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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

The Slav and the Czech

Karel Havlíček Borovský

Texte intégral

1Title: Slovan a Čech (The Slav and the Czech)

2Originally published: First published in Pražské noviny, 15 February–12 March 1846

3Language: Czech

4Excerpts used are from ‘The Danger of Pan-Slavism’, in Hans Kohn, ed., Nationalism: Its Meaning and History (London and New York: Nostrand Reinhold, 1965), pp. 155–59. Originally published in Hans Kohn, The Mind of Modern Russia (New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press, 1955), pp. 83–90.

About the author

5Karel Havlíček Borovský [1821, Borová near Přibyslav (Ger. Primislau, eastern Bohemia) – 1856, Prague]: journalist, writer and politician. Havlíček was born to a Roman Catholic merchant family. He studied philosophy at Prague where he became acquainted with Czech nationalism and Pan-Slav ideas. He entered the seminary but was expelled in 1841. He left Prague, moving first to Upper Hungary and Galicia and later to Russia, where he was engaged as a tutor in the family of the Russian Slavophile historian S. P. Shevyriov. During his stay in Moscow he was cured of his Pan-Slav fantasies, as is clearly apparent in his stories ‘Scenes from Russia.’ After his return to Prague he became acquainted with František Palacký, who appointed him as the editor-in-chief of the only Czech daily, Pražské noviny (Prague News) in 1846. In 1848 Havlíček became involved in the political activities of the Czech liberals as a member of the National Committee and as a deputy to the Imperial Diet. He defended the existence of the Austrian state, though he advocated its transformation into a constitutional monarchy and federation. To promote this purpose he founded his own Národní noviny (National news) in April 1848, which became the most influential Czech daily in the revolutionary years. At the same time, he was critical towards the radical democrats, whom he held responsible for the Prague May uprising that hindered the convocation of the country’s Diet, the main aim of the liberals. After the dissolution of the Kremsier Diet, Havlíček’s newspapers turned against the government and were banned in 1850. He moved to Kutná Hora, where he started to publish a weekly Slovan (The Slav) that was banned a year later. In December 1851 Havlíček was arrested and sent to internal exile in the Tyrolean town of Brixen (It. Bressanone). Released in 1855, he died a year later of tuberculosis. He soon became an icon of Czech national martyrdom. Besides journalism, Havlíček wrote satirical epic poems and epigrams that were published only after 1861 and that became part of the Czech literary canon. Nowadays, Havlíček is perceived as the founder of modern political journalism in Bohemia and as one of the most original Czech liberal thinkers.

6Main works: Obrazy z Rus [Scenes from Russia] (1843–1846); Duch Národních novin [The spirit of the National News] (1851); Epištoly kutnohorské [Letters from Kutná Hora] (1851); Křest sv. Vladimíra [The baptism of St Vladimir] (1861, 1867); Tyrolské elegie [Tyrolean elegies] (1861); Král Lávra [King Lávra] (1870).


7The ‘Slav idea’ was present from the very beginning of the modern Czech national movement, but its content changed in the course of time. After the scholarly interest of Josef Dobrovský at the turn of the nineteenth century, Ján Kollár’s cultural concept of a Slav nation predominated in the first decades of the nineteenth century (see Ján Kollár, The Daughter of Sláva). Although not every patriot who wanted to revive the Czech language was a devotee of ‘Slav reciprocity’, Kollár’s idea became generally accepted. In the period of the political differentiation among the Czech bourgeoisie (during the 1830s and 1840s), however, and as a result of the Russian suppression of and repercussions after the 1830/31 Polish uprising, this vague Kollárian Pan-Slavism was challenged.

8With Havlíček’s ‘The Slav and the Czech’, the Austro-Slav idea made its first appearance in Czech political thought. After his disillusionment with political life and social reality in the Russian monarchy, Havlíček came to the conclusion that Czech Pan-Slavism was just a dangerous dream brought about by fear of German predominance rather than a recognition of real political possibilities. The essence of his thinking was the belief that a strong Austrian state, once it had carried out substantial political and social reforms, would offer the only chance for the Slav and other small nations in Central Europe to live in freedom and cultural independence. The Austro-Slav approach did not neglect the possibility of ‘Slav reciprocity’ but stressed that it had a purely cultural role and rejected all visions of the unity of Slavs, especially under Russian rule. At the same time, this position was intended as a guard against the increasingly powerful ‘Greater German’ movement, which considered Bohemia part of the German lands. The political statement of the Austro-Slav idea appeared in the ‘Manifesto of the First Slav Congress to all nations of Europe’ of 12 June 1848, the main author of which was František Palacký.

