This essay is intended to examine origins and history of the Czech nation from a broad historical and geographic context. A second goal of this essay is to examine of the relationship of the Czechs', and seek historical causes for trends, both positive and negative, seen today and in recent past.
     This essay will specifically focus on the Czechs' most important neighbor: the Germans. This essay points out the many similarities both nations share: their arrival in central Europe in the waning days of the Roman Empire, and their cultural roots derived primarily from the vanishing Roman culture. At the beginning neither nations was parimarily sophisticated, compared to either the highly developed Romans, or even the Celts who inhabited the area before them.
     Both nations lived side by side for close to 1500 years. For most of its time, they competed with one another: politically, economically or militarily. Sentiments have developed on both sides that influence the mutual feelings to this day.
     Yet, seen from a broader, supra-European perspective, these two nations - when looking from inside out - may not always realize how similar to each other they are. Seen from a global perspective, their mutual rivalries throughout history seem a bit trivial and petty: who will speak what language - at which university and where, who will inhabit a province, who will practice a particuar religion.
     This essay aims to say: "look beyond and think big."
  Prehistoric times
      Going a long way back, the first inhabitants of the Czech lands were prehistoric fish. The area was several times throughout geologic time covered with oceans. Alternating with times of being flooded by oceans, the Czech lands have experienced multiple periods of collisions of entire continents, which produced tall mountains that gradually eroded away. The Czech lands lie on the intersection of two such tectonic plates: one dating back to the Paleozoic VariscanOrogeny (400-350 million years before present), the other - younger one - to the Alpine Orogeny (most of which was over by the Oligocene (35 million years before present). In some forms (mild earthquakes, hotsprings, carbonated mineral water springs) this latest plate collision continues to this day.
     Earliest humans inhabited the region since the Stone Age. The region is replete with such relics (the "Venus of Vestonice" dating to 22-24,000 years before present), pointing at an abundant and thriving culture.  .Neolithic farmers inhabited the region from around 5000 to 2700 BC.  For thousands of years that portion of the Vltava's course where Prague was to rise was crossed by trade routes linking northern and southern Europe. 

The Celtic and Roman Times
      The Celts, members of an early Indo-European people, spread between the 2nd millennium BC to the 1st century BC over much of Europe. Celtic tribes and groups eventually ranged from the British Isles and northern Spain to as far east as Transylvania, the Black Sea coasts, and Galatia in Anatolia.  They were later part absorbed into the Roman Empire as Britons, Gauls, Boii, Galatians, and Celtiberians. Linguistically they survive today in the modern Celtic speakers of Ireland, Highland Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, and Brittany. 
      Between 500 and 200 BC the Celtic Boii tribe built settlements in the Czech region, including the fortress of Závist, south of Prague. It was this sulture that, indirectly, gave the Czech Republic - Bohemia as it is also called -  its name: the Romans started called their region Boiohaemum. 
      From the second century AD onwards, the Roman Empire was weakened because of depopulation due to plague epidemics. The Romans tried to keep the people on their land, but did not succeed. They had to return to a simpler form of organisation. Smaller armies and a smaller administration were the result. Tribes from outside the Empire kept attacking it and finally succeeded. About 406 AD, the northern part of the Empire had to be abandoned and other parts followed soon afterwards. The people in the regions the Romans had left returned to old patterns. Almost everyone had to once again contribute to the primitive production. Warriors and priests were the only exception.
      The period from the 4th until the 7th century was called the period of Migration of Peoples. It was a stupendous wave of migration of entire nations unrivaled in modern history.  Some groups migrated for centuries from as far east as China (the Huns and the Avars) and as far north as Scandinavia (the Goths and the Norse).  It is difficult to know what exactly triggered the giant migration because of the general lack of information about this period.  Some causes, however, can be found: power vacuum left by the decaying Roman Empire and the attracttion to its wealth, the availability of land, the westward push of Centra Asian tribes driving others on, climatic changes in northern Europe driving northern tribes south, internal causes of migration i.e. population growth, changing conditions of life and changing social structures. 
      Compared to the Roman civilization characterized by its urban lifestyle, art and a highly evolved legal and political system, the primary characteristic of this ancient frontier was law of the jungle: stronger tribes prevailed and weaker tribes had to move on and settle elsewhere. 
      The Migration of Peoples period laid the basic building blocks of future Europe and set essential power relationships that would - in general terms - govern the pricipal political relationships in Europe to this day.  During the migration most tribes found a fixed place to live and the roots of future states were made. For instance the Franks and Burgundians settled in today's France, the Angles and Saxons in England. 
      European politics gradually became east-west oriented, rather than north-south, as it was throughout the Roman times. The contrast between northern and southern Europe faded away and was replaced by a contrast between eastern and western Europe: Eastern Europe of the Slavic and Greek culture vs. the western European culture of Germanic and Anglo-Saxon and the former Latin culture. This division was set in place on all levels: regious, cultural and economic.  European politics of today very much reflects this.
      Migration of Peoples  took place in three major  waves: first the Huns, Goths and Avars entered  Europe, second were the Slavs, various steppe-tribes and Arabs, and third were the Vikings, Norse and Magyars
     The Celtic Boii tribe living in Bohemia was pushed out by the migrating German tribes of Marcomanni and Quidi, followed in turn by the Slavic tribes.  The Slavic people lived - until the mid 6th century in the area between the mouth of the Danube river (the Black Sea coast of today's Romania),   the Dnieper river (today's Ukraine) and the Vistula river (today's Poland). in the 6th century, being chased by the Avars and the Bulgarians,  they started moving in three directions: 

  • northeast, in the direction of the Volga river and Ladago lake in today;'s Russia (here a Slavic state was formed around the cities of Novgorod and Kiev, which existed until 1240 AD)
  • west, in the direction of the Baltic sea and the Elbe river, displacing (in Bohemia) the Germanic tribes of the Marcomanni and Quidi
  • south, to settle in the Balkans, displacing (among others) the Albanians.
      The migrations of the Slavic tribes was completed by the 10th century AD.  When the western Slavic tribes displaced the Germanic tribes from Bohemia, the first chapter of the parallel - and many times common - history of the Czechs and the Germans was written.  For the next millenium and a half, tehse two nations would live side by side, sometimes peacefully, sometimes at war, sometimes sharing its creative energies while hating and killing each other at other times.

