which religion would have lost its power over the hearts and minds of ordinary people; a world ruled by the twin Humanist virtues of rationalism and compassion. How shocked they would be today be the resurgence, not only of religious belief, but of religion as a political force. Almost everywhere, secularism and Humanism are in retreat. In the United States, in Russia, in India and the Islamic world, the marriage of politics and religion is again being celebrated, and is again devastating the lives of millions. Faced with the increasing violence inspired by religious certainty, it would be easy to despair. But we should not, for this marriage is nothing new...I am an optimist. There is an increasing awareness among politicians and religious leaders alike that  if we are ever to escape the vortex of violence that has characterized much of human history, secularism is the only possible way forward. Rationalism and Humanism will probably never replace religious belief; human nature will see to that. So we must work for a society which permits every shade of personal belief while favouring none, which enables everyone to worship or not as they wish, but without the right to impose their religious beliefs on anyone else; a world in which every nation will have established a level playing field for believers and non-believers alike." I ask every Rationalist and Humanist to join us in this endeavour." From the President, in International Humanist News Aug. 2003


Humanism is a coherent system of belief embracing a strong ethical impulse, including:

JUSTINIAN (483 - 565) "Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render to everyone his due." The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

CHARLES DARWIN (1809 - 1882) "Looking for future generations, there is no cause to fear that the social instincts will grow weaker...The social instincts, - the prime principle of man's moral constitution - with the aid of active intellectual power and the effects of habit, naturally lead to the golden rule, 'As ye would that men should do to you; do ye to them likewise'; and this lies at the foundation of morality." The Descent of Man, 1871, Part I, Chap. IV

ĽUDOVÍT ŠTÚR (1815 - 1856) Slovak patriot, teacher, linguist, writer, politician, founder of literar slovak language "Only nation that accepts human rights to every person, in which is equality of every person, holds the love in its heart, doesn't differ any human from another,can be fair and honest nation." "Národ v ktorého duši je hlboko zakorenená úcta k právam každého človeka a pre ktorého je samozrejmosťou, že všetci sú si rovní, nosí v srdci lásku k človeku a nerobí medzi ľuďmi rozdiel a navyše sa aj sám spravuje – len takýto národ môže byť úprimným, otvoreným a čestným národom"

BERTRAND RUSSELL (EARL RUSSELL) (1872 - 1970) Philosopher and prolific writer, his books are a must read for all Humanists, Rationalists and Freethinkers. " More and more people are becoming unable to accept traditional beliefs. If they think that, apart from these beliefs, there is no reason for kindly behaviour the results may be needlessly unfortunate. That is why it is important to show that no supernatural reasons are needed to make men kind and to prove that only through kindness can the human race achieve happiness." The Faith of a Rationalist (Talk broadcast in 1947)

BABU GOGINENI (1968 -) Executive Director of the International and Ethical Union. "I believe that our social commitment should be to ever expand the frontiers of responsible human freedom....As we go out into society and we try to influence people with our rational, secular, liberating, modern ideas, we will help to humanize our society. Whether people join our organizations or not is less important than achieving a society built on human values. A society that is built on universal human values will be a Humanist one, and that is what we desire." Humanism and Ketchup, or the Future of Humanism, in International Humanist and Ethical Union 1952 - 2002, Gasenbeek and Gogineni (eds), 2000


The quest for knowledge and understanding of the world we inhabit and of ourselves as individuals and members of societies has been undertaken in every culture across the world. Although the questions are often philosophical, historical and scientific, the answers people given have commonly been religious. From a Humanist point of view, the impulse to provide supernaturalist explanations in the past has been the consequence of the limitedness of human knowledge and the place cultures have occupied in the course of human development.

The essentially naturalistic (scientifically rational) aspect of Humanism eliminates supernaturalist explanations and interpretations of human experience, so for the Humanist the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of life and the universe is not a religious quest. It is primarily a secular occupation which, in its working through, gives shape, meaning, purpose and direction to lives of those who find themselves in an essentially meaningless world.

Humanism is for the thoughtful, even philosophical, person, but one who is also appropriately grounded in the real world. It appeals to those who have enquiring minds, hold ideas and opinions of their own, and are willing to challenge current orthodoxies when these orthodoxies fail to stand up to realities of experience and evidence.

