Emerging from the nationalist democratic movements of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Slovakia is one of the newest countries in the world. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 797,764 Americans and 50,860 Canadians claimed Slovak ancestry. These figures underrepresent the actual numbers, as 440,000 Americans and 33,540 Canadians claimed Czechoslovakian ancestry, and these would undoubtedly include many of Slovak descent. Slovaks spread widely throughout the industrial North and upper Midwest in the United States, with particular concentrations in Pennsylvania and Ohio. About 60 percent of Slovakian Canadians live in Ontario.
Slovakia occupies 18,800 square miles in east-central Europe. It is bordered by Poland on the north, Hungary on the south; Austria and the Czech Republic on the west, and Ukraine on the east. In 2002, the population was estimated at 5,414,937. The people were about 86 percent Slovak, 10.5 percent Hungarian, and 1.7 percent Gypsy. About 60 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and 8 percent, Protestant; there is also a large nonreligious population. Slovakia was originally settled by Illyian, Celtic, and Germanic tribes and was incorporated into Great Moravia in the ninth century. It became part of Hungary in the 11th century, but was conquered by Czech Hussites in the 15th century, before being restored to Hungarian rule in 1526. The Slovaks disassociated themselves from Hungary after World War I (1914–18), joining the Czechs of Bohemia to form the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918. In 1938, after agreements with Britain and France, Germany occupied the westernmost portion of Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland. Russian and Czech troops began to liberate Czechoslovakia in 1944. Following World War II (1939–45), Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet domination until the fall of the Czechoslovak socialist state in 1989 and when Slovaks pressed their autonomy. In 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two states—the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia, with its less developed economy, applied to join the European Union in 1995.
Most Slovaks entered the United States as a part of the new immigration between 1880 and 1924, when mainly young men came to work in mines and factories. Most, however, eventually brought their families to settle. Exact figures are difficult to determine, as Slovaks were listed as Hungarians prior to 1899 and frequently as such thereafter (see Hungarian immigration). The best estimates suggest that between 450,000 and 500,000 Slovaks became permanent residents of the United States, with hundreds of thousands eventually returning to their homeland. Following passage of the restrictive Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, all Czechoslovakian immigration averaged only about 600 per year until the fall of the Communist government, when numbers slightly increased. From its independence in 1993 until 2002, Slovak immigration to the United States averaged a little more than 600 per year.
The first significant Slovak immigration to Canada came between 1900 and 1914, when about 5,000 came to work in Rocky Mountain mines or in railway construction, many of them migrating from Pennsylvania. During the 1920s and 1930s, another 40,000 came, often working as farm laborers, domestics, or in the timber industry. Finally, a relatively small number of highly educated Slovaks came to Canada just after World War II and at the time of the Soviet suppression of the Prague Revolt of 1968. Again, figures are unreliable, both because immigrants from the Austrian Empire were not differentiated before World War I, but also because Slovaks emigrating from the United States were not counted. Of the 10,450 Slovakian immigrants in Canada in 2001, about half came after the democratic revolution in 1989.
See also Austro-Hungarian immigration; Czech immigration; Gypsy immigration.