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Efforts at a Czech-German Settlement

The Austro-Hungarian settlement ignored Czech demands. The reaction to this involved huge gatherings of people at significant sites in Czech history – Říp, Vítkov, and Blaník.

Czech representatives agreed on the so-called Fundamental Articles with the Austrian government in 1871. This project involved a Czech-Austrian settlement, but one which had stronger ties than those that existed between Hungary and Austria. It increased the authority of the Czech estates assembly.  A state government was supposed to have been established and the kingdom divided into Czech and German parts.  The plan provoked resistance among Germans and discontent among Hungarians. The governing cabinet fell and the Czech-Austrian settlement went with it. The failure of negotiations led to Czech opposition parties continuing in passive opposition, because they refused to participate in the work of the state assembly and the imperial council.

The passive policy ended in 1878, when the parties recognized that they would gain more through participation in decision-making than through mere passivity. A new approach of moderate concessions from the state was derogatorily called the “breadcrumb policy.”  The unfortunate statement had been made by František Ladislav Rieger, who had wanted to highlight the benefit and gains of an active policy from Czech parties.  For example, the Prague University was divided into the Czech Charles University and the German Ferdinand University. A language decree was issued, which allowed the use of Czech when communicating with the authorities, etc.

The originally unified Czech political representation divided into two strands – the more conservative Old Czechs and the more radical Young Czechs. The Old Czechs tried to push through the last attempt at a Czech-Austrian settlement, the so-called “Punctation” (punktace), in 1890. This was not successful due to furious resistance from the Young Czechs and a lack of interest from the public.

The relationship between the Czechs and Germans deteriorated over time. The Germans comprised around one third of the population in Bohemia and Moravia.  In certain areas, primarily in the border regions (the so-called Sudetenland), they even formed a homogeneous majority. In the second half of the 19th century, Czechs closed the gap on Germans in terms of culture and industry.  They were also more numerous.  Czechs wanted to retain the indivisibility of the country and to establish the use of the Czech language, both in dealings between citizens and authorities, and also between the administrative authorities themselves.

Germans, on the other hand, strived for the creation of an enclosed German territory in Bohemia and the division of all state bodies into Czech and German parts whilst retaining German as the official language. Conflicts arose out of the mutually incompatible demands of both parties. After Bohemian Germans boycotted work in the estates assembly, which exacerbated the country’s financial difficulties, its self-administration was suspended by the imperial “St. Anne’s” Patents in 1913. The running of the country was taken over by a caretaker administrative commission, which was created by unconstitutional means.