Are Austria and Hungary enemies

The way to the First World WarAustria-Hungary: an empire united in hatred

In 1897 the most famous American writer came to Vienna, where he stayed for more than a year and became a darling of good society. Mark Twain filled the halls with his readings and lectures, allowed himself to be passed from one reception to the next and once also to be shown to the Reichsrat. He recorded this experience in a large report with which he wanted to inform his American audience about the turmoil on the old continent and which was recently translated into German under the title “Turbulent Days in Austria”.

At what happened in the session from October 28th to 30th, 1897 in the Austrian parliament, Mark Twain, which the young Karl Kraus contemptuously dubbed a “humorous rice”, lost his famous smile, and what he wrote was less amused than shocked was the report from a madhouse.

Unresolved question of nationality

In retrospect, the session, legendary not only because of its length, had enormous historical significance, as the Habsburg state entered its phase of agony with it. The debate was actually about the financial equalization between Hungary and Austria, that is, the question of how much the Kingdom of Hungary should share in the joint state expenditure of the Empire. The meeting turned out to be a beacon, however, because German national politicians of various stripes did not want to accept a law of a completely different kind, namely the language ordinance of Prime Minister Kasimir Badeni, which provided Czech as the official language for Bohemia and Moravia in addition to German. So that the ordinance, which was historically belated anyway, would not come into effect in the future either, numerous MPs tried to merge the financial question of Hungary with the new regulation of the official languages ​​in Bohemia and Moravia. This political obstruction, including things that had nothing to do with it, always ominously connected with the unresolved question of nationality, prevented the public affairs of the monarchy from being meaningfully negotiated, regulated or even changed in the end.

The parliamentary session ended in an hour-long battle in the hall, in which the president, David Ritter von Abramowicz, was insulted as a "Polish skull"; his calls to order went unheard because nationally excited members of parliament, as soon as he spoke, loudly slammed the lids of their desks on them. The tumult shows drastically that at that time it was only everyone's hatred of everyone that still held parliament and state together. In any other country, Twain suspected, after a three-day excess like this, revolution would have broken out. It did not break out in Austria because the many nationalities faced each other in countless parties and factions, none of which were willing to enter into an alliance with others.

School of hatred

The hatred linked and separated even the various German national and Greater German groups, whose propagandists used to abuse one another as "Jewish servants".

Who were the Austrian people's representatives at that time? All aristocrats, pastors, merchants, shopkeepers, doctors - completely divided, but united in the hatred they felt for the Jews - and of which they held each other against being themselves.

Ten years after the American author, a young unemployed person from Braunau will be sitting in the visitors' gallery of the Austrian Imperial Council. And watch with fascination how the representatives of the people, of the peoples, fall on each other drooling and willfully override any civilized agreement. He went to the Austrian Parliament like a school of hatred and also learned his own lessons from this school, with which he would lay Europe in ruins.

If Austria didn't exist, it would have to be invented.

-František Palacký, Czech historian and politician.

There is hardly a country in Austria that is inhabited by one nation alone; It is therefore necessary that a stronger person step in to protect the weak: the state.

-Eduard Herbst, member of the German Liberals in the Austrian Reichsrat.

No idyll of equal nationalities

In 1906, eight years after Mark Twain returned to the United States of America from Vienna with a shudder, eight years before the aged Emperor Franz Joseph addressed his people in a manifesto to lead them to war, a young Romanian published it an interesting memorandum. Aurel Popovici was living in Graz as a student at the time and had entered the circle around the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand. The writing with which he wanted to end the notorious state crisis was entitled “The United States of Austria” and presented a detailed program of how the state structure of the empire could be rebuilt in a beneficial way.

Over the centuries the Habsburg monarchy had become an empire of many nations, nationalities, and splinters of nationalities, and every war won had added new ones to the number of its linguistic, ethnic, religious groups. The Danube Monarchy was not an idyll of equal nationalities, a colorful family of peoples, amicably gathered around the ruling house. But it was also not that “people's dungeon” as which it was condemned by its enemies at its end. In fact, it was the small and very small peoples who valued this state because it alone guaranteed them survival in the midst of larger, more powerful nations, with often astonishing rights granted to the “minorities”, which were not yet so-called at the time.

The national intoxication

When nations all over Europe awoke and emancipated themselves into forces with a powerful history, this national diversity of the monarchy became a problem of which the vast majority of its statesmen knew that it would become more and more acute in the course of time, and yet in a fundamental way even could not be solved. While in the west, for example in France, a large French nation was formed, which incorporated the Bretons, Provençals or Occitans into the common state and pushed their languages ​​and regional cultures back from the public space into the villages, houses and families, so to speak. such a solution was completely unthinkable in the Habsburg state. All over the empire, the nations and linguistic communities lived together so mixed that nationally purified regions could only have been achieved through ethnic cleansing or en masse forced assimilation. Especially since the so-called Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, with which the Kingdom of Hungary became the ruling power of one part of the empire, it has practiced a rough Magyarization of the Slovak, Romanian or Croatian subjects in the lands that fell to it; But as relentless as the Hungarian magnates were, it did not lead to the desired result, but aroused a nationalism of the oppressed, disadvantaged and insulted everywhere, who for their part now demanded those rights that were previously reserved for the German-Austrians and the Hungarians alone had been.

Vienna - the birthplace of many nations

There have been countless attempts to conceive a supposedly sensible, supposedly fair reorganization of the Danube Monarchy based on the nationality principle. Even the formative ideologues of the young nations continued to rely on a reform of the Habsburg state structure for a long time, on a future within the monarchy.

