The last decades of Emperor Franz Joseph’s rule were marked by conflicts between the various nationalities within the Habsburg Monarchy. The competing national demands were increasingly incompatible with the idea of a supranational Austria-Hungary.
The ethnic diversity of the Habsburg Monarchy is clearly reflected in the 1910 census. The statistical accuracy is misleading in places because the categorization was based in the Austrian half of the empire on Umgangssprache or commonly used language and in Hungary on Muttersprache or native language. Despite this imprecision, the following language groups may be discerned.
The largest language group was German speakers with 12 million or 23.4 per cent of the total population. Some 10 million people, 19.6 per cent, indicated Hungarian as their native language. In third place was Czech with 6.4 million speakers (12.5 per cent), followed by Polish with 5 million (9.7 per cent). A further 4.4 million or 8.5 per cent were listed as speaking Serbo-Croat, which today would be subdivided into Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. Ukrainian, or Ruthenian in the old Austrian diction of the time, was cited by 4 million people (7.8 per cent) as their commonly spoken language and Romanian by 3.2 million (6.3 per cent). The three smallest language groups were Slovakian with 2 million (3.8 per cent), Slovenian with 1.3 million (2.4 per cent) and finally Italian with 0.8 million speakers (1.5 per cent). A further 2.3 million people (4.5 per cent) claimed to speak none of the officially defined ‘customary languages’ of the Monarchy.
Whereas the two largest ‘nation states’ – the German Austrians and, since the Compromise with Hungary in 1867, the Magyars – sought to protect their political primacy and privileges, the other ethnic groups were mainly concerned to achieve cultural and political equality.
The various social strata experienced different forms of national inequality, injustice and repression, which gave rise to a series of political crises. The struggle for national rights in the various parts of the Monarchy focused on education and the question of the official language. The intensity and radicalism with which these conflicts were fought steadily eroded belief in the viability of the multinational state.
Translation: Nick Somers
Rumpler, Helmut: Eine Chance für Mitteleuropa. Bürgerliche Emanzipation und Staatsverfall in der Habsburgermonarchie [Österreichische Geschichte 1804–1914, hrsg. von Herwig Wolfram], Wien 2005
Rumpler, Helmut/Seger, Martin (Hrsg): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band IX/2: Soziale Strukturen, Wien 2010
Wandruszka, Adam/Urbanitsch, Peter (Hrsg.): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band III: Die Völker des Reiches (2 Bände), Wien 1980