Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Poles and Ruthenians in the Habsburg Monarchy

Poles and Ruthenians dominated the northeastern region of the Habsburg Monarchy. Numerically, the two nationalities belonged to the larger linguistic groups in Austria-Hungary.

The Poles formed the fourth largest linguistic group in the Dual Monarchy. In the 1910 census 5.3 million people were registered as belonging to the Polish linguistic group, corresponding to around 10 % of the total population. In the Austrian half of the empire, where their settlement area was almost entirely concentrated, they made up 17.8 % of the population, thus the third largest.

The heartland of the Poles under Habsburg rule was Galicia, where, in 1910, 58.6 % of the population declared themselves to be Poles. Further Crown lands with a Polish population were Austrian Silesia with 31.7 % and Bukovina with 4.6 %. Poles were also settled in the Upper Hungarian North Carpathians but were statistically non-relevant; here the Polish linguistic region overlapped the border to Hungary.

Living in close historical and geographical encapsulation with the Poles were the Ruthenians. The term applies to the speakers of the West Ukrainian variant of the Ukrainian language. To distinguish these from the majority of Ukrainians living under Russian domination, Imperial-Royal bureaucracy introduced the term Ruthenian.

The Ruthenians formed a linguistic group in the Habsburg Monarchy of 4.2 million people, corresponding to 7.9 % of the total population. Their settlement area extended to both halves of the empire; they were moreover scattered across several Crown lands, without ever being in the majority.

Most Ruthenians (3.7 millions) lived in Cisleithania, where, at 12.6 %, they formed the fourth largest linguistic group. Galicia accommodated the largest part of the Ruthenian population with 3.3 millions (= 40.2 % of the country’s population). Another 0.3 million lived in Bukovina (= 38.4 % of the population there).

In the Hungarian half of the empire, Ukrainians, respectively Ruthenians, were concentrated in the northeastern administrative district, where around half a million of this ethnic group lived, corresponding to 2.5 % of Hungary’s population. The Hungarian Ruthenians call themselves Rusyny, thus are occasionally designated Rusyns in modern literature. How far the Rusyns comprise an autonomous, minor East Slavic ethnic group was, and still is, a matter of controversy. In many cases the demarcation to neighbouring ethnic groups was difficult to establish, since the inhabitants of the Carpathians – some of whom persisted in a pre-modern way of life – felt regional allegiance, but had not developed any national awareness.  There existed several minor ethnic groups such as the Hutsuls, Boyko, and Lemkos, who are almost impossible to assign in nationality. Depending on the observer’s point of view, these mountain country folk and farmers of the Carpathian region were subsumed by Poles, Slovaks or Ukrainians. They were regarded as “exotic” among the peoples of the Habsburg Monarchy; on account of their archaic way of life ethnographers tended to view them from a perspective of presumed, quasi-colonialist superiority and described them as if they were non-European “aboriginal tribes”.

Translation: Abigail Prohaska


Batowski, Henryk: Die Polen, in: Wandruszka, Adam/Urbanitsch, Peter  (Hrsg.): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band III: Die Völker des Reiches, Wien 1980, Teilband 1, 522–554

Bihl, Wolfdieter: Die Ruthenen, in: Wandruszka, Adam/Urbanitsch, Peter  (Hrsg.): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band III: Die Völker des Reiches, Wien 1980, Teilband 1, 555–584

Rumpler, Helmut/Seger, Martin (Hrsg): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band IX/2: Soziale Strukturen, Wien 2010

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    The Habsburg empire

    Austria-Hungary had an extremely diverse state structure. At the start of the First World War it was a major power in decline. Social and political problems and the dominant nationality conflicts shook the empire to its foundations. At the same time, the Monarchy represented an enormous cultural region in which the Habsburg empire flourished in spite of the political stagnation.