Economic Change and the National Question in Twentieth-Century Europe

By Alice Teichova; Herbert Matis et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
National identity and economic conditions in
twentieth-century Austria
Herbert Matis

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN A MULTINATIONAL SETTING

Interest in questions of economic and political integration of regions with varying socio-economic levels and different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, understandable in the context of the establishment of the European Union, has drawn attention to the specific example of the former Habsburg Empire. From a retrospective view, the social reality has often been transformed into illusions. Historians asserted the existence of a wide, broadly cohesive common market, driven by market forces and based on comparative costs, a division of labour and a natural division of resources. But even before the outbreak of the First World War, one has to recognise a growing rivalry between different nationalities, nationally motivated boycotts and a growth of 'national industries'. The dominant nations of the time, the Germans and the Magyars, and to some extent the Polish aristocracy in Galicia, altogether represented only 43 per cent of the entire population. Nevertheless, they dominated in both the political and economic spheres. While Transleithania's feudal agrarian structure was dominated by Magyar magnates, in Cisleithania 1 the German middle class maintained strategic positions in cultural and social life, in politics and the economy. And it is an open question to what extent diverse reform projects, such as Austrian Prime Minister Ernest von Koerber's novel programme of economic development at the turn of the century, would have had a fair chance of overcoming national diversities and antagonisms 2 — diversities and antagonisms that arose not only from socio-economic causes but also from irrationally motivated mass-psychological phenomena. Although various attempts to balance domestic political and socio-economic inequalities failed, this can certainly not be attributed to discrimination against individual nationalities. This failure was more a result of an inability to realise a systematic and comprehensive policy for development. Added to this was the missed opportunity to transform the

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