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The Nature of Austria-Hungary
The reorganization of Austria and Hungary was made possible by the Ausgleich [compromise] of 1867, a constitutional compromise between Hungarian aspirations for independence and Emperor Francis Joseph's desire for a strong, centralized empire as a source of power after Austria's defeat in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. The Hungarians gained control of their internal affairs in return for agreeing to a centralized foreign policy and continued union of the Austrian and Hungarian crowns in the Hapsburg ruler.
The agreement to establish the Dual Monarchy, which was worked out primarily by the Austrian foreign minister, Count Beust, and two Hungarians, the elder Count Andrássy and Francis Deak, divided the Hapsburg empire into two states. Cisleithania [Lat.,=the land on this side of the Leitha River] comprised Austria proper, Bohemia, Moravia, Austrian Silesia, Slovenia, and Austrian Poland; it was to be ruled by the Hapsburg monarchs in their capacity as emperors of Austria. Transleithania [Lat.,=the land on the other side of the Leitha River] included Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, and part of the Dalmatian coast; it was to be ruled by the Hapsburg monarchs in their capacity as kings of Hungary. Croatia was given a special status and allowed some autonomy but was subordinated to Transleithania, which also nominated the Croatian governor.
Austria-Hungary was the greatest recent example of a multinational state in Europe; however, of the four chief ethnic groups (Germans, Hungarians, Slavs, and Italians) only the first two received full partnership. The Hapsburg-held crown of Bohemia was conspicuously omitted in the reorganization. Both Cisleithania and Transleithania elected independent parliaments to deliberate on internal affairs and had independent ministries. A common cabinet, composed of three ministers, dealt with foreign relations, common defense, and common finances. It was responsible to the emperor-king and to the delegations of 60 members each (chosen by the two parliaments), which met to discuss common affairs. The regular armed forces were under unified command and currency was uniform throughout the empire, but there were separate customs regimes.
Domestic Policy: Divide and Rule
The strength of the Dual Monarchy lay in its vastness, its virtual economic self-sufficiency, and its opportunities for commercial intercourse from the Swiss border to the Carpathians. Its weakness was less in its ethnic diversity than in the unequal treatment accorded to its minorities in the spirit of the maxim “Divide and rule.” Of the Slavic elements the Czechs and Serbs were the most disaffected. The efforts of the Taaffe ministry to satisfy Czech demands failed. The Italian minority was won to the Italian nationalist cause (see irredentism). The Romanians of Transylvania had bitter grievances against their Hungarian masters.
As nationalist movements gained within the empire, they enlarged their demands from cultural autonomy to full independence and ultimately broke up the monarchy. These movements existed not only in the oppressed provinces, but also among Hungarian extremists, who desired total independence, and among Austrian Pan-Germans, who advocated the union of German-speaking Austria with Germany.
The greatest danger to the monarchy probably was Pan-Slavism, spreading from Serbia and encouraged by Russia among the South Slavs. Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne, apparently had a project by which Croatia was to become the nucleus of a third, South Slavic, partner in the monarchy; his assassination (1914) at Sarajevo cut short this hope and precipitated World War I.
Destruction of the Monarchy
The internal weakness of the empire became immediately obvious. Czech regiments deserted wholesale from the beginning; Italy and Romania, eying their respective minorities in Austria and Hungary, joined the Allies; Croats and Slovenes, won by Serbian propaganda, joined (1917) in agreement with the Serbs to found a South Slavic state (see Yugoslavia). Abroad, the Czechs under Thomas Masaryk were the best known of several legions fighting on the Allied side, and in Oct., 1918, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary proclaimed their independence.
The Austrian defeat at Vittorio Veneto was followed by unconditional surrender; on Nov. 11, Emperor Charles I abdicated; on Nov. 12, German Austria was proclaimed a republic. The treaties of Versailles, Trianon, and Saint-Germain fixed the boundaries of the successor states. The breakup of the Dual Monarchy fulfilled the 19th-century liberal ideal of national self-determination. At the same time, the creation of small, strongly nationalist states, cut off from each other by tariff walls, has been criticized as representing a “Balkanization of Europe.”
See H. Kohn, The Hapsburg Empire: 1804–1918 (1961); A. J. May, The Passing of the Hapsburg Monarchy, 1914–1918 (2 vol., 1966) and The Hapsburg Monarchy, 1867–1914 (1951, repr. 1968); Z. A. B. Zeman, The Twilight of the Hapsburgs (1970); E. Crankshaw, The Fall of the House of Hapsburg (1971, repr. 1983); L. Valiani, The End of Austria-Hungary (1973); R. J. Evans, The Making of the Hapsburg Monarchy: 1550–1700 (1979).