M. Zvánovec: Der nationale Schulkampf in Böhmen

Der nationale Schulkampf in Böhmen. Schulvereine als Akteure der nationalen Differenzierung (1880–1918)

Zvánovec, Mikuláš
Anzahl Seiten
281 S.
€ 102,95
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Jeremy King, Department of History, Mount Holyoke College

This book figures as evidence of the internationalization of scholarship concerning East Central Europe. Mikuláš Zvánovec, the Czech author, has written, in German, a study of Czech-German conflict. In it, he draws on recent historical writings from the United States and Britain for inspiration.

How to describe the stage on which school associations, the “actors of national differentiation” in the title, performed? In the late 1860s, Austrian legislation established—in keeping with a resonant principle of “national equality of rights”—a right of children to be educated in their national language, “without being compelled to learn a second language of the land.”[1] Judges clarified when a municipality had to open a school offering instruction in a particular language: school-aged children of petitioners had to average at least forty over five years, and had to live more than four kilometers from any public school which used their national language. In the Bohemian lands of Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria Silesia (today’s Czech Republic), two sets of schools resulted, funded by the same taxpayers and held to the same standards by Austria’s educational authorities but using either Czech or German—not both!—as the language of instruction. Wherever both languages served as a medium of education, residents could choose between them for their children, regardless of national belonging or language knowledge. But municipal governments, dominated by Czech or German activists, resisted opening “minority schools” and tried to treat existing ones unfairly. In Bohemia, supervision of schools was partitioned nationally to impede such discrimination; each town council continued to appoint local school board members, but now had to appoint only Germans to a German board and only Czechs to a Czech one. How, though, to determine who was nationally who?

Zvánovec shows that the Czech and German School Associations (Ústřední matice školská, ÚMŠ, and Deutscher Schulverein, DSV) advised, lobbied, and intermediated among state authorities, town councils, courts, families, and other players in a drama of compulsory universal public education in Austria. To prove the necessity of public minority schools, they founded and filled hundreds of private ones. Sharing their growing grasp of administration and law to help their own national cause and to hinder the other, they pushed officials and judges to devise, among other things, constitutionally valid procedures for determining national belonging. They secured subsidies and steered families toward the right schools. In Moravia, after 1905, Czech leaders even succeeded in denying access to German-language public schools for most children who spoke only Czech. From their founding in 1880 until after 1918, the ÚMŠ and DSV counted more members than any of Austria’s other national “defense associations” (German "Schutzvereine", Czech "obranné spolky"), stood out for their ambitious public activities, and played important roles behind the scenes.

What distinguishes Zvánovec’s book from Tara Zahra’s Kidnapped Souls,[2] which rests on some of the same sources, and from her article in Slavic Review, “Imagined Noncommunities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis”[3]? Zahra, in studying the Bohemian lands between 1900 and 1948, focuses on struggles over the education of children between families on the one hand and national activists—both Czech and German—on the other. Like Pieter Judson’s Guardians of the Nation,[4] her work challenges narratives which explain rising tensions with the percolation of national feeling into non-elites. Rather, she argues, national leaders worried that national feeling among many fellow speakers of their language remained dangerously weak. Driven amid regime changes by ambivalence, lability, and other forms of indifference in their supposed ranks, those leaders resorted to ever more radical and polarizing mobilization measures.

Zvánovec, in contrast, focuses on comparing the ÚMŠ and DSV under imperial Austria. Emphasizing their competition and mutual copying, as well as Austria’s liberal constitution and policy of national equality of rights, he concludes that the Czech School Association fared better than the German one. In explaining this differentiation, he highlights historical and structural factors: the democratizing spirit of the era, for example, the more ethnic and egalitarian ethos of the Czech movement, its tighter geographical concentration, and its more uniformly Catholic and non-Jewish composition. Disagreeing with Czech activists of the time and with Czech historians more recently, Zvánovec adjudges the ÚMŠ “economically stronger, socially more credible, and politically much more integrative than its German counterpart” (p. 188).

Zvánovec also takes issue with “the accentuation of the latest historiography on national indifference.” It can contribute to a “mirrored or homogeneous understanding of ‘national activists’ of various ethnic groups,” he contends, which he aims to counter with “a richly nuanced and faceted depiction” (p. 187). In studies of national indifference, “differences between the actors of nationalization necessarily yield to the tension between national activism […] and national indifference” (p. 12). Because Zvánovec’s book is “far more focused on differences in the dynamic of formation and positioning of German and Czech nationalism,” it “must partly set aside the tension between ‘national activists’ and ‘national indifference’” (pp. 12, 8).

Zvánovec’s criticism is too short and shorn of evidence to convince me. Do Zahra and Judson misrepresent the Czech and German movements as identical twins? Is such distortion “necessarily” a by-product of their approach—which Zvánovec credits with opening a “hitherto little treated field of research” (p. 3)? Must or should one “partly set aside” national indifference in order “not to downplay the central differences of framing circumstances for the two Central European national movements” (p. 8)?

For Zvánovec, I count among the historians of national indifference. He highlights, however, my “theses regarding ‘historically conditioned asymmetries between the two national movements’” (pp. 3, 9). “The approach of King, together with several older studies […] which treat salient differences between the two movements,” he writes, “form the foundation for this work” (p. 9). Indeed, my Budweisers into Czechs and Germans[5] does confront national indifference, and does compare—not lump together—German and Czech nationalisms. But what of Zvánovec’s contention that those two tasks are “necessarily” at odds? And don’t his conclusions regarding the ÚMŠ and DSV rehearse my conclusions regarding multiple Czech and German organizations over a longer period in a single town?

Despite the focus in the title on Bohemia, Zvánovec’s book contains much material about Moravia as well. For both crownlands, his understanding of law is at points off the mark—in his discussions, for example, of Czech attempts at “reclaiming” children from German-language schools and of procedures for determining national belonging. The thematic structuring of the chapters leaves to readers the work of imaging all the actors on the stage, weaving compelling stories. Among the many merits of the book, however, are Zvánovec’s economy of expression, archival research, and outlining of breaks and continuities between school struggles before 1918 and thereafter—in the nationalizing Czechoslovak state and then under Hitler.

[1] Austria, Reichs-Gesetz- und Regierungsblatt, 142/1867, §19. See also 62/1869, §§6, 59.
[2] Tara Zahra, Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948, Ithaca 2008.
[3] Tara Zahra, Imagined Noncommunities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis?, in: Slavic Review 69 (2010), pp. 93–119.
[4] Pieter Judson, Guardians of the Nation: Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria, Cambridge 2006.
[5] Jeremy King, Budweisers into Czechs and Germans: A Local History of Bohemian Politics, 1848–1948, Princeton 2002.

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