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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

The United States of Greater Austria

Aurel C. Popovici:
Traduction de Mária Kovács

Texte intégral

1Title: Die Vereinigten Staaten von Groβ-Österreich Politischen Studien zur Lösung der nationalen Fragen und Staatsrechtlichen Krisen in Österreich-Ungam (The United States of Greater Austria. Political studies about the solution of the national questions and legal crises in Austria-Hungary)

2Originally published: Leipzig, B. Elischer, 1906

3Language: German
The excerpts used are from Aurel C. Popovici, Stat şi naţiune. Statele unite ale Austriei Mari (Bucharest: Albatros, 1997), pp. 5–6, 9–11, 21–22, 390–391.

About the author

4Aurel Constantin Popovici [1863, Lugoj (Hun. Lugos in Banat) – 1917, Geneva]: politician and publicist. He was the son of an artisan. After completing his primary and secondary education, he studied at the Hungarian Gymnasium in Lugoj (1873–1880), and then at the Romanian Lyceum of Beiuş (Hun. Belenyes) (1880–1884). In 1885, he enrolled at the University of Vienna to study medicine and philosophy, but later transferred to the University of Graz. In 1891, he became one of the leaders of the Romanian National Party and one of the editors of the most important Romanian journal in Transylvania, Tribuna (The tribune). In 1893, after the publication of Replica (The rejoinder) in 1892, Popovici emigrated to Austria, then to Italy and, finally, to Romania. In 1899, he founded the journal România Jună (The young Romania) in Bucharest. In 1906, he published his most important book, Die Vereinigten Staaten von Groβ-Österreich (The United States of Greater Austria), a book which was associated with the ‘Greater Austria’ movement and with the political circle cultivated by the heir to the throne Francis Ferdinand (1863–1914). Between 1908 and 1909, he was the editor in chief and director of one of the most important Romanian journals in Bucharest, Sămănătorul (The sower). In 1910, he expressed his criticism of modernity, democracy and cosmopolitanism in ‘Nationalism or Democracy: A Critique of Modern Civilization.’ In 1912, Popovici settled in Vienna. In 1916, after Romania’s entrance into the First World War, he moved to Geneva, where he died in 1917. His last contribution to the history of Transylvanian Romanian nationalism, Le question Roumaine en Transylvanie et en Hongrie, appeared posthumously. Popovici’s book on federalism was first translated into Romanian during the interwar period by the Romanian legal theorist Petre Pandrea (1908–1968), who also attempted to integrate his ideas within its general Central European context. At the same time, Popovici’s nationalist ideas were regarded as sources of Romanian integral nationalism by some of the right-wing and Legionary ideologues. It was only in the 1980s that Popovici’s ideas were subjected to scholarly analysis, followed by new historiographic assessments in the last two decades.

5Main works: Principiul de nationalitate [The principle of nationality] (1894); Cestiunea nationalitătilor şi modurile soluţiunii sale în Ungaria [The nationalities question and its solution in Hungary] (1894); Die Vereinigten Staaten von Groβ-Österreich. Politischen Studien zur Lösung der nationalen Fragen und Staatsrechtli-chen Krisen in Österreich-Ungarn [The United States of Greater Austria. Political studies about the solution of the national questions and legal crises in Austria-Hungary] (1906); Nationalism sou democratie. O critică a civilizaţiunii moderne [Nationalism or democracy. A critique of modern civilization] (1910); Le Question Roumaine en Transylvanie et en Hongrie (1918).


6At the end of the nineteenth century, Transylvanian Romanians experienced the emergence of two types of political discourses. One was the discourse on national autonomy that later supported the union of Transylvania with Romania in 1918, while the other was the federalist discourse. In Popovici’s work, these two directions were merged. The emblematic expression of such a process can be found in many of his writings, but explicitly in Die Vereinigten Staaten von Groβ-Österreich. Operating within this concept, he attempted to define a new nationalist route for Transylvanian Romanians based on a political topology with Vienna at its core. Popovici’s federalism addressed this dual legitimacy and attempted to cope with the new political framework within which Transylvanian Romanians should situate their national demands after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. Popovici upheld the principle of ethno-national heterogeneity of the Habsburg Empire by interrelating the two loyalties he deemed essential: the loyalty to the nation and loyalty to the Austrian Monarchy. This dilemma was exploited in Die Vereinigten Staaten von Groβ-Österreich.

7One of the controversial issues that animated the idea of a possible federalizing reform of the Habsburg Empire concerned the principle that should be followed. The two alternatives were the historical-traditional (based on the traditional crown lands) and the ethnic principle (based on national autonomy). Popovici advocated ethnic federalism, while the Austro-Marxists, such as Karl Renner or Otto Bauer, supported historical federalism. Although Popovici’s concept of national autonomy was not broader than that of Karl Renner’s, they thematically disagreed in the principle to be followed. To the former territorial autonomy was essential in order to permit the nationalities symbolic access to their self-determination. To the latter, a supra-national element, embodied in the federal government, would satisfy the nations by offering them cultural autonomy based on the principle of personal autonomy.