Early Slavic Times
      When observing the modern nations of central Europe: the Germans, Austrians, Czechs, Slovaks and Poles, it is interesting to note how much these cultures inherited from their tribal origins from the time of the Migration of Peoples and how much was adopted from ancient Rome. 
      In the pre-Christian times Slavic and Old European love of the universe, of honoring all-that-is in folk traditions. From the simple presentation of bread and salt to guests in the home, to the elaborate and ceremonial welcoming of the new year at Yule with the czuwać and the wigilia, slavic babcie (wise women of  the village) and people were constantly reminded of the  sacredness of every moment and  every breath. 
      Many "alternative" trends of today - witchcraft, wicca and modern paganism, even fortune-telling - share a common root in the eastern european Slavic pre-Christian traditions and mythologies. 
      Advent, the period of four Sunadys leading up to Christmas and literally meaning "coming", coincides with the commemorative days of a number of saints, which also include a number of other popular.  These customs in all likelihood have their connections to certain Christian beliefs but also to the ancient pagan mythology. The first Advent holiday, for example, used to be a day for fortune-telling, though today this has become more of a Czech Christmas Eve tradition. One example of this ancient tradition was the practiceof pouring molten lead by Silesian girls to read their futures. They would melt it in spoons over a candle, and then quickly pour it into cold water through a key whose teeth formed the shape of a cross. From the form into which the lead hardened they would make predictions on what their next husband would look like: slim, fat, handsome, ugly, hunch-backed, etc. In the shape the lead took, the girls would also look for signs of the various crafts in order to predict the profession of their future bridegroom. Elsewhere, girls would look for the appearance of their future husband in a hole cut in the ice, where shadows revealed his character to them. In still other places, girls would tap on the door of the henhouse, and if a rooster crowed, the girl would be married in the next year. If a hen answered, she would have another year to wait. 
      Another example is Christmas.  It is is more a day honoring the birth of Christ than it is a birthday celebration on the precise date, as the real birthday of Christ is unknown. December is the rainy season in Judea, and a time when shepherds would not have been in the fields of Bethlehem. Even the year is not certain, and could not have been later than 4 B.C, the year of King Herod's death. Furthermore, the early Christians did not celebrate
birthdays, and the celebration of Christ's birth is not as religiously significant as his ressurection, celebrated with Easter. It is most likely that the observance of Christmas was established to replace existing pagan festivals of the time. Pagan festivals celebrating the winter solstice were common in pre-Christian times, the most significant at the time being the Roman Saturnalia, and the Mithraic birthday of the unconquered sun. Much of our current Christmas lore comes from these ancient customs. Santa inherited his reindeer from the Nordic god Odin, chief of the wild hunt, who rode with them through the sky. 
      The hanging of mistletoe comes from the Druids, to whom it was believed to have healing powers. They would hang it over their doors to appease the woodland spirits, in the belief that only happiness could pass the mistletoe. 
      There had long been a custom of exchanging gifts on New Year's Day dating back perhaps to the Roman times. Because of the pagan origins of this custom, and the desire by the early Christians to abolish all pagan customs combined with the difficulty in eliminating long observed customs, the gift-giving custom was moved to Christmas, where it could be looked upon as an emulation of the Magi, and a token of generosity and goodwill. 
       The name of Sant Claus is a corruption of Saint Nicholas (Sinter Klaas), the patron saint of children, whose feast day is on December 6 durign Advent. It was the custom in old England to clean out the chimney at the beginning of the year so that luck could descend and stay all year. This may have been the origin for Santa Claus' habit of entering through the chimney.   Czech children in 

Early Struggle Toward Unity
      The first half of the 7th century marks the first successful attempt to unite Slavonic tribes. The Kingdom of Samo resisted the pressure of the powerful Avar empire centered in the Hungarian lowlands, and defended its territory against the forces of the Frank attackers from the west, with partial success.  Another attemp to unite slavic tribes was the the Great Moravian Empire (named after the region of Moravia, part of today's Czech Republic) that formed in the first half of the 9th century and was destroyed by the Magyars in the years 903-907. 
      The culture of the Great Moravian Empire greatly influenced the future cultural  and religious development  among  the Eastern and Southern Slavic peoples. In 863, in order to to foster education, literacy as well as the conversion to Christianity, the Moravian king asked Rome for help, and after not receiving any answer turned to the Constantinople, the capitol of the Byzantine Empire.  Christian missionaries Constantin and Methodius came to Moravia.  They are credited with the glagolitic alphabet, the first Slavic script and with the translation of some extracts from the Gospel and the Church Law for Laymen. 
      Gaudericius, the author of a Roman legend, wrote about them: 

