Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On the Austro-Hungarian Empire

On the Austro-Hungarian Empire: If there was ever an empire that embodied the imperial decadence of late-nineteenth-century Europe, it was Austria-Hungary. Formed in 1867 after a compromise between two quasi-independent lands of the former Holy Roman Empire (ruled by the Habsburgs), Austria needed to redefine itself in the wake of two embarrassing and expensive wars. In fact, the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 pushed Austria to the brink of financial collapse. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Hungary was looking to distinguish itself as a major player in European affairs (probably since the days of Attila the Hun). It also sought protection from potential incursions by the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the compromise that birthed the Austro-Hungarian Empire was rather ill-conceived. At its core, however, Austria-Hungary suffered from an identity crisis. Was it more Austrian or more Hungarian? And where was its primary seat of power, Vienna or Budapest? In short, the Empire struggled to recognize its vast diversity of Germanic, Slavic, and Muslim peoples, which ultimately helped spark World War I in 1914. Perhaps Franz Ferdinand was better off not assuming the throne.

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