The Austro-Sardinian War (1859) and the Seven Weeks’ War (1866) in Habsburg Schoolbooks

Yulia But
Ural Federal University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):44-70 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.44

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Habsburg government had a very complicated task of inventing some form of supranational identity as an alternative to nationalist programs in Cisleithania. It sought to craft this supranational identity first and foremost as part of the self-images of schoolchildren as future citizens. One of the major ways to create and solidify a notion of a common “Austrian” identity in school history classes was to highlight the Habsburg wars, triumphal and bloody battles, and military heroes as reminders of an integrated supranational past. Official instructions obliged teachers to emphasize the “heroic times of Austria,” its “glorious battles,” and its “valiant wars,” as emphasis on these episodes of the past, it was hoped, would further the development of “the idea of the integrated statehood in Austria.” In this article, I offer an example of this cult of the Austrian wars in school education by the ways in which the wars fought during the early period of Francis Joseph’s rule, namely, the Sardinian war of 1859 and the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866, were taught to later generations of schoolchildren. Ironically, the fact that Austria lost these wars was humiliating. Nevertheless, during the late period of Francis Joseph’s rule, narratives and visual depictions of the events of these wars in schoolbooks strongly contributed to the formation of a heroic image of the Austrian army and to the idea of just Habsburg rule. I focus in my discussion first on how the accounts of the wars in schoolbooks deviated from the historical facts and, second, on how these accounts nonetheless furthered the emergence of the “Austrian” identity.

Keywords: Habsburg Monarchy, Austria-Hungary, Francis Joseph, supranational identity, history of education, schoolbooks, history lessons


Fans of Habsburg history may well remember the story of Joseph von Trotta, “the Hero of Solferino,” from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth. Trotta was appalled by an imprecise narrative about the battle of Solferino (1859) found in a schoolbook, which grossly overstated his own actions and represented them as great heroic deeds. Trotta found the situation intolerable, although people around him, including the emperor himself, delicately explained him that the story “is for children,” and “all historic events are rewritten for school use.” Moreover, they assured him, this was the “proper” way of doing things.1

It is true that history schoolbooks represent a peculiar type of source. Like hardly any other medium, schoolbooks, which remain formative teaching aids in history instruction and civic education, convey official and quasi-official images of history to certain age groups of children and young people within the compulsory schooling setting.2 Given their broad impact, schoolbooks have long been used in the service of the prevailing ideology and rhetoric. Political elites quickly understood that national memory could be most easily constructed in history classes which presented current issues in their (alleged or constructed) historical context. They also realized that public mass schooling inculcated a sense of national unity in pupils, as well as loyalty and obedience.3 For these reasons, history schoolbooks were broadly used by European governments as early as the nineteenth century in the invention and consolidation of a previously non-existent sense of national cohesion.4

Scholarship on civic education in Europe and the United States shows that many states saw public education as an essential tool for crafting national identity and national loyalty, which were by no means innate, the claims of primordialists notwithstanding. Eugene Weber and James Lehning argued that schools were a central force in cultivation of the patriotic loyalty of future French citizens.5 Troy Paddock claims that public education in imperial Germany served as a robust tool to build loyalty to the newly founded united empire.6 Paula Fass and Christina Ziegler-McPherson show that American educators of the nineteenth century utilized English and history courses in order to Americanize a diverse population and create a sense of loyalty to the state.7 Similar efforts were made to Russify and nurture patriotic sentiment among the subjects of the polyethnic Russian Empire.8

The creation of a patriotic and loyal citizenry was likewise one of the main concerns of the Habsburg government in Austria-Hungary. The Habsburg Monarchy faced the complicated task of inventing some form of supranational identity as an alternative to the programs of national elites, who had challenged the state’s cohesion. The government identity politics exemplified an intended fabrication of history and myths to be used first and foremost to shape the self-images of schoolchildren as future citizens.9 Roth’s character was right when he complained about the “pack of lies” in his son’s reader: historical images in schoolbooks were narrated so as to foster patriotic feelings and dynastic loyalty in schoolchildren, and as part of this, exaggerations and understatements were not only permissible, but even welcome.

Habsburg identity politics and its effects on the society of the Dual Monarchy have long been the focus of academic discussion. Many prominent scholars published works on the development of Habsburg culture and civil society with a focus on the complexity of national identity.10 Their findings have led to a crucial revision of the previous assessments in the nationalist literature. The latter tended to define the Habsburg Empire as a kind of anacronism compared to the European nation states and a “prison of nations,”11 which appeared unable to address the nationality conflicts facing it in the nineteenth century. In contrast, revisionist studies offer strong evidence that the Empire and its institutions were of great importance for its population, which showed a high degree of engagement. The recent book by Pieter Judson on “how countless local societies across central Europe engaged with the Habsburg dynasty’s efforts to build a unified and unifying imperial state”12 summarizes the most important finding of the revisionist works.

Moreover, the recent studies have shown that, despite their prominence in political parties, legislative institutions, and the press, national elites largely failed to awaken passionate attachments to national identity among the larger part of the population of Cisleithania.13 During the last decades of the Dual Monarchy, nationalists had to fight against apparent indifference to the national causes, and they were met with general loyalty to Habsburg non-national institutions and an embrace of multilingualism in the public and private spheres. Many researchers have stressed the paradoxically sustainable phenomenon of massive loyalty to the emperor and the ruling dynasty, the so-called Kaisertreue, which contributed significantly to the cohesion of the Habsburg Empire and moved its peoples look for options to preserve the unified state.14 This loyalty to the multinational empire was largely due to the various measures adopted and implemented by the Habsburg government and administration. Although in the traditional (national) literature, these measures were usually assessed as too limited and backward as responses to the challenges posed in the era of nationalism15 (a view which is still shared by some recent researchers),16 the revisionists tend to attach greater value to the efforts of Habsburg officials to achieve cohesion among the population of the composite state. A number of excellent works examine commemoration and celebration practices in the Habsburg Empire as a means of fostering loyalties to the state and the dynasty, as well as “invented traditions” at the Viennese court and the complex array of symbols which were intended psychologically to consolidate the citizens of the monarchy.17

In 1849, the Habsburg government embarked on a program that would lead to the creation of the most advanced and cutting-edge state schooling system in Europe.18 The structure and core principles of this system, which included the principle of equal language rights, are discussed in detail by Helmut Engelbrecht, Gary Cohen, and Hannelore Burger.19 Other scholars consider the important issue of the certification and translation of schoolbooks in their studies, as well as the content of history textbooks that was appropriate and reliable in the view of the Viennese Ministry of Culture and Education.20 Scott Moore’s brilliant study explores how the civic education was utilized in Habsburg schools to cultivate the patriotism of its peoples and forge a complex, “layered” identity.21

One of the major themes of the patriotic version of the Habsburg past that was presented in schools was wars: narratives about the triumphal and bloody battles waged by the Austrian army and its military heroes were exploited as reminders of the shared supranational past of the Habsburg peoples. According to the Instructions for Classes in the Gymnasien of Austria (1884), emphasis was to be placed on “the heroic time of Austria” and “its glorious battles and valiant wars,” for they were “the moments through which the consciousness of common belonging to the peoples united under the scepter of Habsburgs” was awakened, and “the idea of an integral statehood in Austria” was developed.22 Stories about wars helped convey the memory of a common “glorious past under Habsburgs” through the emphasis that was placed on the triumphant battles, which had required united efforts. There was also room for mention of the bloodbaths and massacres that the the peoples of the monarchy had survived together and preserved in their collective memories as outrages and injustices inflicted by an external common enemy. Commemoration of the whole train of glorious military commanders who fought at the service of Habsburgs functioned as a means of offering narrative embodiments of the symbols of the “supranational” Austrian identity.23 Along with the military heroes Prince Eugène of Savoy and Archduke Karl (who were the figures of Habsburg military history who were the most vigorously glorified by the Viennese court), Joseph Radetzky developed into the most prominent military hero in imperial Austria as early as the mid-nineteenth century. The latter functioned, according to Laurence Cole, as “the symbol of a patriarchal, conservative, patriotic ideology that wished to subsume class and national conflicts within a discourse of loyalty.”24

In the discussion below, I focus on the narratives in Cisleithanian schoolbooks published between the 1860s and the 1910s about the wars in which the Austrian monarchy fought during the period of neo-absolutism, or in other words, the Austro-Sardinian war of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian-Italian war of 1866 (otherwise known as the Seven Weeks’ War). Both wars represented a vulnerable episode in the history of the Habsburg monarchy. The Habsburg forces failed miserably, suffering heavy losses, and the empire had to cede its vast Italian territories to Sardinia and its supremacy in the German Confederation to Prussia.25 Some researchers even consider the defeat at Königgrätz “the death of the army.”26 It is easy to exploit narratives concerning wars in which one’s country emerged victorious wars for the benefit of the image of a “Great and Powerful Fatherland” of which every citizen or subject is proud. But how did the authors of schoolbooks craft narratives about these lost wars, given that they had to reflect on the defeat but without downplaying or undermining the greatness of the Fatherland? Were there any strong deviations from historical facts? Which persons and episodes were singled out or overemphasized, and which were sidelined and obscured? And finally, did the authors managed to preserve the image of a great and glorious Austrian monarchy under the wise rule of Habsburgs?

