The nationality conflict in Austro-Hungary

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14. The nationality conflict in Austro-Hungary

A bitter conflict arose between nationalities in the state-aggregate of Austria-Hungary which was founded in 1867. The principalities of the historic kingdom of Bohemia demanded the same independence as the Magyars had been granted for their kingdom under Stephan's crown. Their demand was not approved. At the same time, a nationality law proposed for the protection of Germans in the Sudetenlands which would have granted Czechs and Germans alike a high degree of national autonomy was rejected as well. Evidently, it was not possible to formulate a nationality and language law that would have been acceptable to Germans as well as to Czechs. Thereafter, national-oriented associations sprung up on both sides. A language regulation introduced in 1897 demanded that civil service personnel be proficient in both languages. It was formulated to include those regions of Bohemia, Moravia and Austro-Silesia that were populated only by Germans. The regulation was retracted after being boycotted by all Germans in Austria who argued, this would lead to the Czechization of German homelands and displacement of many German civil servants. The Austrian Social Democrats formulated a nationality program 1899 in Brünn (Brno); but just like the other proposals, their program failed to find acceptance.


Nationalty Program - 1899

This here is an excerpt from the Nationality Program of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party, passed September 18, 1899, at Brünn (Brno) demanding among other things the conversion of Austria into a democratic federation of nationalities.

"The final settlement of the nationality and language questions in Austria in the sense of equal rights, equality and reason is above all a cultural demand …"

  1. Austria should be transformed into a democratic, federal, multi-national state.

  2. In the place of the historic Crown Lands, nationally partitioned self-administering bodies will be formed, whose legislation and administration will be provided by National Chambers elected on the basis of general, equal and direct suffrage.

  3. All self-administering regions of one and the same nationality will make up together a unitary national union, which will take care of its national matters in a completely autonomous fashion.

  4. The rights of national minorities will be protected by a special law to be passed by the Imperial Parliament.

  5. We recognize no national preference, and therefore reject the demand for an official state language; to what extent a common language of communication is necessary will be decided by the Imperial Parliament.





Kaiser Franz Josef, farsighted politicians and many scholars made innumerable attempts; but politics became dominated more and more by slogans and demagogical maneuvers. Governments came to fall; heated parliamentary debates flared up; it came to riots in the streets and demonstrations for weeks at a time. The so-called Young Czech Party and All-Germans confronted each other irreconcilably. Conditions were notably serious in regions and towns of mixed nationalities. Prague was placed under emergency law from 1893 to 1895. The rift between Germans, Czechs and Hungarians grew deeper and deeper. Jews died in pogroms because they were equated with Germans. All this happened when the first dark clouds began dimming the skies over Europe and a period of world politics arose with the great powers throwing dice for continents. But the stormy years had also their elevating moments. 1894 saw the founding of the "Society of Germans in Bohemia". The "Association for the Promotion of German Culture and Science in Bohemia" was active since 1891; the "German Folk-Council" was initiated in 1903.

The highly gifted Archduke Rudolf ended his life by suicide in 1889. Today, after the evaluation of many sources, it is believed that his tragic death was not the result of an unhappy love affair, but that political motives played a role. Rudolf was driven to despair most of all by his thoughts about the future of Austria. His cousin, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, successor to the throne, personified a more robust, younger generation. After 1905 his influence was evident in the matters of state. In 1907, the first Bohemian parliament convened after a general election with equal voting rights. It brought representatives of German, Czech and Polish parties together to work in cooperation. However, the work of the Reichsrat elected in 1911 was soon hampered by nationality conflicts; by 1914 it became unfit to function. Emergency orders became the rule of the day. Austria postponed practically all political decisions. It appeared as though the Reichsrat was awaiting the death of the old monarch and the succession. All hopes were directed towards the fifty year old Franz Ferdinand who aspired a country governed by a strong central power, with equal rights for all lands, and each land granted a high measure of autonomy. In foreign policy he envisioned close cooperation between the three empires of Germany, Austria and Russia.


Copyright © by Inge Schwarz 1997 (Heimatstelle Maffersdorf) 
Copyright © by Anton Möller • 2005

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