The Czech National Revival Movement


The Czech National Revival was a cultural movement, which arose in the Czech lands during the 18th and 19th century. The movement aimed to revive the Czech language and culture as the bedrock of a revived Czech national identity. After the Battle of White mountain in 1620, the Hapsburg Emperors, in order to maintain control over their vast empire, had imposed a policy of Germanisation on the Czech lands. The German language was imposed on the state administration, the church and education. In addition, attempts were made to re-Catholisise the predominantly Protestant population.

By the 18th century the elite within Czech intellectuals such as Josef Dobrovský and Josef Jungmann conscious of the growing sense of frustration amongst many across Czech society started the National Revival. This movement included many radicals but also members of the Czech nobility who chafed against the need to use the German language and perceived denigration of their Slavic heritage. Despite their position within the establishment many of the nobility had a keen sense of their heritage and started to finance the activities of scholars working in the fields of Slavic history, culture and language.

And the Czech language was the key element of the National Revival. In 1809 Dobrovský published his Czech grammar book and between 1834 and 1839 Jungmann published the five-volume Czech-German dictionary. The dictionary had a great influence on the Revival Movement re-introducing the Czech people to their mother tongue as well as developing the language with borrowings from other Slavic languages. The aim was to protect the Czech language and promote it as a statement of Czech national identity. With this aim in mind two new national institutes had been previously founded;  a chair for the study of Czech language and literature at Charles University in Prague in 1793 and the Bohemian Society of Sciences in 1784, which became the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences in 1790). At about the same time the first Czech publishing house, Česká expedice (Czech Expedition) was established in 1790 by Václav Matěj Kramerius. These were followed in 1831 by the establishment of Matice česká; a branch of the National Museum dedicated to the publication of articles and books in the Czech language.
In 1832 Matice česká took over the production of the Journal of the Bohemian Museum. The Journal published articles in Czech rather than German which was the language of the
Royal Bohemian Academy of Sciences. It was Matice česká that published Jungmann’s  Czech dictionary.  Although the Pražské poštovské noviny (Prague Post News) which appeared in 1719 was written in Czech it was not a campaigning newspaper. In 1789, however, the Krameriusovy císař ské královské pražské poštovské noviny (Kramerius’ Royal Prague Post News, appeared and was followed in 1806 by the Hlasatel český (Czech Herald) which was a highly influential literary journal.

Once the Czech language was re-established the National Revival blossomed.  Slavic culture could be openly celebrated in the Czech language. Novelists and playwrights flourished and the National Theatre opened in 1883. František Palacký soon entered the fray. As a respected historian Palacký was able to combine an authoritative voice and academic foundation to Czech history. His most influential work Geschichte von Böhmen was published in 1836 in German
and exposed the German speaking world to the depth and breadth of Czech (and wider Slavic history). After 1848 he wrote a vastly expanded version of his history in Czech; Dějiny národu českého v Čechách a v Moravě (History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia).

Between between 1848 and 1861 academics and intellectuals worked to promote their ideas across the nation through articles in newspapers, pamphlets and speaking tours across the country. By 1861, a fully-fledged mass national movement existed and the political party, Národní strana (Old Czechs), was formed. Things began to change especially across the period in the latter half of the 19th century when the country started to industrialise; serfdom was abolished in 1848. But the heart of the movement still remained with the intellectuals in academia. By 1882 the tutors and students of the Czech part of Charles University refocussed the movement and called for a critical re-reading of Czech history and culture. Calling themselves the Realist School they were led by Jan Gebauer in linguistics, Tomáš G. Masaryk in philosophy, and Jaroslav
Goll in history. Determined to build a nation that was founded in real Czech culture rather than a romanticised past they challenged the authenticity of some ‘medieval manuscripts’ that had been ‘found’ in the 1860s. These manuscripts appeared to show an idealised medieval Czech past but one that was heavily influenced by Germanic culture. The refection of this romantic and comfortable history by the Realists led to accused of them being ‘anti-national’ and the leadership of the movement passed to those writers and journalists that favoured the romanticised past of the chivalric period. However, despite these splits in the movement the genie could not be put back in the bottle and agitation for greater freedoms and equality of nationality continued to pervade Czech society.

By 1900 calls for the Czech lands to leave the failing Hapsburg Empire could be openly heard on every street corner and while there were as many political agendas as there were towns in the Czech lands they all owed their origins to the National Revival Movement. During the Great War some Czechs, the Czechoslovak Legions, fought with the Allies in France and Italy, while large numbers deserted to Russia, in exchange for their support for the independence of the Czech lands from the Hapsburg Empire. With the end of the Great War in 1918, the revival movement had finally achieved its initial purpose with the establishment of the republic of Czechoslovakia.


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