" They started work zealously in order to achieve the aim they came with; they taught writing to local children and duties towards the Church to people, tried to eliminate heresy and used eloquence in self-defence. As soon as the thornbushes of depravities had been removed from the weedy fields, they started dispersing God's Word".
      At that time they  translated the entire Gospel, the Psalm Book, a breviary and other prayer books. He and Methodius both established the first higher education institution in Slovakia similar to an academy in Constantinople.      With the introduction of Old Church Slav as a liturgical language, it became the literary language of Czech and Slovak ancestors. With Latin, Greek and Hebrew it became the first written national language, the basis of Czech and Slovak national literature and the literature of other Slavic  nations.
      Very soon, however, the Roman Catholic Church intervened.  Cyril and Metodius were denounced to the pope,  had to travel to Rome and defend there their Slavonic liturgy.  Constantin died in Rome. Methodius was appointed Archbishop of Pannonia and Great Moravia.  However, continued tensions and struggle with the Bavarians to the west as well as with the new Pope in Rome weakened the empire.  This le and it eventually led to its destructions by the Maguars in 906 AD. 
      The expanded influence of the Roman Catholic Church prove to be decisive turning point in the course of the history of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.    Together with today's Poland and Hungary the regions was culturally and politically  linked to western Europe, while the remainder of the eastern Europeans Slavic people (Ukrainians, Russians, Serbs) stayed under the Byzantine influence from Constantinople.

The Beginnings of Prague
      The first settlement at what is now Prague has been traced to the second half of the 9th century. The oldest building was the Vyšehrad Castle, set on a commanding right-bank hill. It was followed by what was to become the Hradčany Castle, set on an equally commanding left-bank site a little downstream. Legend ascribes the foundation of Prague to Princess Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the Přemyslid Dynasty. Legend notwithstanding, the Pěemyslids, in power from about 800 to 1306, consolidated a political base centred on Prague that was to be the nucleus of the Czech state and that enabled the natural trade advantages of the city site to develop under defensive protection. The dynasty included St. Wenceslas (Václav), who was murdered by his brother Boleslav in about 939 and whose statue now looks down upon the square to which his name has been given; and Boleslav I, whose reign (936-967 A.D.) witnessed the consolidation of power against a German threat. The little community flourished, and in 965 the Jewish merchant and traveler Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub was able to describe it as a "busy trading centre." In 973 the bishopric of Prague was founded. 

The Middle Ages
      The Middle Ages saw a great deal of economic expansion of the community reflected in the topography of the city. A market centre on the right bank, opposite Hradcany, developed into the Old Town (Staré Město), particularly after the construction of the first stone bridge, the Judith Bridge, over the river in 1170. By 1230 the Old Town had been given borough status and was defended by a system of walls and fortifications. On the opposite bank, under the walls of Hradcany, the community known as Malá Strana (literally, "Little Quarter") was founded in 1257. Following the eclipse of the Premyslids, the house of Luxembourg came to power when John of Luxembourg, son of the future emperor Henry VII, became king of Bohemia. His son, Charles IV, Czech king and Holy Roman emperor, had his capital at Prague from 1346 to 1378 and took considerable personal interest in the development of the city. In 1348 he founded Charles University, the first in central Europe, which was later to attract scholars and students from throughout the Continent. His reign also saw the growth of the planned New Town (Nové mesto) adjacent to the Old Town; construction of the Charles Bridge (1357, reconstructed in 1970) linking the Old Town and the Malá Strana; and the beginning (1344) of the great St. Vitus' Cathedral, which was not completed until 1929. Other buildings included the Carolinum (the central hall of the university), the town hall (partially destroyed in 1945), and several churches and monasteries in the New Town. The Jewish ghetto was also developed, and the bishopric was raised to an archbishopric in 1344. 
      By the 14th century Prague had become a major central European city, with the Czech money minted at nearby Kutná Hora serving as the hard currency of the entire region. Foreign merchants, notably Germans and Italians, became economically and politically powerful in uneasy alliance with the kings. The social order, however, became less stable because of the emergent guilds of craftsmen, themselves often torn by internal conflicts. The town paupers added a further volatile element. 

Early Protestant Movement and the "Hussite Wars"
      During the 15th century religious developments in Prague laid the groundwork for the modern Protestant movement. The sermons of Jan Hus, a scholar at Charles University, begun in 1402 at the Bethlehem Chapel and carrying forward the criticisms of the Church developed by the English reformer John Wycliffe, endeared him to the common people but brought him into conflict with Rome; he was burned at the stake in Konstanz, Switzerland in 1415. Popular uprisings in 1419, led by the Prague priest Jan Želivský, included the throwing of city councillors from the windows of the New Town Hall, a method of disposing of unwanted politicians that entered history under the term "Defenestration".
      The next year peasant rebels, led by the skilled military leader Jan Žižka, joined forces with the Hussites of Prague to win a decisive victory over the army of the Roman Catholic Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg at nearby Vítkov Hill. The following 14 years saw a period knows as the Hussite Wars, during which a rag-tag army of Czech peasants scored hands-down victory after victory againt an elite army of Sigismund's knights. The Hussites demonstrated a time-proven phenomena that will and determination to fight for freedom in the hands of poorly equipped fighting force is more powerful than the best armor and technology.  Unfortunately, this streak of success did not last long.  Following Žižka's death, the rebellion was defeated in the battle of Lipany in 1434.  Sigismund of Luxembourg won his victory and his soldiers brutally diposed of the defeated. 
      Yet the Hussites occupy a special place in the heart of most Czechs.  The Hussite Wars mark one of the few periods in Czech history during which the nation managed to stand up for itself and successfully defend its principles against a dominant foreign power.  Although the Hussite Wars did not drastically change the course of European history, the Hussites, like the troops commanded by George Washington, this army faced overwhelming odds and power, yet prevailed, albeit for only 14 years. 
     There is an interesting footnote concerning Emperor Sigismund that needs to be mnentioned.  Before leading the Crusade against the Hussites, Sigismund had prior experience in leading and losing religious wars in a Crusade against the Turks in the 1390s. In 1389 the Turks won a major victory as against a Christian army at the Battle of Kosovo, crushing the Serbian Empire as a dominant force in the Balkans. In 1396, Emperor Sigismund ended all hopes for the Crusaders by losing to the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid at the town of Nicopolis, Bulgaria, escaping with his commanders through the Straits of Bosporus bnack into the Mediterranean and leaving his troops behind. 