The four most characteristic features of contemporary Humanism are its empirical, freethinking, secular and ethical aspects. Taken together they comprise the core features of post-Enlightenment Humanist philosophy. Historically, however, Humanism has its roots in the ancient world where the combination of all four of these characteristics were rarely displayed in a single individual, since they are the culmination of human development and achievement over time.

Humanism in Ancient Europe (Before C4th CE)

Greek and Roman anthropomorphism with regard the gods, art, literature, philosophy, and government produced humanistic cultures which have inspired subsequent generations. The ancient western world, with its high regard for human capacity and relatively low conception of the divine, is often contrasted with the later Judeo-Christian period with its high estimate of the divine and relatively low conception of human nature without divine assistance.

It was in this cultural context that philosophy, not theology, flourished through the work of great thinkers such as Socrates (470-399 BCE). One of his admirers, Cicero (106-43 CE), said of him, "Socrates brought philosophy down from heaven to earth”. It is the manner in which he questioned many aspects of life, including the truth of the Homeric myths and the gods of Athens, which endears Socrates to modern Humanists today.

Protagoras (484-414 BCE), who held that knowledge could be identified with sense-perception, is attributed by Plato as having stated that, “man is the measure of all things, of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not”, indicating confidence in the human capacity to distinguish between true and false beliefs; in other words, to differentiate what is true from that which is not true.

Of knowledge seekers in the ancient world, none shines more brightly than Aristotle (384-322 BCE), especially in biology. In this field, his own powers of observation, his collation of the evidence of other observers, and his theoretical discussions were far ahead of his time. The greatest of modern biologists, Charles Darwin (1809-1882 CE), said of him, “Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways, but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle."

In matters of human ethics, the attitudes of the gods in these ancient times were depicted to be largely uninvolved in the social relations of people, which is fortunate as many of them are shown with little or no ethical sensitivity or moral conscience. This, however, presented a great advantage over the period of history that was to follow, as there was little interference with people’s intellectual freedom to explore ideas about moral behaviour and forms of government in which human needs and aspirations in this world were uppermost.

The Establishment of the Church in Europe (C4th CE +)

When Constantine (274-337 CE) became emperor, Christianity emerged as the specially favoured cult of the Roman empire. He passed laws against pagan practices, made considerable gifts to the churches, built others and richly endowed them, and enacted regular annual allowances for the clergy who were made exempt from municipal burdens. The immediate effect was a flood of would-be priests resulting in the churches of Carthage and Constantinople soon having 500 priests apiece.

Clerical power was extended by bishops having their decisions and moral strictures legally enforced. With the church leaders on his side and no separation of religion from the powers of state, Constantine was joyfully accepted as the head of the Church on earth. As soon as they had the power, the Christians became zealous persecutors of the pagans, and the destruction of pagan worship became a crusade.

After Constantine’s death his son, Constantius, became emperor and, in the manner of his father, he multiplied the financial privileges of the Church, giving higher stipends to the clergy and doles of corn to the congregations. To the bishops in council he announced that his will was as good as a canon; and he forbade them to condemn opinions which he held.
With the emperor at its head the Church waged war on heretics and whole troops were massacred, on one occasion more than 3,000 together. Conformity to prevailing ideas and doctrines was forcibly achieved by the brutal suppression of disobedience, dissent and nonconforming views, and written evidence of these views was destroyed. Such was the opening of the period in history known as the ‘Dark Ages’, when literacy levels fell and learning was confined to biblical scholarship in the monasteries, and the rigidly hierarchical feudal system placed much of western Europe in a holding pattern for almost 1,000 years.

Over time the feudal system and hegemonic power of the church in Christian Europe gradually weakened, and people began to move around and conduct their business more freely. This increase in travel and trade lead to the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts in Islamic centres of learning, from Baghdad in Iraq to Cordoba in Spain. The work of Aristotle was once again available to Christian scholars such as Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and contributed to the revival of interest in human oriented study.

The rediscovery of these early texts opened the minds of people to secular ethics, challenging the prevailing emphasis on the Bible as the only source of morality and wisdom. They also pointed to a new, human-centred way of life in which human dignity, happiness and the promotion of the arts and sciences could be fostered and celebrated. The thinkers and scholars who humanised education and the arts, including such notable figures as Erasmus (1466-1536), were described by the term ‘Humanists’, indicating the profound shift of perception that was taking place during this time.

