Bohemian History as described in Historic Encyclopedias

Meyer 1902-1909

Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1902-1909, Article : Böhmen
... V. Era : Until the Revolutionary Events of 1848
. ... By the wars of the Napoleonic Era, Bohemia was little affected. The land during a long period of peace under Leopold II. (until 1792), Franz I. (until 1835) and Ferdinand II. (until 1848), because of its rich resources, could undergo significant economic development. And if the pressure of Metternich's system was lying on Bohemia as on many other countries, the material and spiritual energies, which had been awoken during the government of Maria Theresia and Joseph II., developed quietly, until the year of liberation 1848 began a new era.

VI. Era : Until the Present Days
National consciousness of the Czechs, after the Battle of the White Mountain, had continuously retreated, their language had been pushed out of school and office, their literature without importance. This changed during the period of Enlightenment under Maria Theresia and Joseph II. The Czech language flourished, and with it the national consciousness and national separateness of the Czechs, which soon placed itself opposite the Germans. This showed during the revolutionary events of 1848, when many districts of Bohemia refused elections for the Frankfurt National Assembly, while the [Pan-] Slavic Congress in Prague in May emphasized the commonness of Bohemia's interests with those of the other Slavs. Just at the beginning of the revolutionary movement an assembly of Czechs in Prague on March 11th, held in St. Wenceslas' Bath, expressed their wishes in a petition addressed to the Emperor : among the 14 points the one concerning equal treatment of the Czech language with the German one in school and office was of great importance, also the unification of the Lands of the Bohemian crown in one diet. On the second, more determined petition of March 29th the letter by Emperor Ferdinand of April 8th contained several concessions, which immediately were opposed by the estates assembled in Vienna. Pillersdorff's constitution did not reflect any of the Czech wishes. In the further course of the movement, between June 12th and 17th bloody conflicts between Imperial troops and the Czechs in Prague occurred, in which the latter suffered defeat, which put an end to their revolution. With the dissolution of the Reichstag of Kremsier, in which the Czech members, among whom the leader of the movement, Palacky and Rieger, supported the government, also for the Czechs a period of rest began. But the questions of nationality, language and statehood had been raised, and from then onward dominated the history of Bohemia. When, after the collapse of Bach's system in the war of 1859 political activities of the nations no longer were obstructed, it showed already under the first cabinet Rechberg-Goluchowski, to which Leo Thun belonged as minister of education, a mood favorable to the Czechs prevailed, when the attempt was made, based on "historical-political individualities" and of historically relevant regional languages, to establish a federalist constitution. The plan failed, but already before, the previous exclusive use of German as language of education in the gymnasia had been abandoned. But when in the February constitution under Schmerling the government moved on a centralist path, in the Bohemian diet the struggle between the nationalities about the structure of the state began in the most severe manner, which soon spread into the Reichsrat. In the session of the Bohemian diet of 1863, in which Palacky's request to revise the diet and electoral ordinnance was rejected, the Czech delegates rejected the implementation of by-elections to the Reichsrat. Stormy events in the diet were followed by unrest on the streets, anti-German demonstrations. Shortly after the begin of the second Reichsrat session on June 25th, Rieger, in the name of the Czech deputees, declared, that they rejected any further participation in the work of the house. A 15 year long period of absence of the Czech deputees began. Under cabinet Belcredi (since July 27th 1865) and after the sistation of the constitution (September 20th) the Czech plans seemed to have gotten a step closer to their goal; again, as in April 1861, the prospect of a Bohemian coronation was made, a committee created in the Bohemian diet to revise the Bohemian constitution, a program concerning state law developed. Inmidst of this domestic struggle the war of 1866 occurred, in which Bohemia formed the main battleground. After the completion of the withdrawal of the enemy, the Emperor visited Bohemia and Moravia, spoke reconciliatory words in Prague and Brünn, which did not create any hopes in regard to the position {of the country] as a state. The transition of government from Belcredi to Beust (in February 1867) also meant a determined change of direction away from the federalist direction. Therefore the Czechs continued in their abstinence from the Reichsrat. The government in March 1867 pushed through the creation of a German majority in the Bohemian diet, with the aid of constitutionalist estate owners, which sent their deputation to the Reichsrat without conditions. A Pan-Slavist demonstration in form of a pilgrimage to Moscow in April 1867 was the Czech response. Also they strengthened their position in the country by political agitation and by the establishment of clubs and associations. In 1868 construction of the Czech National Theater was begun, financed by donations collected from the population. Newspapers and magazines increased