It should not be forgotten that almost all Slavic nations were born in Vienna, when scholars loyal to the emperor set about turning regional dialects into binding written languages ​​and writing dictionaries like grammars.

The monarchy fell apart because the nations, first and foremost the Serbs and following them one after the other, wanted to live in their own nation-states instead of in a supranational empire; Paradoxically, however, when they finally had them, they all found themselves in mixed national states, in which the old conflicts melted away and led to the next catastrophe.

If we stand against Serbia, Russia will be behind him and we will be at war with Russia. Do the Emperor of Austria and the Tsar want to push each other off the throne and give way to the revolution?

- Heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand (1913)

Franz Joseph did us infinite harm in two ways, once through his youth and the second time through his old age.

-Ernest von Körber, Austrian Prime Minister

Escape to war

Austria-Hungary started the war with the ultimatum and the subsequent declaration of war on Serbia and had the express backing of the German Empire. The Danube Monarchy is to blame for the millions of deaths it claimed, but also for its own downfall, which to prevent or at least postpone was one of the main reasons for even starting it. How Austria got involved in this war, slipped into it, that is a case of political defeatism, it was, as an aperçu says, a “suicide out of fear of life”. Those responsible, especially the aged emperor, whose role, transfigured soon after the fall of the Danube Monarchy, could hardly have been worse, vied to convince the world and themselves that the war had inevitably been imposed on them all like a fateful natural event .

Austrian military in 1914 during exercises on the border with Serbia.

This was of course not the case, but it is noteworthy that studies by American and British historians, who traditionally tended to denounce the failure of the Austro-Hungarian side, have recently assessed the weights of guilt, neglect, and failure differently. The Briton Christopher Clark and the American Timothy Snyder recently showed a surprising amount of leniency towards Austrian politics in the decades before the First World War, and even towards the declaration of war itself. The downright curious thing about it is that today not a single serious historian can say what more clever policies could have saved the Danube monarchy, which visibly stumbled towards its end in the second half of the 19th century; on the other hand, hardly anyone thinks of the old propaganda of the day before yesterday and understands this downfall as a historical necessity, as indispensable for a better future in Europe.

Knowledge after the disintegration

Even beyond 1914, the later founding fathers of the Czechoslovak Republic, Benes and Masaryk, believed that the Czechs and Slovaks did not have to recognize their own national state, but rather an equal status within the Danube Monarchy. That is to say, even those who became protagonists of the disintegration have long been in favor of building on the development of their nations within the empire. But how could that actually have been done? Let's take just one region of many: In Trieste, the Italian irredentists no longer fought only against distant Austrians, but with a particular aversion against the Slovenes, who settled in the hinterland of the port city or who moved to the city as dockworkers and maids. In order for Trieste to have been preserved as the city of several peoples of the monarchy, rigorous equal rights for all nationalities living there would have been necessary; but that is exactly what the Italians did not want, who did not want to shed the yoke of the Austrians in order to peacefully share a common state with the Slovenes. The struggle against the Slovenes in their own city and in the entire region continued until the very recent past. Real equality has only recently emerged under the umbrella of the European Union. It is as if a state whose supranationality was highly imperfect first had to break up into sometimes brutal nation-states in order to later allow them to recognize the advantages offered by another, a new supranational unit.

The crisis never ends in my kingdom.

If the monarchy has to go under, it should at least go under properly.

- Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria

Crisis as a principle of survival

The basic problem of the Danube monarchy was that even further democratization could no longer stop the internal disintegration, indeed even accelerate it. Where no real clarification was in sight, and not just because of the stupidity of the ruling powers, a specific form of political action - or rather of non-action - developed, which has been called "muddling away". It is by no means a simple way of facing things by not really facing them, but gradually driving them away with pragmatic lack of character, sometimes distracting from them, in any case never addressing them fundamentally. One could say that the permanent crisis of the Danube Monarchy had almost become its only reason for existence and that it was just drawing its legitimacy from it. Doesn't that remind a little of the European Union of today, with which the relationship to the Danube Monarchy should not otherwise be overemphasized: this governance from crisis summit to crisis summit, in which the biggest problems are not addressed, the real conflicts are not resolved?

The Habsburgs had developed an astonishing skill at governing by only reacting, and the bon mot attributed to Emperor Franz Joseph “The crisis does not go under in my empire” sums up the situation very well. The crisis did not pass because it became the survival principle of the monarchy.

Longing for redemption

This lethargy, so to speak, supporting the state, could neither go on forever nor find the support of the most ardent spirits in the long run. And so in this end time of Kakania there is not only the praise of standstill and the lament of muddling away; what speaks up, shrill and desperate, is rather an activism that has no other goal than to finally put an end to all the lazy magic.

“Let's let Austria die in its own filth”, the Slovenian national poet Ivan Cankar wrote shortly before his untimely death, and his political appeal was less about enthusiasm for a state of the southern Slavs than the definite certainty that Austria Hungarians would never change things for the better. A strange longing for the end of everything, of the eternal quarrel about measly reforms that were proclaimed, withdrawn under pressure, announced again, recently prevented, a dangerous longing for redemption is in so many testimonies from the last years and months before To hear war, testimonies from young intellectuals who are fighting for the independence of their oppressed nations, from testimonies from old military skulls, such as the sinister chief of the Austrian General Staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who from the misery of the state, the dreary peace in nothing but wanted to flee the war and wrote in his diary: "But what if things turn out differently and everything drags on in a lazy peace ...?" The lazy peace, the empire rotting in its own filth: In the end it was the war, who should solve the problems that the state, society, the nations, the Imperial Council, the rulers and their subjects should solve en had proven incapable.