Czech Social Democrats

The first Czech association in Vienna was founded in 1862, to be followed by other foundations of mainly bourgeois societies, such as the Slovansky beseda, a sociability circle.

On 29 March 1868 the "Czechoslovak Workers' Association" was established. Its first mass meeting took place at the Zobel assembly rooms in the 15th district of Vienna on 16 August of the same year, when 2.000 Czech workers voted on a socio-political resolution. In 1872 the "Komenský School Association" was founded upon the initiative of the Workers' Association. This is still an important establishment for the Czech minority organisation. In 1874/75 there followed the Workers' Education Associations "Tyl" in the Simmering district (Kopalgasse 5) and "Dělnicka jednota" in the Favoriten district. On 28 September 1876 representatives of Czechoslovak workers' organisations from Prague, Brno, Ústí nad Labem and Vienna, at a conference held at the "Cap" inn in Prague, decided upon the formation of a Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party. This scheme was betrayed to the police who arrested the protagonists, and the Czechoslovak Workers' Association in Vienna was dissolved.

In spite of these repressive measures, the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party was founded at the "Ukastanu" inn in Prague-Brevnov on 7 April 1878. The 100th anniversary of this event was celebrated at the Meidling Arbeiterheim (a workers' centre in the 12th district of Vienna), but not in the former CSSR.

In 1881 the party leaders of the Czech Social Democrats moved from Prague to Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire. Many party funcionaries including all members of the executive committee were arrested the same year.

When in 1884 emergency rule was imposed on Vienna and parts of Lower Austria, all Czech associations were dissolved within a few days, with the exception of the Simmering "Tyl" association. The newspaper of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party published in Vienna under the title "Arbeiter-Blätter" was prohibited. It was only after the emergency rule had been eased after 1890 that the rebuilding of political structures could commence.

In 1894 the 4th Congress of the Austrian Social Democrats recognised the  independence of the Czech brother organisation. In 1900 there were as many as 37 Czechoslovak associations in Vienna, and the "Arbeiter-Blätter" became a daily paper. In 1902 the house at Margaretenplatz 7 was purchased and a printing plant established. And after the Czech Workers' Gymnastics Club (DTJ) had been founded in Prague in 1903 similar associations were formed almost in all Vienna districts.

The following years were characterised by fierce conflicts revolving around the indepence of the Czech workers' movement. From 1910 onwards a second Socialist daily was issued in Vienna, the "Arbeiter-Tagblatt", which postulated a uniform Austrian workers' movement. The following year a political organisation with the same objective was founded in Brno. Strife, however, was most acrimonious in Vienna, resulting in acts of violence, the disruption of meetings and mutual denunciations at the police. This conflict ended only with the foundation of the Czechoslovak state in the late autumn of 1918.

On 25 January 1918 a society was established in Vienna under the name "Czech Heart" (Tschechisches Herz, České srdce), which was to relieve above all the distress of Czech children and war widows. In 1922 it acquired a piece of ground in Favoriten on which to build a sports centre, the so-called "Tschechisches Herz-Platz" which became well known in Vienna. The grounds were sold to the Municipality of Vienna only in the 1970s and transformed to today's Horr-Stadion.

After World War I internal strife erupted again concerning the future of the Czechoslosvak Social Democratic movement in Vienna. Still, several Czechoslovak groups in 1919 decided upon a joint candidature at the elections for the constituting national assembly. With a total of 65.132 votes they achieved a mandate which was given to the chief editor of the "Arbeiter-Blätter", František Dvorak. At the diet of Lower Austria the Czechs obtained three seats. at the municipal council eight and at the district representations a total of 41.

The separation from the Party headquarters in Prague was finally accomplished at the Hotel "Post" in March 1921. The new Czechoslovak Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria became an independent Austrian party. At its second Congress in 1923 the Party ran 92 local organisations in Vienna and further 17 in the surroundings, and counted some 15.000 members.

After the liberation the Czechoslovak government launched a massive propaganda campaign - as it had after World War I - to woo the remainder of the Viennese Czechs and Slovaks. In contrast to Vienna, where life was hard due to starvation, destitution and the lack of housing, their former home offered them an existence without privation. More than 20.000 Viennese Czechs answered this call. Only a small group around the Socialist Josef Jirava – who was a member of the Vienna Municipal Council from 1945 to 1959 – fought against this development, remaining committed to the existence of the Czech and Slovak ethnic groups in Vienna.

Conflicts exacerbated when the Communists assumed power in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Propaganda for "coming home" was intensified; at the same time the first fugitives, in turn, left the country for Vienna. In this difficult situation the Czechoslovak Socialist Party of Austria, refounded in 1946, stood the test as strongest advocacy group of the minority.

The Viennese Czechoslovaks also took an active interest in the experiment of a "Socialism with a human face" undertaken during the "Prague Spring" in 1968. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the troops of the Warsaw Pact states many fugitives came to Austria, among them numerous ex-Communist functionaries who now tried to find a foothold in the existing organisation of the Viennese Czechoslovak Socialists or to set up their own organisations. Neither strategy was successful. The Czechoslovak Socialist Party of Austria remained a dominant force of the ethnic group.

In 1972 the Czechoslovak Socialist Party of Austria sold the house at Margaretenplatz, retaining only the historic conference hall. The secretariat was transferred at first to Oswaldgasse 14 in the 12th district; today it is lodged at Ada Christen-Gasse 13/35/6 in Favoriten.

Czech Social Democratic Party of Austria
Tschechische Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs
1100 Vienna, Ada Christen-Gasse 13/35/6
Phone + Fax: 688 73 69

Vienna, 1 May 1952
Photo: Franz Blaha


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