The language of nationality and the nationality of language: Prague 1780-1920

The language of nationality and the nationality of language: Prague 1780-1920 – Czech Republic history

Derek Sayer


In April 1920, Franz Kafka wrote to his Czech translator and lover Milena Jesenska asking her to write to him in Czech rather than German. He was then living in Prague, which had eighteen months earlier become the capital of the newly independent Czechoslovak Republic, she in the former Habsburg imperial capital of Vienna. Both were native Praguers. He explained his request to her thus:

Of course I understand Czech. I’ve meant to ask you several times already

why you never write in Czech. Not to imply that your command of German

leaves anything to be desired . . . I wanted to read you in Czech because,

after all, you do belong to that language, because only there can Milena

be found in her entirety . . . So Czech, please. (1)

Her letters to him have not survived, but she evidently complied. He thanked her the next month, explaining:

I have never lived among Germans. German is my mother-tongue and as such

more natural to me, but I consider Czech much more affectionate, which is

why your letter removes several uncertainties; I see you more clearly, the

movements of your body, your hands, so quick, so resolute, it’s almost like a


The notion that somebody “belongs to a language”, that she “can only be found there in her entirety”, is an interesting one. It becomes particularly interesting when that statement is made from Prague, a city where the question of the relation of language to identity has been a fraught one over the last two centuries. And it is still more so, when its author is a man whose own location and belongingness was a source of perpetual uncertainty to him. Kafka felt anything but at home in that mother-tongue of which he is one of this century’s undisputed literary masters. Prager Deutsch was not “good” German, being inbred and infected with both Czechisms and Yiddishisms. Kafka spoke German with a Czech accent,(3) which immediately identified him as a Praguer,(4) and described his feel for the language as being that of a “half German”.(5) He both admired and resented Goethe for the purity of his linguistic usage.(6) He was no more secure about his Czech, which while more than serviceable was far from “classical”.(7) He thought highly of Bozena Nemcova, the author of the most beloved of nineteenth-century Czech novels Babicka (Grandma, 1855);(8) but he was tongue-tied before the Czech director of the insurance office where he worked, from whom he “first learned to admire the vitality of spoken Czech”.(9) He joked with Milena about how “the people who understand Czech best (apart from Czech Jews of course) are the gentlemen from Nase rec (Our Language), second best are the readers of that journal, third best the subscribers — of which I am one”.(10) He joked with his sister Ottla about having “launched into the world the lie about my splendid Czech”.(11) Beyond this, of course, Franz Kafka was Jewish.

What that meant, in turn-of-the-century Prague, was unclear and contested, both within and outside Jewish circles. But at the least it implied that Kafka could not be wholeheartedly German (or, come to that, Czech), whichever language he spoke. Anti-Semitism was rife in both Bohemia’s major ethnic communities — as, I think, it is valid to describe them by this date, though it would not have been seventy years earlier. At times this made for strange bedfellows, as when we find the eminently patriotic Czech writer Jan Neruda invoking “the great composer and still greater German and liberal Richard Wagner” in support of the view that Bohemian Jews are foreigners.(12) Whether they spoke Czech, German or both, Prague’s Jews did not “belong to a language”, they could not “be found there in their entirety”. The languages of the ghetto had been eroded over the nineteenth century. Joseph II’s reforms had opened trade and commerce to Jews, but forbade the further keeping of business and communal records in Yiddish or Hebrew; they resourced Jewish schools, but required the medium of instruction within them to be German. Nearly a century and a half later, Kafka could begin his introduction to an evening of Yiddish poetry in Prague’s Jewish Town Hall with the ironic observation: “many of you are so frightened of Yiddish that one can almost see it in your faces”.(13)

For Prague Jews of Kafka’s generation, language and identity could be painfully dissonant. In Kafka’s case, this dissonance reached deep into his own family, conferring an alien quality on the most intimate of human relationships. In his diary for October 1911 we read:

Yesterday it occurred to me that I did not always love my mother as she

deserved and as I could, only because the German language prevented it.

The Jewish mother is no “Mutter”, to call her “Mutter” makes her a

little comic (not to herself, because we are in Germany), we give a Jewish

woman the name of a German mother, but forget the contradiction that sinks

into the emotions so much the more heavily. “Mutter” is peculiarly German

for the Jew, it unconsciously contains, together with the Christian

splendour, Christian coldness also, the Jewish woman who is called “Mutter”

therefore becomes not only comic but strange.(14)

When Kafka describes German as his “mother-tongue”, he means it quite literally. It was the language that his mother Julie spoke to him from his infancy. Not, however, his father. From the evidence of the few surviving postcards in his hand, Herman Kafka’s command of German was poor.

Julie Kafka, nee Lowy, hailed from a prosperous German-speaking family in Podebrady, a small town east of Prague in the Czech heartland of central Bohemia. Julie’s father was a dry-goods merchant and owner of a brewery; both her grandfather and her great-grandfather had been respected Talmudic scholars. These were not poor Ostjuden of the sort found in Bukovina or Galicia (and whose Yiddish theatre so captivated Franz), but a comfortable upper-middle-class Bohemian family. Before her marriage, Julie lived on Prague’s Old Town Square. Since 1895 it has been known in Czech as Staromestske namesti, before that it was simply Velke namesti (the big square); but Julie would have called it Altstadter Ring. Then as now, it was no mean location. Certainly Julie was socially a cut above her husband Herman, whose father was a kosher butcher in the small Czech-speaking village of Osek (or Wossek, as it is incongruously called, German-fashion, in most of the English-language works on Kafka) near Strakonice in south Bohemia. The 1890 census lists 381 inhabitants for Osek, all of them Czechs.(15) This means only that they listed Czech as their “language of everyday intercourse” on the census return, though Czech nationalists at the time took this as a surrogate declaration of national identity. The village had twenty Jewish families in 1852, with their own synagogue.(16) Herman moved to Prague in 1881, where he established himself as “Herrmann Kafka, linen, fashionable knitted ware, sunshades and umbrellas, walking sticks and cotton goods, sworn consultant to the Commercial Court”.(17) He married Julie in 1882, and Franz, their first child, was born the next year. His shop was on Celetna ulice, off Staromestske namesti. In 1912 he moved to the Old Town Square itself, opening up on the ground floor of the baroque Kinsky palace. The sign over the shop read Herman Kafka; the Czech, not the German spelling of his name. Kafka, by the way, is not an uncommon Czech surname, nor an exclusively Jewish one.

Unlike his more genteel wife, Herman always remained happiest in plebeian Czech. Apart from anything else, it helped him in his business. His shop was spared in at least one local Kristallnacht (Prague saw several in these years) as a consequence. The family governess Marie Wernerova (as she signed herself, not Werner, as in most of the Kafka literature), who was also Jewish, spoke only Czech.(18) But like most Jewish children in Prague at the time,(19) Franz was educated entirely in German, beginning in 1889 at the German Boys’ Elementary School on the Fleischmarkt (which Marie Wernerova would have called Masna ulice) and moving in 1893 to the Altstadter Gymnasium, which was also in the Kinsky palace. He completed his studies at the Karl-Ferdinand German University of Prague, graduating in law in 1906. Prague’s ancient university, founded by Charles IV in 1348, had formally split into separate Czech and German wings in 1882. The ancient Karolinum and Klementinum were severed by dividing walls, and when it was unavoidable, as at convocations, to share facilities, the two institutions used them at different times. At the time Franz studied there, close on a third of the German University’s student body was Jewish. A further substantial minority (20 per cent in 1890) was Czech. Even at this date, for some Czechs German still remained a language of social advancement.

Linguistic tensions were also evident in a change in the city’s street-signs the year Franz entered the gymnasium.(20) From 1893 they were in Czech only, with the black-on-yellow lettering of the Habsburg empire replaced by the Czech national colours of red and white. From 1787, when the indefatigable Joseph II made the display of street-signs mandatory, they had been in German and Czech, with the German name first. This order of precedence was reversed by Prague city council in 1861, the year Czechs gained a majority for the first time in over two centuries and Czech was made an official language of all city offices. The last Germans on Council resigned in 1882 in protest against Mayor Tomas Cerny’s pointed description of the city as “our hundred-towered, our ancient, our beloved, golden, Slavonic Prague” in his inaugural speech of that year.(21) The 1893 street-sign ordinance unleashed a bitter legal battle and predictably heated comment in the press. Franz might have come across the cartoon “A Modern Tourney in our Old Prague” in the satirical magazine Sipy (Arrows), which depicted two jousting knights under the banners “Na prikope” and “Graben”, alternative names for the avenue that runs along the moat that had once divided Prague’s Old and New Towns. If so, he could hardly have failed to register the stereotypically Jewish features of the top-hatted and business-suited German champion, and the Star of David on his saddle-cloth.(22)

One major source of Czech resentment towards Jews in this period was their linguistic identification with the German “overlords”, and in particular their opting for German education. The monumental Czech national(ist) encyclopedia Ottuv slovnik naucny, gloating in 1903 over the “second Czechization of Prague” (the first being during and after the Hussite wars of the fifteenth century), tartly observes that things would be rosier still if only “Prague Jewry, who were mostly born in Czech regions, would at long last stop seeing material advantage in declaring their language of ordinary use to be German upon moving to Prague”.(23) But for Czechs too the stakes were material; state funding of Bohemia’s linguistically divided public schools, for one thing, was determined by numbers of Czech and German speakers as measured in official censuses. The future poet Oskar Baum was blinded (by being hit over the head with a pencil-box) in one of the many fights that took place between Czech and German schoolboys. Gustav Janouch’s Conversations with Kafka is perhaps not an entirely reliable source, but the words he puts in Kafka’s mouth are accurate enough whether or not Kafka ever actually said them. “The Jew Oskar Baum lost his eyesight as a German. As something which m fact he never was, and which he was never accepted as being”.(24)

Kafka encouraged his favourite sister Ottla in her marriage to Josef David, a Czech Catholic., against the opposition of parents and relatives, and wrote affectionately to his new brother-in-law in fluent Czech.(25) Josef was an official in Sokol, a muscularly patriotic Czech gymnastic society founded by Miroslav Tyrs and Jindrich Fugner in 1861, whose aim was “the physical as well as in part the moral education and improvement of all the nation, its nurturing for the enhancement of its strength, bravery, refinement and defence”.(26) By 1920 Sokol had more than half a million members.(27) Tomas Cerny, the Slavophile Prague Mayor mentioned earlier, was one of its founding members.(28) Franz’s sister Valli, meanwhile, was involved in the first public Jewish elementary school in Prague, established by Zionists in 1920, whose language of instruction was Czech; a clear sign of changing times.(29) Ottla’s marriage to Josef took place in July of that year. That November there were serious riots in Prague, in which German and Jewish properties were equally the targets of Czech spleen. The Jewish Town Hall was put under the protection of the American Embassy and the Stars and Stripes flew over its medieval roofs. Franz wrote to Milena in Vienna: “I have been spending every afternoon outside on the streets, wallowing in anti-Semitic hate … Isn’t it natural to want to leave a place where one is so hated? (Zionism or national feeling isn’t needed for this at all)”.(30)

Though he was interested in Zionism (and took some courses in Hebrew)(31) Kafka could never summon up the commitment to it of, say, his friend and biographer Max Brod. Fascinated by the culture of Eastern European Jewry, he was deeply sceptical of any authentic cultural revivalism among his own kind. He found Martin Buber “dreary. No matter what he says, there is always something missing”.(32) He wrote to Milena a few days after the 1920 riots:

After all, we both know numerous typical examples of the Western Jew; as far

as I am concerned I’m the most Western-Jewish of them all. In other words, to

exaggerate, not one second of calm has been granted me; nothing has

been granted me, everything must be earned, not only the present and future,

but the past as well.(33)

When Kafka wrote these words he was living in his parents’ apartment on the top floor of the Oppelt House on the corner of Staromestske namesti and Mikulasska (since 1926 Parizska) trida, the most elegant boulevard in all Prague, and the showpiece of a spanking nouveau riche quarter which had sprung up since 1897 on the ruins of the centuries-old Jewish ghetto. Reflecting wider pan-Slavist enthusiasms of the time, the street had been named Mikulasska after the Russian Tsar Nicholas II. The Kafka family had moved there in 1913. In the seventeenth century a small street had run more or less on the same spot, by name Zidovska ulicka: Jewish Lane.(34) By 1920, all that visibly remained of the area’s Jewish past and culture were a few synagogues deemed of “historic” value and the Jewish Town Hall. The “slum-clearance” (asanace) of the previous two decades had been one of the most ambitious in Europe.(35) It is a location that speaks volumes.

In the end these ambivalences were to be resolved violently, and, as so often in the Czech lands, from the outside. Franz Kafka himself died of tuberculosis in 1924. He is buried beside his parents in the family plot in Prague’s New Jewish Cemetery. His sisters Valli, Elli and Ottla were less fortunate. All perished at the hands of Germans in the Holocaust. To protect her two daughters (and to allow them to inherit the elder Kafkas’ property) Ottla Davidova, the most Czech of Herman Kafka’s children, divorced her husband. Pepa in 1942. She then registered with the local police as a Jewess and was promptly shipped to Terezin (Theresienstadt). Her daughters Vera and Helena, known to their Uncle Franz (or possibly Frantisek)(36) as Veruska and Helenka(37) — Czech being an affectionate language — pleaded to join her there, but permission was denied. Under the laws of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia they were not Jewish. In October 1943, Ottla volunteered to accompany a transport of children to Auschwitz; that is the last we know of her.(38) After the war, her name was inscribed on the walls of one of Prague’s few ancient Jewish buildings to have escaped the asanace, the Pinkas synagogue, whose foundations date from the late thirteenth century. Ottla was one of 77,297 Bohemian and Moravian Jews known to have perished in the Holocaust who was remembered there. It was the largest grave inscription in the world.(39)

I say “it was”. The Pinkas synagogue was closed, allegedly for renovations, shortly after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and remained shut for twenty years. When it was reopened to the public after the “Velvet Revolution” of November 1989, the 77,297 names had unaccountably disappeared.(40) Along with this went a posthumous denial of any claims they might have had to a distinctive national identity. The catalogue of the State Jewish Museum, of which the Pinkas synagogue now formed a part, assured Czech visitors in 1979 that:

the historical development of the Jewish religious communities is

comprehended as the development of a religious group, forming an integral

part of the population of the Czech lands, and thus not as the historical

development of members of the so-called “world Jewish nation”, which was

artificially constructed by the ideologues of Zionism.(41)


At this point, a sociologically minded historian might reasonably ask how many Czechs, Germans and Jews there were in Franz Kafka’s Prague, and how these numbers were changing over time. Regrettably, the answer cannot be a simple one. The seemingly straightforward categories of “Czechs”, “Germans” and “Jews” were not those used by the relevant censuses. More importantly, these identities were themselves neither stable over time, nor always mutually exclusive. The first Czechoslovak state census of 1921 did count people, among other things, according to nationality (narodnost) as declared by respondents. Nationality here did not mean state citizenship. All but 13,362 of Prague’s 676,657 inhabitants present on the night of the 1921 census were Czechoslovak citizens (obcane). Of these, 624,744 declared themselves to be “Czechoslovak” (94.2 per cent), 30,429 “German” (4.6 per cent) and a paltry 5,900 “Jewish”.(42) Prague’s ethnic demography was not representative of that of the country of which it was symbolically as well as administratively the capital. Germans then made up 23.3 per cent of Czechoslovakia’s population, and 32.6 per cent of Bohemia’s — one in every three people.(43) There are considerable problems in comparing these figures with earlier ones. Pre-1880 surveys were consistent neither with regard to the populations they counted nor in the questions they asked. From 1880, to the ire of Czech nationalists, Austro-Hungarian state censuses asked not about nationality as such, nor even “mother-tongue”, but “language of everyday intercourse” (Umgangssprache, obcovaci rec). Yiddish, for these purposes, was considered to be a dialect of German. Vienna had no desire to provide grist to nationalist mills by essentializing ethnic identities.

