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Congress of the Slavs in Prague (1848)

Congress of the Slavs in Prague (1848), organized June 2-12, meant as a manifestation of power, unity and vigilance of the Slavs, endangered in their existence by the plans of unification of Germany and nationalistic policy of the Hungarians. The idea of the Congress was put forward on April 20, 1848 by a Croat Ivan Kukuljevic Sakginski and a Slovak L'udovít Stúr; soon afterwards, a similar project was proposed by Jedrzej Moraczewski from the G reat Duchy of Poznan, alarmed by a startling development of German nationalism; for the same reasons the project was supported by the Czech politicians. On May 1 the preparatory committee of the congress issued an address inviting delegates; formally only representatives of the Slavs from the Habsburg monarchy were called, but other Slavs were welcomed too; altogether 340 delegates arrived representing Croats, Czechs, Dalmatians, Moravians, Poles, Ruthenians, Serbs, Silesians, Slovaks and Slovenes, a s well as 500 official guests.

The congress debated in three sections: Czechs and Slovaks, Poles and Ruthenians (joined also by some Silesians and by Russian revolutionary, Mikhail Bakunin), and South Slavs; each section elected its own officers (chairman, deputy chairman and secretaries) and designated sixteeen representatives who would join the plenary committee. The section of Czechs and Slovaks was headed by Pavel Safarík, the Poles and Ruthenians by Karol Libelt, and the South S lavs by Pavao Stamatovic. The congress was presided over by the Czech liberal, Frantisek Palacky, the moving force behind the congress; his deputies were: Jerzy Lubomirski from Galicia and Stanko Vraz from Slovenia. Vagueness of the agenda worked out by the preparatory committee was a major source of discontentment with the program in the early sessions; inaddition to that, national divisions revealed themselves from the beginning of the congress' deliberations. For the South Slavs, the danger of magy arization was the main concern and this led to an inevitable conflict with the Poles. The main purpose of Polish politicians during the Spring of the Peoples, despite political differences among them, was the regeneration of the independent Polish state within the boundaries of 1772; they wanted the congress to be a representation of Slavdom, which would approve the right of the Poles to a sovereign country. Polish aspirations were popular among the younger Czech democrats, but were in conflict with the political interests of most of the Czech politicians, alarmed by a vision of a united Germany in the boundaries including the Czech lands. In 1848-49 Palacky was the main advocate of an idea of Austroslavism, i.e. a transformation of the Habsburg monarchy into a federal state, in which Slav nations would give up the idea of full political independence in favor of cultural freedom within Austria; this idea also suited the Serbs and Croats, who were under Habsburg domination, and more and more enda ngered by Hungarian nationalism; it, however, clashed with the national aspirations of the Poles. Some Czech politicians (Václav Hanka) saw the best future for the Slav people in their gathering around Russia; such ideas found a certain approval among the southern Slavs, as well as among Ruthenians in Galicia, especially during weaker moments of the Viennese government; they were, however, stringly opposed by the Poles. The danger of the expansion and reinforcement of the tsarist Russia made P oles undertake attempts at mediation between the Slavs and the Hungarians. On the other hand, the Ruthenian delegates representing the Supreme Ruthenian Council [Holovna Rus'ka Rada] in Lvov viewed the congress as an opportunity to state their grievances against the Poles and came up with a demand to divide Galicia into eastern (Ruthenian) and western (Polish) parts; Polish delegates opposed this plan; the Czech delegates also warned against the division, as well as did Mikhail Bakunin who emph asized that either St.Petersburg or the reactionary Austrian bureaucracy would take advantage of it. Finally, thanks to the efforts of Leon Sapieha, who represented the Ruthenian Assembly [Rus'kyy Sobor], gathering Poles of Ruthenian origin, a Polish-Ruthenian compromise was signed on June 7, 1848: Galicia was to remain undivided, at least until appropriate decisions were taken by the local Diet; both nations were to have equal rights (this referred mainly to language matters); in regional off ices and schools an obligatory language was to be the one spoken by the majority of inhabitants of that region; and the Uniate clergy was to be given equal right with the Roman-Catholic (this, however, was approved neither by the Ruthenian Supreme Council, nor by the Polish National Council in Lvov). On the plenary committee meeting on June 5, Karol Libelt proposed to adopt a new agenda that would focus on three objectives: to issue a manifesto to all European nations stating the political orientatio n of the congress; to send a petition to the emperor including the demands of the Slavs; and to develop plans to promote cooperation and unity among the Slavs.

The "Manifesto to the European peoples" was an accomplishment of Polish democratic politicians: at the news of preparing an adulatory address to the Austrian emperor by the Czechs, a group of Polish delegates under the leadership of Karol Libelt and Jedrzej Moraczewski prepared a politically and socially radical counter-proposa l, which became the basis of the final version of the "Manifest," worked out by Libelt and Palacky, with the cooperation of Jedrzej Moraczewski, Lucjan Siemienski, Mikhail Bakunin and Frantisek Zach. Although under the pressure of moderate Czech delegates many radical fragments were removed, the "Manifesto" was an important document; it emphasized the superiority of national rights over international treaties; the delegates to the congress declared their readiness to acknowledge a nd support equal rights of all nations, regardless of their political power"; appealed to all Slavonic nations to call a general congress of European peoples so that they could "regulate their international relationships on a one-to-one equal basis... before the reactionary politics of some cabinets succeeded in stirring again hate and jealousy of one nation against the other."The Manifesto appealed to the Austrian emperor to transform the monarchy into a federation of equal nations; u nder Polish influence, initially strong anti-German tendencies were accommodated, and the German-speaking population living outside Germany, was acknowledged the right to cooperate with the inhabitants of Germany. From July 1848 political events were increasingly unfavorable to the liberation aspirations of suppressed nations, and the "Manifesto" did not affect the course of political events; however, it remained a document of a new concept of regulating international relations in Europe, de riving from the great tradition of the French Revolution.

The last meeting of the plenary committee on June 12 formally approved a draft of the manifesto and scheduled a final session on June 14. Street fighting that broke out shortly after noon and the week of fighting that followed interrupted the congress; most of its delegates left Prague; some were arrested and expelled. The congress clearly revealed political divisions among the Slavs and brought many disapointments to its participant s; it was the first attempt to negotiate the future relations among neighboring Slav nations of the Habsburg monarchy; and to regulate international, rather than interstate relationships.

Jolanta Pekacz


Lawrence D. Orton, The Prague Slav Congress of 1848. New York, 1978.

Historia dyplomacji polskiej, Wroclaw, 1980, III.

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© 1997 James Chastain.