People are often confused about such notions like “Slovenia”, “Slovakia” or “Slavonia”. Moreover, even Slavic people themselves are sometimes mistaken defining what is what.
In general, Slovenia is a post-Yugoslav country bordering the Adriatic sea, Slovakia is a landlocked country, a former part of Czechoslovakia, and Slavonia is a region in Croatia.
That’s a problem, indeed, because it causes a lot of inconveniences. For example, Slovenian and Slovak embassies staff meet once per month to exchange mail sent to the wrong address. Why is all this happening? Why are they called so similar? How to remember and easily distinguish these three territories? Let’s define all these misunderstandings once and for all!
The names “Slovenia”, “Slovakia” and “Slavonia” come from the common root “-slav-“. Slavs are people who speak Slavic languages. They were constant inhabitants of Eastern European territories. The first mentions about Slavs were made in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD by Ancient Romans. Now, Slavic people are those who naturally speak one of the Slavic languages. They include Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Belorussian, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and the languages of smaller groups. As you can see, there are more than a lot of nations that can be distinguished as Slavs. Slovenians and Slovaks are only one of them.
As we distinguish people by languages, let’s take a closer look at them. Obviously, all the Slavic languages came from one. To some extent, people speaking one Slavic language can understand and can be understood by speakers of the other one. There are different theories, but the most popular one is that first Slavic tribes were speaking the Proto-Slavic language, which then evolved into Old Church Slavonic. That was the one unifying standard for tribes who were speaking different dialects. Modern Slavic languages evolved from those dialects.
Nowadays, they share a great piece of common vocabulary like, for instance, languages from Latin roots (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese). However, the pronunciation hasn’t changed so much, so all the Slavic languages sound approximately the same for non-speakers of any Slavic language.
Where is the Country? Where is the Region?
Let’s return to Slovenia, Slovakia, and Slavonia. The first two are different countries that even do not have a common border. On the other hand, Slavonia is just the region of another Slavic country, Croatia. Slovenia and Croatia are neighboring countries, and they were the parts of one country named “Yugoslavia”.
The biggest city of the Slavonia region is Osijek. Obviously, people speak Croatian there. Slavonia contains 45% of Croatia’s agricultural land, however, its economy is based on trade, transport, and civil engineering as well. The cuisine of Slavonia reflects diverse influences. For instance, there are traditional and foreign elements because the region was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, then the Habsburg Monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and only after it as a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Moreover, Slavonia is one of the biggest Croatian winemaking areas, with Ilok and Kutjevo recognized as centers of wine production.
Now, it should be easy for you to distinguish Slavonia from the other two because it has one unique feature — it is the region, not a country.
As we “finished the first course”, let’s continue with the “main dish”: Slovenia and Slovakia. Where is the difference? The answer will be “everywhere”!
First of all, the two countries were formed after the break of bigger ones. Slovakia was created after the split of Czechoslovakia, where they were living with Czechs inside the one country. In its turn, Slovenia was formed after a much bigger country, Yugoslavia, that broke into several smaller ones. Originally, it had been named “The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes”, that was renamed to “The Kingdom of Yugoslavia” in 1929. Literally, Yugoslavia means “the land of South Slavs” where “yug-“ is South. Here, there is a hint of how to remember and distinguish Slovenia from Slovakia: Slovenia is located slightly south (yug-) and was a part of the Balkan nation (Yugoslavia), whereas Slovakia was a part of Czechoslovakia, that was located in Central-Eastern Europe.
In simple words, let’s use the names of their ancestor countries: (Czecho)slovakia for Slovaks and (Yugo)slavia for Slovenes.
Now, when we distinguished the nations, let’s underpin them in our minds by adding distinct facts about those countries.
To begin with, both countries are unitary parliamentary republics, located in Europe, members of the European Union, United Nations, NATO, and parts of the Schengen Area; both are using Euro as their currency, the main religion is Catholic Christianity. On this point, similarities end. Not so much of them, right?