The picture also alters depending upon whether we calculate populations on the basis of Prague’s administrative boundaries in the nineteenth century, which excluded the large suburbs of Karlin, Smichov, Vinohrady and Zizkov(44) and other outlying communities, or back-project within the borders of Greater Prague as established in 1922. The latter gives a superficially more realistic representation, in that it reflects both the mushrooming growth and the progressive economic integration of the conurbation during the period; by 1890 the suburban population exceeded that of Prague proper. But it also obscures the qualitative issue of what, for (different) contemporaries, the city of Prague actually signified. This has implications for how we regard its ethnic composition, because German-speakers were concentrated in the central, historic sections of the city, whereas the suburbs were overwhelmingly Czech. In one of the rare passages in his writings explicitly dealing with Prague, Kafka puzzles over this great divide at the heart of his city:

We accept foreign cities as a fact, the inhabitants live there without

penetrating our way of life, just as we cannot penetrate theirs . . . The

suburbs of our native city, however, are also foreign to us . . . Here people

live partly within our city, partly on the miserable, dark edge of the city

that is furrowed like a great ditch, although they all have an area of

interest in common with us that is greater than any other group of people

outside the city. For this reason I always enter and leave the suburb with a

weak mixed feeling of anxiety, of abandonment, of sympathy, of curiosity, of

conceit, of joy in travelling, of fortitude, and return with pleasure,

seriousness, and calm, especially from Zizkov.(45)

Zizkov is a bare two miles from Staromestske namesti, but Kafka’s feeling half-foreign there is understandable enough. By 1900 this overwhelmingly proletarian part of town had a mere 824 German-speakers amid 58,112 Czechs.(46)

Of the five areas which made up historic Prague, by contrast, Stare mesto (the Old Town) was 22.35 per cent German-speaking in 1880, Nove mesto (the New Town) 16.31 per cent, Mala strana (the Little Quarter) 20.42 per cent, Hradcany 9.21 per cent and Josefov — the former ghetto — 38.71 per cent. Incorporation of the predominantly Czech-speaking boroughs of Vysehrad (1883), Holesovice-Bubny (1884) and Liben (1901) altered Prague’s ethnic balance significantly, but still in 1900 the “German element” remained disproportionately strong in the city centre: in Stare mesto it was 10.43 per cent, in Nove mesto 12.51 per cent. Josefov was still 20.5 per cent German in 1910.(47) Unsurprisingly, these boundary changes were themselves politically contentious issues. To abstract from them in the interests of achieving statistical consistency over time is to ignore the spatial co-ordinates not only within which, but also in part through which Prague’s “national” character was articulated by and for its various inhabitants. Thus the city council’s almanac for 1922, the first to be published since 1914, begins with a preface entitled “Prague the Great”. It represents the previous few decades as a history of unending conflict between “those who had Prague’s welfare in mind [and] strove for her to join with neighbouring settlements . . . to lay new foundations for the well-being and good fortune of the whole nation” and “the animosity of Vienna and the state, as well as the Germans [who] created obstacles and sought to break the natural development”. The metropolis was administratively unified, it argues, in the course of “repeated hard battles with the wrath of enemies”, and only through its integration had the city finally become “ideally Czech, faithfully republican and really democratic”.(48)

If, ignoring such niceties, we were to take “language of everyday intercourse” and “nationality” as rough equivalents, and standardize on Prague’s 1922 boundaries, the Table indicates how we could chart changes in Prague’s “ethnic” composition over the forty years from 1880. The overall trend is clear enough: a steady growth of the Czech part of the populace, by more than 8 percentage points over the period; a relentless decline in the German, not only in relative terms but in absolute numbers. Were we to backtrack further into the nineteenth century, we would find this pattern to be a long-term one. A city census in 1869 gave the German population of Prague as 17.9 per cent, the Czech as 80.5 per cent. Jews were included within these overall numbers; as identified by religion, they then formed 8.28 per cent of the city’s inhabitants.(49) An earlier (if less reliable) headcount in 1851 had 56 per cent Czech and 33 per cent German. This latter also separately reckoned 11 per cent of the city’s populace to be Jewish, and broke this figure down into 8 per cent German-speakers and 3 per cent Czech-speakers.(50) On these figures, then, the German-speaking proportion of the city’s population fell in the seventy years between 1850 and 1920 to little more than a tenth of what it had been.



Czech German

No. % No. %

1880 266,333 86.2 42,453 13.7

1890 350,279 89.3 41,808 10.6

1900 474,226 93.1 34,197 6.7

1910 573,008 93.8 37,417 6.1

1921 624,744 94.2 30,429 4.6

(*) Source: This Table is reproduced from Josef Siska, “Populacni a bytove pomery” [Demographic and Housing Conditions], in Vaclav Vojtisek (ed.), Praha v obnovenem state ceskoslovenskem [Prague in the Renewed Czechoslovak State] (Prague, 1936), p. 74; note that it chooses the boundaries of Prague most favourable to emphasis on the Czech character of the city in the later nineteenth century.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century Prague’s Czech-speaking populace undoubtedly did grow massively by comparison with the German, largely because of in-migration from the Bohemian countryside. German-speaking peasants were leaving the land too, but tended mostly to move to Vienna. We cannot begin to understand language politics in Prague in these years except with reference to this fact, any more than we can do so without reference to the way the demographics intersected with economics. Prague’s working class was overwhelmingly Czech, and largely consisted of rural incomers. So, increasingly, was its flourishing professional middle class. Czechs were also far from absent from commerce and industry, as the great Jubilee Exhibition of 1891 — which German businesses boycotted — triumphantly testified.(51) But heavy industry and large finance remained largely in German or Jewish hands. Conversely (as the city council’s self-congratulatory tome Prague in the Renewed Czechoslovak State was to express it in 1936), “both Prague’s national minorities lack a popular (lidova) base; the worker and small businessman is, so to speak, universally of Czechoslovak nationality”.(52) But this absence, too, can be exaggerated. It had elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy, reflecting both Czech images of themselves as a “popular” nation and the self-demarcation of Prague German society as a cultural elite. Gary Cohen’s analysis of census dater for 1910 concludes that one-third of all German-speakers in Prague in fact “fell into the laboring or lowest lower-middle-class strata”.(53) It was exactly they, however, who proved most likely to assimilate to the Czech majority. They tended to live in the poorer, Czech areas of the city, and were effectively excluded from the formal institutions and the informal intercourse through which Prague German society then defined itself.

But such games with numbers can also obscure as much as they reveal; for census data, here as elsewhere, are not simple facts but complex artefacts. Take, first, the vexed question of being German and/or Jewish. Prague’s Jews were extraordinarily fickle, it seems, in questions of language (giving rise to criticism on the part of Czechs, then and later, of their “lack of national character” of any sort).(54) In 1890, 74 per cent of them declared their “language of everyday intercourse” to be German. Ten years later, that proportion had fallen to 45 per cent.(55) In part this may be explained by in-migration from Czech-speaking rural areas, but only in part. As important was the way in which language itself had become politicized in the interim. Czech boycotts of German and Jewish businesses, like the Svuj k svemu (Each For His Own) campaign of 1892, were powerful persuaders; so were riots like those of November 1897, in which, even-handedly, Czech mobs broke every window in both the Neues Deutsches Theater and the synagogues in Zizkov and Smichov. The occasion for these disturbances was the fall of Count Badeni’s ministry in Vienna after a storm of Bohemian-German protest over his ordinance requiring all civil servants in Bohemia to prove themselves bilingual by 1901. Over the same period, we might note, the same proportion of non-Jews in Prague had also purportedly changed the language in which they conducted their everyday intercourse from German to Czech.(56)

In 1921, in deference to Zionist sensibilities, the Czechoslovak government acknowledged “Jewish” as a national identity and allowed its Jewish citizens to describe themselves thus on census returns. It is on this basis that the figure of 5,900 Jews in Prague given above for 1921 is derived. However, these 5,900 people were barely a fifth of those who in that same census described themselves as being of the Jewish faith. A quarter of these latter declared themselves to be Germans by nationality (7,426), over a half as “Czechoslovaks” (16,342). These people are, of course, included in the overall totals of Czechoslovaks and Germans, meaning that nearly a quarter of Prague’s self-declared “German” minority at that date was Jewish. In 1900, almost a half of Prague’s “Germans” had been Jews. Measured by religion, in 1921 there were 31,751 Jews in Prague, not 5,900, making up 4.7 per cent of the city’s population.(57) This is not to take into account those Jews who, like the writer Jiri Weil, were neither believers in Judaism nor considered their nationality to be Jewish. We simply have no way of counting such people.

Twenty years later the Nazis did, and they were quite clear that German and Jewish were mutually exclusive identities. In Jiri Weil’s case, “the arrival of the Germans thus means for him a thorough shock: he is suddenly and publicly designated a Jew, and he cannot understand why he is somebody other than he was before”.(58) Having contracted the last “mixed marriage” permitted in occupied Bohemia, Weil faked suicide from Prague’s Hlavka bridge to escape his transport to Terezin (Theresienstadt), where Czech Jews were interned en route to the extermination camps of Germany and Poland. Czechoslovakia was dismembered and Bohemia and Moravia invaded and made into a protectorate of Hitler’s Third Reich on 15 March 1939. According to laws passed in June and July of that year a Jew was any person “who by race is descended from at least three wholly Jewish grandparents”, a Jewish grandparent being defined as a person who belonged to or had belonged to the Jewish religious community. Also “considered to be Jews” were a “half-caste” (misenec) with two wholly Jewish grandparents, who had belonged to the Jewish religious community in September 1935 or had been accepted into it afterwards; a “half-caste” married to a Jew on or after that date; and a “half-caste” born of marriage with a Jew after that date, or out of wedlock after 1 February 1940.(59) Hence Ottla Davidova’s daughters were not Jewish. Had she lived in the other successor state to the Czechoslovak Republic, independent Slovakia, on the other hand, they would have been.(60)

Before we leave the virtual realities of social statistics, we might pause to note two instructive remarks made by census officials themselves. The first dates from late in 1919, when the Prague government surveyed newly acquired Slovakia in order to determine how many schools functioning in Slovak it would need to provide. The Slovaks of what had until 1918 been upper Hungary had been subjected to sustained Magyarization for fifty years, and nowhere more trenchantly than in education. Less than one-tenth of the schoolteachers in Slovakia at independence even spoke Slovak; Minister for Slovak Affairs Vaclav Srobar informed parliament that “we found there perhaps three hundred Slovak elementary schoolteachers and perhaps thirty Slovak high-schoolteachers who were faithful to their origin”.(61) Historically, Slovakia had been part of the kingdom of Hungary for a millennium. Linguistically, however, Slovak is extremely close to Czech, and Czech nationalists had on this basis claimed Slovaks for the nation for more than half a century. It was, therefore (in the words of one of the census enumerators):

with the greatest eagerness [that] we anticipated the response to the

nationality question. Excepting one village the answer everywhere was: “I

speak both Slovak and Hungarian”. “I did not ask which language you speak,

but whether you are a Hungarian or a Slovak” . . . Often a horrifying answer

would come: “It’s the same difference! If the bread is buttered on the

Hungarian side, I am a Magyar, if it is buttered on the Czech side, I am a


Based on various ad hoc criteria (the language used at home, language of prayer, etc.), the enumerators themselves ended up ascribing a nationality to their respondents. What price, then, the nationality “Czechoslovak” — a rather important category in the new republic’s legitimation as a Slavic state, since Czechs by themselves formed a bare 51 per cent of the population — in the 1921 census? The Slovaks were before long to resist this hyphenation to the Czech nation; but that is an issue beyond the scope of this paper.

This enumerator was appalled by his respondents’ unconcern (or cynicism) over national identity; he equated their plight to that of poor wretches on death row. Had he read the first Report of the Statistical Commission for the City of Prague (1871), though, he might have been surprised. This behaviour merely echoed the none-too-distant Czech past. Comparing figures for the Czech and German populations in the city censuses of 1851 and 1869, the Report tries to explain what it sees as overstatement of German numbers at the earlier date. It cites deficiencies in the “conception and execution” of the 1851 survey. But its main conclusion is that attempts to ascertain nationality (narodnost) were “premature”, because “a clear consciousness of national identity (narodni pribuzenstvi, literally “national kinship”) among the majority of Austro-Hungarian nations was, so to speak, still in its infancy”.(63) This is almost certainly correct. The inhabitants of mid-nineteenth-century Prague spoke languages rather than belonging to them; and many routinely spoke more than one language, or a hybrid of both, in their “everyday intercourse”.

Max Brod famously described the “Old Austrian Prague” in which he grew up as “a city of three nationalities”, and that description has become a cliche.(64) But none of these national identities were timeless. The situation Brod depicts is a product of the later nineteenth century. Gary Cohen has elsewhere told the story of the ethnicization of Prague’s German-speakers during this period more than ably. He concludes: “the German-speaking middle and upper strata only transformed themselves into self-conscious German groups, distinguished by a sense of German ethnicity and exclusive social relations, in response to demands for power and status by insurgent Slavic elements”.(65) Hillel Kieval has equally capably reconstructed the tortured dilemmas of Bohemian Jews caught up in the Czech/German struggle, and their varied responses: Austrian liberalism, Czech assimilationism, Zionist nationalism.(66) My concern in what follows is with Cohen’s “Slavic elements” and their “insurgency”. For a Czech national identity was no more self-evidently given in the mere fact of speaking a language than was a German or a Jewish identity. It, too, is a nineteenth-century construction, albeit one that laid claim to a more distant past. This story of the making of the modern Czech nation, like that of others, is one of imagined communities and invented traditions.(67) This should not be taken to imply, however, that a Czech identity is anything less than emphatically real, or that it was simply concocted out of thin air. We are not dealing here with ideological fictions, but with social facts.


