xxxxxFollowing their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1866, the Austrians lost the last of their possessions in Italy and were forced out of an enlarged German Federation. As a result, the Emperor, Franz Joseph, anxious to save the Habsburg monarchy, engineered a joint agreement with Hungary, where the Magyars constituted the principal danger to the unity of the state. By what came to be known as the Compromise (Ausgleich) of 1867, the Hungarians were made equal partners in the ruling of the empire. They were granted their own parliament and prime minister for internal affairs, and joint ministries were set up for matters of finance and foreign policy. A Nationalities Law was also passed, designed to protect the rights of the large number of minority groups, but this did not work in practice, and many of these took up the struggle for independence. For a number of years the Dual Monarchy managed to retain some status as a great power, but by the last decade of the century its alliance with Germany, aimed at restricting Russian influence in the Balkans, brought ever growing opposition from the large number of Slavs living within the empire. Therein lay the seeds of the First World War. When this conflict came to an end in 1918 so did the state of Austria-
CREATION OF THE DUAL MONARCHY OF AUSTRIA-
xxxxxAs we have seen, it was in 1866 that the Austrians suffered an humiliating defeat at the hands of the Prussians. It was an enormous blow to the pride and the prestige of the once all-
xxxxxThe manner of their defeat came as something of a surprise to a Europe grown accustomed to the might and majesty of the Habsburgs, but, in fact, the strength of the Austrian Empire had been ebbing away for some considerable time. The Austrians had suffered a major set back only a few years earlier when they were forced out of Lombardy in northern Italy by the War of 1859, whilst at home their multi-
xxxxxThe peace terms agreed at Frankfort following Austria’s defeat in 1866 appeared to be moderate considering the extent of the Prussian victory but, in fact, they were anything but. They put an end once and for all to Habsburg hopes to keep a stake in northern Italy and, more significantly, to secure a dominant role in the affairs of central Europe. The Austrians not only lost Venetia, their last possession in Italy, but were also ignominiously turfed out of the revamped German Federation. The Prussians were to be the leading and guiding light in the future affairs of a united Germany, not the Habsburgs.
xxxxxIt was their defeat on the battlefield, and their long-
xxxxxThe Compromise arrangement granted the Hungarian government, based in Buda, equal status with the Austrian government, based in Vienna. With their own parliament and prime minister, the Hungarians gained complete control over their internal affairs but, in return, agreed to a common monarch ( with the title of king in their case), and the setting up of joint ministries responsible for war, finance and foreign affairs. Currency was unified throughout the empire, and the regular armed forces were put under a unified command, but there were separate custom authorities and the choice of language -
xxxxxThe Compromise was accepted by Franz Joseph and the nobles on both sides of the joint agreement because it was seen as a ready means of dampening down the aspirations of the Hungarian Magyars, the section that posed the principal danger to the unity of the state. However, it did little or nothing to ease the widespread racial tensions that existed elsewhere between the large variety of cultures and races which made up more than half the empire’s diverse population. Because it was considered that these smaller groups, like those of the Czechs, Poles, Slovenes, Slovaks, Serbs, and Romanians, were not cohesive enough to make possible a workable autonomy -
xxxxxFor the next twenty years or so the new state of Austria-
xxxxxBut the nation’s foreign policy, based on a fear of Russian expansion into the Balkan peninsula, was to land the empire in deep trouble. As we shall see, following Russia’s advance on Istanbul in the Russo-
xxxxxBut this rapprochement with Prussia clearly ran counter to the wishes and aspirations of the large Slavic minority in both countries. For long denied any political and social concessions, by the closing years of the century the entrapped Slavs were beginning to look to Russia for support. This, together with conflicting claims from other disgruntled minority groups, threatened stability at home and seriously undermined the empire’s status in international affairs. Therein lay the seeds of the First World War, a struggle which ended in 1918 and brought with it the downfall of the Dual Monarchy itself.
xxxxxIncidentally, it was chiefly through the efforts of the Hungarian statesman Ferenc Deak (1803-
xxxxxFranz Joseph (1830-
xxxxxAs we have seen, to shore up his ailing Empire, in 1867 Franz Joseph sought and managed to obtain a Compromise agreement with Hungary -