Vsetín (Czech pronunciation: [ˈfsɛciːn]) is a town in the Zlín Region of the Czech Republic. It has around 26,000 inhabitants and lies on the Vsetínská Bečva river.
The area around Vsetín, called Vsetínsko, is spread out on the foothills of the Vsetín, Hostýn and Vizovice Highlands around the Bečva River. This area features the remains of log houses and cultural monuments of significant importance mainly in Vsetín itself.
The folk culture has been kept alive by Wallachian song and dance groups for many decades. Originally a small town, Vsetín has become an important centre of industrial, economic, cultural and sports life during the last century.
Prehistory and beginning settlement
The valleys surrounding the Bečva River in the Moravian-Slovak borderland were uninhabited until the Middle Ages. Man was discouraged from establishing permanent farm settlements in this region by its hilly landscape, deep forest valleys and forceful streams. Traces of settlement from primeval times in Vsetín and the surrounding area are therefore almost negligible.
The first historical records mentioning Vsetín originated in documents dated 1297–1308 and relate to the very beginning of settlement in this area. While records from 1297 mention the Vsetín region only as an area by the Bečva river, the document dated 1308 clearly describes it. In the aforesaid document a little town named Setteinz is mentioned with a church, a mill and the Freudsberg Castle and further colonization in the valley around Rokytnice is described. The Templar Knights owned Vsetín (Setteinz) at that time and rented it to Vok of Kravaře in 1308. The name of Wssetin appeared in documents from 1396 while the first entry of Vsetín Dominion in the provincial registry was implemented as late as 1505. Vsetín was successively held by other noble families, mainly of Cimburk (see the coat-of-arms in the picture), Saint Jura and Pezinek, Kunštát, Šelmberk, followed by nobility of Pernštejn, and others.
The process of colonization in the 13th and 14th centuries created the structure of the settlement in the area, followed by the "clearing" colonization from 16th century which led to the expansion of farm land at the expense of forests. During the same period, goat dairy-farming spread out from the south, along the Carpathian mountains, as the Vlach (Romanian) migration reached its peak. Though the Vlachs eventually lost their language, being linguistically assimilated, this migration contributed to the specific traditional culture and the establishment of the historic name of the region, "Wallachia" – see Moravian Wallachia.
Thirty Years' War
During the first half of the 15th century, a fortified settlement was built in the centre of today's Upper Town which was re-built into a castle at the beginning of the 17th century. Its high tower still dominates the town today. In 1609 Albrecht von Wallenstein (Valdštejn), a well-known Emperor's commander married a rich widow Lukrecia Nekšová of Landek and became the owner of Vsetín. He brought Jesuits to Vsetín dominion and initiated a strict re-Catholicisation among serfs. Religious suppression was linked with economic suppression, as well. The resistance of the serfs led Valdštejn to make concessions, among others was the issuing of the privilege from 1612 which changed the duty of statutory labour of the Vsetín serfs into permanent wages.
The dissatisfaction of Wallachs, but also the betrayal Valdštejn experienced at the anti-Habsburg rebellion of the Moravian nobility, was the key reason for long-term Wallachian rebellions during the Thirty Years' War (see Moravian Wallachia#History). Vsetín became their centre. Rebels continually resisted despite Vsetín being burned and many people executed in 1627. By 1642 rebels were fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Swedish army, but at the end they were defeated on January 26, 1644 by the Emperor's army. Some 200 participants of the rebellion were executed in Vsetín and it remains one of the most dreadful in the nation's history. Vsetín and villages in a wide surrounding area were burned. Non-Catholic religion was a unifying element of the rebels and the importance of the rebellion, aimed at the noble objective of freedom of religious conscience was highly appreciated by John Amos Comenius, the Bishop of Unitas Fratrum and the key personality of post-Bílá Hora emigration.
In 1653 Vsetín became the property of well-known Hungarian noble family, the Earls of Illésházy, who owned it for almost 180 years and had the most profound impact on its development. During the era of Jan of Illésházy, the orthodox Catholic, Protestants repeatedly rebelled. The situation resulted in bloody rebellions and submission of petitions, even at the Emperor's Court, the last time in 1780 when the emperor, Josef II, visited Vsetín. It was not until the Tolerance Patent issued in 1781 when this atmosphere cooled down. Today, baroque statues and crosses in the town and surrounding area are reminders of Earl Jan of Illésházy's time.
