Monday, July 12, 2010

The National Anthem of Slovakia

Nad Tatrou sa blýska (Lightning Over the Tatras) is the national anthem of Slovakia. The origins of the anthem are in the Central European activism of the 19th century. Its main themes are a storm over the Tatra mountains that symbolized danger to the Slovaks, and a desire for a resolution of the threat. It used to be particularly popular during the 1848-1849 insurgencies.

During the days of the Czechoslovakia, the anthem was played in many Slovak towns at 12:00 noon. This tradition ceased to exist after the two nations split. Nad Tatrou sa blýska is now performed mainly at special events, including sporting events.

Twenty three-year-old Janko Matúška wrote the lyrics of this anthem in January-February 1844. The tune came from the folk song Kopala studienku ("She Dug a Well") suggested to him by his fellow student Jozef Podhradský (1823–1915), a future religious and Pan-Slavic activist, and gymnasial teacher. Shortly afterwards, Matúška and about two dozen other students left their prestigious Bratislava Lutheran lyceum (preparatory high school and college) in protest over the removal of Ľudovít Štúr from his teaching position by the Lutheran Church under pressure from the authorities. Slovakia was part of the Kingdom of Hungary within the Austrian Empire then, and the officials objected to his Slovak nationalism.

"Lightning Over the Tatras" was written during the weeks when the students were agitated about the repeated denials of their and others' appeals to the school board to reverse Štúr's dismissal. About a dozen of the defecting students transferred to the Levoča Lutheran gymnasium. When one of the students, the 18-year old budding journalist and writer Viliam Pauliny-Tóth (1826–1877), wrote down the oldest known record of the poem in his school notebook in 1844, he gave it the title of Prešporský Slováci, budaucj Lewočané ("Bratislava Slovaks, Future Levočians"), which reflected the motivation of its origin.

The journey from Bratislava to Levoča took the students past the High Tatras, Slovakia's and the then Kingdom of Hungary's highest, imposing, and symbolic mountain range. A storm above the mountains is a key theme in the poem.

The miniature sheet above features Janko Matuska, Slovakian anthem lyricist