Czech in Austria is currently spoken almost exclusively in Vienna (above all in districts III, V, X, XI, XV, XVII, XX and XXI), even though a hundred years ago there were important groups of Czech speakers in many localities of Lower Austria.
It is a western Slav language. Viennese Czech (see Fisher 1968) is written in conformity with the norm of the motherland, even though its popular variety reflects the particular dialects of the regions of immigration (Central Bohemia and Mahren), and include a number of interferences with German. All the Viennese Czechs master German in addition to Czech, their degree of bilingualism varying from one individual to the other (most of the time with the dominance of German).
The number of Viennese Czechs diminished after 1918 and after 1945, more than 150,000 people returned to Czechoslovakia after 1918. According to the latest census of 1991 (we do not have access to the recent surveys), there are about 10,000 people who use Czech (in comparison with 300,000 people in 1910, or 15% of the total population). However, for various reasons, official surveys and the census do not constitute adequate means for measuring the influence of minorities or of linguistic communities. At the time of the census or of the linguistic surveys there existed an atmosphere of linguistic and ethnic struggle. Taking into account the political cleavages among the Viennese Czechs which have existed for decades (notably for reasons of political evolution in Czechoslovakia since 1948), many Czech speakers refuse to recognise their Czech ethnicity. Placed in the position of having to identify themselves in the linguistic census, and thereby to make a gesture of linguistic loyalty, they choose not to associate with the values of their political adversaries.
If one adjusts the official figures by taking these considerations into account, there are at least 20,000 speakers of Czech in Vienna, that is about 2% of the total population of the capital.
The Czechs (consisting mainly of artisans, workers and unemployed) were displaced in the 19th century by important waves in the context where the capital of the Hapsburg Empire was in expansion, with some of the immigrants remaining whereas others returned to the countryside. They were employed in Vienna in the construction, industrial and service (auxiliary aids, cooks, receptionists etc.) sectors where they established their own family enterprises (the typical professions of the Viennese Czechs are as tailors, cobblers, carpenters). At the beginning of the second half of the 19th century, the Czechs in Vienna founded many associations (sporting, educational, leisure, or for the defence of their interests), and also political parties; they created theatre groups, and Czech was taught in the schools of Vienna very early. Because of the mainly proletarian background of the Czech immigrants and of the status of the Czechs under the monarchy, the Czechs enjoyed little prestige in Vienna. The Czechs of Vienna enjoyed a period of grace prior to the First World War. During the period of Austrian fascism and under the Nazi regime the Viennese Czechs, mainly the social democrats and the Communists, were victims of oppression. The first uprising against the Nazi regime derived from among the ranks of the Viennese Czechs, who experienced considerable loss of life during the Nazi period. The movement of Czechoslovak refugees after 1948 only contributed a small number of people to the Viennese Czechs, since generally the 'new' migrants could not identify with the 'older' immigrants (essentially linked to the workers movement). From the start the infrastructure of the Viennese Czechs was orientated towards Czechoslovakia. During the monarchy Slovakia pertained to the Hungarian part of the Empire and the migration towards Vienna was quantitatively less than that of the Czechs. In general, one can say that the different ethnic groups did not constitute closed groups in Vienna, but that they lived mainly as a function of their social relations and their employment conditions.
The institutional life of the Czechs in Vienna is orientated towards Czechoslovakia, reflecting its historic development. After 1945 the central Czech Committee (Cseky ustredni vybor/Tschechischer Zentralausschus) was founded within which all of the political movements were represented. After 1948 there was a division of the ethnic group. The largest part rejected co-operation with the Communist regime in Prague and sought refuge in the umbrella organisation of the Council of Czech and Slovak minority ethnic groups in Austria (Mensinová rada èeské a slovenské vìtve v Rakousku/Minderheitsrat der tschechischen und slowakischen Volksgruppe in Österreich) which united several other groups. On the other side, the umbrella group sympathetic to the Communist authorities in Prague was constituted as the Union of Czechs and Slovaks in Austria (Sdru ení Èechù a Slovákù v Rakousku/Vereinigung der Tschechen und Slowaken in Österreich); in 1974 the Cultural Club of the Czechs and Slovaks (Sdru ení Èechù a Slovákù v Rakousku/Vereinigung der Tschechen und Slowaken in Österreich) was founded, as a forum for emigrants from Czechoslovakia (in 1968 and subsequently). For easily understood reasons there was little collaboration between the two sides prior to 1989. It was not until the beginning of the 1990s that this relationship was stabilised.
