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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Federalism and the decline of the empires

Slavic politics in the Habsburg monarchy

Stjepan Radić
Traduction de Iva Polak

Texte intégral

1Title: Slovanská politika v habsburgské monarchii (Slavic politics in the Habsburg monarchy)

2Originally published: Prague, author’s own edition, 1902.

3Language: Czech
The excerpts used are from the second edition in Croatian, Stjepan Radić, Slavenska politika u habsburžkoj monarkiji (Zagreb: Matica Hrvatska, 1906), pp. 15–18, 55.

About the author

4See Stjepan Radić, Speech at the night assembly of the National Council on 24 November, 1918


5The turn-of-the-century emergence of German imperial Drang nach Osten politics, geared towards the political subjugation of the European east, the crisis of dualism in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and the subsequent Hungarian pressure on Croatia, forced Croatian politicians to abandon the mainstream anti-dualist and anti-Yugoslav politics of Stranka prava (Party of Rights) as it proved to be inefficient under the new circumstances. Hence, a minor faction of the party adopted the concept of a ‘Greater Croatia,’ which was to encompass all South Slavic territories in the Habsburg Monarchy. At the same time, they advocated the anti-Hungarian centralist vision propagated by Archduke Franz Ferdinand. In the meanwhile, the major faction of the party endorsed the idea of an independent South Slavic state known as the ‘Politics of the New Course,’ and promoted by the new generation of Croatian and Serbian politicians (see Frano Supilo, The memorandum to Sir Edward Grey). These politicians mostly belonged to the Napredna omladina (Croat-Serb progressive youth), a fin de siècle group of Croatian students from Prague influenced by Tomáš G. Masaryk’s political thought. Although Radić was a prominent member of the Omladina, he rejected its idea of unification with Serbia due to the alleged cultural differences between the Croats and the Serbs, expressed as the West and East respectively. Subsequently, Radić envisioned Croatian political emancipation as an outcome of an alliance with the Czechs and Poles within the monarchy. Thus, in his ‘Slavic politics in the Habsburg Monarchy,’ firstly published in Prague, he advocated the idea of ‘Austro-Slavism.’ However, the political pressure exerted by the Omladina prevented its republication in Zagreb. Radić advocated his Austro-Slavist idea until the final disintegration of the Monarchy in 1918, when he was finally forced to adopt the notion of ‘Yugoslavism.’

6The idea of ‘Austro-Slavism’ was introduced to Croatian politics by the Narodna stranka (People’s Party) (see Franjo Rački, Yugoslavism) in the nineteenth century. Although inspired by František Palacký, the Narodna stranka did not elaborate on the idea of Austro-Slavism, but just used it as a strategy to get a more autonomous position in the Hungarian part of the monarchy. This was understood to be a transitional step leading to the party’s final aim of creating an independent South Slavic state. Thus, the project mostly maintained the claim of an ‘asymmetric’ federalization of the monarchy, whereby Croatia would constitute a federal unit within Hungary. Radić, on the other hand, developed Palacký’s idea along both political and economic lines, trying to reconcile the project for national emancipation with the idea of preserving the monarchy in the shape of a ‘Danubian Alliance of Nations and States.’ Hence, Radić inherited Palacký’s idea of the construction of federal units based upon a combination of historical and natural rights. Subsequently, in order to enhance his federalist vision, he integrated into his arguments the idea, which he had picked up in Prague, that the interests of the Viennese court and the Slavs were identical but were jeopardized by German expansionism. Moreover, he developed a program for the social emancipation of the peasantry through the implementation of an economic corporatism. This was inspired by the Austrian Christian socialist idea of transforming capitalist businesses into partnerships between owners and workers, thus removing tensions that were typical of capitalist society. Hence, he also refused the Austro-Marxist idea of reconstituting the Austro-Hungarian Empire by giving cultural autonomy to the nations without reshaping the existing political units. This model was to be supplemented with the principle of the personal autonomy of each individual to use national rights, something which Radić saw as curtailing the natural rights of the nation (see Karl Renner, State and nation). Radić also refused Aurel Popovici’s idea of an entirely ethnic construction of federal units, seeing in it a possible source of disputes among nations over ethnically mixed territories. Moreover, he labeled Popovici’s idea a step towards ‘Greater Germany.’ He saw in it the reiteration of the hegemonic politics of the Monarchy, implemented by switching the center of power from the axis of Vienna-Budapest to Vienna exclusively, and thus paving the ground for German expansionism. Hence, Radić proposed that the federal government should only have the limited powers necessary for the functioning of the Monarchy as one unit (in terms of defense, foreign relations, finances and a common market), while all other powers should be conceded to the federal units. As national demands would be satisfied by such a policy, the units would, according to Radić, act in a harmonious alliance, while the central authority would preserve this harmony by practicing a foreign policy based on notions of neutrality and peacemaking.

