The time before and after 1848

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12. The time before and after 1848

When the philosopher and theologian Johann Gottfried Herder resided in Weimar and preached at the court of Karl August, he wrote among other ruminations his "Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind". Therein he portrayed the Slavs as the champions of the future with the mission to rejuvenate the world he saw in decline with the oversaturated, old and outworn western civilization. Herder's message fell on fertile ground very soon in the small Slavic nations, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Serbs, Slovenians, and later the Russians picked it up too. Herder's ideas also fitted well into the concepts of the Eastern Orthodox Church about an empire with Moscow becoming the "Third Rome". It did not take long for Herder's chapter on the Slavs to be taken out of context and published in Czech language. Herder's ideas also bore fruit in Germany with folksongs, folk-studies, folk-fairytales, folk-soul, and letting these words acquire content and meaning. The romanticists continued the trend. Furthermore, feelings ran high all over the lands with the rise of France, the coronation of Napoleon as emperor, the end of the Roman-German empire and the splitting up and suppression of Germany. A powerful surge of patriotic passions swept through sciences and literature. It was the period of the Napoleonic Wars, victories and defeats. Bohemia was the only territory never occupied by the French and Prague the only city Napoleon never entered. Bohemia itself was arming feverishly and became a singular military camp. The entry of Austria into the war and the advance of soldiers from Bohemia across the Ore and Elbe-Sandstone mountain ranges toward Leipzig led to the decisive Battle of Nations where Napoleon was defeated.

This enormous drama of world history, which had unfolded around Bohemia, left unforgettable impressions on both peoples of the land. The national consciousness caused the hearts of the Germans to beat higher, and Slavic Russia participating in the struggle made the Czechs aware of having a mighty ethnic cousin. At the same time Germans and Czechs recognized once more the relationship given them by their common home and history. But as time went on, nationalistic movements evolved, at first mainly among the Bohemian students. The Sudetengerman students went to Leipzig; the Slavs were drawn more to Jena, where Slovaks, Croats and Serbs came together. Soon it began to seethe everywhere. Handbills, songs, books and pictures of national and patriotic content circulated far and wide. A passionate youth abounding with ideas of national liberty also grew up in Bohemia. All classes of the people aspired to more freedom, the burghers of trades and commerce to a voice in lawmaking and administration, the peasants to shake off their serfdom; even the nobility wanted to do away with bureaucratic patronage. These aspirations broke out in wild exuberance in 1848. The eruptions from below met with indecision from above. The February-Revolution in France was enough to shake the world of European states in its foundations. In Austria, Metternich had to resign and the movement leapt from Vienna over to the Bohemian capital. On March 11, a public gathering took place at the Wenzel's Bath at Smychow where Czechs and Germans jointly formulated democratic, liberal and social demands without the question of nationality playing a role. Only a smattering of these demands reached the towns in the peripheral Sudetenlands. Committees and clubs were founded, and club activities often turned into club mania.

Germans and Czechs came to divergent views about the primary question of whether or not representatives should be sent to the national assembly in Frankfurt. The Czech historian Palacky outlined the concept of a dualistic central Europe: only a strong Germany and an equally strong Austria side by side could guarantee a balance of power and peace. He spoke as an Austrian, not so much as a Czech. The Czechs decided not to attend the national assembly in Frankfurt. The Sudetengermans sent 33 delegates. They could not abstain because the German Alpine regions also sent representatives, and it could not be foreseen that the Frankfurt assembly would exclude Austria from the state of Germany. First rifts showed in the Bohemian state-nation since the Hussite wars. Disturbances and acts of violence flared up during the Slavic congress convening over Whitsuntide. In Vienna the Reichstag was in session but - compared to the Frankfurt assembly - it was more a meeting of the peasantry; legislation on agricultural policy was its major accomplishment. Hans Kudlich of Jägerndorf, student and son of a peasant, introduced a motion for abolition of servitude and freeing the peasants from all dues tied to the land. This became a law in September constituting the second step toward the full liberation of the peasantry. Kudlich's liberating deed benefited the Czechs and Germans equally. The Czech democratic movement with its wide rural base would have been unthinkable without this second peasant liberation just as much as without the first liberation instituted by Josef II.

In December, during new warlike revolutionary unrest, a succession took place in Olmütz: Kaiser Ferdinand abdicated, his brother Franz Karl renounced the succession, and so the just eighteen year old Archduke Franz was proclaimed Kaiser Franz Josef I. Meanwhile, the assembly in Frankfurt expected Austria to disintegrate and therefore resolved that no territory with a non-German population should become a member of the federation. This meant the exclusion of German-Austria from Germany, the so-called Kleindeutsch solution. It was a fateful precedent not only for the German partition of 1866, but also for the demarcation lines of 1919 and 1945. The Frankfurt resolution made it the more important what the Reichstag at Kremsier would resolve for Austria.

The young kaiser rejected democratic autonomy of communities, nationality-defined counties and crown-lands related in ascending order, as well as a central power divided between monarchy and parliament (so the Reichstag's final draft). The Reichstag was dissolved and a dangerous reaction foretold itself. An all-state-constitution proclaimed by the kaiser included among other points the equality of nationalities, but unfortunately, it lacked the sanction of the peoples and therefore the necessary stability. Therefore, this constitution was never enacted, and two years later it was repealed. "Neoabsolutism" was a period of fruitful reforms in various fields, but censorship was oppressive; every bit of liberal activity was squashed by the newly organized police. In 1859, neoabsolutism collapsed on the battlefields of Upper-Italy; the kaiser reverted back to the constitutional form of government.

In 1862, Otto von Bismarck became prime minister of Prussia. He thwarted Franz Josef's hope of being proclaimed kaiser of Germany at Frankfurt in 1863. Moreover, Prussia blocked Austria's membership in the German Customs Union. War with Prussia for supremacy approached threateningly and erupted in 1866. Contrary to all expectations, the war was fought out in the Sudetenlands. In the battle of Königgrätz, death reaped a terrible harvest among the German-Bohemian regiments. The last skirmish took place before the gates of Pressburg (Bratislava). Bismarck dealt leniently with the defeated enemy, so as not to drive him into irreconcilable enmity. Austria did not have to cede any territories but had to leave the German Confederacy and acknowledge the reconfederation of Germany. The loosers were the Germans of Austria; they had been expelled from their common fatherland. The historic unity imparted by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was now buried for good and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was born. The Austro-Germans were left to fend for themselves.




Copyright © by Inge Schwarz 1997 (Heimatstelle Maffersdorf) 
Copyright © by Anton Möller • 2005

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