in number year by year; also a strong economic development showed among the Czech people. On the other hand, in this time (1868) demonstrations and street riots, tabors (assemblies) under the open sky took place more and more. During the visit of the Emperor to Prague (in June 1868) many [Prague residents] undertook trips to the countryside to participate in demonstrations held there, provocative posters indicated an aroused mood. Undeterred the government attempted to bring about an understanding. The crown insignia, according to a decision of the diet of 1867, on August 28th under great pomp were brought from Vienna to Prague and exposed in St. Vitus' Cathedral. But all attempts, especially made by assistant prime minister Count Taaffe, failed. The Czech declaration, i.e. the detailed formulation of demands, the approval of which the deputees required if they were expected to rejoin the assemblies, were rejected by the German majority in the session of the Bohemian diet on September 28th 1868. Now the amassing of crowds in the streets took threatening character; Count Taaffe as provisional prime minister dispatched lieutenant field marshall Koller to Bohemia as stadholder, and on October 10th 1868 the state of emergency was declared over Prague and its suburbs, in order to suppress unrest. It lasted over half a year. But the anti-German mood in Viennese government circles, caused by the Franco-German war of 1870, came the Czechs to pass. After they had gained the majority in the Bohemian diet, the appointment of the federalist cabinet Hohenwart, to which two Czechs belonged, Jirecek and Habietinek, created great expectations. At the request of the government, the [Bohemian] diet in 1871 discussed a constitution, which was to fix the autonomous administration of Bohemia under a chancellor responsible to the diet, which, by a new electoral law, sentenced the Germans to powerlessness [i.e. to a minority], and which was to be confirmed on a "coronation diet". But ultimately, Emperor Franz Josef, influenced by Count Andrassy, refused to confirm the Bohemian "Fundamental Articles"; the cabinet Hohenwart was dismissed on October 26th 1871, and the new, constitutionalist cabinet Auersperg, with the cooperation of the estate owners, provided the Germans the majority in the Bohemian diet in 1872. From this moment on the Czechs objected to any opening of diet, declared all decisions of the diet as illegal, stayed away from the sessions, als also stated away from Reichsrat session. This policy of abstinence seemed to be without effect, and was not approved by the liberal party of the Young Czechs (in contrast to the Old Czechs, who were allied with clergy and feudal nobility). But the mistakes of the German Liberal Constitutionalist Party in 1879 in Vienna caused a change of system (see Austro-Hungarian monarchy, history). The cabinet Taaffe induced the Czechs to rejoin the Reichsrat (October 9th, under conditions), where, together with the German Clericals, the Southern Slavs and the Poles, they formed the government majority. What tied the Czechs to the government were concessions by Count Taaffe which had great, even fatal impact on the position of the Germans in Bohemia. The language ordinnance of April 19th 1880, which required the political and judicial authorities in all of Bohemia to formulate their documents in the language of the petitioners, resulted, as the officials of German nationality usually did not master the Czech language, in Czech officials fluent in both languages to be appointed in the area where German was spoken. The establishment of a separate Czech University next to the German in 1882 [in Prague] supplied the national Czech officials and lawyers, while a strong number of new Czech gymnasia provided students for the national university. In the same year (1882) the majority in the Reichsrat pushed through a law (of October 9th), which altered the elections for Reichsrat among Bohemian estate owners, which hitherto took place in a single electoral district, and, because Germans formed the majority, always had elected Germans, was changed in such a way that elections now were held in five electoral districts, which were established in such a way, that a certain number of seats were guaranteed to Czech estate owners, and that Germans only by the way of compromise, in limited number, could get into the Second Chamber. Finally Count Taaffe changed the electoral ordinnances of the three Chambers of Commerce of Prague, Pilsen and Budweis by decree in such a way, that the German deputees lost their mandates to Czechs (1883). In 1884 the Germans lost the majority in the Bohemian diet. The Germans soon recognized the only means to prevent the Slavization of their homeland to be the demand to separate the German districts administratively from the Czech ones, to prevent the intrusion of Czechs in purely German communities as judges, officials, workers etc., who then immediatelt would demand Czech-language schools, and to calm down the national dispute. But the proposal of the German deputees in this regard, by the Czech majority, was not even transferred to a committee, but even at the first lecture, at the suggestion of clerical-feudal Prince Karl Schwarzenberg, rejected, to which the German Bohemians responded on December 22nd 1886 left the diet with the declaration that they only would resume their participation, when they were given the promise, their proposals would be dealt with in a rational manner. The offers of mediation made by marshall Prince Lobkowitz late in 1887 to the leader of the reelected Germans, Schmeykal (splitting