With the separation of Czechoslovakia into two independent states in 1993 the nationalist element disassociated from the Czechoslovak association and founded their respective associations, the Slovak Cultural Alliance of Austria (Rakúsko-slovenský kultúrny spolok/Österreichisch-slowaksicher Kulturverein, Zeitschrift Poh¾ady/Ansichten).
The rights of the Czechs of Vienna are established in the so-called 'Law of Ethnic Groups' of 1976 which also applies to other groups. In the Treaty of 1955, the Czechs (and the Hungarians) were not mentioned (see on that subject the reports on the Croats of Burgenland and the Slovenes of Carinthia). During the inter-war period bilateral relations between Austria and Czechoslovakia, especially by reference to education, was established through the Brunner Treaty of 1920 based upon the Treaty of St. Germain (in the 1867 constitution Czechs was not recognised as an autochthonous language, and there was no official recognition of minority Czech schooling under the Hapsburg monarchy.) Until the Second World War the Viennese authorities (in particular the educational administration) used all sorts of manoeuvres to hinder all attempts, not only to put in place a system of Czech education, but also all cultural action. In the course of the last decades the Viennese authorities and the Czech minorities have collaborated for the benefit of both parties, particularly in the field of education.
In 1872 the Czechs of Vienna founded the Komensky scholarly Association whose mandate was to assure the financing of a private Czech education system. Today it has a kindergarten (about 40 children), a primary school (50 pupils) and a bilingual secondary school (60 pupils). Between the two World Wars there were also 'Czech classes' in the public schools. The funds are very limited because the Czechs of Vienna have to rent their schools from the City which owns them. The students are linguistically very heterogeneous consisting of the children of the Czechs of Vienna, the children of immigrants from Czechoslovakia and also some who are not of the Czech race (Germanophones, Greeks and others). The languages of instruction are Czech and German (see on that subject the video: Komensky-Schule, 1997). The standards of the school are very high. The teachers responsible for providing Czech classes must posses a teaching diploma and must posses an excellent command of German. During their time in Austria the teachers develop a degree of functional bilingualism that is necessary of bilingual teaching. The German courses are offered in teams (that is with the collaboration of a German language colleague). The Slovak children receive their teaching in Czech and German, but can equally use Slovak, and there is the possibility of following a Slovak course.
At the University of Vienna, it is possible to obtain a diploma of studies or a teaching certificate (for the higher level schools) in Slav or Bohemian studies. In total, about 110 students are enrolled in the different combinations of Bohemian studies (where about 35 follow the teaching certificate stream) and about 10 candidates of the teaching certificate completed their studies in the course of the last two academic years. The chances of finding employment is very limited since there are only a few schools (in the north of Austria) where Czech is taught, but one can predict that the entry of the Czech state into the European Union will stimulate the demand for the language and that an increasing number of schools will offer courses in the language. Only a small proportion of students of the Czech language comer from the Czech minority in Vienna (about 20%) but it is increasing. The number of students from the Czech Republic is also increasing.
Czech is taught in the secondary schools, particularly in the north and east of Austria. During 1990-1991 Austrian Radio broadcast a 50 episode language course which was a success, with 1,500 listeners requesting the written version (in comparison with 400 and 500 requests for the materials that pertained to Spanish and Italian.)
The use of Czech is not authorised in the Vienna Tribunal.
The use of Czech is neither expected nor authorised in the different administrative contexts. The official language in the territory where Czech exists is German. Road signs in Czech appear sporadically (particularly where it involves respecting the original Czech names). During the processions of the Viennese Socialists on the First of May one encounters Czech flags carried by members of the Czech minority of Vienna.
The Press A Czech press has existed in Vienna since the time of the First Republic with an average distribution of 25,000 copies. After 1945 only the weekly journals and the monthly periodicals have been published.
The weeklies Vídeòské Svobodné Listy/Wiener Freie Blätter (the Free Pamphlets of Vienna) is edited by the Consultative Committee of Minorities (Mensinová rada/Minderheitenrat) and Krajanské Noviny/Landsmännische Zeitung (the compatriotic Journal) is edited by the Union (Sdru ení/Vereinigung). These two periodicals present the news of the various associations, a calendar of events, commentaries and the news of Czech and Slovak Republics (in the later case in the Slovak language).
The monthlies Klub.Kulturní mìsíèník Èechù a Slovákù/Klub. Kulturelle Monatschrift der Tschechen und Slowaken (Club. The Cultural Monthly of Czechs and Slovaks) edited by the Cultural Club (Kulturní klub); Vìstník/Mitteilungsblatt (Information pamphlet) edited by the Catholics (Katholische Vereinen der Wiener Tschechen). There is also the Ceská & slovenská Víden dnes/Tschechisches und slowakisches Wien heute (The Viennese Czechs and Slovaks today).