7Radić expressed the general principles of his ‘Danubian Alliance’ in the first part of the excerpt presented here. Inspired by Masaryk, he advocated the idea that national emancipation within the Habsburg Monarchy would only be achieved through a politics based on “Slavic morality.” This notion emanated from the Herderian depiction of Slavic historical peacefulness and Slavic traditions of peasant democracy and solidarity, to which Radić subsequently added the spirit of Christianity, understood as being fundamental to the progress of humankind. Hence, he considered the reformed Monarchy as a unique space for the development of human welfare, conceived in absolute contrast to Western decadence, which was embodied in the materialistic individualism of France and England. He also used his ideal to counter German “barbarian imperialism” and Hungarian and Turkish “Asiatism,” all of which Radić labeled, in opposition to Christianity, as the embodiment of despotism. However, Radić’s main emphasis was on German political and economic expansionism, in which he saw the perpetuation of the feudal oppression over Slavic ‘peasant democracy.’ Since he viewed feudalism as the inheritance of papal traditions, Radić developed a discourse on ‘Clericalism vs. Christianity,’ which was inspired by Masaryk’s perception of clericalism as being inimical to the national and democratic principle. Moreover, his anti-German and anti-Hungarian discourse was also intertwined with antisemitic sentiments, due to the fact that in Croatia at the turn of the century Jews were perceived as the main agents of Hungarian capitalist incursion. On the other hand, Radić was unwilling to equate Russian and German imperialisms, due to the fact that Russians, as Slavs, were characterized by the aforementioned “Slavic morality.” Thus, he developed the ‘East-West discourse,’ in which the Monarchy was perceived to be a politically neutral mediator between the West and Russia. In order to achieve this, he called for the emergence of “Slavic mutualism,” that is to say, a common Slavic politics which would finally force the court to implement the federalization of the Monarchy. Slavic mutualism is most obviously expressed in Radić’s vision of five federal units—the ‘Alpine’ (Austrian), the Hungarian and the three Slavic units (Czech, Croatian and Galician)—in which he ascribes Slavic consciousness only to nations with a historical experience of statehood. These nations were subsequently envisioned to develop Slavic mutualism among the “related non-historical nations” (Czechs among Moravians and Silesians, Croats among Serbs and Slovenes, Poles among Ukrainians). Moreover, it is interesting that Radić included Slovaks within the Hungarian unit, probably as a ‘compensation’ for the latter’s ‘loss’ of Croatia.

8In the second excerpt, Radić presents the general framework for the federalization of the Monarchy. In order to achieve national equality, Radić tried to reconcile the natural rights and historical state rights by assigning to the federal units the task of representing the nations lacking their own units, such as the Italians, Romanians and Serbs. Moreover, he envisioned a ‘Council of the Empire,’ a central Parliament, which would control the implementation of the rights of citizens and nations in the units. As a result, he strengthened the democratic principle by the compulsory implementation of minority representation in the local Parliaments. However, Radić did not observe the same principle when it came to elaborating his economic model. He endorsed Karl von Vogelsang’s model of business as a family of owners and workers, expressed politically in the form of economic corporations on both federal and central levels. This notion constitutes a starting point for Radić’s later theory of agrarianism (see Stjepan Radić, The speech at the night assembly of the national council on 24 November, 1918), which he fully developed in his ‘Constitution of the Neutral Peasant Republic of Croatia’ in 1921. This was also influential for the project of the Yugoslav federation, which, in its principles, was almost identical to Radić’s Austro-Slavist project, making him the indisputable Croatian political leader of the interwar period.

9Even at the time of its inception, Radić’s Austro-Slavist project was neglected by the larger part of the Croatian public dedicated to the Yugoslav project. Hence, it was largely marginalized in Yugoslav historiography and social sciences. Its reassessment came eventually in the 1990s, when Radić was recognized as an original thinker and as being among the first Croatian political scientists. As such, his ‘Slavic politics in the Habsburg monarchy,’ together with his ‘Constitution of the Neutral Peasant Republic of Croatia,’ were accepted as some of the most elaborate political writings in Croatian history.


