The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 1/Singing Austria's Swan-Song

The Bohemian Review, volume 1, no. 4  (1917) 
Singing Austria's Swan-Song

Singing Austria’s Swan-Song.[1]

After thirty months of bloody war with the Central Powers the situation in regard to Germany’s strength and weakness is being cleared up. During the first two years, the country was preoccupied with Germany only, always speaking of “Prussian militarism” as the chief enemy which must be destroyed before peace and liberty could reign in Europe. All the attention was focussed on Germany, and Austria-Hungary was treated with complete indifference as if she were not at war with Great Britain at all. But the cold facts of war have demonstrated that Germany’s strength lies in the fact that she has at her disposal the absolute obedience of the Germans who dominate Austria and of the Magyars who have Hungary in their grip, making up a population of fifty-one million people. Convincing arguments have not seemed sufficiently strong to induce the public to believe that the war is a conspiracy between the Germans, Austrians and Magyars to dominate Europe and eventually Asia and Africa. Those to whom the great menace became inconvenient tried to dispose of it in an easy-going way by pointing out that jealousy between Vienna and Berlin made the plan impracticable, and that Magyar hostility towards Vienna and Berlin made its realization impossible. All that only proved that those who sought consolation in such political presumptions were not in sufficiently close touch with the latest political developments of the Dual Monarchy.

It was not known to them—or if known it was under-estimated—that before the war the ruling races of the Dual Monarchy, the Germans in Austria and the Magyars in Hungary, were in a life-and-death struggle with the subject races, and were making a final effort to preserve their supremacy. They did not observe that the Magyars felt they could no longer stand on their own feet if they were to keep Hungary in their hands, but must seek support beyond Hungary’s boundaries. They could not lean on Austria, as the Austrian Germans were in a similar plight; and as a result both sought their salvation under the wings of the German eagle.

The Allied Powers’ reply to President Wilson cleared up the political atmosphere considerably. But even though the Allied Powers solemnly declared in effect that Austria-Hungary was the menace of European peace, there are still in this country a few politicians and publicists who champion the cause of Austria-Hungary. The main argument advanced by them is that the Dual Monarchy is striving to free herself from the grip of Germany and to transform herself into a federal state. An awakening from this dream will reveal the cold fact that German-Austria herself has not wished nor desired to lead an existence separate from the German Empire. The war has rallied the last remnants of old German Austria to the banner of Berlin’s political ideals. Today it is not only the ultra-nationalistic German political parties of Austria—as the German National-Verband and the Christian Socialists who have on numerous occasions formulated and manifested their determination to hold on to Prussian Pan-Germanism—but also the Social-Democrats who are longing for Austria’s unification with the German Empire. We should a least have expected of the Social-Democrats that they would have some understanding for Austrian federalism and for a policy hostile to Prussian militarism; but we see that even they do not want to hear anything about independent Austria.

Their leader, and the Editor-in-Chief of their organ, the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung, Deputy Engelbert Pernerstorfer, who months ago was bitterly atacked by the German Nationalists for his supposed lack of German national feeling, came out recently strongly in favor of a union with Austria with Germany. In an article published on Jan. 25th in “Bohemia,” the organ of the Germans of Prague, Pernerstorfer writes:

For us Germans of Austria it is of the utmost importance that we should remain in every respect in the closest union with all the Germanism in the German Empire. We mean by that not only the cultural and economic relations, but also the political unity of both empires, which should become stronger and more inseparable. Even today it is maintained here and there that from certain esthetic considerations a spirit of discord should be fostered between the Germanism of Austria and that of the German Empire; a spirit of discord which does not exist at all, as there is no Germanism in Austria that could be considered as a unit as against the Germanism of the German Empire. On the contrary, entire Germanism with its fragments in Switzerland or Poland, yea, even with such small fragments as, for instance, the Transylvania Saxons, all certainly form a real synthesis of various races and provinces.”

Then Deputy Pernerstorfer speaks about the Germans of Vienna, admonishing them to cultivate their national pride and patriotism: “The Germans of Austria in future must never remain neutral when the fate of Germanism is in the balance. Therefore it is necessary to fight with the greatest possible ardor every endeavor to create a particular Germanism which would seek to accomplish its destiny, even if only in theory, independently of the German Empire. Similarly it is necessary to fight the endeavor to advocate a universal new Austrianism which is being born today in mystic ecstasies, and in which all the nations of the Empire are supposed to melt away without leaving a trace.” At the end of his article Pernerstorfer defines the position of Germans in Austria as follows: “In solving the problems of Austria in the future we Germans will play an important role. We shall only have a lasting success if we never lose our internal coherence with the rest of the German nation, and if we do not fall into a de-national fantasy, which would only make us an object of ridicule to the other nationally conscious nations of the Empire. But we must also see to it that our external alliance with the German Empire, should be knit more firmly together, this alliance which in this war has become a partnership for life and death.”

In subjecting Deputy Pernerstorfer’s article to a close scrutiny one finds that he speaks surprisingly little about the Slavs of Austria. He cannot have overlooked them, as he has been engaged with them for years in a struggle to preserve German supremacy in Austria. It is true that at the beginning of his article he speaks about the bonds of unity “between these two great Empires,” but it cannot be supposed that he means to include the Slavs also, of whom it cannot be said that they desire fusion with the German Empire, as, according to his assertion, is the case with the Austrian Germans. That this is so evident from the fact that subsequently, in several places, he speaks exclusively of the Austrian Germans who, he asserts, must in future throw in their lot with the Germans of the German Empire. From this would not the inference that Pernerstorfer prefers a unification of all the Germans to a federalistic Austria be justified?

Would it be far from the truth to say that the leader of the German Social-Democrats is singing Austria’s swan-song?


  1. Reprinted from Everyman, March 9, 1917.