In 1783 Count Frantisek Antonin Nostic-Rieneck, who a year before had become the highest state official in Bohemia, opened in Prague the Count’s National Theatre on what was then Konigsgasse, but has since 1870 been the Fruit-Market (Ovocny trh). Mozart’s Don Giovanni had its world premiere there, on 29 October 1787. Inscribed on the portico is the motto “Patriae et musts”: To the Fatherland and the Muses. Nostic (or Nostitz) was a representative of what Czech historians call land patriotism, a champion of the historic rights of the kingdom of Bohemia; not against the Habsburgs who wore the Bohemian crown, but against erosion of its powers and privileges to Vienna. The same impulse was responsible for the foundation of the Royal Society of Bohemia in 1784, the Society of Patriotic Friends of Art in 1796, and the Patriotic (later National) Museum in 1818. This did not, however, make Nostic a Czech nationalist. Apart from Italian opera, his new theatre (renamed the Stavovske divadlo, Estates Theatre, after it was purchased by the Bohemian Estates in 1794) played mostly in German.(68) The standard History of the Czech Theatre comments on the “paradoxicality” of the fact that “the first representive stage of the Bohemian kingdom was erected as a German national theatre”.(69) But this is to speak very much with hindsight, and inaccurately. In the Bohemia of the 1780s language did not connote or divide nations, but social classes. The language of culture and civility was German. Czech was the lowly tongue of the fields, the stables and the kitchens.

It is necessary to say something here about earlier Czech history, not simply to explain this state of affairs, but also because that history was to become central to the “revival” of Czech nationhood in the nineteenth century. In the Middle Ages there had existed a sovereign Bohemian state, which had been ruled for four centuries (to 1307) by an indigenous Czech dynasty, the Premyslids. The pinnacle of its medieval glory came under the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, known to Czechs as the “Father of the Homeland” (Otec vlasti), who made Prague his imperial capital. Charles was a member of the house of Luxemburg, but his mother was a Premyslid princess. His own comments on language have a certain poignancy, in view of the status of Czech in Bohemia half a millennium later. He had spent the last eleven years abroad when he arrived in Bohemia in 1333, aged seventeen, and found that:

several years earlier our mother Eliska had died . . . Also we had completely

forgotten the Czech language, but later we again learned it, so that we spoke

and understood it like every other Czech. By God’s grace we were able

to speak, write and read not only Czech, but also French, Italian,

German and Latin, such that we had equal command of all these


The Bible was first translated into Czech in the 1370s-80s. Of 44 known books printed in Bohemia before 1500, 39 were in Czech. In the next hundred years some 4,400 titles followed. The earliest Prague publishing house, Melantrich, employed eleven people in 1577. In its thirty-year existence it published 223 books; 111 of them were in Czech, 75 in Latin, and only three in German.(71)

There is plentiful medieval evidence that the Czech language was already a focus of loyalty and a locus of identity. The Hussites were seemingly as much concerned with defence of the Czech language as they were with defence of God’s truth. A “Call to Arms in Defence of the Truth” issued in 1469, fifty years after the Hussite wars began, is typical of its time. Addressed “To all faithful Czechs and Moravians, genuine lovers of God’s truth and disciples of your own Czech language”, it sets out the issues in the conflict thus:

Having in mind above all God’s glory and the preservation of his holy truth

and the calming of this Czech and Moravian land, we understand that the

Pope, who should protect and defend that holy truth to his death, to the

contrary, as a disobedient servant of his Lord, wants to destroy that holy

truth and moreover to destroy, wipe out and utterly suppress the Czech

language, merely to preserve his pride, his avarice and the rest of his

irregularities … He inflames and incites all the nations and languages of

the surrounding lands against us . . .(72)

There is abundant testimony in medieval sources of Czech resentment at the growing wealth and power of Germans, who had been settling in Bohemia for two centuries at the behest of Premyslid kings seeking to encourage crafts, cities and commerce.(73) A sense of Czech nationhood is not an exclusively modern phenomenon. But nor, in any straightforward sense, is the modern Czech nation the linear descendant of its medieval predecessor.(74)

The “Hussite king” Jiri of Podebrady (1458-71) was the last Czech to sit on the throne of St Wenceslas. In 1526 the crown passed to the Habsburgs. The following century saw growing political and religious tensions. The Czech nobility resented attempts to translate the personal unity of crowns into a centralization of power in Vienna, and the spread of Lutheran ideas from Germany on to fertile Hussite soil ensured that by the beginning of the seventeenth century a majority of Czechs were Protestant. The eventual showdown came in the rising of the Czech Estates of 1618, which started the Thirty Years War. The revolt was defeated at the battle of Bila hora (the “White Mountain”) outside Prague on 8 November 1620, beyond doubt the most fateful date in Czech history. When, in 1627, the Bohemian Land constitution was “renewed”, the powers of the Bohemian diet were severely curtailed; Catholicism was made the sole legal religion; and German was given equal status with Czech. The lands of the mostly Czech Protestant aristocracy were confiscated wholesale, and given (or sold cheaply) to often foreign Catholics. The lesser nobility and gentry suffered disproportionately; so too did Czech burghers. Protestants — serfs excepted — were given the choice of exile or conversion, and huge numbers chose the former. Among the emigrants were many of Bohemia’s leading intellectuals, like the humanist pedagogue Jan Amos Komensky (Comenius), the last bishop of the Union of Brethren (Jednota bratrska). Prague University was put under Jesuit control in 1620 and merged with the Jesuit Klementinum in 1653 to become the Karl-Ferdinand University. Forcible re-Catholicization continued well into the eighteenth century; all Czech books published between 1414 and 1635, according to rule 21 of the Index Bohemicorum librorum prohibitorum, contained heresies.(75) The Jesuit Antonin Konias boasted of personally burning upwards of 30,000 books in his thirty-year career.(76)

By 1800 the Czech lands were again overwhelmingly Catholic, and much of the urban population spoke German. In the Prague census of 1770 Czech names predominated only among “the lowest social strata”.(77) Land-patriotism notwithstanding, the upper classes had little organic connection to the Czech past, and mostly oriented themselves to Vienna. Even so eminently patriotic a figure as Count Frantisek Josef Kinsky, co-founder of the Bohemian Royal Society and author of one of the earliest modern “defences” of the Czech language (1773), chose to be buried in the cemetery of the Military Academy in Vienna’s New Town, of which he was the founder and first director.(78) Czech had largely ceased to function as a language of learning or state; indeed, as a written language it was in a condition of apparently terminal decline.(79) Spoken Czech had survived in the villages, but in so far as any Czech patriotism was nurtured there it was a Catholic patriotism. Bohemia’s socio-linguistic splits were reproduced in the church; while the hierarchy was German-speaking, parish priests were the sons of Czech peasants, and it was in no small part due to their efforts that a literate Czech culture was kept alive at all while the towns were being linguistically and culturally “Germanized”. Bila hora fractured Czech history, and in so doing vastly complicated the question of Czech identity for later generations.

The first real stirrings of what Czechs call their “national rebirth” (narodni obrozeni) date from the same decade as Count Nostic’s theatre, the 1780s. Joseph II’s reforms reined in the power of the church and lightened censorship, permitting publication of long-proscribed Czech literature and new expressions of Czech patriotism. But they also affected the language question in more complex ways. When Prague University’s syllabus was modernized in 1784, the language of instruction changed from Latin to German. German was the principal language used in the elementary schools that were beginning to cover Bohemia, as well as in the Engineering School set up in 1784, which was to form the nucleus of Prague Polytechnic (1806). It also became the lingua franca of the imperial bureaucracy; a bureaucracy whose reach Joseph extended mightily. Sometimes this had paradoxical consequences, in that to produce an educated professional class in sufficient numbers local vernaculars often had to be used. There were actually more school texts in Czech published in the decade of Joseph’s reign than in the entire preceding 150 years.(80) But the overall effect of Josephine state-building was simultaneously to open up new social opportunities and yet structure them in a way that systematically disadvantaged non-German-speakers.

The first modern newspaper in Czech, Kramerius’s Royal and Imperial Patriotic News, started publication in Prague in 1789, and its editor Vaclav Matej Kramerius opened the first modern Czech publishing house, Ceska expedice, the next year. In 1786 Czech players not permitted to perform in Count Nostic’s theatre started up their own, called The Shack (Bouda), on what has since 1848 been Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske namesti) but was then the Horse-Market. Abbe Josef Dobrovsky, a former Jesuit priest, published his Geschichte der bohmischen Sprache und Literatur in 1792. Though written in German, this is the first modern scholarly work seriously to attend to Czech linguistic and literary history. Dobrovsky went on to compile both a Detailed Grammar of the Czech Language (1809) and a Czech-German Dictionary (1802-21). A chair of Czech language and literature was established at Prague University in 1792. Three years later, Antonin Puchmajer published the first modern almanac of new Czech poetry. During the first half of the nineteenth century these modest beginnings were consolidated. Josef Jungmann, a master at the Old Town Gymnasium where a century later Franz Kafka was to be a pupil, translated into Czech Schiller, Goethe, Chateaubriand and, most famously, Milton’s Paradise Lost (1811), helped found the first Czech scientific periodical, Krok (1821),(81) penned the first modern history of Czech literature actually to be written in Czech (1825), and crowned his life’s work with a five-volume, 120,000-entry Czech-German dictionary (1834-9).

The playwright Josef Kajetan Tyl was a tireless advocate of Czech theatre; he also edited one of the oldest of Czech magazines, Kvety ceske (Czech Blooms, 1833). By the 1820s there were Czech operas; Tyl wrote the libretto for Frantisek Skroup’s Fidlovacka (The Shoemakers’ 1834),(82) one of whose arias, “Kde domov muj?” (Where is my Home?), was in the course of time to become the national anthem of independent Czechoslovakia. Karel Hynek Macha took Czech poetry on to an altogether higher plane with his Maj (May, 1836), though it was not well received in patriotic circles at the time. More typical of Czech poetic output were Frantisek Ladislav Celakovsky’s Echo of Russian Songs (1829) and Echo of Czech Songs (1839), which claimed their inspiration in folk-song. Prague’s first city archivist, Karel Jaromir Erben, and others began systematically to collect and publish such songs. The Slavist scholar Pavel Josef Safarik — who wrote in Czech, even though he was (by modern reckoning) a Slovak — was the most eminent of those who made belonging to the Slavic “family of nations” into a significant strand in modern Czech identity; his Slavic Antiquities appeared in 1836-7. Jan Kollar, another Slovak writing in Czech, gave poetic voice to pan-Slavist sentiment somewhat earlier in his Slava’s Daughter of 1821.

Central to the obrozeni were the writings of the historian Frantisek Palacky. Czechs call Palacky, and with good reason, the “Father of the Nation” (Otec naroda). The title he chose for his magnum opus is revealing. His is a History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia, not a history of the kingdom of Bohemia and its inhabitants. Palacky’s object was “to serve my beloved nation by giving a faithful account of its past, in which it would recognize itself as in a mirror and wake to consciousness of what it needs”.(83) The History relates the story of the Czechs only up to 1526, and represents the Hussite era as the summit of Czech glory and the essence of Czech character. Palacky sees the Hussite wars as both a struggle for freedom of conscience — in which the Czechs anticipated Luther by a century, and proudly held off the united assault of Catholic Europe in defence of their beliefs — and as but one episode in a millennial conflict of martial, aristocratic “Germanic” and peace-loving, democratic “Slavonic” worlds, whose cockpit has perennially been the Czech lands. Thereby he neatly makes the fifteenth century a “mirror” for the struggles of the nineteenth, while giving the latter enormous (apparent) historical depth and legitimacy. He restores its lost continuity to Czech history; from this perspective the centuries that had elapsed since Bila hora are but an extraneous interruption within a much longer national pilgrimage. The other side of this, of course, was to make the Germans into perpetual intruders in the Czech lands.


The achievement of these buditele (awakeners), as they are known, is to have (re)constituted the Czech nation as a historical subject, possessed of a past and entitled to a future. Intellectually, if — for the time being — nowhere else, they succeeded in weaving together narod (nation), lid (people) and vlast (homeland) in a way that had not been done since 1620. The terms on which they did so drove a wedge through the Bohemia that had been the object of Nostic’s kind of patriotism, redefining the patria as quintessentially Czech and in the process extruding its established upper classes as spiritual foreigners. The “rebirth” of the humble Czech language itself was central to this. It was as a linguistic community above all that the reborn nation was identified. Rooting Czechness in language enabled the centuries to be vaulted over; on the ground of language, and perhaps on that ground alone, descent could be claimed from Hussite warriors and the Union of Brethren, without the cultural discontinuities consequent on Bila hora being too closely examined. A master-image of the obrozeni is of the nation slumbering, waiting like Sleeping Beauty to be woken up, unsullied and unchanged; the term buditele comes from the verb budit, to awaken (someone). Language became the repository of that hibernating identity, “a cathedral as well as a fortress”, as another Prague Jew, Pavel Eisner, was to describe it.(84) With this the simple rural people, who had kept the tongue alive through the centuries after Bila hora, came to be seen as the living embodiment of Czechness. One consequence of this (which communists were to exploit later) was that Czech nationalism acquired a decidedly populist, even plebeian hue.