The annual report of the Komenský (Jahresbericht/Roèenka) Association reporting the events of the school year should also be mentioned.
Radio and television There is no radio or television service in Czech in Austria. One can nonetheless receive the Czech state radio service but the television service cannot be received by terrestrial transmission (only satellite transmissions are possible). Terrestrial television reception is only available in some parts of Vienna and depends upon special antennae.
The Czech script can be written thanks to the existence of Windows95, Windows NT and MacOS systems. There is also the sporadic use of original programmes in Czech (for example, the text treatment T602) or the Windows exploitation system with a Czech interface.
To a great extent cultural life is sustained by the institutions. One should mention the important traditional Czech choirs of Vienna, the Slav choir (Slovanský spìvácký spolek/Slawischer Gesangsverein) founded in 1862, and Lumír founded in 1865, and the cultural activities organised by the Cultural Club (Kulturní Klub) which invites writers and singers from the Czech Republic, or the theatre productions by groups invited from the Czech Republic (in the theatre of the Komensky school) and finally the 'Brett' theatre created by the Czech emigrants.
The Theatre Association of the patriotic youth (Vlastenecká omladina/Patriotische Jugend) produce two productions annually. Until 1970, the People's Theatre of Vienna (Wiener Volkstheater) offered theatrical matinees on Sundays (see among others Fisher 1997).
The May Association (Máj/Mai) organises Czech cinema on Sundays in the Tabor cinemas. Sokol the sporting Association (founded in the 19th century) which participates with its own Sokol delegation to Prague also organises traditional balls which also attracts non-Czechs.
The Komenský/Ústøední knihovna Komenského central library has 70,000 volumes and constitutes the most important Bohemian collection in Vienna. There are also several other libraries some of which are located in the Museums of the various quarters, others which have closed their doors and which have broken up their collections in order to recycle the paper. The historians of the University of Vienna seek to protect the remaining collections with the help of Czech associations in order to use them for research.
There has never been any Czech publishing venture nor the production of literature in Vienna after 1945. There is on the other hand a bookshop where one can purchase new Czech literature, records and videos.
During the period between the two World Wars the economic life of the Czechs in Vienna was well developed, with the assistance of their own consumer's associations, savings associations etc. Since 1945 there have been no family enterprises where Czech plays any role. With the political changes of 1989 there has been a renewal of economic activities within which the Czech language makes a contribution.
Endogamy plays no role in the urban milieu. Maintaining the language is widespread within the family (as well as in the institutions), whereas contacts with the Czech republic (mainly through kinship links) and the contacts with the new Czech immigrants is very marginal.
Among the Czech families of Vienna, and in particularly in the institutions, one considers that the use of Czech is taken for granted, or that it constitutes a sort of 'patriotic duty'. There is no variation in use by gender.
Only a small number of the Viennese Czechs are linked to religion, in contrast to the Slovak minority (mainly in relation to the Austrian Slovak Cultural Alliance Rakúsko-slovenský kultúrny spolok/Österreichisch-slowakischer Kulturverein), which pertains to Catholicism.
If the Czech language was associated with low status connotations under the Monarchy and during the inter war period, it has receded today, even if the social prestige of Czech does not correspond to that of German.
Transfrontier exchanges in cultural, political and economic contexts are characteristic of the Czech minority since their immigration to Vienna. There are student exchanges regularly organised with the Czech education system (with the participation in vacation camps in Bohemia or in Mahren), the sporting events, and transfrontier meetings organised by the various associations (sporting, theatrical, touristic etc.)
Finally one should mentions that cultural contacts were also maintained in the sixties with the Czech minority of the former Yugoslavia.
The juridical status of the Czech minority is not satisfactory to the extent where a programme promoting Austrian minorities submitted to parliament in 1989 concerning establishing a foundation for the promotion of bilingual kindergartens has not matured. One can also express dissatisfaction concerning the radio and television electronic media.
The situation of the Czech minority can be characterised as tolerably stable. The situation of the Czech school is consolidated and actually reveals a certain dynamic thanks to the support of new immigrants from the Czech Republic.
The organisational structure of the Czechs of Vienna is still orientated towards the 'Czechoslovak' model, that is that the institutions remain open to both Czechs and Slovaks. Nonetheless the minority displays a certain temerity concerning the split with the Slovaks who, after 1993, have regrouped as the Austrian Slovak Cultural Alliance (Österreichisch-slowakischer Kulturverein/Rakúsko-slovenský kultúrny spolok).
The improving economic relations between the Czech Republic and Austria and the relaxation of travel and labour restrictions, led to a notable consolidation of the minority in recent years, a tendency that could be further improved with the entry of the Czech Republic into the European Union.