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Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia


industrialization and modernization
the development of two national communities
national politics in the bohemian lands

The Kingdom of Bohemia (Čechy in Czech; Böhmen in German), the Margraviate of Moravia (Morava; Mähren), and Duchy of Silesia (Slezko; Schlesien; Sląsk in Polish) comprise the historical Bohemian Lands, approximately the twenty-first century's Czech Republic, which came under the rule of the Habsburg crown in 1526. The three provinces retained some formal independence within Austria even after the Habsburg-led counter-reforming forces defeated the Bohemian Protestant nobility at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Eventually their unity and independence were undermined and the Bohemian Lands were subjected to direct rule from Vienna, the imperial capital, until the dissolution of the Monarchy in 1918. Bohemia, the westernmost of the three provinces, was the largest at 51,947 square kilometers, while Moravia to its east comprised 22,222 square kilometers, and Silesia, 5,147 square kilometers. Their provincial capitals were Prague (Prag/Praha), one of the largest cities in the Monarchy; Brünn (Brno); and Troppau (Opava), respectively.

Beginning in 1880, the Habsburg Monarchy produced a decennial census in which citizens declared their language of daily usage, which became the basis for identification by ethnic group. Both Bohemia and Moravia had majority Czech populations, large and influential German minorities, and smaller Jewish minorities. According to the last census of the Monarchy in 1910, the population of the Bohemian lands constituted 36 percent of the population of the Austrian half of the Monarchy. Bohemia had a population of 6,712,960, while Moravia had a population of 2,622,271. Bohemia's population was 64 percent Czech and 36 percent German, while Moravia's was 72 percent Czech and 27 percent German. The composition of Silesia, with 756,949 residents the least populous of the three provinces, was significantly different than Bohemia and Moravia. It had a German plurality of 44 percent, followed by a smaller population of Poles of 34 percent, and a still smaller population of Czechs of 26 percent. Roman Catholicism was the major religion in all three provinces.

The emancipation of the Jews of the Bohemian Lands had begun in 1782 with the Edicts of Toleration issued by enlightened-absolutist Habsburg Emperor Joseph II (r. 1765–1790). They achieved complete emancipation in 1859. Religion rather than language defined Jews, and although many were bilingual, most Jews counted German as their language of daily use in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They had long identified themselves with—and were identified with—the Germans of the Bohemian Lands, although more had begun to claim the Czech language by the twentieth century.

industrialization and modernization

The German-populated mountainous border regions of the Bohemian Lands had long been the site of proto-industrial activity, including glass,

spinning, and mining. The modernizing and centralizing bureaucratic, economic, and educational reforms undertaken by Empress Maria Theresa and her son Emperor Joseph II in the second half of the eighteenth century provided the impetus for the rapid industrialization of the Bohemian Lands, which soon became the most economically advanced provinces in the Monarchy. Among the social characteristics aiding this development were a free peasantry, a high literacy rate, and the increasing availability of technical training in the form of three polytechnics. Although rich in natural resources, the production of finished goods was the main source of income in the Bohemian Lands. Textile production provided the first engine of industrialization after 1800, but was replaced by heavy industry at mid-century. The Ostrau-Karwina (Ostrava-Karviná) coalmines, together with the nearby iron works at Witkowitz (Vítkovice) on the Moravian-Silesian border, would become one of the leading industrial regions of the Monarchy. Mechanized production slowly super-ceded handwork in most industries by the late nineteenth century. Advanced agricultural industries developed, including sugar beet and beer production, in the predominantly Czech interior. Sugar beet production became the most advanced industry in the Bohemian Lands, as well as a leading export. In addition to Ostrau-Karwina and Prague, the latter surrounded by textile and machine-producing industrial suburbs, Brünn—known as the Manchester of Moravia for its textile factories—was an important industrial center. The southwestern Bohemian city of Pilsen (Plzeň) had long been a busy trade center, linking the Bohemian Lands with the German cities of Regensburg and Nuremberg. It was the home of Škoda works, founded in 1859 and by the twentieth century the largest armaments producer in the Monarchy.

The rapid growth of railroads in the Bohemian Lands both encouraged and reflected their rapid industrial development. The first railroad in the monarchy opened between Linz in Lower Austria and Buweis (Budějovice) in southern Bohemia in 1832. Some of the earliest and best-traveled lines were between Vienna and Moravia-Silesia and Vienna and Bohemia: the first part of the line connecting Brno with Vienna opened in 1839. A Vienna-Prague line followed soon afterward. All three provinces benefited from a state railroad-building program at mid-century.

These industrial cities, together with others including Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) and Marienbad (Mariánské Lázně), spa towns near the thermal springs in western Bohemia, had large increases in population during the nineteenth century, in part due to expansion of the railroad system after 1870. Reflecting some of the vast changes in the social structure that accompanied modernization, Karlsbad saw a shift in its guests from the aristocracy and the European cultural elite during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when it was the site of diplomatic and political negotiations, to the wealthy bourgeoisie a century later.

