Vladimír Nosek.

Independent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty online

. (page 3 of 13)
Online LibraryVladimír NosekIndependent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty → online text (page 3 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

2. In the first Austrian Parliament of 1848, eighty-eight Czech deputies
formed a united _Nationalist Party_ (later on called the _Old Czech
Party_), led by Palacký, Rieger and Brauner. They formed the Right wing
which stood for democratic and federalist ideals. The Left was formed by
the Germans who stood for centralism and a close union with Germany. Only
an insignificant number of Germans formed the Centre which stood for the
preservation of Austria.

In October, 1848, fresh troubles broke out in Vienna, partly directed
against the presence of the Czechs. On November 15, the parliament was
summoned to Kremsier, in which the Czechs, Ruthenes, Yugoslavs and some
Poles formed a Slav _bloc_ of 120 members. On December 2, Francis Joseph
ascended the throne, and a constitution was proposed by a parliamentary
committee of which Rieger was a member. The proposal was opposed by the
government, because it defined "the people's sovereignty as the foundation
of the power of the State," and not the dynasty. On March 6, 1849, the
parliament was dissolved and a constitution imposed by an imperial decree.

The _Czech Radical Democrats_, led by Fric, Sabina and Sladkovský, who
already in 1848 stood for a more radical policy than that of the Liberal
Nationalists led by Palacký, now again thought of organising an armed
revolt against Austria. But the leaders of the conspiracy were arrested and
sentenced to many years' imprisonment. After the Austrian victories in
Italy and the collapse of the Hungarian revolution, absolutism again
reigned supreme.

During the ten years that followed, Bach tried, relying upon the army and
the hierarchy, to centralise and germanise the empire. In January, 1850,
Havlícek's _Národní Noviny_ was suppressed and later, also, three of the
other remaining Czech journals. Palacký openly declared that he abandoned
political activity and Rieger went abroad. Havlícek continued to work for
the national cause under great difficulties, until he was arrested in
December, 1851, and interned without a trial in Tyrol where he contracted
an incurable illness to which he succumbed in 1856. Even as late as 1859
the Czechs were not allowed to publish a political newspaper.

3. After the defeats at Magenta and Solferino in 1859, Austria began to see
the impossibility of a continued rule of terrorism and absolutism. Bach was
obliged to resign, and on March 5, 1860, a state council was summoned to
Vienna. Bohemia was represented only by the nobility who had no sympathy
with the Czech national cause, and on September 24 the Rumanian delegate,
Mosconyi, openly deplored the fact that "the brotherly Czech nation was not

The era of absolutism was theoretically ended by the so-called "October
Diploma" of 1860, conferring on Austria a constitution which in many
respects granted self-government to Hungary, but ignored Bohemia, although
formally admitting her historical rights. This "lasting and irrevocable
Constitution of the Empire" was revoked on February 26, 1861, when
Schmerling succeeded Goluchowski, and the so-called "February Constitution"
was introduced by an arbitrary decree which in essence was still more
dualistic than the October Diploma and gave undue representation to the
nobility. The Czechs strongly opposed it and sent a delegation on April 14
to the emperor, who assured them on his royal honour of his desire to be
crowned King of Bohemia.

In the meantime Dr. Gregr founded the _Národní Listy_ in Prague in
November, 1860, to support the policy of Rieger, and in January, 1861, the
latter, with the knowledge of Palacký, concluded an agreement with
Clam-Martinic on behalf of the Bohemian nobility, by which the latter,
recognising the rights of the Bohemian State to independence, undertook to
support the Czech policy directed against the centralism of Vienna. The
Bohemian nobility, who were always indifferent in national matters and who
had strong conservative and clerical leanings, concluded this pact with the
Czech democrats purely for their own class interests This unnatural
alliance had a demoralising influence on the Old Czech Party and finally
brought about its downfall.

The Czechs elected two delegates to the parliament summoned for April 29,
1861, while Hungary and Dalmatia sent none, so that the parliament had 203
instead of 343 deputies. In the Upper House the Czechs were represented by
Palacký. In the Lower House the Slavs, forming a united body, again found
themselves in a hopeless minority which was absolutely powerless against
the government. In June, 1863, the Czechs decided not to attend the chamber
again, seeing that all hopes of a modification of the constitution in the
sense of the October Diploma were in vain. The government replied by
depriving them of their mandates and by suspending the constitution in
1865. A period of "Sistierung," that is of veiled absolutism, then set in.

