Hlinka's Slovak People's Party (Slovak: Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana, HSĽS; also known as the Slovak People's Party (Slovenská ľudová strana, SĽS) or the Hlinka Party) was a far-right clerofascist political party with a strong Catholic fundamentalist and authoritarian ideology. Its members were often called Ľudáks.
The party arose at a time when Slovakia was still part of Austria-Hungary and fought for democratic freedoms, Slovak national rights, and against liberalism. After the formation of Czechoslovakia, the party preserved its conservative character, opposing Czechoslovak nationalism and demanding Slovak autonomy. In the second half of the 1930s, the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe and the party's inability to achieve long-term political objectives caused a loss of faith in democracy and saw the party turn to more radical ideas such as fascism. After a merger with other parties in November 1938 which formed the Hlinka's Slovak People's Party – Party of Slovak National Unity, it became the dominant party of the Slovak State. In addition to adopting a totalitarian vision of the state, it included an openly pro-Nazi faction, which dominated Slovak policy between 1940 and 1942.
The party chairmen were the Slovak priests Andrej Hlinka (1913–38) and later Jozef Tiso (1939–45), and its main newspapers were the Slovenské ľudové noviny (Slovak People's Newspaper, 1910–30), Slovák (The Slovak, 1919–45) and Slovenská pravda (The Slovak Truth, 1936–45).
The creation process of the party took several years. With the exception of the short-lived Slovak Social Democratic Party (1905–06), there was only one party in Austria-Hungary that specifically promoted the interests of the Slovaks at the turn of the 19th and 20th century — the Slovak National Party (SNS). The Slovak People's movement was established within the Hungarian People's Party (Néppárt, founded in 1895) which opposed liberalism and was popular amongst the religious Slovak population. The party's program addressed several other problems of Slovak society including emigration, usury, corruption and forced magyarization. Due to the gradual shift away from these values, Slovak politicians began to form a separate group within the party. The party hierarchy reacted in November 1905 by asking its only MP František Skyčák to sign a testimony against the Slovak program. Skyčák refused and on 5 December 1905, he published a declaration of a new political party. Other personalities, among them the Catholic priest Andrej Hlinka, joined the organisation in early 1906, before the Slovak National Party (SĽS) was officially formed on 18 March 1906 by Skyčák, Milan Hodža and A. Ráth. However, following a decision in April 1906, the party contested elections as part of the Slovak National Party until 1913 in order to prevent splitting the Slovak vote. However, their programmes were nearly identical; the SĽS called for strong democratization and included liberal reforms such as freedom of speech and universal suffrage. Despite the frequent election manipulations in Hungary at that time, the SĽS won six deputies (and the SNS one) out of the 415 deputies of the Hungarian Diet in the 1906 elections. The Hungarian government immediately reacted by increasing oppression to suppress the national and political conscious of Slovaks.
In 1912 the SĽS refused to support the strong Czecho-Slovak orientation of the SNS prevailing at that time, and made a similar declaration as in 1905, again without formal effects. On 19 July 1913 the SĽS became a separate political party with Hlinka as chairman and Ferdiš Juriga and Skyčák amongst its leadership. During World War I the SĽS (just like the SNS) went into abeyance in order to prevent any possible pretext for accusations of activities against the Austrian-Hungarian state. In 1918 Hlinka and Juriga solidly supported idea of common Czechoslovak state and signed the Martin Declaration which rejected Hungarian jurisdiction over Slovakia. The party participated in the creation of the (2nd) Slovak National Council that existed from October 1918 to January 1919 and its leaders helped to consolidate the situation in Czechoslovakia during the first weeks of its existence.
After the establishment of Czechoslovakia, the SĽS renewed its activities on 19 December 1918 in Žilina. On 17 October 1925 it was renamed the Hlinka Slovak People's Party (HSĽS) to distinguish it from the Czechoslovak People's Party. During the majority of the whole inter-war period, the HSĽS was the most popular party in Slovakia and until 1938, was a standard part of democratic political spectrum. The party operated mostly in opposition but not as a destructive power and preserved loyalty to Czechoslovakia. All of its programs had religious, national, social and constitutional character; its ideology was based on papal encyclicals Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno and was oriented mostly towards its Catholic electorate. The party rejected economic liberalism and class-struggle theory popular among socialists and communists, who were (together with liberal atheists) considered to be the party's main enemies. The constitutional part of its program was derived from the Pittsburg Agreement which promised an autonomous status of Slovakia within Czechoslovakia. The HSĽS opposed centralism and ethnic Czechoslovakism (i.e. not considering Slovaks a separate ethnicity from the Czechs). In addition to its program, popularity of the party was maintained by Hlinka's charisma.
