Friday, February 8, 2013
Story of Monarchy: Austria-Hungary Part II
Continued from Part I
Although it might not have seemed so at the time, the countdown to the First World War began in 1908 when the Austrian Foreign Minister, Alois Aehrenthal, succeeded in outmaneuvering Russia and annexing Bosnia outright to Austria-Hungary. There was no immediate crisis over it but the action enraged the Serbians, embarrassed the Russians and caused Britain and France to take a more unfriendly view toward Austria-Hungary. Italy too was upset as, according to their treaty with Austria-Hungary, they were promised the return of Italian populated territories if Austria-Hungary ever made territorial gains elsewhere but these provisions were ignored. Germany remained supportive but was less than pleased with the development. However, they had little choice as worsening relations with France, Britain and Russia left Austria-Hungary as the only major continental ally Germany had. The annexation also dramatically increased the Slavic population of Austria-Hungary and this encouraged the view held by Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne, that a new compromise, similar to that made with the Hungarians, should be enacted to give the southern Slavs equal status with the German Austrians and Magyar Hungarians.
Austria-Hungary mobilized a massive army for the conflict but was hampered by many difficulties. Logistical support was woefully inefficient, Russia had all the Austro-Hungarian war plans in advance and the Dual-Monarchy was almost surrounded by enemies. The initial advance in Serbia was a humiliating affair while on the Russian front there was more success but Austria-Hungary suffered horrendous losses that could not be made up. German reinforcements were increasingly necessary to maintain so many fronts. In 1915 Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary and in 1916 the Serbian army returned with French and British support to a new front in Greece. In November of that year Emperor Francis Joseph died and was succeeded by his great-nephew Emperor Charles I. With the war situation deteriorating, in 1917 the new Emperor tried to arrange a peaceful end to the war but was rejected out of hand by the French and British. This also greatly enraged the Germans who thereafter viewed Austria-Hungary with suspicion and for the remainder of the conflict many, not without justification, viewed Austria-Hungary as a prisoner of the Germans.
Emperor Charles I tried twice to regain his throne in Hungary, where the monarchy was legally restored but under a regent that proved uncooperative. He died in Portugal in 1922 and in 2004 was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Upon his death, the monarchial legacy of Austria-Hungary passed to his son, Archduke Otto, who also had hope of a restoration. Such a thing was discussed by the Federal State of Austria. Engelbert Dollfuss had repealed the ban on members of the House of Hapsburg entering Austria and he had restored the property of the Imperial Family that the first republic had seized. However, he was assassinated by the Nazis in 1934 in a failed coup attempt. His successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, reserved for himself the right to restore the monarchy and seemed inclined to do so even sounding out Austria’s most powerful ally at the time, Benito Mussolini, on the idea which the Duce said he would not oppose. Once again though outside events worked to block the move. Adolf Hitler (a stridently anti-Hapsburg republican) moved immediately to annex Austria in an operation named “Otto”, presumably because it prevented him from regaining the throne of his father. Few people seem to realize how close this came to reality. Schuschnigg himself actually met with the Archduke (secretly) and told him the restoration would be carried out as soon as possible. Few people also seem to realize how paranoid the Nazis were about this eventuality.