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The Industrial Revolution, as most revolutions do, started off small at the end of the 18th century, and then really picked up steam - so to speak - in the 19th century. It was to have a monumental impact on the Czech lands.
The first factories in the Austrian Empire were built in the mountainous border regions of the Czech lands, where there was no shortage of water power from rushing streams and rivers to run them. While it did not take long for steam power to be harnessed, the industrial boundaries had been drawn, and these regions remain predominantly industrial to this day.
Railway lines were laid (in the Czech lands, by Jan Perner - who met his death when he hit his head against a pole while leaning out of the window of a moving train - an activity which has been forbidden in this country since the Czech railway pioneer's tragic accident.) Trams (mostly constructed by the "Czech Thomas Edison," Frantisek Krizik) began to carry people around on their errands in and between major towns (in those days, tram lines connected the cities of Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna to each other - about a one-hour ride). It was at this time, too, that Gregor Mendel was conducting his famous experiments on hereditary with peas in a monastery in Moravia, and that Jan Evangelista Purkyne peered into his microscope one day to discover a cell looking back at him (he was the first person to recognize it as such).
The major architectural styles of the time were Classicist and Empire, both of which used classical Greek and Roman motifs in a balanced and simple design. Two buildings which are closely associated with Mozart's stay in Prague in the late 18th century are excellent examples of these styles: the Estates Theatre, in which Mozart conducted the premier of Don Giovanni, is Classicist and the Bertramka villa, where he stayed with the Dusek family, is one of the purest examples of Empire that exists in the Czech Republic. But we digress.
Industrialization was not the only big change taking place in the Austrian Empire at this time. The Czech nation, like most of the others under Austrian rule, was also going through political and cultural changes, leading to demands for greater autonomy and self- determination for the different nations under Austrian rule.
In this country, the push for autonomy was known as the Czech National Revival movement (Narodni obrozeni). The dominant political leaders of the movement - Frantisek Palacky, Frantisek Ladislav Rieger and Karel Havlicek Borovsky - were "liberals." This meant that they wanted reforms within the Austrian monarchy, but did not want independence for the Czech lands. This brought them into conflict with the "democrats," who were republican and fiercely anti-Monarchy.
But the Czech National Revival movement almost had more to do with culture than with politics. Frantisek Palacky and Karel Havlicek Borovsky, who are mentioned above for their political efforts, were both writers. Czech Literature enjoyed a Golden Age during the Czech National Revival, as the Czech language - which had all but died out under Habsburg rule - was rediscovered. Other notable writers of the time include Bozena Nemcova, Karel Hynek Macha (who published the epic lyrical poem "Maj," then died of pneumonia he caught while fighting a fire one month before he was to be married), and Josef Jungmann - who put together the first modern Czech dictionary.
Many popular books retelling the old Czech legends of Libuse and Sarka and Bivoj and Bruncvik were published at this time, and some of the leaders of the Czech National Revival even falsified "ancient 13th century texts" of these legends, which they claimed to have found in a cave somewhere. Perhaps the only authority in the movement who publicly denied the authenticity of the texts was a young university professor by name of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, and he was passionately detested by the other leaders for doing so.
But we digress yet again. France had its infamous revolution in 1848. In the same year in the Czech lands, the feudal system was abolished, leading to waves of emigration, much of it to the New World - particularly to the United States. In June 1848, a Pan-Slavic Congress convened in Prague to consider possible ways of convincing the Habsburgs to transform their empire into a federative state of equal nations (something like a 'United States of Austria'). Suddenly, the discussions were interrupted by an aimless rebellion inspired by the French Revolution and including dramatic baracades in the streets, which was led by bored students and the most radical of the radical democrats.
The rebellion was effortlessly put down by the local Austrian leader, Prince Windischgratz - who declared martial law and, on June 16, 1848 even bombarded Prague from Petrin Hill. In this way both the revolt and the Pan-Slavic congress both came to a premature end, leaving the question of the future shape of the Austrian Empire utterly unresolved. In a strange aside to this episode, Prince Windischgratz's wife lost her life in all this commotion - shot through a window while she was in her apartment. To this day, nobody knows who did the shooting or why.
Scared by both the French Revolution and the summer rebellion in Prague, Austria introduced something akin to martial law in the whole of the Empire to discourage republican efforts at independence. Autonomy movements throughout the Austrian Empire were suppressed. But as revolutionary movements have a tendency of doing, this one did not die down; it just sat around simmering below the ostensibly calm surface of things. Tensions did not decrease. On the contrary.
The Austrian Empire of the time was massive, and contained the territories of many modern-day countries. Most of these nationalities were clamoring for autonomy.
In the 1860s, this pressure led the Habsburgs to transform the Austrian Empire into the dualist Austro-Hungarian constitutional monarchy. This was just hunkey-dorey by the Hungarians, but was not exactly appreciated by most of the other ethnic nations within what was now the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The Czechs were united in their opposition to the new dual system, but they were divided among themselves as to what they wanted to do about it. These divisions grew deeper as the 19th century progressed.
There were a number of rival political factions: the Czech National Party (split into two camps: the conservative Old Czechs and the liberal Young Czechs); the Czech Social Democratic Party (founded in 1878); the progressives (who favored the policies of Tomas Masaryk); the Agrarian party; the Christian Socialists; the National Socialists; and the Radical Progressives.
The majority of the Czech political parties supported a program calling for the restoration of the Czech state in its historical borders - but within the framework of the Austrian Empire. Again, each party had a different idea of exactly how this goal should be accomplished.
The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was characterized by growing economic and political freedom for the Czechs and by outstanding acheivements on the part of Czechs in culture, medicine, and science. Architectural trends at the end of the century were romantic copies of past styles, like Neo-Gothic. These romantic enthusiasts sometimes did more harm than good, as in the case of the reconstruction of Karlstejn Castle (It is because of this ill-fated reconstruction that Karlstejn does not qualify for the UNESCO World Heritage list today.) In other cases, they just did silly things like build fake "ancient" ruins in Prague parks (perhaps to go along with their "ancient" legend texts). The Czech writers and artists Jan Neruda, Alois Jirasek, Mikulas Ales, Bedrich Smetana, Antonin Dvorak Alfons Mucha and Frantisek Bilek all lived and worked at this time. The National Theater, National Museum and Rudolfinum were built at the turn of the century, and the first films in the Czech Republic were made in 1898.
The battle for "universal" suffrage within the Austro-Hungarian state was won in 1907. (All men in the Czech lands, regardless of economic status, could vote -- women in the Czech lands did not get the vote until 1919). But most of the rest of the political advances made by the Czechs came into being in a sort of fuzzy grey area. The constitutional status of the Czech lands within the framework of the Monarchy remained an open and - in Prague, at least - a much-debated question.
Well, while Czech nationalists were busy sitting in pubs drinking beer and debating how best to effect the changes they wanted to see implemented in the Austro-Hungarian government, members of other nations within the Empire were also pressing for reforms and for independence. It was these pressures that led Serbian nationalist Gavrillo Princip to assassinate the Archduke Francis Ferdinand (the heir to the Austrian throne) on June 28, 1914, precipitating World War I. Princip was locked up for this deed, and spent the rest of his days at the prison in Terezin Fortress in the Czech lands.
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