Equally entailed in this identification of the nation through its language was a pregnant conceptual relocation of the Czech lands. Since the tenth century, the history of Bohemia had been integrally bound up with that of the lands of the Holy Roman Empire. Regrounding identity in language allowed the Czech lands to be disentangled from their “Germanic” surrounds and reconceived as the most westerly outlier of an imagined Slavic civilization, whose spiritual heart lies in Moscow (to which Palacky and others made an ostentatious “pilgrimage” in 1867 on the occasion of a grand ethnographic exhibition). Linguistic kinship thus supplanted historical experience, or rather became an instrument for its dismissal. The painter Mikolas Ales, who is conventionally considered to be “the founder of the national tradition in painting, our most Czech artist”,(85) spoke for many when, later in the century, he expressed the opinion that “it will be well with us, when the cossacks are in Staromestske namesti”.(86) Closer to home, communalities of language allowed Hungary’s Slovaks to be reconfigured as a lost fragment of a primeval Czech nation; for Czech and Slovak are so close as to be mutually intelligible. The Washington Declaration of 18 October 1918 demanded “for Czechs the right to be linked to their Slovak brothers in Slovakia, which was once part of our national state [and] was later torn off from the body of our nation and fifty years ago annexed to the Hungarian state of the Magyars”.(87) The “national state” referred to here was the Great Moravian Empire, which perished at the hands of Magyars in the first decade of the tenth century. Josef Pekar’s Czechoslovak History, the standard gymnasium textbook in the first republic, gamely tries to include Slovaks in the Czech national epic, but the task is a hopeless one, for the simple reason that (in his own words) “Slovakia was lost for national unity for more than ten centuries”.(88) This did not stop “the Czechoslovak language” — an entity whose very existence both Czechs and Slovaks are apt indignantly to deny — from becoming the sole “state, official language” of the Czechoslovak Republic.(89)

A lot more was involved in the nineteenth-century resurrection of Czech as a written language than a simple transcription of oral realities; here as elsewhere the buditele did much to constitute that which they purported merely to “awaken”. To this day written and spoken Czech differ considerably both in vocabulary and grammatical forms, and there are multiple dialect:s of the spoken language. Codifying the language abstracts an ideal community, one described and inscribed in dictionaries, grammars, all the canonical artefacts of written culture, from multiple shades of difference. It establishes internal homogeneities and defines external boundaries. It also creates an instrument of power, through which those who have mastery of the written word can claim to? represent those they have linguistically subsumed under its mantle. For his celebrated translation of Paradise Lost of 1811 Josef Jungmann went well beyond the spoken Czech of his time, drawing widely from medieval Czech literature and other Slavonic languages, and coining many neologisms of his own. These in turn found their way into his dictionary. Antonin Puchmajer, for one, objected that “this will no longer be a Czech dictionary but a general Slavonic dictionary”(90) but it was Jungmann, inspired by the pan-Slavist dream “that we Czechs too might slowly embrace a universal Slavonic literary language”,(91) who did much to give modern Czech its authoritative written form.

Vaclav Hanka, librarian of the National Museum for forty years’ went so far as to endow the nation with a forged early medieval poetic literature, in the interests of providing a level playing-field with the Nibelungelied. “Discovered” in 1817-18, Hanka’s manuscripts were not finally discredited until the 1880s. By then, Palacky had used them as a source in his History, Manes and Ales had lovingly illustrated them, and their invented heroes had inspired statues from the National Theatre to the Palacky Bridge. Hanka was the first Czech in modern times to be buried, in 1861, in Vysehrad cemetery in Prague, which thereafter became “a burial-place for the most notable men, those excelling above all others in their efforts for the Czech nation”.(92) Bozena Nemcova followed him there the next year. The one-time Premyslid seat of Vysehrad is a location central to old Czech legend, but it is also one which Hanka’s own manuscripts had done much to revivify. Above Hanka’s grave is a pillar with the inscription “Nations will not perish so long as the language lives”. It is not unfair to see Hanka as thoroughly representative of his period. He was a pupil of Dobrovsky, whose dictionary he helped finish, and a friend of Jungmann; he devotedly served the pan-Slavist cause with indifferent translations of popular poetry from Serbian, a voluminous Slavonic correspondence, and textbooks of Polish and Russian; he was instrumental in the modernization of Czech spelling; and in 1848 he was president of the patriotic club Slovanska lipa (The Slav Linden)(93) and a delegate to both the Lund and imperial parliaments.

Many buditele born before 1850 did not speak Czech as their first language. Though nobody could reasonably question his fluency in Czech, Karel Hynek Macha wrote to his girlfriend Lori in German.(94) As a young man the composer Bedrich Smetana kept his diaries in the same language. As late as 1860 he gives pencil drawings in his sketchbook titles in German (Nussle [red Prag for the suburb, then still the village, of Nusle is one).(95) The journalist Karel Havlicek Borovsky, whose Narodni (The National News) was to play a prominent role in the “stormy year” 1848, wrote, aged 18, to a friend in 1839 that he “desired to be a Czech in speech and actions. To this end I take the magazine Kvety and read only Czech books, although as you will see from my spelling mistakes I have had scant success in this”.(96) Havlicek copied out and learned by rote all the words in Jungmann’s dictionary.(97) Josef Manes, who is described in a recent Czech biographical dictionary as “one of the greatest European painters of his time, for us in addition a painter national in his very being”,(98) patriotically illustrated Czech folk-songs; their texts are riddled with elementary linguistic errors.(99) Palacky himself spoke German at home with his wife and children.(100) Neither of the founders of Sokol, the patriotic gymnastic association of which Ottla Kafka’s husband was a member, grew up in Czech-speaking homes. Miroslav Tyrs was born Friedrich Emanuel Tirsch and came from a family in Decin in the Sudetenland which had spoken German for generations. In 1860 he was still signing his name in its German form. (101) When Jindrich, formerly Heinrich Fugner, was asked by his six-year-old daughter Renata (who herself went on, as Tyrs’s wife, to become an expert on Czech folk art) whether he “had been a German” when younger, he replied: “No, little one, I wasn’t a German, I was a Praguer, a German-speaking Praguer”.(102) These born-again Czechs spoke together, for the most part, in German, because Fugner’s “kitchen Czech” (as he himself reckoned it) was inadequate for the elevated subjects of their discussions.(103) The reconstructions of identity entailed in the Czech “national rebirth” extended first of all to its authors themselves.


Palacky and his circle succeeded in taking over the Royal Society and the National Museum in the 1820s, a position they used among other things to launch the first Czech historical journal (Casopis Ceskeho musea, 1827) and a fund for the support of publication of scholarly literature in Czech (Malice ceska, 1831).(104) Their wider social impact, however, was very limited. It puts things in perspective when we realize that Celakovsky’s Echo of Russian Songs, later canonized as a seminal work of the obrozeni, was printed in an edition of only five hundred copies, and that at Celakovsky’s own expense. Several years later more than half this print run remained in his hands, unsold.(105) It was a key symbolic moment, as Karel Havlicek Borovsky recognized, when on 31 January 1846 Palacky, Safarik and Jungmann were guests of honour at the inaugural banquet of the (Czech) Burghers’ Club (Mestanska beseda), and “the Prague burghers for the first time stepped out in greater glory in a completely Czech spirit, taking a brave step towards the unceasing profession of their nationality before the world”.(106) The “stormy year” of 1848 demonstrated something of the potential of Czech nationalism for mobilizing wider social aspirations and resentments, but bore little tangible fruit. It was only after 1860 that the imagined community mapped out by the buditele was materialized in and as a popular culture of nationality.

I am not unduly concerned — here — with the causes of this sea-change. The fact of the transformation of Czech-speakers into a nation was to be far more consequential than whatever class aspirations may have fuelled it in the first place. Bozena Nemcova’s Babicka; Bedrich Smetana’s Prodana nevesta (The Bartered Bride, 1866) and Ma vlast (My Homeland, 1879); Mikolas Ales’s illustrations for children’s primers, Alois Jirasek’s Old Czech Legends (Stare povesti ceske, 1894); the martyred Jan Hus, the one-eyed Hussite general Jan Zizka, the terrible field at Bila hora, the gentle Komensky dying in faraway Naarden; the folk-songs collected by Celakovsky and Erben, the village costumes so painstakingly portrayed by Josef Manes; the soft sonorities of the Czech language itself — these things came culturally to demarcate the territory within which Czech political struggles were subsequently fought out, and to define the people who were their subjects. Little in twentieth-century Czech(oslovak) history can be understood except against this background.

It was modernization that both generated a population capable of being nationalized and provided the practical instruments — schools and universities, newspapers and magazines, theatres and museums, public buildings and public spaces — with which this project could be accomplished. Some of the reasons why nationalism triumphed after 1860 where it had not done so earlier are perhaps obvious enough. They include the great influx of Czech peasants to the cities, which did not gather steam until the second part of the century (Greater Prague grew from around 150,000 in 1851 to over half a million by 1900); the increased necessity for Czech-speakers of all classes to interact, on a daily basis, with a multiplicity of state agencies, from police to schools, which made the language in which they did so an immediately practical question; the rise of a Czech middle class, both professional and commercial, and the linguistic obstacles the Habsburg state continued to put in the way of their advancement; and the continuing economic and state-supported dominance of German and Jewish capital. No less important were the reforms in the political organization of the Empire which allowed space for an autonomous Czech cultural and political life to flourish, beginning with the fall of Alexander Bach’s authoritarian and centralizing ministry in Vienna in 1859.

The fate of Slovak nationalism over the same period is an instructive counter-example in both respects. The Slovaks too had their buditele, L’udovit Stur and others. But upper Hungary, as it then was, modernized much more slowly than the Czech lands: in 1921, twice as many Czechs (45.7 per cent) as Slovaks (23.9 per cent) lived in settlements of 2,000 or more people, and over 60 per cent of the employed Slovak population, as against 29.6 per cent of Bohemia’s, still worked in agriculture or forestry.(107) Pressburg (which was renamed Bratislava only in 1919) had a population of 52,411 in 1890, only 8,707 of whom were Slovaks;(108) (Greater) Prague by then already had 397,268 inhabitants.(109) Where Czech nationalism benefited from the limited political freedoms permitted by the October Diploma of 1860 and the February Patent of 1861, Slovakia, after the establishment of Dual Monarchy in 1867, was subjected to concerted Magyarization. In 1874-5 the Hungarian government closed the only three Slovak gymnasia because of their “unpatriotic spirit”; by 1902, the use of Hungarian as the medium of instruction for eighteen hours per week was mandatory in all schools; after further legislation in 1907, only 344 Slovak elementary schools survived in Slovakia, as against 3,242 Hungarian.(110) The Matica slovenska, founded in 1862 on the model of the Matice ceska, was abolished in 1875, and its assets turned over to a Magyar patriotic society, on the grounds that “the Slovak nation does not exist”.(111) The degree to which this became a self-fulfilling prophecy is clear from the 1919 survey discussed earlier.

At the beginning of 1848 there were only two political newspapers in Czech, a year later thirty. But this brief flowering of Czech journalism was easily crushed. Havlicek was exiled to the Austrian Tyrol. Throughout the long decade of the “Bach absolutism” not a single non-governmental paper was published in Czech. Only from the 1860s do we get a regular and independent Czech press, with the daily newspapers Cas (Time), Narodni listy (The National) and Pokrok (Progress). In 1875, there were 195 periodicals being published in Bohemia, 99 of them in Czech; by 1890 there were 418, of which 253 were in Czech. As important as the numbers is the range of subject-areas, because it is a measure of the growing variety of walks of life in which it was becoming possible routinely to function in Czech and as a Czech. A partial listing includes politics, the national economy, trade and business, education and youth, military affairs, literature and entertainment, music and theatre, diocesan life, law, medicine, science and local news.(112) The first Czech women’s magazine, Zenske listy (The Women’s Paper), was started by the feminist (and ardent patriot) Eliska Krasnohorska in 1875; alongside the cause of women’s education, it defended with equal vigour the authenticity of Vaclav Hanka’s manuscripts.(113)

Magazines like Zlata Praha (Golden Prague), which appeared weekly from 1884, gave the rapidly broadening educated Czech public the opportunity to participate in literate culture in its own tongue, and provided a forum where that culture could be developed. In its first twenty years (as it boasted in 1903) Zlata Praha carried 2,171 original Czech poems. Of its 9,205 illustrations over the same period “there were no less than 3,819 pictures by domestic artists … From these numbers it is evident that Zlata Praha always placed the chief weight on indigenous work. It was always, above all, original, Czech”.(114) In 1885, a year after its launch, Zlata Praha already had a circulation of over 8,500. Week in, week out, it manifested the existence of a Czech literary and artistic culture, regularly reviewing Czech books, plays, exhibitions and musical performances; it reoriented conceptual geographies by treating Bohemia and Moravia, which were then still administratively divided within the Habsburg state, as a unified national space, whose wider Slavic integument it concretized through its regular column “The Slav World” and its frequent special features on Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria and other Slav lands; it gave face and body to the nation through its birthday tributes and obituaries; and it resolutely ignored German Prague and all its works.

Zlata Praha was published by Jan Otto, who built his firm into the largest Czech publishing-house before World War I. Otto also published several other influential magazines, including the literary journal Lumir and the current affairs review Suetozor (Worldwatch). He popularized Czech authors in series with titles such as “The Enlightenment of the People” and “The Affordable National Library”; he also pioneered translation into Czech in his “World Library”, “Russian Library” and similar series, a crucial matter if Czech were ever to rival German as a “language of the educated”. From the 1880s the firm began to put out lavishly illustrated patriotic souvenirs, notably the multi-volume Cechy (Bohemia) and weighty mementoes of the opening of the National Theatre in 1881 and the Czechoslavic [sic] Ethnographic Exhibition (Narodopisna vystava ceskoslovanska) of 1895.(115) This spectacle attracted over two million visitors to Prague’s Stromovka park that summer to consume a satisfying abundance of representations of themselves. The brief of the exhibition was “to depict in a wide variety of appropriate ways, strictly in accordance with reality and truth, the life and state of the Czech nation at the close of the nineteenth century”,(116) but the prevalent imagery was anything but urban or contemporary. On display were nostalgic reconstructions of farmsteads and cottages, mills and churches, and village magistrates’ houses; a multitude of Bohemian, Moravian and Slovak local village costumes (which had now become narodni kroje, national costumes); ceramics, glass, furniture, religious artefacts, and other manifestations of “folk art”; and meticulous re-enactments of all-but-extinct rural rituals like the Moravian “Ride of the Kings” (jizda kralu).(117)

Jan Otto’s most enduring achievement is the twenty-eight-volume national encyclopedia Ottuv slovnik naucny. Its handsome black leather binding is richly decorated with linden-leaves and heraldic motifs of the Czech lands in gold leaf. In its time it was second in the number of its entries and illustrations only to the Britannica. Originally the brainchild of future “president-liberator” Tomas Masaryk, it is a work of very considerable scholarship; Otto was able to draw on the combined expertise of virtually the entire faculty of the newly independent Czech University of Prague. Ottuv slovnik naucny claimed to compare with the best of foreign encyclopedias in its scientific authority, and doubtless did. But as much to the point, “it was not a copy of a foreign work adapted to our conditions. It was a work that was Czech through and through, original, written from our national and Slavonic standpoint”.(118) The entry on Bohemia runs to 572 double-columned pages in close type, complete with fourteen fold-out coloured maps and illustrations: it is a compendious representation of land and people, from its geology to its cuisine. We can look up as insignificant a community as Herman Kafka’s home village of Osek, and be confident of finding at least the latest census figures on its inhabitants and their “language of everyday use”. A two-volume popular abridgement of the large Slovnik naucny appeared in 1905-6.(119)