9In ‘The Slav and the Czech’, Havlíček rejected the notion of ‘Slav’ as a term describing one nation. Instead, the term was to be used as an ‘ethnographic category,’ similar to Germanic or Romanic ethnic and/or linguistic groups. Havlíček deplored the Russian-Polish hostility, which was, according to him, rooted mainly in Tsarist absolutism and the egoism of the Polish nobility. His thinking about Slav politics was based on his strong liberal democratic convictions. For him, self-preservation was the most important force of human action—both of individuals and nations. If, then, nations were to live in peace, they must find common interests and derive mutual profit from their collaboration. This was, according to Havlíček, hardly achievable among all Slavic nations; Czechs, however, had much in common with the ‘Illyrians’, because they both lived in the Austrian state.

10With the publishing of Havlíček’s article and other Austro-Slav pronouncements, Kollár’s ideas were challenged but did not lose all their adherents. Havlíček’s article provoked many hostile reactions among Czech conservative patriots and Slavophiles. Indeed, Pan-Slavic ideas, with their characteristic pro-Russian stance, re-appeared in Czech politics from time to time. They did not, however, have any particularly strong effect. Austro-Slavism was politically much more influential, and, together with the ideas of federalism, it formed a firm basis for the most important Czech political programs (especially those of Palacký and, later, Tomáš G. Masaryk) until the outbreak of the world war in 1914.


The Slav and the Czech

12Simultaneously with the awakening of the national spirit and some higher activities in our ‘Austrian-Czech’ fatherland, there came also the Slav idea, or rather this idea made itself felt again, but this time with a great strength and greater hope than before. As often happens, the Slav idea, like all other great and new ideas, became fashionable with us, so that some years ago almost everybody called himself a Slav, ashamed, as it were, of something as small as our Czech, Moravian, Silesian, or Slovak. Everybody called the Russians, Poles, Illyrians, and other Slavs his brothers, and was concerned for their well-being at least as much as for the growth of his own nation; and those who were the most practical ones felt in their heart the firm conviction that as time went on all eighty million (and all the other millions who meanwhile would accrue) would have in common one literary language, the same sympathies and all the other matters, which it is presently not advisable to discuss; in short that they all would become a single nation in the same sense in which the French and others were single nations. […]

13The purpose of this article is to correct these errors as far as possible in the minds of my countrymen, to remove the harmful, and thereby to strengthen the useful aspects of the Slav idea. I consider that my words will become more acceptable if I prove them from my own life experience: if we wish to combat prejudices we can do it best if we acknowledge that we shared them formerly. One always believes an experienced man more.

14I learned to know Poland and I did not like it. With a feeling of hostility and pride I left the Sarmatian country, and in the worst cold season I arrived in a sleigh in Moscow, being warmed mostly by the Slav feeling in my heart. The freezing temperature in Russia and other aspects from Russian life extinguished the last spark of Pan-Slav in me. Cosmopolitanism was always completely alien to me, and so I returned to Prague as a Czech, a simple determined Czech, even with some secret sour feeling against the name Slav, which a better knowledge of Russia and Poland had made suspect to me. After some time, when I had somewhat forgotten the unpleasant impression, I again quieted down, and I was able to balance my unpleasant personal experiences and my former poetic enthusiasm. In short, I formed for myself principles about Slavdom and Czechdom, and these I now wish to put before my readers for their consideration.

15No decent man should be a cosmopolitan (who says that he loves everybody, loves nobody), and it would be ridiculous to feel Indo-European patriotism and to write enthusiastic poetry about it; equally invalid, though to a lesser degree, is a Pan-Slav patriotism. Should somebody object that the differences among the Slav nations are not so great as among the Romance or the Teutonic nations, then we must simply disagree. Even if there be slighter differences among the various Slav languages than among the various Teutonic or Romance languages (though the Dutch tongue is nearer to German than Russian is to Czech, and between French and Italian there is not a greater difference than between Russian and Czech), we must not forget that nationality is determined not only by language but also by customs, religion, form of government, state of education, sympathies, and so on, and that the differences among the different nations are based upon these characteristics. If we take all that in due consideration, then we cannot say that Russians and Czechs, Poles and Russians, Illyrians and Poles show a greater affinity than any Teutonic or Romance nations. […]

16We cannot expect unity even among closely related Slav nations. On the contrary, the closer they live together the more disunity we may expect. Let us take the world as it is, and expect friendship and unity among people and nations only when this is advantageous for both sides. […]

