After Slavs established themselves in Bohemia and Moravia, they prospered. Eventually their rulers became Dukes, Kings and some later on even Roman emperors. Czechs were important players on the European political landscape of that time, having significant military power and strategic position at the center of the continent, where they could trade with many neighbours with ease whilst also being shielded from attacks by mountains, especially in the west.
I have already mentioned those mountains in comments before. Their history is fascinating and it is an example of how far-reaching and unpredictable the outcome of a reasonable political decision with initially good results can be.
Czechs have primarily settled along riverbeds and in lowlands, they did not feel at all comfortable settling in forests and mountains. This was a serious drawback to ambitious rulers of Přemyslid dynasty, who recognized the importance of settling in said mountains and get their natural resources – the wood on the surface and metal ores underneath – to use. They wanted to expand their influence, and for that they needed money – but for whatever reasons, Czechs were either unwilling or unable or both to oblige and get to work felling trees and mine ores on big scale. Or maybe there was not enough of them to do that.
Thus Přemysl II. Otakar and his successor Václav II. have invited German settlers to help (do not ask me about the details and legalities, I do not know them). And the plan succeeded – German settlers have successfully managed to settle on the unoccupied land. They subdued the inhospitable mountains and tapped into the riches underneath them. The economy thrived for the centuries to follow and one of the reminders of this success is the word “dollar” which is derived from the name of silver coinage mined in Jáchymov in 1520 by these German settlers in Bohemia.
Initially there was relatively little friction between the Germans and Czechs under the rule of Czech kings. The Germans and Czechs had no real conflicts of interests and both nationalities happily intermingled at the borders. But this has begun to change at the time of Hussite Revolution. Whilst Czechs got overwhelmingly critical of Catholic church, Germans remained overwhelmingly loyal. This has increased the friction and it never got better after that – if anything, the Thirty Years War has made matters worse. Forced catolicisation and germanization have followed and it is probably in these times when the sentiment of Germans being Czech’s sworn enemies has started.
It is no wonder that when Czechs got the upper hand after WWI, after several hundreds of years of being persecuted by Germans, they responded by cutting down some of the privileges the Germans used to have. To which the Germans did not respond kindly, because like in all privileged classes every individual thinks that they themselves are not privileged, they deserve it all. So of course this has bred even more resentment and when you throw Great Depression into the mix, which has indeed hit ethnic Germans harder than Czechs, you get Nazis. Hitler has played heavily the “Germans are persecuted in Czechoslovakia” card in order to gain access to Czech factories to make weapons and to use Czechs as cheap slave labor – and eventually he succeeded. His main lackey in achieving this goal was Konrád Henlein, who despite being of mixed ancestry himself has become as rabid Nazi supremacist as they go.
WWII sealed the hate between Czechs and Germans for good. Ethnic Germans in Bohemia overwhelmingly embraced Nazism and as a result, after the WWII they were expelled from the land. An argument can be made – and is being made – that this was unjust, but whilst the expulsion has led to many personal injustices and very nasty results and atrocities, in some cases even mass murders, I fear that without the expulsion there would be even more atrocities – mass murders and pogroms – because right after the war the resentment was too deep and the memory of Nazi atrocities too fresh. To illustrate the sentiment at the time, I want to relate this story from another person with mixed ancestry like me, whose German grandfather allegedly commented after the war: “Czechs are behaving like beasts!” to which his Czech wife allegedly responded “And? They learned that from you!”.
As a result, today Germans are again just a tiny minority in Bohemia. And Czechs still largely dislike and distrust Germans.
To me this long chain of events shows how a decision in 13 century has shaped politics in 20. century. Would Přemysl II. Otakar invite the Germans had he known what will come of it? Hard to say. But it makes me wonder what the repercussions of today’s political games will be a few hundred years from now.