Mass elementary education had begun in the 1770s, and was (theoretically) compulsory from 1805, but throughout the early nineteenth century there was no teaching available in Czech beyond primary level. Only in 1848 did the Ministry of Education decree that the language of instruction in elementary schools would henceforth be the mother-tongue. By 1890, 576,963 elementary-school-children were being educated in Czech, 332,041 in German.(120) There is, perhaps, no more powerful means of nationalizing a population than compulsory schooling through the medium of a “national language”. The first gymnasium to teach in Czech was the Prague Academic Gymnasium, during 1850-3, but it then reverted to German until 1861. Irrespective of any political factors, shortage of textbooks (in 1841 there were still none in Czech) and teachers (the first entirely Czech teachers’ training college opened in Prague only in 1849) precluded widespread use of Czech before the 1860s. During that decade twelve gymnasia changed to Czech as their language of tuition, and a further two used both Czech and German. Laws of 1866 and 1868 divided gymnasia into either Czech or German; by 1890, the Czech gymnasia and technical high schools had many more pupils than the German.(121) That same year the first girls’ gymnasium in Austria-Hungary, “Minerva”, opened its doors in Prague; its founder was the redoubtable Eliska Krasnohorska, its language of instruction Czech. Prague University offered only 22 out of its 187 lecture courses in Czech in 1861.(122) By 1891, nine years after the split, the Czech University had 142 faculty, only ten fewer than the German University, and 2,308 students as against the German University’s 1,452.(123)

The (Czech) National Theatre, the fruit of a campaign begun in 1850 (with Palacky chairing the fund-raising committee), and opened in 1881, was destroyed by fire after only twelve productions, and reopened, phoenix-like, in 1883. Splendidly decorated with scenes from Czech history and legend by the young artists of what has been known ever since as “the generation of the National Theatre”, above its proscenium is written in golden letters “NAROD SOBE”: the nation to itself. The statement is literal as well as symbolic; the theatre was funded entirely by public donations, garnered from the furthest corners of the land. Mikolas Ales immortalized the nation’s gift to itself in a touching drawing of a peasant family putting pennies into a collection-box on their kitchen table.(124) Semiotically the Narodni divadlo must be one of the most fascinating buildings in Europe, at least for any student of national identity. The Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts was founded in 1891, the Czech Philharmonic in 1894. Prague’s Academy of Creative Arts, originally established in 1799, was transformed into a centre of national art in 1887 when Julius Marak, Vaclav Brozik, Josef Vaclav Myslbek and Vojtech Hynais, eminent artists of the Generation of the National Theatre, joined its staff. By the time the Modern Gallery opened in 1902, it was taken for granted that contemporary art should be exhibited in separate Czech and German divisions.(125)

Behind these public cultural institutions was a dense network of private clubs and societies Umelecka beseda (The Artistic Society), founded in 1863, brought together leading representatives of Czech literature, art and music. Its first committee included Karel Jaromir Erben, Josef Manes and Bedrich Smetana. It organized public lectures, panel discussions and readings, concerts and recitals, and art exhibitions; it published books, magazines and graphic albums; and it sponsored memorials and commemorative plaques. Among the plaques it erected in Prague were homages to Celakovsky (1872), Erben (1875), Havlicek (1870), Hus (1869), Jungmann (1873), Kramerius (1868), Manes (1874), Palacky (1885) and Safarik (1875); a national canon was in the making. An analysis of the “Statistical Overview” appended to Umelecka beseda’s fiftieth-anniversary volume of 1913 would make a long and fascinating study of the tropes of nineteenth-century Czechness in itself: suffice it here to record that lectures on literature are classified under the headings “Czech”, “Russian and Little Russian”, “Polish”, “South Slav”, “Slav” and “Foreign”.(126)

By 1888 there were 10,547 registered clubs of one kind or another in Bohemia. The most popular (2,187) were voluntary fire-fighters’ societies; it is quite typical of the period that in 1891 their national association too split on national lines. The 513 gymnastic societies and 655 choral societies were also crucibles in which a national identity was forged. The Prague choral society Hlahol, founded in 1861, had 609 members thirty years later;(127) its first public engagement had been to sing at Vaclav Hanka’s funeral in Vysehrad. The motto on the society’s art nouveau building on Masarykovo nabrezi (Masaryk Embankment) in Prague reads: “Let the song reach the heart — let the heart reach the homeland”.(128) Smetana, Janacek and others composed suitably patriotic choruses. Sokol, which in 1888 had 183 branches with 20,182 members, grew to 194,321 members by 1914.(129) From 1882 it staged festivals every few years in Prague, whose centre-piece was mass collective gymnastic displays. Its banner and uniform, a Romantic version of Czech peasant costume, were originally designed by Josef Manes. One index of Sokol’s penetration of Czech Life is the way its ritualized salutation Na zdar! (To success) — in origin referring to the success of the campaign to raise funds for the National Theatre — has passed into the Czech language as the common greeting nazdar!

With all this a national memory, as Palacky had wished, was “recovered”, and ubiquitously sewn into the Bohemian landscape. Prague’s best-known landmark Charles Bridge was named for the “Father of the Homeland” only in 1870, more than half a millennium after he ordered it to be built. Vaclav Brozik painted “Charles IV Founding Prague University in 1348” on the dome of the Pantheon of the splendid new National Museum building erected on Vaclavske namesti in 1890. Charles gazes paternally down on busts and statues of the great men and women (two: Nemcova and Krasnohorska) of the Czech nation. His companions on Brozik’s and Frantisek Zenisek’s lunettes are Premysl the ploughman, the mythical founder of the Premyslid dynasty, St Methodius translating the Bible into “the Slav language” in Rome in 885, and Jan Amos Komensky presenting his pedagogic works to Amsterdam town council in 1657. A Universita Karlova was born again in Prague — after 267 years — in February 1920, when the Czech University founded in 1882 was declared by the new Czechoslovak state to be the sole legal successor to Charles’s medieval foundation, and invested with its buildings, archives, registry, “ancient insignia, seals, books, pictures and other objects of historical note which belonged to Prague University . . . before 1882”.(130)

Charles IV had been a faithful son of the church. But the archheretic Jan Hus, too, became a national saint. Popular histories like Karel Vladislav Zap’s Czech-Moravian Chronicle of 1862 (a work which its author thought “should stand immediately after the Bible in the family chest in every home”(131) made Palacky’s vision of Czech history accessible. So, far more so, did the historical novels and plays of Alois Jirasek and many others. There was a well-publicized “pilgrimage” of prominent Czech figures, among them Bedrich Smetana, to the site of Hus’s martyrdom in Konstanz in 1868. That same year, a casket containing stones from the Konstanz jail where he had been imprisoned was solemnly embedded in the foundations of the National Theatre. Brozik’s monumental painting “The Sentencing of Master Jan Hus” (1883) hangs in Prague’s Old Town Hall opposite his “The Election of King Jiri of Podebrady” (1898), in which, taking Palacky’s mirror literally, the artist paints the faces of nineteenth-century Czech patriots (Dobrovsky, Tyrs and Fugner, among others) on his fifteenth-century electors. By 1914 there were nine Hus Streets in the Prague conurbation, and working-class Zizkov named its thoroughfares after Hussite battles and heroes. Monuments to Hus sprang up throughout the Czech lands. Ladislav Saloun’s expressionist allegory of the sufferings of the Czech nation on Staromestske namesti was unveiled in 1915 on the five hundredth anniversary of Hus’s death.(132) For three years Jan Hus and the Virgin Mary uneasily shared the square she had presided over since 1650, on a tall column erected in thanks for the deliverance of the city from besieging Swedes two years earlier. On 3 November 1918, a week after independence, the Mary column was torn down by a Czech mob as a symbol of Habsburg oppression. The statistical probability is that most of them were Roman Catholics;(133) but religion was no longer what was at issue.

A more precise index of changes in the “national” composition of Bohemian society than the census data discussed earlier, because it accurately records the qualitative dimension of the process, the changes in meaning and significance of language in relation to identity, is the fate of Count Nostic’s theatre. Despite its “Germanic,” beginnings, by the mid-nineteenth century there was rough linguistic equality in performances. From 1862, however, when the Provisional Theatre of the future National Theatre was established, the Stavovske once again became a purely German venue; German, now, in the altered sense of being a theatre of Prague’s “minority” German community. Such theatrical apartheid did not, in the end, satisfy everybody. In November 1920, in those same riots that found Franz Kafka wandering Prague’s streets immersed in anti-Semitic hate, Nostic’s theatre was stormed by Czechs under the banner “The Estates Theatre to the Nation!” The German players were evicted, and that night the most “national” of all Czech operas, Bedrich Smetana’s Prodana nevesta, was triumphantly performed by players from the Narodni divadlo, whose second stage — World War II apart — the Stavovske divadlo has been ever since.


In a masterly section of his Stare povesti ceske entitled “Sad Places”, Alois Jirasek relates how, on 21 June 1621, twenty-seven Czech lords were cruelly beheaded on Staromestske namesti. At the execution site, he says:

there were once sixteen great stones arranged in a square. The old Czechs,

when they passed through these places, never trod on these stones, nor

even laid a foot on them. They always avoided them or went around

them, out of consideration for the sad place and the spilt blood of the

Czech lords. In these places, it is said, these executed noblemen and

burghers appear, once a year, on the night before the day on which

they met their end at this place of execution. They all assemble, at the

head the eldest among them, the nearly-ninety-year-old Lord Kaplir

of Sulevice . . . They assemble at the place of execution and then

quietly, without a sound, cross the square to the Tyn church. There

they kneel before the altar and reverently accept the body of the Lord

in both kinds. And then they disappear.(134)

Were these spirits really to have walked, Franz Kafka would have witnessed their annual communion. The window of his boyhood bedroom in Celetna ulice looked directly into the nave of the Tyn church. Long ago it had been a Hussite stronghold; the stone chalice and statue of Jiri of Podebrady that once graced its western face were destroyed by Jesuit students in 1623.

There are twenty-seven crosses in the pavement of Staromestske namesti today. (135) One of them commemorates Jan Jesensky (or Jessenius), the outspoken rector of Prague University from 1617 to 1620, and a successor in that office to Jan Hus. The victors of Bila hora dealt with Jesensky particularly harshly; his tongue was cut out and nailed to the scaffold before he was beheaded. According to family legend, Milena Jesenska, Kafka’s Czech translator and lover, was his descendant. She was the daughter of another Jan Jesensky, a wealthy professor of dentistry at the Czech University of Prague, who was a committed, not to say bigoted, Czech nationalist. Her aunt was the novelist, poet and regular contributor to Zlata, Praha Ruzena Jesenska, who, Max Brod later recalled, “was held in distaste in our circles because of her chauvinistic Czech attitudes and philistine outlook”. (136) Milena herself was a graduate of Eliska Krasnohorska’s “Minerva”. Born in 1896, she was a child of all that I have tried to sketch here. She felt, for the most part, unbearably stifled by it.

Her life seems one long catalogue of rebellion against what she saw as the narrow Czech provincialism of her parents’ generation. In her youth she dropped out of medical school, experimented with drugs stolen from her father’s practice, and hung out with the German-Jewish literary set who frequented the Cafe Arco on Hybernska ulice. Whether her father had her committed to a sanatorium for several months in order to break up her relationship with the Jewish Oskar Pollak or to forestall an embarrassing prosecution on account of her freedom with other people’s money and property is moot,(137) but in any event her behaviour was an affront to respectable Czech society. On coming of age she discharged herself; married Pollak, and moved to Vienna. It was during this period that she had her (largely epistolary) affair with Kafka. Her translations of his stories were done for the magazine Cerven (June), whose editor was the Satanist-turned-anarchist-turned-communist poet Stanislav Kostka Neumann. National independence did not draw her home; she returned to Prague, divorced, only in 1925. and supported herself by journalism. The next year she met her second husband, the architect Jaromir Krejcar, a leading light of the avant-garde group Devetsil. Its 1922 manifesto Revolutionary Miscellany Devetsil had CALLED FOR “A SOCIALIST SOCIETY, LAND” . . . A NEW STYLE, A STYLE OF ALL liberated humanity, an international style, which will liquidate provincial national culture and art.”(138) Milena and Jaromir hosted Saturday get-togethers for Devetsil in their apartment on Spalena ulice; among the regulars were Karel Teige, the Marxist editor of Devetsil’s magazine ReD and the Prague avant-garde’s leading theoretician, and Julius Fucik, the young editor of the communist party daily Rude pravo (Red Right) from 1929 to 1938. In the 1930s, Milena herself became an active communist party member, until she quit in protest against the Moscow trials. An unlikely patriot, we might think. We would be wrong.

In 1938-9, from the time of the Munich crisis through to the early months of the German invasion, Milena wrote a remarkable series of deeply patriotic, but utterly unjingoistic articles for the magazine Pritomnost (The Present). Pritomnost’s editor was one of inter-war Czechoslovakia’s most distinguished journalists, Ferdinand Peroutka; his Jaci jsme (What We Are Like) of 1923 had been a devastating assault: on the mythologies of nineteenth-century Czech nationalism. (139) Milena’s Pritomnost articles are among the most moving affirmations of Czech identity known to me. It says a lot for her consistency of moral perspective that when complimented by a man “with whom just a year ago I would certainly have greatly differed in world-views” with the words “let your opinions be what they may, I see that above all, you are a Czech”, Milena replied: “I am self-evidently a Czech, but I try above all to be a decent human being”.(140) But there is more to that “self-evidently” than meets the eye. We are in the presence here of something deeper and more inner than nationalism as mere politics. A decent human being is something one might aspire to be, an alterable quality. For Karel Havlicek Borovsky in 1839, “to be a Czech” was just such an aspiration. For Milena Jesenska, a hundred years later, Czech is something one simply, self-evidently is.

In “The Czech Mother”, she locates this Czechness in the small change of everyday life: “Trifles become big symbols. And since it is woman who wields in her hand the trifles, she also reigns over the big symbols. Czech song and the Czech book. Czech hospitality. The Czech language and old Czech customs. Czech Easter eggs, little Czech gardens and bunches of Czech roses . . . “. She recalls her grandmother, who “looked like Bozena Nemcova’s Babicka, just as all your grandmothers did”, and who during World War I obstinately kept her household clocks an hour behind the official imperial summer time, which she held to be an “Austrian invention (141) In the century that separates Havlicek and Jesenska what had begun as an eccentric discourse of a handful of priests, poets, professors and playwrights had embedded itself in the landscape of the everyday, and the everyday things of life in turn became mirrors of its eternal veracity. Everyone’s grandmother had come to resemble Bozena Nemcova’s Babicka, and the one inevitably and invariably recalled the other.