In the 1920 elections the party participated together with the Czech People's Party under the name Czechoslovak People's Party. The alliance received 17.5% of the vote in Slovakia making it the third largest party. Following the elections, Hlinka stated that he would "work 24 hours a day till Slovakia turns from a red Slovakia into a white and Christian Slovakia." The majority of the party's support came from Slovak farmers, mainly because the party criticized the land reforms of 1920–1929.
After the county elections in 1923, the party became the biggest party in Slovakia, receiving 34.4% of the vote in the 1925 elections. In 1923, the HSĽS founded the paramilitary Rodobrana organization to protect their meetings. Rodobrana was influenced and manipulated by Vojtech Tuka for his own anti-Czechoslovak intentions and later it was banned by Czechoslovak government. Rodobrana was inspired by Italian fascism and became a magnet for young dissatisfied radicals, the core of future fascist wing of HSĽS. The HSĽS leadership attempted to bring Rodobrana under party control and succeeded when its activities were restored in 1926. Rodobrana raised several radicals like Alexander Mach or Ján Farkaš.
On 15 January 1927, the HSĽS became a member of the Czechoslovak government coalition after Jozef Tiso started negotiations during a foreign trip by Hlinka. The party held the Ministry of Health (Jozef Tiso) and Ministry of Unification of Laws and State Administration (Marek Gažík). After a controversial trial against the HSĽS member Vojtech Tuka, who was accused of high treason, the HSĽS left the government on 8 October 1929.
In order to contest the 1935 elections, the HSĽS joined with the SNS to create the "Autonomous Block", which received 30.12% of the vote in the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia. However, it was dissolved after the elections. The HSĽS considered itself to be the only political party that vigorously defended Slovak national interests, but its inability to achieve autonomy decreased the prestige of its moderate wing and strengthened its radical members.
After the death of the 74-year old Hlinka in August 1938, the presidium of the party decided that the post of chairman would remain unoccupied. The party was subsequently led by vice-chairman Jozef Tiso until October 1939, when he became the new chairman. During the Czechoslovak crisis between spring and fall of 1938, the HSĽS remained on a common Czechoslovak platform. The party officially supported both mobilizations and refused appeals of Sudeten German Party to radicalize its position.
The situation dramatically changed in the fall of 1938. On October 6, 1938, after the Czech part of Czechoslovakia had lost border regions to Germany through the Munich Agreement, the executive committee of the HSĽS together with most other Slovak parties declared the autonomy of Slovakia within Czechoslovakia. Prague accepted this and appointed Jozef Tiso the Prime Minister of Autonomous Slovakia on the same day. HSLS became the dominant party in the subsequent Slovak governments. After the declaration of autonomy, internal tension between conservative and radical wing continued to grow. The conservative wing led by Tiso preserved majority in the presidium of the party, but radicals compensated it by higher activity and held important positions in new organizations like Hlinka Guard (Hlinkova garda) and Slovak national committees (slovenské národné výbory).
On November 8, 1938, after the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia had lost some 1/3 of its territory to Hungary through the First Vienna Award (Vienna Arbitration), the Slovak branches of all parties except the Communists and Social Democrats merged with the HSLS and formed the Hlinka Slovak People's Party – Party of Slovak National Unity (HSĽS-SSNJ). The Slovak National Party joined the HSĽS-SSNJ on December 15.
This new party quickly developed clear authoritarian characteristics. It immediately subjected the leftist and Jewish parties to considerable harassment. In the December 1938 Slovak general election this new party won 97.3% (out of which 72% went to candidates of the original HSĽS). The Social Democrats and Communists were shut out because the HSĽS-SSNJ government didn't publish new election procedures until it was too late for those parties to select candidates. As of January 31, 1939 all parties except for the HSĽS-SSNJ, the German Party and the Unified Magyar Party (party of the Hungarian minority) were prohibited. For all intents and purposes, Slovakia was now a one-party state.
In a last-ditch attempt to save the country, the Prague government deposed Tiso as Slovak premier, replacing him with Karel Sidor. A few days later, amid massive German provocations, Hitler invited Tiso to Berlin and urged him to proclaim Slovakia's independence. Hitler added that if Tiso didn't do so, he would have no interest in Slovakia's fate. During the meeting, Joachim von Ribbentrop passed on a (false) report saying that Hungarian troops were approaching Slovak borders. Tiso refused to make such a decision himself, after which he was allowed by Hitler to organize a meeting of the Slovak parliament which would approve Slovakia's independence.
