Economic Change and the National Question in Twentieth-Century Europe

By Alice Teichova; Herbert Matis et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Lusatian Sorbs in Germany before the Second World
War: the influence of the economy on the national question
Eduard Kubů

Geographical position, climatic conditions and natural wealth, together with the economic and social development closely related to these factors, have always played a fundamental role in the life of states, peoples or sub-communities. These factors were of particular importance in the case of the smallest distinct Slavonic ethnic group still in existence — the Lusatian Sorbs. In the medieval and early-modern periods the geographic—economic factor tended to promote the survival of the Sorbs' language and specific social characteristics, hemmed in on all sides by Germans. The Slav areas of Lusatia were mainly poor and sparsely settled and had an incomparably smaller share of towns and town populations than the German-speaking areas that surrounded them. For this reason the Sorbs could live in a degree of isolation from the German environment and were able to develop in their own way, with a significant degree of autonomy. Hartmut Zwahr even goes so far as to speak of the Sorbs' insular existence, citing Jakub Lorenc-Zalěsky's characterisation of the group as 'an island of the forgotten'. 1

This situation may be convincingly demonstrated using the example of the later Saxon Lusatia as described by Karlheinz Blaschke. 2 In 1835, for instance, in the Saxon territory populated by Sorbs, there was only one town with more than 10,000 inhabitants (Budyšin (German: Bautzen)), and two towns with a population of between 1,000 and 5,000 (Lubij (German: Löbau) and Mužakow (German: Muskau)). Population density essentially varied between three categories — up to 50 inhabitants per km2, up to 100 per km2 and, in a smaller area, up to only 20 per km2. In central Lusatia quite large areas of territory were not settled at all. In contrast, in the southern part of Lusatia, rapidly industrialising and inhabited by a German population spreading out along the Czech border, population density was in most areas up to 200 or up to 500 per km2, and where less then at least up to 100 per km2. These significantly smaller territories could also boast a larger number of urban areas and, in the same ratio, a larger number of more affluent inhabitants.

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