Outbreak of the war
End of the war

What the films didn’t show 3: nationalist conflicts

The Habsburg empire had a large number of ethnic groups, languages and mentalities. Ethnic discord, German chauvinism, the Polish question, Italian irredentism, and Serbian, Romanian and Ukrainian interests strained domestic and foreign relations and questioned the limits of the Danube Monarchy.

A compromise was reached with Hungary in 1867. The Austrian Empire was transformed into the Dual Monarchy. Franz Joseph was now King of Hungary and Emperor of the ‘Cisleithanian lands and kingdoms’, two independent halves of the empire. Hungarian efforts to create a completely independent state put a strain on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, as did the dominance of German Austrians and Magyars in the multinational Habsburg empire.

The Poles sought their own independent state; the Czechs wanted a solution similar to the Hungarian model. In the Hungarian half of the empire Slovaks, Romanians and even the autonomous Croats suffered from the repressive Magyarization policy. The government in Belgrade was seen by Serbs, Croats and Romanians as a hope and centre for southern Slav concerns. The nationality question remained unresolved, however.

The monarchical propaganda made no mention of this conflict potential. The pictures of the ceremonies marking the 60th jubilee of the coronation of Emperor Franz Joseph I show only what was officially desired (Procession in Honour of the 60th Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph, A 1908). The pictures of the march past of nations are deceptive. Hungarians, Czechs, Croats and Italians refused to march past the Emperor. Anything that did not fit in with the official version remained undocumented.

Pictures at the time of the collapse of the Danube Monarchy give a first hint in film of the open conflicts. The film Proclamation of the Czechoslovak Republic (ČSR 1918) shows the enthusiasm with which the population removed all German signs and indications of monarchical sovereignty – an indication of the long conflict between the German Austrians, who vehemently defended their privileges, and the Czechs. In Bohemia in particular there were repeated clashes between the two national groups. In Moravia it was possible to balance the interests of the two nationalities only by separating them.

Translation: Nick Somers


Hanisch, Ernst: Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftspolitik im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994

Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin: Österreich Box 1: 1896-1918. Das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2010

Reutner, Richard (Hrsg.): Die Nationalitäten- und Sprachkonflikte in der Habsburgermonarchie, Münster 2011

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?

  • 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.

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Person

    Franz Joseph

    Thanks to his long reign of 68 years, Franz Joseph was a determining figure of the Habsburg Empire in the last decades of its existence. In 1914, he signed the declaration of war on Serbia that triggered the First World War – a war that he would not live to see the end of.


  • Development

    The Habsburg myth – the dynasty before and after 1918

    The Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty formed the ideological basis for the Habsburg Monarchy, since the existence of the multi-ethnic state was primarily a product of the dynastic history of this ruling house.

    In the latter days of the Habsburg Monarchy, Emperor Franz Joseph personified the imperial idea, although towards the end of his sixty-eight-year reign he was reduced more and more to an abstract symbol, a kind of father figure. His death in November 1916 left a vacuum at the head of the dynasty, which his successor Karl could no longer fill.

  • Development

    National politics in the multi-ethnic empire

    At the start of the nation-building era, the Habsburg empire was a breeding ground for the development of national concepts for the peoples of Central Europe. Later, the state framework of the Dual Monarchy was seen increasingly as an obstacle to full national development.

  • 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.

  • Development

    The Dual Monarchy – Cisleithania and Transleithania

    The Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy was created through the Compromise of 1867. The Habsburg Monarchy now had two capitals, Vienna and Budapest. The two halves of the empire were united by their common army and foreign policy. The strongest linking factor was the monarch, who personified the unity of the empire.