The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/News from Austria

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3226336The Bohemian Review, volume 2, no. 3 — News from Austria1918

News from Austria.

The following comment on the internal situation in Austria has just been received by the Czechoslovak National Council of Paris through underground means of communication. It was written by a Bohemian public man who knew the inside facts and could estimate their value correctly. It may be accepted as an authentic and highly valuable analysis of the situation in Austria as it existed at the end of December.

1. Emperor Charles and His Friends.

Emperor Charles is a young man of pleasant personality, affable, possesing naturally that “Gemuetlichkeit” which is attributed to the Viennese. He has introduced into the imperial court a military simplicity. His temperament is not active, rather passive. He gives in completely to the influence of those that surround him, even though he is not aware of it. He is not fond of older people and particularly of the statesmen whose experience tends to bring out his own incompetence in political affairs. He is anxious to hide his lack of moral strength by rapidly taken decisions. That is why citizens of Vienna call him “Karl der Ploetzliche” (Charles the Sudden). The Czechs call him “Karel Novák” (the most commonly used Bohemian name, like the English Smith), receiver of Austria & Co., bankrupt.”

Charles detests above all the entourage of the late emperor; on the other hand, he aims to surround himself with the confidants of Francis Ferdinand, the murdered heir to the throne. Since his accession he has dismissed Bolfras, chief of the emperor’s military cabinet, Count Paar, and Prince Montenuovo, the grand court marshall, as well as the former chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hoetzendorf. His principal advisers are Prince Hohenlohe whose daughter was recently married to Archduke Max, Count Berchtold and Czernin. Of these three favorites Czernin possesses the greatest influence. He is a man of extraordinary energy, somewhat of an amateur in diplomacy, committing blunders now and then, but on the whole a strong intellect. Count Berchtold is an innocuous person fond of the chase and of sports. Prince Hohenlohe has greatly disappointed his admirers who had expected that he would exert great influence upon the course of Austrian domestic politics, especially in the matter of social reforms. 'He has shown himself to be very inconstant, and his influence is decreasing.

As Charles does not like men possessed of prestige, the former permiers Vladimir Beck and Ernest von Koerber are in disgrace. Beck specially on account of his tiffs with the assassinated archduke. Bohemians need not be sorry for that, since Beck has been a strong partisan of Mitteleuropa and of the Austro-German alliance. Koerber openly resents his disgrace by criticising his successors, especially Clam-Martinic and Seydler. During the lively scenes which have been enacted recently in the Vienna Parliament he declared publicly: “Na, so was haett’ ich auch getroffen, so zu regieren” (Oh well, I could have certainly managed to govern like that). All the same a return to power of Baron Koerber is not impossible; he may be asked to form a ministry, although he would probably refuse.

I have already said that Emperor Charles lacks absolutely the qualities of statesmanship. He is willing to receive information, but despite his good intentions, despite his desire to co-operate rather than command it is evident that the emperor is too feeble for the great problems the solution of which has been thrust upon him by the events.

2. Czernin and His Politics.

Since separate peace for Austria could not be thought of, and since the economic and political situation of the monarchy, and especially the food problem, could not well be worse, Czernin's diplomacy has moved heaven and earth to get a general peace. Its controlling tendency is to make up with Russia. About three months ago Hindenburg planned a stroke directed at Finland, but Czernin vetoed the enterprise, and similarly he stopped a campaign intended to overrun Moldavia.

Czernin is firmly convinced that all that is necessary is to hold out a few months longer, and peace will arrive. He counts above all on the effects on the Allies of the Russian disasters, and he counts definitely also on internal troubles in France and Italy. In the political and diplomatic circles everything possible is done to discourage the Slavs and put an end to their resistance. So, for example, men connected with the government make it the “Leitmotiv” of their conversations with the Slavs to reiterate that the Entente gives no thought to the Czechoslovaks and the Austrian Slavs in general, and that England in particular has completely given up the plan of breaking up Austria. Czernin is known to have said many a time that Austria will get out of it safe, that some fortunate turn of the wheel will save her at the last moment. He counts, as stated, principally on Russia, and also on the disorder and demoralisation in Italy and France. He places very high hopes in Italian, French and neutral socialists. For that reason Czernin lends his countenance to every enterprise that tends to bring together socialists of both sides. Despite the opposition of official and military Germany Czernin has worked for the Stockholm meeting with all his power. During the weeks preceding the departure of Austrian delegates for Stockholm an unbelievably pacifist attitude was created in Vienna. The evening papers which do not pass out of Austria published sensational reports.

In short it is well to be prepared for new manœuvres of Count Czernin, who will do his utmost to bring on the end of war before next spring, when the situation will be desperate.

As for the American intervention, Czernin and the members of the Austrian govrnment pretend to regard it with such a height of indifference that it must be a disquise for very grave fears. Czernin says that peace will be made before the United States can develop their military power, but in reality America worries him.

3. Why Peace is Wanted.

Hunger will be a terrible reality by spring. The food dictator, General Hoefer, declared at the end of November before the Food Board (Ernaehrungsrat) that they must figure on a deficit of six million quintals (about 220 lbs. each) of flour; that is to say, with all the restrictions there will be that much lacking to carry the population to the next harvest. That is approximately one month’s supplies. In reality, the situation is far more serious, and the deficiency will be, according to the calculations of agrarians, nearly three times as great. The truth is that the amount of provisions upon which Hoefer based his calculations has been estimated with too much optimism and cannot possibly be realized. There is also an utter lack of brass and horses. And if it were not for Russian prisoners, the peasants could not cultivate their fields.

