The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/Austria's Desperate Situation
Austria’s Desperate Situation.
No one need envy Emperor Charles his exalted position. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, especially when the crown shows an inclination to roll off. The simple fact is that poor Charles is between the devil and the deep sea. Unless he can manage to pull out of the war very shortly, his increasingly desperate subjects will overturn his throne and treat him, as the Russians treated the Czar. But when he tries to satisfy them, he gets at once into trouble with his great and good friend William who, as everybody knows, will stand for no nonsense. Poor Charles had to expel his Bourbon mother-in-law; he may soon be ordered to send away his wife.
Internal dissatisfaction and external dangers increase every day. Among the rebellious peoples of Austria-Hungary the Czechs according to their wont still play the principal part. The Vienna Reichstrat was prorogued early in March, as soon as Von Seidler got his budget approved. With the help of most of the Poles and of the German social democrats the premier succeeded in getting his money grants. But it was a sorry victory. The budget was approved by a vote which was 18 short of the majority of the full parliament, and the new loan squeezed through by a vote which was 55 short of a full majority. With the adjournment of the parliament the political struggle was transferred to the provinces.
March 10 a convention was held in Prague of all the Slav races of Austria. There were present, besides the Czechs, representatives of student organizations of Slovenes, Croatians and Poles. There was even a delegate for Polish students from the former Russian Poland. The Czech Deputies’ Club was officially represented. Resolutions were adopted amid stormy applause for Czechoslovak, Jugoslav and Polish independence and for a united campaign on behalf of all three branches of Western Slavs. About the same time the City Council of Prague approved the Declaration of the Prague Constituent Assembly of January 6, and other cities of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as district councils and meetings of village mayors endorsed the bold stand of Czech deputies for full right of self-determination.
The weakness of the Austrian government under these “treasonable” attacks has been almost incredible. Whereas during the first two years of the war whole sale executions were the order of the day and newspapers could print only what the censor was pleased to approve, in 1918 the ministers of Emperor Charles dared not go further than threats. Premier Seidler warned the Czechs most solemnly in January that the government would repress sternly their treason, but nothing happened. Then Count Czernin shortly before his fall made an inflammatory speech to the City Council of Vienna in which he placed the failure of his attempts to bring peace to the hungry peoples of the monarchy on the Czech rebels, especially Professor Masaryk. As a reply to Czernin a second general convention of all Czech deputies met in Prague on April 13. Deputy Staněk presided, and Alois Jirásek, the greatest living Bohemian novelist, was the principal orator. The convention repudiated the charge that the Czechs were responsible for the continuation of the war and laid the blame on the Germans and Magyars who would not concede to the Slav subjects of the Hapsburgs the right to determine their allegiance. For the Jugoslavs, Deputy Tresich Pavicich declared their absolute solidarity with Czechoslovaks in the fight for independence. Upon that occasion the people of Prague paraded the streets denouncing the Germans and cheering openly for the Entente and in particular for President Wilson in whom the people of Bohemia see their special champion.
In the meantime at the other end of the monarchy grave disorders broke out. The Slovenes who inhabit the southern slopes of the Alps from Styria to Trieste followed the example of the Czechoslovaks and led by their deputies and priests demanded boldly the union of their people in one Jugoslav state, comprising Austro-Hungarian territories inhabited by the Slovenes, Croatians and Serbians, to be joined to the Kingdom of Serbia. The conduct of the Slovenes has been a great blow to the Hapsburgs, for the emperor had confidently expected that the old enmity between Italians and Slovenes would keep the latter loyal to the cause of Austria. But throughout the past year Slovene deputies in Vienna supported the Czech rebellion in parliament, and according to recent news the people of Laibach, the Slovenian capital, have come out in violent demonstrations against the Germans, and like the people of Prague openly cheered the Allies.
The seriousness of the Slovene revolt is best illustrated by the fact that the Austrian government requested the Vatican to take disciplinary action against the prince-bishop of Laibach Jeglich who is accused of agitating for the creation of an independent Jugoslav state. This is indeed an unmistakable symptom that the days of Austria are numbered. When the official representatives of the Catholic church join the liberals and socialists whom they were bitterly fighting before the war, then the conclusion is inevitable that among the Austrian Slavs the determination to conquer independence is unanimous. Bishop Jeglich wrote in his journal, the Slovenec: “Never has our national idea been so strong—it is the principal motive in all public life. It has swept over our lands like a flood, reached the most remote village and fired the heart of every Jugoslav. It is so because we have realized that we do not fear the struggle. Every day we encourage our deputies in Vienna : Do not yield a step. We are with you to the last man.”
Dr. Von Seidler found himself unable to cope with the open revolt in the North and the South, as well as with the hostile attitude of the Poles and the criticism of the German socialists. He had been trying to resign, but there is no one to take his place, for the crisis facing Austria is not parliamentary or even constitutional, but a crisis that threatens to put and end to the ancient monarchy of the Hapsburgs.