The research on which I have based my conclusions draws largely on the collections of schoolbooks kept in the library of the Austrian Ministry of Education, Art, and Culture in Vienna. I used only schoolbooks that addressed relatively recent political events and contained narratives about the wars in question, which means that I used the schoolbooks designed for the last three years of Volksschulen and Bürgerschulen, for middle and upper classes of Gymnasien, and for the last two years of teacher training colleges. I went through roughly 60 units published with the official sanction of the imperial and royal Ministry of Culture and Education. However, in the discussion below, I cite a limited number of these sources, as most of the units appeared to be unchanged reissues of the same narratives. The fact is, the Viennese Ministry was very vigilant about the narratives included in schoolbooks. A thorough inspection by ministerial officials preceded the decree of official approval to publish or reissue a particular schoolbook or translation, and only then could the schoolbook in question be used in schools.27 Close attention was paid to the political views of the people who compiled textbooks, and the range of compilers was, therefore, relatively limited. Partly for this reason, textbooks were reissued eight to ten times on average and translated, most often from German, into the languages of the different nationalities. Translations were welcomed by the Viennese Ministry, as they offered the reassurance that textbooks in the national languages also met the political requirements of the imperial center.28

The authors of the upper level schoolbooks were professional historians who taught in Gymnasien and often held posts as university professors. Dr Theodor Tupetz, for example, the author of the schoolbooks cited in this article, had an impressive career, serving as a school inspector but eventually moving up to the position of court counselor. As professional teachers and historians, the authors of schoolbooks had their own views of historical events, which influenced the narratives they wrote, although they had to adhere to ministerial instructions and regulations. After the Compromise of 1867, some competences, including the compilation, translation, and distribution of textbooks, were transferred to the crownlands. Not all crownlands and languages were treated equally, however. While in Galicia, for example, the textbook certification system came under the control of the Polish-dominated Galician parliament,29 Slovenian-language textbooks remained completely under the supervision of the Viennese Ministry until the fall of the monarchy.30 In both cases, however, the final decision on approval was made in Vienna. Although the state publishing house in Vienna lost its monopoly to publish textbooks and schoolbooks were then published by private publishers (especially middle and upper level schoolbooks), the Ministry of Culture and Education in Vienna continued to supervise their content and language design.31

The narratives about the wars of 1859 and 1866 that I analyze in this article are mostly taken from the textbooks in German. Despite the December constitution of 1867 and the school reform of 1869, the language of instruction in many Gymnasien was still German, while the number of secondary schools with a minority language of instruction was growing slowly. In many cases, the books by German authors approved by the Viennese Ministry of Culture and Education were simply translated into the required language, and this was especially true for schools with Slovene and Italian as languages of instruction.32 Even in Galicia, where local authorities exerted a significant influence on the design of the educational system, the first Ruthenian-language history textbook that was translated not from German (but rather from Polish) was only published in 1895.33 Thus, narratives from the textbooks in German, I would argue, are representative for the whole picture of the way in which the history of the Austrian wars in question was taught in Cisleithanian secondary schools. However, I also offer a few samples of narratives in Czech and Romanian languages for comparison. I tried to compare the narratives from three perspectives: the alleged causes of the wars, the course of the wars, and the outcomes of the wars. I also focus on the style and biases of the narratives.

In the Austrian textbooks published in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, the names of the wars differed from those used in contemporary literature. The Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 was most often referred to simply as the “war against Austria” or “the Italian War,” and the Seven Week’s War was called the “Prussian war.” The first mentions of the Sardinian war (1859) appeared in the schoolbooks as early as 1864. For example, in Gindely’s textbook on world history for upper classes of Gymnasien, one can read that the most important events since the 1848 revolt and Napoleon’s declaration of the French empire in 1853 were “the oriental war” (that is, the Crimean war) and “the Italian War.”34 These early mentions were very short and succinct, little more than a few unbiased sentences with simple facts. However, with every passing year, the narratives got longer and increasingly detailed. In the 1880s, narratives about “the Italian war” of 1859 reached a page and a half or two pages, and the narratives devoted to the relationship between Austria and Prussia between 1859 and 1866 were three to four pages, even in the textbooks designed for the lower and middle classes in secondary schools.35 In the schoolbooks published in the 1890s, narratives of the wars were most often blocked under the title The War Years. They also were three to four pages long and included a large portrait of the Austrian commander Archduke Albrecht, a photo of the monument to the Austrian admiral Tegetthoff, and a reproduction of a depiction of the battle of Lissa (1866). The narratives, moreover, were getting increasingly biased, vivid, and emotionally loaded.

In many schoolbooks, the narrative was also accompanied with a familiar portrait of Francis Joseph I in 1849, in which the young, good-looking emperor is wearing a military uniform with the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Military Order of Maria Theresa, and the Cross of Saint George of the fourth class, which he was awarded by the Russian tsar Nicholas I “for pacifying the Hungarian riot in 1848–1849.” Narratives often included the contention that the adolescent emperor’s accession to power took place at a “terribly serious and pressing time,” when in most of Austria’s lands there was “disorder and confusion” and “even open outrage in several lands.” But the young emperor coped with the difficult situation and managed to keep Austria’s lands together, and a short period of peace then followed during which the emperor took trips to several crown lands, and everywhere the Habsburg peoples “cheered the new ruler and gave him evidence of unfeigned love and unshakable loyalty.”36 However, a few years later, Francis Joseph “had to pick up his sword again […] despite his pronounced love of peace.”37 In some textbooks, the period of 1859–1866 was titled Emperor Franz Josef I defends his lands.38

The Causes of the Wars

In the 1890s, considerable attention began to be devoted to the issue of the causes of the wars in question and, in particular, to the characteristics of aggressors and the interests they pursued. For example, in the most widespread Gindely’s reader on history for Volksschulen, which was revised by Gustav Rusch and appeared in seven editions without any significant changes between 1898 and 1910, it is stated that in 1859, King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia allied himself with “the ambitious French Emperor Napoleon III” and “urged Austria to go to war,” while in 1866, Prussia “seized the opportunity to declare war on Austria,” since “it had long been striving for vested interests in Germany,” and at the same time, the Danube monarchy was attacked by Italy. 39 One finds the same information in the Pennerstorfer’s textbooks on history designed for the same category and age of schoolchildren.40

For the schoolchildren going to Bürgerschulen, Pennerstorfer explains that it was the death of Radetzky in 1858 that encouraged “the Sardinian king to try his luck with arms.”41 The image of a heroic commander who was so fearsome that the enemy did not dare attack while he was alive both reflects and contributes to the official Radetzky cult, which saw a resurgence between 1880 and 1914.42 For the children in the last year of secondary school, the same author wrote even more emotionally:

Victor Emmanuel was just waiting for an opportunity to wrest the provincems of Lombardy and Veneto from Austria. As long as Radetzky was alive, of course, he did not dare attack. But no sooner had the military general closed his eyes (1858) than he was again preparing for war. His ally here was the emperor of France, Napoleon III. With his help, he succeeded in defeating the Austria and obtaining the cession of Lombardy. […] In a similar way, Victor Emmanuel came into possession of Veneto in 1866. This time, he allied himself with the king of Prussia, which threatened our Fatherland on two sides at the same time.43


So Sardinia was commonly represented as the aggressor and the guilty party in both conflicts, with the Sardinian king Victor Emmanuel being the main culprit and Napoleon III and Frederick William IV of Prussia serving as his accomplices. The authors of the schoolbooks normally omitted the fact that it was Austria who officially declared war on Sardinia in 1859.44 Still, there were several textbooks for secondary schools which mentioned that hardly trivial detail. For instance, Dr. Emanuel Hannak describes the casus belli more accurately in his schoolbooks and notes, “As Sardinia was arming and gaining reinforcement from France, the Austrian General Count Gyulai opened the war.”45

In his textbook on modern history, Hannak provides even more details, but he again maintains that in 1859, Austria was actually forced to go to war in response to the actions of Sardinia and France and the Sardinian government was the main aggressor in the Italian war of 1859. According to him, however, the aggressor in 1866 was not Italy, but Prussia with its unwarranted political ambitions and unjust territorial claims.46 As a matter of fact, Austria rather than Prussia was the first officially to declare war on July 17, 1866, although sophisticated intrigues of Prussia did take place and hostilities preceded the official declaration of the war.47

