In a multi-ethnic state like the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the language and the spelling of place names in official usage was a hotly discussed issue, since they could be used to mark "national property". It sparked off a bitter struggle particularly in the multilingual regions.
School policies were a sensitive topic in the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire. A particularly hot issue was the question of the language of teaching. Following the Austrian-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the two halves of the Empire pursued very different objectives.
Bureaucracy one was one of the most important pillars of the Austrian authoritarian state. The language of red tape was therefore a hotly disputed political issue.
The variety within the Habsburg Monarchy gave outsiders the impression that Austria-Hungary was a modern Tower of Babel. The hotly discussed question of an official language of the state was complicated by the difference in the way the two halves of the Empire developed after the 1867 Compromise.
The empire of the Habsburgs was seen by widespread circles of Czech political élites as Völkerkerker, the prison of nations, which hindered the process of becoming a nation. The Czechs compared themselves to a canary in a golden cage: well protected and fed, he can twitter his songs – but not fly free.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Czechs availed of a fully developed spectrum of parties, with the parliamentary representatives of the Czechs in the Vienna Imperial Council assigned to different political camps.
Shortly prior to 1900 there was a change in political culture: reforms in the electoral system now gave the broad-based public a say in political matters. Against all expectations, this triggered a radicalisation. Now Germans and Czechs were in uncompromising opposition to each other in Bohemia – and both ethnic groups saw their national development shackled by the Austrian Empire.
The demand for autonomy for Bohemia was a core issue in the national movement, which by now had become a mass phenomenon. From the Czech perspective Bohemia was seen as a political nation with an emphatically Czech character – consciously suppressing the fact that this contradicted the ethnic concept of the nation: because “Bohemians” no longer existed; national agitation now applied only to Czechs and Germans.
Coming next after the suppression of the 1848 Revolution was at first a political ice age. Nevertheless, the people’s demands could not be permanently ignored. National-liberal ideas had cast strong roots also in the Czech bourgeoisie, just emerging at the time.
The Czech people’s national interpretation of history always accentuated the democratic element. The evolution of the nation was seen here as the endeavour to emancipate the broader mass of the people from feudal or national oppression. The opponents from the camp of those defending German hegemony in Bohemia designated the Czechs demeaningly as “a nation of plebeian lackeys”.