Alternate History

Federal Solution (Twilight of a New Era)

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The Federal Solution (Föderale Lösung in German, Szövetségi megoldás in Hungarian) refers to the new constitutional and dynastic solution given to the political crisis of the old Austria-Hungarian Empire between 1915 to 1921, establishing the Federal State of Austria-Hungary. Historically the Federal Solution it is divided in three stages, a) The Conference of March 1915, b) the Conference on the Organization of Austria-Hungary 1916-1917 and c) The Provisional Federal Assembly (June 1917- October 1921).

Copies of the proceedings and resolutions are keep in the Royal and Imperial Archives, the Federal Constitutional Court, the Federal Supreme Court and the Federal Parliament Library. Due to its political, legislative and judicial importance there has been an comprehensive scholarship and its an obligatory background and reference on the decisions of the judicial system and constitutional reviews and reforms.

Conference of March 1915

The origin of the Conference was the speech from the throne given by the new Emperor-King, Franz Ferdinand, to the Diets of Austria and Hungary. It was announced that an utmost priority would be given to a reform of the Compromise of 1861 in order to grant political and self government rights to the Slav nationalities within the Empire. In March 1915 the Diet of Austria votes to start a conference on the reform of the Empire and invites the Diet of Hungary to do the same. On the 1st of March the meeting starts between the delegations of Austria and Hungary in the Reichsratsgebäude (Vienna), open with great expectation, since the previous meeting by means the Delegations of the Compromise of 1867 did not allow for debates. Representatives of the Bohemia, Carniola, Dalmatia, Galicia, Bukovina, Tyrol and Austrian Littoral, Transylvania and Croatia, this last two to the dismay of the Hungarians, joined the meeting two days later on invitation of the Emperor-King. The Imperial envoys, mainly from the Belvedere Circle, presented a sketch of the reforms:

  • Political and territorial reorganization of the Empire in a federal form.
  • The basis of the new reorganization will be on linguistic lines. That is to say, the major languages of the Empire (German, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, Slovene, Serbo-Croat and Italian) will each have its own state.
  • The basis of the territorial realignment will be the 1910 Census and the proposals of Palacký and Popovici, with adjustments.
  • Each state will have complete control of its internal affairs, with guarantees to the minorities.
  • The Federal government will have the control of common affairs that affect more than one state.
  • There will be a parliamentary form of government on state and federal level. The Emperor-King will have reserved powers only on the Federal common institutions. The personal representative and dynastic link will be a Governor designated to each state.
  • The Federal budget will be discussed and voted annually by an elected Federal Parliament. A perpetual customs union will be established. There will exist a common economic and financial legislation, and
  • The contribution to the federal budget will be calculated on population of the future states. The historical debt of Austria and Hungary will be assigned proportionally to each state.

A deadlock develops because of the refusal of Hungarians delegates to divide lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen (Kingdom of Hungary) and give full autonomy to Croatia, Transylvania and other nationalities. This will became the immediate cause of the Hungarian Civil War. The Conference was given a temporary recess on April 1915 has the Civil war started, afterwards made definitive due to World War I.

Conference on the Organization of Austria-Hungary (January 1916- June 1917)

The Hungarian Civil War (April-June 1915) meant the territorial and political disintegration of the Kingdom of Hungary. The nationalities that were part of Hungary set up their own political representation in that sprang in the first week of the Civil War. The Romanians in Transylvania, Slovaks, Croatians, Italians of Fiume (Rijeka), and the territories of Bukovina, Banat and Voijodina created their respective National Councils. This was followed a month later on the western half of the Empire by the creation of the national councils of Bohemians, Slovenes, Italians in Tyrol and Trieste, West and East Galicia and German Austrians. After the occupation of Budapest, and the establishment of an provisional government for Hungary, the Minister of Common Affairs of Austria-Hungary calls the National Councils and Hungarian provisional government to a Conference to discuss the future of the Empire. The Imperial government announces the implementation of universal suffrage and full autonomy to all nationalities within the Empire. The National Councils accept it if base of the reforms is the agenda of the March Conference, they will remain within the Empire and help in its defense and the war against Serbia. The meeting of the Conference is set for January 1916. A delegation from the occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina travels to Vienna to integrate the Conference. The Conference starts with a royal audience of the representatives and the Minister of Common Affairs with the Emperor-King. The resolutions are voted by acclamation once a consensus has been reached by the delegations and the Minister-President. The language of the meetings are in German.

