At the time, the Czech Republic was part of the Habsburg Empire. The Emperor Franz Josef was the absolute monarch. Vienna being the main cultural centre, German was the accepted language; indeed Czech culture was suppressed. However, on 20th October 1860 the Emperor issued a decree that absolutism would be abolished; from now on the Czech language and culture should no longer be suppressed.
There was an immediate move to build a new, specifically Czech National Theatre in Prague. When it opened, strangely, given its association with the upsurge in Czech culture, the repertoire of the theatre was entirely German, French and Italian – until 1867. In that year Smetana became the theatre’s principal conductor. He insisted that Slavic composers’ work be strongly represented – so composers such as Glinka, Smetana himself, and later Dvorak and Janacek, became core repertoire of the theatre.