The interwar conflict, namely, the Austro-Prussian-Danish war of 1864, was omitted in most textbooks for Volksschulen, but it was mentioned in the textbooks for Bürgerschulen and Gymnasien. In Hannak’s textbook, for example, it is described quite accurately from a historical point of view and more or less unemotionally, although Hannak takes the opportunity to recall “the victories of the Austrians at Översee and Veile and the victory that Tegetthoff achieved at Helgoland over the Danish flotilla,” which “form a glorious leaf in the laurel wreath of the Austrian army.”48

The most detailed and biased narratives about the wars in question are in the textbooks published after 1900. The main aggressor in the 1859 conflict had changed. This time, it was the ambitious “upstart” Napoleon III, although Victor Emmanuel II is also cast in unflattering light as not particularly honest and ready “to cede without hesitation the old ancestral land of his house, Savoy, to France” in exchange for assistance to “come into possession of the royal crown over Italy as far as the Adria.”49 The change of the aggressor can be explained by the different political setting at the turn of the century: Italy, unlike France, was now an ally of Austria-Hungary within the Triple Alliance framework and could not be directly accused of wrongdoing. However, it was not as closely allied with Austria-Hungary as Germany, and this made it possible for the narratives to include some veiled criticism of its political behavior. In contrast, Prussia’s guilt for starting the war in 1866 is blurred and obscured for the same reason. The emphasis has shifted to the joint success of Austria and Prussia against the Danish king in 1864. The conflict of 1866 is exposed as an unfortunate misunderstanding between the two reputable powers defending their natural interests and leadership in the German Confederation.50

In addition to narratives in schoolbooks, students also heard the narratives and explanations given by the teachers in classroom. The versions of events told by instructors may have been clearer and more memorable for schoolchildren, as they may have sounded more like the whole truth. Those stories probably exerted a strong influence on the political orientation of schoolchildren as they grew up. Teachers in turn presumably restated the information they found in the textbooks used in the teacher training colleges. For this reason, these narratives are also of interest from the perspective of this discussion. One of the most commonly used textbooks for the future teachers was the book by Tupetz. For example, his textbook on the world history for the second-year students had eight editions that were published without any significant changes between 1890 and 1917. His textbook on world history for the third year students had eight unchanged editions, the last of which was published in 1918. For soon-to-be history teachers, Tupetz suggested a long narrative about the period of war in question, accompanied by many more details and a corresponding ideological bias.

In his discussion of the war of 1859, Tupetz depicts aggressive France and Sardinia as lands under the rule of unfair leaders, but he also stresses that “it was hoped on the Danube that an attack on a member of the German Confederation would be repulsed jointly by all German states,” and particularly Prussia. But for their disloyalty to the staunch Austrian ally, Austria would have kept her Italian possessions. Once more, Prussia employed underhanded tactics when it declined the “brilliant” proposals for a reorganization of the German Confederation by Francis Joseph, who was only seeking to maintain peace and justice among the German states. The king of Prussia did this on Bismarck’s advice, for “had the Austrian plan succeeded, Prussia would have had to give up hope of taking the lead in Germany for a long time, perhaps forever.”51 Thus, Tupetz delicately rebukes the German states, including Prussia, blaming them for the two main misfortunes that befell the Austrian monarchy in the 1860s, the loss of territories and the inability to preserve supremacy in Germany.

Tupetz also describes the conflict with the Danish king, who also proved covetous and unjust. His actions were illegitimate, and Austria could not tolerate this, as Austria remained loyal to the principles of the German Confederation and ready to defend the rights of any of its members.52 Thanks to the joint forces of Austria and Prussia, Denmark was forced to abandon its rapacious plans and cede the duchies to the victors, who soon started a dispute over the fate of the two German lands. Prussia was apparently inclined to deprive Schleswig-Holstein of its traditional independence, but Austria could not accept this. The war of 1866 “between the two great German powers” began because Prussia longed for supremacy in Germany. It concluded an alliance with Italy, and Austria saw itself attacked from two sides. “Most of the German states, on the other hand, feared the destruction of their previous independence from Prussia and sided with Austria, which had never infringed on their independence, but had always defended it.”53 Based on this narrative and similar ones from other textbooks by Tupetz,54 it can be supposed that the version most commonly heard by the Habsburg children in classrooms reiterated the information from most schoolbooks: the illegitimate ambitions of Sardinia and Prussia led to the bloody conflicts and induced Austria, under its peace-loving emperor Francis Joseph I, to wage wars.

The Course of the Wars

Most of the textbooks for Volkschulen did not contain any description of the course of the wars. The textbooks for younger children did not even contain any mention of specific battles during the Austro-Sardinian war of 1859, perhaps because none of the major battles were won by the Austrian army. These books make mention of only three battles that took place during the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866: the Battles of Lissa, Custozza, and Königgrätz. The names of the first two battles, in which the Austrian army triumphed even if these triumphs remained indecisive for the outcome of the war, are bolded in the text and described in detail, while the battle of Königgrätz, the decisive battle, in which the Austrian army suffered a crushing defeat, is referred to very briefly. One notices a clear difference between the textbooks for girls’ schools (Mädchenbürgerschulen) and the textbooks for boys’ schools (Knabenbürgerschulen). The latter, while following the same basic scheme of the narrative, contained more detailed descriptions of battles, hostilities, military maneuvers, armaments, troop numbers, etc. and more names of commanders. As soon as universal military duty was introduced by the 1867 constitution, schoolboys were obviously regarded as future soldiers and officers in the Austrian army, who needed deeper knowledge in the field of military history and warfare.

In connection with the Battles of Lissa and Custozza, the textbooks glorify Archduke Albrecht of Austria and Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff as talented commanders and Austrian military heroes. The Austrian army acquired “new and everlasting fame”55 under the leadership of Archduke Albrecht, “who had already given proof of fearlessness at Sa. Lucia in 1848 and, under Radetzky’s excellent guidance, matured into a capable warrior. Moreover, he was the son of the victor of Aspern and had inherited his father’s general virtues.” 56 On June 24, 1866, Archduke Albrecht won “a brilliant victory over Victor Emmanuel’s army at the memorable site where Radetzky had once put the troops of Karl Albert to flight, near Custozza.”57

Thus, a relatively recent hero was presented in the textbooks in close connection with the earlier military heroes Radetzky and Archduke Karl. This perfectly supports Laurence Cole’s claim that the Habsburg government sought to establish explicit continuity in terms of the representation of heroes within the military culture of the monarchy.58 The heroes of relatively recent wars were finely interwoven into the general Austrian imperial cult of military commanders who were famous for their patriotism and their loyalty to the state and dynasty. Thus, the Habsburg state undertook “a conscious effort to promote a conservative patriotic agenda in the 1890s and 1900s, which presented the army as a positive, cohesive force within the multinational state,”59 and the narratives in schoolbooks can be seen as a display of this effort.

In the same manner, compilers of schoolbooks praise the “glorious” Admiral Tegetthoff who “without hesitation” attacked “the much stronger enemy fleet and forced it to retreat,” a “heroic deed [which] will not be forgotten”:60

The young Austrian fleet also took a glorious part in the battle against Italy. Its commander, Admiral Tegetthoff, attacked the far more numerous Italian fleet off the Dalmatian island of Lissa and forced it to retreat. Not one Austrian ship was lost in this battle, while the enemy lost three ironclad ships. The sea victory at Lissa was all the more honorable for Admiral Tegetthoff, as he could only oppose the iron-armored ships of Italy with wooden ones. Unfortunately, the glorious winner died in 1871 at the age of 41. The magnificent monument which Emperor Francis Joseph had erected to him in Vienna reminds us of his heroic deed.61


It is true that from the 1880s onwards, the state became increasingly involved in the propagation of Austrian military heroes’ cult, for instance by unveiling monuments to them.62 Gestures of the Habsburgs’ gratitude for the services to the Fatherland and inviolable loyalty to the ruling dynasty must have been very meaningful for the politics of identity, as long as they were included in the narratives which schoolchildren not only had to read but often had to learn by heart. The narratives were normally accompanied by large images of a half-page or a whole page size, which invariably included a photo portrait of Archduke Albrecht wearing the Austrian uniform and military rewards; the painting of the battle of Lissa, depicting the Italian ship Re d’Italia sinking after being rammed by Tegetthoff’s flagship Ferdinand Max; and a photo of the monument to Tegetthoff on Vienna’s Praterstern.

