„Compared to most European academies, SAS is a relatively young institution,“ states Adam Hudek from the Institute of History SAS, co-author of the publication History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, commenting on the 70th anniversary of SAS. He adds that its contribution to the development of the top science and research in Slovakia is enormous.
History of research
According to the historian, SAS was often perceived as a Soviet import. "Actually, plans to establish a top, non-university scientific institution in Slovakia appeared long before the start of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia," explains A. Hudek. The first such efforts date back to the 18th century. A serious attempt was Matej Bel's unrealized project of 1735 named Societas litteraria. At the end of the 19th century, the scientific enthusiast and Catholic priest Andrej Kmeť prepared a plan to establish the Slovak Academy of Sciences. However, in Hungarian conditions, Kmeť's plan had no hope of succeeding. In the end, a museum in Turčiansky Svätý Martin was established, and instead of the Academy, the Slovak Museum Society was formed.
SAVU (1942 – 1953)
The Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAVU) was established during the existence of the Slovak state (1939 – 1945). “The main figure and initiator of its foundation was the well-informed and well-educated linguist Ľudovít Novák,” explains the historian. He received sufficient support for the establishment of the Academy, and in July 1942, the Parliament of the Slovak Republic approved the Act on the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts. Chemistry professor František Valentín became the first President of SAVU, Ľ. Novák was its General Secretary. The Academy was based in Bratislava. It had a linguistic, historical, geographical, literary and astronomical institute, which was located in the building of the observatory at Skalnaté Pleso in the High Tatras.
At the beginning of 1946, the Academy was reorganized "on a people's democratic basis." They first repealed the Act on SAVU and then adopted a new law. "Thus, the entire institution was formally re-established, although the property and staff of the former Academy was automatically transferred to it. The key function of the General Secretary of SAVU was performed by the literary theorist Mikuláš Bakoš,” describes the historian. The research was mainly focused on social sciences and domestic science topics.
The seizure of power by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) in February 1948 meant a fundamental change for the development of science in Czechoslovakia. The arrest of Ladislav Novomeský in 1951, who, according to the plan, was supposed to translate party demands into the functioning of SAVU, started a wave of cadres under the slogan "purging SAVU of hostile elements". “The compromised SAVU was replaced by a new institution with a slightly changed name, the Slovak Academy of Sciences,” explains A. Hudek.
Establishment of SAS (1953)
„The most important reason for the establishment of the independent Slovak Academy of Sciences was the belief that the policy of rapid modernization of Slovakia will require a specific approach also in the case of the development of science and technology,” emphasizes A. Hudek. The establishment of SAS was announced at the National Theatre in Bratislava a week after it was established by law on June 18, 1953, as a top scientific institution uniting the most important scientific employees in Slovakia. “All the institutes and their employees from the former SAVU, as well as several institutes that previously belonged to different ministries, have moved to the new organization,” Adam Hudek explains the composition of the SAS. Ondrej Pavlík, a longtime member of the KSS, became the President of the SAS. The positions of Vice-Presidents were given to renowned scientific figures: virologist Dionýz Blaškovič, metallurgist Jozef Čabelka and physicist Dionýz Ilkovič.
A. Hudek explains that in the first years the development of SAS took place relatively spontaneously, institutes were created according to the availability of scientific employees. Most of the institutes of basic natural science and technical research in the SAS were established only in the second half of the 1950s. Research focused on solving specific Slovak economic and social problems. A typical example was the endocrinological research led by Julián Podoba, who analyzed the causes of the mass occurrence of thyroid disease in Slovakia. Based on the results of the examination of around 160,000 people, the iodization of table salt was introduced throughout Slovakia in the 1950s. An important achievement from this period was also the creation of atlas of the starry sky, compiled in 1947-1948 by the Director of the observatory at Skalnaté Pleso, Antonín Bečvář. Atlas Coeli was used in observatories all over the world in the second half of the 20th century.
In 1955, O. Pavlík, who had to leave for political reasons, was replaced as the President of SAS by a Marxist philosopher Andrej Sirácky, who was also rector of the Comenius University at the time. In 1955, SAS had 46 institutes and approximately 1,500 employees. The peak of development in the first period of the institution's operation occurred in 1958, when the number of the Academy´s institutes reached 51, and around 150 to 170 employees joined the Academy annually.
As the historian further documents, the political crisis of the communist bloc in the mid-1950s changed the view of the top representatives of the KSČ on the "socialist intelligentsia", and they began to consider them as a source of liberal and oppositional sentiments. After "checks of class and political reliability", employees who were class- and politically "unsuitable" and who only held their positions thanks to their expertise were to leave the Academy - CSAS and SAS.