The Thirty Years War
      During the 16th century, Prague experienced relative stability and prosperity. Wealthy merchants became ascendant once more, and the late Gothic architectural style flourished in many churches and buildings, reaching a peak in the fine Vladislav Hall of Hradcany. In 1526, however, the Roman Catholic Habsburgs became rulers of the Czech Kingdom and attempted to crush Czech Protestantism. The situation came to a head in 1618: the Czechs again exercised their method of disposing of unwanted politicians, and threw their ruling Governors from the windows of the council room in Hradcany. (Landing in a convenient pile of garbage, they escaped with their lives.) The Second Defenestration of Prague precipitated the the Thirty Years War - a major conflict that engulfed most of Europe. 
      The Thirty Years War consisted of a series of declared and undeclared wars which raged through the years 1618-1648 throughout central Europe. The series of conflicts, military and political, which make up the Thirty Years War are highly complex. The opponents were, on the one hand, the Austrian House of Habsburg (the Holy Roman Emperors Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III together with his Spanish cousin Philip IV), and on the other hand the various international opponents of Austria: the Danish, Dutch and, above all, France and Sweden. 
      The struggle for unity in 17th century Europe was governed by the notion that Christianity was a unifying force and that a single ruler was to occupy the position of Emperor. It was, however, a matter of dispute who that should be. The most promising candidates for such a universal monarchy were the Habsburgs, who held the emperorship of the Holy Roman Empire as well as the Spanish kingship and controlled the resources of the New World. The French and the Swedish king were their competitors. Together with the formation of the Dutch state, the Second Prague Defenestration, jeopardized the position of the Habsburgs and became the spark that unleashed the devastating war. 
      The Thirty Years War was also, at least in part, a religious war among Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists. Ferdinand II and, to a lesser degree, his primary ally Maximillian I represented the re-Catholicizing zeal of the Jesuit Counter-reformation, while Frederick V of the Palatinate represented the equally militant forces of Calvinism. 
      Very early in the conflict the Czechs suffered a crushing defeat by the Habsburgs in the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague. This paved the way to their forced re-conversion to Catholicism that was to last over 300 years. Just as the Hussites represent a freedom fighter role model for most Czechs, the Battle of the Wite Moutain became to represent a symbol of utter defeat and failure.
      Immediately after the battle Emperor Ferdinand II was to revenge himself on both the disloyal Czechs. Twenty-one of the primary leaders of the rebellion were publicly executed in Prague. The lands of Protestant nobles were confiscated, in whole or in part, and sold cheaply to those who had remained loyal. It is estimated that over half of the land in Bohemia changed hands in the wake of the rebellion. Further, the minting of the Bohemian currency was turned over to a cabal of loyalist elements. These promptly debased the currency, to the great misery of the country. Albrecht Waldstein (better known as Wallenstein) was active, both as a purchaser of estates and as a debaser of coinage. It was on this foundation that his wealth and power were later built. Prague ceased to be the capital of the empire, was occupied by Saxons (1631) and Swedes (1648), and went into a decline hastened by two outbreaks of plague. 

Early Modern History
      The settling of conditions in central Europe was marked by renewed economic growth, and Prague's population grew from 40,000 in 1705 to more than 80,000 by 1771. In 1784 the Old Town, the New Town, the Little Quarter, and the Hradcany complex were administratively united into one city. The merchants and the mostly German, Spanish, and Italian nobility who were active in and around Prague in this period had an enormous effect on both architecture and cultural life. Outstanding architects created magnificent palaces and gardens, and churches in the Prague version of the Baroque style sprang up throughout the city. 
      The onset of the Industrial Revolution had major effects in Prague. The first suburb (Karlín) was established in 1817, and in the next 20 years many factories sprang up, often in association with the coal mines and ironworks at Kladno and Králuv Dvur, not far away. The population exceeded 100,000 by 1837, and expansion continued after the city received its first railway eight years later. The rise of a working class and of strong nationalistic sentiments had a profound effect on the city; students, artisans, and workers took to the barricades against the ruling Austrians when revolution flared briefly in 1848. Within 20 years Czechs had won a majority on the City Council, and Czech cultural life was experiencing a renascence centred on Prague. The Neoclassical building of the National Museum and the National Theatre are only two examples of the building that took place in this period. By the 1890s the first electric streetcars (trams) were running in the city, urban services were being reorganized, and a replica of the Eiffel Tower overlooked the city from Petrín Hill.  Things sterted to look up for the Czechs.

