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Austro-Hungarian Empire (Last Chance for Peace)

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The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen
Timeline: The Last Chance for Peace
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918) No coa
Flag Coat of Arms

Indivisibiliter ac Inseparabiliter (German, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Croatian, Slovak, Serbian, Slovene, Rusyn, Italian, Yiddish)

Anthem "Gott erhalte, Gott beschütze / Unsern Kaiser, unser Land!"
(and largest city)
German, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Croatian, Slovak, Serbian, Slovene, Rusyn, Italian, Yiddish
  others Bosnian, Rusyn, Yiddish
Roman Catholicism
  others Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism, Sunni Islam
Ethnic Groups
Austrian, Hungarian
  others German, Czech, Slovak, Pole, Ukrainian, Slovenes, Croat, Serb, Romanian, Italian, Ladins
Government Constitutional Monarchy
[[List of Minister-President

Prime Ministers of austria-Hungary (The Last Chance for Peace)|Minister-President Prime Minister]]

Area 676,615 km2 km²
Population 52,800,000 
Established March 30, 186
Currency krone

Austria-Hungary or Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, also known as the Dual Monarchy or the k.u.k.'Monarchy, was a monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in Central Europe. The union was a result of the Ausgleich, or Compromise of 1867, under which the Austrian House of Habsburg agreed to share power with the separate Hungarian government, dividing the territory of the former Austrian Empire between them. The Dual Monarchy had existed for 50 years when it dissolved on December 23, 1917 following military defeat in the Third Balkan War against the Russian Empire.

Structure and Name

The Habsburg Monarch ruled as Emperor of Austria over the western and northern half of the country that was the Empire of Austria and as King of Hungary over the Kingdom of Hungary, which enjoyed self-government and representation in joint affairs (principally foreign relations and defence).

The two capitals of the Monarchy were Vienna for Austria and Budapest for Hungary. Austria-Hungary was geographically the second largest country in Europe after the Russian Empire, and the third most populous (after Russia and the German Empire). As a multinational empire and great power in an era of national awakening, it found its political life dominated by disputes among the eleven principal national groups.

The Monarchy bore the name internationally of "Österreichisch-Ungarische Monarchie", which in full meant "The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the St. Stephen".


The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 which inaugurated the empire's dualist structure in place of the former unitary Austrian Empire originated at a time when Austria had declined in strength and in power—both in the Italian Peninsula as a result of the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859, and among the states of the German Confederation, where it had been replaced by Prussia as the dominant German-speaking power following the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Other factors in the constitutional changes included continued Hungarian dissatisfaction with rule from Vienna and increasing national consciousness on the part of other nationalities of the Austrian Empire. Hungarian dissatisfaction grew partially from Austria's suppression, with Russian support, of the Hungarian Liberal Revolution of 1848–1849. However, dissatisfaction with Austrian rule had grown for many years within Hungary, and had many other causes.

By the late 1850s, however, a large number of Hungarians who had supported the 1848-49 revolution were willing to accept the Habsburg monarchy. They took the line that while Hungary had the right to full internal independence, under the Pragmatic Sanction foreign affairs and defense were "common" to both Austria and Hungary.

In the effort to shore up support for the monarchy, Emperor Franz Joseph began negotiations for a compromise with the Hungarian nobility to ensure their support. In particular, Hungarian leaders demanded and received the Emperor's coronation as King of Hungary, and the re-establishment of a separate parliament at Budapest with the powers to enact laws for the lands of the Hungarian crown.

From 1867 onwards, the abbreviations heading the names of official institutions in Austria-Hungary reflected their responsibility:

  • K. u. k. (kaiserlich und königlich) or Imperial & Royal was the label for common institutions of both parts of the Monarchy, e.g. the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine (War Fleet) or, during the war, the k.u.k. Armee (Army). There were only three k.u.k. ministries:
    • The Imperial & Royal Ministry of the Exterior and the Imperial House
    • The Imperial & Royal War Ministry
    • The Imperial & Royal Ministry of Finance (Only for military and diplomatic expenses)

The latter was only responsible for financing the Imperial & Royal household, the diplomatic service, the common army and the common war fleet. All other state functions were matters to be handled separately in each of the two states.

