National Revival

Czech Republic Table of Contents

The first half of the nineteenth century was a period of national awakening in Central Europe. German nationalism--sparked by confrontation with the armies of the French revolutionaries--and Napoleonic expansionism inspired corresponding efforts toward national revival among the subject Slavic peoples. The concept of the "nation," defined as a people united by linguistic and cultural affinities, produced an intellectual revival that laid the foundation for a subsequent struggle for political autonomy.

In Bohemia, where the nobility was largely German or Germanized, the leaders of the Czech revival were members of the new intelligentsia, which had its origin in peasant stock. Only a small part of the nobility lent the revival support.

The earliest phase of the national movement was philological. Scholars attempted to record and codify native languages. A chair for Czech language and literature was established at Charles-- Ferdinand University in 1791. The Czech language, however, had survived only as a peasant patois. The tasks of molding the Czech language into a literary medium and introducing the study of Czech in state schools were accomplished by Josef Dobrovsky and Josef Jungmann. Their efforts were rewarded by an efflorescence of Czech literature and the growth of a Czech reading public. Prominent among the original Czech literary elite were poets Jan Kollar (a Slovak), F.L. Celakovsky, Karel J. Erben, and Karel H. Macha; dramatists V.K. Klicpera and J.K. Tyl; and journalistpoliticians F.A. Brauner and Karel Havlicek.

The Czech revival acquired an institutional foundation with the establishment of the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom (1818) as a center for Czech scholarship. In 1827 the museum began publication of a journal that became the first continuous voice of Czech nationalism. In 1830 the museum absorbed the Matice Ceska, a society of Czech intellectuals devoted to the publication of scholarly and popular books. The museum membership, composed of patriotic scholars and nobles, worked to establish contacts with other Slavic peoples and to make Prague the intellectual and scholarly capital of the Slavs.

The major figure of the Czech revival was Frantisek Palacky. Of Moravian Protestant descent and attracted by the nationalist spirit of the Hussite tradition, Palacky became the great historian of the Czech nation. His monumental, five-volume History of the Czech People focused on the struggle of the Czech nation for political freedom and became one of the pillars of modern Czech life and thought. Palacky--who fancied himself the heir and successor to the great educator and leader of the Unity of Czech Brethren, Jan Amos Komensky (Comenius)--became the political leader of the Czech nation during the revolutionary struggles of 1848. In the tradition of Komensky, Palacky developed a political platform based on cultural renaissance.

The Slovaks experienced an analogous national revival. The Kingdom of Hungary, restored to its original territorial dimensions in 1711, was ruled by a Hungarian aristocracy that was experiencing its own national awakening. In 1792 Hungarian replaced Latin as the official state language. In contrast to the more secular Czech nation, among the subject peoples of Hungary both the Catholic and the Protestant religions retained a solid hold. The Slovak clergy constituted the intellectual elite of the predominantly peasant Slovaks, and the Slovak revival occurred under its leadership.

The initial attempt to develop a Slovak literary language was made by a Jesuit priest, Anton Bernolak. The language he developed in the 1780s was subsequently called bernolacina and was based primarily on western Slovak dialects. The language was adopted by the Catholic clergy and disseminated in religious literature. Bernolak and his followers, however, remained loyal to the Kingdom of Hungary, and their movement never developed nationalist political implications.

The Protestant revival was more limited in scope, confined largely to the Slovak minority settled in urban centers. Slovak Protestantism was characterized by an attachment to Czech culture. The artificial and archaic language of the Czech Bible, known as biblictina, had served as the literary vehicle of the Protestant clergy since the sixteenth century. In the early nineteenth century, two German-educated Protestant theologians, the poet Jan Kollar and Pavel Safarik, endeavored to create a literary language that would combine Czech with elements of the central Slovak dialect. They published a reader, Citanka, in 1825, and beginning in the 1830s they gained a following among the younger generation of students at Protestant secondary schools.

At this time, the Slovak national awakening split into two factions. Kollar and Safarik were adherents of pan-Slavic concepts that stressed the unity of all Slavic peoples. They continued to view Czechs and Slovaks as members of a single nation, and they attempted to draw the languages closer together. Other Slovaks broke with the Czechs and proclaimed the separate identity of the Slovak nation. L'udovit Stur, a student at the Bratislava secondary school, developed the sturovcina, which was based on the central Slovak dialect. In 1843 Stur advocated that the sturovcina be made the Slovak literary language, and it spread rapidly in the Protestant community and beyond. Beginning in the 1840s, Slovak literary development took a separate path from Czech.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress