The mayor of Budweis spoke both Czech and German, but refused to be identified with either group. He wanted to bring the people of Budweis together, not divide them.
As with virtually all groups in virtually all countries in virtually all eras, there were differences between the Germans and Czechs in Budweis. The Germans were more educated and more prominent in business and the professions; while the Czechs more so in farming and labor.
There was a simple explanation for the disparity. The German language had been in print for centuries longer than Czech, and thus for any given topic, the books needed for higher learning were also in German. Educated people in Budweis, regardless of ethnicity, were usually educated in German.
Czechs who wished to improve their position, whether in business, politics, or the military had first to master German language and culture, in order to function at higher levels. There were no barriers to their doing so, and many did just that.
In Budweis, all could be Budweisers.
As more Czechs became educated, not all sought to better their town, their country, or even themselves, instead some turned to the study of old grievances.
They promoted the idea that Czechs were being exploited by their German neighbors. They promoted “Czech pride,” and railed against perceived “German privilege.”
Street signs that had formerly been in German and Czech, were changed to Czech only. Quotas were demanded that a certain percentage of Czech music be played by the orchestra in Budweis.
These and many other seemingly petty demands would eventually lead to dire consequences. In self-defence, Bohemians of German descent began to think of themselves as Germans first, and to push for their own interests.
In the midst of this great division, came the First World War. The victors of that conflict were not concerned about ethnic Germans in Bohemia or anywhere else. They wanted to enact punishment.
And so at the behest of Czech intellectuals, Bohemia vanished, and was made part of a new country: Czechoslovakia. The lines were drawn on a map in Paris and that was that. The people of Budweis had no say in the matter.
What were those wrongs?
In 1621, nearly 300 years earlier, Czech aristocrats who rebelled against the Hapsburg Empire had their land confiscated and handed over to German loyalists. Of course none of those Czech nobles were still alive in 1919, nor their children, or great-great-grandchildren.
But Czech intellectuals kept the grievance alive.
Government policies designed to undo history, giving preferential treatment to Czechs and penalizing Germans, were enacted – making the Germans second-class citizens in the very towns and cities they had lived in peacefully for hundreds of years.
Embittered Germans eventually demanded that the areas where they lived be united with neighboring Germany.
In 1938 their demands led to the Munich crisis, after which half of Czechoslovakia was given to Nazi Germany, and Neville Chamberlain declared “peace in our time.”
It didn’t work out that way.
Instead, the division of the country, fueled by the division of the people, led by divisive intellectuals, paved the way to the Second World War.
If only the grievances of 300 years previous had been left alone. If only the intellectuals touting identity politics had been ignored. If only all could have remained Budweisers.
— Adapted from an article by Thomas Sowell