The Republic of Slovenia is a country that lies in-between German, Roman, and Slavic nations. It is a “meeting” point for all those cultures creating the brand new one – Slovenian. The capital is Ljubljana. The country borders with Austria, Hungary, and Croatia and has access to the Adriatic Sea. It covers 20,271 square kilometers and has a population of 2.095 million.
The climate is mainly continental but with some interesting specialties. The Slovene Littoral region has a sub-Mediterranean climate because of the presence of the upper Adriatic coastline and Julian Alps in the northwest have an Alpine climate. Therefore, it is one of the most water-rich countries in Europe and over half of the territory is covered by forests.
Slovenia’s name means the “Land of the Slavs”. The official language is Slovenian, which belongs to the South branch of Slavic languages along with Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian. To mention, the Slovak language belongs to another branch, which means that Slovenian and Croatian are closer languages than Slovenian and Slovak.
Moreover, Slovenians are more multilingual due to their location and history: 56% of the population can speak English, 42% German, 15% Italian, and 61% Croatian.
Slovenian cuisine is a mixture of Central European cuisine: Austrian, Hungarian, Mediterranean, Balkan. That’s why a quantity of national dishes impresses. Slovenian nature impresses by diversity as well, because of the interesting location.
Thus, Slovenia is small but very diverse culturally, naturally, and historically country.
The Slovak Republic is twice bigger as territory and population country that Slovenia. It has 49,000 square kilometers of its territory and 5.4 million people. The capital is Bratislava. The country borders with Poland, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Slovakia is a landlocked country situated in Central Europe that means it does not have any connection to an ocean, contrary to Slovenia. One more difference is the territory of the country that is mainly mountainous. The Carpathian Mountains extend across the northern half of the country. This leads to hundreds of caves and caverns under them, which are the Slovak special feature. Thirty of them are opened for public visiting.
The Slovak climate lies between the temperate and continental climate zones and forests cover 41% of Slovak land surface. Those facts mean that Slovak biodiversity is lower that Slovenian one in species diversity terms, however, it is not bad because it is still rich in in-species diversity terms. For example, Slovakia is the home for over 4,000 species of fungi. The number impresses.
As for language diversity, it is also lower than in Slovenia. On the other hand, Slovakia is one of the top European Union countries regarding the knowledge of foreign languages. For instance, 68% of the population aged from 25 to 64 years speaks two or more foreign languages. This raises Slovakia to second place in the entire European Area. The best-known second language is, of course, Czech, then it goes English. The official language is Slovak that lies to Western Slavic languages root along with Polish and Czech.
Slovak cuisine is closely related to Ukrainian, Polish, Austrian, and Hungarian. Due to the presence of forest resources, it is quite rich in different kinds of meat: pork, wild boar, chicken, rabbit, duck, turkey and goose. One of the national ingredients is bryndza. It is a salty cheese made of sheep milk with a special and strong aroma and flavor. This is the main filling of halusky and pirohy (special-shaped dumplings).
Hence, Slovakia is a twice bigger country than Slovenia. It is a former part of Czechoslovakia. The country is mostly mountainous, with no access to the sea, with different neighbors, languages, climate, biodiversity, and cuisine.
Answering the Main Question
Definitely, there is a big difference between Slovenia, Slovakia, and Slavonia, despite the fact that all these words come from the one root. Of course, they are not like Iceland and India, for example. They do have a common history, culture, meaning, and so on. However, to confuse them would be a big mistake for a person from the modern educated world and even a heresy move for inhabitants of those territories.
First of all, Slavonia if just a region of Croatia, so it should be easily distinguished from the other two. What about Slovenia and Slovakia, they were parts of the different bigger nation, their languages belong to different groups of Slavic language family, they even do not have a common border! All these facts mean that while choosing the next travel destination, they should be considered as two different worlds with their own nature, cuisine, culture, climate, cities, and experience.
Luckily enough, you have read this article and you are prepared to show your knowledge where it is suitable, maybe, even underpinned with visiting experience.