On August 4, 1863, the Slovak cultural institution Matica slovenská was founded in the city of Martin to promote Slovak culture and identity within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Then part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which in turn was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Slovakia was allowed and encouraged by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I to found a national cultural institution, and in August 1863, the Matica slovenská was founded.
Inspired by the establishment of the Serbian and Czech Matica, the Slovak Matica established education, research, and publishing programmes, laying the foundations for library and archive activities. It drew members from all parts of the nation and, despite being forbidden from getting involved in political activities, became a representative and a symbol of Slovak “independence”.
Gradually, the Matica slovenská became a center of Slovak national life and served as a substitute for national political institutions, which had been prohibited in Hungary. By 1873, the Matica had 1,300 members, many of which included entities such as municipalities, libraries, schools and associations.
But in 1875, Hungarian prime minister Kálmán Tiszathe abolished the Matica slovenská, deeming it to be “anti-patriotic”, with the confiscated property going on to support the process of enforced Magyarization in Slovakia.
The Matica slovenská could not resume its activities until after the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, after which it played an important role in furthering the development of Slovak culture.
But its controversial views have drawn criticism in recent years, particularly its defence of the Slovak State, the partially-recognized client state of Nazi Germany founded in 1939 which played a role in the deportation of Slovak Jews during the Holocaust. In a 2017 video entitled “Without March 14”, the Matica Slovenská relativized the responsibility of the first Slovak State and its leading representatives in the tragic destiny of over 75,000 Slovak citizens.
In communist Czechoslovakia, the Slovak branch of the Communist Party worked to promote Slovak identity under the leadership of Alexander Dubček, which mainly took the form of celebrations and commemorations, such as the centenary of the Matica slovenská in 1963.
Known as Deň Matice Slovenskej, the anniversary of the establishment of Matica slovenská is celebrated every year in Slovakia on August 4.
Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.