First World War
      At the beginning of the 20th century, European politics was dominated by several themes: Austro-Hungarian determination to impose its will upon the Balkans; a German desire for greater power and international influence, which sparked a naval arms race with Britain; a French desire for revenge against Germany following disastrous defeat in 1871; Russia's anxiety to restore some semblance of national prestige after almost a decade of civil strife and a battering at the hands of the Japanese military in 1905. It is this web of international relations that gave rise to tensions that ultimately led to the First World War. 
      Unlike the Second World War, the reasons for the so-called 'Great War' can be shrouded in confusion. The Second World War was rather more straightforward: no questions there who did what and who was at fault. However, the First World War was one of the greatest conflicts the world has ever known. It was the first war fought with a heavy involvement of technology: mechanized ground vehicles, machine guns, ships and aircraft, even chemical wapons. 
      During the war, the Czechs became unified in their opposition to Austrian rule. Most especially, Austria-Hungary's alignment with Germany and the restriction of democratic rights in the Czech lands led to growing opposition to the monarchy. An organized resistance began to develop, both at home and abroad. In 1916, the Czech professor, philosopher and politican Masaryk, living in exile in the United States was founded the Czech National Council. By 1917, Czech opposition to the war became much more active. People began organizing strikes, demonstrations, and even violent protests - which had to be put down by the army. Anybody who is particularly interested in this period of Czech history should definitely read "The Good Soldier Schweik" by Jaroslav Hasek. It not only offers a great deal of insight into the kind of passive resistance the Czechs favor, but also offers many more insights into the Czech psyche. 
      In May 1918, the representatives of the resistance movement abroad had signed the Pittsburgh Convention, which set the groundwork for the formation of a joint Czech and Slocak state. In October 1918, the Allied Powers resognized the Czechoslovak National Council as the interim government of the Czechoslovak Republic. A proclamation of an independent Czechoslovakia, tailored after the American Declaration of Independence, followed on October 28, 1918. Prague became the capital of the new republic. 

The Rise and Fall of the "First Republic"
      Referred to as the "First Republic", the twenty-year period between 1918 and 1938 represents another one of the highlights in Czech history. By 1930 the population of Prague had reaches 850,000. Under President Masaryk, Czechoslovakia is not only the only successful democratic states among the new eastern European countries, it becomes one of the top-ten most developed countries of the world! For the first time in centuries, Czechs and Slovaks aree governed by democratically elected members of their own nations.  It seems the Czechs have finally arrived!
      Indirectly, it was The Great Depression that spelled the end of the Czechoslovak prosperity.  Rising through the political ranks in the neigboring Germany, taking advantage of the frustration of the Depression, runaway inflation, and resentment of the humiliation bestowed on Germany by the victorious neighbors, Adolf Hitler started to rise through the politically instable Weimar Republic. 
      In the 1930s, Hitler pushed the agenda of the Nazi party, a united German state for all German people. He invaded Austria first and then set his sights on Sudetenland, a border region inside Czechoslovakia inhabited for centuries by a mixture of Czechs and Germans.  Czechoslovakia is strategically placed in the heart of Europe, and its conquest was central to Hitler's plans for overrunning Europe.  The "liberation" of the "oppressed German minority" in the Sudetenland was a ploy.  It was at this point that France and England had a chance to spoil Hitler's plans for world dominance by presenting a strong and unified front. Instead a land-for-peace deal with Hitler under which Germany would be allowed to invade and control Sudetenland in return for giving assurances to the West to refrain from future expansionist ambitions. Written promises to go to war to defend Czechoslovakia's borders made  under the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 notwithstanding, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Britain struck this deal with Hitler - without Czech participation. It was worded to them as having to give up the Sudetenland for "the maintenance of peace and the safety of Czechoslovakia's vital interests." This tragic and embarassing diplomatic blunder became known as the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938. 
      In Munich Hitler achieved a twofold victory.  First he gained assurance that he can rape yet another country with impunity.  Second, he achieved with a pen what his generals were reluctant to do with an army. By gaining control over the Sudetenland, he took without a single shot an entire sophisticated system of border fortifications and fortresses that had been built in the border mountains over many years, making passage by force a very costly proposition, perhaps even impossible. Though small, Czechoslovakia could field over 800,000 men (one of the strongest armies in Europe), and it had a highly efficient arms industry. Hitler's generals were utterly opposed to an assault on the Czech fortifications. 
      Promises made to Chamberlain in Munich aside, Hitler invaded the remained of the now largely defenseless Czechoslovakia in the Spring of 1939.  The Czechs faced a difficult choice: try defend themselves against the migty German Army without the protection of its defensive fortifications and hope that the West comes to their defense; or risk anihilation if the west fails to do so. In the end they did nothing and the German army marched throughout the country unopposed, just like they did in the Sudetenland less than a year ago. Six years of slaughter of millions of people in concentration camps followed.

