National Geographic : 1917 Feb
BOHEMIA AND THE CZECHS BY ALES HRDLICKA CURATOR OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY IN THE U. S. NATIONAL MUSEUM IN THEIR memorable answer to the President of the United States on the conditions under which they would conclude peace with Germany, the Allies announced, as one of these condi tions, the liberation of the Czecho-Slo vaks from Austria-Hungary. This introduces on the international forum a most interesting new factor, of which relatively little has been heard dur ing the war and which in consequence has largely escaped, in this country at least, the attention which it deserves. The same natural law of preservation that rules over individuals rules also over nations-only the strongest survive the struggle for existence. Not the strongest in numbers, nor even physically, but the richest in that healthy virginal life-cur rent which suffers under defeat, but is never crushed; which may be suppressed to the limit, yet wells up again stronger and fresher than ever, the moment the pressure relaxes. One such nation is surely, it seems, that of the Czechs or Bohemians. A 1,500-year-long life-and-death struggle with the race who surround it from the north, west, and south, with a near-burial within the Austrian Empire for the last three centuries, have failed to destroy the little nation or break its spirit. As President Wilson has said: "At least two among these many races [of Austria], moreover, are strenuously, restlessly, persistently devoted to inde pendence. No lapse of time, no defeat of hopes, seems sufficient to reconcile the Czechs of Bohemia to incorporation with Austria. Pride of race and the memories of a notable and distinguished history keep them always at odds with the Ger mans within their gates and with the gov ernment set over their heads. They de sire at least the same degree of autonomy that has been granted to Hungary." * *The State, by Woodrow Wilson, revised edition, 1911, page 740. The Czechs are now more numerous, more accomplished, more patriotic than ever before, and the day is inevitably ap proaching when the shackles will fall and the nation take its place again at the council of free nations. WHO ARE THE BOHEMIANS The Czechs* are the westernmost branch of the Slavs, their name being de rived, according to tradition, from that of a noted ancestral chief. The term Bo hemia was applied to the country prob ably during the Roman times and was derived, like that of Bavaria, from the Boii, who for some time before the Chris tian era occupied or claimed parts of these regions. Nature has favored Bohemia perhaps more than any other part of Europe. Its soil is so fertile and climate so favorable that more than half of the country is cul tivated and produces richly. In its moun tains almost every useful metal and min eral, except salt, is to be found. It is the geographical center of the European con tinent, equally distant from the Baltic, Adriatic, and North seas, and, though in closed by mountains, is so easily accessi ble, because of the valleys of the Danube and the Elbe rivers, that it served, since known in history as the avenue of many armies. Beside Bohemia, the Czechs occupy Moravia and adjacent territory in Silesia. The Slovaks, who show merely dialectic differences from the Czechs, extend from Moravia eastward over most of northern Hungary. The advent of the Czechs is lost in an tiquity; it is known, however, that they cremated their dead, and cremation bur ials in northeastern Bohemia and in Mo ravia antedate 500 B. C. Their invasions or spread southwestward, so far as re *The Cz pronounced like ch in cherry. t See "Map of Europe," published by the GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1915.