However, other Austrian commanders could be portrayed in a less flattering manner. In particular, Count Ferenc Gyulai, a Hungarian nobleman who commanded the losing Austrian army at the Battle of Magenta, was often blamed for failing to attack the French before they united with the Sardinians, for which reason the Austrian army suffered defeats at Magenta and Solferino.63 Count Clam-Gallas, who commanded the right wing of the Austrian army at Magenta, was first to retreat, while the center and left wing of the army under other commanders “held each other brilliantly”: “his Hungarian regiments failed and his instructions did not prove workable. Repelled by the French, he retreated so quickly from the line of attack that he completely lost touch with the undefeated parts of the army.” At Solferino, “again it was the Hungarian regiments of the Clam-Gallas corps in the center that did not hold out.”64 It is difficult to say whether the specific blame placed on the Hungarian regiments here resulted from the personal beliefs of the compilers, but it was hardly an official practice or policy of the Viennese Ministry to generate a negative perception of Hungarians. A Hungarian aristocrat Tassilo Graf Festetics de Tolna, and Franz Graf von Thun und Hohenstein of non-Hungarian origin were also criticized for their actions at Königgrätz. The textbook claimed that, “against the orders of Benedek, [they] took part in the struggle against the Prussian center, weakened their forces, and left their basic positions,” and “the third Prussian army therefore struck the right flank of the Austrians without hindrance and stormed Chlum, and thus the battle was lost.”65

Nevertheless, the “heroic struggle” of the whole Austrian army was never subject to critique. In the victorious Battles of Custozza and Lissa, it were “the combative troops, the good spirit of the officers, the precise execution of the supreme commands, the cooperation and mutual support, and proper management” that “brought about the success.” In “the bloody but unfortunate battles of Magenta and Solferino,” the Austrian troops also “performed miracles of bravery and devotion.”66 At Königgrätz, the Austrian artillery likewise “performed miracles of bravery”:

Particular fame was earned by the “Battery of the Dead” under Captain von der Groeben, which did not leave the place until Groeben himself, a second captain, and 52 of 60 artillerymen had died. The survivors saved the only gun that still had its equipment. On the battlefield, near a grove between the villages of Chlum and Lipa, a beautiful monument has recently been erected representing Austria, with the inscription: “To the Heroes of the Battery of the Dead.” 67

An amazing and breathtaking story is also narrated about an episode of the sea battle at Lissa:

One of the Austrian wooden ships, the “Kaiser,” also performed miraculous bravery. When this ship was surrounded and attacked by four enemy ironclad ships, Commodore Petz, who was in command of the ship, fired all the cannons to the right and left, with great force against the Italian ironclad in front. The shock was terrible for the wooden ship too: one of the masts broke and smashed the engine’s chimney; the sails that had fallen on the chimney began to burn. But the crew put out the fire and the ship escaped danger. But one of the enemy ironclads with which the “Kaiser” had fought—it was called “Afondatore” and had the commander in chief of the Italian fleet on board—was so badly damaged that it sank after returning to the port of Ancona. The Austrian fleet hardly lost a ship. Hardly has world history (before the World War) recorded a case when such wonderful success would have been achieved with so little means as in this one.68

Should the schoolchildren have questions about why the Austrians were still defeated in particular battles after all their “heroic resistance,” the teacher was ready to provide reasonable explanations, which he could find in the textbooks used at the teacher training colleges:

In this war [of 1859], the French had the advantage over the Austrians that they already had “rifled” cannons, i.e. guns the barrels of which were provided with shallow indentations in the form of a helix, which gave the bullets a greater speed and enabled the French to shoot much further than was possible with “smooth” cannons. Nevertheless, the Austrians were long contesting the victories of their enemy at Magenta and Solferino; moreover, at Solferino, one Austrian wing under Field Marshal Lieutenant Benedek beat the opposing Sardinians.69


A similar explanation was provided for the defeat in the Prussian war of 1866: it was Austria’s defeat that was characterized as the sad consequence of the Prussian military reform (general conscription), better armaments of Prussia (the Dreyse needle-guns), and the inadequate aid given by the small German states to Austria.70 It is interesting that the author of a history schoolbook in Czech identifies additional causes of the Austrian defeat: the excellent Prussian military leader (Helmuth von Moltke the Elder) and general compulsory schooling in Prussia.71

The Outcomes and Consequences of the Wars

Although Austria’s defeats in war in the period between 1859 and 1866 were by no means obscured, but rather were accurately stated, all narratives about the wars in question end on an optimistic note. First, the war indemnity which Austria had to pay was moderate. Second, Austria did not lose any territory to Prussia. Third, in 1878, Bosnia and Herzegovina were “handed over to Austria for administration,” and as “New Austria,” they partially replaced the loss of land which Austria suffered in the war years of 1859 and 1866.”72 Fourth, with the Peace of Prague, “the antagonism which had developed between Prussia and Austria with regard to German affairs came to an end,” and “it became evident how valuable an alliance could be for both parties.”73 “In alliance with the German Empire, which was strengthened through personal meetings of the monarchs and expanded to include Italy,” Austria now asserted an influential position in the European state system.74 And last but not least, Francis Joseph “was now freed from the perpetually threatening danger of war” and “was able to devote all his energy to the internal development of Austria,” which resulted in a great progress “in all branches of popular welfare.”75 After the war against Prussia in 1866, the emperor promulgated the December Laws (1867).76 “A great boom in trade and industry, in the arts and sciences” is referred to as a direct consequence of these laws. For instance, the frigate Novara circumnavigated the earth in 1857–1859 and established trade connections with overseas cities and countries. Numerous roads and railways were built, with the Semmering, Brenner, West, Northwest, and Francis Joseph Railways being of particular importance.77 In his textbook for soon-to-be teachers, Tupetz also suggested a very encouraging summary of the war years:

Avoiding war and all bloodshed, a prince of peace in the noblest sense of the word, Emperor Francis Joseph I found himself obliged to draw the sword to protect his empire against foreign enemies; in the wars which Austria was forced to wage, the Austrian armies acquired new laurels for their imperishable wreath of glory. […] the victory which Field Marshal Archduke Albrecht, the son of the victor of Aspern, achieved at Custozza in 1866, the victory of Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, who unfortunately died early, at Lissa in the same year will live on forever in the memory of all Austrians.78


Narratives in Languages Other than German

The discussion above offers a good general image of the wars in which the Austrian monarchy fought during the period of neo-absolutism as these wars were narrated in history textbooks in German. I would also like to provide a few samples of narratives in Czech and Romanian for comparison. Let me note, however, that it is not my intention to present a comprehensive analysis of the peculiarities that were typical of narratives in textbooks in other languages of the monarchy. I offer only a few examples as interesting illustrations of some of the differences in these narratives.

From the textbook on the world history by professor Samuil V. Isopescul, designed for the lower classes of secondary schools and published in Romanian, the reader would similarly know that although Emperor Francis Joseph I was “not fond of wars,” he was still forced to wage many wars during his long reign. Isopescul considers Count Cavour, who was “pursuing with great energy the plan of the unification of Italy,” to have been the aggressor in the Italian war of 1859, and he claims that “King Victor Emmanuel, supported by Emperor Napoleon III, declared war on Austria in 1859.” The Austrian army was defeated near Magenta, “although it had fought with the greatest heroism.”79 Isopescul particularly stresses the personal courage of Emperor Francis Joseph, who “exposed himself to fire like every other soldier.”80 In a way similar to that in the German textbooks, Isopescul praises the glorious Austrian victors Archduke Albrecht and Admiral Tegetthoff, providing a few sentences of biography on each and describing in some detail the battles at Custozza and Lissa.81

As for the schoolbooks published in Czech, one also finds emphasis on reverence for Emperor Francis Joseph and praise for his personal courage during the war period. For example, in Šembera-Koníř’s textbook on world history, which was written for first-year students in the municipal schools, one reads that, even as a young man, he “showed special affection and dexterity for military service,” and he “went to Italy to get a vivid picture of war preparations and achievements, which were directed against the enemy by Field Marshal Count Radetzky at the head of the Austrian army.”82 In 1859 and 1866, he waged bloody wars, during which “our people gloriously defeated Italy on land at Custozza (under Archduke Albrecht) and at sea near Lissa (under Admiral Tegetthoff), but he had bad luck against the Prussians.”83 The reference to “our people” distinguishes the narrative in this textbook. It made the Bohemian children perceive the Habsburg citizens as one solidary Austrian people, which was definitely the aim of the Habsburg government. The images of shared triumph and shared defeat contributed, without doubt, to the cohesion of the residents of the Habsburg lands. In the textbook by Šembera-Koníř intended for the second-year and third-year students in the municipal schools one finds praise of the worthy emperor, who “showed great bravery and fearlessness,” accompanied by a portrait of him as a young man, as well as praise of “our” brave army.”84 The reader also finds a cautious critique of the “indecisive” General Benedek, who, unlike in the German narratives, is portrayed here as a commander lacking in bravery who was incapable of making bold decisions.85 The narrative also notes that, after the defeat at Königgrätz, the Prussians occupied Prague, a detail omitted from the German narratives. Šembera-Koníř underlines: “Although this war did not last long, it was terrible, and all the horrors took place in Bohemia. The loyalty of the Czech nation proved excellent in these difficult trials, which the noble monarch himself acknowledged when he visited Bohemia after the war.” 86 Thus, Šembera-Koníř emphasizes the outstanding loyalty and merits of the Czech people, although he regards the latter as an integral part of the whole Austrian people. “The outstanding loyalty” of the Czech nation is also stressed in the schoolbook by Š. M. Konečný.87 The narrative on the war period concludes with a comment that later Austria was compensated for the loss of the Italian territories, when it acquired Bosnia and Herzegovina.88

The cult of wars and military heroes was widely employed by the Habsburg government in its effort to forge state loyalty and patriotic thinking in imperial Austria. It was propagated through various institutions, channels, and means. History classes in schools and history schoolbooks served as ideal means of spreading this cult. Narratives about wars led by the Austrian monarchy with a relevant focus and emphasis occupied a solid place in history textbooks in the different languages of the monarchy. While it was possible to select triumphant military conflicts from the remote past to be presented to schoolchildren and ignore clashes in which Austria was defeated, this approach was hardly applicable to relatively recent wars that could not be “hushed up.” For this reason, the narratives about the Austro-Sardinian war of 1859 and the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866 found a due place on the pages of Habsburg schoolbooks, even though the Austrian army was crushingly defeated in those wars and the Austrian monarchy suffered territorial losses and the loss of its supremacy in the German Confederation.

