Czech-Austrian relations from a fresh perspective

Studets of the Komensky Bilingual High School

In a recent edition of Central Europe Today, I looked at the German-speaking minority in the Czech Republic, but today I'm going to be turning things the other way round and travelling to Vienna. In the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Vienna had a huge Czech community, amounting to many tens of thousands and to this day, you don't have to go far to find traces of a long Czech influence, whether it's in the cuisine or in the surnames of the city's inhabitants - Novotnys, Novaks and Prochazkas abound, just as you don't have to go far to find a Schmidt or a Muller in Prague. This year is 130 years since Czech workers in Vienna set up an association to help their children preserve their native tongue. They began to establish schools and by the period between the two World Wars there were at least two Czech schools in each district of Vienna. Under Hitler's racist national policy all were closed, and in the post-war period only one Czech - or rather Czechoslovak - school remained. Today there are officially twenty thousand Czechs in Austria, and the Komensky Bilingual High School on Sebastianplatz in central Vienna is thriving. Last week I travelled to Austria and visited the school. The rest of this programme is devoted to a round table discussion with four of the students about their typically Central European cross-cultural experience, in the shadow of what sometimes seem very tense official Czech-Austrian relations.