4. In the meantime, a new political group came to the front in Bohemia,
called the Young Czechs. The party was led by Sladkovský, and had more
democratic leanings than the Old Czechs. In the diet, however, the Czechs
remained united in a single body. The Young Czechs opposed the policy of
passive resistance which the Old Czechs pursued for fully sixteen years,
that is up to 1879. The Young Czechs clearly saw that it enabled Vienna to
rule without the Czechs and against them. The Czechs, of course, still
reckoned upon the break-up of Austria, although, as we shall see later on,
they failed entirely to profit from Austria's difficulties in that period.
In 1865 Rieger openly warned Austria:

"Those who direct the destinies of Austria should remember that
institutions based on injustice and violence have no duration. If you
desire to save Austria, the whole of Austria, you must make justice the
basis of your policy towards the Slavs. Do not then say that we did not
warn you. _Discite justitiam moniti_."

In the same sense also Palacký warned the government against dualism,
pointing out that if it were introduced it would inevitably lead to the
break-up of Austria. Seeing that Austria did not listen to his warning, he
later on declared that he no longer believed in the future of Austria, and
added: "We existed before Austria, we shall also exist after her."

The greatest mistake the Czechs made was when in 1866, after the battle of
Sadova, they thought that Austria would cease to be the bulwark of
Pan-Germanism and would do justice to her subject Slavs, and thus become a
protection against Germany. It is true that Austria did cease to be the
head of the Pan-German Confederation, but instead of becoming a bulwark
against Prussia, she became her faithful ally and obedient tool. The
Czechs, who feared lest they should be annexed by Prussia, failed to grasp
the subtle plans of Bismarck who in a short time succeeded in converting
Austria into Germany's bridge to the East.

When the victorious Prussians entered Prague in 1866, they issued a
proclamation to the Czechs recognising their right to independence. This
proclamation was probably drafted by the Czech exile J.V. Fric, an ardent
democrat who fled abroad after the abortive revolution of 1848. Fric, who
was a man of keen sense for political reality and a great friend of the
Poles, exerted all his influence with the Czech leaders to proclaim Bohemia
independent, without an armed revolt, simply by means of a plebiscite, as
he was aware that the masses were always thoroughly anti-Austrian and
desired nothing more than independence. He proposed to his
fellow-countrymen to establish a monarchy, with some other dynasty than the
Habsburgs on the throne, preferably the youngest son of the Italian king,
Victor Emmanuel. Even while peace negotiations between Prussia and Austria
were going on, he conducted an active propaganda and distributed a
proclamation all over Bohemia in which he declared himself as "the deadly
enemy of the Habsburg dynasty and of Austrian militarism and bureaucracy":

"The Hungarians are preparing, the Yugoslavs are ready. Let us come to
a common agreement with them and we shall succeed. And when all the
Austrian nations have been freed they may form a great federation on
the basis of international law which will be an example to Europe. _A
federation without the freedom and independence of the nations who form
part of it is an empty dream. Let him who desires a federation work for
the independence of his nation first_. It is not a question of a
revolution, it is a question of a public proclamation of the Czech
nation so that Europe may realise that we live and what we want. Europe
will surely lend us a helping hand, but she expects us to ask for it.
Let us therefore, my brother Czecho-Slovaks, proclaim aloud, so that
the whole world may hear us: '_We do not want Austria because we
realise that she not only does no good to us, but directly threatens
our very existence. We are able to and want to maintain an independent
state existence without Austria_."

Unfortunately, however, the Czech leaders at that time did not follow
Fric's advice and, as we have already pointed out, they fell into
Bismarck's trap.

In November, 1866, the Bohemian Diet uttered a warning against the danger
of dualism, pointing out that Bohemia had the same right to independence as
Hungary. Relying upon the support of the other Slav races of Austria, the
Czechs declared they would never enter the Reichsrat.

In February, 1867, Beust concluded an agreement with Hungary, and on
December 21 the "December Constitution" was introduced. Thus _dualism_
became a _fait accompli_.

