Czechoslovakia - Hapsburg rule

HAPSBURG RULE, 1526-1867
The Hapsburgs and the Czechoslovak Lands


Although the Bohemian Kingdom, the Margravate of Moravia, and Slovakia were all under Hapsburg rule, they followed different paths of development. The defeat at Mohacs in 1526 meant that most of Hungary proper was taken by the Turks; until Hungary's reconquest by the Hapsburgs in the second half of the seventeenth century, Slovakia became the center of Hungarian political, cultural, and economic life. The Hapsburg kings of Hungary were crowned in Bratislava, the present-day capital of Slovakia, and the Hungarian estates met there. Slovakia's importance in Hungarian life proved of no benefit, however, to the Slovaks. In essence, the Hungarian political nation consisted of an association of estates (primarily the nobility). Because Slovaks were primarily serfs, they were not considered members of a political nation and had no influence on politics in their own land. The Slovak peasant had only to perform duties: work for a landlord, pay taxes, and provide recruits for military service. Even under such hostile conditions, there were a few positive developments. The Protestant Reformation brought to Slovakia literature written in Czech, and Czech replaced Latin as the literary language of a small, educated Slovak elite. But on the whole, the Slovaks languished for centuries in a state of political, economic, and cultural deprivation.

Moravia had accepted the hereditary right of the Austrian Hapsburgs to rule it and thus escaped the intense struggle between native estates and the Hapsburg monarchy that was to characterize Bohemian history. The Moravians had a poorly developed historical or national consciousness, made few demands on the Hapsburgs, and were permitted to live in tranquillity. Late in the eighteenth century, the Margravate of Moravia was abolished and merged with Austrian Silesia.

In contrast to Moravia, the Bohemian Kingdom had entrenched estates that were ready to defend what they considered their rights and liberties. Because the Hapsburgs pursued a policy of centralization, conflict was inevitable. The conflict was further complicated by ethnic and religious issues and was subsequently seen by some as a struggle for the preservation of Czech institutions and the Czech nation.

Formation of the Dual System


After the revolutions of 1848, Francis Joseph attempted to rule as an absolute monarch, keeping all the nationalities in check. But the Hapsburgs suffered a series of defeats. In 1859 they were driven out of Italy, and in 1866 they were defeated by Prussia and expelled from the German Confederation. To strengthen his position, Francis Joseph was ready to improve his relations with the Hungarians. At first it seemed that some concessions would be made to Bohemia, but in the end the crown effected a compromise with the Hungarian gentry. The Compromise of 1867 established the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary (also known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The two parts of the empire were united by a common ruler, by a joint foreign policy, and, to some extent, by shared finances. Otherwise, Austria and Hungary were virtually independent states, each having its own parliament, government, administration, and judicial system.

Despite a series of crises, this dual system survived until 1918. It made permanent the dominant position of the Hungarians in Hungary and of the Germans in the Austrian parts of the monarchy. While Czechs, Poles, and other nationalities had some influence in government, they were never permitted to share political power. This inability to come to terms with its nationalities contributed to the ultimate collapse of the Dual Monarchy.

As a result of the dual system, the Czechs and Slovaks continued to go their separate ways. The Slovaks chafed under the Hungarians, and the Czechs were ruled by Vienna. The Austrian and Hungarian parts of the empire had different political systems. Austria had a parliamentary government, and a gradual enlargement of the franchise culminated in universal male suffrage in 1907. The Czechs, therefore, were able to take a greater and greater part in the political life of Austria. In Hungary the franchise continued to be fairly restricted and pretty much controlled by the Hungarian aristocracy. Because of this, very few Slovaks gained positions of importance in Hungary.