Austria-Hungary


Flag of Austria-Hungary

Austria-Hungary, the famous "Dual Monarchy", was a loose federation (1867-1918) in which the kingdom of Hungary enjoyed self-government and proportional representation in joint affairs (principally foreign relations and defence) with the western and northern lands of the Austrian Empire under the Emperors (who were also Kings of Hungary) of the Habsburg dynasty. The full name of the federation was "The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Stephen's Crown" (Die im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche und Länder und die Länder der heiligen ungarischen Stephanskrone).

The non-Hungarian ("Austrian") half is often referred to as Cisleithania because most of its territory lay west (or to "this" side, from an Austrian perspective) of the Leithe river (though Galicia to the north-east was also a part), but this region (consisting of more than simply Austria) strictly speaking had no collective name, and hence was referred to as the "Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council"; the Imperial Council (Reichsrat) was Cisleithania's parliament. Similarly, the Transleithanian ("Hungarian") half also consisted of more than simply Hungary, and was referred to as the "Lands of the Holy Hungarian Stephen's Crown", a reference to the sainted first Christian king of Hungary.

The "Kingdoms and Lands" of the Cisleithanian half of the Empire were the Kingdoms of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, and of Galicia and Lodomeria, the Archduchy of Austria (as Upper Austria and Lower Austria), the Duchies of Bukowina, of Carinthia, of Carniola, of Salzburg, of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia, and of Styria, the Margraviate of Moravia, the Princely County of Tyrol (including the Land of Vorarlberg), and the Coastal Land (including the the Princely County of Gorizia and Gradisca, the State of Trieste, and the Margraviate of Istria). The "Lands" of the Transleithanian half of the Empire were the Kingdoms of Hungary, and of Croatia and Slavonia, and the State of Rijeka. Bosnia-Herzegovina formed a separate part of the Empire jointly administered by both halves.

The Ausgleich ("compromise") of February 1867 which inaugurated the Empire's dualist structure in place of the former unitary Austrian Empire (1804-1867) was a result of the latter's declining strength and loss of power in Italy (war of 1859) and Germany (Austro-Prussian War, 1866) and continued Hungarian dissatisfaction with rule from Vienna following Austria's suppression (with Russian support) of the Hungarian revolution of 1848-1849.

In particular, Hungarian leaders demanded and received the Emperor's coronation as King of Hungary as a reaffirmation of Hungary's historic privileges, and the establishment of a separate parliament at Budapest with the powers to enact laws for the historic lands of the Hungarian crown, though on a basis which would preserve the political dominance of ethnic Hungarians (more specifically of the country's large nobility and educated elite) and the exclusion from effective power of the country's large Romanian and Slav minorities.

Relations over the next half-century between the two halves of the Empire (in fact the Cisleithan part contained about 57% of the combined realm's population and a rather larger share of its economic resources) were punctuated by repeated disputes over shared external tariff arrangements and the financial contribution of each government to the common treasury. Under the terms of the Ausgleich, these matters were determined by an agreement which was to be renegotiated every ten years, which created political turmoil each time the agreement was up for renewal. The disputes between the halves of the empire culminated in the mid-1900s in a prolonged constitutional crisis triggered by disagreement over the language of command in Hungarian army units, and deepened by the advent to power in Budapest (April 1906) of a Hungarian nationalist coalition. The common arrangements were renewed provisionally (October 1907, November 1917) on an "as is" basis.

The dominant ethnic group in each half of the Empire constituted a minority in the area which it controlled: Germans numbered only some 36% of Cisleithania's population, and Magyars slightly under a half of Hungary's.

Czechs (the majority in the Austrian crownlands of Czech Lands, i.e.Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia), Poles and Ukrainians (in Galicia), Slovenes (in Carniola, Carinthia and southern Styria, mostly today's Slovenia) and Croats, Italians and Slovenes in Istria each sought a greater say in Cisleithan affairs.

The ethnic distribution of Austria-Hungary
German24%
Hungarian20%
Czech13%
Polish10%
Ruthenian8%
Romanian6%
Croat5%
Slovak4%
Serb4%
Slovene3%
Italian3%

At the same time, Magyar dominance was contested by the majorities of Romanians in Transylvania and eastern Banat, Slovaks in today's Slovakia, Croats and Serbs in crownlands Croatia and Dalmatia (today's Croatia), Bosnia and Herzegovina and provinces known as Vojvodina (today's northern Serbia). The Romanians and the Serbs were looking also to union with their fellows in the newly-founded kingdoms of Romania and Serbia, respectively.

Though Hungary's leaders were on the whole less willing than their German Austrian counterparts to share power with their subject minorities, they granted a large measure of autonomy to the kingdom of Croatia in 1868, parallelling to some extent their own accommodation within the Empire the previous year.

