In the Habsburg Monarchy, the process of becoming a nation occurred later than in Western Europe, and coincided with the process of democratisation, in which the mass of the people gained a share in political power for the first time. This overlap resulted in a significant increase in the potential for conflict. Populism aimed at the masses undermined any fact-focused politics, and unrestrained demagogy manoeuvred political leaders of the individual nationalities into unrealistic extremist positions that they were subsequently unable to abandon.
The history of the Slovenes was influenced by their position sandwiched between major cultural regions.
As a relatively small ethnic group with settlements cutting across historical national boundaries, the Slovenes suffered numerous social and economic disadvantages. The emergence of the Slovene state was the end result of a tedious emancipation process and opposition to German and Italian hegemony claims.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire created a vacuum waiting to be filled by new forces. The Balkans became an unstable theatre in which the interests of the major powers clashed with the national programmes of the emergent peoples of south-eastern Europe.
What did the state look like in 1914 as it prepared for a war that it would not survive?
In terms of population and economic strength, the Habsburg Monarchy was a second-class major power that had fallen behind the other superpowers of the time.
The development of Austria-Hungary reflected the diversity and heterogeneity of central Europe. Franz Joseph’s empire was a multinational state in which over ten languages were spoken and all European religions were represented.
The Czechs were the third strongest nationality in the Habsburg Monarchy after the Germans and Magyars.
The course of their evolution into the Czech nation can be seen as absolutely prototypical of the smaller ethnic groups in Central Europe. After speedily catching up in the cultural, economic and social spheres, the modern Czech nation, with remarkable self-assertion, became a rival to the previously dominant German-speaking inhabitants of the Bohemian lands.
As one of the smaller ethnic groups in the Habsburg Monarchy, the Slovaks had a tough time embarking on the era of nationalism. In the nineteenth century the Slovakian emancipation movement focused on the political implementation of the ever louder demands for free expression of their national existence against the Magyar hegemony within the Kingdom of Hungary.
Of all the nationalities of Austria-Hungary, those with German as their mother tongue were the largest group and also the strongest in social and economic terms. These ‘German-Austrians’ considered themselves to be the ‘cement’ that held Austria-Hungary together and the guarantors of the whole idea behind the Habsburg Monarchy. However, they increasingly found their privileged position being challenged by the other language groups.