In “On the Art of Remaining Standing”, Milena tells how, as a little girl, she and her mother, who was gripping her hand “more tightly than was necessary”, watched from the window of their apartment on the corner of Vaclavske namesti and Na prikope as what had been a ritualized Sunday-morning confrontation between Czech and German promenaders turned ugly. The police intervened, shots rang out, the demonstrators fled; at the end of it, beside a fallen Czech, “there remained standing before the guns one man — my dad. I remember clearly, absolutely clearly, how he stood. Calmly, with his hands by his side”. She continues:

Then, later, I once again witnessed something similar. It was, of course,

under completely different circumstances. It was during the war and in the

theatre. At that time, Czechs did not yet have their own sovereignty in mind

and nothing like this was happening. Only their Czechness was wedged in

their hearts like the thorn of a mallow from a Czech garden. Tyl’s Fidlovacka

was on the stage — on the whole a naive, out-of-date and unentertaining

work. But then suddenly they started to sing “Kde domov muj?” You know, back

then it was not a state anthem, not at all, but a national, Czech song. But

suddenly somebody stood up in front of me. Some gentleman, soundlessly

and calmly, with his hands by his side. I don’t know what he wanted to

express, but the act was as if to honour the Czech song. In a while another

stood up. Then several more. And then all of us were standing. Then we were

singing. That song was played several times over then, and it was played in

such a sincere and heartfelt way, like a prayer. “Kde domov muj” was not a

song against anyone, but for something. It did not desire anyone’s

destruction, but our continued existence. It is not a warrior-song, but a

song of our Czech home, that land with nothing grandiose about its

countryside, a land of hills and hillocks, fields and leas, silver birches,

weeping willows and broad-crowned lindens, a land of fragrant boundaries

between fields and tranquil little streams. The land where we are at home.

It was beautiful to stand by her, because it is always beautiful to love

one’s home.(142)

Milena was arrested by the Gestapo very early in the war, in November 1939. She had been active in the resistance magazine V boj! (To Arms!). She died in Ravensbruck in 1944.

Franz Kafka was right; in the end, Milena Jesenska was to be found in her entirety only in her native language, with all that by the early twentieth century that implied. Part of what it implied, of course, was Kafka’s own being an eternal outsider in the city of his birth, even though he lived virtually all of his life within a stone’s throw of Staromestske namesti. These were two sides of one and the same social process. Though it does not look too different today than it did then, the “city of three nationalities” that once united and divided them is long gone. The Nazis murdered the great majority of the Jews,(143) and Czechoslovakia’s three million Germans were in their turn expelled from the country by the Czechs. Communist party leader Klement Gottwald conceptualized this as “redressing Bila hora” and correcting “the mistakes of our Czech kings, the Premyslids, who invited the German colonists here”.(144) The record of the Germans’ presence was swiftly wiped from the landscape: the Neues Deutsches Theater became the Smetanovo divadlo, the Deutsches Casino was reborn as the Slovansky dum (Slavonic House). In the years that followed, the motifs of nineteenth-century Czech nationalism were recycled to facilitate the relocation of the Czech lands into “Eastern Europe”; communism installed itself with the aid a,f the Alois Jirasek Museum on the site of Bila hora, the Mikolas Ales centennial, and the meticulous reconstruction of the Bethlehem Chapel where, five centuries previously, Jan Hus had preached. (145) Apart from the brief “thaw” of the mid-1960s, Franz Kafka was officially “forgotten”.

But he and Milena are remembered, in a manner of speaking, in Staromestske namesti today. An elegant and expensive Cafe Milena opened there in 1994, above the Franz Kafka Centre which sells to visiting tourists all manner of Kafka memorabilia, from calendars to T-shirts. The main criterion for employment as a waiter or waitress would appear to be knowledge of English — or German.

(*) The research on which this paper is based was generously supported by a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I am grateful to Mrs Vera Benova, of the library of the Muzeum hlavniho mesta Prahy, for her unstinting and expert help with sources; to Gerald Aylmer, Michael Clanchy, Colin Richmond and other participants in the 1995 annual meeting of the Discussion Group on the English State at St Peter’s College, Oxford, where an earlier version of this paper was presented, for their encouragement of what I am trying to do here; and to graduate students at the University of Alberta, in particular Meytal Elhav and Yoke-Sum Wong, on whom I have more than sufficiently inflicted the history of Prague. My greatest debt is to my wife Alena. She has contributed far more to this project than translations from the Czech and scrupulous checking of all quotations and references, though she did that too.

(1) Letter to Milena Jesenska, end of Apr. 1920, in Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena, trans. Philip Boehm (New York, 1990), p. 8.

(2) Letter to Milena, May 1920: ibid., p. 14.

(3) Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka: Notes and Reminiscences, trans. Goronwy Rhys (London, 1953), p. 29.

(4) See Kafka’s letter to his sister Ottla, 6 Apr. 1920, in his Letters to Ottla and the Family, ed. N. N. Glatzer, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York, 1982), p. 43.

(5) Letter to Ottla, 20 Feb. 1919: ibid., p. 36.

(6) See the entries relating to Goethe in The Diaries of Franz Kafka, ed. Max Brod, trans. Joseph Kresh, Martin Greenberg and Hannah Arendt (London, 1964), esp. pp. 28, 152; (16 Nov. 1910, 25 Dec. 1911). This latter entry also contains a long and perceptive discussion of the role of Czech literature in creating “the coherence of national consciousness” and “the spiritualization of the broad area of public life” (ibid., p. 148).

(7) See his letter to Ottla, third week of Jan. 1921, in Letters to Ottla and the Family, ed. Glatzer, p. 58.

(8) See for example, his letter to Milena Jesenska, 29 May 1920, in Letters to Milena, p. 17; letter to Felix Weltsch, 22 Sept. 1917, in Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York, 1977), p. 145.

(9) Letter to Max Brod, 11 Mar. 1921: ibid., p. 266. Compare his letter to Ottla of Jan. 1921: Letters to Ottla and the Family, ed. Glatzer, p. 57.

(10) Letter of 24 June 1920: Letters to Milena, p. 58.

(11) Letter to Ottla, first week of Jan 1924: Letters to Ottla and the Family, ed. Glatzer, p. 89.

(12) Jan Neruda, “Pro strach zidovsky” [On the Fear of Jews], in his Studie kratke a kratsi [Studies Short and Shorter], ed. Q. M. Vyskocil and V. Vitinger, 2nd edn (Prague, 1928), p. 248. This openly anti-Semitic tract was written in 1869. Unless otherwise specified, all translations from Czech sources in this paper are my own.

(13) Franz Kafka, “An Introductory Talk on the Yiddish Language”, in his Dearest Father: Stories and Other Writings, trans. Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins (New York, 1954), p. 382. The talk was delivered on 11 February 1912. Neither the title nor, strictly speaking, the text is Kafka’s; the manuscript is lost and this text is based on detailed notes made by Elsa Brod, who was present.

(14) Diaries of Franz Kafka, ed. Brod, p. 88 (24 Oct. 1911). We might also, in passing, register another peculiarity in this passage In what sense, in 1911, was Prague “in Germany”?

(15) August Sedlacek, “Osek”, in Ottuv slovnik naucny [Otto’s Encyclopedia], 27 vols. with 1 suppl. vol. (Prague, 1888-1909), xviii, p. 906.

(16) Anthony Northey, Kafka’s Relations: Their Lives and his Writing (New Haven, 1991), p. 4.

(17) Prague Trade Directory, as quoted in Jiri Grusa, Franz Kafka of Prague, trans. Eric Mosbacher (London, 1983), p. 18.

(18) Editorial footnote, in Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family and Editors, p. 465. Kafka discusses “Slecna” [Miss], as she was known to the family, in his letter to Felice Bauer of 8 Nov. 1912: Franz Kafka, Letters to Felice, ed. Erich Heller and Jurgen Born, trans. James Stern and Elizabeth Duckworth (New York, 1973), p. 32. She is also frequently mentioned with affection in the recently discovered letters from Kafka to his parents from the last two years of his life: Franz Kafka, Dopisy rodicum z let 1922-1924 [Letters to Parents, 1922-1924], ed. Josef Cermak and Martin Svatos (Prague, 1990). A letter to his parents of 20 February 1924 makes it clear that he was himself in correspondence with Marie Wernerova; she would have written to him, of course, in Czech (ibid., p. 93).

(19) In 1884-5, around one-third of Jewish children in Bohemia in elementary schools were pupils in 114 private schools, all but one of which instructed in German. In Prague, most Jewish children went through the municipal school system; in 1890, 97 per cent of them were in the German track. In 1914 the figure was still as high as 82.2 per cent; after independence it fell rapidly, from 61.2 per cent in 1920 to 29.3 per cent in 1926. Of Jewish children in secondary schools in 1883-4, 83 per cent were in German schools. By 1912 this figure had fallen to 69.4 per cent. In 1900, the German University had 413 Jewish students, 31.4 per cent of its student body of 1,162; the Czech University 74 Jewish students, 2.4 per cent of its student body of 2,805. See Hillel J. Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry: National Conflict and Jewish Society in Bohemia, 1870-1918 (New York, 1988), pp. 40-6, Josef Siska, “Populacni a bytove pomery” [Demographic and Housing Conditions], in Vaclav Vojtisek (ed.) Praha v obnovenem state ceskoslovenskem [Prague in the Renewed Czechoslovak State] (Prague, 1936), p. 75.

(20) Roughly equivalent to the English grammar school, a gymnasium is described in the Dictionary of the Literary Czech Language as “a selective middle school of general education, originally six year, then eight”: Bohumil Havranek (ed.), Slovnik spisovneho jazyka ceskeho, 8 vols. (Prague, 1989), i, p. 555.

(21) Quoted in Jindrich Solc, “JUDr Tomas Cerny, cestny mestan prazsky” [Doctor of Laws Tomas Cerny, Honorary Citizen of Prague], in Almanach kralovskeho hlavniho mesta Prahy, xiii (1910), p. 269. (Emphasis in original.)

(22) “Novodobe turnaje v nasi stare Praze”, Sipy, 12 May 1894, reproduced on cover of Res Musei pragensis, iv, no. 2 (1994).

(23) Anonymous entry “Praha”, subheading “Statistika”, in Ottuv slovnik naucny, xx (1903), p. 488.

(24) Janouch, Conversations with Kafka, p. 68. Max Brod found these conversations totally plausible (see his Introduction to the volume); Janouch’s reliability has subsequently been questioned by others. Josef Skvorecky puts Janouch in his Czech context: J. Skvorecky, “Franz Kafka, Jazz and The Anti-Semitic Reader”, in his Talkin’ Moscow Blues, trans. Paul Wilson (Toronto, 1988), pp. 157-62.

(25) See the facsimile of Kafka’s letter to Josef David of 22 or 23 August 1921, in Kafka, Letters to Ottla and the Family, ed. Glatzer, Plate 21, between pp. 78 and 79.

(26) Josef Scheiner (ed.), Paty slet vsesokolsky poradany v Praze . . . 1907 [The Fifth Sokol Jamboree in Prague . . . 1907] (Prague, 1907), p. 6.

(27) To be exact, 559,026 as of 31 December 1920, including women and schoolchildren. Frantisek Masek, “Sokolstvo”, in Ottuv slovnik naucny nove doby [Otto’s Encyclopedia for the Modern Age], ed. Bohumil Nemec, 6 vols. in 12 (Prague, 1930-43), vi, pt 1, p 98. This updated supplement to the original Ottuv slovnik naucny was never completed; it ceased publication late in the German occupation, and was not revived after the war. Kafka refers to Josef David’s Sokol work in his letter to Ottla of I May 1920: Letters to Ottla and the Family, ed. Glatzer, p. 45. The word “sokol” means “falcon”.

(28) See Josef Muller and Ferdinand Tallowitz (eds.), Pamatnik vydany na oslavu dvacetileteho trvani telocvicne jednoty Sokola praeskeho [Memorial Published in Celebration of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Gymnastic Union Prague Sokol] (Prague, 1883), pp. 14-23. Along with Tyrs and Fugner, Cerny is profiled here under the title “Our I Three Stars”.

(29) See the figures on changing Jewish linguistic preferences in schooling given in n. 19 above

(30) Letter of mid-Nov. 1920: Kafka, Letters to Milena, pp. 212-13. “Wallowing in anti-Semitic hate” may not be the most felicitous translation of Kafka’s German here, he says simply that he “bathed” in it (“Die ganzen Nachmittage bin ich jetzt auf den Gassen und bade im Judenhass”): Franz Kafka, Briefe an Milena, ed. Jurden Born and Michael Muller (Frankfurt on Main, 1986), p. 288

(31) In a letter to his parents of 19 December 1923 Kafka asks when his two nieces, daughters of his sister Valli, were going to write to him in Hebrew: Dopisy rodicum z let 1922-1924, ed. Cermak and Svatos, p. 59.

(32) Kafka, letter to Felice Bauer, 16 Jan. 1913: Letters to Felice, p. 157.

(33) Kafka, letter of Nov. 1920: Letters to Milena, p. 217.

(34) Jiri Carek et al., Ulicemi mesta Prahy od 14. stoleti do dneska [Through the Streets of Prague from the Fourteenth Century to Today] (Prague, 1958), p. 289. Unless otherwise stated, all information on Prague street-names in this paper comes from this source.

(35) See Jiri Hruza et al., Prazska asanace [The Prague Slum-Clearance], Acta Musei Pragensis, xciii (1993). This is a special issue of the magazine published for the one hundredth anniversary of the asanace law. The best source for what the ghetto looked like before the asanace is still to be found in the superb series Zmizela Praha, ed. Emanuel Poche, 6 vols. (Prague, 1945-8,, iii: Hana Volavkova, Zidovske mesto prazske [The Prague Jewish Town].

(36) Kafka concludes his postcard to Ottla of 13 October 1923, which is otherwise written in German, with the words “Frantisek greets you and is well” in Czech (“Frantisek pozdravuje a je zdrav”): Letters to Ottla and the Family, ed. Glatzer, p. 81.

(37) These are Czech diminutives. See Kafka’s letter to Ottla of April 1921: ibid., p. 68.

(38) See Introduction, ibid., pp. ix-x.

(39) According to Ctibor Rybar, Zidovska Praha [Jewish Prague] (Prague, 1991), p. 306.

(40) See my note (which appeared anonymously under the title “Fact of the Issue”) in Jl Hist. Sociology, v (1992), p. 291. Since that date the full restoration of the memorial has begun.

(41) Anonymous authorial collective of State Jewish Museum, Statni zidovske muzeum v Praze [The State Jewish Museum in Prague] (Prague, 1979), p. 7.

(42) Siska, “Populacni a bytove pomery”, p. 74.

(43) Emil Capek, “Ceskoslovenska republika” [Czechoslovak Republic], subbeading “Obyvatelstvo” [Population], in Ottuv slovnik naucny nove doby, i, pt 2, pp. 1082-3.

(44) These predmesti were legally and administratively independent cities until 1922. In 1890, therefore, the list of the five biggest cities in Bohemia read, in declining order of’ magnitude, Prague, Plzen [Pilsen], Zizkov, Vinohrady and Smichov: Jiri Hruza, Mesto: Praha [The City: Prague] (Prague, 1989), p. 189.

