Czechs

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Related to Ethnic Czechs: Prague, Moravia, Bohemia, Slovakia

Czechs

 

a nation (natsiia, nation in the historical sense) in Czechoslovakia and the overwhelming majority of the population of the Czech Socialist Republic (CSR). Of the 9.6 million Czechs living in Czechoslovakia, 9.5 million reside in the CSR (1977 estimate). A considerable number of Czechs live abroad, chiefly in Austria, Canada, and the USA. The Czechs speak the Czech language. Most of the believers among them are Catholics, and the rest adhere to Protestant denominations.

In the fifth and sixth centuries, Slavic tribes settled and gained the ascendancy in the area now known as Czechoslovakia. Written sources have preserved the names of some of these tribes: Czechs, Doudlebi, Croats, Lucané, Zlicane, Déčané, Pšované, Litoměřici, Hbané, and Glomači. The Czech tribe played a leading role in unifying these groups. In the ninth century, until 895, the Czech lands were part of the Great Moravian State. After its decline in the early tenth century, the center of political life shifted to Bohemia, where a state arose under the Czech Pfemyslid dynasty. In the 11th century Moravia was merged with Bohemia. The Czech nationality that began to evolve in the Czech state at this time included the Moravians, who nevertheless preserved some of their ethnic distinctiveness. Beginning in the 13th century the ethnic homogeneity of the country was undermined by German colonization, which the Czech kings and feudal lords encouraged in order to increase their revenues. Growing German domination, increasing feudal exploitation of the Czech peasantry, and the corruption of the Catholic Church precipitated the Hussite revolutionary movement in the first half of the 15th century.

In 1620, after the battle of the White Mountain (Bílá Hora), the Czech lands lost their political independence and became a hereditary possession of the Hapsburgs. For three centuries the ruling circles of the Austrian Empire (after 1867, Austria-Hungary) pursued a policy of germanization in Bohemia and Moravia. By the 18th century, German had become the administrative language, and the popular masses were the sole transmitters of the Czech language and culture. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as the feudal system declined and capitalist relations arose, the modern Czech nation began to develop amid a growth of national consciousness. This period, known as the Czech Renaissance, saw the unfolding of a broad national movement and a campaign to revive the Czech language and to use it in all spheres of public life. Progressive writers and artists drew inspiration from the creativity of the people and introduced folklore themes in their works.

The collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 led to the creation of the first national state of Czechs and Slovaks, the Czechoslovak Republic. In 1938–39 the republic was occupied by fascist German aggressors, who tried to suppress any manifestation of national life. The establishment of people’s rule in 1945 and the subsequent socialist transformations in the country stimulated a general economic and cultural revival and permitted the formation of a socialist Czech nation.

Folk creativity has played a major role in the development of the Czechs’ national culture—their literature, music, and art. In southwestern Bohemia (among the Chods) and in southeastern Moravia the national dress continues to be worn, and traditional crafts are flourishing. For more information about the history, economy, and culture of the Czechs, seeCZECH SOCIALIST REPUBLIC and CZECHOSLOVAKIA.

REFERENCES

Narody zarubezhnoi Evropy, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.
Ocherki obshchei etnografii: Zarubezhnaia Evropa. Moscow, 1966.
Gratsianskaia, N. N. Etnograficheskie gruppy Moravii: K istorii etni-cheskogo razvitiia. Moscow, 1975.

N. N. GRATSIANSKAIA