8The first part of the book focused on Magyarization and assimilation, both opposed by Popovici. He further argued that the solution to the nationality problem was incumbent upon the elimination of Hungarian hegemony, the dismissal of centralism and the adoption of federalism. The second part described the organization of the would-be ‘Greater Austria,’ composed of fifteen federal member states, including the motivations and the necessity of reforming and restructuring the Habsburg Empire. Popovici’s main argument was that the concept of ‘Greater Austria’ was born and developed in a context of social and national conflicts, in which divergent social solidarities intersected with national conflicts. To understand what connected these nations under a common political agenda, it was important, Popovici believed, to note that dynastic legitimization strategies perpetuated and reproduced a strong and dynamic interaction of the House of Habsburg with the different nationalities. Insofar as the House of Habsburg possessed the exclusivity of power in the Empire, the Emperor was the only source of legitimacy available to the national groups.

9Popovici’s federalist endeavor was circumscribed and legitimated by the paradigm of Romanian loyalism and traditional constitutionalism in Transylvania. His writings and activity updated the old political connection of Transylvanian Romanians with the House of Habsburg, by combining it with their need for cultural and political autonomy. Ultimately, Popovici rejected the idea of a compromise with the Hungarian government and avoided an alliance with the Slav national groups. Hungarian nationalism and pan-Slavism were, for Popovici, the two forces destroying the Habsburg Empire. Federalism, he concluded, was the only modality to counteract Hungarian dominance and to support the national emancipation of the Romanians.

10The concept of a ‘Greater Austria’ appealed to Austrian conservatives and to the middle-class Viennese society. In Hungary, the book was banned, but in Austria it generated many commentaries, expressed mainly in the journal Österreichische Rundschau, the unofficial journal of the ‘Greater Austrian’ movement. In Romania, the book was highly appreciated. Constantin Stere and Nicolae Iorga reviewed the book favorably. In Transylvania, on the other hand, the impact of ‘Greater Austria’ was ambiguous. Thus, the journal Tribuna and its adherents, being in opposition to the ‘traditional’ politics represented by Popovici, opposed the idea of a ‘United States of Greater Austria.’

11After 1918, the political loyalty shown by Popovici and other Romanian leaders from Transylvania toward the House of Habsburg became a source of political conflict and, as a result, his writings on federalism did not inform discussions on national autonomy and regionalism in Greater Romania. It was only during the 1930s, when it became clear that the Habsburg successor states failed to articulate any coherent policy of regional cooperation that intellectuals from Transylvania, and elsewhere in Central Europe, looked at federalist projects as intellectual and political sources for a new form of regional resistance to the rise of Nazism and Communism. During the 1980s and, more strongly, during the 1990s, a similar understanding of Romanian federalism in Transylvania filtered into discussions about the existence of ‘Central Europe,’ a geographical entity formed of those regions of Central and Eastern Europe which once belonged to the Habsburg Empire, and where the resulting civil plurality, ethnic diversity and religious tolerance were not eliminated by the communist experience.


The United States of Greater Austria. Political studies about the solution of the national questions and legal crises in Austria-Hungary

13Everybody, friends and opponents, has been ardently concerned by our fate; perhaps too ardently. A part of the foreign press maintains that our venerable Habsburg Empire is precipitously and unavoidably falling into ruin. And not only that part of the press which is not favorable to us, but also newspapers that are benevolent towards us, manifest, in this respect, a serious concern. Is this preoccupation well founded? Who could doubt it? Unfortunately, the evolution of our political life has caused, for some time, even to us, fear for the destiny of this Empire.

  • 1 The Austro-Hungarian Compromise (Ausgleich) of 1867.

14Faced with this collapse, which is gradually becoming general, the majority of the population of the country persists in a state of apathy, as if the destiny of our Monarchy were not at stake. Moreover, many people are unpleasantly impressed when our Monarchy is spoken of. Of course, the estrangement of the masses of people from the Empire is due, first, to the absurd official policy of the nationalities, and to the mutilation of the Empire that took place in 1867.1

  • 2 Popovici refers to the Polish-Ukrainian negotiations regarding the linguistic issue in Galicia.

15All these were predictable. Rarely, have any of the statesmen, with considerable expertise in Austria’s political life, been able to rise above the level of everyday politics. Almost everyone was stuck with the insipid and very disgusting issue of languages; many are even today preoccupied with this issue. As if they were delighted in uncovering dirty issues, they are engaged with decrees for languages, reconciliation conferences, and then again with conciliatory documents, after the Polish method,2 and all kinds of failed attempts to solve the issue of nationalities. [...] As regards the nationalities themselves, they only know their individual program. Each nationality wishes for this and that, but altogether they care little, if at all, for how this Empire can be preserved. But no one can deny that they all need this Empire. In fact, almost none of the nationalities, and none of the parties have a program of government for the Empire which includes a concrete solution to all the issues that pertain to the situation of the nationalities. [...]

