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11: The Language Question

<< 10: Party Government in Austria || 12: The Coalition Ministry of 1893 >>

MEANWHILE it was necessary for the government to do something for the Czechs and the other Slavs, on whose support they depended for their majority. The influence of the government became more favourable to them in the matter of language, and this caused the struggle of nationalities to assume the first place in Austrian public life - a place which it has ever since maintained. The question of language becomes a political one, so far as it concerns the use of different languages in the public offices and law courts, and in the schools. There never was any general law laying down clear and universal rules, but since the time of Joseph II. German had been the ordinary language of the government. All laws were published in German; German was the sole language used in the central public offices in Vienna, and the language of the court and of the army; moreover, in almost every part of the monarchy it had become the language of what is called the internal service in the public offices and law courts; all books and correspondence were kept in German, not only in the German districts, but also in countries such as Bohemia and Galicia. The bureaucracy and the law courts had therefore become a network of German-speaking officialism extending over the whole country; no one had any share in the government unless he could speak and write German. The only exception was in the Italian districts; not only in Italy itself (in Lombardy, and afterwards in Venetia), but in South Tirol, Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia, Italian has always been used, even for the internal service of the government offices, and though the actual words of command are now given in German and the officers are obliged to know Serbo-Croatian it remains to this day the language of the Austrian navy. Any interference with the use of German would be a serious blow to the cause of those who hoped to Germanize the whole empire. Since 1867 the old rules have been maintained absolutely as regards the army, and German has also, as required by the military authorities, become the language of the railway administration. It remains the language of the central offices in Vienna, and is the usual, though not the only, language used in the Reichsrath. In 1869 a great innovation was made, when Polish was introduced throughout the whole of Galicia as the normal language of government; and since that time the use of German has almost entirely disappeared in that territory. Similar innovations have also begun, as we shall see, in other parts.

Different from this is what is called the external service. Even in the old days it was customary to use the language of the district in communication between the government offices and private individuals, and evidence could be given in the law courts in the language generally spoken. This was not the result of any law, but depended on administrative regulations of the government service; it was practically necessary in remote districts, such as Galicia and Bukovina, where few of the population understood German. In some places a Slav-speaking individual would himself have to provide the interpreter, and approach the government in German. Local authorities, e.g., town councils and the diets, were free to use what language they wished, and in this matter the Austrian government has shown great liberality. The constitution of 1867 laid down a principle of much importance, by which previous custom became established as a right. Article 19 runs: "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 (landesüblich) languages 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 Landessprache, each of the races receives the necessary means of education in its own language." The application of this law gives great power to the government, for everything depends on what is meant by landesüblich, and it rests with them to determine when a language is customary. The Germans demand the recognition of German as a customary language in every part of the empire, so that a German may claim to have his business attended to in his own language, even in Dalmatia and Galicia. In Bohemia the Czechs claim that their language shall be recognized as customary, even in those districts such as Reichenberg, which are almost completely German; the Germans, on the other hand, claim that the Czech language shall only be recognized in those towns and districts where there is a considerable Czech population. What Taaffe's Administration did was to interpret this law in a sense more favourable to the Slavs than had hitherto been the case.

Peculiar importance is attached to the question of education. The law of 1867 required that the education in the elementary schools in the Slav districts should be given in Czech or Slovenian, as the case might be. The Slavs, however, required that, even when a small minority of Slav race settled in any town, they should not be compelled to go to the German schools, but should have their own school provided for them; and this demand was granted by Prazak, minister of education under Count Taaffe. The Germans had always hoped that the people as they became educated would cease to use their own particular language. Owing to economic causes the Slavs, who increase more rapidly than the Germans, tend to move westwards, and large numbers settle in the towns and manufacturing districts. It might have been expected that they would then cease to use their own language and become Germanized; but, on the contrary, the movement of population is spreading their language and they claim that special schools should be provided for them, and that men of their own nationality should be appointed to government offices to deal with their business. This has happened not only in many places in Bohemia, but in Styria, and even in Vienna, where there has been a great increase in the Czech population and a Czech school has been founded. The introduction of Slavonic into the middle and higher schools has affected the Germans in their most sensitive point. They have always insisted that German is the Kultur-sprache. On one occasion Count A. Auersperg (Anastasius Grün) entered the diet of Carniola carrying the whole of the Slovenian literature under his arm as evidence that the Slovenian language could not well be substituted for German as a medium of higher education .