Slavic politics in the Habsburg monarchy

5. Our ultimate political goal

11The ultimate political goal of the Central European and Balkan Slavs is a huge federation of the peoples of Central and Southeast Europe, which would eventually naturally include Asia Minor and Egypt.

12Some might say this is only the ultimate dream. However, almost all of this territory constituted a single state on several occasions in history, first under the ancient Greek culture, later under the Byzantine Empire and finally under the Turkish crescent. Hence, what was once achieved by the unilateral and xenophobic culture of Greece, the consistent and mobile diplomacy of the Byzantine despotism, and a strong and persistent religious enthusiasm of the Muslims can also be achieved by the gradual development of the revived Slavs, Romanians, Hungarians and Greeks as soon as these peoples free themselves from the Roman Caesarism, Asian tyranny, Germanic excessive individualism and Slavic aristocratic particularism!

13And if we add thereto that on this territory there is a crossroad of all international trade routes and traffic, that this is the cradle of Christian teaching and the internationally celebrated Greek civilization, we must admit that in this moral, cultural and material centre of humanity, there must be no future reign of competing major powers, of Sultan’s corruption or English and German exploitation. We must admit that serious problems that lurk behind the term ‘the eastern question,’ which comes to mind the moment we hear the names Constantinople, Suez, Egypt or Palestine, cannot be solved permanently as long as peoples living in this region are deficient in consciousness, moral and wellbeing.

14If we, hence, analyze it from the serious perspective of the philosophy of history—and there is no better perspective for discussing the destiny of peoples—we must detect a major common historical feature of all of these peoples in the Greek plains, the Balkan valleys and on the plateau of Asia Minor, in the Danube valley, the lowlands and along the Syrian shores. For many thousands of years, this whole region has been exposed, at times, to the overflow and oppressions of Asiatic fanaticism, and, at times, to assaults and exploitation of Western European proselytism and egotism. This may be the reason why such a large number of contradictions are visible in the national character unlike anywhere else in the world, such a huge amount of pride and malevolence, sacrifice and selfishness, heroism and servitude all present at the same time.

15The Germans have thoroughly studied this region and have convinced themselves that this region is, at times, governed by total intellectual and moral chaos, and, accordingly, by cultural infertility and economic and political impotence. This is why they have established their political and economic headquarters in Berlin with such a superior feeling of success, which spreads from Hamburg to the Persian Gulf, from the Baltic to the Levantine Sea. The idealistic postulates of the Russian Orthodoxy for which Russian people would sacrifice everything, but which Russian intelligentsia looks down upon with the same amount of skepticism as the West European intelligentsia looks down upon Catholicism, cannot be victorious against the meticulously planned, omnipresent and so far successful modern Germanism based on Roman rule and Attila the Hun’s methods of extermination. Hence, in the fight between the continuous outpouring of German industry and capital on the one hand, and the temporary assaults of Russian religious zeal on the other, it is no wonder that the Russian influence gives in to the German one. Russia sends its pilgrims to Palestine, Germany does the same with its engineers; Moscow casts an eye on the crucifix of Hagia Sophia, Berlin does the same with the Golden Horn in the Bosphorus; Germany is gathering its forces around the globe to change its disadvantaged position in the Mediterranean into a frightening advantage of a double-edged sword which protrudes directly from Europe into India. At the same time, the Slavs have recently started dispersing themselves to all four corners of the world with no purpose and reason and with a desperate heart and ignorant head, weakening themselves additionally with their internal disputes and conflicts against foreign tribes with whom they share a common history. There is just one way out of this situation which leads to our secured victory, just one way to reach a goal which would be supported by the most learned intelligentsia and the most ignorant masses alike: the goal of the federation of the Danube basin, out of which “the gigantic Switzerland of the three continents,” “the united nations of the three parts of the world” would develop most naturally. This would put an end to the atrocious fight between modern European progress and the first cradle of human civilization.

16What follows directly from the first two principles, namely from political and national federalism and from partial military and economic centralism, is the principle of absolute neutrality, the principle of an all-inclusive peacefulness.

17At this moment, neutrality can only be attributed to Switzerland, Belgium or Luxembourg, though this might look excessive to some, and there can be no rational discussions about the neutrality of Denmark and Holland, or even the neutrality of Alsace and Lorraine. So far, neutrality has been nothing but a generous gift of jealous rival superpowers and we may as well call it the politics of necessary mutual concessions. This is why neutral states have had some impact only in the field of private international law (for instance, the World Postal Association with the headquarters in Bern) whereas in the field of international public law governing the freedom and slavery of people, what counts most is the rule of the sword of conquering states. It is, hence, quite logical to expect that international law would be far better off and international relations would improve if suddenly there emerged among the so-called major powers a new state which would know how to protect its neutrality with its geographical location as well as its people’s ability to defend themselves.

