Before the First World War both Spiš and Orava were multi-ethnic areas. The inhabitants of northernmost parts of both lands were predominantly Gorals, whose dialect and custom was in many ways similar to those of Podhale Gorals. Another Goral enclave was situated in Čadca area. At the end of 19th century tourism in and around Tatra Mountains came to be very popular among Polish educated public and the folklore of Podhale Gorals was heavily romanticized by writers and artists. Because of their archaic Polish basis, the Goral dialects became a popular object of studies among linguists dealing with history of Polish language.
As a result, by the end of 19th century Polish intellectuals commonly saw Goral dialect areas in Spiš, Orava and around Čadca as being ethnographically Polish just like Podhale, irrespective of their inhabitants' actual national consciousness (or lack of it). Actually, Slovak national movement in these areas was older and stronger than Polish . The exception was northeastern Orava, with influx of Polish or Polish-educated priests into local catholic parishes and some circulation of Polish-language newspaper Gazeta Zakopiańska from nearby Podhale.
The inclusion of Spiš and Orava in the new state of Czechoslovakia was not welcomed by all of its residents. In early November 1918 National Council of Poles in Upper Orava constituated itself in Jabłonka and pro-Polish Spisz National Council declared its existence in Stará Ľubovňa, both groups being in contact with Zakopane Republic - a short lived autonomous Polish statelet in Podhale, whose president was Stefan Żeromski. On 6 November 1918, Polish forces entered Spiš, but retreated after a defeat at Kežmarok on 7 December 1918 as well as pressure from the Entente. In June 1919, however, the Poles captured again northern Spiš and in addition northern Orava. In Spiš they demanded the whole northern half of the region down to Poprad, though units were withdrawn after orders from Warsaw in January 1919. Although both governments promised to carry out plebiscites in villages in northern Spiš and northeastern Orava about whether those people want to live in Poland or in Czechoslovakia, plebiscites were not held and both governments agreed to arbitration.
In Poland the case was advocated by Polish Tatra Society and later by National Committee for Defense of Spisz, Orawa, Czadca and Podhale established in Cracow and led by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, a popular writer known for his stories on Tatra mountains and Goral folklore. It's worth to notice, that the whole conflict was seen as Polish-Czech issue rather than Polish-Slovak, with phrases like "Czech invasion" in common use . The Committee organized a delegation, whose members - Ferdynand Machay, a priest born in Jabłonka (Orava), Piotr Borowy from Rabče (Orava) and Wojciech Halczyn from Lendak (Spiš) went to Paris and, during a personal audience, talked to president Thomas Woodrow Wilson.
After World War I, a territorial dispute between Poland and Czechoslovakia erupted over the Cieszyn Silesia area in Silesia. To calm down friction which developed, Polish Rada Narodowa Księstwa Cieszyńskiego and Czech Národní výbor pro Slezsko, regional bodies representing the two nationalities, agreed on interim borders after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That agreement was to be ratified by the central governments of the two nascent republics.
Czech side built its argumentation on historical, economic and strategic reasons, while Poland based her demand on ethnicity. The disputed area was part of the Bohemian Crown since 1339. The only railway from Czech territory to eastern Slovakia ran through this area (Košice-Bohumín Railway), and access to the railway was critical for Czechoslovakia: the newly-formed country was at war with Béla Kun's revolutionary Hungarian Soviet Republic, which was attempting to re-establish Hungarian sovereignty over Slovakia. The area is also very rich in black coal, and it was the most industrialized region of all Austria-Hungary. The important Třinec Iron and Steel Works are also located here. All these raised the strategic importance of this region to Czechoslovakia. On the other hand, majority of the population was Polish, with substantial Czech and German minorities.
The Czechoslovak government in Prague requested that the Poles cease their preparations for national parliamentary elections in the area that had been designated Polish in the interim agreement as no sovereign rule was to be executed in the disputed areas. Polish government declined and the Czech side decided to stop the preparations by force. Czech troops entered area managed by Polish interim body on January 23. Czech troops gained the upper hand over the weaker Polish units. The majority of Polish forces were engaged in fighting with the West Ukrainian National Republic over eastern Galicia at that time. Czechoslovakia was forced to stop the advance by the Allies, and Czechoslovakia and Poland were compelled to sign a new demarcation line on February 3, 1919 in Paris. A final line was set up at the Spa Conference in Belgium. On July 28, 1920, the western part of the disputed territory was given to Czechoslovakia while Poland received the eastern part, thus creating a Zaolzie with a substantial Polish minority.