17At the beginning, I sided with the Poles against the Russians. As soon as I recognized the true state of affairs in Poland, as soon as the veil which poetically hid from me the prosaic misery and corruption of the nation (that is, the Polish nobility) dropped from my eyes, my affection changed to dislike, and for a psychologically understandable reason the Russians appeared to me to be better than the Poles. This, however, did not last long. I soon recognized that Peter is like Paul, Russia like Poland. My Slav sympathy disappeared, and I learnt to regard the Russians and the Poles, in spite of the affinity of language, origin, and customs, as nations alien to us Czechs. […] We must not look on Russian-Polish relations with such a blind eye as the greater part of Europe does; we should not think of an innocent lamb and a wolf, but know that there wolf meets wolf, and we shall say later that the lamb among them is the Ukrainian. The Poles themselves formerly tried to destroy Russia, and the Russians now try the opposite. […] The Ukraine is the apple of discord which fate threw between these two nations. […] Thus the suppression of Ukrainian liberty revenges itself on Poland and Russia. […]

18The Poles and the Russians buried the national spirit of the Ukraine and began to divide the great body, and, as generally happens in such cases, they began to fight and have not yet ceased. Both the Russians and the Poles regard the Ukrainian language as a dialect of their own language. […] Thus we have seen great Eastern Slav nations, each one which hates the other two, and also has a just reason for it. Nobody can speak reasonably of brotherhood there. Nevertheless, the Pan-Slav idea has been accepted even by these nations. That might seem to contradict me: in reality the way in which Poles and Russians understood and accepted Pan-Slavism will prove that they do not deserve our sympathy.

19The Russians (and I do not speak here of the government, because I cannot know its trend of thought) have taken up the idea of Pan-Slavism. In the whole world, but above all in Europe, the Russians are either disliked or rejected (and that almost always for good reasons); it was therefore surprising but most agreeable to them to find at least some friends in the West. Thus they declared immediately their friendship and brotherhood with us and the Illyrians but regarded themselves as the older brother, as our commander. The Russian Pan-Slavs believe that we and the Illyrians would like to be un-der their domination!! They are firmly convinced that they will one day control all Slav lands!!! They now look forward with joy to their future vine-yards in Dalmatia. These gentlemen have started everywhere to say and write Slav instead of Russian, so that later they will again be able to say Russian instead of Slav. […]

20But let us be equally cool towards the Poles. They are like the Russians, but with tied hands. It is well known that formerly the Poles did not wish to know anything of the Slavs. Only when the Polish democrats and immigrants in France came upon the happy thought that perhaps the other Slavs could jointly with the Poles make light-hearted revolutions and thus serve them in their poorly calculated plans, did they begin to fraternize with us, and in their easy and sanguine temper they began to imagine how they would be the leaders among the Western liberal Slavs and how we should fight for them against everyone they hate! […]

21Finally, it is also significant that the Russians and the Poles exclude each other from the ranks of the Slavs: Russian scholars have proved that the Poles descend from the non-Slav Sarmatians (and be it said quietly that the Polish nobility thought so too, believing its blood superior to the Slav peasant blood), and the Poles on their part have proved that the Russians are of Mongol origin. […]

22What I wrote here stems from the reading of almost the whole literature on Pan-Slavism and from personal experiences. […] And everything written here is my full conviction. The plain principles, once more summarized, are: the Slavs are not one nation but four nations as independent and unconnected as any other European nations. Each of these Slav nations stands for itself, and none is responsible for another; they share neither national honour nor national infamy. As the result of the great similarity of the Slav languages, it is useful and necessary for each Slav nation to pay as much attention to the literature of the others as possible, and to profit from their literatures and languages and nationality. Only between the Czechs and the Illyrians can there be more far-reaching sympathies, because under the present conditions one cannot be dangerous to the other but on the contrary useful. The Austrian monarchy is the best guarantee for the preservation of our and the Illyrian nationality, and the greater the power of the Austrian empire grows, the more secure our nationalities will be. It is impossible then for all Slavs to use one literary language, and therefore all efforts in this direction are meaningless, and as a waste of time, harmful.

23The translation is an edited version of ‘The Danger of Pan-Slavism,’ in Hans Kohn, ed., Nationalism: Its Meaning and History (London and New York: Nostrand Reinhold, 1965), pp. 155–59. Originally published in Hans Kohn, The Mind of Modern Russia (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1955), pp. 83–90.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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