5. Exasperated by this step, the Czech leaders visited Moscow in the same
year and fraternised with the Russians, thus showing their hostility to
Austria. In 1868 they published an eloquent declaration, written by Rieger,
declaring that they would never recognise dualism and emphasising Bohemia's
right to independence. When Francis Joseph visited Prague in the same year,
people left the city in crowds, anti-Austrian demonstrations were held
throughout the country, and flowers were laid on the spot where prominent
members of the Bohemian nobility had been executed by the Austrians
in 1621.

Vienna answered by fierce reprisals. Baron Koller was sent to Prague where
a state of siege was proclaimed. Czech papers were suppressed, and their
editors imprisoned. This only strengthened Czech opposition. The passive
policy of the Old Czechs gained popularity and the Czechs did not even
attend the Bohemian Diet. Finally, when the Franco-Prussian War was
imminent, the dynasty was forced to yield, and Potocki began to negotiate
with the Czechs.

Meanwhile the Czechs again entered the Bohemian Diet on the day of the
battle of Sedan, August 30, 1870, and issued a declaration of rights with
which also the Bohemian nobility for the first time publicly identified
themselves. On December 8, 1870, the Czechs (without the nobility)
presented the Imperial Chancellor, Beust, with a memorandum on Austrian
foreign policy, declaring their sympathy with France and Russia and
protesting against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and against an
alliance of Austria with Germany.

In February, 1871, Hohenwart was appointed Minister President with the
object of conciliating the Czechs, and Francis Joseph addressed to them an
imperial proclamation, called the "September Rescript," in which he
declared: -

"Remembering the constitutional ('Staatsrechtliche') position of the
Crown of Bohemia and the glory and power which the same has lent to Us
and Our ancestors, remembering further the unswerving loyalty with
which the population of Bohemia at all times supported Our throne, We
gladly recognise the rights of this Kingdom and We are ready to
acknowledge this recognition by Our solemn Royal Oath."

It is well known, of course, that Francis Joseph did not keep his word and
was never crowned King of Bohemia.

6. In answer to the rescript, the Czechs formulated their demands in the
so-called "fundamental articles," the main point of which was that the
Bohemian Diet should directly elect deputies to the delegations. The
_Národní Listy_ declared that the "fundamental articles" meant minimum
demands, and that the Czechs would in any case work "for the attainment of
an independent Czecho-Slovak state, as desired by the whole nation."

At this stage Berlin and Budapest intervened. The emperor yielded to the
advice of William I. and Andrassy, and signed an unfavourable reply to the
Czech address on October 30, 1871. Czech opposition was now openly directed
against the dynasty. Hohenwart resigned on October 27. In November, Baron
Koller was again appointed Governor of Bohemia and repressive methods of
administration were once more introduced.

In 1873 elections were held, marked by violence and corruption.
Notwithstanding the passive resistance of Czech deputies, the parliament
continued to meet in Vienna. In 1878 Austria occupied Bosnia and thus
inaugurated the conquest of the Balkans for Germany. In 1879 Count Taaffe
at last induced the Czechs to abandon their policy of "passive resistance"
and to enter the parliament in return for some administrative and other
concessions, including a Czech university. On September 9, the Czechs,
united in a party of fifty-two members, entered the Reichsrat to maintain
their protest against the dual system.

7. In parliament it became clear that the Old Czech Party, now led by
Rieger, was inclined to be too conservative and too opportunist. In 1887
the Young Czechs left the national party and entered into opposition. Their
party grew steadily, and during the elections in 1889 gained a decided
victory in the country districts. The Old Czechs finally sealed their fate
when, in 1890, they concluded an unfavourable agreement with the Germans,
called the _punctations_, to the detriment of Czech interests and of the
integrity of Bohemia. This roused popular indignation throughout Bohemia
and brought about the complete collapse of the Old Czech Party.

At the same time the so-called _"Realist" movement_ originated in Bohemia,
led by Professor Masaryk, Professor Kaizl and Dr. Kramár. It was not a
separate party movement, but a philosophic effort for a regenerated
democratic national policy. The Realists demanded a practical, forward
movement, such as would at last secure independence for the Czechs. In 1890
the Realists published their programme and joined the Young Czechs. This
meant the end of the political career of Rieger and the Old Czechs.

8. In parliament the Young Czechs inaugurated a radical anti-German policy.
In 1891 they openly attacked the Triple Alliance, and in 1892 Dr. Menger
called Masaryk a traitor for his outspoken defence of the right of Bohemia
to independence.