On 14 March, the Slovak parliament convened and heard Tiso's report on his discussion with Hitler as well as a declaration of independence. Some of the deputies were sceptical of making such a move, but the debate was quickly quashed when Franz Karmasin, leader of the German minority in Slovakia, said that any delay in declaring independence would result in Slovakia being divided between Hungary and Germany. Under these circumstances, Parliament unanimously declared Slovak independence. Jozef Tiso was appointed the first Prime Minister of the new republic. The next day, Tiso sent a telegram (which had actually been composed the previous day in Berlin) asking the Reich to take over the protection of the newly minted state. The request was readily accepted.
The HSĽS-SSNJ was the leading force in the country (the parliamentary elections scheduled for 1943 did not take place) and it was supposed to represent the interests of all Slovaks.
Some historians describe the party as a "fascist and clerical nationalist group". After 1939, the conflict between two wings of the party continued and reached a new dimension. The conservative wing led by the Catholic priest Jozef Tiso, the president of Slovakia and chairman of the party, wanted to create a separate authoritarian and religious state of Estates. The conservative wing had no doubts about the need to build totalitarian state but wished to do so gradually, preserving legal and personal continuity with previous regime. The radicals preferred methods and theory of National Socialism, were strong antisemites, wanted to remove all Czechs and to create a radically nationalistic state. Their main organization was the Hlinka Guard, which was controlled by the HSĽS-SSNJ. The main representatives were Vojtech Tuka and Alexander Mach.
In the spring of 1940, the conservative wing was close to victory over the radicals, when Tiso pacified Hlinka Guard by organizational changes and bound it stronger to the party leadership. However, in July 1940 Germany made personnel changes in the Slovak government and reinforced the radicals. The radical wing then held the most important positions of executive power. The Prime Minister Vojtech Tuka became also the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Alexander Mach became again the leader of Hlinka Guard and also the Minister of the Interior. Tiso changed tactic and verbally adopted idea of national socialism, but manoeuvred and stated that it had to be implemented in "folk and Christian spirit". In the fall of 1940, the conservative wing began taking the initiative. Tiso eliminated trial to reduce already weak competencies of the parliament and strongly refused a proposal to replace four conservative ministers by radical national socialists. In early 1941 his group silently liquidated trial for pro-fascist coup. On the other hand, Tiso left the radicals an initiative in the solution of the "Jewish question", wrongly assuming that he can leave them also all responsibility and later he publicly advocated deportations.
The struggle between wings ended in the summer 1942 by victory of conservatives. A part of radicals withdrew from public life, another lost its political influence or switched to the winning side (Alexander Mach). Due to pragmatic reasons HSLS then adopted the "Führer"-principle, however with a completely different purpose than in Germany - preventive elimination of radicals without causing concern of Germany. Germany naturally sympathized with the radicals but allowed to win their opponents. The reason was purely rational - Nazi foreign policy was more interested in consolidated Slovakia as a model of satellite state and the conservative wing was more popular among population and more qualified to manage the state. Germany never stopped to support the radicals and used them to raise pressure.
After German occupation in 1944 and the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising, the insurgent Slovak National Council (Slovenská národná rada, SNR) declared restoration of Czechoslovakia. On 1 September 1944, SNR banned the HSĽS and all of its organisations like Hlinka Guard and Hlinka Youth and confiscated their property. Although the uprising was violently suppressed, HSĽS never fully restored its position. The party ceased to exist with the liberation of Slovakia by Czechoslovak troops and by the Soviet Army in April–May 1945. Many of the party's members were persecuted during the Communist regime.
- 1905–1925: Slovak People's Party (Slovenská ľudová strana, short SĽS)
- 1925–1938: Hlinka's Slovak People's Party (Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana, short HSĽS)
- 1938–1945: Hlinka's Slovak People's Party – Party of Slovak National Unity (Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana – Strana slovenskej národnej jednoty, short HSĽS-SSNJ)
- Andrej Hlinka
- Jozef Tiso
- Slovaks in Czechoslovakia (1918–1938)
- History of Czechoslovakia
- History of Slovakia
- Hlinka Guard - The armed wing of the party
- List of defunct paramilitary organizations
- Felak, James R. (1994). "At the Price of the Republic": Hlinka's Slovak People’s Party, 1929–1938. University of Pittsburgh Press.
- Hoensch, Jörg K. (1987). Slovakia: "One God, One People, One Party!" The Development, Aims, and Failure of Political Catholicism. Catholics, the State, and the European Radical Right, 1919-1945. Social Science Monographs. pp. 158–181.
- Jelinek, Yeshayahu (1976). The Parish Republic: Hlinka's Slovak People's Party, 1939-1945. East European Quarterly.