The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/The Past and the Future of Bohemia

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4195464The Bohemian Review, volume 3, no. 1 — The Past and the Future of Bohemia1919Thomas Čapek

The Past and the Future of Bohemia

By Thomas Čapek.

The war proved to be a most efficient school mistress. It has enabled us to locate on the map cities, rivers and states whose existence, prior to August, 1914, wall all but unknown to the school boy. Furthermore, its has put America on speaking terms with the so-called small nations—the Serbs, Finns, Rumanians, Poles, Czechoslovaks and others.

Before the war the average Anglo-Saxon knew little about the Czechoslovaks and the little that the tourists from England and America have gleaned, while passing through the country from Dresden to Vienna, was distorted because observed through Austrian, that is German glasses. If the Vienna Neue Freie Presse and other Austrian journals chose to represent―or rather misrepresent―them to the world as scheming pan-Slav agitators, as narrow minded nationalists, in whose country it was unsafe for a foreign tourist to travel, as incorrigible trouble makers who, more than any other people in Austria, were responsible for the existence in the empire of racial struggles, the belief eventually gained ground that they were Pan-Slavs, chauvinists, trouble-breeders. Then there was the ever watchful mistress, Vienna, who saw to it that travelers from foreign lands should see and admire none other save her own charms. And yet Prague, the capital of Bohemia, has been spoken of by experienced travelers, Humboldt among them, as one of the most picturesque cities in Europe. The mistake of it was that pre-war travelers from England and America went to Vienna to get light on the Austrian Slav, instead of studying him in his homeland: Czechs in Bohemia, Poles in Galicia, the Croatian in Zagreb.

The Austrian Government put the Teutonic facade on everything in Bohemia and the lands once belonging to her—upon the telegraph, the railroad, commerce, industry, schools, banking, civil administration, the judiciary, the army. From the time of Marie Theresa every Hapsburg believed he was doing a patriotic service to civilization by repressing the non-German races in the empire. Students were punished for conversing in their mother tongue in the classrooms. Before the eighties of the last century one could not send a telegram in the Czech language from one part of Bohemia to another, though telegraph offices readily accepted messages in French and English. Towns with pure Czech population were not only required to have street signs in German, but the system imposed upon these municipalities administration that was Teutonic in form, if not always in spirit. It may seem incredible that Prague, the capital, succeeded in throwing off the Tentonic mask only in the early sixties, when the Czech element got the upper hand at municipal elections.

The revolutionary movement of 1848 was instrumental in introducing modern ideas in Austria. The label on Bohemia began to change in color. From pure Teutonic it was then transformed into Austro-Czech. Previous to 1848 the Czech language was barely tolerated. True, a number of patriots busied themselves with the revival of it—Jungmann, Palacký, Havlíček and others—but the sane, safe and conservative element of the burgeoise class long remained deaf to the entreaties of the revivalists. As to the attitude of the government toward the revivalist movement you were free to be a Czech, provided you did nothing to hurt the feeling of the Kaisertreu policeman and gendarme. After the introduction of constitutionalism the system—by the system was meant the dynasty, the beaurocracy, hierarchy, aristocracy and the militarists—resorted to every trick and devise to keep in political and economic subjection the non-Germanic majority in Austria and non-Magyar majority in Hungary. Census was falsified, suffrage was juggled with, representation in Parliament rested on fraud and gerrymander.

Thinking Czechs dreaded the German who looked upon the small Slavic nations around him—the Czechoslovaks, Poles, Lusatian Serbs—as his legitimate prey, as fertilizer of Greater Germany.

The Hussite Wars in the 15th century were, in the last analysis, both religious and racial. The proof of this lies in the fact that when they ended the Germans had been pushed everywhere to the border of the country. The dread of the Germans was the dominant theme of Czech history As late as the dawn of the nineteenth century, faint hearted men in Bohemia freely gave expression to their fears that the Czech race had lost the never ceasing battle with Germanism and that the same fate awaited it which had met the Slav Obodrites, the Polabians north of them—denationalization.

Against the opposition of Vienna, the intrigues of Budapest and the sinister influence of Berlin, the struggle of the Czechs seemed at times a hopeless one.

When the Czechs demanded a second university in Moravia, they were rebuffed with the answer: let the Czechs learn German.

Czech savings banks were stockholders of the Austro-Hungarian Central Bank. Yet, when they insisted upon being represented on the Board of Governors, the system cried out in unison: Banking does not differentiate between Germans and Czechs. Banking is international.

When they urged concession for the use of their native language in the army, the retort was: Do not touch the army! The army must retain a unified (German) command.

When they rebelled against German being raised to the dignity of the official language of the state, the system sought to still all opposition by arguing that the safety of the state demanded it.

Let us try to forget, however, the wrongs which the Austrian and Magyar grandfathers have done to the Czechoslovak grandfathers and let us consider the future.

Does the Czechoslovak of today possess the qualities which one usually attributes to successful state builders? “Our nation”, wrote Charles Velemínský, a Czech pedagogue who visited the United States, “has ever been idealistic, sacrificing all for its ideals. Idealism must be our most precious offering to America. Without ideals even practical America is unthinkable.”

