ABSTRACT

A Great Power can endure without difficulty one Ireland, as England did, even three, as imperial Germany did (Poland, Alsace, Schleswig). Different is the case when a Great Power is composed of nothing else but Irelands, as was almost the history of Austro-Hungary. (R. Kjellen, quoted in Jaszi, [12 p. 379].)

The nationality question dwarfed all other problems in the Habsburg Monarchy and the failure to solve it ultimately caused its downfall in 1918 [15]. In an age which saw the triumph of the nation-state, a multinational Empire was bound to face enormous pressures; indeed, many commentators have claimed that for this reason it was foredoomed to failure [25; 26], The principle of national self-determination reached its apogee in the Versailles Settlement of 1919 and this principle was clearly incompatible with the continued existence of the Habsburg Empire. Still, the nationality struggle must be seen in its contemporary context, not through the distorting lens of historical hindsight. Detailed studies of the problem show that no general guide can be applied to the nationality struggles. Each national group was at a different stage of political, economic and cultural development from the rest and therefore had problems peculiar to it alone [13]. Two common assumptions about the national groups within the Empire need to be questioned: first, that each nationality believed it could find freedom only outside the Monarchy; second, that all the nationalities were engaged in a struggle against the Habsburg Monarchy rather than with each other [23; 27].