The goals of each delegation where the following:

  • For the Imperial envoys the immediate goals where: Preserve the territorial integrity of the Empire. Financial autonomy of Federal finances. Disband of territorial armies, has experienced by the difficulties in the Civil War and the establishment of a Common Army. Has a consequence the states will have no army, only a state police or similar. A complete and perpetual customs unions. More powers to the Federal Government, especially in defense and exterior affairs.
  • For the Germans, one common German unified State in Austria-Hungary and linguistic guarantees in the other states for German speakers. Maintain the priority of German has the official language of Federal Institutions, in the Army and Navy and in the official communication between the states.
  • The Hungarians, while not opposing the reforms, were more concerned with the aftermath of the Civil War in Hungary. The Provisional Government was more worried of legitimatizing itself has the successor to the dismantled Kingdom of Hungary, closing down all internal opposition and preparing the elections by universal suffrage of a Constituent Assembly to redact a new constitution. In some more progressive and liberal sectors there was a sign of relief that the question of the nationalities inside the old Kingdom of Hungary (Romanians, Croatians) would be of no future concern and could be built in other terms, viz. State to State. In some more conservative quarters the flags of irredentism (Greater Hungary) were displayed and name-calling on the betrayal of the Habsburg dynasty for dissolving the Crown of Saint Stephen. The stance of the Provisional Government was to keep a compact Hungarian speaking territory that could include the Székely minority in Transylvania. However, this was foiled by the demands of political rights and autonomy from Hungary by the Székely.
  • For the Romanians, a state forged from the zone of Transylvania in Hungary with full political autonomy, and the possibility to establish links with the Kingdom of Romania.
  • For the Slovenes, a separate state (Carniola), that will not become part of a common Slavic state.
  • For the Croats, Serbs and Bosnians there was a loose ideas and proposals that initially stood between austroslavism and pan-slavism. The declaration of war of Serbia and the destruction and horrors of the war opted out a union with Serbia. However, common national idea and political movements favored the creation of a common Slavic state, if possible also with Carniola.
  • For Italians, a minority of minorities, the future did not looked good. Deprived on the means to unite to Italy and accepting the realpolitik of the union with Austria that made public their proposal for the creation of states in Trentino and Trieste and possibly Fiume with the ports of Dalmatia.
  • Czechs (the name Bohemians gave themselves) offered a union with Slovaks to form a common state (Czechoslovak State). However, the proposal its rejected by the majority of Slovakian delegates that pressed for a separate state. The idea of a Czech-Slovak State was definitely dropped after the offer of the future Federal Government to finance an industrial development in Slovakia and the progress in defining the future frontiers of Bohemia that fully incorporated cites with a high number of Germans like Brno.
  • the Ukrainian where favor of dividing Galicia in two states: the Polish West Galicia and the Ukrainian East Galicia with its capital in Lviv. There would be a freedom of religious practice and the disestablishment of any official church in the new states of the former Galicia.
  • For the Polish, If the Ukrainians created a separate state, there must be guarantees for the polish minority, specially in the city of Lviv. The future situation of the University of Lviv would be decided by both states. There was also the proposal to call for a referendum of the future West Galicia to ask if would be made part of a re-established Polish Republic.
  • The delegates of Moravia and Bukovina proposed the basis of the reorganization should also include the precepts and framework of the Compromises of Moravia (1905) and Bukovina (1910).

The main decisions where:

  • The Emperor-King will be the Head of State and the symbol of the union of the diverse nationalities in the Federal State. The imperial and royal titles will be reworded to express the new situation. The affairs of the Imperial-Royal Family and the Habsburg household will be exclusive reserved powers of the Emperor-King. Only in the case of a Regency will the Federal Parliament directly intervene. The dynastic union in each of the states will be represented by a governor that will act has a representative of the Emperor-King. However, each state must specify for the governor the areas of reserved powers.
  • The requisites of suffrage will be the same on state and federal level. Universal suffrage will the norm for all elections (local, state and federal). Universal suffrage has define by all citizens (male or female) 21 years old or older that can read and write in any of the official languages of the Federal State.
  • There will be no territorial enclaves inside the states, the territorial continuity will be the norm. This called for the formation of two Hungarian speakings states, three German ones and two Italian ones. A commission would draw the new boundaries of the States and present its proposal to the Conference. Once approved, a Special Cartographic Commission would issue the definitive frontiers to an elected Federal Assembly for its approval.
  • In the case of cities with mixed nationalities, like Brno, Lviv and Cluj, they will be integrated to the surrounding territory.
  • The minorities will have guarantees in the fields of education and linguistic affairs if they represent more than 10% of the population of the new state. The said guarantees will be guarded by the Federal common institutions, but its legislation will be a matter of the states. Who would also legislate on the use and rights of languages at local government. On the status of mixed cities the states will decided by means of their legislation.
  • The territories of Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Styria, Salzburg, Carinthia, Tirol (with German majorities) and Voralberg will be united in one common state (German-Austria), and Germans in Bohemia and Moravia-Silesia will form the states of German-Bohemia and Silesia.
  • The creation of a second Hungarian speaking state (Szeklerland) along Hungary.
  • The Romanians will form the state of Transylvania, with political rights at local level and guarantees for the Transylvanian Saxons, and other groups that where part of the former province of Banat (Germans, Hungarians and Serbians)
  • The status of a future Slavic state is clarified. The former territories and provinces of Croatia-Slavonia, Dalmatia, Vojvodina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and part of Banat will constitute one common South Slavic State with its capital in Zagreb.
  • The future of Fiume was decided, after a long debate that considered:
    • a) annexing it to Trieste. Not acceptable to most delegates because it would break the territorial continuity principle and the integration of large proportions of Croatian inhabitants,
    • b) status of special municipality inside the future state South Slavic State. Proposal rejected by Czechs, Ukrainians and Romanians because it would also apply to Brno, Lviv and Cluj and other cities in the same condition and would become de facto enclaves,
    • c) a bilingual state (Italian and Croatian) on the peninsula of Istria incorporating Fiume, it would be the only state that would break the linguistic norm on the creation of the new states
    • This last solution was accepted. The former Austrian Littoral crownland with territorial adjustments on the peninsula of Istria and incorporating Trieste, Gorizia, Gradisca and Fiume became the state of Istria. Reparations for the lose of a major port (Fiume, Rijeka in Croatian) to the South Slavic State were that it would receive technical and financial help for the development and upgrade of at least 4 other ports in Dalmatia, along guarantees of minority rights for Italians living in the said zone.
  • The official language of the South Slavic State would be called Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, due to the similarities of the three languages (Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian) it would be difficult to treat them separately. Therefore, the official languages of the federation are German, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, Slovene, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian and Italian. Federal legislation will specify guarantees and linguistic facilities in the federal institutions.