(45) Diaries of Franz Kafka, ed. Brod, p. 119 (18 Nov. 1911).

(46) Antonin Jirak, “Zizkov”, in Ottuv slovnik naucny, xxvii, p. 884.

(47) Anonymous entry “Praha” [Prague], subheading “Statistika” [Statistics], in Ottuv slovnik naucny, xx, p. 488; Gary B. Cohen, The Politics of Ethnic Survival: Germans in Prague, 1861-1914 (Princeton, 1981), p. 92.

(48) Vaclav Vojtisek, “Velika Praha”, in Almanach hlavniho mesta Prahy, xviii (1922), p. 5. This year-book had been published annually from 1898-1914 by the City Council; from 1922 to 1939 it appeared biannually.

(49) Josef Erben (ed.), Statistika kralovskeho hlavniho mesta Prahy [Statistics of the Royal Capital City of Prague] (Prague, 1871), pp. 124, 128. This was a civic survey (obecni popis) rather than a state census; though the report points to several problems in the data on nationality, it considers them superior to any previous figures. The count did not include the city’s suburbs.

(50) Ibid., pp. 124-5. Like the obecni popis of 1869, this census was of the five historic boroughs only. It counted only legal residents (domaci obyvacelstvo) rather than actually present population (skutecne obyvatelstvo).

(51) See the impressive commemorative work: J. Kafka et al. (eds.), Sto let prace: zprava o vseobecne zemske vystave v Praze 1891 [One Hundred Years of Work: Report on the Universal Land Exhibition in Prague, 1891], 3 vols. (Prague, 1892-5). On the German boycott, see Frantisek Kolar and Milan Hlavacka, Jubilejni vystava 1891 [The 1891 Jubilee Exhibition] (Prague, 1991), esp. pp. 14-24.

(52) Siska, “Populacni a bytove pomery”, p. 78.

(53) Cohen, Politics of Ethnic Survival, p. 122.

(54) See, for example, Siska, “Populacni a bytove pomery”, p. 74: “Although the Jewish minority in Prague lives compactly, at a high economic, social and to some extent cultural level, only a small element within it has any defined national awareness. Scarcely a fifth of Prague Jews (5,900) declared themselves as being of Jewish nationality . . . “. Siska sees Jewish desertion of German schooling after 1918 — something which Czech nationalists had been urging on Jews for decades — as “an accurate barometer of the power of political conditions as well as a contribution to the study of national character”. The clear implication is that Jews change national affiliation with the political wind.

(55) Cohen, Politics of Ethnic Survival, p. 102.

(56) The basis for this inference is the fact that despite the shift from German to Czech among Jews between 1890 and 1900, Jews remained the same proportion of all German-speakers (46 per cent) in both censuses.

(57) Figures given in Siska, “Populacni a bytove pomery”, pp. 71-8.

(58) Petr Novy, “Jig Weil: clovek” [Jiri Weil: The Man], introduction to Jiri Weil, Moskva — hranice [Moscow — The Border] (Prague, 1991), p. 11.

(59) Zdenek Tobolka, “Zidovsky majetek” Jewish Property], in Z. Tobolka (ed.), Naucny slovnik aktualit [Encyclopedia of Current Affairs] (Prague, 1939), p. 608.

(60) According to the Slovak laws of April 1939, a Jew was anybody who either (a) was or had been of the Jewish faith, even if they had joined some Christian denomination after 30 October 1918, or (b) was or had been of no religion and had at least one parent of Jewish faith, or (c) was descended from a Jew thus defined, with the exception of those descendants who had themselves joined a Christian denomination before 30 October 1918, or (d) had married a person of Jewish faith after the law of April 1939 had come into effect, for so long as the marriage lasted: Jaroslav Hendrych, “Zide na Slovensku” Jews in Slovakia], ibid., p. 607.

(61) Speech in the Czechoslovak parliament, 18 Oct. 1919: Narodni shromazdeni ceskoslovenske v prvnim roce republiky [The Czechoslovak National Assembly in the First Year of the Republic] (Prague, 1919), p. 198.

(62) Unnamed enumerator’s report, cited in Ferdinand Peroutka, Budovani statu [The Building of a State], 3rd edn, 4 vols. (Prague, 1991), i, p. 135. Translated by Alena Sayer.

(63) Erben (ed.), Statistika kralovskeho hlavniho mesta Prahy, p. 122.

(64) Max Brod, divot Zivot plny boju [A Life Full of Conflicts] (Prague, 1994), p. 7.

(65) Cohen, Politics of Ethnic Survival, p. 274.

(66) Kieval, Making of Czech Jewry. See also his chapter “Autonomy and Interdependence: The Historical Legacy of Czech Jewry”, in David Altshuler (ed.), The Precious Legacy: Judaic Treasures from the Czechoslovak State Collections (New York, 1983), pp. 46-109.

(67) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edn (London, :1991); Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983). See also, out of a vast field of relevant studies, Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1978; rev. repr., Aldershot, 1994); Tamas Hofer, “The Creation of Ethnic Symbols from the Element of Peasant Culture”, in Peter F. Sugar (ed.), Ethnic Diversity and Conflict in Eastern Europe (Oxford, 1980), pp. 101-45, 463-72; and Eric R. Wolf, “Inventing Society”, American Ethnologist, xv (1988), pp. 752-61. Less obviously relevant works which have none the less influenced the approach taken in this paper are Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1979); Bernard S. Cohn, “The Command of Language and the Language of Command”, Subaltern Studies, v (1986), pp. 276-329. It is from the latter that I adapt my title.

(68) After the theatre was bought by the Bohemian Estates in 1798, performances took place in Czech every Sunday afternoon. By the mid-nineteenth century numbers of performances in Czech and German were “almost equal”: Jiri Hilmera, Stavovske narodu! [The Estates Theatre to the Nation!] Prague, 1991), p. 13. The first production at the Stavovske in Czech, a translation of a German play, took place in January 1785, the first original Czech production in January 1786: J. Divis et al., “Praha v obdobi narodniho obrozeni (1784-1849)” [Prague in the Period of the National Rebirth, 1784-1849], in Zdenek Mika et al., Dejiny Prahy v datech [A History of Prague in Dates] (Prague, 1988), p. 153.

(69) Miroslav Kacer, “Pocatky ceskeho mestanskeho divadla (1785-1812)” [Beginnings of Czech Urban Theatre (1785-1812)], in Frantisek Cerny (ed.), Dejiny ceskeho divadla [A History of Czech Theatre], 4 vols. (Prague, 1969-83), ii, p. 18.

(70) Charles IV, “Vlastni zivotopis” [Autobiography], in Kroniky doby Karla IV. [Chronicles from the Age of Charles IV], ed. Marie Blahova (Prague, 1987), p. 27, translated by Alena Sayer. Charles assiduously cultivated his specifically Czech heritage. See, for example, the use of Czech symbolism at his coronation, the order of which he wrote himself: Karel IV., “Obrady korunovacni, jak je stanovil Karel IV.” [The Coronation Order as Established by Charles IV], in Ljuba Horakova (ed.), Ceske korunovacni klenoty [The Bohemian Gown Jewels] (Prague, 1993), p. 40.

(71) These figures are taken from Josef Krasa, “Zlaty vek knizni malby” [The Golden Age of Book Illustration], in Mirjam Bohatcova et al., Ceska kniha v promenach staleti [The Czech Book through the Centuries] (Prague, 1990), p. 70; Pravoslav Kniedl, “Ceske a moravske prvotisky” [Czech and Moravian Printed Books], ibid., pp. 121-3; Mirjam Bohatcova, “Rozsireni knihtisku v Cechach a na Morave do roku 1620” [The Expansion of Book-Printing in Bohemia and Moravia up to 1620], ibid., p. 155; Mirjam Bohatcova, “Prvni cesky nakladatelsky dum” [The First Czech Publishing-House], ibid., p. 216.

(72) “Provolani k boji na obranu pravdy”, in Husitske manifesty [Hussite Manifestos], ed. Amadeo Molnar (Prague, 1986), pp. 229, 233; translated by Alena Sayer. Today “pravda” means truth; then it also had connotations of “right” or “justice”.

(73) See, for example, the complaints of Czech lords to Charles IV’s father Jan Lucembursky in 1315, recorded by the chronicler Frantisek Prazsky in the 1340s: “Frantisek Prazsky: kronika”, in Kroniky doby Karla IV., ed. Blahova, p. 84.

(74) I touch here on an issue much debated in Czech historiography (when political circumstances permitted). Notable were the polemics over Tomas Masaryk’s Ceska otazka [The Czech Question] `Prague, 1990), originally published in 1894. Masaryk saw the “meaning” of Czech history as lying in the Hussite and Protestant legacy, but also regarded the nation as such as a distinctively modern phenomenon. His most distinguished critic, the Catholic historian Josef Pekar, held the superficially paradoxical position (with which I would generally concur) that a sense of Czech nationality is a recurrent motif of Czech history, but that its content has varied enormously over the centuries; the Implication being that the national and social movements of the nineteenth century had little in common with their medieval counterparts other than being Linked to some notion of “Czechness”: J. Pekar, “Smysl ceskych dejin” [The Meaning of Czech History], in his O smyslu ceskych dejin (Prague, 1990). Pekar’s writings were banned in their entirety under the communists, who recycled the nineteenth-century nationalist narrative for their own purposes; see the “catalogue of formerly banned books” in the Narodni knihovna v Praze (National Library, Prague).

(75) Josef Dobrovsky, Dejiny ceske reci a literatury [A History of Czech Language and Literature], trans. Benjamin Jedlicka from the first (German) edn of 1792 (Prague, 1951), p. 125.

(76) See Mirjam Bohatcova, “Koniasuv Klic” [Konias’s Key], in Bohatcova et al., Ceska kniha v promenach staleti, pp. 2, 3-6

(77) Popis obyvatelstva hlavniho mesta Prahy z roku 1770 [A Description of the Population of the Capital City Prague from the Year 1770], ed. Eduard Sebesta and Adolf L. Krejcik (Prague, 1933), p. xix. Though this census covers the male population only, and these data relate only to Stare mesto, there is no reason at that date to see them as unrepresentative of the linguistic make-up of the city as a whole.

(78) For a fascinating portrait of the land-patriotism of the Czech aristocracy in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including Kinsky, see Josef Hanus, Narodri museum a nase obrozeni [The National Museum and our Rebirth], 2 vols. in I (Prague, 1921-3). Hanus summarizes “the patriotism of our aristocracy’ thus: “[they] were of a Czech disposition and laid claim to Czech historical traditions — [they were] Palacky’s `in blood and heart faithful Czechs’ — but [they] spoke and for the most part also read and wrote only German and French” (bk ii, pp. 36-7).

(79) According to Frantisek Palacky, Josef Dobrovsky, who might be considered the father of modern Czech, “had long abandoned hope for the revival of a Czech national literature and was also always later of the opinion that at best it might evolve only as a general popular literature”: F. Palacky, “Josefa Dobrovskeho zivot a pusobeni vedecke” [The Life and Scientific Pursuits of Josef Dobrovsky], in his Dilo Frantiska Palackeho [The Works of Frantisek Palacky], ed. Jaroslav Charvat, 4 vols. (Prague, 1941), iii, p. 266. See also Josef Jungmann’s famous dialogues on the state of the Czech language, published in Hlasatel cesky (The Czech Courier) in 1806 and republished under the title “O jazyku ceskem” [On the Czech Language] in his Vybrane spisy Josefa Jungmanna [Selected Writings of Josef Jungmann], ed. Karel Hikl (Prague, 1918), pp 41-68.

(80) See Josef Haubelt, Ceske osvicenstvi [The Czech Enlightenment] (Prague, 1986), pp. 412-13.

(81) The word “krok” means a “step” or “stride”; it was also the name of the father of the legendary Czech princess Libuse, who married the equally legendary ploughman Premysl, supposed founder of the Premyslid dynasty of Bohemian kings. Libuse also famously prophesied the glories of the Future city of Prague.

(82) An annual popular spring festival organized by the Shoemakers’ Guild, and held in the (then) village of Nusle on the southern outskirts of Prague.

(83) Frantisek Palacky, Dejiny narodu ceskeho v Cechach a v Morave, 6 vols. (Prague, 1939) i, p. vii.

(84) This is his title for what may be the best work ever written on the Czech language’ originally published in 1946: Pavel Eisner, Chram i tvrz (Prague, 1992). It was Eisner who first translated Franz Kafka’s The Castle into Czech in 1936.

(85) Prokop Toman, Novy slovnik ceskoslovenskych vytvarnych umelcu [New Dictionary of Czechoslovak Artists], 4th edn, 14 vols. (Ostrava, 1993; unaltered reprint of the 3rd edn, Prague, 1947-50), i, p. 10.

(86) Quoted in Jaromir Neumann, “Mikolas Ales a pokrokove tradice ceskych dejin” [Mikolas Ales and the Progressive Traditions of Czech History], in Mikolas Ales, Boj naseho lidu za svobodu [The Struggle of Our People for Freedom], ed. Lubor Kara (Prague, 1952) p. 22.

(87) “Washingtonska deklarace”, in Dejiny ceskeho statu v dokumentech [The History of the Czech State in Documents], ed. Zdenek Vesely (Prague, 1994), pp. 311-12. Issued in Paris over the signatures of Tomas Masaryk, Edvard Benes and Milan Stefanik in the name of the provisional Czechoslovak government, this is reckoned one of the foundation documents of independent Czechoslovakia.

(88) Josef Pekar, Dejiny ceskoslovenske (Prague, 1991), p. 19.

(89) “Jazykovy zakon” [Language Law], 29 Feb. 1920, in Dejiny ceskeho statu v dokumentech, ed. Vesely, p. 351. This language law formed part of the constitution of 1920. “National and linguistic minorities” (primarily Germans and Hungarians) were permitted to use their own languages in dealings with the state in districts (okresy) where they formed over 20 per cent of the population. A separate written Slovak was first differentiated from Czech and formalized by L’udovit Stur in the 1840s, against the opposition of Kollar and Safarik among others.

(90) Antonin Puchmajer, letter to Josef Jungmann, 1816, cited in Jan Jakubec, “Jungman, Josef”, in Ottuv slovnik naucny, xiii (1898), p. 671.

(91) Josef Jungmann, “Predmluva” [Foreword] to the first edition (1811) of his translation of Milton’s Paradise Lost, in Vybrane spisy Josefa Jungmann, ed. Hikl, p. 155. (Emphasis in original.)

(92) Petr Fischer, mayor of Smichov, describing the burial vault (Slavin) he funded there, built in 1889-93; cited in Frantisek Ruth, Kronika kralovske Prahy a obci sousednich [A Chronicle of Royal Prague and Neighbouring Communities], 3 vols. (Prague, 1903-4), iii, p. 1147

(93) The linden is the Czech “national tree”.