The Renaissance (C15th CE +)

The Renaissance was a period of enormous upheaval. The rebirth of interest in the secular culture of the ancients (the Humanist impulse) marks a break with the clerical traditions of the Middle Ages but it was born at a time of conflict and strife. The great schism that led to the separation of the Protestant and Catholic churches was a sign of the groundswell of discontent within the churches as well as in the wider society. A history of brutal domination, forced compliance with arbitrary doctrine and canon law, the cruel ‘justice’ of the Inquisition, blatant profiteering through the debased practice of selling indulgences, and obvious official corruption had culminated in both secular and religious revolt. These conditions paved the way for the actions of individuals such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) who, having broken from Rome, succeeded in establishing an authoritarian regime of their own in which their critics were burned as heretics.

During this period many of the most notable figures of the time, including some popes, took an enlightened interest in humanistic ideas and became great patrons of the arts, which encouraged others to do the same. Selecting those with the greatest talent, they employed many of the finest artists, sculptors and musicians of their time.

The impact of scientifically based evidence that pointed to error in the Bible was, understandably, catastrophic for the Christian authorities of the time. As scientific knowledge advanced, scientists came into more and more conflict with the religious authorities as the evidence and implications of their revelations became more widely known.

Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543), using observation and mathematics, offered the sun-centred (heliocentric) theory that the earth revolves on its own axis and around the sun, along with the other planets. The response of the Church was extreme. Scientists supportive of the heliocentric theory were excommunicated and condemned to everlasting hell. If they refused to deny these new ideas, they were subject to imprisonment, torture, or even death. Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was burned at the stake in Rome as an atheist for accepting Copernican theory. In England, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who founded the empirical tradition in Britain, were both advocates of observational science. In his major work, The Advancement of Learning (1605), Bacon adopts the secular position that reason (based on experience and knowledge) and faith have separate concerns and should not encroach upon each another.

The 17th Century was one of the worst periods in the West for Freethinkers. In 1620, Vanini, who alled himself a naturalist, was burned at the stake in Toulouse as an atheist. In 1621, Fontainier was burned in Paris for the same reason. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) came under attack because he undertook to prove the Copernican theory. For this, he was summoned before the Inquisition, his books were condemned, he was forced to recant, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Given these conditions, it is perfectly understandable that Spinoza (1632-1677) refused the chair of philosophy at Heidelberg in 1673, saying “I do not know within what bounds I should have to contain the freedom of philosophising, so that I may not appear to wish to upset established religion…” His greatest work, The Ethics, was felt to be so explosive that it could not be published until after his death.

The Enlightenment (C18th)

The 18th Century, particularly in France, produced a period of great intellectual activity, in which the experimental methods in science were established as a path to knowledge, and a constant questioning of accepted truths became a crucial part of the scientific method. Political, cultural and religious matters were included in this new search for knowledge, and the scepticism of Voltaire (1694-1778) and the publishers of The Encyclopedia, Diderot, d’Alembert and others, laid the foundation for science and became the inspiration for the great discoveries of the 19th century. The naturalism of Rousseau (1712-1778) was part of this important era in France which ended with the death of Condorcet in 1794, but its influence was seminal.

Concern for the rights of the individual was vital to this philosophy, and Voltaire (1694-1778), single-handedly brought about the end of the power and right of the church to torture in France. In Germany, typical enlightenment figures were Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), Johann von Herder (1744-1803), and Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), while the discoveries of Isaac Newton (1642-1727); the philosophical theories of John Locke (1632-1704), fundamental to modern educational theory; the essays of David Hume (1711-1776) on human understanding; and the feminism of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) allow British names to be proudly associated with the great era. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) can be added as men who formed the social philosophies which underlay the American revolution. Most of these thinkers and social reformers walked a careful sceptical line in a word where it was still dangerous to totally reject belief in God, but they subjected religious dogma and ideas to powerful criticism.

The Modern World (C18th)

Enlightenment ideas and values, including those of freedom of thought, opinion and speech had an on-going influence. Concern for individual freedom and civil liberties was highlighted in the work of the Utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Mill developed Bentham’s ideas in his seminal essay, On Libertywhich was published in 1859. In it he says that all human action should aim at creating, maintaining, and increasing the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and that people have the right to think and act for themselves. This is not a sanction for irresponsible behaviour but a protest against the imposition of external ‘authority’ which reduces personal freedom.

The most important development came in the middle of the 19th century, when Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published The Origin of Species in 1859. This was particularly important because it gave deep insights into our own nature and into our place in the natural world. It is hardly possible to over emphasis the importance of Darwin’s explication of the mechanism by which evolution occurs, placing as it does the natural processes that have impelled all life at the core of human development. With this insight we cannot say that it is ‘proved’, but it is legitimate to say, as Humanists do, that evidence and reason give support to the claim that the Universe is without a god.

