The New Europe/Volume 3/Slav Speeches in the Reichsrat
Slav Speeches in the Reichsrat
In our two past issues we published the text of the Slav demands formally presented to the Austrian Reichsrat, the uncompromising answer of the German parties, and selections from the “Programme-speech” of Count Clam-Martinic. Events have completely justified our sceptical attitude towards “the new policy” in Austria. Count Clam-Martinic, upon whose person a section of the British Press based fantastic and exaggerated hopes, has revealed himself, not as the herald of Federal reform, but as the champion of the old order, assured of the support of the Germans against the Slavs.
The Russian Revolution had made it impossible to leave the Austrian Parliament unsummoned any longer, especially if the Russian Socialists were to be beguiled into negotiations; and in the case of the Emperor Charles personal inclination appears to have re-inforced a very excusable alarm for his throne. But the assurances given to the German party leaders last April as the result of a crisis within the Cabinet made it abundantly clear that Clam-Martinic would not go too far in a Slav direction; and the announcement, in the Speech from the Throne, of the postponement of the oath to the Constitution, left the door open for a constitutional coup d’état by Imperial decree—the so-called Octroi or Oktroyierung demanded by the German extremists. The Premier’s statement of policy, when at last it came, was an unmistakable declaration in favour of Centralism, and was accepted as such by the House. It made the support of three out of the four Slav groups (Czechs, Jugoslavs and Ruthenes) definitely impossible, and when the Poles declared against him his fate was sealed.
The recent debates in the Reichsrat have afforded the first opportunity for three years of publicly airing acute grievances, and therefore deserve very careful study, even in the somewhat bowdlerised form in which the President of the House, as self-constituted censor, allows them to reach the press. The speeches of some of the Slav deputies throw startling light upon the condition of Austria during the war, and we make no apology for printing large extracts.
Dr. Stransky (Young Czech).
Dr. Stransky [one of the leading Young Czech deputies in Moravia, and of Jewish origin] paid a high tribute to Dr. Kramař [who was condemned to death for high treason last year], and to the other Czech leaders now in prison. He characterised Kramař’s sentence by a “soi-disant court” as “a crass breach of the constitution and one of the most flagrant political crimes of the whole war.” “Their crime lay not in treason to Austria, but in loyalty to their nation and fatherland. . . . Our efforts [to obtain an amnesty] failed owing to the stupidity (stumpfer Sinn) of the Premier, who has no feeling for the needs and life of the people, but only a heart for the bureaucracy. It was intended not to sentence Kramař and his friends, but to bring the whole policy of the Czech people to trial. The Czechs have only appeared in Parliament with feelings of the deepest bitterness. Hardly had the war begun, when both the military tribunals and the political authorities flung themselves not upon the enemy of the frontier, but upon the hinterland. Fathers were torn from their families, wives from their husbands, young immature students were thrown into prison (Hartl, Pangerman: “Because you led them astray!”). No! It was you who cried “Los von Rom” (away from Rome), but you meant Los von Oesterreich (away from Austria).
“We, too, have suffered greatly in freedom and property, our sons and brothers, too, bled on the battlefield, only with this difference, that gentlemen on the Left [i.e., the Pangermans] were rewarded for what their sons or brothers did, while we have been ill-treated in an almost incredible manner by the authorities and the soldatesca.
“The working out of a constitution for Bohemia was entrusted to a man who does not know the Austrian people. Count Stürgkh certainly merely played with this question. . . . His successor, [Dr. von Koerber] remembered that in Austria there is really something besides party wishes and tendencies, that there are also laws. But that was a great mistake. He fell because he had some feeling for constitutional procedure. He had to give place to a man who has done nothing except to be a count; and that after all is in Austria quite a different factor from an ordinary Premier. So Count Clam-Martinic came, and his first act was to promise octrois [a coup d’état by arbitrary decree]. He certainly would have kept his word if the Russian Revolution had not suddenly interfered. It is an unhealthy state in which foreign influences are decisive in regulating important questions.
