“Die Vereinigten Staaten von Gross-Österreich” The United States of Greater Austria

Ironically, Franz Ferdinand was not only married to a Slav, he had a deep appreciation of Slavic culture. He was one of the most enlightened Habsburgs and had a reputation as a just, kind man and a loving husband and father. He supported the notion of a redrawn map of Austria-Hungary which created a number semi-autonomous “states” of the distinct ethnic cultures and languages who would all be a part of a modern confederation: South Tyrol, German-Moravia, Bohemia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, West Galicia, Poland, East Galicia, Ukraine, Hungary, Szeklerland, Romania, Trieste, Transylvania, Carniola, Slovenia, Croatia, Vojvodina, and Serbia. In addition, the German enclaves in eastern Transylvania and elsewhere were to have limited autonomy.

Franz Ferdinand and several thinkers including Aurel Popovici created this peaceful and productive concept that with his death never materialized. Their specific proposal in 1906 was meant as a just solution to the severe problems facing the Dual Monarchy, which although composed of eleven distinct ethnic groups was largely controlled by only two, Hungarians and Germans (with Austrians), who formed the biggest element of the population at 45%. Italians, Czechs, Poles, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs and Slovenians, meanwhile, were relatively powerless and becoming increasingly more vocal, more discontent and violent.

The plan encouraged separate language and cultural identity, and it was met with strong opposition from the Hungarian royalists who feared a loss of power. It also sent a shudder down the spines of the rabid packs of nationalistic zealots as well as powers that be in the entrenched European power structure.

Language was always a contentious issue in Austro-Hungarian politics, with minorities desiring education in their own language as well as in the “dominant” languages of Hungarian and German. Emperor Franz Joseph himself mirrored the linguistic variety of his Empire and spoke fluent German, Hungarian, Czech, and some Polish and Italian. Beginning in 1867, a series of laws regarding language usage within the Austro-Hungarian Empire were enacted in an effort to satisfy individual demands. Article 19 of the Austro-Hungarian constitution stated: “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.”

Ethnic German minorities throughout the realm were deeply affected by language changes. Within this framework, the Croatian language was made equal to the official Italian language dominating in Dalmatia, and in the diet of Carniola’s capital of Laibach (Ljubljana), a Slovenian majority replaced German as the dominant official language from 1882. In 1869, in Galicia, Polish overtook German as the government language, but the Poles in turn systematically disregarded the large Ukrainian minority in the country, thus Ukrainian was not granted official language status. In Bohemia and Moravia, language disputes became tense when the Czechs first wanted to establish their language as dominant even in the old, German-speaking “Sudetenland.” Bit by bit, German status was eroded. In 1880, German-speakers lost their majority in the Bohemian diet and their linguistically dominant position in the cities of Prague and Pilsen, and in 1882, traditionally German Karl University in Prague was divided into German and Czech.

From 1683 to 1790, three major German migrations were sponsored by the Habsburgs to colonize and develop the barren, sparsely populated, frontier regions of Hungary. The Danube “Swabians,” as they were all commonly called, excelled and helped develop the cities of Hungary: the stately classical buildings in Budapest such as the former Royal Palace and Parliament Buildings, the National Theater, the Bourse and the original bridges across the Danube, all of which were mainly the creation of Danube Swabian architects and engineers. Furthermore, Hungarian achievements in medicine, science and mathematics were in good part due to Germans. But by 1905, under Magyarization, the German language was replaced by Hungarian throughout the realm and no one without a Hungarian name could get employment in any government, railways, or other national positions or even take part in Olympic Games.