1) Who are Slovaks?
So who are Slovaks? 🙂
Before we start the tour across the land between the Tatras and Danube (as Slovaks like to call their homeland), let me introduce a few famous Slovaks whom you might know. The best way is to start with sportsmen as most of people know countries through sports, thanks to Olympics or football and rugby world cups, right? So if you are an Italian or English football fan, I am sure you have heard about midfielder Marek Hamšík from Napoli SSC and defender Martin Škrteľ from FC Liverpool. Even though the latter one´s name is hard to pronounce for a non-Slovak, he is a well known bald-head face of the Liverpool defense and the Reds fans love him while the other fans yell at him because he is a good old fashioned hardcore defenseman. He is great for the English football league. Marek Hamšík, meanwhile, is a technical and dribbler kind of a player who is also a playmaker and is very valuable not only for Napoli but also for the Slovak national team which managed (with him, Škrteľ and others) to qualify for World Cup 2010 (and beat Italy there!) and Euro 2016. In both cases they made it to the second round. Not bad for a little country, isn´t it?
Anyway, I guess that even other football fans from Spain, Germany or Denmark know at least Hamšík´s name. And if you are a Scott and you happen to be a die-hard Celtic fan, you will surely know Lubo Moravčík and Stan Varga. Both good footballers. In Moravčík´s case actually excellent. Only Hamšík can be compared to him from current players. Real Madrid and Real Oviedo fans will remember late Peter Dubovský, older fans will remember the Czechoslovak team which won the European championship in 1976 and took bronze four years later. Coincidentally, most of the team at the time consisted of Slovak players. And many (including me) might remember the amazing CS team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy (finished sixth and was eliminated by later champions Germany in quarterfinals after a 0:1 loss from a made-up penalty).
But let´s move away from football and have a look at the narrow roads of the Tour de France. Do you remember that guy in green shirt who did the Hulk or Forrest Gump sketches on the bike and won the sprinters competition in several years in a row? Peter Sagan, yes. And – suprise, suprise! – he is a Slovak, too. And Slovaks are extremly proud of him. He is a winner, he is funny and he has a style.
Another sports which generated good Slovak players is ice hockey. Swedes, Finns, Russians or Canadians know for sure who is Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, Peter Bondra, Ziggy Palffy, Zdeno „Big Z“ Chára, Pavol Demitra or Miro Šatan (read Shatan; he is known for his kinda funny last name which ended up in a famous banner by Buffalo Sabres fans – Thank you God for Satan). All these guys – and many other whom hockey fans would surely know – played (or still play) in NHL, have played in Slovak national team and helped Slovakia to its world champions title in 2002 and in addition to that also two silver and one brozne medal. Oh, and the semi-final in Vancouver 2010 Winter olympics. Not too bad for nation of 5,4 million nation, huh?
Looking back into the history, there are some famous Slovaks, too. Many of you will surely recognize the name Alexander Dubček. He was the political leader of the Prague Spring movement in 1968 which tried to make communist Czechoslovakia a little more open and free country and generally a better place to live. However, these hopes were crushed by Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks in August 1968 and Dubček was removed from power. He became the Speaker of the Federal Assembly after the 1989 revolution but died in 1992 after a tragic car accident. Many foreigners think of him as of Czech politician, but Slovaks proudly correct everyone that he was one of them.
Parachute is another thing which has a Slovak connection. The guy who kinda invented it in early 20th century came from Trnava region (Western Slovakia) and his name was Štefan Banič. He even got it patented.
Oh, and the Moon. Eugene Cernan, the last man walking on the Moon (so far) was American astronaut but his family came from northern Slovakia. And he visited the region of his grandparents in 1990s, so he obviously knows where his name comes from. Good for Slovaks.
Okay, these are people whom you may know. In general, Slovaks are friendly people and you will have a great deal of fun with them. They like to enjoy the life, they are solid drinkers and they travel a lot (especially the young and educated) and like good humor. They are warm-hearted and and they will gladly show you around and talk to you (if they speak a foreign language, but it is not a condition – my Danish friend got along with bus drivers in Slovakia without English or German). On the other side, they often tend to be gloomy when it comes to their own country and the economic or political developments there and they can be jealous when someone in their surroundings is more successful than they are (not a rule though!). A chunk of the population is quite pro-Russian, even though the recent history would give you an impression that the Russians are not welcome here. Wrong. Russians are still welcome, but the other part of the population likes the European Union membership and the West. Historically, Slovaks belong to the West but the decades of Russian influence and Russian communism took its toll. This division disappears when Slovakia plays a hockey or football match – they all cheer.
Also, Slovakia is a land of cars. Not that they drive here in millions, but they are produced here in such numbers that it makes Slovakia the biggest car producer per person. In Europe, at least. No wonder when major automobile brands have their factories here – Volkswagen. Kia, Peugeot-Citroen and Land Rover. And when you add the sub-producers producing for these factories, you get the clear picture what is the main driving force of the Slovak economy. It is like the oil and gas for Norway or electronics for Japan.