At the Paris Peace Conference (1920) Poland requested northwesternmost Spiš (including the region around Javorina). What are virtually the present-day borders were set by a conference of ambassadors held at Spa (Belgium) on 28 July 1920: Edvard Beneš agreed to cede to Poland 13 villages (especially Nowa Biała, Jurgów and Niedzica; 195 km²; pop. 8747) in northwestern Spiš and 12 villages in northeastern Orava (around Jabłonka; 389 km²; pop. 16133), in matter of fact the Czechoslovak authorities officially regarded their inhabitants as exclusively Slovak, while Poles pointed out that the dialect used there belonged to Polish language. The Polish government was not satisfied with this results. The conflict was only resolved by the Council of the League of Nations (International Court of Justice) on 12 March 1924, which decided that Czechoslovakia should retain the territory of Javorina and Ždiar and which entailed (in the same year) an additional exchange of territories in Orava - the territory around Nižná Lipnica went to Poland, the territory around Suchá Hora and Hladovka went to Czechoslovakia. The new frontiers were confirmed by a Czechoslovak-Polish Treaty on 24 April 1925 and are identical with present-day borders.
Parts of the disputed territories (Zaolzie) were annexed by Poland in 1938 following the Munich Agreement (1000 km²) and the First Vienna Award (Northern Spisz and northern Orava (county) 266 km²) and then respectively occupied by Germany (Zaolzie) or Slovakia in 1939 after their invasion of Poland at the onset of World War II.
In October 1938, on the eve of World War II, Poland occupied some northern parts of Slovakia and received from Czechoslovakia territories around Suchá Hora and Hladovka, around Javorina, and in addition the territory around Lesnica in the Pieniny Mountains, a small territory around Skalité and some other very small border regions (they officially received the territories on 1 November 1938 - see also Munich Agreement and First Vienna Award). The First Slovak Republic, however, received back both the territories lost in 1938 and annexed the territories "lost" in 1920-1924. This re-annexation happened in October 1939 (officially confirmed on 24 November 1939) when Slovakia supported Nazi Germany's attack on Poland in September 1939. The annexation by the puppet state of Slovakia saved the population of the area from the naked terror of Nazi Germany as it was practised in the General Government until Slovakia agreed to take part in the Holocaust, but even then the genocidal policy was directed exclusively against the Jews.
In January 1945, these border territories were liberated by the Soviet Red Army. The inhabitants of Orava and Spiš (i. e. including the territories "lost" in 1920-1924) created authorities similar to those in the remaining Czechoslovakia (Slovakia ceased to exist as an independent state) and sought to prevent Polish authorities, which were trying to recover the territories they had before WWII, from entering the region .. The Czechoslovak President Beneš, however, decided to give the territories regained during WWII (i. e. northern Spiš and northern Orava) to Poland again (the corresponding formal act was signed on 20 May 1945), although Slovak organised poll on the territories showed support of the population in favour of Czechoslovakia. There were many protests in the form of delegations visiting the president , petitions to Prague and Poland, protests by American Slovaks and protests by the Slovak clergy. Despite these, on 20 May 1945, the pre-WWII borders between Czechoslovakia and Poland were restored.
Polish troops then occupied northern Orava and Spiš on 17 July 1945. Reports of lootings, expulsions and persecutions of Slovaks in the annexed regions followed. There were armed clashes and fatalities in some villages over the following two years. Slovaks from the Polish part of Spiš settled mainly in the newly created industrial town of Svit near Poprad, Kežmarok, Poprad, and in depopulated German villages (from which the German inhabitants had been previously expelled) near Kežmarok. Slovaks from the Polish part of Orava settled mainly in Czech Silesia, and in depopulated German villages in the Czech lands (Sudetenland).
On 10 March 1947 a treaty guaranteeing basic rights for Slovaks in Poland was signed between Czechoslovakia and Poland. As a result, 41 Slovak basic schools and 1 high school were opened in Poland. Most of these however were shut down in the early sixties because of lack of Slovakian teachers.
On June 13, 1958, in Warsaw, the two countries signed a treaty confirming the border at the line of January 1, 1938 (that is, returning to the situation before the Nazi-imposed Munich Agreement transferred territory from Czechoslovakia to Poland), and since then there have been no conflicts regarding this matter.
In 2002, Poland and Slovakia made some further minor border adjustments .
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