However, the Ministry of Culture and Education in Vienna kept a stern eye on the focus of narratives about the wars to ensure that the image of the great Fatherland under its good ruler and heroic army was by no means challenged. The discussion I have offered above of the narratives in history textbooks published between 1860s and 1910s mostly in German but also in Czech and Romanian shows that no serious discrepancies between the narratives about the wars waged by Austria between 1859 and 1866 can be discovered in the textbooks designed for students at the secondary schools and teacher training colleges in Cisleithania. Although the recent literature considers the wars in question among the hardest and most humiliating for Austria, during the late period of Francis Joseph’s rule, the ways in which these wars were presented in schoolbooks strongly contributed to the cult of the brave Austrian military and the heroic image of Austrian warriors, regardless of ethnicity and language. The authors of schoolbooks did not distort historical facts and did not deny the military defeats suffered by the Austrian Empire, but their narratives are clearly biased and one-sided, and they were clearly intended to foster patriotic feelings, in accordance with the instructions of the ministry. One can find clichés such as “the miracles of bravery” performed by the Austrian soldiers and sailors and stories about glorious battles fought under the leadership of brilliant Austrian commanders, accompanied by portraits of Archduke Albrecht and photos of the monument to Admiral Tegetthoff. The latter were glorified as new heroes of the Austrian army, but in close connection with the hugely popular Radetzky and Archduke Karl. This established continuity among military heroes who were famous not only for their deeds in battle, but also for their patriotism and their loyalty to the dynasty.

Although in the conflicts in 1859 and 1866 it was Austria who officially declared war, in the narratives in question, it was claimed that the major aggressors were Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia, Napoleon III, and the Prussian government. The wars were lost because of “unfortunate” circumstances, but with modest war indemnity losses and no territorial losses. Moreover, the outcomes of the wars led to the long-awaited monarchy’s reorganization and its “finest achievement,” the Constitution of 1867. The personal bravery and achievements of Francis Joseph were particularly stressed, and a portrait of an emperor as a young man full of energy decorated most of the textbooks. The narratives in Romanian paid specific attention to the high virtues of the emperor, while those in Czech emphasized the alleged loyalty of the Bohemians to the emperor during the hostilities.

Thus, this discussion offers insights into one more episode in the Habsburg state efforts to promote a patriotic agenda and present the Austrian army as a powerful and cohesive force guarding the multinational Fatherland, a force of which every citizen should have been proud. History schoolbooks can be considered an effective means of disseminating the cult of Austrian wars, since large masses of schoolchildren absorbed their narratives under the oversight of state-certified teachers, and these narratives could certainly strengthen patriotic feelings and influence the political views of children as they grew older, much as they could also contribute to the formation of their identities as imperial Austrians. This, in its turn, may offer further insights into the phenomena of military culture, popular patriotism, and dynastic loyalty, which are widely discussed in the recent secondary literature.


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Šembera-Koníř. Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného pro školy mĕšťanské [Pictures from the world history for municipal schools]. Vol. 2, Pro II. třidu školy mĕšťanské. Prague: Bursík & Kohout. Knihkupci c. k. české university a české akademie pro vĕdy, slovessnost a umĕní, 1898.

Šembera-Koníř. Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného pro školy mĕšťanské [Pictures from the world history for municipal schools]. Vol. 3, Pro III. třidu školy mĕšťanské. Prague: Bursík & Kohout. Knihkupci c. k. české university a české akademie pro vĕdy, slovessnost a umĕní, 1911.

Šujan, Fr. Učebnice Dĕjepisu pro mĕšŤanské školy [History textbook for secondary schools]. Vol. 3, Vypravování z dĕjin staréo, středního a nového vĕku. Prague: Nakladatel I. L. Kober knihkupectví. 1899.

Tupetz, Theodor. Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie, Verfassung und Staatseinrichtungen derselben für den dritten Jahrgang der k. k. Lehrer- und Lehrerinnenbildungsanstalten. Vienna: Verlag von F. Tempsky, 1904.

Tupetz, Theodor. Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte für Lehrer- und Lehrerinnenbildungsanstalten. Vol. 3, Vom Beginn der Neuzeit (1492) bis zum Jahre 1867. Vienna: Verlag von F. Tempsky, 1916.

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1 Roth, The Radetzky March, 7–10.

2 Weber, Camillo Cavour, 13.

3 Cvrček, Schooling under Control, 3–4.

4 Weber, Camillo Cavour, 13–16.

5 Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen; Lehning, To be a Citizen.

6 Paddock, Creating the Russian Peril.

7 Fass, Outside In: Minorities and the Transformation of American Education; Ziegler-McPherson, Americanization in the States.

8 Komleva, “Obrazovatelnaya politika Rossiyskoy imperii.”

9 For more details on the Habsburg schooling politics, see Bruckmüller’s studies: “An Ehren und an Siegen reich”; Nation Österreich; “Patriotic and National Myths”; “Patriotismus und Geschichtsunterricht.”

10 Due to the lack of space I will mention just a few of the relevant works: Cohen, The Politics of Ethnic Survival; King, Budweisers into Czechs and Germans; Rozenblit, Reconstructing a National Identity; Puttkamer, Schulalltag und nationale Integration in Ungarn; Bruckmüller, Nation Österreich; Judson, Guardians of the Nation; Unowsky, The Pomp and Politics; Zahra, Kidnapped Souls.

11 Talmon, Myth of the Nation, 133.

12 Judson, The Habsburg Empire, 4.

13 Judson, Guardians of the Nation; Zahra, Kidnapped Souls; King, Budweisers into Czechs and Germans.

14 Sugar, The Nature of the Non-Germanic Societies; Fischer-Galati, Nationalism and Kaisertreue; Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy, 2; Unowsky, The Pomp and Politics, 181–82; Judson, The Habsburg Empire, 100.

15 Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy, 436–55.

16 Nemes, Once and Future Budapest, 185–86.

17 Commemorations: the Politics of National Identity; Staging the Past; Grossegger, Der Kaiser Huldigungs Festzug; Unowsky, The Pomp and Politics.

18 Puttkamer, “Framework of Modernization,” 20.

19 Engelbrecht, Geschichte des österreichischen Bildungswesen; Cohen, Education and Middle-class Society; Burger, Sprachenrecht und Sprachengerechtigkeit.

20 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen”; Almasy, “Setting the canon.”

21 Moore, Teaching the Empire.

22 Instructionen für den Unterricht.

23 Riesenfellner, Zeitgeschichtelabor, 92.

24 Cole, Military Culture, 106.

25 Fichtner, The Habsburg Empire, 52–57; Judson, The Habsburg Empire, 251; Mitchell, The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire, 293–99; Taylor, The Habsburg monarchy, 94, 99, 126–27. In most details, the causes of the catastrophic Austrian defeat are reviewed in Dredger, Tactics and Procurement,13–38.

26 Lackey, The Rebirth of the Habsburg Army,17–22.

27 Bruckmüller, “Patriotic and National Myths,” 28–29.

28 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen,” 145.

29 Ibid, 146.

30 Almasy, Kanon und nationale Konsolidierung, 92–94.

31 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen,” 150–51.

32 Ara, “Italian Educational Policy,” 267; But, “Ital´ianskie shkol´nye soiuzy,” 312–13.

33 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen,” 156.

34 Gindely, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte für Obergymnasien, 201.

35 See, for example: Loserth, Leitfaden der Allgemeinen Geschichte, 192–98; Loserth, Grundniß der Allgemeinen Geschichte, 90–93.

36 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8classige Volksschulen, 116–17.

37 Ibid, 118.

38 Rusch, Grundniß der Geschichte,74. The same narrative is in the reissues published in 1899, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1913, and 1918.

39 Ibid.

40 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8classige Volksschulen, 118.

41 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 2, 124.

42 Cole, Military Culture, 96–103.

43 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 110–11. The unchanged editions were published in 1903 and 1907.

