Page:The Bohemian Review, vol1, 1917.djvu/202

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in all Europe, issued a dignified protest against the Prussian robbery of Alsace-Lorraine. Much of the sympathy which France today extends to the Bohemian cause is due to the memory of the Bohemian sympathy for France in her hour of defeat.

The days of 1870–71 witnessed the last Austrian crisis which gave promise of satisfying the demands of the Bohemians for freedom within Austria. Potocki resigned in 1871, but his successor, Count Hohenwart, was ready to make a compromise with the Bohemians similar to the one that had been concluded with the Magyars. The ministry and the Czechs reached an agreement on the main point of the Bohemian program, and on September 12, 1871, Francis Joseph issued a solemn rescript in which he said: “I willingly recognize the rights of this kingdom and will ratify this recognition by the coronation oath.” Rieger was made the general reporter of a committee of thirty to prepare the fundamental articles by which the relations of the rest of monarchy would be regulated, and it seemed that the Czechs had reached their goal. And then the influence of the new united Germany and of the Magyars caused a sudden reversal of policy. The emperor’s solemn promise was withdrawn, and before the end of 1871 it became a crime to circulate his rescript in Bohemia. A German nationalist ministry was appointed and a period of persecution came upon Bohemia. It was not the fault of Rieger, and his people knew it. When he returned to Prague after the failure of his proposals in Vienna, he was welcomed like a triumphant general, and his carriage was drawn by enthusiastic men from the station to his residence.

It was inevitable though that some reaction would arise in the people against the failure of Rieger’s alliance with the nobility to get results. It was at this time that the Young Czech party was formed, but for twenty years more they could make no headway against the popularity and prestige of the “leader of the nation”. The Bohemian politics got into an impasse. To go to the Reichsrat and fight there for the rights of the Czechs seemed to imply the abandonment of the historical state rights program; to stay at home and take no part in public affairs was a policy that brought benefit only to the Germans. So it happened that in 1879 Count Taaffe, a nobleman of Irish origin and a close personal friend of the emperor, persuaded Rieger and his colleagues to re-enter the parliament and become one of the parties of the right, supporting the Taaffe government. In return for this the Czechs obtained important concessions, such as the erection of a Bohemian university in Prague and the recognition of the Czech language as the “external” language of governmental offices in their dealings with the people of Bohemian districts. Upon entering the Reichsrat after an absence of sixteen years the Bohemian delegation made a reservation of their rights, and the emperor in the speech from the throne expressly acknowledged this reservation.

For more than ten years Dr. Rieger fought constantly in the parliament at the head of the Czech deputies from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia for laws which would put his people on an equality with the Germans in their own land. It was a modest program, considering that the Czechs had both valid historical rights, and a majority of the people, in fact more than two thirds. He did obtain valuable concessions and his policy contributed to the consolidation of the influence of the Czech people on governmental measures. But the results unfortunately were far short of the radical feeling of the people. And a sudden turn came about in 1890 which closed the long period of Rieger’s leadership. Rieger, and with him the Old Czech party, as it now became known, comprising a great majority of the Czech deputies, consented at the request of Taaffe to enter into conferences with the German deputies from Bohemia in order to reach a compromise in local Bohemian affairs. The principal concession on the German side was consent to a change in the election laws by which the Bohemians would definitely obtain majority in the Prague diet, without being dependent on the votes of the feudal landholders. In return for that Rieger agreed to measures which would have led to a division of Bohemia into a Czech and German sphere. These so-called “punktace” found no approval with the Czech people, and in the elections of 1891 the Old Czech party was swept away, Rieger himself failing of re-election. That was the end of the long political life of the great Czech tribune of the people.

Rieger was honored in many ways both by his people and by governments. When his seventieth birthday was celebrated in Prague in 1888, the large amount of 113,000 gulden was collected by popular subscription as a birthday present. Rieger refused to use the money either for himself or for his family, and turned it over for the support of Bohemian literature. He was the honorary citizen of almost every city of Bohemia and Moravia, and he was also the first president of that great Bohemian institution, the Central School Fund (Ústřední Matice Školská). He received several Austrian and Rusian decorations, and the last Austrian ministry, friendly to the Slavs, the cabinet of Badeni, made Rieger a baron. He died, full of years and honors, March 3, 1903, and the City of Prague gave him a royal funeral.

The motto of Rieger which has become the battle cry of all Bohemians was the brief “Don’t give up” (Nedejme se).

The memory of the Czech leader of the nation is kept alive in America by the Rieger Club of Chicago. It is the principal social organization of Catholic Bohemians in Chicago and it exerts a wide influence on the life of the big Bohemian settlement in the Metropolis of the West. Its membership includes some of the biggest business and professional men of the South West Side of Chicago. Its monthly organ, the “Rieger”, not only gives news of the happenings at the Club, but wields a great influence over all Bohemian people of Catholic