One of the most contentious issues in Austro-Hungarian politics was language. The language of government and instruction were always difficult and divisive hurdles for any government to sort out. Minorities wanted to ensure the widest possiblity for education in their own language as well as in the "dominant" languages of Hungarian and German. One notable example was the so-called "ordinance of April 5, 1897." The Austrian Prime Minister Kasimir Felix Graf von Badeni gave Czech equal standing with German in the internal government of Bohemia, leading to a crisis because og nationalist German agitation throughout the Empire. In the end Badeni was dismissed.

The Imperial (Austrian) and Royal (Hungarian) governments differed also to some extent in their attitude toward the Empire's common foreign policy, leaders in Budapest fearing particularly annexations of territory which would add to the kingdom's non-Hungarian populations, though the Empire's alliance with Germany against Russia from October 1879 (see Dual Alliance, 1879) commanded general acceptance, the latter power being seen as the principal external military threat to both parts.

The territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces since August 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin was annexed in October 1908 as a common holding under the control of the finance ministry rather than being attached to either government, an anomalous situation which led some in Vienna to contemplate its combination with Croatia in a third component of the Empire combining its southern Slav regions under the domination of Croat leaders who might be more sympathetic to Vienna than Budapest.


Coat of Arms of Austria-Hungary (adopted 1915 to emphasize unity of the Empire during WWI)

On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, heir to his childless uncle the Emperor Franz Josef, visited the Bosnian capital Sarajevo where he was assassinated by Bosnian Serb militants of the nationalist group Black Hand.

The Empire had previously lost ethnically Italian areas to Piedmont due to nationalist movements sweeping through Italy, and the threat of losing the southern territories inhabited by Slavs to Serbia was rather imminent. The leadership of the country, backed by its ally Germany, decided to confront Serbia militarily before it could incite a revolt: using the assassination as an excuse, they presented a list of demands they knew Serbia would never entirely accept and declared war when one of them was turned down.

These events brought the Empire into conflict with Serbia and over the course of July and August 1914, caused the start of the World War I, as Austria-Hungary and Germany sided against Russia and France, soon pulling in the United Kingdom, Italy and a number of other countries.

Austro-Hungarian troops initially defended the routes into Hungary and repulsed Italian advances in Gorizia. The army suffered very serious casualties throughout the war, especially in 1914. However, they were relatively successful (albeit with German aid and direction) even advancing into enemy territory following German-led victories in Galicia (May 1915) and at Caporetto (October 1917). Throughout the war, the Austro-Hungarian war effort had become more and more subordinate to the direction of German planners. Supply shortages, low morale, and the high casualty rate began to seriously affect the operational abilities of the army by the last years of the war.

The strain of war, enemy blockade and increasing anti-war agitation among socialists and national minorities intent on taking power, led to the Empire's disintegration in October-December 1918. The war officially concluded for Austria-Hungary when it entered an armistice with the Allies on November 3, 1918.

The end of the war marked the end of Austria- Hungary. It became politically expedient for the allied victors to break up the empire into various national components in accordance with Woodrow Wilson's 14 points. It is important to note that the break up of the empire was by no means a war aim of the allied powers, and that the idea was only seriously entertained toward the end of the war. Contrary to expectations at the time, the break up of the empire did not allieviate national problems in the area, and made the area more politically unstable than it had been under Habsburg rule.

The Czechs first proclaimed independence on October 28. Hungary followed shortly thereafter, although Transylvania's majority joined Romania, taking with them a large Hungarian minority. The south Slavs formed the State of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, soon united with Serbia and Montenegro as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Both Austria and Hungary became republics, exiling the Habsburg family in perpetuity. A pro-monarchist revival in Hungary after the communist revolution and Romanian intervention of 1919 led to the country's formal reversion to a kingdom (March 1920), but with the throne vacant. Attempts by the last Emperor, Charles I, to regain power in Budapest (March, October 1921) ended in his deportation to Madeira, where he died the following year.

New Nations Created in part or in full out of the former Habsburg Lands:

Former Austro-Hungarian Territories given to: Historical views of Austria-Hungary have varied throughout the 20th century:
— Historians in the early part of the century tended to view the Habsburg polity as despotic and obsolete.
— Subsequent experience of the region's inter-war "Balkanization", Soviet domination, and more recent nationality conflicts, coupled with wider efforts at Europeanan federalism, have resulted in a more favourable assessment of Austria-Hungary.
— One controversy among historians remains whether the Empire's collapse was the inevitable result of a decades-long decline or whether it would have survived in some form in the absence of military defeat in World War I.

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