“The speech from the Throne also comes from the bureaucratic ink pot, not from the red blood of reality. It tries to meet with words the spirit which is forming a new world out of blood and iron. It is the Premier’s task to cover the Crown, not to expose it [to criticism], not to hide his own political and ethical weakness behind the Crown. We are convinced that the day will soon come, when no one on earth will be able to intervene between our nation and our king. The future is still obscure, but the world is seriously engaged in making the interests of the rulers fit with those of the peoples: and in future Crowns will rest upon the peoples. . . . In the speech from the Throne can be read the involuniary confession, that not only our constitution, but the whole Dual System has been declared bankrupt. . . . How the constitution is to be liquidated the Government itself does not know. Half-words are used because they are working with half-ideas. I will not enquire how far in this period of Poland’s political renaissance the idea of giving Galicia a separate position (Sonderstellung) corresponds with the principle of self-determination of peoples. But if Count Clam thinks that we [i.e., the Czechs] will ever attend a Reichsrat in which the Poles no longer attend in their present numbers, then he is hugely mistaken. We shall not submit to this attempted outrage. Such a thing would mean the dissolution of this Parliament. The Czechs also wish to determine the form of their political life. They want in future to make their own laws and govern themselves. They want the seat of the whole administration to be on the historic ground of their own fatherland, and it is their will that they should communicate with each other in all instances in their own language. Hence they demand the restoration of political independence (Selbständigkeit) and of the sovereign constitutional law of the Bohemian nation on the historic territory of the Bohemian Crown. In this new order of things the kindred Slovak branch of our nation, which lies on the frontier of our historic fatherland, ought also to be considered on the basis of natural right. We of course demand this, subject to the condition that not our eager wish and our interests, but the free decision and self-determination of the 3,000,000 Slovaks should decide in this question. The realisation of Bohemian constitutional law should take effect, subject to a guarantee of the national liberty and autonomy of the Germans in our fatherland. Their autonomy and national honour should remain unimpaired and free from danger for all time. Our aim, then, is to transform the Habsburg Monarchy into a community of free and equal States, which would exercise a natural force of attraction both upon the Balkan Slavs and the great Polish State to the north, whose resurrection upon the ruins of yesterday’s worn-out diplomatic morality will soon be accomplished. If we should succeed in elevating Austria from the position of an unwilling continental colony of the German race to a federal State, whose natural mission would be to further economic and cultural intercourse between East and West, then we shall all, ruler and peoples, attain a future beautiful beyond the powers of eloquence to describe.”
From a report in the Prague press it appears that Mr. Stransky went the length of saying that the day is near at hand when Austria’s Peter and Paul prison will also open its gates.
Mr. Petruszewycz (Ruthene).
Mr. Petruszewycz, the Ukrainian (Ruthene) deputy, complained of the attitude of the authorities towards the Ukraine legions and the obstacles placed in the way of their national movement. “The real Russophils were left untouched, while slanders were spread about the true Ukrainian patriots, and even Archbishop Szeptycki. The part of executioner was taken over by Germans, Poles and Magyars.” After levelling grave charges against those responsible for the Thalerhof refugee camp and the treatment of interned persons, he concluded: “The granting of a separate position to Galicia would simply mean the detachment of a great province from the Austrian State. If Austria does not wish to keep the Ukrainians, let her give them to the new Ukrainia, set free from the chains of Tsardom.”
Mr. Daszynski (Polish).