The first important regulations which were issued under the law of 1867 applied to Dalmatia, and for that country between 1872 and 1876 a series of laws and edicts were issued determining to what extent the Slavonic idioms were to be recognized. Hitherto all business had been done in Italian, the language of a small minority living in the seaport towns. The effect of these laws has been to raise Croatian to equality with Italian. It has been introduced in all schools, so that nearly all education is given in Croatian even though a knowledge of Italian is quite essential for the maritime population, and it is only in one or two towns, such as Zara, the ancient capital of the country, that Italian is able to maintain itself. Since 1882 there has been a Slav majority in the diet, and Italian has been disused in the proceedings of that body. In this case the concessions to the Servo-Croatians had been made by the Liberal ministry; they required the parliamentary support of the Dalmatian representatives, who were more numerous than the Italian, and it was also necessary to cultivate the loyalty of the Slav races in this part so as to gain a support for Austria against the Russian party, which was very active in the Balkan Peninsula. It was better to sacrifice the Italians of Dalmatia than the Germans of Carinthia.

It was not until 1879 that the Slovenes received the support of the government. In Carniola they succeeded, in 1882, in winning a majority in the diet, and from this time while the diet of Styria is the centre of the German, that of Carniola is the chief support of the Slovene agitation. In the same year they won the majority in the town council of Laibach, which had hitherto been German. They were able, therefore, to introduce Illyrian as the official language, and cause the names of the streets to be written up in Illyrian. This question of street names is, as it were, a sign of victory. Serious riots broke out in some of the towns of Istria when, for the first time, Illyrian was used for this purpose as well as Italian. In Prague the victory of the Czechs has been marked by the removal of all German street names, and the Czech town council even passed a by-law forbidding private individuals to have tablets put up with the name of the street in German. In consequence of a motion by the Slovene members of the Reichsrath and a resolution of the diet of Carniola, the government also declared Slovenian to be a recognized language for the whole of Carniola, for the district of Cilli in Styria, and for the Slovene and mixed districts in the south of Carinthia, and determined that in Laibach a Slovene gymnasium should be maintained as well as the German one.

The Germans complain that in many cases the government acted very unfairly to them. They constantly refer to the case of Klagenfurt. This town in Carinthia had a population of 16,491 German-speaking Austrians; the Slovenian-speaking population numbered 568, of whom 180 were inhabitants of the gaol or the hospital. The government, however, in 1880 declared Slovenian a customary language, so that provision had to be made in public offices and law courts for dealing with business in Slovenian. It must be remembered, however, that even though the town was German, the rural population of the surrounding villages was chiefly Slovene.

It was in Bohemia and Moravia that the contest was fought out with the greatest vehemence. The two races were nearly equal, and the victory of Czech would mean that nearly two million Germans would be placed in a position of subordination; but for the last twenty years there had been a constant encroachment by Czech on German. This was partly due to the direct action of the government. An ordinance of 1880 determined that henceforward all business which had been brought before any government office or law court should be dealt with, within the office, in the language in which it was introduced: this applied to the whole of Bohemia and Moravia, and meant that Czech would henceforward have a position within the government service. It was another step in the same direction when, in 1886, it was ordered that "to avoid frequent translations" business introduced in Czech should be dealt with in the same language in the high courts of Prague and Brünn. Then not only were a large number of Czech elementary schools founded but also many middle schools were given to the Czechs, and Czech classes introduced in German schools; and, what affected the Germans most, in 1882 classes in Czech were started in the university of Prague - a desecration, as it seemed, of the oldest German university.

The growth of the Slav races was, however, not merely the result of government assistance; it had begun long before Taaffe assumed office; it was to be seen in the census returns and in the results of elections. Prague was no longer the German city it had been fifty years before; the census of 1880 showed 36,000 Germans to 120,000 Czechs. It was the same in Pilsen. In 1861 the Germans had a majority in this town; in 1880 they were not a quarter of the population. This same phenomenon, which occurs elsewhere, cannot be attributed to any laxity of the Germans. The generation which was so vigorously demanding national rights had themselves all been brought up under the old system in German schools, but this had not implanted in them a desire to become German. It was partly due to economic causes - the greater increase among the Czechs, and the greater migration from the country to the towns partly the result of the romantic and nationalist movement which had arisen about 1830, and partly the result of establishing popular education and parliamentary government at the same time. As soon as these races which had so long been ruled by the Germans received political liberty and the means of education, they naturally used both to reassert their national individuality.

