Slovak Republic

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Slovak Republic

Slovak Republic

Slovakia, republic in central Europe, bordered on the north by Poland, on the east by Ukraine, on the south by Hungary, and on the west by Austria and the Czech Republic. Formerly parts of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic emerged as independent republics on January 1, 1993. Slovakia has an area of 49,035 sq km (18,932 sq mi). Bratislava is the capital and largest city.

Land and Resources

Slovakia is traversed and partly enfolded by the Carpathian Mountains in the west. The High Tatra range in the north includes Slovakia's highest point, Gerlachovský Peak, at 2,655 m (8,711 ft). In the east, lowlands constitute the extension of the Plain of Hungary. The most fertile soils are located in the south. The Carpathian Mountains have little fertile land and are mostly covered with stony soil.

Rivers

Various rivers flow through Slovakia, including the Váh, Hron, Bodrog, Poprad, Hornad, and Ondava. The Danube forms part of the republic's southern border with Hungary, and the Morava serves as part of its border with the Czech Republic. The republic has many natural springs, which are promoted to attract tourists.

Climate

Slovakia has a primarily humid continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. The Carpathian Mountains endure harsher winters and receive heavy rainfall. The lowland regions in the east have hot summers and less rain. The average temperature in Bratislava in January is -0.7° C (30.5° F); in July it is 19.1° C (66.5° F). The average annual precipitation is 650 mm (25.5 in).

Plants and Animals

Spruce and fir trees are most common in Slovakia's forests, particularly at higher elevations, while mixed forests of oak, ash, and maple are characteristic in lower zones. The uncultivated lowlands are covered primarily with clover, reeds, and broom grass. Wildlife is becoming scarce because of pollution and deforestation, but wolves, brown bears, wild boar, wildcats, white eagles, chamois, and foxes are found in the mountainous Carpathian region. The greylag goose, and such waterfowl as the osprey, cormorant, and heron, are common in the marshes and river basins of the lowlands.

Mineral Resources

Coal is the most common and profitable natural resource in Slovakia, particularly brown coal and lignite. Unfortunately, increased excavation and use of coal has wreaked environmental havoc on air and water quality, which has subsequently affected the health of the populace.

In early 1993 the government began enacting environmental legislation to combat pollution in the republic.

Population

Slovaks, a Slavic people, constitute about 85 per cent of the population in Slovakia. Absorbed by the Magyars of Hungary at the beginning of the 10th century, the Slovaks spent the following thousand years as a peasant people, a situation which bred historic tensions with the neighbouring Czechs, who usually formed the local social and political elites. The republic is also home to approximately 570,000 ethnic Hungarians (over 10 per cent of the total population), as well as some 300,000 Gypsies and small populations of Poles, Germans, Russians, and Ukrainians. There is some ethnic tension between the Slovak majority and Hungarians.

Population Characteristics

Slovakia has a population of 5,367,800 (1995 official estimate). The average population density is 110 people per sq km (285 per sq mi). The population is 59 per cent urban. Slovakia's western regions are the most densely populated, the southern and eastern provinces being relatively sparsely settled.

Political Divisions and Principal Cities

For administrative purposes, Slovakia is divided into four regions, including the separate capital area of Bratislava, and these regions are further divided into 38 municipalities (okresy); however, these divisions are not strongly empowered or defined in Slovakia's constitution. The four provincial regions are: Západoslovenský (West Slovakia), with a population of 1,725,352 (1994 estimate); Stredoslovenský (Central Slovakia), with a population of 1,636,003; and Východoslovenský (East Slovakia), with a population of 1,544,077.
The capital city and administrative region of Bratislava, with an area of 368 sq km (142 sq mi), has a population of 450,775 (1994 estimate). Other major cities and their populations (1994) include Košice (239,927); Nitra (87,127); Prešov (92,013); and Banská Bystrica (84,741).

Religion

Most Slovaks practise some form of Christian religion, primarily Roman Catholicism. Over 60 per cent of the population is Roman Catholic. There are also Protestant (chiefly Calvinist and Lutheran), Eastern Orthodox, and other smaller religious minorities. Roman Catholicism is politically important.

Language

The Slovak language is the official language and belongs to the West Slavic sub-group of the Indo-European language family, though it uses Roman rather than Cyrillic script. It differs only slightly from Czech, and fluency in both languages is common. Hungarian, Polish, German, Ukrainian, Romany, and Russian are also spoken as minority languages.

Education

Education is free and compulsory for all children from 6 to 14 years.

In the mid-1990s some 675,813 pupils were enrolled at some 2,481 primary schools, and around 327,387 secondary pupils were enrolled at some 720 secondary and vocational schools. Institutes of higher education include the Comenius University of Bratislava (1919), and Šafárik University (1959) in Košice. In the mid-1990s around 69,042 students were enrolled in higher education.

Culture

Slovak culture has historically been overshadowed by Czech achievements, a situation not helped by the traditional rural and peasant basis of Slovak life. However, Slovak literature has a notable independent existence, with particular strength in lyric poetry. There is also a strong folk music tradition, which has engendered a regionally based school of classical music composition. The Slovak National Library is in Martin, while the chief museums are the Slovak National Museum and the Slovak National Gallery, both in Bratislava.