Humanist and Ethical Culture Movements

The secular socio-political and philosophical movements of Europe and North America in the 20th century known as Scientific Rationalism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and, most recently, just Humanism, have had an enormous influence in world affairs. Members of these movements have embodied the same ideals, beliefs and values that sprung from the pens of the Enlightenment reformers and, in order to realise their vision, they have striven tirelessly to achieve fundamental freedoms and human rights across the world. These same ideals and values have also inspired the work of world institutions such as the United Nations.

A fundamental principle of contemporary Humanism is freedom of and freedom from religion, an ideal that is far from having been achieved in this world. This concept depends on religion and religious beliefs being separated from general law, a condition vigorously resisted by religionists who want to see their particular views and morals imposed on all, including those who do not share their beliefs. It can be traced back in part to the crucial Athenian concept of isonomia (equality before the law) and points to the basic precept that all people have fundamental human rights which should be upheld. It is the case that when religion is allowed to impact on the formulation of laws and the process of government, democratic principles are impaired and social injustice in one way or another always follows.

To avoid these injustices, contemporary Humanism is essentially secular itself, and promotes the progressive secularisation of civil society. The Oxford English Dictionary records the use of the term “secular” to mean “belonging to the world, as distinct from the church and religion”. This usage is found as early as 1290. A highly significant development is recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in the following definition of secularism which it dates 1851: “The doctrine that morality should be based on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or a future state.” As George Holyoake (1817-1906) said, “Leave religious dreamers to wait on supernatural aid – let us look to what man can do for man.”


Secular humanists are always educated people

Univ. prof. PhDr. Matúš Kučera, DrSc.

History often distinguishes between those peoples with a history, and those without. The first bathe in a limelight of glory, the second lurk anonymously in the shadows. For ages on end, the Slovaks were not even referred to in such classifications at all. Until a very recent period indeed, they remained ignored by other Europeans, and an observation offered by a Sorbonne professor in the early years of this century, Ernest Denis, author of La Question d´Autriche (The Issue of Austria), might still have been made only yesterday. ´Rare are those with any notion of the Slovaks´, he writes. ´Even educated people know them hardly at all, and would find difficulty placing them upon a map.´ Considered as a people without a past, as a nation of mere peasants and herders subject to their neighbours, Slovaks were hardly recognised as enjoying any identity at all, and as for history - even less. Hence the Slovak people’s entrance upon the international stage on January 1st, 1993, and the recognition of their existence by seventy-one States, finally hoisted them out of a historic rut wherein they had languished for the last thousand years.

Five years after independence, and despite doubts expressed by various observers, Slovakia had stabilised her economy, set up a democratic system on the European model, and guaranteed her citizens´ civil rights. She had demonstrated the soundness of her will to integrate the economic, political, and security structures of Europe and the United States. Her history, so long unknown, now pleaded on her behalf. Few European peoples indeed overcame such unfavourable conditions in order to forge an identity and manage to constitute a modern State. Her national identity, beaten down for centuries by those who successively dominated the country, only emerged after the very greatest difficulties. Such characteristic should be borne in mind by those who would understand why Slovakia, now that she has secured recognition, also craves respect.

Greater Moravia

The geographical and political space occupied by the Slovaks took shape along the middle course of the Danube as far as the inner arch of the Carpathian highlands, and was settled by human beings in prehistoric times, followed by Celtic tribes who prospered around a centre which would one day become Bratislava. Roman conquest incorporated Slovakia, then known as Pannonia, into the Empire, and several Emperors paused here. Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-Caesar, spent time on the river Hron, and Valentinian I. died in AD 375 in the town of Komarno. During the Great Migrations, successive waves of Slavs entered and settled the land, and as happened in other areas of the former Roman Empire, learned the basics of civilisation - from farming to the arts of war - from those whom they had subdued. Thus did the kingdom of Samo come into being, which ensured the defence of the entire region against the invading Avars in the 7th century AD. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus then bestowed upon this realm its name of Greater Moravia.