It may be suggested that the resistance to the German language is to some extent a result of the increased national feeling among the Germans themselves. They have made it a matter of principle. In the old days it was common for the children of German parents in Bohemia to learn Czech since 1867 this has ceased to be the case. It may almost be said that they make it a point of honour not to do so. A result of this is that, as educated Czechs are generally bilingual, it is easier for them to obtain appointments in districts where a knowledge of Czech is required, and the Germans, therefore, regard every order requiring the use of Czech as an order which excludes Germans from a certain number of posts. This attitude of hostility and contempt is strongest among the educated middle class, it is not shown to the same extent by the clergy and the nobles.

The influence of the Church is also favourable to the Slav races, not so much from principle as owing to the fact that they supply more candidates for ordination than the Germans. There is no doubt, however, that the tendency among Germans has been to exalt the principle of nationality above religion, and to give it an absolute authority in which the Roman Catholic Church cannot acquiesce. In this, as in other ways, the Germans in Austria have been much influenced by the course of events in the German empire. This hostility of the Church to the German nationalist movement led in 1898 to an agitation against the Roman Catholic Church, and among the Germans of Styria and other territories large numbers left the Church, going over either to Protestantism or to Old Catholicism. This "Los von Rom" movement, which was caused by the continued alliance of the Clerical party with the Slav parties, is more of the nature of a political demonstration than of a religious movement.

The Germans, so long accustomed to rule, now saw their old ascendancy threatened, and they defended it with an energy that increased with each defeat. In 1880 they founded a great society, the Deutscher Schulverein, to establish and assist German schools. It spread over the whole of the empire; in a few years it numbered 100,000 members, and had an income of nearly 300,000 gulden no private society in Austria had ever attained so great a success. In the Reichsrath a motion was introduced, supported by all the German Liberal parties, demanding that German should be declared the language of state and regulating the conditions under which the other idioms could be recognized; it was referred to a committee from which it never emerged, and a bill to the same effect, introduced in 1886, met a similar fate. In Bohemia they demanded, as a means of protecting themselves against the effect of the language ordinances, that the country should be divided into two parts; in one German was to be the sole language, in the other Czech was to be recognized. A proposal to this effect was introduced by them in the diet at the end of 1886 but since 1882 the Germans had been in a minority. The Czechs, of course, refused even to consider it, it would have cut away the ground on which their whole policy was built up namely, the indissoluble unity of the Bohemian kingdom, in which German and Czech should throughout be recognized as equal and parallel languages. It was rejected on a motion of Prince Karl Schwarzenberg without discussion, and on this all the Germans rose and left the diet, thereby imitating the action of the Czechs in old days when they had the majority.

These events produced a great change in the character of the German opposition. It became more and more avowedly racial; the defence of German nationality was put in the front of their programme. The growing national animosity added bitterness to political life, and destroyed the possibility of a strong homogeneous party on which a government might depend. The beginning of this movement can be traced back to the year 1870. About that time a party of young Germans had arisen who professed to care little for constitutionalism and other "legal mummies," but made the preservation and extension of their own nationality their sole object. As is so often the case in Austria, the movement began in the university of Vienna, where a Leserverein (reading club) of German students was formed as a point of cohesion for Germans, which had eventually to be suppressed. The first representative of the movement in parliament was Herr von Schönerer, who did not scruple to declare that the Germans looked forward to union with the German empire. They were strongly influenced by men outside Austria. Bismarck was their national hero the anniversary of Sedan their political festival, and approximation to Germany was dearer to them than the maintenance of Austria. After 1878 a heightening of racial feeling began among the Radicals, and in 1881 all the German parties in opposition joined together in a club called the United Left, and in their programme put in a prominent place the defence of the position of the Germans as the condition for the existence of the state, and demanded that German should be expressly recognized as the official language. The younger and more ardent spirits, however, found it difficult to work in harmony with the older constitutional leaders. They complained that the party leaders were not sufficiently decisive in the measures for self-defence. In 1885 great festivities in honour of Bismarck's eightieth birthday, which had been arranged in Graz, were forbidden by the government, and the Germans of Styria were very indignant that the party did not take up the matter with sufficient energy. After the elections of 1885 the Left, therefore, broke up again into two clubs, the "German Austrian," which included the more moderate, and the "German," which wished to use sharper language. The German Club, e.g., congratulated Bismarck on his measures against the Poles; the German Austrians refused to take cognizance of events outside Austria with which they had nothing to do. Even the German Club was not sufficiently decided for Herr von Schönerer and his friends, who broke off from it and founded a "National German Union." They spoke much of Germanentum and Unverfälschtes Deutschtum, and they advocated a political union with the German empire, and were strongly anti-Hungarian, and wished to resign all control over Galicia, if by a closer union with Germany they could secure German supremacy in Bohemia and the south Slav countries. They play the same part in Austria as does the "pan-Germanic Union" in Germany. When in 1888 the two clubs, the German Austrians and the Germans, joined once more under the name of the "United German Left" into a new club with eighty-seven members, so as the better to guard against the common danger and to defeat the educational demands of the Clericals, the National Germans remained apart with seventeen members. They were also infected by the growing spirit of anti-Semitism. The Germans parties had originally been the party of the capitalists, and comprised a large number of Jews; this new German party committed itself to violent attacks upon the Jews, and for this reason alone any real harmony between the different branches would have been impossible.