the diet in three curias, estate owners, Czechs and Germans) were rejected, as any guarantee by the government was missing. The Germans insisted on their national possession being secured by the administrative partition of Bohemia by nationality, and by splitting the diet in two national curias, both being given a veto against excesses. The victory of the radical Young Czechs in the Bohemian elections in July 1889 got the government into an awkward position. Stadholder von Kraus was replaced by Count Thun-Hohenstein, who belonged to the Bohemian estate owners, and who in 1888 had spoken out for the [Bohemian] coronation, and who was regarded an opponent of Liberalism. Pushed by the threats of the German Liberals to leave Reichsrat, prime minister Taaffe decided to bring about negotiations between the Old Czechs, the feudal estate owners and the Germans in Bohemia. The Young Czechs in the new diet, which the Germans boycotted, had appeared provocatively. Their draft to an address with the request of the restoration of the Kingdom of Bohemia and of its earlier rights to be confirmed in a coronation oath had been rejected by the majority, but the accepted agenda had been confirmed in the confidence, that the crown would decide the right moment, to conclude the great work of Bohemian state law by the coronation. In response, Plener in the name of the Germans in the Reichsrat, had raised objection, and hinted at a possible policy of abstinence by the Germans. But Emperor Franz Josef did not permit matters to develop that far; he asked Count Taaffe to consider the wishes of the Germans. But when, under the title of a Bohemian Ausgleich the agreements made in 1890 failed, despite the personal declaration of the Emperor, that the Ausgleich was a "necessity of state" and had to be implemented under any circumstances, and as he emphasized, that the Czech population without reason had been stirred up. For the agitation against the Ausgleich the Young Czechs were responsible, as the Old Czechs felt, that under these circumstances they lost ground among the population, once they added the introduction of Czech as administrative language in internal service of the courts of the purely Czech sistricts as a condition for the acceptance of the other points of the Ausgleich, although this demand, according to the Vienna Agreement, was to be excluded from the Ausgleich. The government early on, by concessions in the school question, by completion of the Czech university, by the nationalization of Czech private gymnasia in state administration, by recognition of and support for the new Czech academy, tried to counter Young Czech agitation, but in vain.
The great victory of the Young Czechs in the Reichsrat elections of 1891, an intensification of the dispute between Germans and Czechs during the regional exposition in Prague 1891, which was boycotted by the Germans, did not raise the hopes for the Ausgleich attempt to be saved. Only in the diet session of March 1892 the Old Czechs, supported by the Conservative estate owners, proposed to "postpone" the Ausgleich "to calmer times", a proposal which was accepted against the votes of the Germans. The result of the diet session was, that the demands of "Bohemian state law" and "equal treatment", which had been taken back by the feudals and Old Czechs, anew were raised by all non-German parties : the Young Czechs made use of their success by increased agitation. When minister of justice Count Schönborn created a district court in Weckelsdorf, they accused the minister in front of the Viennese Reichsrat, although the Bohemian diet itself in earlier years had demanded its establishment. However, the Reichsrat voted in favour of Schönborn. Still, their support among the population steadily increased, so that the feudal aristocrats of the country, the estates of whom mostly were located in Czech districts, under the leadership of Prince Georg Lobkowitz and Prince Karl Schwarzenberg tried to establish contact with them, while eleven members of the feudal aristocracy laid down their mandates. The Young Czechs, who did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Old Czechs, resisted this approach and held on to their program of a modern Bohemian state without separate status of the Germans and without privileges for the landowning nobility. In the Chamber of Deputees in March 1893 they even proposed the introduction of general universal suffrage, in order, for the purpose of agitation, to secure the industrial and agricultural workers for themselves. When, in the diet of spring that year, the feudal estate owners intended to vote with the Germans in the matter of the establishment of a German district court in Trautenau, the Young Czechs disturbed the session in the plenum in such a way (May 17th) that the session of the diet had to be closed, without even the [Bohemian] budget being approved. The consequence was street riots against Germans, in response to which the government declared the state of emergency in Prague. Simultaneously, the Omladina trial (see Omladina 2), in which conspirators were tried partially because of high treason, of lese majeste and of conspiracy, in part only because of the disturbance of order, were sentenced up to 8 years of incarceration (February 21st 1894) - of 76 accused only 8 were acquitted - caused great excitement in Bohemia. Conditions in Bohemia only made headlines again, when the cabinet Badeni, in order to win the Czechs for the Hungarian Ausgleich, on April 4th 1897 decreed two language ordinnances each for Bohemia and Moravia, which the Germans had to regard as severely damaging