Greater Moravia formed around two centres, one in southern Moravia, the other in western Slovakia in the present town of Nitra, ancient Nitrava - and gradually waxed in power. The first Slovak monarch, Pribina, ruled in Nitra, and here the first Christian church was raised and consecrated in the year 823 by the Archbishop of Salzburg, Adalram. In the middle of the ninth century, while Nitriva was now raised to the rank of a bishopric, Michael III of Byzantium sent on mission to Moravia the bishop Cyril, accompanied by his brother Methodius, to pursue the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity. Cyril translated the Bible into the language of the Slavs, and devised for the purpose an alphabet derived from the Greek - so giving rise to the Cyrillic script. Slovakia thus became the cradle of a new liturgical language which, in turn, spawned a secular literature and an epic poetry whose fame came to spread throughout much of Eastern Europe.

Greater Moravia´s zenith coincided with the reign of Svätopluk in the later 9th century. This ruler considerably extended his kingdom’s way in the directions of Bohemia, Poland, and also present-day Hungary - at that time still peopled by Slavs - and so turned his State into the mightiest in Central Europe. Svätopluk´s powerful personality even fed speculation that he might be elected Holy Roman Emperor. His death in 894, however, brought on his kingdom’s downfall: it dissolved through internal dissension and collapsed in the reign of his son. The collective memory of the Slovaks, steeped in the past glory of this key period in their history, always nostalgically cherishes recollection of this age when the conversion of their land to Christianity - as they like to point out - opened the way for bringing the Gospel to all the other peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. Svätopluk´s own epic glory was long sung by Slovak bards - the igritz - who spread his legend through the ages down to the period of national rebirth in the 18th century. These two leading moments in Slovakia´s history - Svätopluk´s rule and the country’s 18th-century resurgence - together find mention today in the preamble to the Republic’s Constitution.

After the disappearance of Greater Moravia, the western portion of the kingdom was annexed by Bohemia, the region around the Vistula went to Poland, while Nitra and the area below the Danube eventually became part of the territory where Hungary was born. Although the Principality of Nitra was able to cling to a measure of independence for a spell, Slovakia ended by losing her entire political, religious and cultural autonomy. But since Hungary under the protection of Rome enjoyed ties with the leading centres of medieval Europe, Slovakia, too, became open to decisive influences from the West. By the 13th century, Slovaks were seen in the Universities of Padua, Bologna and even Paris. The rise of churches and town halls in the Gothic style bears witness to this imprint. The town of Bardejov, on the easternmost threshold of the country, thus boasts a municipal palace in the Late or Flamboyant Gothic manner whose faç ade is adorned with a statue of Roland - facing East.

For the Slovaks became aware from very early on that they constituted the ultimate, easternmost frontier of Christian civilisation. After beating back the Avars, the Tatars, and then the Hungarians, they stood as guardians of Europe’s borderland for a hundred years before the expanding Ottoman Empire. But war against the Turks, and Hungary’s defeat at Mohacs at the hands of Sultan Sü leymâ n the Magnificent in 1526, harrowed the land. Seeking refuge in the highlands, the Slovaks resisted Islamization, then descended back into the southern plains ravaged and depopulated by successive wars. Thus began a process of emigration which gave birth to the Slovak minorities in Yugoslavia, Rumania, Croatia, and especially Hungary.

The Renewal of a National Idea

Only by the end of the 18th century did the national idea recover its original vitality among an intelligentsia for the most part sprung from the people - rather than from the highly Magyarized aristocracy. The project of a Slovak nation was defended for the first time by Balthazar Magin, and then by the Catholic clergy. Priests, in fact, were led to play a highly important role in the spread of nationalist ideas, with Anton Bernolák (1762-1813) standing out in particular. Aware that a written language constitutes the indispensable core for the formation of a nation, this priest attempted to create a literary language from elements of a Western Slovak dialect, and published the first Slovak grammar. His attempt was resisted by the Hungarian authorities, and appeared to fail. But the nationalist idea of the movement he had launched gained headway among the people, even among the illiterate majority of them. The Catholic nationalists were later joined by Protestant intellectuals, graduates of Bratislava Gymnasium, and these set up a political and cultural programme with the aim of liberating Slovakia. One of their leaders, Ľudovít Štúr, created the present Slovak language upon the basics of, this time, a dialect from Central Slovakia, and founded the first Slovak periodical: Slovenské Národné Noviny. The new liberation programme proclaimed that Slovaks should rid themselves of Habsburg supremacy, and that as a sovereign people with their own traditions and language, they should not fuse with the Czechs. A literary movement sprang up, sparkling with writers and poets soon to become celebrated throughout the Slavic world - Janko Kráľ, Ján Botto, Pavol Jozef Šafárik, Ľudovít Štúr, Ján Kollár, Jozef Miloslav Hurban -, and these men swiftly became involved on behalf of liberation. In alliance with the clergy, the intellectual élite took advantage of the invent a flag and national anthem. The failure of the revolution in Hungary doomed their struggle, and a forced linguistic Magyarization of the land put a brutal end to the hopes that had been aroused. Persecution, however, spurred further revolt, and the Slovaks became determined to make themselves heard by the Hungarian Government: at the national gathering of Saint Martin of Turiec, on June 6th, 1861, they adopted a memorandum according to which they waived any further idea of transforming Hungary into a federally-organised State. In exchange, however they insisted that the kingdom should show them the same affection and respect as it did towards Hungarians: ´We are people in our own right, as they are. Our rights can be no less than those which they enjoy. Let there be freedom, equality and brotherhood for all people who dwell in the kingdom.´ Other demands included formation of a distinct administrative entity, means with which to found schools, and the creation of a Faculty of Law and a Department of Languages and Literature at the University of Budapest. While they urged free use of the Slovak language throughout the territories where it was spoken, the nationalists acknowledged Hungarian, however, as the sole administrative language.