44 Schneid, The Second War, 34.

45 Hannak, Österreichische Vaterlandskunde, 99.

46 Hannak, Lehrbuch der Geschichte, 224–27.

47 See Hozier, The Seven Weeks’ War, Book 4, Ch. 1.

48 Hannak, Lehrbuch der Geschichte, 226–27.

49 Gindely, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Knabenbürgerschulen, 57.

50 Ibid.

51 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 191, 193.

52 Ibid, 193–94.

53 Ibid, 194.

54 See, for example: Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 2, 198–99; Tupetz, Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie, 205–10.

55 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8-classige Volksschulen, 118.

56 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 111–13. The unchanged reissues were published in 1903 and 1907.

57 Ibid.

58 Cole, Military Culture, 104.

59 Ibid.

60 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 113.

61 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8-classige Volksschulen, 119.

62 Cole, Military Culture, 104.

63 Hannak, Lehrbuch der Geschichte, 224; Gindely, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Knabenbürgerschulen, 53.

64 Gindely, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Knabenbürgerschulen, 54.

65 Ibid, 58.

66 Rusch, Grundniß der Geschichte, 74.

67 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 194–97.

68 Tupetz, Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie, 208–9.

69 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 192.

70 Ibid, 194–97.

71 Konečný, Učebnice Dĕjepisu pro mĕšt‘anské školy, 63.

72 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 113–16.

73 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 197–98.

74 Hannak, Österreichische Vaterlandskunde, 101.

75 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 2, 124.

76 Ibid, 127.

77 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8-classige Volksschulen, 119–22.

78 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 2, 202.

79 Isopescul, Manual de Istorie Universală, 130.

80 Ibid., 130–31.

81 Ibid., 131–32, 134.

82 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 1, 68.

83 Ibid.

84 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 2, 65–67.

85 Konečný, Učebnice Dĕjepisu pro mĕšt’anské školy, 63.

86 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 2, 67.

87 Konečný, Učebnice Dĕjepisu pro mĕšt’anské školy, 63.

88 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 3, 47; Šujan, Učebnice Dĕjepisu, 100.

* This study was financially supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, project no. 19-59-23005 The Habsburg Monarchy: new trends in research of economic, sociopolitical and national development of the Central-European composite state.


Military Veterans’ Associations in the Kingdom of Hungary (1868–1914)

Balázs Tangl
Savaria Museum, Szombathely
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):71-104 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.71

One of the typical social consequences of the introduction of compulsory conscription and mass politics in nineteenth century Europe was the emergence of veterans organizations. This study examines the veterans’ movement in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1867 and 1914. While in Europe and Imperial Austria the widespread military veterans’ organizations were important actors in the relationship between the military and the civilian sphere and also in state policy, in Hungary their spread remained limited. However, their operation, specific ideology and also their reception in local society can provide important lessons about the impact of the military on society, and the forms and workings of loyalty and nationalism in Hungary.

The study consists of two main parts. First, it examines the prevalence and main characteristics of the associations: where and when were they founded, for what purpose were they established, how the state treated them, what social groups did them consist of, and finally how did all this relate to the other half of the empire? The second part of the study presents the activities of veterans’ associations in Hungarian society by drawing on the example of town of Szombathely and Vas County in western Transdanubia. It analyses what activities did they perform in everyday life, what ideologies did they follow, how did they get involved in the life of the local society, and what was their reception in local civil society and administration?
Keywords: Austria-Hungary, Hungary, military veterans’ association, militarism, civil-military relation, veterans

The national perspective has long dominated research on the history of the Habsburg Monarchy. Over the course of the past two decades, however, the “the new imperial history”1 of the Habsburg Monarchy and the concept of “national indifference”2 have shifted attention to transnational approaches, imperial policy, and multi-ethnic frameworks, pointing to the phenomena of national indifference, multilingualism, multiple identities, imperial patriotism, and dynastic loyalties.3 These theories have significantly altered the image of the Habsburg Monarchy, making it clear that the concepts of multinational empire and nation were compatible rather than competing categories and also highlighting the limits of national mobilization and the importance of dynastic loyalty (though without forgetting or ignoring the limits of this loyalty). Research, however, has focused primarily on the western half of the Monarchy, and with the exception of a few scattered research endeavors, Hungary’s place in this narrative remains largely unclear.4

The Imperial and Royal Army was one of the most important institutional pillars of dynastic loyalty and patriotism. In recent decades, historical research in a number of European countries has shown that armies based on the general conscription and military symbols and traditions played a decisive role in building national identity, mobilizing the population for national purposes, and thus militarizing society at the turn of the century.5 One of the most important areas in which civil society and military society intersected were the military veterans’ organizations, which in parallel with the emergence of mass politics became a hotbed of militarism. The Kyffhäuserband (an umbrella organization of veterans), for example, with its 2.8 million members, had become one of the largest societies in Germany by 1913. These associations had a strong nationalistic, authoritarian and militaristic character, which was also propagated in the wider society.6

Similar trends were underway in the Habsburg Monarchy, but of course in a different social, historical, and political context. Although general conscription was introduced in 1868, the Habsburg Army was organized around a supranational ideology which was unique in Europe. The cornerstones of this ideology were loyalty to the emperor and the common fatherland and the equality of nationalities and religions. Since there was no dominant nation in the Monarchy, the army did not symbolize the “nation in arms,” but rather was an embodiment of the community of the peoples of the empire as a whole. The army, too, was not a “school of the nation,” but a “school of the peoples.”7

The military culture developed by the army had an impact on wider society. In his work on military culture and the veterans’ movement which emerged in the 1870s , Laurence Cole draws (at least) two important conclusions. He argues that “a process of societal militarization took place in imperial Austria during the second half of the nineteenth century, much as occurred in other European countries,” and “a considerable reservoir of dynastic loyalty and ‘pro-Austrian’ sentiment existed across the multinational state.”8 Of course, veterans were influenced by nationalism (in Bohemia more than anywhere else), but this did not affect their patriotism. Rather, it merely changed the language they used to express it. In Austria, however, military culture also contributed to the polarization of society as opposition emerged to the militarism and “certain circles of society rejected involvement in activities associated with or symbolized by military veterans.” Thus, Cole agrees with István Deák’s assessment, according to which the society of Habsburg Monarchy was divided not only nationally but also ideologically and socially.9

Cole’s work does not deal with the case of Hungary, and his hesitancy to do so suggests that the distinctive position of the country should be the subject of separate study.10 With the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867, Hungary, which had always occupied a special place in the Habsburg Monarchy, gained full internal autonomy with the exception of foreign affairs, military matters, and certain economic questions. Multilingual and multi-religious but governed by the Hungarian liberal elite, Hungary (in contrast with Imperial Austria) defined and organized itself as a nation state in which the dominance of Hungarian nationalism prevailed, while the nationality movements were ever more restricted.11 For this reason, the lack of a national army was the Achilles-heel of Hungarian politics, and the ideology on which the Imperial and Royal Army’s claim to legitimacy was founded was a constant target of Hungarian nationalists, even if the relationship between the army and Hungarian society had become harmonic and close in everyday life by the turn of the century.12 Another significant and, from the perspective of the development of military veterans’ associations (MVAs), important difference was the absence in Hungary of any modern mass politic. While the gradual extension of the right to vote in Austria eventually led to the introduction of universal and equal suffrage for all men in 1907, in Hungary, only a narrow section of society was able to take an active part in politics throughout the whole period.13

In this essay, I investigate the MVAs14 in the Kingdom of Hungary, not including Croatia-Slavonia. While in Europe and Imperial Austria the widespread MVAs were important actors in the relationship between the military and the civilian sphere and also in state policy, in Hungary, their memberships remained low, and they were established mainly in German-speaking territories and larger towns. For this reason, they attracted less interest from the state. However, their spread, operation, and specific ideology and also their reception in local society can provide important lessons not only about the impact of the military on society, but also about the forms and workings of loyalty and nationalism in Hungary.

The paper divided into two main parts. In the first, I discuss the prevalence and general characteristics of MVAs in the country and the relationship of the state to these associations. I also consider how the circumstances of these associations compare to the circumstances of similar associations in the other half of the Monarchy. In the second section, I shift perspective and, drawing on the example of Vas County in western Hungary, I examine the MVAs activities, the ideology represented by their members, and the reception of these associations in local civil society. As the MVAs in Hungary were mainly concentrated in the larger towns and in areas inhabited with German-speaking15 populations (first and foremost in the western Transdanubian region), Vas County offers an ideal case on the basis of which some general conclusions can be drawn.

Finally, it must be emphasized that the present study is about the veterans’ associations founded by the members of the Imperial and Royal Army and the Royal Hungarian Honvéd Army (königlich-ungarische Landwehr), which was established with the army reform of 1868. I do not intend to deal with the Hungarian Honvéd Associations founded by the veterans of the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848–49 and made the subject of a fairly sizeable amount of the secondary literature.

