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Tuesday, August 02, 2011
United States of Greater Austria and the Habsburg Vision for a United Europe
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was the second-to-last European land empire. Like the other great European Empires, Austria-Hungary was a combination nationalities and ethnic groups controlled by a central group while having local rulers on a regional, small scale.
Towards it’s sudden end, there were plans to reorganize the Austria-Hungary into a federal country comprised by semi-autonomous states. The proposed model was never to be realized in reality but it served in part to be a model for the European Union.
The idea for a federalized created by a commission of scholars associated with Archduke Franz Ferdinand who favored liberalization in the empire as part of a modernization program. The commission could not agree on an exact model for the country but solicited others for ideas. The most thought out idea came from an unlikely source. Aurel Popovici, an ethnic Romanian who campaigned for equal rights for Romanians in the Hungarian zone, was an outsider but he was able to communicate his specific idea with the scholars who in turned gave the proposal to Ferdinand for consideration.
Popovici’s United States of Greater Austria proposed fourteen states based on ethnicity. The idea entrenched the powers of Germans and Hungarians were they lived but allowed minorities to unite and have greater rights in their own zones. In the proposal German’s were given German Austria, German Bohemia (Sudentland, which Hitler forced the Western Powers to give to him in the late 1930s, and German Moravia). Hungarians in turn were given Hungary and Szeklerland (an area in present-day Romania which continues to be the reason of arguments between Romanians and Hungarians). The Italians were given two smaller states in order to divide demands for unification with Italy. Meanwhile, Croats, Czechs, Poles, Romanians, Serbs, Slovenes, and Ukrainians all got their own state in the plan. Finally, twelve small ethnic enclaves within the various states were further proposed: ten for Germans, one for Poles, and one for the mixed city of Prague.
The archduke’s assassination in 1914 initiated the series of events which started World War I. The idea of a federal empire seemed to have died with the archduke. However, in 1916 when the archduke’s nephew, Karl, became the emperor of Austria-Hungary, the proposal of a federal empire received new life. Karl was an eager supporter of Catholic social justice and therefore believed that ethnic groups had rights to protect their cultural identity within the empire. He also tried to work with the imperial parliament to implement the federalization plan. Karl was the only Central Powers leader to agree with American President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points plan in support of self-determination. However, by the end of the war nationalism had swept Austria-Hungary and the empire shattered into pieces while Karl was forced into exile.
The dream of the United States of Greater Austria failed but a giant federal state that respects local autonomy based on the self-determination of national groups lived on. One of the main supporters of a European union based on that model was Otto von Habsburg, son of Emperor Karl. Otto served as the vice-president of the International Paneuropean Union (IPU) starting in 1957 and as president in 1973. He also was elected to the European Community’s, now European Union, Parliament in its first election on a Euro-friendly, Christian social teaching platform. Otto struggled for a federal, not centralized, European state based on liberty and the continent's Christian heritage. He left seats open for the then Communist Eastern European states and help support the Pan-European Picnic which help speed up the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. Otto fought for a united Europe of autonomous states until his death in 2011.
The Habsbsurg vision for a united Europe is only one vision for the European Union. Some imagine a much more centralized system or a much looser confederation. However, with Euroskeptic forces on the rise the European Union has been abandoning plans for a centralized state. A confederation or even just a economic union is the most likely end state for the European Union now, but perhaps the middle ground of a Habsburg-planned federation of autonomous units may still be the outcome for the European Union.