The end of the 1950s brought an important change in the SAS development strategy – spontaneous development replaced the plan of conceptual and effective development of scientific institutions. SAS lost its agricultural research institutes during this period. However, the construction of the complex on Patrónka in Bratislava has already begun.
„Strengthening centralizing tendencies in the republic and the adoption of a new constitution in 1960 also influenced the further direction of the SAS," describes A. Hudek. SAS was to become an organic part of CSAS. "It also had its symbolism. Virologist Dionýz Blaškovič, one of the most prominent Slovak scientists, Director of the successful Institute of Virology of CSAS, exceptionally located not in Prague but in Bratislava, became the new President of SAS. An important positive for the development of Slovak science was that scientific and research cooperation between the two academies started to a much greater extent," states A. Hudek.
In the first half of the 1960s, there was a pervasive emphasis on science, modern technology, automation, and scientific rationality. Sociology, declared in the 1950s as "bourgeois nonsense", was coming to the fore. In the social sciences, topics and publications that retain lasting scientific value have begun to emerge. "The six-volume Dictionary of the Slovak Language was created at the Institute of Linguistics. Work began on the Ethnographic Atlas of Slovakia, and the five-volume History of Slovak Literature was also published. A younger generation of historians, such as Ľubomír Lipták, Július Mésároš or Jozef Jablonický, took the centre stage in historical science, and began to correct Stalin's interpretation of Slovak history. The Director of the Institute of Art Theory and History, Marián Váross, published key works of this field in Slovakia,” A. Hudek names the achievements of the social sciences.
At the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, research in the natural and technical sciences also took off significantly. "An internationally recognized Slovak school of graph theory was established at the Institute of Mathematics under the leadership of Anton Kotzig. The epoch of the development of the theory of semigroups is associated with the name of Štefan Schwarz. The Institute of Physics also underwent rapid development, thanks to the research of Július Krempaský, Viera Trnovcová and Mária Hartmanová in the field of solid-state physics. In the field of nuclear physics, it was possible to specify an area that enabled not only basic research but also important applications under the leadership of Juraj Šácha. In 1963, the Polymer Laboratory was established, and the Institute of Chemistry gradually developed into a top institute in the research of carbohydrates and cellulose. Top research took place at the Institute of Measurement Science, where a team led by Juraj Bolf designed and constructed a device for extracorporeal circulation in the countries of the Eastern Bloc,” the historian highlights some of the achievements of the SAS. This device then significantly contributed to the implementation of the first heart transplant in Eastern Europe in 1968, which was led by cardiac surgeon Karol Šiška.
A significant success of Slovak science was also the development of the RPP-16 computer at the Institute of Technical Cybernetics and the clarification of the development of the function of the endocrine glands and their regulation in the postnatal period under the guidance of endocrinologist Ladislav Mach. The Geophysical Institute SAS performed a seismic assessment service necessary for the design of constructions such as the nuclear power plant in Jaslovské Bohunice.
In 1965, the mathematician Štefan Schwarz, who led the Academy during the entire liberalization period, became its new President. The absolute majority of about 2,500 employees then openly supported the reforms of the Czechoslovak Spring.
„The invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops on August 21, 1968, marked the end of the reform process. In autumn 1969, the KSČ led by Gustáv Husák swept off the table proposals for 14 laws on CSAS and SAS and approved changes in the spirit of normalization in spring 1970,” describes A. Hudek. In 1970-1972, large-scale purges took place in the SAS. The task of the presidency, headed by cardiac surgeon Karol Šišek, was to purge SAS of employees "who did not have the political, moral, or professional prerequisites for activity in such an important ideological institution as the Academy." The Academy lost up to 426 employees out of a total of 3,600 due to purges and escapes to the West.
In 1974, they appointed physicist Vladimír Hajko as the President of the Academy of Sciences, who led the Academy until 1989. "Under his leadership, SAS achieved the largest number of employees and scientific institutes in its history. Among the most supported scientific fields were microelectronics, cybernetics, materials research and machine mechanics, which were supposed to support the development of the Czechoslovak electrotechnical, engineering and metallurgical industry,” says A. Hudek. "A significant limitation of contacts with the West replaced the deepening of cooperation within the Eastern bloc. Lagging behind the West was publicly acknowledged not only by scientists but also by representatives of the Communist Party. The answer to this situation was the building of large scientific centres. Social sciences focused on forecasting economic and social development. The preparation of the forecast of the social development until 2000 became one of the most watched SAS projects,” describes A. Hudek.