Military Veterans’ Associations in the Kingdom of Hungary

The first MVA to function as an association in the modern sense of the word in the Habsburg Monarchy was founded in Reichenberg in Bohemia (today Liberec, Czech Republic) in 1821. Similar associations began to appear more and more frequently in the second half of the century, in parallel with the introduction of general conscription in 1868 and the granting of the right to freedom of association under the Fundamental Laws of 1867. By the turn of the century, the MVAs had become one of the most numerous types of civil association in Imperial Austria.16 In his work, Cole makes note of at least 2,800 MVAs before World War I, but he estimates their real number to be at least 10 to 20 percent higher. We know even less about the actual number of members of these associations, but it probably ran into the hundreds of thousands. 98 percent of the associations were founded in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and the Hereditary Lands, while only a few dozen were established in Galicia, Bukovina, and Dalmatia, which had a lower standard of living and had been integrated into the Monarchy and its military system only towards the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.17

Compared to its western neighbor, in Hungary, the MVAs spread at a much slower pace and only to a limited, geographically relatively well-delimited extent. The MVAs began to appear in the 1870s, after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, when the right of association and assembly became free.18 Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to estimate the number of MVAs in Hungary. During the Dualist era only a single census of associations was held (in 1878), according to which there were only 13 MVAs with a total of about 3,000 members.19 In addition, a survey prepared by the Ministry of Interior for the Ministry of Defense during the preparatory work for the Law of Népfelkelés (Landsturm) in 188320 listed some 21 associations.21 Although it is certainly possible that the figures given in the two sources are unreliable or imprecise, these numbers are still strikingly low, as at least 883 such associations had already been established in Imperial Austria.22

Since there are no available census data for the later period, I tried to find another way to determine how many MVAs had been formed in Hungary by the outbreak of World War I. In addition to the two sources mentioned above, I used the statutes approval published in the official gazettes (Budapesti Közlöny and Belügyi Közlöny)23 and the association database of the National Archives.24 According to the sources, the first MVA in Hungary was founded in Királyfalva (today Königsdorf, Austria) in Vas County in 1874, followed by about 100 more over the course of the next 40 years. Of course, this does not mean that there were exactly that many MVAs in the country at the outbreak of war. In Budapest, for example, ten MVAs were founded in the 1870s and 1880s, but by the turn of the century, their number had fallen to five, primarily because some of them had merged together.25 There were similar mergers elsewhere. The Pécs MVA, founded in 1875, was merged into the Baranya County MVA in 1906.26 Of course, there may also have been several associations which were disbanded without legal succession. Nevertheless, the operation of associations was generally quite stable. In Vas County, for example, a total of 17 associations were formed during the period, they were all still in operation at the outbreak of World War I.27 Similarly, of the five associations established in Baranya County, all but the abovementioned Pécs MVA survived until the war.28

The MVAs in Hungary were established in two distinct periods. The first period was in the second half of the 1870s and the first half of the 1880s, when the MVAs were formed primarily in towns and to lesser extent in some villages in western Transdanubia. The second period was from the turn of the century until World War I, when MVAs were formed mainly in larger villages in western Transdanubia and only to a lesser extent in the towns. An important difference between the two periods is that in the 1870s and 1880s, the associations were formed primarily by war veterans, while after the turn of the century, they were formed by veterans of the peacetime army.

Compared to Austria or Germany, politics played no or only a negligible role in the spread of MVAs. Not surprisingly given their small number, their social impact remained largely local, and one cannot speak about a general veterans’ movement throughout the country. The Hungarian state thus understandably paid little attention to the MVAs. The Austrian state, in contrast, began encouraging the spread of MVAs in the 1890s as an important institution of patriotism, and it also played an active role in creating a common federation (thereby also trying to increase the state control over the associations). The success of MVAs meant pressure from below, and this played an important part in obliging the state to react.29 Thing unfolded very differently in Hungary, however. The MVAs, of which there were comparatively few, did not really arouse the interest of the state, neither in a positive nor in a negative sense. The state did nothing to hinder the spread of MVAs, nor did it do anything to help them. It essentially remained indifferent to them throughout the whole period. The biggest problem the associations faced was caused by their uniforms. The MVAs tried to make themselves as similar as possible to the army through their flags, uniforms, and side weapons (in contrast to Austria, where side weapons were forbidden). However, the use of uniforms which closely resembled the uniforms actually in use by the army was expressly forbidden by the military. In 1884, the Minister of Defense drew the attention of the Minister of Interior to this in a special transcript, and in 1896, a general review of the uniforms was ordered.30

The geographical location of the MVAs can also be well defined. They were established mainly in western and southern Transdanubia, in the western part of present-day Slovakia, in Budapest, in two Transylvanian Saxon counties in Brassó, (Brasov today Romania and Nagyszeben (Sibiu today Romania) and, finally, in southern Hungary: in the Bánát and Bácska. There were also a few associations scattered across other parts of the country. Like their Austrian counterparts, the associations were formed on a territorial basis, recruiting members from a particular town, neighborhood, or county.31

The regions mentioned above had one thing in common: they all had a significant German-speaking population (although they were extremely heterogeneous in terms of language, religion, culture, history, and living conditions). The western villages of Vas and Sopron Counties were inhabited by the predominantly Catholic and to a lesser extent Lutheran “Hientzen,” while in Moson County one found the Catholic “Heidebauers.” Transylvania was home to the largely Lutheran Saxons, who had enjoyed considerable privileges and autonomy before the Austro-Hungarian Compromise. These German settlements can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The Bácska and Bánát were home to the Catholic “Swabians,” who had come from southern Germany in the eighteenth century after the expulsion of the Ottomans. The southern Transdanubian Baranya County was home to the so-called “Stiffollers.”32

The German minorities undoubtedly played a decisive role in the formation of the MVAs, as most of the MVAs were established in German-speaking settlements. However, this did not mean that MVAs spread exclusively among German speakers. They could also be found in some Croatian and Slovak villages in Sopron and Pozsony County on the Austrian border. In addition, the Hungarian-speaking population in the larger towns of Transdanubia established their own MVAs, for example in Szombathely, Győr, Zalaegerszeg, Nagykanizsa, Pécs, and Mohács, as well as in the other towns of the country, such as Miskolc, Marosvásárhely (today Târgu Mureş, Romania), one of the main Székely centers), and even in towns on the Great Plain, such as Szeged and Hódmezővásárhely. Finally, in towns with mixed populations such as Budapest, Sopron, Pozsony (today, Bratislava, Slovakia), Óvár, Arad (today Arad, Romania), Nyitra (today Nitra, Slovakia), Újvidék (today Novi Sad, Serbia, and Temesvár (today Timişoara, Romania), the German and Hungarian-speaking populations set up associations together. No MVAs, however, were found among the majority of Hungarians and other nationalities of the country, or in other words in the Slovene, Slovak (except along the Moravian border), Ruthenian, Romanian, or Serbian settlements.

The prevalence of MVAs (like associations in general), were also closely related to the spread of the literacy. With the exception of Hientzen villages in Vas and Sopron Counties, the vast majority of MVAs were formed in towns and in some large villages. The literacy rate of the total population of these settlements was well above the local and national average, which was only 58 percent in 1910. In Vas and Sopron Counties the literacy rate was 70 percent and 74 percent. In Bács-Bodrog County, it was 58 percent, in the settlement of Szeghegy (today Sekić, Serbia), it was 79 percent , and in Apatin (today Apatin, Serbia) it was 84 percent. MVAs were established in both settlements. Similarly, 68 percent of the total population of Stájerlakanina (today Anina, Romania) could write and read, while the average rate in Krassó-Szörény County was only 45 percent. Finally, the literacy rate in Niczkyfalva (today Niţchidorf, Romania) in Temes was 71 percent, while the county average was 54 percent.33

The most important factor in the development of the MVAs, however, was the proximity of Austria. It is no coincidence that half of the associations identified were formed in Moson, Pozsony, Sopron, and Vas Counties on the border of Austria and Moravia, and most of them were found in the western part of the area. In the case of the Nagyfalva (today Mogersdorf, Austria) MVA founded in Vas County in 1874, for example, the alispán (the deputy főispán, or lord lieutenant of the county) explicitly claimed in his report that the local people had taken their model from neighboring Styria.34 In the case of the MVA in Dobrafalva (today Dobersdorf, Austria), also established in Vas County, the local authorities welcomed the formation of the association, because earlier the veterans had joined the Styrian associations.35 The cross-border relations are also illustrated by the fact that, in 1877, 30 MVAs in Hungary, Lower Austria, Bohemia, and Moravia wanted to form a federation called the Allgemeine Österreichisch-Ungarischer Militär Veteranen Unterstützungs-Bund. The federation would have included two associations from Hungary: the Sopron MVA and the Nagyszombat (today Trnava, Slovakia) MVA. However, the statutes of the federation did not win the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior, as the federation’s headquarters were abroad and thus the Hungarian authorities would have had no influence on its composition and operation. The Ministry therefore did not allow the two Hungarian associations to join.36

Probably because there were comparatively few of them, the MVAs in Hungary did not form a common organization, and no attempt was made to form a federation apart from the attempt mentioned above. The MVAs were also unable to establish a viable permanent veteran press, although several attempts were made to do so, mainly in the capital. The Hungarian-German bilingual Első Magyarországi Hadastyán Újság (First Hungarian Veteran Journal) was launched in 1878, followed by the Hadastyánok Lapja (The Journal of Military Veterans) in 1882 and its German counterpart Veteranen Zeitung, and finally, in 1893, the bilingual Magyar Hadastyán Újság (Hungarian Veteran Newspaper). As individual initiatives, these newspapers were of low quality, and they published articles almost exclusively on the affairs in the capital. None of them lasted for more than a year, and unfortunately very few copies have survived.

