Bohemia's topography has fostered local solidarity and a common set of economic interests. The area is ringed with low mountains or high hills that effectively serve as a watershed along most of its periphery (although they do not lie along the border to the south and southeast). Streams flow from all directions through the Bohemian Basin toward Prague (Praha). In the northwest, the Krusne Hory (Ore Mountains) border on the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and are known to the Germans as the Erzgebirge; the Sudeten Mountains in the northeast border on Poland in an area that was part of Germany before World War II. The Cesky Les, bordering on the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and the Sumava Mountains, bordering on West Germany and Austria, are mountain ranges that form the western and southwestern portions of the ring around the Bohemian Basin. Both are approximately as high as the Krusne Hory. Bohemia's mountainous areas differ greatly in population. The northern regions are densely populated, whereas the less hospitable Cesky Les and Sumava Mountains are among the most sparsely populated areas in the country.
The central lands of the Bohenian Basin are lower in elevation, but their features vary widely. There are small lakes in the central southern region and in the Vltava Basin north of Prague. Some of the western grain lands are gently rolling, while other places have deep gorges cut by streams (such as the Vltava River). A large area southwest of Prague has a broken relief pattern that is typical of several other areas.
From times immemorial, Bohemia has been the battle-ground between the Slav and the Teuton. A glance at the map of Central Europe will tell the story. Most westerly of all the Slavic peoples, the Bohemians are surrounded on the north, west, and south by Germans. Only on the south and east frontiers are there strips of territory that connect them with kindred races. More than once the Germanic sea has threatened to engulf them in the same way that it swept away the Slavic tribes that lived north of them in Lusatia and of whose existence nothing now remains but the Slavic names of rivers and cities. The struggle for supremacy in Bohemia may be said to have begun the year the fabled leader Cech, in the gray dawn of history (about 450 AD), migrated to the country, having dispossessed the non-Slavic tribes of Boii, from whom Bohemia acquired her name.
The Hussite wars in the fifteenth century are popularly believed to have been waged to free men's intellects from the spiritual trammels of Rome; yet in the last analysis it will be found that the Hussites, in making war on the invaders who poured into the country from Germany, rejoiced in vanquishing alike the foes of their race and the oppressors of their conscience. Such, at least, is the conviction that is acquired in perusing those chapters of the history of the country that treat of the Hussite wars.
Jointly with Moravia, Bohemia formed the nucleus of the Bohemian State; this state had never ceased to be Bohemian-Slavic in character, though at times ruled by alien kings. The whole of Silesia and both Lusatias (Upper and Lower) also constituted part and parcel of this state, yet the latter were never so closely affiliated with Bohemia as Moravia had been, because the inhabitants of the Lusatias were not by origin or preponderatingly Bohemian, but of Polish and Serb (Wend) ancestry, having been largely Germanized at the time they passed under the rule of the Bohemian Kings in the fourteenth century.
Historians recognize two epochal events in the life of the nation. The first begins with the outbreak of the Hussite wars, following the death of King Vaclav IV. in 1419; the second, with the battle of White Mountain in 1620. The period intervening between the first two events is referred to as the Middle Age. That which preceded the Hussite wars is called the Old Age, and, that which followed the defeat at White Mountain, the New Age.
An independent and vigorous state in the middle ages, early in the sixteenth century the Kingdom of the Czechs unhappily chose the Hapsburg Duke of Austria as king. From that error came three great wrongs to Bohemia. The elective king made his rule that of a hereditary despotism. The overthrow of the Bohemian insurgents in the Thirty Years' War was followed by bloody reprisals. Many were put to death, others fled or were banished, lands were confiscated, and place and soil were given to Germans, who thus became numerous and powerful in Bohemia. Their successors today are determined to keep the native Bohemians from governing their own country. Finally, in 1867 the dual monarchy, Austria-Hungary, was constituted; but Bohemia was studiously prevented from a just share in freedom. By a long series of unjust measures and policies the Czechs were divided between Austria and Hungary; were cheated of their equitable representation in the diet of Bohemia and in that of the Empire; were kept a subject race.
Generally speaking, the Bohemians inhabited the flat lands of the interior, while the Germans overflowed the border line on the south, west, and north, forming an almost uninterrupted chain of settlements. As a matter of fact, however, there is no compact, unmixed German territory in Bohemia, which is exclusively German and into which the Bohemian workman, going in search of employment to the mines, mills, and shops in the northwest, has not penetrated, and in which he has not domiciled himself.
In course of time many Germans and denationalized Bohemians were Bohemianized, so that it is hazardous to guess whether in Bohemia and Moravia more Germans adopted the Bohemian language than Bohemians the German. The final sum of this process of assimilation seeme to be that by the mid-19th Century the Bohemians constituted more than two-thirds and the Germans less than one-third of the entire population of the kingdom. Fear of the Teutonic peril has always harried the soul of the nation. Every historian, every poet, every patriot has admonished the people to be on their guard.