Expansion and growth
As early as the Thirty Years' War, Vsetín extended from the original so-called Upper Town to the pastures spread out on the left bank of the Bečva river. In the 15th century a manor mill was founded here with a mill-race equipped with the "lapač" (a trap) for fishing. Today, a winter stadium called "Na Lapači" is situated here. Additionally, certain families of refugees from surrounding towns, mainly from Valašské Meziříčí, dramatically affected by war, settled in this location. This newly established settlement, called Lower Town, was granted a status of autonomous municipality, having the municipality magistrate as the only commonality with the existing Vsetín of that time. The Upper and Lower Towns often argued regarding such things as taxes, land and markets. One of the disputed pieces of land in the centre of the town is still called the "Svárov" (Place of Dispute). It was not until 1849 that the Upper and Lower Towns merged. In the meantime the town was devastated by the Turks and Tartars between 1663–1683, followed by Hungarian rebels. The year 1708 was the most dramatic moment as Hungarian rebels called Kuruci attacked the town and burned it almost to the ground. There were only burnt walls remaining of the original Castle. It took decades for Vsetín to recover from that damage.
It was before the first half of 19th century when Vsetín and the surrounding area were influenced by the Industrial Revolution, bringing into use the vast stock of wood in the surrounding beech and fir forests. A sugar factory, a steam saw mill, a factory producing matches and a glass works were founded in 1868 and were the first factories in Vsetin. In the late 19th century, Vsetín became an important centre of industrial production of bent-wood furniture in the factories of Jacub and Josef Kohn and the Thonet Brothers, which belonged to the top companies of the world for this kind of furniture.
In 1909, Vsetín became a district town and its importance grew in parallel with its economic boom. In 1885 the town was linked to an inland railway system, followed by the construction of schools, a hospital, a town power plant, water mains and other public facilities. Much of this was due to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who was a representative of East Moravian towns in the Imperial Council at that time. It was Josef Černocký, the long-term Mayor of the Town and Michal Urbánek, the well-known architect, who developed the biggest construction effort during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.
World War II
The furniture industry declined during the world economic crisis in the 1930s, followed by the limitation of production in other industrial companies. That situation resulted in a high level of unemployment in the area. This changed in 1937 with the construction of a new factory called Zbrojovka. However, at that time Vsetín was known for its production of electric engines in the Josef Sousedík factory. During World War II, mainly due to military production, the number of inhabitants doubled, reaching 14,000. New inhabitants were mainly represented by a group of employees from Zbrojovka who came from Brno. During the war, several resistance groups were successively established, out of which J.Sousedík was one of the most significant. Its members initiated collaboration with the Clay group connected with the exiled government in London and later with the 1st Czechoslovak Partisan Brigade of Jan Žižka which crossed the Moravian border at times of the Slovakian National Uprising. Vsetín was liberated on May 4, 1945 by forces of the 1st Czechoslovak Army led by General Karel Klapálek.
Post-war development of the town was influenced for many years by its fast growth during the war. The town experienced a considerable shortage of flats, shops, school premises and medical centres. Its orientation on the development of heavy industry and military production resulted in the closing down of a series of smaller industrial companies, mainly a knife-making plant and a plant producing glass beads used for the manufacture of electric cables. In connection with communist political development after February 1948, private trade successively declined. In the summer of 1949 Wallachian towns and municipalities organized an important local exhibition called Wallachia at Work. It took exactly 50 years to commemorate that exhibition by organizing a week-long event called Valašské záření (Wallachian Shining).
The problems connected with the growth of the town are reflected mainly in the area of the construction of housing estates and the school system. The 1960 initiation of massive construction of panel housing estates in the outlying parts of the town only represented a partial solution to the problem. Between 1960 and 1990 the number of inhabitants in the town almost doubled. The peak was reached in 1991, when Vsetín had 29,661 inhabitants.After the fall of communism, many of the large previously state-owned factories in Vsetín ran into difficulties as they struggled to compete as part of the wider European economy. These outdated industries were largely split up to form smaller, more efficient, new private companies, or were bought by foreign investors who were able to provide the capital necessary to modernise production. Although this resulted in high levels of unemployment never seen under communism, a gradual recovery took place during the 1990s and up until 2007, where ordinary workers saw their level of income rise steadily as the economy expanded. Foreign investment in the automotive industry in particular boosted employment greatly in Vsetín during this time but with the global recession of 2008–09, once again the problem of high unemployment is threatening the well-being of the town.
Since 1989 the appearance of Vsetín has evolved rapidly. Run-down buildings in the town centre were cleared to make way for the new House of Culture and the many grey 'Panelak' blocks of flats have been insulated and painted in a variety of pastel colours. In the villages around the town, modern family houses are beginning to appear, reflecting the growth of the middle class.
The town is home to VHK Vsetín, throughout the 1990s the most successful ice hockey team in the country, winning the National League six times. However, as of 2020, the VHK Vsetín plays in the second tier of Czech ice hockey competition.
Jacob & Josef Kohn, furniture makers and interior designers
Jarmila Šuláková (1929–2017), folk singer
Eliška Balzerová (born 1949), actress
Mirek Topolánek (born 1956), former Prime Minister and President of the European Council
Roman Vojtek (born 1972), actor
Václav Varaďa (born 1976), ice hockey player
Roman Hubník (born 1984), footballer