A few years ago Bohemia spread across the glossy pages of even more glossy style & fashion magazines; the talk was of “Bohemian” as in Bohemian style, chic, new-age Bohemian or Boho (short and sweet for this same) or maybe rather Bobo (Bohemian Bourgeois).
Surely, the editors did not intend to assert a (fashion)guide to the Czech province, did they? Now, what or where was Bohemia then? In search of a province and a notion.
The Boho of 2004 conveyed with her way of dressing a revived notion of “La Bohéme”. A way of life and movement born in the arty circles of the twenties. Both in the 1920s and in 2004 it was a feeling wholly detached from a real place.
Still in the 20ies the concept was nonetheless somewhat wrongly connected to the province of Bohemia; as a Bohémienne wore long puffy skirts, beaded pearls and had a comparatively non-chalant view on her style which was heavily in contrast with the conservative dressing conventions of the time. “She looks like a gypsy,” an elegant lady would hence – with a dismissive wave of her hand – say about such an eccentric dresser with even more eccentric ideas.
At some point somebody must have floated the idea that all gypsies came from Bohemia and with no further ado the “Bohemian” was born. In fact, many so-called gypsies did come from Central East Europe.
But let’s leave the dusty salons of Paris and finally focus on the real Bohemia. Less confusing Bohemia is called Čechy in Czech and encompasses the western two-thirds of the Czech Republic including the capital Prague. With an area of 52,750 km², 6.25 million of the Czech Republic's 10.3 million inhabitants live in Bohemia. The land lies snug between mountains, including the Bohemian Forest, the Ore Mountains, and the Krkonoše within the Sudeten mountains.
The history of Bohemia starts during Roman times but within the scope of this article we should push the fast forward button and stop at a particularly prosperous time of Bohemia.
In the 14th century Bohemia was under Luxembourgian rule. The reign of Charles IV brought the land to a peak regarding both its areal extension and political influence, finally resulting in the king being elected Holy Roman Emperor. Under Charles’ rule the Bohemian crown had power over such diverse lands as Moravia, Silesia, Upper Lusatia and Lower Lusatia, Brandenburg, an area around Nuremberg called New Bohemia, Luxembourg, and several small towns around Germany. In a word, Bohemia was mighty.
This changed in the 16th century – another huge jump in time – when Bohemia got under Habsburg’s rule. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria became King of Bohemia. Even the first Czech nationalist movement at the end of the 18th century could not do a lot to shake off the Austrian sovereignty.
During the Revolution of 1848, many Czech nationalists again claimed autonomy from Habsburg Austria for Bohemia, but were once again defeated. Although they provoked a sort of romantic nationalism in which the Czech language, suppressed by German, experienced a rebirth.
On to the early 20th century, the First World War had just ended and Bohemia as the largest and most populated land became the core of the newly declared country, Czechoslovakia. Many people of German-origin lived in the so-called Sudentenland, the border territories of Bohemia, and according to the Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany annexed these parts in 1938.
In the years to come, Germany widened its expansion craze which culminated in the Second World War and the expulsion of the remaining German population from Czech soil after the war. Czechoslovakia was re-established.
In 1946, the Communist Party strongly subsidized by the Soviet Union won the elections. Two years afterwards they finally abolished democratic freedoms.
Fast-forwarding the following forty years, the last halt for now will be in 1993 at the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. It was then when the territory of Bohemia became part of the newly formed Czech Republic for good.