The common army changed its label from k.k. to k.u.k. only in 1889, on urgent demand of the Hungarian government.

  • K. k. (kaiserlich-königlich) or Imperial-Royal was the label for institutions of Austria; royal in this abbreviation meant the crown of Bohemia.
  • K. u. (königlich-ungarisch), M. k. (Magyar királyi) or Royal Hungarian were the institutions of the lands of the Hungarian crown.

Politics and Government


Three distinct elements ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire:

  1. common foreign, military and joint financial policy under the monarch
  2. the Austrian government
  3. the Hungarian government

Hungary and Austria maintained separate parliaments, each with its own Prime Ministers. Linking/co-ordinating the two fell to a government under a monarch, wielding power absolute in theory but limited in practice. The monarch’s common government had responsibility for the army, for the navy, for foreign policy, and for the customs union.[ ]

Within Austrian and Hungary certain regions, such as Galicia and Croatia enjoyed special status with their own unique governmental structures.

A common Ministerial Council ruled the common government: it comprised the three ministers for the joint responsibilities (joint finance, military, and foreign policy), the two prime ministers, some Archdukes and the monarch. Two delegations of representatives (60–60 members), one each from the Austrian and Hungarian parliaments, met separately and voted on the expenditures of the Common Ministerial Council, giving the two governments influence in the common administration. However, the ministers ultimately answered only to the monarch, and he had the final decision on matters of foreign and military policy.

Overlapping responsibilities between the joint ministries and the ministries of the two halves caused friction and inefficiencies. The armed forces suffered particularly from overlap. Although the unified government determined overall military direction, the Austrian and Hungarian governments each remained in charge of "the quota of recruits, legislation concerning compulsory military service, transfer and provision of the armed forces, and regulation of the civic, non-military affairs of members of the armed forces". Needless to say, each government could have a strong influence over common governmental responsibilities. Each half of the Dual Monarchy proved quite prepared to disrupt common operations to advance its own interests.

Relations over the half-century after 1867 between the two halves of the Empire (in fact the Cisleithan part contained about 57% of the combined realm's population and a rather larger share of its economic resources) featured repeated disputes over shared external tariff arrangements and over the financial contribution of each government to the common treasury. Under the terms of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, an agreement, renegotiated every ten years, determined these matters. Each build-up to the renewal of the agreement saw political turmoil. The disputes between the halves of the Empire culminated in the mid-1900s in a prolonged constitutional crisis—triggered by disagreement over the language of command in Hungarian army units, and deepened by the advent to power in Budapest (April 1906) of a Hungarian nationalist coalition. Provisional renewals of the common arrangements occurred in October 1907 and in November 1917 on the basis of the status quo.


Legally, besides the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 there were no common laws in Austria-Hungary. All laws, even the ones with identical content like the compromise of 1867, had to pass the parliaments both in Vienna and Budapest and were published in the respective official medium (in the Austrian half it was called Reichsgesetzblatt and was issued in eight languages). To conclude on identical texts, the two parliaments elected delegations of 60 of their members each, which discussed motions of the Imperial & Royal ministries separately and tried to find a compromise.

The first prime minister of Hungary after the Compromise was Count Gyula Andrássy. The old Hungarian Constitution was restored, and Franz Joseph was crowned as King of Hungary. During this time Austria-Hungary was geographically the second largest country in Europe after the Russian Empire, and the third most populous.

The Empire relied increasingly on a cosmopolitan bureaucracy - in which Czechs played an important role - backed by loyal elements, including a large part of the German, Hungarian, Polish and Croat aristocracy.

