Sunday, 9 August 2015

Fish, Chips and Slovakia... Part One. History and First Impression.

 Poprad airport runway... welcomed by a clear view of High Tatras.

All I knew about Slovakia was very little. A friend, who grew up there, invited me to stay with her family, so gratefully, I accepted the kind gesture. Of course, when you visit a new country you do some research, its only polite. I am passionate about photography and wildlife, also besides, it seemed fortuitous that Slovakia's mountainous terrain, High Tatras, has one of the healthiest populations of Eurasian lynx, European brown bears and wolves, in Central and Eastern Europe. Naturally, when I touched down at Poprad, and saw the magnificent view of High Tatras ( frequently under cloud cover ), the scene induced adrenalin, and my stomach was pumping with frenzied butterflies as I pondered over the possibilities which lay ahead. 

Staying with a Slovakian family showed a traditional way of life which felt good. The simple things such as cabbage and potatoes, plastic flowers, real flowers, green tea and boldly-coloured houses, resonating an echo of familiarity. Uncomplicated and honest. Reaffirming a good place to restore faith and wellbeing. 

Summer window

Good & honest. Revealing a simple, comforting, decor.

One of the first things I distinguished was the colours of buildings, and 'fairytale' churches against a back drop of meadows and mountains. Snuggly sitting within a wilderness terrain and projecting a vibrant smile in the wake of considerable historic events and a Communist regime. 

In 1918, Slovakia and the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, Czech Silesia and Carpathian Ruthenia formed a mutual state, Czechoslovakia. During prevailing madness after the breakup of  Austria and Hungary, Czechoslovakia was then formed with Germans and Hungarians within newly set borders. In the peace which followed the World war, Czechoslovakia emerged as a sovereign European state. The minorities had rights and what remained was the only democracy in this part of Europe, in between wars.

In 1925, The Locarno Treaties ( Eastern Europe seeking to secure the post-war territorial settlement and stabilise relations with defeated Germany ) left East European security open. Moreover, both Czechs and Slovaks were able to enjoy a period of ease. Thus, a movement of progress with the country's economy, culture and educational opportunities. The minority Germans accepted their role in the new country and relations with Austria were good. However, the Great Depression caused  a vivid economic derailing, and to that end, political turmoil and insecurity in Europe.

Then, Czechoslovakia became highly pressured under revisionist governments of Germany and Hungary and this lead to the Munich agreement of September 1938. This enabled Germany to partially seperate the country by taking up residence in the Sudetenland, a region with a majority of German speakers. The remaining so-called 'rump' was renamed Czecho-Slovakia. However, Southern and Eastern Slovakia was reclaimed by Hungary at the First Vienna Award (direct consequence of Munich Agreement, inevitably the partitioning of Czechoslovakia) of November 1938.

Furthermore, in 1939, Nazi Germany threatened to annex part of Slovakia (1) and have the remaining regions partitioned by Hungary or Poland unless independence was declared. To that end, Slovakia allied itself in March 1939. Their government was strongly influenced by Germany and they gradually became a duped regime.

Due to horrific alliances with Hitler, during the war, the President of the First Slovak Republic, Jozef Tiso, had most Jewish occupants deported and sent to German death camps. Thousands, however, remained in Slovak work camps. There is much debate around the numbers of Jews saved by Tiso, but the vast majority of Slovakia's Jewish population were murdered under Tiso's government. Tiso was actually paying Nazi authorities to remove his country's Jews.

So, by the same token, it became apparent that the Soviet Red Army was pushing the Nazis out of eastern and central Europe. Then, near the end of summer 1944, the Slovak National Uprising, launched an agressive armed resistence against established government. This was followed by a bloody German occupation and guerilla war. The territory of Slovakia was liberated by Soviet and Romanian forces by the end of April 1945. Czechoslovakia became reconstituted and Jozef Tiso was hanged in 1947 for conspiring with the Nazis. Then, 80,000 Hungarians and 32,000 Germans were forced to leave Slovakia. By 1947, only some 20,000 Carpathian Germans remained in Slovakia.

Thereafter, a coup was formed in 1948 and Czechoslovakia became under the influence of the Soviet Union.

In 1989, there was a peaceful revolution, appropriately named 'Velvet', which marked the end of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Thus leading the country in to dissolution and in July 1992, Slovakia declared itself a sovereign state, allowing them to take presidence over a federal government. The Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic went their separate ways in January 1993 after the federal parliament officially dissolved Czechoslavakia. This historic event was known as the 'Velvet Divorce'.

Late afternoon meadow

I was staying in a town named Spisská Belá. A pretty, traditional town, where the local museum was once the home and studio of Joseph Petzval, a mathematician, inventor and physicist, best known for his work in optics. His pioneering inventions changed the way we see. A whole world of photography and cinema evolved because of his genius discoveries. This, indeed, was a happy coincidence, to know that one of my heartfelt interests, born from my love of cinematography and vintage black and whites, was partially down to this man, who lived in the early 1800's. So there I was, in his house, in a small town in Slovakia, Eastern Europe. This moment evoked extraordinary emotions and I truly felt inspired.

Blue window

Green window

Maria's home

Spišská Belá

Providence seemed to be pulling some strings and what must have seemed like a normal, everyday occurance to the locals, was a wonderful surprise to myself, for there above was a stork. Larger than your average heron and watching from a great height on the church spire, like an elegant, majestic, prehistoric raptor. Then, I noticed the nest which was occupied by two young storks. Their silence was soothing,  they have no syrinx and are mute, but communicate by bill-tapping at the nest. Perhaps the myth of the stork carrying the baby is related to its silence insofar as not to awaken or disturb the new-born. 

Watching over...

Spot the Stork

Still watching...

Stork Nest

Strolling through the town brought a sense of belonging, yet not without an intriguing edge. There was something about this place which was arousing a natural curiousity. I couldn't figure out what it was. I have a friend who believes in the unusual and may have suggested I had been there in a former life. That is the best way I can describe the sense of fascination, I was experiencing at that time. Observing all that was new to me, brought out a wide-eyed child within and I could not stop shooting pictures. Everything lit up with vivid colour and vivacity.

Colour blocks

 Cool tea

 Orange & Yellow

The Beatles billboard

Colours ...

Reference - (1) Wikipedia, 09/08/15.

To be continued ...

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