Mr. Daszynski, the Polish Socialist leader, spoke as follows: “In the history of Austria and its constitution no case can be found of the Polish Club taking up an attitude contrary to the rights of the peoples. The Poles could not be Panslavs, and, though Slavs, voted frequently against the Czechs and Southern Slavs. But they opposed the German language of speech, and cannot be regarded as the tools (Handlanger) of the Germans. The Poles were neither Slavophil nor Germanophil; we felt that we could not be incorporated as an organic part of the policy of the State. But this brought hard words down upon them from all sides. How often the Poles were pilloried as pursuing a policy of small presents and concessions! How often were they reproached by both Slavs and Germans as being neither fish nor flesh, and how often was the attempt made to force them into the maze of Austrian politics! The Poles resisted temptations and abuse alike. They could not yoke themselves to any party car, and so Austria often complained of the Polish policy and called it expensive. If for anyone, it was for our own country that this policy was expensive. For twenty years past the policy of the Polish Club has been struggling for principles. The fight against the Schlachta [the feudal caste of noble landowners] ended in the victory of the people. In Parliament the Poles were always ready to work, but for twenty years since Badeni [Premier in 1897], there was only a Parliament of Paragraph Fourteen. Then came the war, and the Poles declared for war against Tsarist Russia. On 6 August Pilsudski and his volunteers crossed the Russian frontier. A week later the Supreme National Committee was founded, and the Polish legions created. The whole nation entered this struggle. . . . In August, 1914, then, an idea was born—the idea of the Polish State, to be realised through Austria-Hungary. This idea enjoyed full publicity for two years. The deeds of the legions shone openly in the sun, and words fail us in their praise. Since 1 May, 1915, the great day of Gorlice, the Kingdom of Poland has been free, and we are the last who would not remember with deepest gratitude to-day the struggles and sacrifices of all those races who have fought and bled to free Poland from the Russian yoke. But everything has been done to set up the backs (schikanieren) of the Poles in the most incredible manner. The legions were put under the command of an espionage bureau, and an attempt was made to pass them off as Austrian Militia. Galicia was treated as a foreign country, contributions were levied, people who knew no Polish were sent to Galicia, and each of them made a policy of his own. This explains the bitterness which set in in 1916, when gallows and murder made their entrance into Galicia. Some speak of 30,000 executions; others say there were twice that number. They hanged people without in the least knowing why. I will content myself with one instance instead of many. A village idiot whom the commune wanted to get rid of was sent as driver to the Kingdom of Poland. He came back with three roubles in.his pocket, was stopped by the German army, and when the three roubles were discovered, was seized and promptly hanged. What has the Railway Minister’s friend and protégé, the Chief-Gallows-Architect (Obergalgenbaurat) Heine, to say to that? If he says that far too few have been hanged [the Pangerman deputy Heine’s interjection to this effect during the previous day’s debate had raised a perfect storm of fury in the House] we can only look down upon him with the cold contempt which one has for a man of his type, and need not take too seriously these German bourgeois idealists, who seem to have gone wild and degenerate owing to the present shortage of beer.”
Mr. Daszynski dealt with later events in Galicia, the appointment of three successive generals to the post of governor, the positive mania of censorship and espionage, and then the historic proclamation of 5 November, 1916 [Galician autonomy], and declared that “for the Polish question no other solution is possible save either the Polish State or a transition to that state.” The claim to access to the sea meant, he explained, access down the Vistula to the port of Danzig, and this was equally in Germany’s interest.
Mr. Stribrny (Czech National Socialist).
The Czech National Socialist, Mr. Stribmy, protested vigorously against the persecution of the Czechs, against whose will this war has been undertaken. Five deputies belonging to his party were still in prison, and, in the case of their leader, Mr. Klofač, every law had been set at defiance. The suspension of civil rights leads to the conception of certain citizens as politically suspicious and unreliable: and for such a verdict an anonymous denunciation suffices, the victim never finding out who accused him and what he is accused of. He dealt with the treatment of interned victims—among them women, girls, and old men—who were removed in chains, generally in filthy cattletrucks. Ill-treatment of their prisoners and insufficient feeding were common occurrences. On the way to the internment camps they were ill-treated, and a batch of 43 persons were killed on the road by a Honvéd [Magyar Militia] detachment. In Talerhof near Graz individual interned persons were beaten till they bled, and tortured. For the first three days they were camped in the open; four stakes were planted in a field, and no one might leave the space thus marked out. Women, girls and men all slept together. Not till the fourth day were they taken to the sheds provided for them, and here they had to sleep on the bare ground. In these sheds their clothes were disinfected, but those interned—even the women and girls—had to undress and often wait naked for over an hour until they got their clothes again. In December 1914 the number interned reached 5,000. Epidemics alone carried off 1,200 in Talerhof: 2,000 are buried in the cemetery. Mr. Stribrny offered to provide over 70 educated witnesses in proof of his assertions.
He went on to “greet with joy a new world which is forming and which brings equality and fraternity. A new era is coming which regards the democratic republic as the highest and worthiest form of human government. . . . Only on the basis of the free self-determination of the peoples can a permanent world peace be established.” “As for patriotism, I only know of a Czech, a Polish, a Ruthene, an Italian, a Jugoslav patriotism, and so on. An Austrian patriotism is a mere artificially encouraged plant, but an extremely rare one. It has been Austria’s fate to be governed for a long time past by a reactionary bureaucracy which identifies the interests of Germanism with the interests of the State.”