With my father born in Hungary and my mother in Austria, both before 1918, I am second-generation Austro-Hungarian. Born in Budàpest, I spoke German and Hungarian but have unlearned successively my German and eventually my Hungarian. That was after my mother, by then widowed, had taken me to Austria in 1946. Tainted by the seven years when, not quite against its will and not quite voluntarily either, Austria had joined Nazi Germany, Vienna breathed the monarchy and its peoples. A playmate had a Czech name, a school friend was from Ukraine, one youthful love had Polish roots, another had returned from Israel, yet another was from Romania and my lifelong partner is from Austrian and German parents who had left for Palestine before World War Two. My grandparents on mother’s side – I never knew those on my father’s side who perished in the Holocaust – were Prague Germans. Which is why my grandfather, a former imperial-royal civil servant still spoke enough Czech to hitch a ride with a Russian convoy to join us in Budàpest in 1945. My stepfather, an Austrian theatre critic whose name gave away his lineage to the East of the monarchy helped with my acculturation.
During national service I shared a room with, amongst others a count – the family had given its name to one of the palaces in Vienna – a baron and a labourer whose name betrayed his being from a former Hungarian province of Austria. (The baron once confided in me that, in the monarchy the count would hardly have spoken to him!)
After gaining my PhD, we newly-weds left, eventually to settle in the Netherlands. From this vantage point, I maintain and, since focusing on European spatial planning and the EU, have reinvigorated my interest in Central and Eastern Europe. Which is why I read with great interest a book by a talented and committed Dutch journalist, Caroline de Gruyter (2021; see also my blog ‘The Western Balkans in the News’). As a correspondent, she had picked up the scent of the Hapsburg Empire, comparing it with an EU on which she had previously reported from Brussels. I agree with her looking – not as the only one, see for instance the medievalist Wilson (2017) – at the EU as an empire, which is one of the messages also of my book. (Faludi 2018 )
Coincidentally, I came also across a ‘Habilitationsschrift’, in many parts of Europe a precondition of attaining a professorship. It is by Tamara Scheer (2020) and concerns the language regimes of the Hapsburg army. It reminded me of the current internationalism of expats. Of particular interest are the offsprings of Hapsburg NGOs and officers. Moving around the vast empire with its almost a dozen official and even more spoken languages, they and their offsprings often lost any sense of a mono-lingual – hence national – identity.
The Austrian-Hungarian army may have lost the war and the Double Monarchy have disappeared, perhaps in small part due to the ‘inefficiency’ of a language regime that (like the EU) gave each citizen the right to be trained and commanded in his own language. But its demise was also and in particular due to a nationalism that undermined the Austrian-Hungarian empire from within, with the Hungarians – better to say the Magyars, being the Hungarian speakers and increasingly vociferous nationalists in the Kingdom of Hungary – playing their part. Anyway, a European army, if there were one, could learn from the Hapsburg language regime. Anyhow, using both German and French as working languages, the Franco-German Brigade has seen service in the SFOR operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A command structure hailing from Münster, the headquarter of the German/Netherlands Corps under NATO, however, uses English. On that level, the Hapsburg army only used German.
Faludi, A. (2018 ) The Poverty of Territorialism: A NeoMedieval View of Europe and European Planning, Edgar Elgar, Cheltenham.
Gruyter, C. de (2021) Beter wordt het niet: Een reis door het Habsburgse Rijk en de Europese Unie, De Geus, Amsterdam.
Scheer. T. (2020) Language Diversity and Loyalty in the Habsburg Army, 1868-1918. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/44915028/Language_Diversity_and_Loyalty_in_the_Habsburg_Army_1868_1918_Habilitation_Thesis_
Wilson, P.H. (2017) The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of European History, Penguin, London.