Second World War
      Unlike World War I, World War II did cause destruction, albeit relatively small-scale, to the city. The most visible reminder is the northern wing of the gothic city hall in Old Town Square destroyed by a bomb at the end of the war. However, unlike many German cities (Frankfurt, Dresden) that were nearly leveled during the war, Prague suffered minor damage. 
      Toward the end of the war, Stalin set his sights on Czechoslovakia as part of the post-war Soviet sphere of ifluence. Groundwork for future communist domination of Czechoslovakia was put in place already in March 1945 in the Kosice Program. The exiled London-based Czechoslovak government formed this agreement with the Soviets and with Czech Communists in hope of preserving some form of democracy in postwar Czechoslovakia. 
      Meanwhile, the war in Europe still continued until May 9 1945. The Soviet Red Army had liberated Poland and eastern Czechoslovakia, and took most of eastern Germany. The American Army liberated a large part of western Czechoslovakia, including the cities of Pilsen, Carlsbad and Cheb. Cheb (Eger) was the first major city to be liberated by American forces. The U.S. Army 97th Infantry Division (The "Trident Division") and the 1st Infantry Division ("Big Red One") were the first unit to enter Czechoslovak territory. Following the April 23 liberation of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp located immediately west of the border, after a day-long battle the Tridents took the city of Cheb, and moved on to liberate a total of 37 Czech towns and cities that within a matter of days. On April 29 the Cheb area was turned over to the 18th Infantry Regiment of 1st Infantry. The 97th Division moved south to the area of Rozvadov, Ples and St. Katerina. 
      The 1th Infantry Division ("Big Red One") is a legendary unit formed in May 1917 a originalyl given the name "First Expeditionary Division". It was always the first American unit to enter combat: during WWI in October 1917 in France, during WWII in Novermber 1942 in North Africa, in Vietnam at Qui Nhon in June 1965, in Desert Storm in February 1991, in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999. The division stormed ashore on D-Day at Omaha Beach, crossed the Rhine river in December 1944, fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest, and crossed the Weser River into Czechoslovakia on April 8, 1945. 
      During the very last days of the war the citizens of Prague rose in revolt against the Nazis on May 5, 1945. At the time, elements of the 1st Infantry and 97th Infantry Divisions were in the western part of the Czech Republic, within hours from Prague. However, Stalin - looking to control Czechoslovakia after the war - insisted that it be a Red Army unit that liberates the city. He sent in the closest Red Army unit - located in Berlin - to liberate the city. And so it happened that the Prague Uprising cost hundreds of Czech lives unnecessarily lost during the four days it took General Konev's 10th Tank Corps to arrive from Berlin. 
      In a broader historical perspective, the Prague Uprising of May 1945 was just one piece of the puzzle in Stalin's plan for the domination of Europe. In April 1945 Stalin feared that the Americans were positioning themselves to snatch Berlin from under his nose. By the 12th, the U.S. 9th Army advanced 35 miles into the agreed-upon Soviet Occupation Zone, taken a foothold across the Elbe River at Magdeburg, and closed to the Elbe at Tangermünde, 53 miles due west of Berlin. Zhukov was 32 miles from Berlin but still had the Oder River to cross. The Germans were dug in on the Oder but hardly in evidence along the Elbe. Stalin, who had been playing Konev and Zhukov against each other throughout the war , was clearly not having to contrive a race. On the 16th, Zhukov mounted an effort at a swift breakthrough to Berlin that within hours degenerated into a seriocomic fiasco. He recovered on the 19th, but by then, Stalin, whose confidence in his generals was always easily shaken, had decided to hedge his bet by forestalling the Americans. Since the presumed other contestant never entered it, the race for Berlin can be said to have terminated on 25 April with the encirclement completed. In the final stages of the battle it was Zhukov who took the credit for the victory, because Stalin reined in Konev just 200 meters from the Reichstag Building. 
      In the meantime, however, another race had emerged. Having cleared central Germany, the American armies had, on 22 April, begun a fast sweep to the south. By the 28th, they had taken a full third of the Soviet zone, including Leipzig, the fourth largest German city, and the U.S. 1st Army was on the undefended western border of Czechoslovakia, 80 miles west of Prague. Stalin therewith acquired compelling military and political reasons for getting Konev out of Berlin, where his tank armies were tied down 260 miles away from Prague. Even without American interference, Konev would not accomplish a proper "liberation" of Prague until 12 April, four days (three by Soviet count) after the German surrender. 
      Being allowed by Stalin to liberate Prague was Konev's final wartime operation. Being a political soldier, Konev "presented evidence" to Stalin, pointing against Zhukov during Stalin's inquiry into Zhukov's past. His reward was Zhukov's job, commander-in-chief of the ground forces. 