Whereas the average crop of breadstuffs is about 130 million quintals, last year it amounted to some 70 or at most 80 million. The Hungarian harvest was quite poor, while Roumanian harvest was just fair. The amount of potatoes harvested is less than last year.

During the past year famine would have broken out in April, if it had not been for the Roumanian supplies. Austria’s share was 50,000 carloads. In spite of that the distress was very great. The disorders in Bohemia (in Prague, Prostejov, Trutnov, Plzen, Brno, Moravska Ostrava) are well known.

The real prices of foods reached fabulous heights. In Vienna a kilogram of coffee costs 80 crowns; in Bohemia a kilogram of flour is from 16 to 30 crowns; a kilogram of potatoes 1, 2 and even 4 crowns.

In Prague the population has organized excursions of adventure into the country to hunt for potatoes which the purchaser must dig out himself. Of course the official maximum prices are not as high as those just mentioned. But the trouble is that you cannot buy anything at the official prices.

Money has lost all value. Banknotes are called in Prague “úplavice” (dysentery).

The coal crisis will also be extremely serious this winter. Figures given to the deputies by Homann, acting minister of public commnications, are sufficiently depressing, and yet are still far from reality. In any case, while the transportation difficulties have been slightly improved by the construction of new cars, lack of rail road employees is as urgent as ever. Coal output has been decreased fully fifty per cent owing to the lack of miners.

To sum up, one may expect serious troubles and riots; but not a revolution, at least not until some great defeat occurs in the field.

Austria is now starting to apply a method that has worked excellently in Germany, namely to divide the population into two distinct groups—soldiers at the front and in the rear, as well as workmen of all trades producing supplies for the army on one hand, and all the rest of the civil population on the other hand. The first group is well fed, at least relatively speaking; the second is hungry, but does not dare to revolt. It has fallen into a sort of lethargy, a physical and moral apathy. This different treatment explains why in Germany one can still see soldiers leaving for the front in good spirits, while the civilian population suffers severely. The morale of the German army is not yet shaken.

In Austria there is really great discontent, even at the front, but especially in the interior, where the soldiers are poorly fed. In the military hospitals the patients die oftener of emaciation than of their wounds. But now the authorities propose to follow the German example, and at the expense of the civilians add to the rations of the soldiers at the bases and of working-men employed in war industries.

One of the principal aims of the food administration is to keep the capital city contented. Above all things, peace and good order in Vienna must be preserved. It would be a mistake to judge the food difficulties of the monarchy by the conditions prevailing in Vienna.

Hungary suffers less and Croatia is comparatively well provisioned. My judgment is that the monarchy might last another year. After that it must surrender unconditionally. It is, however, quite possible that unexpected events may occur and the end will come quicker.

The situation of prisoners of war, especially of the Russians, is terrible. They die of hunger, except those employed on farms. Those that are concentrated in camps are slowly perishing. In the camp of Wegschied in Lower Austria there are 40 deaths a day of hunger.

Russians are also employed on the Italian front working on fortifications, often under fire of the Italian guns. Many try to escape. It has also happened that a group of Russians, armed only with their shovels, arrested an Italian patrol that made its way through the Austrian lines on the Isonzo front.

The Financial Situation.

A statement of the commission for the control of the public debt has been published. It reports that sixteen billion crowns of paper money has been printed. The gold and silver reserve amounts to exactly 328 million crowns. Loans made in Germany for the purpose of improving exchange rates exceed two billion. Foreign exchange worries the government considerably. The financial circles of Austria are pessimistic. Their opinion exerts considerable influence on Czernin’s foreign politics.

One of the best known members of the Rothschild group, Gompers, declared to me: “England has won this war; Austria must obtain at the peace negotiations in exchange for great political concessions a foreign loan to take care of her sixteen billion of treasury notes. Without it she cannot live.”

Meinl, one of the organizers of the famous conference of the “Oesterreichische Politische Gesellschaft”, is telling everybody that Austria is lost without a foreign loan which it will be impossible to get. There is talk about confiscating ten per cent of all private property, real and personal, and to issue mortgage notes (Pfandbriefe) for that amount, with the idea of pledging the notes in England and America as security for a loan. The plan is being taken quite seriously.

To improve somewhat the adverse foreign exchange, sugar, wood, and petroleum is exported, and all kinds of schemes are considered. But the lack of food and raw material is only aggravated thereby. The fear of bankruptcy is one of the most powerful motives making for Austria’s pacifist policy.

The Military Situation.

Owing to the Russian collapse, the breakdown of Austrian armies is for the time being postponed.

The dearth of horses is beyond description. There is no more cavalry. The horses have been turned over to the artillery. It was the lack of horses that arrested the counter offensive in Galicia. In consequence of heavy rains 50,000 horses perished in the mud of Eastern Galicia. The minister of war wants to requisition all the farm horses; the minister of agriculture is opposed to it. There will be some compromise that will satisfy no one. But this much is certain that the next harvest will be adversely affected in any case. The system of scattering German troops among Austrian is well-known. Austrians are placed in the front ranks, Germans in reserve. So it happens that the German reserves claim the victories, because they attack after the first line at the cost of great losses has broken the enemy’s spirit. Even the Germans of Austria begin to murmur, but then the system has the advantage of keeping Slav soldiers always under guard.

For military works in the rear of the Italian front the army authorities employ not only the Russians, but also women, and there is consequently much disorder and immorality. The gangs have up to 500 women each.

No one in Austria expects any longer to win the war by defeating the enemy. Every hope is based on the feebleness of Russia and on the detachment of Italy and France. Should those predictions turn out to be false, Austria will confess that it has been defeated.

This work was published before January 1, 1929 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.

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