Metternich, Reorganization and Nationality, 1813-1818: A Story of Foresight and Frustration in the Rebuilding of the Austrian Empire

Metternich, Reorganization and Nationality, 1813-1818: A Story of Foresight and Frustration in the Rebuilding of the Austrian Empire

Metternich, Reorganization and Nationality, 1813-1818: A Story of Foresight and Frustration in the Rebuilding of the Austrian Empire

Metternich, Reorganization and Nationality, 1813-1818: A Story of Foresight and Frustration in the Rebuilding of the Austrian Empire

Excerpt

The problem of nationality -- the demand for national self-determination, the difficulties involved in governing and satisfying a self-conscious nationality unhappy under "foreign" rule -- this is an issue which has played a decisive role in modern history and which has not yet lost its significance. In that patch-quilt of nationalities which is Central Europe, the problem contributed much to the frightful drama of its recent past. In no state was the problem so acute as in Habsburg Austria: the inability to solve it caused the empire to burst asunder. Far from being settled, the problem remained, dispersed among the very nationalities which were themselves just "free" and faced at once with their own dissatisfied national minorities. The Habsburg failure, so extensive in its consequences, has drawn considerable attention from historians. Yet, research on the nationality problem has been devoted by and large to the reigns of Ferdinand and Franz Joseph -- to times in which the problem was obvious and most solutions smacked of hindsight. Was there not an earlier time in which a reform of the empire's internal structure might have had a steadier basis and thus have enabled it to cope successfully with much of what was to come?

There seems to have been no better opportunity than after the downfall of Napoleon, when a victorious Austria was occupied with reincorporating large tracts of territory amounting to nearly a fourth of its total area. Therewith the Vienna government had the task before it of reconciling several million "liberated" non-German subjects to a rule which some of these peoples could have considered scarcely less foreign than that of Napoleon. With the need for attaching anew to the House of Habsburg the loyalties of peoples whose independence had frequently been promised and even briefly asserted, with the need for making these peoples' membership in the Habsburg "family of nations" attractive, the situation certainly called for the formulation of some sort of "nationality" or "autonomy" policy: but were the Austrian authorities then aware of these needs and . . .

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