The Sudetenland
      The situation of Sudetenland seems settled now, but may not be in the long run. Like Südtirol in Italy, Sudetenland is one of those regions of the world that has been for centuries inhabited by a mixed population that and stands culturally inbetween more than one culture. The province of Tirol belonged to the Austrian House of Habsburg since the Middle Ages. During the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century its southern part went under Italian influence and became known as Alto Adige. When Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Alto Adige went back to Austria and became known as Südtirol (South Tyrol). After World War I in 1918 it became part of Italy. During the Nazi period, the pro-Hitler Italian government undertook to resettle to Germany those inhabitants of Südtirol who opted for German Citizenship. After World War II in 1946 Südtirol remained part of Italy, but was granted autonomy of language and administration in 1946. Approximately 1/3 of the population is German-speaking. In the 1950s terrorist attacks by Südtirol separatists gave rise to a lengthy controversy between Austria and Italy leading to a package of further concessions to increase the autonomy of the province. The final articles were approved by the Italian government in 1992, and the matter seems closed, although resentments over the preferrential treatment of one nationality over another do occasionally simmer below the surface. 
      Now consider this parallel with the Sudetenland. The region comprises areas along the northern and western borders of the Czech Republic with Germany. The region had been predominantly German-speaking, but for centuries belonged politically to the Czech Kingdom. After World War, under the Treaty of St. Germain , it was incorporated into the Czechoslovakia. In subsequent years control over the territory became a point of bitter contention between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Matters worsened in the 1930's when, as a result of The Great Depression, the heavily idustrialized area suffered massive unemployment. Unemployed workers were susceptible to the anti-semitic, anti-Czechoslovakian, pro-German rhetoric of Konrad Heinlein and his cohorts, who founded the Sudeten German (Nazi) Party. Publicity of the ensuing unrest caused the leaders of the western democracies to fear the possibility of war. The result was the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938. It sanctioned - without Czech participation - the annexation of the region into Germany. 
      The Sudetenland population welcomed the invaders warmly. In most of the region, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. To greet the occupying troops, whom the Czechchoslovak forces had been ordered not to resist, huge Nazi flags-smuggled in earlier by party agents-sprouted from buildings. Women wept or cheered at the sight of German soldiers, and garlanded them with flowers. Behind these festive scenes were a few darker vignettes. A German mob in the town of Cesky Krumlov fired at the backs of retreating Czech soldiers; in other towns shops and homes belonging to Czechs and Jews were vandalized and ransacked; a railroad station clerk was shot dead when he refused to turn his cash over to Sudeten freebooters. Even more ominous for Europe's immediate future were Hitler's words as he spoke at the Czech town of Cheb, congratulating his new subjects on their love for the Fatherland. He grandiosely assured them that "over the greater German Reich is laid a German shield protecting it, and a German sword protecting it!" Careful listeners noted that territory in German control for barely a day had somehow become part of the Reich, and clearly saw signs of the future in the words "greater" and "sword." 
      For non-ethnic German Czechoslovak citizens who did not want to become second-class citizens of the Third Reich, Munich meant quickly abandoning their property and removing to the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Over 114,500 Czechs, 11,500 anti-fascist Germans, 7,000 Jews, and around 1,000 others of various nationalities fled the occupied areas. As the Czechoslovak army troops were leaving a certain area, the local population found themselves face to face with the most brutal terror the Sudeten paramilitaries and their fanatical helpers were capable of. Torrents of beggered and tortured refugees poured into the interior. 
      When World War II was over, the total death toll, in terms of both civilian and military casualties, was 20-25 milion Russians, 7 milion Germans, 6.8 milion Poles, 6 milion Jews, half a milion Czechoslovaks: over 60 milion people world-wide. Coupled with that is the tremendous destruction of countless historical and architectural treasures throughout Western Europe that took place in the course of fighting the fanatical Nazi enemy. In May 1945, countless - mainly German - German cities were in ruins. Moreover, Hitler's regime inflicted more than just material and human-life damage on Germany itself: the country's pre-war artistic community: cinematography, theater, literature, painting... 
      In August 1945, at the Allied Summit at Potsdam outside Berlin, England convinced the U.S. and the Soviets that relocating the German minority population from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary to Germany represented a viable solution to the situation forever. Unlike the chaotic and disorganized exodus of the Czechs from Sudetenland in 1938, this relocation took place under the oversight of an Allied Commision. The relocation has been largely applauded by Czechs as a revenge for the Holocaust. However, seen by many Germans who were on the receiving end of the relocation, it has been an act of "criminal uprooting of an entire ... civilization" and a "flagrant violation of a fundamental ... right to one's homeland". Pictures of haggard refugees pushing carts filled with sparse family belongings (same scenes as in the expulsion of the Czechs in 1938) can be seen in books and on the internet. 
      It is possible to say that the Czechs did to the Germans, what the Germans had done to them. The support among the Sudetengermans for the Nazi party was very high - almost unanimous - and the Czechs saw what the Nazis have just done to them. It is therefore easy to imagine that the Germans, while leaving the country, were not generally treated with finesse. On the other hand, the Czechs could not simply expel the minority back into Germany, had it not been for the consent of the U.S., the Soviets and the British who jointly controlled Germany. Although Sudetenland today does not lie in the center of anybody's radar screen, and mainstream politicians on all sides would rather put the entire affair behind them, there are isolated strongly-opnionated voices on both the German as well as Czech sides. Should the matter ever be seriously reopened, it must be borne in mind that it did nto start purely as a matter between Germany and Czechoslovakia, therefore it would have to involve everybody who stood at teh tabel at Potsdam: England, the U.S., France and Russia, in addition to the Czech Republic and Germany. 
      Hopefully, should that time ever come, the entire continent will be far enough down the path of economic and political integration that an affair centered around a small part of real estate called Sudetenland and two nations who had shared more than a thousand years of relatively peaceful history before the hysteria of World War II, will be not worth mentioning.