Industrialization brought with it the physical and material impoverishment of the workers, including child labor, tuberculosis, high rates of alcoholism, and infant mortality. The situation of the working class remained critical, despite the growing social democratic organization of the workers, in part because continued Czech migration into the predominantly German industrial regions insured an inexpensive labor supply.

In the course of modernization, the center of Karlsbad was almost completely rebuilt beginning in the last third of the nineteenth century. Like other expanding cities in the Bohemian Lands, it began to construct the necessary infrastructure to incorporate numbers of people migrating from the countryside to urban areas. Much of the development took place under auspices of the Imperial Municipal Law of 5 March 1862, which laid out the obligations under the jurisdiction of the municipalities. These included maintenance of streets, squares, and bridges, together with building and fire control. Particularly under Czech or German political liberal leadership from the 1860s through the 1880s, cities and towns built public libraries and schools, as well as railroad stations and theaters.

the development of two national communities

The so-called Czech national revival (národni obrozeni) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was initially a linguistic-cultural movement that affected mainly the nascent Czech intellectual elite. The reform of secondary schools in the 1770s and the establishment of a Czech-language chair at the university in Prague in 1791 helped strengthen the Czech language. In 1818 adherents of the national revival founded the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom as a center for Czech scholar-ship in Prague. Among the early achievements of the revival were scholarly volumes on Czech history, language, and literature, as well as dictionaries and grammars under the auspices of the Matice Česka, a group of Czech intellectuals devoted to scholarly and popular publications. The national revival was part of a slow process of popular national differentiation in the Bohemian Lands that led to increased Czech-German conflict, especially after the historian František Palacký (1798–1876), a leader of the revival, chose not to participate as Bohemia's representative in the Frankfurt Parliament during the revolutions of 1848. Beginning in the 1830s, Czechs had agitated for language rights in schools and public administration. From the 1860s, many Czech claims were couched in terms of the principle of Bohemian state rights, which demanded the historical integrity of Bohemian territory. German opposition to these demands—and others—for parity with the Germans would be a source of national conflict for the duration of the Monarchy. Czech and German society continued to develop in opposition to one another during the second half of the nineteenth century.

National differentiation manifested itself in the second half of the century in the growing numbers of nationally based civic and occupational groups into which Czechs and Germans increasingly organized their social lives. They included bands, choirs, and volunteer firefighting groups, together with fraternal and gymnastics organizations. Reflecting the division of public life in the Bohemian Lands by nationality, Czechs and Germans constructed their own cultural centers, the Beseda or Besedni duům and the Deutsches Haus. Numerous secular monuments, often representing Czech or German national heroes, were also unveiled. Another manifestation of national differentiation was the development of nationally based celebrations and commemorations. The nominally Roman Catholic Czechs chose the Bohemian priest Jan Hus, whom the Church executed for heresy in 1415, as the primary symbol of their national identity. The anniversary of his death at the stake in Constance on 6 July became the most popular Czech national celebration in the second half of the nineteenth century.

"National defense" organizations were formed, including the Deutscher Schulverein, to establish and maintain German-language schools along the "linguistic frontiers," and its Czech analogue, the Matice školská, both founded in 1880. The Czech defense organizations sought to protect members of the Czech minority who had moved to the predominantly German industrial regions to work, while the German organizations sought to protect and maintain German cultural heritage and property in the face of Czech migration into what they considered German regions. By the 1890s, the Bohemian Lands were increasingly the site of battles between Czechs and Germans for political supremacy. Sometimes this competition manifested itself in Czech calls for national economic boycotts of the Germans and Jews (Svůj k svému," or "each to his own"), to which the Germans responded, in less organized fashion, with their own calls for national boycotts. In the conflation of Germans and Jews, national conflict helped feed a persistent anti-Semitism.

national politics in the bohemian lands

The French defeat of Austria in 1859 forced Emperor Francis Joseph I (r. 1846–1916) to abandon the neo-absolutist policies he had followed in the decade since the defeat of the revolutions of 1848. The February Patent of 1861 standardized the structure and rights of all the lands of the Monarchy, and representatives to unicameral Diets were elected based on three curiae. The unequal franchise of the Diets, the highest provincial bodies in the Bohemian Lands, remained limited to the best-educated, wealthiest men even as the Imperial Parliament moved toward universal franchise after the turn of the century. The Moravian Diet passed a power-sharing agreement known as the Moravian Compromise in 1905. It fixed percentages of Czech and German representatives, but retained an unequal franchise so that recently formed mass parties in Moravia, like those in Bohemia and Silesia, remained disadvantaged at the communal and provincial level. Particularly the Bohemian Diet in Prague was the site of boycotts and obstruction by Czech and German deputies staking their positions in the national conflict.