But the authorities did not even take the trouble to read this text, and the Slovak delegation, led by Bishop Stefan Moyzes, had to address themselves directly to Emperor Franz-Jozef in order to make themselves heard. Soon after, in 1863, the Slovaks did receive permission to found their own national cultural institution, the Slovak Matica, along with three Gymnasiums. Such success proved short-lived, however: Kalman Tisza´s Government suppressed these institutions, and appropriated for its own use the funds which had been collected to create them.

Incipient Freedom

The cataclysm provoked by the First World War finally provided the Slovaks with an opportunity to escape from the grip of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a true ´prison of the people´ as it was then known, and so find their own way towards realisation of their national destiny. History has not yet rendered full justice to those Slovak-Americans who then worked on behalf of their native land for the establishment of balanced international relations in post- 1918 Central Europe. As soon as war was declared, the Slovaks in America collected significant sums to make known their countrymen’s plight throughout the American and European - and particularly the French - press. Slovak-Americans, in fact, with men like T.G.Masaryk, signed the Pittsburgh Convention - Pittsburgh then being the greatest centre of Slovak emigration - providing for the founding framework of a federal-type Czechoslovak Republic where the rights of Slovaks would be recognised as those of one of the two co-founding peoples. On October 28, 1918, the new State made its appearance on the international scene. Some observers doubted, however, whether it would prove viable if relations between the two peoples were not established on an equitable bases. Indeed, as early as 1909, Ernest Denis had noted: ´Decline and servitude for the Slovaks would constitute an irreparable disaster for the Czechs (...) Only if the Slovaks find in the Kingdom of Saint Wenceslas their due place in the sun will the light of freedom swiftly dispel the rank and contagious mists of Hungarian corruption. To the Czech Kingdom, they will contribute their youth and enthusiasm, and thereby mitigate the delicate caution of their elder brethren. The issue of Slovakia is of European importance, and the safeguarding of the Slovak people is one of the conditions for the freedom of the world.´