Most people associate "Bohemian" with artists and persons of artistic tendencies. The term bohémien was a common term for the Romani people [known at the time as Gypsies] of France, who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia. The bohemian as a social stereotype first found definition on the pages of Parisian popular magazines sometime around the mid-1840s. Associated with the carefree and impoverished existence of artists on the fringes of middle-class life, the bohemian gained a surprising degree of symbolic importance among his contemporaries. Indeed, he came to be seen as the first embodiment of the artist of modernity and the privileged interpreter of aesthetic truths in contemporary society.
One observer noted "Life for the vast majority arranges itself in greys and drabs and browns, flecked here and there with pleasures of pale yellow, and girt about with a sombre border of black. In Bohemia it is not so. Bohemia, more than anything else, represents the colour element of present-day existence. Its pleasures are scarlet and gold and magenta, its moments of quiescence soft greens and silver, its thoughts rose-tinted, and even its tragedies are wrought not in black but in majestic, throbbing purples. ... It was Henri Murger and George Du Maurier who first discovered this magic realm for the world at large. It was these two also who irrevocably linked it in the public mind with artists. And so to-day it is to the artists that one must turn for an explanation of the life that it represents.... Bohemians are the living poets of devilment, and their lives are their odes, their days their cantos.... They must always be at play to be themselves, just as their play must always be poetic. They are care-free and light-hearted to a degree. Whether their pockets are empty or bursting with the proceeds of a newly cashed cheque makes no difference. While the cup still bubbles over with wine all is joy. ... Most people when they employ the word do so more or less as a term of contempt. To them it signifies loose morals and loose living....
"The ultra-artistic, studio types are trying to impress the world with the idea that they are great artists and famous men or women. The 'white light' Bohemian- who is every bit as distinctive and probably much more numerous-is trying to create the impression that he is a wellknown man of fashion or person of wealth. The two things represent the highest ambitions of the two types-but in neither case do they ever attain to the standing they crave. They are always imitations. Their every movement and action is a pose, and consequently a form of falsity. They are a colossal hoax- so big a one, in fact, that sometimes they dupe even themselves....
"The Bohemian is above everything else unconventional. The very essence of him is his difference from the ordinary. He stands in everything at the opposite pole from the average man. ... Money, being neither his god nor his aim, is usually scarce with him, so that it comes about that he lives mostly in cheap, crowded quarters, cooking nearly all his meals in his own room, since he can seldom afford to patronise a restaurant, and showing in his often prematurely haggard face the marks of the conflict which he wages."
Henri Murger's Sc?nes de la vie de boh?me, a series of amusing vignettes about artistic life in the Latin Quarter that was published serially in Le Corsaire-Satan between 1845 and 1849 and was to serve as a model for all later depictions of the bohemian type. "To-day, as formerly, every man who enters upon an artistic career, without other means of subsistence than art itself, will be compelled to pass through the paths of Bohemia. The majority of our contemporaries who exhibit the finest blazonry of art are Bohemians ; and in their tranquil and prosperous renown, they often remember, and perhaps regret the time when, as they climbed the green hill of youth, they had, in the sunshine of their twenty years, no other fortune than courage, which is the virtue of the young, and hope, which is the treasure of the poor....
"... unknown Bohemia, the most numerous subdivision... is made up of the great family of poor artists, doomed to submit to the law of incognito, because they do not know or cannot find an entering wedge of pub-, licity to attest their existence in the world of art, and to prove, by what they already are, what they may be some day. They are the race of persistent dreamers, to whom art has become a faith, not a trade ; enthusiastic men of strong convictions, with whom the mere sight of a chef d'ceuvre is enough to bring on a fever, and whose loyal hearts beat high before whatever is beautiful, without asking the name of the master or the school. That portion of Bohemia finds its recruits among the young men of whom it is said that they are young men of promise, and among those who keep the promises they make, but who, from thoughtlessness, timidity or ignorance of practical life imagine that all is said when the work is finished, and wait for public admiration and wealth to enter their apartments by escalade and acts of burglary.
"... the true Bohemia ... like the others, bristles with dangers; on each side is a deep abyss : on one side want, on the other doubt. But between the two there is at all events a road leading to a goal which the Bohemians can touch with their glance, pending the time when they can touch it with their hands.... to use an expression of their own, their names are on the poster, because they are known on the literary and artistic market-place, because their productions, which bear their signatures, find a sale there, although at moderate prices. ... Their minds are kept always on the alert by their ambition, which sounds the charge in front of them and urges them on to the assault; they are constantly at odds with necessity, and their invention, which always marches with matches lighted, removes the obstacle almost before it impedes them. Their existence from day to day is a work of genius, a daily problem which they always succeed in solving with the aid of some daring mathematics. ... At need they can practise abstinence with all the firmness of an anchorite ; but, let a little money fall into their hands and you see them plunge at once into the most ruinous courses, making love to the fairest and youngest, drinking the best and the oldest, and never finding enough windows to throw their money through."
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|