The New Europe/Volume 3/Bohemia's Demand for Independence

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3878517The New Europe, vol. III, no. 34 — Bohemia’s Demand for Independence1917

Bohemia’s Demand for Independence

[While much amiable sentiment has been expended on the supposed Slavophil tendencies of the Emperor Charles and his present advisers, the repressive system under which Bohemia has groaned since early in the war continues unabated. But nothing can quell the spirit of the Czechs, and the reference to their liberation in the Allied Note, followed by the Russian Revolution, has had a magical effect upon them. To-day the most prominent of their party leaders are in prison or in exile, but though fresh arrests and inquisitions continue (notably against the directors of one of the leading patriotic banks of Prague), the country is united in sentiment as it has seldom been in the past. The three following documents are symptomatic of its attitude.]

The Union of Czech Journalists in Prague on 25 April addressed to the Austrian Premier and to all Czech deputies the following protest against the methods of the censorship:—

“We draw attention above all to the methods of the Prague Censorship, which are in formal contradiction to the spirit of morality and every principle of civilised journalism. Our newspapers are forced to insert articles sent by the official Press Bureaux as if they were the work of our editorial offices, and we are not permitted to indicate the fact that these articles are imposed upon us by authority. This procedure is not only contrary to the fundamental principles of journalism, but also extremely humiliating, for the newspaper thus finds itself edited, not by the responsible editor, but by the Government Press Bureaux.”

Some weeks later an even more remarkable manifesto was issued to the Czech deputies by over 150 of the leading literary men of Bohemia. Not a single name of any prominence is missing from the list, which includes the poets Machar, Dyk and Březina, all the chief novelists, essayists, and musical critics, the Director of the National Theatre, and over thirty professors of Prague University (including Niederle and others of European reputation). Its outspoken expression of national solidarité has created a profound sensation in Austria, and has been much commented on by the Poles, who are now for the first time for a generation themselves in open opposition to the Government:—

“We turn to you, gentlemen, at an eventful moment in our national life, in times for which we shall all bear the responsibility for a century to come. To you, the deputies of the Czech people, we turn, knowing full well that we—the Czech writers, men who are active and prominent in our public life—have not only the right but also the duty to speak in the name of the great majority of the cultural and intellectual world of Bohemia—nay, more in the name of the nation, which cannot itself speak.

“Parliament is to meet shortly, and for the first time during the war the political representatives of the Czech nation will have an opportunity of proclaiming from this forum all that could not hitherto be proclaimed either through the Press or in other ways. We, of course, regret that this forum is not to be the time-honoured Diet of the Bohemian Kingdom, and we expressly declare that we regard the Diet as the only assembly competent to discuss the desires and needs of our nation. Unhappily there is at present no Bohemian Diet, and hence the only free forum of the Czech deputies is in the meantime the Parliament of Vienna. There, at least, then, gentlemen, be the true spokesmen of your nation! There, at least, tell the country and the whole world, what your nation wants and what it stands by! There, at least, fulfil your sacred duty, by defending with resolution and sacrifice Czech rights and Czech claims in this fateful hour of history. For now the destiny of the Czech nation is being decided for centuries to come.

“But you can only fulfil your duty to the full, if beforehand all constitutional conditions are respected—more especially, freedom of assembly before Parliament meets, so that deputies may acquaint themselves with the wishes and grievances of their constituents; the abolition of Press censorship in non-military matters; absolute freedom and immunity for all speeches both in Parliament and in the Press, and, above all, full immunity for all deputies. A number of Czech and Jugoslav deputies have been deprived of this freedom and immunity; many were imprisoned and even sentenced to death, while others were interned without anyone knowing what was their offence! During the war political persecution has increased to an unheard-of degree; and if there is to be a new political life—which is an indispensable preliminary to all parliamentary discussion and action—it is essential that you should first of all secure a general amnesty for all condemned by the military courts on non-military and purely political grounds.

“The Czech nation cannot grant to its present representatives the right to speak and act in its name in Parliament so long as absolute political freedom is not assured in our public life. But we also object to the intention of the Austrian Parliament—deprived of over forty deputies, half of them still alive and fully entitled to take their seats—to prolong its own life. The people alone can grant or renew this right, and only at the hands of the people can a Czech accept the political representation of his rights and desires.

“These desires and rights of the Czecho-Slovak nation acquire greater strength and a new importance owing to the world war, during which Europe is gaining a new, democratic aspect. Our whole policy must have the same great liberating standpoint, reinforced by the old honesty, the old spirit of sacrifice and devotion, the old glorious regard for the honour of the Czech nation and for the judgment of the future. These qualities the Czech people have proved by the calm dignity which they have preserved throughout the war despite all temptations, and without either commands or advice from their deputies being required. This calm dignity, this instinct of self-preservation was the most sound expression of our national instinct; and this eloquent national silence, which not even the greatest persecution could break down, would have remained undisturbed so long as the world war lasted. But now the gates of the Austrian Parliament are opening, and the political representatives of the nations have for the first time the opportunity, should they desire it, of speaking and acting freely. Whatever they may say and decide will be heard not only at home, but also throughout Europe, and even beyond the seas. You, gentlemen, the present and the future will regard as the spokesmen of the Czecho-Slovak nation, and there is no doubt what they require from you. The programme of our nation is founded on its history and racial unity, on its modern political life and rights and on all that gave birth to these rights and guaranteed them. The present time emphasizes this programme in its farthest consequences. If it ever seemed possible to renounce or limit this programme, to-day you are forced to develop it and to defend to the last breath before the forum of Europe as a whole, and to demand its realisation without any reservations. For the Czech people has never renounced it, and faith in its glorious realisation has never vanished from Czecho-Slovak hearts. This has been brought about by the events of the world’s war. Democratic Europe, the Europe of free and independent nations, is the Europe of to-morrow and of the future. The nation asks of you to be equal to this great historical occasion, to devote to it all your abilities, to sacrifice to it all other considerations, to act as independent men, as men without any personal obligations and interests, as men of the highest moral and national consciousness. If you cannot carry out all that the nation demands of you and charges you with, then rather resign your right to sit and appeal to the highest authority—to your nation.”

The deliberations of the Czech Parliamentary Club on this manifesto are, of course, not accessible to us. But the following statement communicated by them to the Prague Press on 20 May speaks for itself:—

“At this historic moment for the Czech nation the decisions of the Czech Club have a quite exceptional importance. It is unnecessary to point out that the entire Czech nation awaits with impatience the moment for learning the attitude adopted by its deputies. It may rest assured that the deputies, conscious of their high mission, will, above all, demand the restoration of the constitution of the kingdom of Bohemia; in other words, the convocation of the Bohemian Diet, and that they will not fail to urge before the Reichsrat our ancient programme of independence. It may also be predicted that, in view of the new situation, our deputies will put forward a programme of constitutional rights, far wider than all past programmes, and containing new claims, such as the results of the world-war have given rise to. The Poles have already taken these results into consideration and founded upon them their new attitude.”

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