The Minister of Common Affairs is named Minister-President of Austria-Hungary. The state and federal spheres of action and powers are defined. The courts of justice will arbitrate and solve problems of jurisdiction. There will a common army with German has its language of command. The nationalities will be given the facilities in the Army, Navy and Air Force. The customs authority would be federal agency of the Federal Ministry of Finances. A constitutional court system will be set up on federal and state level to guarantee the constitutional right of the citizens.

The Federal Parliament will have two chambers. A lower chamber elected directly by the people on electoral districts that represent linguistics principles and an upper chamber of the representatives of the States. This last one similar to the German Reichsrat. The Federal Government cabinet must have the political support of the lower chamber. The emperor-king and the upper chamber will have the power of veto. Money bills will have no veto, for other bills the upper chamber will have a suspensive veto of one year, repealed by a qualified majority in the lower chamber. Religious freedom will be a federal guarantee, the state and federal government will not provide funds to the cult. Church tax will be voluntarily imposed on members of religious congregations.. All inhabitants are citizens of the Empire in rights and obligations. The states will not discriminate on linguistic, religious, racial or political distinctions. A common federal bill of rights will be part of the new constitution.

Provisional Federal Assembly (June 1917- October 1921)

On June 1917 the Conference voted to rename itself Provisional Federal Assembly, with the power to legislate on all matters of federal interest, draft and vote the text of the Federal Constitution. The National Councils and Provisional Government of Hungary are to elect delegates for this new legislative body.

The new Provisional Federal Assembly was inaugurated on May 1917 in presence of the Emperor-King, who gives out a public address. It was composed of the elected deputies of the National Councils and Provisional Government of Hungary. Each National Council and Hungary is represented by deputies according in proportion to the inhabitants of the future state. Has its first business and order of the day, the Federal Assembly approves the list of Ministers for the Federal Government presented by the Minister-President of Austria-Hungary. Other matters it deals during it tenure where:

  • Law that gives wartime powers to the Minister-President of Austria-Hungary (later renamed Federal Chancellor).
  • Assumes the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina until the end of the war and its integration to the South Slavic State.
  • The redaction and approval of the Bill of Rights of the Federal State.
  • Nominates a Commission to draft a project of the Federal Constitution.
  • Approves the Federal Elections Law (which gives to vote to all men and women 21 years or older that that can read and write in any of the languages of the Federal State) and the Electoral Districts for the lower chamber.
  • Votes the separation of Church and State on Federal and State Level.
  • Names the Special Cartographic Commission that will issue the definitive frontiers, for its approval by the elected Federal Assembly
  • Settles the principles of the Federal Budget, taxes and customs duties and negotiates the states proportionate of the historical Federal Debt of Austria-Hungary.
  • Approves the laws that regulate the future status of the Universities of Lviv, German Charles-Ferdinand University (Prague) and the Czech Charles-Ferdinand University (Prague).
  • Creates a commission to assess the establishment of Federal University and a Federal Polytechnic Institute.
  • Approves the first Law on the Organization of the Federal Government. This text renames the Minister-President of Austria-Hungary has Federal Chancellor, establishes the Federal Ministries and the Federal Ministers Council.
  • Approves the Treaty of Ravenna.
  • Approves the Federal Constitution.
  • And finally calls for elections of all local, state and federal assemblies after the end of the War.

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