A _Radical movement_ was also started at this time in Bohemia, mainly by
students and advanced workers of the Young Czech Party, which called itself
"Omladina" (Czech word for "youth"). Its object was to rouse the young
generation against Austria. In 1893 anti-dynastic demonstrations were
organised by the "Omladina." A state of siege was proclaimed in Prague and
seventy-seven members of this "secret society" were arrested; sixty-eight
of them, including Dr. Rasín, were condemned for high treason, and
sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

In 1893 Professor Masaryk, realising the futility of his efforts against
the encroachments of Germanism, resigned his mandate and devoted his
energies to scientific and philosophical work. In 1900, however, he founded
a party of his own, with a progressive democratic programme.

In the elections to the Bohemian Diet in 1895, the Young Czechs gained
eighty-nine seats out of ninety-five; in the Moravian Diet seventeen seats
were held by the _People's Party_, corresponding to the Young Czech Party
in Bohemia, thirteen by the Old Czechs and five by the Clericals. In 1896
Badeni made an attempt at enfranchising the masses; seventy-two additional
deputies were to be elected by universal suffrage. In these elections the
Young Czechs again won in Bohemia. In Moravia the People's Party concluded
a compromise with the Old Czechs and gained fifteen seats, the Socialists
gained three seats and the Clericals one. On entering the parliament the
Czechs again made a declaration of state right. In 1897 Badeni, a Pole,
issued his famous Language Ordinances, asserting the equality of the Czech
and German languages in Bohemia and Moravia. The Germans raised a fierce
opposition, supported by the Socialists, and the Reichsrat became the scene
of violent attempts on the part of the Germans to obstruct sittings by
throwing inkstands at the leader of the House and using whistles and bugles
to make all proceedings impossible. Badeni lost his head and resigned, and
his decrees were rescinded. The dynasty, afraid of a repetition of German
obstruction, gave the Germans a completely free hand in all matters of

9. Owing to the rapid cultural, economic and industrial development of
Bohemia, the Czech party system began to expand. The _Czecho-Slav Social
Democratic Party_, founded in 1878, began to acquire increasing influence.
At first it was based on purely international socialism, and in 1897 it
even opposed the national Czech demands. Later, seeing the duplicity of
their German comrades who recognised the state right of Finland and
Hungary, but not that of Bohemia, and who openly preached the necessity of
assimilating the Slavs, the Czech Socialists began to identify themselves
more and more with the national struggle for independence. They organised
their own trade unions, which brought them into open conflict with the
Austrian Socialists. This question was discussed at the Socialist
International Conference at Copenhagen in 1910. It is, moreover, on account
of these differences on nationality questions that the various Socialist
parties of Austria have not met since 1905.

In April, 1898, the _Czech National Social Party_, led by Klofác, was
formed in opposition to the Socialists. It was radically nationalist, and
consisted mainly of workmen, as it was evolved from the workers'
organisation in the Young Czech Party.

On January 6, 1899, the _Agrarian Party_ was formed. It was chiefly
composed of farmers and peasants. It defended the interests of their class
and acquired considerable influence among them. In national matters it
subscribed to the programme of Bohemian independence, and its organs have
during the present war adopted a courageous anti-Austrian attitude.

In 1900 the so-called _State Right Party_ was founded by some of the
members of the former "Omladina." It had a radical programme and stood
uncompromisingly against Austria, demanding independence for Bohemia
chiefly on the ground of her historic rights.

In the elections of 1901 the United Czech Club gained fifty-three seats,
the National Socialists four and the Agrarians five. But the real influence
of the various new parties began to appear only in 1907, after the
introduction of the universal suffrage which deprived the Young Czechs of
their predominance. The Reichsrat elected in 1907 consisted of 257 non-Slav
and 259 Slav members, of whom 108 were Czechs. The result of the election
in Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia was as follows: -

28 Agrarians
24 Social Democrats
23 Young Czechs
17 National Catholics
9 Radicals
4 Moravian People's Party
2 Realists
1 Independent Candidate.

This result showed that the Young Czechs, owing to their deficient
organisation, had lost ground, especially among the country population,
which formed the bulk of the nation. Among the workers Socialist doctrines
were spreading with remarkable rapidity.