Such warnings were made in vain. The first Constitution of the Czech Republic, which saw the light in 1920, made no provision for the right of the Slovaks to exist as an independent people. Mention was only made of a single ´Czechoslovak´ people, meaning, for practical purposes, the Czechs alone. While the formula specifying ´One State, One Nation´ undeniably brought some benefits to the Slovaks, it also sowed the seeds of partition over the long term by failing to respect their right to self-determination. Nor were the Slovaks alone in claiming such a right: four million Germans included within the borders of the new Republic were keen to enjoy it as well. After twenty years of existence, the Republic was swept away by Hitler, who tore off Bohemia and Moravia to form a protectorate. Slovakia was thus left alone, to face the tender mercies of Fascist Hungary to the South, and Poland to the North. After centuries of struggle on behalf of her sovereignty, circumstances now seemed finally to offer her the opportunity of becoming an independent State under the leadership of Father Jozef Tiso, in 1939. But under the influence of the dictatorial practices of the IIIrd Reich, the State apparatus of the new Republic became mired down in a pro-German policy: political pluralism for different parties was suppressed, racialist doctrines with their well-known consequences made their appearance, and a conquering militarist spirit was inculcated - all of which was profoundly foreign to the Slovak way of thinking. Catholic Slovakia had long been steeped in pacifism, had ignored territorial ambitions, and had never taken up arms against her neighbours. Rejected as they were by the majority of the population, the Tiso Government’s pro-Fascist policies provoked the national uprising of August 1944. Their anti-Fascist insurrection allowed the Slovak people to emerge from World War II on the side of the victors. Edvard Beneš, President of the Government of Czechoslovakia in exile, who had signed a treaty of alliance with Moscow in 1943, was in a position to found a new Republic with elements of a federal basis and where the principle of equality between both peoples was recognised. Again, to no avail: for while the 1948 elections yielded more than 60 % of the vote to the Democratic Party in Slovakia, the Communists scored a clear victory in neighbouring Bohemia. The ensuing chain of events is well known: under pressure from Moscow, Beneš was forced to form an exclusively Communist Government. Less well-known is what followed ´the Prague coup´: persecution for Slovak Communists like G. Husák and L. Novomeský, condemned to lengthy prison sentences, and outright execution for others like V. Clementis. Citizens´ rights and individual freedoms were abolished and police terror fell upon the population. Only the 20th Congress of the Soviet Union allowed some relaxation of political tension. A few years later, a Slovak, Alexander Dubček, became the incarnation of the ´Prague Spring´ with its progressive socialism: soon to be crushed, however, under the tanks of the Red Army and its Warsaw Pact allies. A painful spell of ´normalization´ followed hard upon.

Freedom Gained in Peace

When Communism’s crisis reached its ultimate outcome, the regime collapsed like a heap of cards. In the euphoria which followed the recovery of freedom, it was still found necessary to bring fresh examination to bear on the difficult relations between Slovaks and Czechs. The Slovaks wished to return to the working federalism which had begun to take shape in 1968, whereas the Czechs, even those who had been members of Charter 77, preferred resuming the procedures of Masaryk´s Republic. This the Slovaks could not accept. Quarrels erupted daily, struggles over the internal structure of the State and the sharing of responsibility became ever harsher, and relations between both peoples became strained almost to breaking point. The results of the 1992 elections, however, provided a more favourable climate for resolving the issue. The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, the winner in the elections, had based its programme on the idea of confederation, but will was lacking on the Czech side to allow implementation of such an idea: hence the decision to partition the State among two distinct and independent Republics.

It is to the honour of both peoples that they proved so able to settle their differences though negotiation and parliamentary procedures, despite the immense difficulty of the task at hand. Highest credit for this, as History will one day show, should go to two men, Vladimír Mečiar and Václav Klaus, who refused to allow matters to get out of hand. While other States in Europe were born in blood, war and suffering, here two democratic republics saw the light of day without the firing of a single shot. I am not certain that Europeans have drawn all the inferences from such an unprecedented experiment. When, on January 1st, 1993, the Slovak Republic appeared on the map, she was still frail and had undergone great losses through partition. Since then, however, she has overcome the major hurdles in her path, and while few years of existence are hardly sufficient to pass judgement on the results, her harmonious development with help from no outside quarter cannot be denied. Has the time now come to show her trust and support?

Throughout their history, the Slovaks have furnished proof of their remarkable spirit for resistance. During the thousand years when they dwelt under Hungarian sway, then through the seventy years of Czechoslovakia, they have managed to remain themselves. Fully European as they are in their own right, they have yet had to follow a long and arduous path towards sovereignty: hence their determination to build a democratic society open to all and to reinforce their State with due respect for republican ideals and with no threat to any of their neighbours. As all of us must be aware, such a process takes time. Deeply European as they are through their culture, history, and work, the Slovaks have succeeded in overcoming the injustices and neglect of which they were the victims. In this they have found great help through their vitality, their creativity, and their enthusiasm. Such qualities ought to allow them to find integration within Europe. Or so, at least, they hope.


The capital city of Slovak Republic Bratislava by night, Danube River

Spišský Castle - The greatest in Central Europe - is on the list of world cultural and natural heritage and is protected by UNESCO

Peak Kriváň ("Peak Bowed") in High Tatras - Symbol of Patriots in Slovakia

Štrbské Pleso (village) with Lake Štrbské pleso in High Tatras
Štrbské Pleso was host to the 1970 World Ski Championship in Nordic events. The High Tatras are part of th Tatra National Park

Košice - Home town of National Institute of F. M. Voltaire

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