Liberal reforms? Modernization? Democratic co-operation between Slavic nations instead of expansionism and war? Resisting Germanization and modern cultural de-Slavicization? Mentioning these terms it probably sounds like something new and trendy to you, at least if you follow daily news. It sounds very ’21st century’-like but in fact it is a movement old over 100 years with birth place in same area as Visegrád group today.
It has developed in a similar turbulent and uncertain times as our times, when Slavs were subdued in a Union, Austro-Hungary, and they started to resist the process of Germanization, economical and political dependence to Vienna. They felt they had no voice in such a union, no power, and no way to go into the future under their own terms.
Today we are in a similar Union, European Union, and many Slavic nations feel threatened in the same way as they once did in Austro-Hungary. They are overshadowed economically, politically and influentially by Germany and France, the Holy Roman Empire of our time, and this has proven that history repeats itself. This power inequality has resulted in the creation of the Visegrád group, a group that would unite the Eastern Members of the union to resist the west power grip inside the Union. Today under the similar circumstances, Slavs and Eastern Europeans might be on a new road to an old destination that hasn’t been reached 100 years ago, the final form of the Neo-Slavist dream.
Creation of the Federation of Slavic Sokols was one of the first step in working towards such idea.
The movement originated among the Slavs of Austria-Hungary who wished to achieve equal status in that state with the Austrians and Hungarians. It was particularly popular with the Young Czech Party in Austria-Hungary and has been described as “essentially a Czech creation”. The Neo-Slav movement held two congresses. The founding congress took place in Prague in July 1908, the second was held in Sofia in July 1910.
The first movement development has been shut down with the start of the Balkan wars and First World War. Result of such extreme war times has driven Slavic nations into other political extremes and laying stepping stones for Communism and Nationalism/Fascism to develop among Slavic nations, while the rational idea of liberal and democratic neo-Slavism has fallen in the shadows.
Despite this activity, the movement made little progress before dissipating in the wake of the Bosnian crisis and subsequent Balkan Wars and the First World War. It also suffered from the differences between various Slavic groups, with antagonism between Poles and Ukrainians, between different Balkans nations, and lack of support from those nations for either Austria-Hungary and Russia. The movement declared itself apolitical, but it was nonetheless viewed with suspicion by Austro-Hungarian officials.
Today unlike 100 years ago, the way to achieve neo-Slavism is in a better starting point than ever before, thanks to the creation of the Visegrád group which was created on the foundations of democracy, free-trade, liberalism but also focus on the interests of Eastern side of the Union as opposed to the western German and French interests (Holy Roman Empire).
Neo-Slavism aimed to build a barrier against German expansion, reliant on Russia. Germany was seen as a threat due to its Germanization policies, and slow but steady expansion of influence over the Slavic lands. Compared to Pan-Slavism, seen as subservient to the Russian interests, instead of a Russian dominance over all the Slavs advocated by Pan-Slavism it aimed at a more balanced federation of Slavic states, which was hoped to emerge from a reformed Austria-Hungary.
When you would actually read about neo-Slavism you would see that thinkers of the movement such as Czech Karel Kramář had similar views onto European problems as many in the V4 group do today.
Russian Neoslavs were interested, among others, in fostering equal relations between the nations of the Russian Empire, creating a constitutional-liberal system, and by doing so modernizing Russia; their overall views were non-expansionistic, and pursued a balance of power in Europe against increasing German power.
Outside of Austro-Hungary the movement aimed at reconciliation between Poles and Russians, with Russian neo-Slavists declaring their support to recreation of independent Poland, while Polish neo-Slavists accepted that reconciliation was needed to counter the German threat. These plans haven’t lived long enough unfortunately the wars and crises that emerged across Europe led us to many other wounds that created an even bigger division among Slavic nations.
Will Visegrád group today be able to withstand the burdens of our modern times and be strong enough to lay the new foundations to a neo-Slavist idea of creating a liberal, modern, democratic and strong Central/Eastern Europe that would finally have a voice of its own or will we again dwell into new divisions, wars and radical ideologies is left to see.