(94) K. H. Macha to Lori Somkova, mid-May 1834 and 2 Nov. 1836, both in Intimni Karel Hynek Macha [The Unexpurgated Karel Hynek Macha], ed. Milos Pohorsky (Prague, 1993), pp. 100, 134-5. Macha also wrote poetry in German as well as in Czech.

(95) These sketches are reproduced in Kresby Bedricha Smetany [The Drawings of Bedrich Smetana], ed. Zdenek Nejedly (Prague, 1925; catalogue for an exhibition of the Umelecka beseda). The original diaries are on display in the Muzeum Bedricha Smetany on Smetanovo nabrezi in Prague.

(96) Karel Havlicek Borovsky, letter to M. Priborsky, 1839, quoted in Slavomir Ravik, K. H. Borovsky: portret bojavnika [K. H. Borovsky: Portrait of a Fighter] (Prague, 1991), p. 13.

(97) Ibid.

(98) P[avel] A[ugusta], “Manes Josef “, in Pavel Augusta et al., Kdo byl kdo v nasich dejinach do roku 1918 [Who Was Who in our History up to 1918] (Prague, 1993), p. 193.

(99) Dopisy Josefa Manesa [The Letters of Josef Manes], ed. Jan Kuhndel (Prague, 1968), has 254 pages of letters, only four of which were originally written in (appalling) Czech. The distinguished art historian Antonin Matejcek elsewhere writes: “The struggle with the Czech language was Manes’s chief difficulty in the realization of his artistic plan. In the [18]50s he mastered Czech only in ordinary conversation, in the following decade he considerably extended his vocabulary. However, he never learned to write well to his death, lacking a knowledge of the language grounded in cultural literacy”: Dilo Josefa Manesa [The Work of Josef Manes], ed. Antonin Matejcek, 4 vols. (Prague, 1923-8), i (2nd edn, 1928), p. 42.

(100) See “Podiven” [pseudonym for Petr Pithart, Petr Pfihoda, Milan Otahal], Cesi v dejinach nove doby [The Czechs in Modern History] (Prague, 1991), p. 71.

(101) See Zora Dvorakova, Miroslav Tyrs: prohry a vitezstvi [Miroslav Tyrs: Defeats and Victories] (Prague, 1989), pp. 7, 23. On Tyrs’s struggles with Czech, see also the reminiscences of his wife: Renata Tyrsova, Miroslav Tyrs: jeho osobnost a dilo [Miroslav Tyrs: His Personality and Work] (Prague, 1932), pp. 34-5.

(102) Qouted in Dvorakova, Miroslav Tyrs, p. 29. Dvorakova also quotes Fugner here as saying that his reading of Vaclav Hanka’s manuscripts in German translation was “a huge experience” which “helped me discover the road to the Czechs”. In neither case, unfortunately, does she give her original sources.

(103) Ibid., pp. 24-5. See also Tyrsova, Miroslav Tyrs, pp. 34-5.

(104) See Stanley B. Kimball, “The Matice ceska, 1831-1861: The First Thirty Years of a Literary Foundation”, in Peter Brock and H. Gordon Skilling (eds.), The Czech Renascence of the Nineteenth Century (Toronto, 1970), pp. 53-73.

(105) Pravoslav Kniedl, “Nakladatelska svepomoc a Matice ceska” [Publishing Self-Help and the Matice ceska], in Bohatcova et al., Ceska kniha v promenach staleti, p. 357. For an analysis of the social basis of Czech patriotism in the early nineteenth century, see Miroslav Hroch, “The Social Composition of the Czech Patriots in Bohemia, 1827-1848”, in Brock and Skilling (eds.), Czech Renascence of the Nineteenth Century, pp. 33-52.

(106) K. H. Borovsky, “Otevreni Besedy Mestanske v Praze” [The Inauguration of the Burghers’ Club in Prague], in Prazske noviny, 1 Feb. 1846, as cited in Frantisek V Schwartz (ed.), Pamatnik Besedy mestanske v Praze na oslavu padesatilete cinnosti spolku 1845-6 — 1895-6 [Memorial of the Burghers’ Club in Prague, in Celebration of Fifty Years of the Society’s Activity] (Prague, 1896), p. 9.

(107) 1921 census data. The figures for settlements are taken from Jan Havranek et al., “Prilohy” [Appendices], suppl. 6: “Zakladni data z historicke demografie Ceskoslovenska” [Basic Data on the Historical Demography of Czechoslovakia], in Miroslav Buchvaldek et al., Dejiny Ceskoslovenska v datech [A History of Czechoslovakia in Dates] (Prague, 1968), p. 181; those for employment, from Capek, “Obyvatelstvo”, p. 1084.

(108) Figure from 1890 census: Anon., “Prespurk”, in Ottuv slovnik naucny, xx, p. 653.

(109) Figure from 1890 census data, calculated on Greater Prague boundaries as established in 1922: Siska, “Populacni a bytove pomery”, p. 72.

(110) Bohumil Bydzovsky, “Ceskoslovenska republika”, subheading “Skolstvi” [Education], in Ottuv slovnik naucny nove doby, i, pt 2, p. 1239.

(111) Buchvaldek et al., Dejiny Ceskoslovenska v datech, p. 272.

(112) The figures are taken from Jan Srb, entry “Cechy”, subheading “Literature vedecka a odborna: casopisectvi” [Scientific and Specialized Literature: Periodicals] in Ottuv slovnik naucny, vi (1893), p. 358. The subject-matter classification is his. Srb’s contribution is a separate note at the end of the section, whose explicit purpose is to show the ever-growing strength of Czech as against German periodical literature.

(113) Eliska Krasnohorska, “Slovo nasim ctenarkam o Rukopisech kralovedvorskem a zelenohorskem” [A Word to our Lady Readers on the Dvur Kralove and Zelena Hora Manuscripts], originally published in Zenske listy (1886), pp. 94-6, repr. in Drahomira Vlasinova, Eliska Krasnohorska (Prague, 1987), pp. 187 9. Krasnohorska was also the librettist for several of Smetana’s operas.

(114) L. K. Zizka, untitled column in Zlata Praha, xx (1902-3), pp. 143-4. This was the one thousandth issue of the magazine., which was devoted to celebrating its history.

(115) Frantisek Adolf Subert, Narodni divadlo v Praze: dejiny jeho i stavba dokoncena [The National Theatre in Prague: Its History and Completion] (Prague, 1881); Frantisek Adolf Subert (ed.), Narodopisna vystava ceskoslovanska v Praze 1895 [The Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition in Prague 1895] (Prague, 1895).

(116) Frantisek Adolf Subert, Doklady a poznamky [Documents and Notes], in Subert (ed.), Narodopisna vystava ceskoslovanska v Praza 1895, p. vi.

(117) For an excellent discussion of this exhibition, see Andrew Lass, “What Keeps the Czech Folk `Alive’?”, Dialectical Anthropology, xiv (1989), pp. 7-19.

(118) Bohumil Nemec, “Uvod” [Preface], in Ottuv slovnik naucy nove doby, i, pt 1, unpaginated.

(119) Frantisek Adolf Subert (ed.), Maly Ottuv slovnik naucny [Otto’s Small Encyclopedia], 2 vols. (Prague, 1905-6).

(120) Jan Safranek, “Skolstvi obecne a mestanske” [Elementary and Intermediate Schools], in Kafka et al. (eds.), Sto let prace, iii, p. 519. These figures are for public elementary (obecne) schools only. Broken down by nationality of pupils, there were 590,590 Czechs and 318,414 Germans, meaning that 13,627 Czech children were still being educated in German. The non-attendance rate in Czech school districts was 8.6 per cent, in German school districts 15.97 per cent of all school-age children.

(121) In gymnasia and technical (realne) gymnasia there were 10,424 Czech pupils, 5,767 German; in technical high schools (realky) 2,966 Czech, 2,786 German: Petr Durdik, entry “Cechy”, subheading “Skoly stredni” [Middle Schools], in Ottuv slovnik naucny, vi, pp. 196-7.

(122) Petr Durdik, entry “Cechy”, subheading “Dejiny skolstvi” [History of Education], ibid., p. 360.

(123) Petr Durdik and Josef J. Koran, entry “Cechy”, subheading “Skoly vysoke” [Institutions of Higher Education], ibid., pp. 198-9.

(124) Reproduced in Subert, Narodni divadlo v Praze p. 40.

(125) On these institutions, see Otto Wichterle et al., Sto let Ceske akademie ved a umeni [One Hundred Years of the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts] (Prague, 1991); Jiri Kotalik (ed.), Almanach Akademie vytvarnych umeni v Praze [Almanac of the Academy of Creative Arts in Prague] (Prague, 1979); Anon., Moderni galerie kralovstvi ceskeho v Praze [The Modern Gallery of the Czech Kingdom in Prague] (Prague, 1907); R. Musil et al., Moderni galerie tenkrat 1902-1942 [The Modern Gallery Then: 1902-1942] (Prague, 1992).

(126) Antonin B. Svojsik, “Statisticke prehledy cinnosti `Umelecke besedy”‘ [Statistical Overviews of the Activity of Umelecka beseda], in H. Jelinek (ed.) Padesat let Umelecke besedy [Fifty Years of Umelecka beseda] (Prague, 1913), pp. v-xxx.

(127) These figures are all taken from Jan Srb, entry “Cechy”, subheading “Spolky” [Societies], in Ottuv slovnik naucny, vi, p. 207.

(128) “Zpevem k srdci — srdcem k vlasti”. Personal observation.

(129) Srb, “Spolky”, p. 207; Masek, “Sokolstvo”, p. 98.

(130) Karel Domin, “Maresuv universitni zakon z 19. unora 1920 a boj o Karolinum” [Mares’s University Law of 19 Feb. 1920 and the Struggle over the Karolinum], in Karel Domin, Vaclav Vojtisek and Josef Hutter (eds.), Karolinum statek narodni [The Karolinum, the Property of the Nation] (Prague, 1935), pp. 13-15. The text of the law, from which I quote directly, is given here in full.

(131) Karel Vladislav Zap, “Predslovo” [Foreword], in his Cesko-Moravska kronika [The Czech-Moravian Chronicle] (Prague, 1862), umpaginated. Zap goes on to acknowledge his debt first and foremost to “the immortal work” of Palacky. Zap was also the author of the first Czech tour guide to Prague, published in 1835.

(132) Franz Kafka thought it “mediocre stuff “, preferring Frantisek Bilek’s “sketches of incomparable quality” for monuments to Komensky and Zizka. Typically, he had doubts about whether “this wrong should be rectified by Jewish hands”: letter to Max Brod, end of July ]922, in Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family and Editors, p. 347.

(133) The 1921 census gave figures for religious affiliation (for all Czechoslovakia) of 76.2 per cent Roman Catholic, as against 7.2 per cent for all Protestant denominations. Over half the latter were in Slovakia; in the Czech lands only 3.7 per cent of the Czech population belonged to Evangelical confessions. In all there were 10,384,833 Roman Catholics in Czechoslovakia. Only 525,333 people (3.8 per cent) had defected to the newly established “Hussite” Czechoslovak Church. See Capek, “Obyvatelstvo”, p. 1083.

(134) Alois Jirasek Stare ceske [Old Czech Legends] (Prague, 1992), pp. 186-7; translated by Alena Sayer. The right for the laity to take communion in troth kinds (i.e., bread and wine) was a central Hussite demand, and the chalice, accordingly, their symbol. Thus Jirasek rhetorically sews together the (quite different) “national” struggles of the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries here.

(135) I have been unable to ascertain when they were put there, but the large bronze commemorative plaque on the side of the Old Town Hall facing the execution-site which lists all twenty-seven victims names, dates from 1911: Emanuel Poche, Prahou krok za krokem [Through Prague Step by Step] (Prague, 1985), p. 140.

(136) (136) Brod, Franz Kafka: A Biography, trans. G. H. Roberts (New York, . p. 222.

(137) The former is suggested by Max Brod: ibid., p. 224; the latter by Milena’s friend Jaroslava Vondrackova, in her Kolem Mileny Jesenske [Around Milena Jesenska] (Prague, 1991), p. 23. Kafka and Milena discussed her relationship with her father in their correspondence; see his letters of 4 August 1920 and 3-4 September 1920: Kafka, Letters to Milena, pp. 135-6, 1X2-4.

(138) Devetsil, svaz revolucnich umelcu [Devetsil, a Union of Revolutionary Artists], “Velka francouzska revoluce ohlasovala . . . ” [The Great French Revolution Announced . . .], Czech trans. of Russian resume to Jaroslav Seifert and Karel Teige (eds.), Revolucni sbornik Devetsil (Prague, 1922), repr. in Poetismus [Poetism], ed. Kvetoslav Chvatik and Zdenek Pesat (Prague, 1967), p. 63. (Emphasis in original.)

(139) Ferdinand Peroutka, Jaci jsme/Demokraticky, manifest [What We Are Like/Democratic Manifesto] (Prague, 1991).

(140) Milena Jesenska, “Jsem predevsim Ceska?” [Am I Above All A Czech?], Pritomnost, xvi (1939), pp. 283-4. (Emphasis in original.)

(141) Milena Jesenska, “Ceska maminka” [The Czech Mother], ibid., pp. 238-9; translated by Alena Sayer.

(142) Milena Jesenska, “O umeni zustat stat” [The Art of Remaining Standing], ibid., pp. 205-6; translated by Alena Sayer. (Emphasis in original.)

(143) Many of those who survived the Holocaust emigrated after the war, after 1948, or after 1968. Using a range of sources, Tomas Pekny estimates the number of Jews in Prague in 1950 as 3,433, and in the rest of Bohemia as perhaps 5,500; by 1989 the figure for Prague had fallen to perhaps 1,000, for Czechoslovakia as a whole perhaps 7,900. Czechoslovak censuses ceased to record religion from 1953. See Tomas Pekny, Historie Zidu v Cechach a na Morave [A History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia] (Prague, 1993), pp. 390-1.

(144) Klement Gottwald, speech of 23 June 1945 in Brno, quoted in Tomas Stanek, Odsun Nemcu z Ceskoslovenska, 1945-1947 [The Expulsion of the Germans from Czechoslovakia, 1945-1947] (Prague, 1991), p. 60.

(145) The logic of this recycling was spelt out at length by the communist cultural supremo of the period, Minister of Education (and eminent historian of Czech music) Zdenek Nejedly, in his 1946 article “The Communists, Heirs of the Great Traditions of the Czech Nation”: Z. Nejedly, “Komuniste, dedici velkych tradic ceskeho naroda”, in his O smyslu ceskych dejin [On the Meaning of Czech History] (Prague, 1953). pp. 21-67.

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