Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Svatopluk Čech

Much has been written in these pages of the nineteenth-century Czech National Revival, so today, a few words about the origins of that important cultural and political movement.

In the mid 1500s, Bohemia (that is, the Western part of today's Czech Republic) passed to the Habsburgs, and thus became an Austrian state. Religious tolerance was practised for a time in what was largely a protestant country, but after the Thirty Years War (1618-48) the catholic Habsburgs reasserted themselves in a brutal fashion, executing protestant leaders and insisting on German as the state language. This remained the case for at least the next century, during which spoken Czech survived only fitfully and largely in rural areas.

A lifeline was thrown by sporadic literary efforts in the 18th century, but it was the publication of the first grammar in 1809 and a Czech-German dictionary in the 1830s that upped the pace of revival. From the 1840s, Europe-wide discontent with the concept of absolute monarchy was reflected in many Czech writers' anger at their continued subservience to Vienna. One of them was this man, the aptly-named Svatopluk Čech, whose statue - accompanied by the figure of Victory - stands in the Vinohrady gardens named after him. One of the major bridges crossing the Vltava also bears his name.


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