Post World War II Czechoslovakia and the onset of Communism
      Three years of freedom and relative democracy following the end of World War II is all Czechoslovakia experienced before it plunged into another form of totalitarianism. The fact that American troops did not liberate Prague and even evacuated western Czechoslovakia, convinced many Czechs that their country was definitely in the Soviet sphere of influence. Therefore, thousands joined the Communist Party. That Party was was already quite popular because the Soviet Union as "the liberator" was seen as a friend that would tolerate democracy in Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, the expulsion of the German population from the Sudetenland made the communists popular with this conservative element. It is not surprising that, in the relatively free elections of May 1946, the Communists won 40.17% of the total vote in the Czech lands. Communist Klement Gottwald became Prime Minister and key cabinet posts went to Communists. President Benes believed that Stalin would tolerate democracy in his country. However, it turned out that the Kosice Program of 1945 had laid the groundwork for later communist and  Soviet domination. Meanwhile, however, Czechoslovakia was still a showcase of democracy in Eastern Europe until communist pressure led to the establishment of total communist power in February 1948. 
      The communists, led by Prime Minister Klement Gottwald and the chairman of the Central Council of Trade Unions, Antonin Zapotocky (1884-1957), put tremendous pressure on President Benes to dismiss the non-communist ministers. The communists knew, as did Benes, that they could not hope to win a majority if the non-communist ministers resigned and new elections were held. As for Benes, he did not believe the communists would mount a coup. He was wrong. When the 12 non-communist ministers tendered their resignations in protest against the actions of the security police, they expected Benes to retain them and thus start a constitutional crisis which would lead to new elections and communist defeat. But the communists flooded Prague with armed factory "workers"- the militia they had organized beforehand. The Trade Union Congress, controlled by the communists, also threatened to act. Indeed, two and a half million workers went on a strike organized by the Communist Party. Prime Minister Gottwald proclaimed a "state of emergency," and the headquarters of key opposition parties were raided. Above all, there were also threats from Moscow. The Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, Valerian Zorin, arrived in Prague. He told several democratic ministers that the present Czechoslovak government was "intolerable" to the Soviet Union. 
      President Benes gave in. As in 1939, the government again decided not to risk a hot war with a formidable adversary and did not defend the country.  In the short term Benes' decition not to resist saved lives, but in the long term paved the way for forty one years of harsh communist rule.  A new communist government was appointed on February 25, 1948.   Benes refused to sign the new constitution, resigned the Presidency in June and died three months later. 
     In the late 1940s and early 1950s, to solidify its grip on power, the communist government instituted extremely harsh measures to eliminate opposition.  Freedom of press and speech gradually gave way to censorship.  Thousands of political oponents died in Nazi-like forced labor camps, sanctioned by new laws passed within months of the communist coup d'etat. Strict political profiling governed education, science, the Arts and well as people's individual professional careers. Education, especially humanities, was subject to trict government guidelines. For example, to fit the propaganda of the time,, essential facts about World War II were skewed to foster the image of the Soviet Union at "the leading power of anti-Nazi struggle". The fact the American army liberated a significant part of Czechoslovakia did not fit the picture, therefore many students never learned anything about it. While certainly significant the merits of the Soviet Union in defeating the Nazis were presented as absolute.
     Soon after the February 1948 coup d'etat all major industries were nationalized.  Small businesses were allowed to linger until the early 1950s.  After that, no private ownership of businesses was allowed.  The centrally planned and managed economy started to deteriorate badly. 
      The situation started to relax somewhat after Stalin's death in 1953.  Czechoslovakia began to gently pull away from the grip of the Soviet Union.   In 1968, the revisionist attempts ended in failure as Soviet troops rolled into Prague and crushed the liberation movement that had become known as Prague Spring. 
      From the 1970s onward there was an increasing emphasis on the development of new satellite communities. The city continued to grow, although most of its population growth was attributable to annexation.  Construction of bold new projects did take place during the communist era, including a subway network in Prague, a system of highways and a large new convention center.  However, much of these new additions to Prague were either iintended as a facade effect on western visitors, or had purely military purpose: broad new highways leading into to the city center were an ingress route for military units in case future unrests, the subway stations would serve as nuclear fallout shelters in case of an all out confrontation with the West.  In reality, much of Prague has become a dusty maze of permanent scaffoldings and gray colorless streets.

Post-communist era
      The internal grip of the communists staretd to loosen in the 1980s as Perestroika, Glaznost and a detente between the Superpowers proceeded.  In an attempt to shore up the economy and stave off publc disconent with, the government gradually allowed small-scale business ownership.  Censorship gradually was loosened as well. 
      In November 1989, Prague's Wenceslas Square became the cradle of the movement that swiftly ended four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. An officially sanctioned march in the city, commemorating the death of a student at the hands of Nazis in 1939, resulted in police violence and public disorder. Indignation at the current regime kindled further unrest, and in the second half of November students, young intellectuals, and later older people, totaling some half a million, demonstrated in the streets of the capital. Subsequent pressure led to the resignation of the entire Communist Party leadership and the formation of a coalition government headed by non-Communists. 
      The swiftness with which the communist regime toppled has puzzled historians and politicians.  Theories have surfaced suggesting an internal struggle withinthe communist party, one faction staging a public "unrest" to help oust the other, the unrest getting oout of hand and leading to an all-out revolution.  The bloddless nature of the takeover led to the name Velvet Revolution.
      Playwright activist Vaclav Havel became President and many other dissidents took cabinet posts occupied previously by hard-line communists.  Within a year of the revolution an vast economic reform started.  Although not painless and to many citizens, and not without scandals and controversy, it has led to a total privatization of all key industries and the replacement of the inefficient government-run services network with private businesses.
      With the common enemy, the communists, gone, old rivalries between the Czechs and the Slovaks resurfaced.  Under pressure from Slovakia, these sentimentsy eventually led to a dissolution of Czechoslovakia into its constituent republics on Jan. 1, 1993.  Prague maintained its prominent international status as capital of the Czech Republic. 

Early Modern History - Thirty Years War 1618-1648
The Thirty Years War
Prague History by
97th Infantry Division in WWII
Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly, Fall 2000
Tony LeTissier, The 1945 Battle for Berlin, by Frank Cass Publishers, Portland, Ore, 1999, 265 pages
John Ericcson: Zhukov
Simon Wiesenthal Center, Multimedia Learning Center Online
Benjamin Netanyahu, Lessons from the Sudetenland
Sudeten German Inferno: the Hushed-up Tragedy of the Ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia
George GlosGerman Relocation Without ideological Chiches, Yale University 
Migration of Nations 400-1000 AD, Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands
Okana's Web - Polish and Slavic Paganism and Pagan Beliefs
Slavic Pagan Resources
The Encyclopedia of Days - Christmas
Czech Christmas - Advent,
A Former Fashion Maven Digs into Russian Mammoth Fields and Ancient Textiles, in Archaeology Today
Venus Figures from The Stoneage


(c) 2001 Radim and Lisa Kolarsky
Last updated November 13, 2001