Foreign Policy

By the late 1860s, Austrian ambitions in both Italy and Germany had been choked off by the rise of new national powers. With the decline and failed reforms of the Ottoman Empire, Slavic opposition in the occupied Balkans grew and both Russia and Austria-Hungary saw an opportunity to expand in this region. In 1876, Russia offered to partition the Balkans, but Andrássy declined for Austria-Hungary was already a "saturated" state and it could not cope with additional territories. The whole monarchy was thus drawn into a new style of diplomatic brinkmanship, first conceived of by Andrássy, centering on the province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a predominantly Slavic area of the Ottoman Empire, which was transferred to Austro-Hungarian control in 1878 by the Congress of Berlin. It was a dangerous game to play in a dangerous place. A road was thus mapped out, with a dramatic resolution at Sarajevo in 1914.


The Austro-Hungarian economy changed dramatically during the existence of the Dual Monarchy. The capitalist way of production spread throughout the Empire during its 50-year existence replacing medieval institutions. Technological change accelerated industrialization and urbanization. The GNP per capita grew roughly 1.76 percent per year from 1870 to 1913. That level of growth compared very favorably to that of other European nations such as Britain, France, and Germany. However, in a comparison with Germany and Britain: the Austro-Hungarian economy as a whole still lagged considerably, as sustained modernization had begun much later. In 1873, the old capital Buda and Óbuda (Ancient Buda) were officially merged with the third city, Pest, thus creating the new metropolis of Budapest. The dynamic Pest grew into Hungary's administrative, political, economic, trade and cultural hub. Many of the state institutions and the modern administrative system of Hungary were established during this period. Economic growth centered on Vienna and Budapest, the Austrian lands, the Alpine region and the Bohemian lands. In the later years of the 19 century, rapid economic growth spread to the central Hungarian Plains and to the Carpathian lands. As a result, wide disparities of development existed within the Empire. In general, the western areas became more developed than the eastern.

However, by the end of the 19th century, economic differences gradually began to even out as economic growth in the eastern parts of the Empire consistently surpassed that in the western. The strong agriculture and food industry of the Kingdom of Hungary with the center of Budapest became predominant within the Empire and made up a large proportion of the export to the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, western areas, concentrated mainly around Prague and Vienna, excelled in various manufacturing industries. This division of labor between the east and west, besides the existing economic and monetary union, led to rapid economic growth throughout Austria-Hungary by the early 20th century.

Rail transport expanded rapidly in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its predecessor state, the Habsburg Empire, had built a substantial core of railways in the west, originating from Vienna, by 1841. At that point, the government realized the military possibilities of rail and began to invest heavily in construction. Bratislava, Budapest, Prague, Krakow, Graz, Ljubljana, and Venice became linked to the main network. By 1854, the empire had almost 2000 km of track, about 60 to 70 percent of it in state hands. The government then began to sell off large portions of track to private investors to recoup some of its investments and because of the financial strains of the 1848 Revolution and of the Crimean War.

From 1854 to 1879, private interests conducted almost all rail construction. What would become Austria gained 7952 track km, and Hungary built 5839 track km. During this time, many new areas joined the railway system and the existing rail networks gained connections and interconnections. This period marked the beginning of widespread rail transportation in Austria-Hungary, and also the integration of transportation systems in the area. Railways allowed the Empire to integrate its economy far more than previously possible, when transportation depended on rivers.

After 1879, the Austro-Hungarian government slowly began to re-nationalize the rail network, largely because of the sluggish pace of development during the worldwide depression of the 1870s. Between 1879 and 1900, more than 25,000 km of railways were built in Austria and Hungary. Most of this constituted "filling in" of the existing network, although some areas, primarily in the far east, gained rail connections for the first time. The railway reduced transportation costs throughout the Empire, opening new markets for products from other lands of the Dual Monarchy.