18Let us stick for the time being to today’s Habsburg Monarchy. If we imagined it to be so different as to be governed with the total equality of its people whereas its foreign policy was formulated around the previously stated goal of a federation of the nations in the Central and Southeast Europe and beyond, we must, then, admit that its normal internal affairs and a total lack of selfishness in its foreign policy would liberate this Empire from Prussian control as well as from an eternal fear for its survival.

19As long as the Habsburg Monarchy keeps its dual nature, it will, from the German perspective, remain superfluous in the Prussian neighborhood because the “civilizational task” that the governments in Pest and Vienna have ascribed to themselves is totally redundant when compared to the more sustained and ruthlessly “enlightened” activity of Prussianized Germany. However, if the monarchy in the Danube basin changed pursuant to the interests of all its peoples, it would automatically become an ally of France, where a return to the adventurous and conquering Caesarism is not at all possible. “Austria” would then not be left on its own even if Petersburg were ruled by supporters of harmony with Prussia who would not hesitate to use a kind of politics in order to enslave the West for the sake of Germany. And even if France gave in to its desire to conquer and if Russia did not show clearly all the signs of true world humanitarian politics, our Empire should not be afraid of losing in a defensive battle. It is exactly the history of the nineteenth century, let alone the ancient history, which testifies to the glory of the Habsburg Monarchy when it comes to defense.

20The Monarchy was invincible when still unenlightened nations under its rule used to follow monarchical orders blindly. It has remained invincible even now when almost all enlightened nations have so many justified reasons not only for discontent but also for the utmost bitterness. Imagine how inaccessible the fortress would become if battles on the highest level were led pursuant to ordinary needs of the common people and the needs of the highest cultural ideals. In that case, Magna Germania’s extermination of non-Germanic peoples in the Danube basin, in the Balkans and from Asia Minor to the Nile and India would be effortless. All these peoples, and especially the Slavs, who would be summoned in their number, culture and location to start a great work, would sign their death penalty if, in the face of German Caesarism headed by Attila the Hun, they continued with their internal disputes and if they still believed that the biggest threat came from Roman clericalism and Russian tsardom. This “Russian tsardom” is not only completely different in its nature, but also opposes this monster from Berlin which is trying to combine Roman organization, the rage of the Huns, Christian patience and Jewish entrepreneurship for one purpose alone and that is to strangle and exterminate everything not speaking its language and lacking its spirit, using fangs of its raw force and fire from its insatiable pharynx [...]

7. General points of the Slavic Program in the Monarchy

21All that has been discussed so far can be summarized as follows: we, the Slavs, do not recognize and cannot recognize two monarchical Parliaments and, accordingly, two delegations of the Empire because both stem from the dualism of the territory of the monarchy itself, which violently divides and weakens our people, let alone political and economic consequences that this division implies.

22Hence, we want one single monarchy that we do not see as a centralist state either of the” Slavs or of the Slavs, Germans and Hungarians. According to our program, it should be a monarchy organized more appropriately than the current one that represents mostly a polycentric state. Namely, it would be an organization of civil-political and economic-social nature which would represent itself in international law as a federation of the historical states and natural national entities.

23Namely, we base our policy on the following facts: the Habsburg Monarchy has gone through successive crises because it has acted pursuant to political demands and national passions, adopting for monarchical affairs, on the one hand, purely local or totally national conditions, and trying, on the other hand, to limit affairs which are becoming increasingly important in our age only to specific states and countries which is totally in breach of its current dualist system. We are, hence, equally against the Hungarian economic policy as we are against the big Germanic foundation of the central European monarchical alliance. This is why we want a uniform national-economic policy in the whole of Empire and we unanimously ascribe to it a national-economic character.

24However, since material interests, no matter how permanent they may be, cannot constitute the basis for either a private body corporate, let alone a public organization, we, therefore, strengthen national-economic ties with the greatest civil freedoms and total national equality.

25Therefore, according to our view, the Habsburg Monarchy has three tasks: to protect civil freedoms, to guarantee national equality and to offer the means for national wellbeing that are today not enjoyed by any small state and nation.


Iva Polak (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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