Regina Wonisch: Zur Geschichte der Wiener Tschechen
About the History of the Czech Minority in Vienna
Dokumentation 1-2/2012, Verein für Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung
(Documentation 1-2/2012 of VGA, Labour History Society)

From the middle of the 19th century onwards, workers from the agricultural regions of Southern Bohemia and Moravia migrated to the rapidly expanding and economically booming capital of the Habsburg Monarchy. The first to arrive were seasonal workers, with few qualifications, nicknamed »Böhmische Schwalben« (Bohemian swallows) who returned to their homes during the winter months. ...

»... everything began with the associations«

It was the cultural elite who founded the first Czech associations in Vienna during the 1860s. The Slovanská Beseda (»Slavic debate«), established in 1865, was successful in creating an apolitical centre welcomed by the Slav society as a whole. It became a meeting point for representatives of the Bohemian nobility, members of the Reichsrat (Imperial Assembly), of the Bohemian Academy of Sciences as well as of the clergy. 

Another early foundation was that of the Českoslovanský dělnický spolek (Czechoslovak Workers Association), set up in 1868. In 1872, it initiated the Vienna Školní spolek Komenský (Comenius School Association). The name refers to the Bohemian bishop Johann Amos Comenius (1592-1670), who on account of his modern didactic approach figures as a pioneer in setting modern standards of education in Bohemia. The main reason for the establishment of the School Association was not to preserve the Czech cultural identity but to help children of Czech immigrants get started in school and later on in their professional life.

»The German language is the generally accepted one ...«

According to the constitutional law passed on 21 December 1867 all nations (»Volksstämme«) united in the Habsburg Monarchy enjoyed formal equality, thus having the right to retain and cultivate their national traditions and languages.
On 19 October 1904, however, a verdict of the Court of the Empire ruled that Czech immigrants were not considered residents of Lower Austria. Thus the Municipality of Vienna was not bound to establish state schools with Czech as language of instruction.
In this way the Czech immigrants found themselves in a paradox legal position. The prerequisite to be recognised as a »Volksstamm«, one of the nations of the multinational Habsburg Monarchy, was residency. After ten years of residency in Vienna, Czechs were entitled to claim citizenship, but - according to the municipal bylaw of 24 March 1900 - they had to take an oath to maintain the "German-speaking character" of the city. This would exclude not only the foundation of Czech associations, but also membership in one of them.

The social democratic theoretician Otto Bauer found emphatic words to describe the situation:

»As long as the masses of the immigrant workers remained undemanding, not raising their voice to express their needs, leading a life of misery that knew no diversion but heavy work and sleeping in the wretched lodgings at the periphery of the the city [...] as long as the Czech workman, always humble and submissive, did not get in the way of the city bougeois [...] the local authorities were well content with Czech immigration. But now the masses at large [...] have woken up to a new self-assurance unheard of  [...]. They demand the satisfaction of their cultural needs, they demand above all schools for their children.« (0tto Bauer, Die Nationalitätenfrage, 1924)