The parliamentary activity of the Czechs soon revealed to them how vain
were their hopes that a new era of democracy was dawning in Austria. They
soon found out that in Austria parliamentary institutions were a mere cloak
for absolutism and that all their efforts were doomed to failure.

The Czechs were strongly opposed to the annexation of Bosnia. In 1909
Professor Masaryk gained a world reputation by his courageous defence of
the Yugoslav leaders, who were accused of high treason at Zagreb (Agram).
During the Friedjung trial it was again chiefly due to Professor Masaryk's
efforts that forgeries of the Vienna Foreign Office, intended to discredit
the Yugoslav movement, were exposed and the responsibility for them fixed
on Count Forgach, the Austro-Hungarian minister in Belgrade. Professor
Masaryk clearly saw that Austria aimed at the conquest of the Balkans and
intended at all costs to crush Serbia.

10. In 1911 new elections to the Reichsrat took place with the following
result for the Czechs: -

40 Agrarians
25 Social Democrats
14 Young Czechs
13 National Socialists
7 Radicals
7 Clericals
1 Old Czech
1 Socialist (Centralist).

The Radicals (four Moravian People's Party, two State Right Party, one
Realist) formed a party of independent deputies with Professor Masaryk at
their head. They demanded full independence for Bohemia, some of them
laying greater stress on her historical rights, some on the natural right
of Czecho-Slovaks to liberty.

The whole group of Czech deputies stood in opposition against Vienna with
the exception of Kramár, who tried to imitate the Polish positivist policy
in the hope of obtaining concessions in return. But, as we have already
shown in a previous chapter, Dr. Kramár abandoned this policy even before
the war, when he saw how completely Austria was tied to Germany. The bulk
of the Czech people were, of course, always solidly anti-Austrian. During
the Balkan War the Czechs openly showed their sympathies with their brother
Slavs who were struggling for liberty.

The _Clerical Party_ had comparatively little influence and prestige. All
their deputies (seven) were elected in country districts of Moravia, where
civilisation is comparatively less developed than in Bohemia. In Bohemia
and in the more developed districts of Moravia, people resist the efforts
of the clergy to mix religion with politics. The three million Slovaks in
Hungary, who speak a dialect of Czech and who form with the Czechs a single
Czecho-Slovak nation, had only two deputies (Dr. Blaho and Father Juriga),
and were without any influence in the Budapest Parliament.

11. Although many Czech politicians foresaw that Austria's anti-Serbian
policy in the Balkans and her increasing dependence on Germany must lead to
war, yet on the whole the Czechs were not prepared for this contingency.
The Reichsrat was closed when war broke out, and the Diet of Bohemia had
been replaced by an Imperial Commission in 1913. War was declared by
Austria against the will of the Slavs, and yet they did not dare to
protest, as an organised revolution was impossible in view of the presence
of German troops and of the perfect police spy system in Austria. Two
German divisions would have been sufficient to suppress the best organised
revolutionary movement in Bohemia.

The immediate effect of the declaration of war was the unity of the whole
Czech nation. One of the leaders, Professor Masaryk, escaped abroad, and is
at the head of the Czecho-Slovak Government, recognised by the Allies as
the trustee and representative of the Czecho-Slovak nation.

Political activity was of course out of the question until the Reichsrat
reopened on May 30, 1917. Before that date there was an absolute reign of
terror in Bohemia. Some of the leading Czech newspapers were suspended soon
after the outbreak of the war. The few Slovak papers published in Hungary
were suppressed at the same time.

Those newspapers which survived were subject to strict censorship and were
compelled to publish leading articles written by government officials and
supplied to them by the police. Dr. Kramár, one of the most prominent Czech
leaders, his colleague Dr. Rasín, and five National Socialist deputies were
thrown into prison, and some of them even sentenced to death.

The effect of these persecutions was that all the Czecho-Slovaks became
unanimous in their desire to obtain full independence of Austria-Hungary.
Old party differences were forgotten and some of the Czech deputies who had
formerly been opportunist in tendency, such as Dr. Kramár and the Agrarian
ex-minister Prásek, now at last became convinced that all hopes of an
anti-German Austria were futile, that Austria was doomed, as she was a
blind tool in the hands of Germany, and that the only way to prevent the

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryVladimír NosekIndependent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty → online text (page 3 of 13)