A History of Austria - Part IX

1848: The Year of Revolution

Finally, in March of 1848, open revolution broke out. Open fighting in Vienna, later in Hungary, Milan, Prague and Venetia. Mostly students, soldiers and nationalist organisations demanded freedom for all nations and representation. In April, a constitution was issued, freedom of speech and the press was granted, Metternich fled to England. The first parliament of Austria formed. However, from the beginning there was a lot of struggling between different nationalist groups, farmers, students and other parties with opposing goals.

Emperor Franz Joseph I was a very young man when he succeeded to the throne, but he was determined to supress every revolutionary movement for the sake of Austria's unity and the Habsburgs' good

The royalists used these tensions for their advantage. With the aid of Russia, the revolution in Hungary was suppressed, and the marshals Radetzky and Windischgrätz crushed resistance in Milan and Prague respectively. Royal order was re-established in fall and in December, Emperor Franz Joseph I followed the epileptic, idiotic or eccentric Ferdinand I. Franz Joseph I consolidated his power and reversed all previously granted civil rights. He concentrated his efforts on internal, Austrian affairs.

When Russia got involved in the Krim war with Great Britain, neither Austria nor Prussia followed the obligation of their alliance and did not send troops. This made Russia an opponent of Austria, which it remained until the first World War. Austria also lost power among the German Principalities. The Prussia of Chancellor Bismarck aimed for supremacy, and after it bet Austria in the Battle of Königsgrätz, the German Union was dissolved and a new German Empire formed - with Prussia as the leading power and Austria being excluded. For the first time in history, really. At the same time, Hungarian and Italian nationalists worked steadily for sovereignty, and the counties in Central and Northern Italy were lost.

K. & K. 1867: The "Austrian-Hungarian Empire" forms

Franz Joseph I was married to Elisabeth, also called Sisi (later "Sissy" thanks to the film industries). She is still an icon of the dying Habsburg monarchy. In the second half of the 19th century, everybody knew that the end of the empire was near: Nationalist ideas were gaining more and more power and all of Europe got increasingly keen on engaging in war. Franz Joseph I tried to consolidate his absolute power, and used different ethnic groups within his empire to block each other′s interest.

Empress Elisabeth didn't do much beyond being pretty, but that was apperently enough - she is still worshipped by millions

To take some steam off the Hungarian kettle, he agreed on the "Ausgleich" between Austria and Hungary. This meant extensive sovereignty for Hungary - more or less independence in all issues except foreign policy and military. Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, Emperor and Empress of Austria, became King and Queen of Hungary on the 8th of June 1867. The western part of the Empire remained under the rule of Austrians; the eastern part was from now on ruled by Hungary.

The "K. & K." that you often find on 19th century administrative buildings in Austria refers to this period: it means "Kaiserlich & Königlich" ("Imperial and Royal" - Imperial for Austria, Royal for Hungary).

Vienna 1900: An Urban Climax

This helped temporarily to calm down the Hungarian urge for independence. It also led to a polarisation of political groups: Conservatives endorsed the Catholic believe and monarchy (the old order of the Habsburg Empire) as a base for their thinking; Socialists gained support from the growing working class of Vienna and, were anti-clerical, internationalist and opposed the nobility; Liberals were mostly intellectuals with strong views on civil rights, democracy and equality, mostly anti-clerical and nationalist.

The Neue Burg wing in the Hofburg Imperial Palace was built around 1900, at both the climax and end of the Austrian Empire

The "Ausgleich" also stoked jealousy and nationalism among the many other ethnicities in the Habsburg Empire. These included most notably Czech, Slovaks, Slovenians, Croatians and Polish. Gradually, Franz Joseph I had to grant more and more freedom (meaning autonomy and representation) to these groups. This blocked an efficient administration and caused the civil service to grow beyond a healthy size by any measure. Austria′s growing influence on the Balkan also caused more tensions with the Kingdom of Serbia. This sounds all rather depressive - but only in geo-political terms.

The economy, culture and intellectual life of Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th century bloomed as it had never before. This period is also called "fin de siecle" (End of the Century). Vienna was one of the World′s biggest cities (bigger than today, with about 2.5 million residents), Vienna University was among the top-schools in the World and arts and sciences had an outstanding position in society. The established Jewish community contributed considerably to these achievements and was strongly assimilated in the Viennese (more so than Austrian) society.

The Jewish doctor and writer Arthur Schnitzler is a prominent figure in Vienna's Fin de Siecle

This applied to a lesser extent to more orthodox, Eastern European Jews that arrived in Vienna after the Russian expulsions. Jugendstil or Art Nouveau added its touch to the Vienna, Budapest and Prague. Later expressionism had a deep impact on the cultural life. Literature was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud′s theories about the nature of the human psyche. There was a lot of building going on, most of Vienna′s large administrative courts and palaces date to the late 19th century.

New industries developed around Vienna and in Bohemia. New parties formed after 1880, the conservative "Christlichsozialen", the social democrats and the liberals with nationalist elements. Some of the World′s oldest films and movies were made in Austria, and by 1914, there were 200 cinemas in the capital. All in all, it must have been one hell of a good time to live in Vienna.

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Further Reading

"Austrian History in less than 1000 words"

"A Jewish History of Austria"

A Complete List of all Austrian Monarchs