Economy

Slovakia has historically been less developed economically than neighbouring Czech regions, a pattern perpetuated throughout the period of united Czechoslovakia. Though Slovakia immediately won international recognition, it also inherited a disadvantaged economy when it became an independent nation in 1993. While still part of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia contributed only one-tenth of the federal budget and one-quarter of the gross domestic product (GDP). In part, this can be attributed to the republic's late industrialization (it began to build industry only after 1948). This industrialization, often military-related and heavily dependent on the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and other Eastern European countries, received a great blow following the demise of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) and other structural arrangements between the former Communist states in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In order to smooth the transition from the former Czechoslovakia, the Czech and Slovak governments agreed to maintain a common currency and a customs union, as well as an open border. While the customs union and open border were implemented, the two republics began using separate currencies on February 8, 1993. Trade between them fell sharply.
Slovakia was automatically granted membership of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development following separation from the Czech Republic. Despite tax holidays and other policies to encourage foreign investment, Slovakia remained a recipient of substantial economic aid from the IMF and the European Union. By mid-1994, unemployment approached 15 per cent, with inflation at 14 per cent.

The country's two primary economic areas are still industry and agriculture.

Unlike the government of the Czech Republic, Slovak officials were initially not enthusiastic about free-market reforms and also did not oppose having former Communists as members of the new government. Foreign investment has tended to favour the neighbouring Czech Republic at Slovakia's expense. Nevertheless, a group of Slovak-Americans have established an American Enterprise Fund in Bratislava to assist Slovak entrepreneurs. Criticisms that the Slovakian economy was still very much state-dominated helped bring about the downfall of the first post-Communist national government in early 1994, and the succeeding administration undertook a more aggressive policy of economic reform. Slovakia had an annual gross national product of US$11.9, billion in 1994 (1992-1994 prices) or US$2,230 per capita. The national budget for the fiscal year 1994 included revenue of US$4 billion and expenditure of US$4.5 billion.

Agriculture

Slovakian agriculture is limited to around one-third of the country's territory, with some 1.48 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of arable land, and contributes around 7 per cent of the gross domestic product. Wheat, barley, maize, and sugar beet are the principal crops in the fertile lowland regions; the poorer mountain soils support rye, oats, potatoes and other vegetables, and flax, as well as sheep. Average annual agricultural production in the early 1990s included about 2.1 million tonnes of wheat, 874,000 tonnes of barley, 521,000 tonnes of maize, 96,000 tonnes of rye, 1.1 million tonnes of sugar beet, and 399,000 tonnes of potatoes. Livestock in the early 1990s numbered 2 million pigs, 916,000 cows, 397,000 sheep, and 13.9 million chickens.

Forestry

Commercial forestry in Slovakia has suffered from considerable pollution damage to local forests. Roundwood removals in the early 1990s amounted annually to some 3.7 million cu m (130.6 million cu ft).

Mining

Minerals extracted in Slovakia include lignite and brown coal, lead, zinc, copper, iron ore and magnesite. Despite government efforts to curb pollution, coal resources remain economically important. Annual production in the early 1990s included 2.8 million tonnes of brown coal, 1.34 million tonnes of lignite, 1.63 million tonnes of iron ore, 11,313 tonnes of copper concentrates, and 6.8 million tonnes of zinc concentrates.

Manufacturing

The legacy of Communist-style inefficient heavy industry, including substantial arms plants, has handicapped Slovakian manufacturing growth. Between 1991 and 1992, Slovak industrial production declined nearly 50 per cent.

Major industries include steel products, chemicals, textiles and clothing, glass, and construction materials.

Energy

The chief energy source of Slovakia is hydroelectric power, an area that has also caused environmental problems as well as international dispute. The Gabcíkovo dam project began as a joint effort with Hungary in 1978, involving the construction of two dams and the diversion of the Danube River. When Hungary pulled out of the project because of environmental concerns in 1989, the Slovak government decided to complete its own half of the work. This resulted in the diversion of the Danube to a channel entirely within Slovakia, and also lowered the river level, interrupting shipping. When mediation of the problem was unsuccessful, the dispute was referred to the International Court of Justice in April 1993. Nuclear power is also a significant generating resource, contributing around 55 per cent of capacity. In the mid-1990s around 24.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity were generated annually.

Currency and Banking

The monetary unit of Slovakia is the Slovak koruna of 100 halier (33.15 koruna equal US$1; 1997). Slovakia and the Czech Republic agreed to a currency union after separation, but the quick decoupling of the two currencies in a matter of weeks reflected ongoing tensions between the two republics. Although both currencies started out roughly equal in value, the Slovak koruna was devalued in July 1993 by 10 per cent.
The central bank and bank of issue is the Slovak National Bank, which enjoys constitutional autonomy on the model of the German Bundesbank. Private banks have operated since the introduction of reforms in the former federal Czechoslovakia, and there are now over 30 banks operating in Slovakia.

Foreign Trade

Slovakia relies on trade, not least with its former federal partner the Czech Republic, to boost its economy; despite which, trade with the Czech Republic fell by a third following separation. In March 1993 the Czechs and Slovaks signed separate GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) accords for international trade. Despite an agreement made with Poland and Hungary to set up a free-trade zone, Slovakia continued to have trade problems in the first half of 1993. In the mid-1990s annual exports totalled around US$8.8 billion and imports around US$8.7 billion. Chief trading partners are Russia, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Principal exports are semi-manufactured and manufactured goods, machinery, chemicals, and food; chief imports are petroleum, machinery and transport equipment, raw materials, and chemical products.

Transport

Slovakia has a relatively modern transport infrastructure, albeit fairly low density.

There are some 3,660 km (2,274 mi) of railway track, roughly a third of which is electrified. There are some 17,700 km (10,998 mi) of roads, including almost 200 km (124 mi) of motorways. In the mid-1990s there were around 994,046 private cars and 171,125 lorries and buses in Slovakia. The national airline is Slov-Air, with the chief international airport at Bratislava.

Communications

Slovakia has 22 daily newspapers, of which the most important dailies are Novy Cas and Pravda. Total circulation in the early 1990s was around 1,291,000. Slovak Television is the major television broadcaster, and there are also private networks. In the early 1990s Slovakia had some 1,305,440 telephones, 1.1 million radios, and 1.6 million televisions.

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