The Czech is a democrat. “We accept and shall adhere to the ideals of modern democracy, as they have been the ideals of our nation for centuries,” says the Declaration of Independence of the Czechoslovak Nation. From Hus to Havlíček he has waged a ceaseless, though at times a losing war, against the sinister power of reaction. In the course of the struggle and directly due to it, his native land has lost its political independence, but the conqueror could not stifle in him the lofty ideals he inherited from his Hussite forebears.

He is self-reliant. Note the names of the deputies in the former Austrian Parliament and those constituting the new government: Dr. Rieger, Dr. Pacák, Dr. Kramář, Mr. Klofáč—all commoners. On the other hand observe, for the sake of comparison, who are and were the spokesmen of the Magyars in the Hungarian Parliament: Count Karolyi, Count Andrassy, Count Batthyany, Count Apponyi. The Czechs lost their nobility in the 17th century. The aristocracy owning estates in Bohemia at the present day was, up to the time of the war, almost without exception Austrian in sentiment, ultramontane in politics, feudal in traditions. Stern necessity has taught the Czech commoner to rely on none save himself, to think and act for himself. It is astonishing what progress in art, literature, commerce few decades of national revival, unaided and industry he has made within the last by aristocracy.

He is intelligent. At Ellis Island he has established two records. Of all the races from Austria-Hungary, Germans and Magyars not excepted, the Czech is lowest in the percentage of illiterates—2%—and the highest in the percentage of skilled labor. If it is true, as their enemies contend, that the Slavs are as yet barbarians, then the Czech who in culture is foremost among the Slavs, can boast of being the first barbarian in Europe.

In the Declaration of Independence above quoted the promise is made that the Church will be separated from the State, that the national minorities shall enjoy equal rights and that the large estates will be redeemed for home colonization.

The separation of the Church from the State will be a policy which is certain to revolutionize the thought and action of the re-born nation. For centuries the Church has been the staunchest prop of the old monarchy. In recognition of the great and faithful services rendered, the Hapsburg rulers were permitted to append to their many titles that of the Apostolic Majesty. With the fall of the old regime will be shorn of power those churchmen who were partners with the government in the work of repressing the national aspirations of the subject races, to the end that the ruling minorities, that is the Germans in Austria and the Magyars in Hungary, might continue in power. Released from the restraint placed on them by their superiors, the younger clergy will henceforth be free to choose their racial allegiance. Already there is talk in Bohemia of the revival, in some modernized form, of the Bohemian Brethren’s Church with its traditions dear to the Czechoslovaks. Around this church, it is possible, will rally dissidents of all denominations and of all shades of opinion.

A Prague newspaper relates how, after the Czechoslovak Republic had been proclaimed, a Bohemian-German asked a jubilant Czech fellow-countryman:

“Now, that you Czechs have a state of your own, how are you going to treat us Germans?” To this the Czech replied: “We will treat you the same way you have treated us.” The story goes that the German, upon hearing this reply, looked worried.

The Czech in this story was not voicing the sentiment of his nation, when he stated that the Germans would be treated as well, or rather as unjustly as the Germans under the old order of things had treated them. “We will be fairer with the Germans than they were with us”, said Dr. Kramář, the Premier, in a recent newspaper interview. “We will give them (Germans) every liberty, their own schools and language, but the government must be ours.” So much for the treatment of the Germans.

Two objects are certain of being attained as a result of the cutting up of large estates. In the first place the land hunger of the small farmer will be appeased; secondly, a crushing blow will be dealt thereby to Germanism and feudalism. The chateaux of the large landed aristocracy, everyone knows, were nests of illiberalism and militant Teutonism. None will feel sorry, when both are finally put out of harm’s way.

What of the Germans in the so-called German section of Bohemia ? Will they not want to secede? Will they not want to set up a state of their own? These two questions might be answered by asking a third one: is there such a thing in Bohemia or Moravia, or Silesia, as purely German territory? A glance at an ethnographic map will show there is no territory worth speaking of where there are not strong Czech minorities, except in one corner of the country known as the Egerland. According to the census of 1910 there lived in Bohemia 6,774,309 people, including Soldiers in active service. Of this number (1900) 62.68% were Czechs, 37.26% Germans. However, it should be borne in mind that these figures are the product of a doctored, make-believe census. The Austrian Government saw fit to count, for reasons best known to itself, not according to the mother tongue, but on the basis of the “language of association”. When the German employer in the northwest is no longer encouraged by Vienna to intimidate his Czech help with threats of discharge unless he puts himself down as an Austrian, the number of Czechs, it is confidently expected, will promptly increase by several hundred thousand in Bohemia alone, while the ranks of the Germans will diminish in proportion.

Moreover, should the Bohemian-Germans be allowed to rend in twain the ancient Bohemian Kingdom, where would the security, the protection against invasion, be on the part of the Czechoslovak Republic? Look at the diamond shaped range of mountains forming a natural barrier on three sides and walling in the country. Then judge for yourself whether the Czechoslovak people could long maintain themselves against a neighbor lusting for conquest, if deprived of the natural protection which these mountains offer? Surely, when the Allies accepted President Wilson’s doctrine of self-determination of peoples and when the Czechoslovaks, agreeably to that doctrine, established their commonwealth on the ruins of Austria, it was intended that this and other states should endure, and that they should be provided with safeguards to maintain themselves—not that these safeguards should be destroyed.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1950, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 73 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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