Late report state that Emperor Charles took the decisive step of suspending Austrian parliamentary life. It means that he has given up, either on his own initiative or by German pressure, whatever hopes he may have cherished of gaining over his Slav subjects. At the same time first steps were taken to punish the Czech rebels; the integrity of the Kingdom of Bohemia was violated by dividing it into Czech and German food administration districts. On top of that comes the significant report that northern Bohemia and northern Tyrol have been placed under Germany for food administration purposes. The break-up of Austria has begun.
To the internal difficulties of Austria we must add the disagreement with Hungary. It is very likely that the boldness of the Slav revolt and the weakness of the government is due to a large degree to the food situation. This is getting to be desperate. The supplies from the Ukraine have not materialized and Austria is faced with absolute starvation in May and June. On the other hand Hungary is comparatively well off in food supplies, and to the old causes of disagreement between Vienna and Budapest is added the bitterness on the part of the people of Vienna who see the Magyars well fed, while the Germans, to say nothing of the Slavs, go hungry. It is said that the rich people of Vienna make daily trips to Budapest to smuggle eatables under their high silk hats to their starving families. But the Magyars are masters of the situation. For many years, inferior in numbers and wealth as they are to the Austrian half of the empire, the rulers of Hungary were rulers of the dual empire. They determined the course of its foreign policies and have been the strongest supporters of close dependence on Germany. When Czernin fell, they came into their own again, and Baron Burian, a member of the Magyar oligarchy, once more administers the foreign affairs of the monarchy. The weakness of the emperor-king was proved recently upon the occasion of the resignation of the Wekerle ministry. Wekerle was entrusted by Charles with the task of making more democratic the extremely unfair franchise of Hungary. But the ruling Magyar clique objected to the curtailment of their power, and though the workingmen of Budapest made demonstrations and inaugurated a strike of 100,000 men, the oligarchy won and Wekerle resigned, because Charles would not allow him to dissolve the parliament and appeal to the country.
And while everything in Austria is seething with discontent and is ready to boil over, Italy which six months ago suffered a serious blow through clever German-Austrian propaganda is paying back to Austria in an even more effectual manner. Delegates of the Austro-Hungarian oppressed nationalities were invited to Rome in the middle of April to sit together with Italian delegates and agree upon measures in their common interest. Detailed reports of the proceedings of the convention are not yet available, but it is known that the following resolutions were passed unanimously, setting forth the aims of the oppressed nationalities: 1. Every race maintains its right to constitute its own nationality and unity as a state and to achieve entire independence. 2. Every race recognizes in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy an instrument of Germanic domination and a fundamental obstacle to the realization of its rights. 3. The Assembly recognizes the necessity for a combined struggle for complete liberation against common oppressors.
The fruit of all this is seen on the Italian front. Entire regiments of Slavs and Roumanians are going over to the enemy. And worse than that. The men who desert put on Italian uniforms and eagerly fight against their oppressors. As usual, Bohemians lead. Edgar Ansel Mowrer, correspondent of the Chicago Daily News, has just cabled from the Italian Army Headquarters a sympathetic account of the important part played by Czechoslovak volunteers on the Italian front. We are proud to quote it here:
“Czechoslovak troops of the national army are now present behind the Italian front representing the independent Czechoslovak state recognized by Britain, France and Italy, which might, for the lack of a better name, be called Greater Bohemia. Thus the recent meeting of the Italian-Slav leaders in Rome is proved not to have been in vain and the apprehensions so clearly manifested by the Austro-Hungarian newspapers, with the exception of those representing the Slav element, are shown to have been thoroughly justified.
Soon there will be struck the first of those blows against the Austro-Hungarian national carcass which will eventually do away with its unity—struck by Slavs who hitherto have been a component and even an invaluable element of the dual monarchy.
When the history of the war is written not the least brilliant story will be that of the Czechslovak opposition to their oppressors, their dogged resistance, mostly passive but becoming active whenever circumstances permitted, finally constituting one of the decisive factors in the dissolving of the Hapsburg state. But for this history meanwhile we must thank our Italian allies, who showed calm generosity in thus collaborating with a portion of their enemies, for needless to say, the Czechoslovaks on the Italian front were, until their independence was proclaimed, enemy subjects.
To-day in certain parts of the front one may see tall, blond men passing, fine looking fellows, dressed in uniforms resembling those of the Italians. To assist them, the French and Italian officers are working with them. These, however, have been imposed not by any constraint of the allied governments, but have been freely chosen by the Czechoslovak leaders and after long consultation with their recognized heads, Benesh and Stefanik.
Soon we shall see them at work. They cannot but become a nucleus to which all Czechoslovaks, whatever their present position may be, will be drawn to strike a blow in defense of that Bohemia “which was before Austria and will be when Austria has ceased to be.”
This work was published before January 1, 1928 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 95 years or less since publication.