The Seven Weeks' War (also called the Austro-Prussian War) of 1866 was primarily fought in the Bohemian Lands. Following the Prussians' victory at the Battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa) in eastern Bohemia on 3 July 1866, Austria sued for armistice. Austria then left the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund), which had been founded at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to replace the defunct Holy Roman Empire. Austrian departure paved the way for the kleindeutsch state Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) founded in 1871. Another important outcome of this war was the Ausgleich, or Compromise, of 1867 that created Austria-Hungary. It provided Hungarians control of their internal affairs in return for a centralized foreign policy and the continued union of the Austrian and Hungarian crowns in the Habsburg ruler. Czech political leaders sought—and failed—to gain a similar agreement.

There was periodic Czech-German violence at the local, provincial, and imperial level during the last decades of the monarchy. The most destructive national conflict took place throughout the provinces in 1897, 1905, and 1908. In April 1897, the Imperial Minister-President, Polish Count Kasimir Felix Badeni (1846–1909), proposed language ordinances calling for the equality of Czech and German in official usage among civil servants of Bohemia and Moravia, who would be required to demonstrate proficiency in both languages by June 1901. The language ordinances threatened the livelihood of German-speaking civil servants, most of whom could not speak Czech. The Germans staged violent demonstrations, reflecting their fear that recognition of the indivisibility of province, as implied in the ordinances, both conceded the Czechs' demand for Bohemian state rights and signified loss of the privileged position of the German language. Badeni's resignation on November 28 precipitated furious clashes in Prague, where

members of the Czech majority attacked German and Jewish property, resulting in the declaration of martial law. The anti-German, anti-Semitic protests in Prague were echoed in Pilsen and other predominantly Czech towns in Bohemia.

One ancillary effect of the 1897 protests was the unleashing of the Austrian-wide political anti-Catholic and anti-Habsburg Los von Rom (Away from Rome) movement under the leadership of the anti-Semitic Pan German politician Georg von Schoönerer (1842–1921), who sought to strengthen the German character of Austria. It called upon Germans to leave the Roman Catholic Church and become Protestants in preparation for the unification of Austria with the German Reich. The movement found support among some of the radical nationalist Germans in Bohemian Lands.

The Bohemian Lands were twice more the scene of violence after the turn of the twentieth century. In autumn 1905, Brno was rocked by a series of demonstrations, beginning with several days of Czech-German violence over the former's call for a Czech-language university in Moravia (there were five German-language universities in Austria and only one Czech-language university). Czech and German worker protests throughout Moravia occurred shortly thereafter against the unequal franchise foreseen in the negotiations of the Moravian Compromise. They were followed by the social-democratic-led demonstrations for universal franchise that shook all of Cisleithania. Ongoing national tensions again erupted into violence throughout the Bohemian Lands at the beginning of December 1908 in connection with the year-long Emperor's Diamond Jubilee, resulting in the declaration of martial law in Prague.

Despite calls for Bohemian state rights, Czech politicians worked within the framework of the Austrian state for increased autonomy until World War I. Conflict among the European Great Powers spelled the end to this approach. On 6 July 1915, the five-hundredth anniversary of Hus's death, philosopher-politician Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937), who had left Austria shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, called for complete Czech independence. The reconvening of the Imperial Parliament, which had been suspended at the war's outbreak until March 1917, and a general amnesty the following summer, including several important Czech politicians, increased Czech émigré political activity, and gained support for Masaryk's program. By autumn 1918, all of the important political forces in Czech society supported Masaryk. Bohemian state rights constituted only one of several claims—economic, geographic, strategic, and ethnic—on which the postwar independent Czechoslovak Republic, proclaimed in Prague on 28 October 1918, was based.

See alsoAustria-Hungary; Austro-Prussian War; Masaryk, Tomáš Garrigue; Nationalism; Palacký, František; Prague; Young Czechs and Old Czechs.


Agnew, Hugh LeCaine. The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown. Stanford, Calif., 2004. A comprehensive introduction to the major themes—cultural, intellectual, political, and social—of Czech history.

Kieval, Hillel J. Languages of Community: The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands. Berkeley, Calif., 2000. This exhaustive study traces two hundred years of Jewish history, beginning with the enlightened-absolutist era of reforming Habsburg Emperor Joseph II in Bohemia and Moravia.

King, Jeremy. Budweisers into Czechs and Germans: A Local History of Bohemian Politics, 1848–1948. Princeton, N.J., 2002. An innovative history of nation building at the local level from the revolutions of 1848 to the communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia.

Seibt, Ferdinand, ed. Die Chance der Verstaändigung: Absichten und Ansätze zu übernationaler Zusammenarbeit in den böhmischen Ländern, 1848–1918. Munich, 1987. A collection of essays by international scholars that examine the possibilities for cooperation between Czechs and Germans in the Bohemian Lands in an era of increasing nationalism after the Revolutions of 1848.

Teich, Mikuláš, ed. Bohemia in History. Cambridge, U.K., 1998. A collection of essays addressing aspects of Bohemian history from the ninth century to 1989.

Urban, Otto. Česká společnost, 1848–1918. Prague, 1982. A comprehensive social and political history of Czech-German relations in the last years of the monarchy.

Nancy M. Wingfield

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