16However, this is only one of the multiple problems of the nationalities in the Empire. How could reconciliation among different nationalities be possible, when it starts from such an egocentric national point of view? Of course, the Germans are right when they do not want to hear of the federalism that the Czechs are planning. They realize that such federalism would only create for them, the Germans from Bohemia, a similar and ‘equivalent’ situation to that of the Germans in Hungary.

  • 3 Friedrich Tezner (1856–1925): Austrian legal theorist.

17On the contrary, the Germans’ doubts about the federalist system, which would be achieved on a national delineation, are—as will be shown below—entirely unfounded. No matter how much the Empire were to suffer from national fights, it is the unrelated dualist structure, always on the verge of being denounced, and lately absolutely weakened, that is shaking it, and increasingly, is endangering its situation. And exactly because of this disastrous constitutional division, the issue of nationalities cannot find, either in Austria, or in Hungary, a national solution which could offer a guarantee of stability and corresponding peace. The present situation, the outcome of a compromise born out of the application of a theory of the two souls, as Tezner3 so appropriately put it, has thus rightfully become a mater discordia-rum, for the entirely exceptional situation created for the Hungarians was—and could not have been anything but—deeply offending to all the other nationalities. The complete disproportionate consideration which the Hungarians enjoy represents a provocation for all the other nationalities and continually fuels a constitutional radicalism which increasingly points, with respect to the solving of the nationality question, towards the application of the confederal principle as opposed to the federal one. After all, the other nationalities of the Empire are rightly, very deeply dissatisfied with the exploitation to which they are subjected for the sole benefit of the Hungarians. For, in fact, all the forces of the entire Empire are employed in the Magyarization of Hungary. [...]

18Therefore, we need a new concept, the concept of the Empire of Greater Austria, in order to escape from this manure and to build for us all, on a solid foundation, a new constitutional edifice acceptable for all the nations of the Empire. At the same time, this Empire should be able to arouse the sympathy of the small neighboring nations of the East. The dynastic principle, military competence, and above all, justice for all the peoples that make up this Empire—these should be, in the future, as they were in the most distant past, the pillars to sustain its edifice.

19The idea of the Empire of Greater Austria must, above all, establish concrete forms of justice for all the peoples of the Empire and here we should be led by the following considerations. We live in an era in which the national momentum drives all actions, especially those of the peoples that are prevented from exercising their right to self-determination. Thus, in our case, the real essence of all national conflict is not constitutional but national-constitutional.

20All the peoples who are loyal to Austria and whose case we are discussing here have always been loyal, and deep in their soul they are still loyal to her, for among all these peoples there still exists an intimate and superior community of interest, which gives them the power to see in Austria, in Greater Austria, as she is presented here, a supporter of their special individuality.

21However, the Empire should not only give the sensation of support, but it should become the genuine—and more than that—the only support for all these peoples. This will only be possible when its leaders will gratify, suum cique, the simple but decisive principle of renouncing Austrian-Hungarian dualism and immediately create a federal imperial constitution based on the separation of nationalities.

22A Greater Austria, which would thus provide justice to all the peoples, would have a special mission to carry out in the distant south-eastern part of Europe, and by accomplishing this, she would have a secure future. [...] The question then arises: will our Emperor be able to give up the power to the Kossuthists and their allies? Will he be able and will he give over to these traitors against the Empire and the dynasty, new means so that they could ruin this great Monarchy with such brilliant perspectives for the future?

  • 4 The Rijeka (It. Fiume, present-day Croatia) Resolution of 4 October 1905 was a program of politica (...)

23I believe that a Habsburg cannot promote such a policy. No way! And if the coalition of those who pursue the destruction of the Empire, which is now downtrodden, apologize, it should never be helped to rise to its feet again. For it will destroy forever even the last hopes of the peoples in the Empire. The Resolution of Fiume,4 and many other proclamations showing that the idea of separating from the Empire means progress, is nothing but the result of violent national passions. But if the Hungarians triumph again, these passions will set a horrible fire, and will immediately spread to all the disappointed peoples, including the Germans.

24The time has come. The Empire needs help. All the peoples are by the side of Austria, and all of them are waiting for their liberation from the dualist yoke. They are waiting for the salvation from their Emperor. The moment is historical and decisive for our future: will the Empire of the Habsburgs stand or fall? All the wrong can still be undone; all can still be saved.

25Now or never!


1 The Austro-Hungarian Compromise (Ausgleich) of 1867.

2 Popovici refers to the Polish-Ukrainian negotiations regarding the linguistic issue in Galicia.

3 Friedrich Tezner (1856–1925): Austrian legal theorist.

4 The Rijeka (It. Fiume, present-day Croatia) Resolution of 4 October 1905 was a program of political reform according to which the Croat deputies from Croatia, Dalmatia and Istria hoped to obtain new concessions from the Hungarian political elite.


Mária Kovács (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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