Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Together we are strong: Pan-slavism and "Slavdom"

The utopia of the unification of all Slavs, which from the pan-Slav point of view were interpreted as being one single nation, served the smaller Slav peoples of central Europe as an initial basis for their efforts towards national emancipation, while the Germans and the Hungarians saw it as the nightmare of "extinction in a sea of Slavs".

Hey, Slavs, there still lives the word of our grandfathers
While for the nations beats the heart of their sons!

There lives, there lives the Slavic spirit, it will live for ages!
In vain threatens the abyss of Hell, in vain the fire of thunder!

Written in 1834, this hymn of the pan-Slav movement existed in a number of linguistic variations. Amongst other things, it served as the battle song of the Czech Sokol movement and as the Yugoslav national anthem.

Hey, Slavs!

The ideological bandwidth of pan-Slavism extended from a mere cultural exchange amongst the Slavs to the maximum demand for a single state, against the background of the question of Russia's role in this process of unification. Pan-Slavism initially played hardly any role in Russia's view of the world in the 1840s. Admittedly there had been the idea of unifying the Austrian Slavs under Russian leadership and their conversion to Orthodoxy as part of Greater-Russian imperialism. However, in the light of the Alliance with Austria and Prussia, this utopia was not seriously pursued by the Russian state. In general, Russia's policy towards Austria-Hungary revealed hardly any pan-Slav influences. The situation was different for Russia's Balkan policies, where Moscow indeed played the Slav card.

A different role was performed by pan-Slavism in the political concepts of the Slavs under Habsburg rule, who came into contact with the idea of pan-Slav unity when they were just at the beginning of the process of becoming a nation. Pan-Slav enthusiasm was initially widespread amongst the Slav peoples under Austrian rule, and derived from the attempt to develop a self-assurance based on the size of the Slav-speaking region in Europe. This was intensified by the Napoleonic Wars, in which Russia gained a reputation as a major Slav power.

However, the model of how the Germans became a nation in the age of romanticism also had considerable impact. As an example, mention can be made of Johann G Herder's "Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity" (1791). In his view, the future belonged to the Slavs, to whom Herder attributed a uniform national character (peaceful, diligent, modest), since - if only because of their huge numbers - they would be the determining element in Europe in an age of free nations. Herder's positive image of the Slavs was extremely well received amongst the Slavs of central Europe.

The idea of an all-embracing Slav nation also developed through contact with the pan-German ideology that was developing in German student circles at the time. Mention should be made here of the two Slovaks Pavol Jozef Šafárik (1795–1861) and Ján Kollár (1793–1852), who went to study theology in Jena, where they witnessed the early years of German nationalism. It was against this background that Kollár's works on Slav reciprocity (Slovanská vzájemnost, 1837) and Šafárik's Slav ethnography (Slovanský národopis, 1842) were written, emphasising the close links between the Slav peoples and the huge spread of the Slav-speaking region in Europe. They had a huge impact on the young national movements of the central European Slavs.

It was no accident that pan-Slav ideas were particularly strong amongst the small Slav ethnic groups – referred to in the language of the time as being "without a history" – such as the Slovaks, who now saw themselves as part of an idealised greater Slav language family. A similar line of argument can be found in the doyen of the Slovenian national movement Jernej Kopitar (1780–1844), who in accordance with Austro-Slavism saw the centre for the Slav renewal within the Habsburg empire, which for him was dominated by the Slavs, and not in Russia.

This early pan-Slav romanticism, however, was soon replaced by self-centred national ideologies, since the individual problems of the various Slav peoples within the Habsburg empire proved to be too different. The pan-Slav fantasies also cooled down rapidly in the 1860s in the light of the Tsarist regime's repressive policies towards Poland and its all-out rejection of liberal attitudes amongst the small Slav peoples within its sphere of interest.

Pan-Slavism was now used by the representatives of the Austrian Slavs more as a warning for Vienna's nationalities policies. In 1867, for instance, representatives of the Slav peoples in Austria travelled to Moscow for a demonstrative visit to the ethnographic exhibition on the occasion of the Congress of the Slavs ("Slav pilgrimage"), which was intended to be understood as the expression of a rejection of the Austrian-Hungarian Compromise. The spectre of a pan-Slav conspiracy under Russian leadership now became the knockout argument for the radical German and Magyar nationalists against any alliances between the Slav peoples.

On the eve of the World War, a change of generation saw power pass into more radical hands. An increased national approach could also be observed amongst the political representatives of the Austrian Slavs. A typical member of this new generation was Karel Kramář (1860–1937), who as a deputy of the national-liberal Young Czech party served as a member of the Vienna Imperial Diet. Personally a Russophile, he was a representative of the neo-Slav movement amongst the nationally minded Czechs. Similarly to the radical German nationals who developed an enthusiasm for "Nordic Germandom", these Czechs glorified the "mythical Slavdom". The basic anti-Western position that argued in favour of a return to Slav roots generated a critical attitude to the modern, and this political movement was at times not free of racial and biologistic undertones.

Translation: David Wright


Křen, Jan: Dvě století střední Evropy [Zwei Jahrhunderte Mitteleuropas], Praha 2005

Lemberg, Hans: Der Panslawismus, in: Aschenbrenner, Viktor (Hrsg): Die Deutschen und ihre östlichen Nachbarn, Frankfurt am Main 1967, 481–488

Moritsch, Andreas (Hrsg.): Der Austroslavismus. Ein verfrühtes Konzept zur politischen Neugestaltung Mitteleuropas [Schriftenreihe des Internationalen Zentrums für Europäische Nationalismus- und Minderheitenforschung 1], Wien 1996 

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    “Viribus unitis” or prison of nations?

    The multi-ethnic Austria-Hungary formed a relatively stable environment for the co-existence of the many ethnic communities. The much-vaunted “unity in diversity” was in fact overshadowed by numerous inequalities. This was illustrated above all in the differing weight of the various language groups involved in political and economic rule. These inequalities were increasingly challenged by the disadvantaged nationalities. As a result, the nationality issue dominated political affairs, leading to destabilisation of the Monarchy.


  • Development

    Nation-building – national programmes and positions

    Nation-building was part of the emancipation by large sections of the population from feudal dependence. In line with the ideals of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, the nation – understood as a community of free citizens – was to become the sovereign in place of feudal potentates.