Slavkov (Austerlitz) gears up for re-enactment of Battle of Three Emperors


Friday marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the "Battle of Three Emperors" -- Napoleon's decisive victory over the Austrian and Russian armies on the Moravian plains near the town of Austerliz, or Slavkov as it's known in Czech. In 1805, the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the locals considered themselves on the losing side of the battle.

With the massive re-enactment of the battle (to be held a day later, on Saturday, to guarantee a larger draw) Slavkov is hoping for a reversal of fortune - not to rewrite history, but to capitalise on the Napoleon mystique.

The battle of Austerlitz has been characterised as "Napoleon's Greatest Victory," when 70,000 French put to flight the numerically superior combined Russian and Austrian armies in less than six hours of combat. As such, admits Prof. Petr Horak of Masaryk University, who took in a conference organised this week on the battle, Czechs could be considered the losers.

Photo: CTK
"I think that the poor soldiers on the Austrian side, first of all, regarded themselves as Austrians, quite simply as soldiers of the Emperor. It should be said clearly, Czech nationalist feelings were not so developed at the time. They were therefore 'losers'. But I believe that they found this battle to be a great event in their lives -- if they succeeded in escaping enemy bullets and bayonets.

"But it should be stressed that the Czech Republic as a state did not decide to celebrate this anniversary. The authorities recognised the historical importance of this battle but, aside from some interventions, it is not celebrated at all officially."

Photo: CTK
Whatever the official status, some four thousand military history buffs are now busily putting the finishing touches on their uniforms for the big day - Frenchmen dressed as Russian infantry, Czechs as Austrian artillery gunners, and even an American - mon dieu! - will star in the role of Napoleon himself.

In their arsenal are some one and a half tonnes of gunpowder and two hundred kilos of pyrotechnic explosives. There's enough food, of course, to feed an army: 16,000 portions will be doled out that day, ahead of the show on Saturday for which tens of thousands of paying spectators are expected to attend.

Organisers hope the bicentennial event will help put Slavkov on the tourist map. Its "historical rival" Waterloo - where Napoleon met his greatest defeat -- draws millions of tourists each year; Austerlitz gets only a few hundred thousand.