Development after 1989
In 1989, SAS had more than 6,000 employees across 47 scientific institutes. Among them were high-quality scientists recognized abroad, members of opposition groups, but also servants of the normalization regime. In November days of 1989, most scientific employees of the SAS joined the protest actions of students and artists. “A self-governing body of the SAS, the Council of Scientists, was created and elected by a nine-member organizing committee headed by physicist Silvester Takács,” explains A. Hudek. In January 1990, the Slovak National Council approved an amendment to the Act on SAS, and endocrinologist Ladislav Macho became the head of the Academy. The changes in the SAS also concerned individual institutes. Scientists who had to leave SAS were returning. At the same time, however, the number of employees decreased, and the mammoth science centres from the 1980s disappeared. The SAS Grant Agency was created as the first institution for funding science based on the competition of research projects according to the Western model. “In 1996, the Agency was transformed into the Scientific Grant Agency - VEGA, which is still active,” says the historian, adding that this scheme also fundamentally changed the funding of institutes. At the beginning of the 1990s, both CSAV and SAS had to fight attempts to abolish them, financial cuts represented another danger. The SAS budget in 1992 fell by 70 percent compared to 1989.
SAS in the independent Slovak Republic
The last meeting of the defunct CSAS took place on December 16, 1992. Since the beginning of the new year, based on the territorial principle, the Czechoslovak Academy has been divided into the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Endocrinologist Branislav Lichardus was elected President of the SAS. In 1995, the physicist Štefan Luby became the President of the Academy for the next 15 years. The political events in Slovakia, especially after the second election victory of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia in 1994, also had a negative impact on the SAS. "Organizations whose employees were critical of the government, which was also the case with SAS, were punished by administrative harassment and attacks by government media. Part of the effort to weaken and punish the Slovak Republic was, for example, an unsuccessful proposal to transfer its humanitarian institutes under Matica slovenská,” Adam Hudek explains the events of the said period. Even the change of government in 1998 and the optimistic expectations of the scientific community regarding the support of science, research and education did not bring satisfaction. “The new Act on SAS was approved only in 2002,” states the historian. There was still a lack of funds, which significantly accelerated the departure of SAS scientific employees to better paid positions. Slovakia's entry into the European Union in 2004 was key to the development of the Academy.
Since 2007, SAS has started thinking about its transformation into a legal-economic form of public research institutions (v. v. i.). This would make it possible to use its property also for business purposes in the field of science and research. Under the leadership of the virologist Jaroslav Pastorek, elected in 2009, a commission was created that developed a Proposal for the transformation of SAS. “The implementation of this plan took more than ten years,” emphasizes the historian.
However, SAS also faced many other challenges. In 2010, twelve centres of excellence operated within the SAS with the aim of supporting top basic and applied research in Slovakia, twenty SAS institutes solved specific problems for the needs of practice.
In 2015, there was a change in the post of SAS´ President. J. Pastorek was replaced by chemist Pavol Šajgalík. The Presidium continued the trend of supporting the creation of larger institutes, which was not, however, perceived positively within the SAS. “But a process was started that significantly shaped the development of the Academy in the following years,” A. Hudek elaborates on the development. In an effort to attract excellent scientists from abroad to Slovakia and to increase the very poor success rate of Slovak scientists in obtaining prestigious grants, the new management launched the SASPRO and, subsequently, SASPRO 2 programme. In 2022, SAS launched the Impulse programme.
In 2016, a regular evaluation of SAS institutes was carried out exclusively by foreign experts. After the accreditation, the merging of institutes started at a rapid pace.
The successful completion of the transformation, and the approval of laws occurred only after the Slovak government took office in 2020. “As of January 1, 2022, the Academy's organizations have successfully transitioned to the legal form of public research institutions,” describes the historian.
SAS currently has 47 organizations, of which 45 scientific institutes and scientific centres have been transformed into public research institutions since January 1, 2022. They have 2,934 employees.
The Slovak Academy of Sciences fully demonstrated its justification and usefulness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from the most prominent participation of the Biomedical Research Center SAS, mathematicians, material scientists, sociologists, ethnologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and scientists from the field of social communication or the state and law also participated in solving the problems associated with the spread of the virus and the social consequences of the epidemic.
Today, SAS is the largest and most successful institution of science and research in Slovakia. According to FOCUS Agency surveys, it has been the most credible Slovak state institution for several years in a row. Despite many challenges and problems, the Slovak Academy of Sciences increases to succeed in asserting itself in the European research space.
Edited: Andrea Nozdrovická
Presentation Dejiny SAV (in Slovak) PDF / 6 MB