Notwithstanding the concessions about language the Czechs had, however, made no advance towards their real object - the recognition of the Bohemian kingdom. Perhaps the leaders of the party, who were now growing old, would have been content with the influence they had already attained, but they were hard pressed at home by the Young Czechs, who were more impatient. When Count Thun was appointed governor of Bohemia their hopes ran high, for he was supposed to favour the coronation of the emperor at Prague. In 1890, however, instead of proceeding to the coronation as was expected, Taaffe attempted to bring about a reconciliation between the opposing parties. The influence by which his policy was directed is not quite clear, but the Czechs had been of recent years less easy to deal with, and Taaffe had never really shown any wish to alter the constitution; his policy always was to destroy the influence of parliament by playing off one party against the other and so to win a clear field for the government. During the month of January conferences were held at Vienna, with Taaffe in the chair, to which were invited representatives of the three groups into which the Bohemian representatives were divided, the German party the Czechs, and the Feudal party. After a fortnight's discussion an agreement was made on the basis of a separation between the German and the Czech districts, and a revision of the electoral law. A protocol enumerating the points agreed on was signed by all who had taken part in the conference, and in May bills were laid before the diet incorporating the chief points in the agreement. But they were not carried; the chief reason being that the Young Czechs had not been asked to take part in the conference, and did not consider themselves bound by its decisions; they opposed the measures and had recourse to obstruction, and a certain number of the Old Czechs gradually came over to them. Their chief ground of criticizing the proposed measures was that they would threaten the unity of the Bohemian country. At the elections in 1891 a great struggle took place between the Old and the Young Czechs. The latter were completely victorious; Rieger, who had led the party for thirty years, disappeared from the Reichsrath. The first result was that the proposed agreement with Bohemia came to an end. But the disappearance of the Old Czechs made the parliamentary situation very insecure. The Young Czechs could not take their place; their Radical and anti-clerical tendencies alarmed the Feudalists and Clericalists who formed so large a part of the Right they; attacked the alliance with Germany they made public demonstration of their French sympathies they entered into communication with other Slav races, especially the Serbs of Hungary and Bosnia; they demanded universal suffrage, and occasionally supported the German Radicals in their opposition to the Clerical parties especially in educational matters; under their influence disorder increased in Bohemia, a secret society called the Umladina (an imitation of the Servian society of that name) was discovered, and stringent measures had to be taken to preserve order. The government therefore veered round towards the German Liberals; some of the ministers most obnoxious to the Germans resigned, and their places were taken by Germans. For two years the government seemed to waver, looking now to the Left, now to Hohenwart and his friends; for a time Taaffe really had the support of all parties except the Young Czechs.

After two years he gave up his cautious policy and took a bold move. In October 1893 he introduced a reform bill. Universal suffrage had long been demanded by the working men and the Socialists; the Young Czechs also had put it on their programme, and many of the Christian Socialists and anti-Semites desired an alteration of the franchise. Taaffe's bill, while keeping the curiae of the feudal proprietors and the chambers of commerce as they were, and making no change in the number of members, proposed to give the franchise in both towns and rural districts to every one who could read and write, and had resided six months in one place. This was opposed by the Liberals, for, with the growth of socialism and anti-Semitism, they knew that the extension of the franchise would destroy their influence. On this Taaffe had probably calculated but he had omitted to inquire what the other parties would do. He had not even consulted Hohenwart, to whose assistance he owed his long tenure of power. Not even the pleasure of ruining the Liberals was sufficient to persuade the Conservatives to vote for a measure which would transfer the power from the well-to-do to the indigent, and Hohenwart justly complained that they ought to have been secure against surprises of this kind. The Poles also were against a measure which would give more influence to the Ruthenes. The position of the government was hopeless, and without waiting for a division Taaffe resigned.

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