Bohemia Under Hapsburg Misrule, edited by Thomas Čapek
Four out of five stars
Published one year into the Great War that would lead to the death of nearly all of the empires based in Europe and a dramatic redrawing of borders around the world, this book is a biased look at the history and aspirations of the Bohemian (Czech) and Slovak peoples. There are many criticisms of the dominant German and Magyar (Hungarian) groups in the empire of Austria-Hungary. While many of them are legitimate, there is a great deal of provincialism regarding the goals of the Bohemians and Slovaks.
While most of the material was written by Čapek, there are five short pieces by professors at universities in the United States. All are items of praise for the accomplishments and aspirations of the people that would become the dominant groups of what would become the nation of Czechoslovakia. As a person that has lived close to Cedar Rapids, Iowa all my life I was pleased to read the mention of the large Czech population in that city.
Followers of history will note many accurate predictions of what would happen in the aftermath of the defeat of the Central Powers in the Great War. New nations were formed, with some of the old ethnic tensions simply suppressed for a short time. One reads about the Germans in what was to become Czechoslovakia and knows how their “suffering” was to become an excuse for one of the Hitlerian land grabs.
Other seeds of future events mentioned in the book refer to the ethnic tensions that existed. One of the most telling passages begins on page 140.
“A Bohemian in Chicago who does a large mail order business among all Slavs says: ‘We will not do business with the Poles at all because they will not pay. To the Serbians we send everything C. O. D., but the Croatians, Ruthenians, and the rest we trust.’”
Other points made in the book describe the cultural and intellectual superiority of the Bohemians. The various ethnic and linguistic groups in Eastern Europe all felt somehow at risk from the others. It demonstrates a point made by some historians, in that World War II in eastern Europe was largely a civil war where the different ethnic groups tried to settle old scores. It is often forgotten that when Czechoslovakia was dismembered as a consequence of the Munich meeting in 1938, Hungary and Poland both grabbed sections of Czech territory.
When reading this book, the reader knowledgeable of history will see the aftermath of the Great War beginning to unfold as well as the seeds of an even greater war yet to come.