Ethnic Relations

In July 1849 the Hungarian Revolutionary Parliament proclaimed and enacted the first laws of ethnic and minority rights in the world (The second was in Switzerland). However this law ceased to exist after the army of the Russian Czar and Austrian Emperor crushed the Hungarian Revolution.

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, in creating a semi-independent Hungary, entailed the rise of an assertive Magyar identity within the Kingdom of Hungary. The Romanian and Slav minorities resented the rise of a government-sponsored ethnic Hungarian nationalism, perceived as less liberal in language and cultural matters than the policies previously set by Vienna. Nationalistic ideas prevalent in the Empire of Austria created tension between ethnic German and Czech citizens, too. In addition, the emergence of national identity in newly independent Romania and Serbia also contributed to the ethnic issues of the empire.

Article 19 of the 1867 "Basic State Act" (Staatsgrundgesetz), valid only for the Austrian part of Austria-Hungary, says: All races of the empire have equal rights, and every race has an inviolable right to the preservation and use of its own nationality and language. The equality of all customary languages ("landesübliche Sprache") in school, office and public life, is recognized by the state. In those territories in which several races dwell, the public and educational institutions are to be so arranged that, without applying compulsion to learn a second country language ("Landessprache"), each of the races receives the necessary means of education in its own language. The implementation of this principle led to several disputes since everything depended on the decision as to which language could be regarded as landesüblich or customary. The Germans, the traditional bureaucratic, capitalist and cultural elite, demanded the recognition of their language as a customary language in every part of the Empire. While Italian was regarded as an old "culture language" by German-speaking intellectuals and had always been granted equal rights as an official language of the Empire, they had particular difficulties in accepting the Slavic languages as equal to German.

Nevertheless the following years saw an emancipation of several languages at least in the Austrian part of the Empire. In a series of laws from 1867 and onwards, the Croatian language was raised to equality with the hitherto officially dominating Italian language in Dalmatia. From 1882 there was a Slovene majority in the diet of Carniola and in the capital Ljubljana, thereby replacing German as the dominant official language. Polish was introduced instead of German in 1869 in Galicia as the normal language of government. The Poles themselves systematically disregarded the large Ukrainian minority in the country, and Ukrainian was not granted the status of an official language.

The language disputes were most fiercely fought in Bohemia where the Czechs formed a majority and wanted to re-establish the equal status for their language. German speakers lost their majority in the Bohemian diet in 1880 and their dominating position in the cities of Prague and Pilsen (while retaining a slight numerical majority in the city of Brno) and found themselves in an unfamiliar minority position.

At the same time, Hungarian dominance faced challenges from the local majorities of Romanian in Transylvania and in the eastern Banat, of Slovaks in Slovakia, of Croats and Serbs in the crownlands of Croatia and of Dalmatia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the provinces known as the Vojvodina. The Romanians and the Serbs also looked to union with their fellow nationalists in the states of Romania and Serbia.

Though Hungary's leaders showed on the whole less willingness than their Austrian counterparts to share power with their subject minorities, they granted a large measure of autonomy to the Croatia in 1868, paralleling to some extent their own accommodation within the Empire the previous year. The Croatian government, in spite of nominal autonomy, was in fact an economic and administrative arm of Hungary, which the Croatians resented.

Language was one of the most contentious questions in Austro-Hungarian politics. All governments faced difficult and divisive hurdles in sorting out the languages of government and of instruction. Minorities wanted to ensure the widest possibility for education in their own language as well as in the "dominant" languages of Hungarian and German.

The Hungarian minority act from 1868 gave the minorities (Slovaks, Romanians, Serbs etc.) individual (and not also community) rights to use their language in offices, schools (although in practice often only in those founded by them and not by the state), at courts and in municipalities (if 20% of the deputies demanded it). From June 1907 (lex Apponyi) all the public and private schools in Hungary were obliged to teach the Hungarian language to such an extent that after the fourth grade the pupils could express themselves fluently in Hungarian, which led to the closing of several minority schools, mostly Slovak and Rusyn.