and humiliating, because they stipulated among others, that every official, even in the purely German districts, from 1900 onward had to be fluent in both languages. The authorities took stern measures against the protest meetings organized by the Germans, most notably on July 11th in Eger. In vain, Badeni in August, tried to bring about an agreement by negotiations in the language question; the Germans refused any participation in such negotiations, before the language ordinnances were taken back; consequently Badeni broke off the negotiations and decided only to lean on the right, and to vercome the German obstruction by the use of force. Riots against Germans in Pilsen and elsewhere, the mass demonstrations in German cities against the government from now on occurred on a regular basis, until the fall of Badeni (November 1897) and beyond. The horrible unrest of Prague, accompanied by violent acts against Germans and Jews, forced the new cabinet to declare martial law (December 2nd 1897). But as the language ordinnances remained in force, the Czechs in the diet session of 1898 because of the occasion of the Emperor's anniversary on the throne, composed an address to the monarch, which emphasized the right of the Kingdom of Bohemia on autonomous legislation and administration, pointed at the necessity of the unity and indivisibility of the kingdom and concluded with the desire, that the Emperor could be crowned King of Bohemia with the acclamation of both nations. On February 24th 1899 the language ordinnances of 1897 were cancelled, and new regulations declared provisionally, until new regulations would be established by law. This, and the fact that the government in regard to the address only declared that it did not share the position of the address in regard to state law, but that it did not, as desired by the Germans, reject the address, caused the Germans, no longer to participate in further debates of the [Bohemian] diet. But neither the Czechs were satisfied. And when in October 1899 the newly appointed cabinet Clary, in order to make parliament workable, unconditionally cancelled the language ordinnances (October 17th), not only in the Reichsrat began the obstruction of the Czechs, but at many locations in Bohemia and Moravia unrest broke out, during the suppression of which, for instance in Holleschau, bloody clashes between military and people occurred. Also because of the cancellation of the language ordinnances on January 1st 1900 the Czech district representations in 57 cities and 100 municipalities ceased their activity. Prime minister Körber, newly appointed in January 1900, immediately after taking office, initiated reconciliation conferences with the German and Czech parties, but the language laws presented to the Chamber of deputees in May were rejected by the Czechs and treated with obstruction; the Germans also rejected them. The Emperor's visit of Prag, Leitmeritz and Aussig (in June 1901) only calmed down the situation.
Since, more than one year has passed, without anything having been done [to address the issue]. Only at the beginning of the fall session of the Reichsrat in October 1902 Körber again initiated reconciliation conferences, and already in the first session (October 14th) he presented "principles" worked out by the cabinet for the solution of the language question by law. These were two separate drafts, one for Bohemia and one for Moravia, which had only one paragraph in common, on the usage of German as official language, but which were different in every other respect. In Bohemia three language areas, one unilingually German, one unilingually Czech and one bilingual area, where distinguished, where the criterion for unilinguality was a percentage of less than 20 of residents of another language. On the other hand, Moravia was principally treated as a bilingual country. These "principles" were rejected as a foundation for further negotiations both by the Czechs and by the Germans; the first debate in the Reichsrat on October 16th, by a speech of the prime minister and by a counterspeech by Pacak resulted in an intensification of the already tense situation between the government and the Young Czechs. The latter immediately began with a calm obstruction, the postponement of the agenda by urgend proposals. But after a few weeks the prime minister became conciliatory, in a second speech he tried to even out the impression of the former, and to bring about a continuation of reconciliation negotiations. According to the wishes of the government and partially to those of the German Styrian deputees, the German Bohemian Reichsrat deputees, who belonged to the German Progress Party, the German People's Party, the Constitutionalist Estate Owners and to the Agrarian Party (the radical group of the All Germans and East Germans stayed away), to work out proposals for a conciliation in the language question, which were published on December 4th 1902. A few days later the Czech deputees declared even these proposals for unacceptable, and on December 17th presented a draft for the regulation of the language conditions in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Although the Germans determinedly rejected these principles, the action to bring about an understanding is to be expected to be continued in spring 1903. The Austrian Reichsrat remains paralyzed, the Bohemian Question remains the hinge of Austrian domestic politics.

source in German, posted by Retro-Bibliothek


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First posted on March 5th 2009

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