The situation of Jews in the kingdom, who numbered about 2 million in 1914, was ambiguous. Antisemitic parties and movements existed, but Vienna did not initiate pogroms or implement official antisemitic policies. This was mainly out of fear that such ethnic violence could ignite other ethnic minorities and result in violence that could spin out of control. The majority of Jews lived in small towns in Galicia and rural areas in Hungary and Bohemia, although there were large communities in Vienna, Budapest, Prague and other large cities.

Third Balkan War

Preludes: Bosnia and Herzegovina

On the heels of the Great Balkan Crisis, Austro-Hungarian forces occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina in August 1878 and the monarchy eventually annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 1908 as a common holding under the control of the I. & R. finance ministry, rather than attaching it to either territorial government. The occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a step taken in return for Russia's advances into Bessarabia. Unable to mediate between Turkey and Russia over the control of Serbia, Austria-Hungary declared neutrality when the conflict between the two powers escalated into a war. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Andrássy managed to force Russia to retreat from further demands in the Balkans. As a result, Great Bulgaria was broken up and Serbian independence was guaranteed. In order to counter Russian and French interests in Europe, Austria-Hungary concluded an alliance with Germany in October 1879 and with Italyin May 1882.

The annexation in 1908 led some in Vienna to contemplate combining Bosnia and Herzegovina (originally Bosnien und Herzegowina) with Croatia to form a third, slavic component of the Empire. The deaths of Franz Joseph's brother, Maximillian, and only son, Rudolf, made the Emperor's nephew, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne. The archduke was said to have been an advocate for this trialism, by which he wanted to limit the power of the Magyar aristocracy. As a result of these rumors Franz Ferdinand was not loved either in Hungary or in Serbia.

Decision for war

On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand visited the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, where Bosnian Serbs militants of the nationalist group Mlada Bosna, supplied by the Serbian militant group Black Hand, ambushed his convoy and assassinated him. There were several members of the Black Hand in Sarajevo that day. Before Franz was shot, somebody had already tried to kill him and his wife. A member of the Black Hand threw a grenade at the car, but missed. It injured some people nearby and Franz Ferdinand made sure they were given medical attention before the convoy could carry on. Gavrilo Princip was the man who shot and killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The convoy took a wrong turn into a street where Gavrilo Princip was. He took out a pistol from his pocket and shot Franz and his wife.

The Empire's military spending had not even doubled since the 1878 Congress of Berlin, while German spending had risen fivefold, and British, Russian, and French threefold. The Empire had previously lost ethnically Italian areas to Piedmont owing to nationalist movements sweeping through Italy, and many Austro-Hungarians perceived the threat of losing the southern territories inhabited by Slavs to Serbia as imminent. Serbia had recently gained a significant amount of territory in the Second Balkan War of 1913, causing much distress in government circles in Vienna and Budapest.

Some members of the government, such as Conrad von Hotzendorf, had wanted to confront the resurgent Serbian nation for some years in a preventive war, which was disliked by the emperor, 84 years old and enemy of all adventures. But the leaders of Austria-Hungary, especially Count Leopold von Berchtold, backed by its ally Germany, decided to confront Serbia militarily before it could incite a revolt; using the assassination as an excuse, they presented a list of ten demands called the July Ultimatum, expecting Serbia would never accept. When Serbia accepted nine of the ten demands but only partially accepted the remaining one, Austria-Hungary declared war. Franz Joseph I in the end had followed the urgent suggestions of his top advisors.

Over the course of July and August 1914, these events caused the start of the Third Balkan War, as Russia mobilized in support of Serbia, setting off a series of countermobilizations. Italy and Germany remained neutral, although they had an alliance with Austria-Hungary. This was because of the perception among those powers that Berchtold had been deliberately withholding information from them, was double dealing with them, and that the Serbian response to the July Ultimatum had removed all reasons for war.

Main events

Analysis of defeat



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