It is even more difficult to determine the number of people who belonged to the various MVAs or and the social composition of these associations, as detailed censuses and membership lists are not available. However, there is some partial information on the basis of which a few general conclusions can be drawn. For example, a survey of associations in Vas County in 1892 and 1914 reveals that the MVAs in the villages had an average of 30–60 members, while in Szombathely, the county seat (with a population of 30,000), the MVA had 120 members.37 Similar proportions can be noticed in Baranya County. The Baranya County MVA in Pécs, the county seat (with a population of 47,000), had 111 members in 1901, while its two rural branches had 58 members in Pécsvárad and 25 in Hosszúhetény.38 In Stájerlakanina, a small German-speaking town in Krassó-Szörény County in Bánát, had 61 members at the time of its formation.39 The Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia) MVA had 99 members,40 the Nezsider (today Neusiedl am See, Austria) MVA in the western part of the present-day Austria had 150,41 the Arad MVA had 120,42 and the Achduke Joseph I Pozsony MVA had over 100 members at the time of its formation.43 In general, the associations established in villages and small towns had a membership of around 50 people, while in the larger towns they had over 100 members. The only exception was Budapest, where the MVAs had 200–300 members or more.44 Based on these facts, the total number people who belonged to one of the MVAs before World War I might have been between 10,000 and 15,000. For the sake of comparison, it is worth keeping in mind that the total population of Hungary in 1910 (excluding Croatia) was 18.2 million.

Unfortunately, even less is known about the social backgrounds of the people who belonged to the MVAs, as the few membership lists which survived do not include details concerning the members’ occupations. One can only draw conclusions on the basis of the statutes and the reports received by the administrative authorities and the Ministry of Interior. The statutes generally distinguished three types of members: the ordinary members were veterans (or in some cases reservists) of the Imperial and Royal Army and the Royal Hungarian Honvéd Army. Although the associations did not differentiate between the soldiers who belonged to the imperial army and those who belonged to the Hungarian Honvéd Army, it is also true that the statutes were only approved in this form by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense. The patrons and honorary members could also be civilians with no military background. They helped the associations on a voluntary basis, but they could not claim financial aid, nor could they wear uniforms or bear side weapons. Finally, every association had a protector. The associations would ask a local prominent citizen, landowner, nobleman, or even a member of the royal house to fill this role.

As was the case in Austria and Germany, the ordinary members of the associations were chosen from among the rank and file soldiers, and there were even some associations that stipulated in their statutes that members had to be rank and file soldiers. For example, the First Budapest MVA and the Edelsheim-Gyulai Budapest MVA only enrolled members from the rank of sergeant downwards. However, this was something of an exception. In many cases, one or more officers served as the organizer and the president of an association. For example, the first president of the Pécs MVA was Colonel Baron Gottfried Ottinger,45 and the first president of the MVA in Szombathely was Captain József Gottmann.46 In Fiume, retired ship-of-the-line Captain Gustav von Zaccaria played a key role in the establishment of the association.47

The military ranks of the members offer some indication of their social status. In principle, the veterans came from the lower social classes, whom Thomas Rohkrämer referred to as “little people” (kleine Leute). In Germany, for example, most of the veterans were workers, peasants, artisans, small shopkeepers, and low-ranking civil servants, even if the leadership of the MVAs came from the higher echelons of society.48 In Austria, the majority of the MVA membership was comprised of artisans, civil servants, shopkeepers, merchants, and, as of the turn of the century, peasants. There were, however some regional and national differences. In German-speaking areas, the MVAs also had people who belonged to the liberal bourgeoisie and landowners among their members, while where national politics played an important role (in Czech and Italian territories), the middle class and liberal bourgeoisie were mainly absent. In addition, the majority of the working class was largely left untouched by the veterans’ movement in Austria. Members of the nobility or the clergy and officers participated mainly as initiators, supporters, or presidents. In addition, there was another important peculiarity to the MVAs in Austria. In ethnically mixed areas, the veterans increasingly formed the associations on the basis of nationality.49

In Hungary, the reports preserved in the archives of the Ministry of Interior refer to the “lower social status” of the members, who were generally tradesmen, artisans, lower civil servants, and peasants. Members of the local nobility, the urban middle class, and the clergy were present as supporters at most. In addition, it must be highlighted that not only men but in many cases women also took part in the operation of the MVAs. One way of doing so was to form a sister association. The wives of veterans formed associations in Pozsony in 1882, in Budapest in 1885, and in Pécs in 1884.50 Similarly, several associations in the capital had their own women’s section, such as the First Budapest MVA, the Archduke Joseph MVA, and the Prince Coburg MVA.51

Finally, it is worth offering a few words on the goals of the associations. The MVAs established in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary were first and foremost relief organizations, like their Austrian counterparts. Their members received financial and medical aid in case of illness, and their widows and orphans received funeral and financial assistance in case of death. Most of the associations, however, had two main additional goals: to cultivate the esprit de corps and loyalty to the king and fatherland. In many cases, these goals were met by self-education and efforts to foster civic virtues and respect for the law and legal authorities. The associations, however, were not allowed to engage in political and national activities. Otherwise, they could be banned, at least for the nationalities. In 1885, for example, in Szakolca (today Skalica, Slovakia), in a predominantly Slovak-speaking town on the Moravian border, the local authorities prevented the formation of a MVA because of its national character (the mayor, János Sebesi, was a Hungarian lawyer). After the attempts to reestablish the MVA in the neighboring settlement Holics (today Holič, Slovakia), the association was banned by the Ministry of Interior. According to the Deputy Lord Lieutenant’s report, the main organizers were known nationalist agitators, and therefore the association would have served primarily nationalist and unpatriotic purposes.52 This austerity, however, affected only the nationalities, while, as we shall see, the authorities welcomed indications of attachment to the Hungarian national idea in the associations.

Military Veterans’ Associations in Vas County

In the second part of this study, I examine the functioning of MVAs, drawing on the example of Vas County in western Hungary. I primarily seek answers to the following questions: how was loyalty to the king and the fatherland expressed? What did the concept of fatherland mean according to veterans? How did the MVAs relate to the national idea, and how were they received by the local society? I first examine the Vas County MVA, founded in Szombathely, the county seat, and then the associations formed in the villages of the German-speaking western part of the county. In doing so, I primarily use the local newspapers and the official reports, because the associations themselves did not have any archives or at least no such archives have survived.

The Vas County MVA

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Szombathely was a dynamically developing medium-sized town, an episcopal seat, and an important commercial, financial, and transport hub in the western Transdanubian region with significant industry and a military garrison. It was one of the fastest growing settlements in the country. Its population was only 7,500 in 1869, but by 1910, it has risen to 31,000. 83 percent of the inhabitants were Catholic, 10 percent were Jewish, and the rest were Protestant. Although at the beginning of the nineteenth century Szombathely was a town with a mixed German-speaking and Hungarian-speaking population, by the 1880s, 90 percent of the population identified as native Hungarian speakers.53

In November 1883, at the initiative of Károly Luxander, the police commissioner of Szombathely began organizing the Vas County MVA. Although his original intention was to start an association as a branch of the Sopron MVA, the MVA was eventually established as an independent organization on June 22, 1884.54 At the moment of its formation, it had 87 ordinary members, a number which rose to 120 by 1892.55 At that time, it had 22 additional founding members and 170 patrons. By 1899, the number of ordinary members fell to 95, but by 1909, it had risen again to 124.56

In principle, the association covered the whole county, but its members came mainly from Szombathely. Unfortunately, the sources reveal little about the social background of its members, because no lists of the members have survived (assuming there were such lists). Based on the linguistic composition of the town, it can be assumed that the majority of the members were Hungarian-speaking. The statutes and invitations of the association were only published in Hungarian. It was mixed in terms of religion, with both Christians (probably predominantly Catholic) and Jews. This is indicated by the fact that the most significant internal crisis of the association was not national but religious. In 1899, several Catholic members tried to deprive the Jews of their voting rights in the general assembly. They failed in this attempt, however, and the religious peace was restored.57

At the time of the formation of the association, the majority of its members were probably war veterans, most of them rank and file soldiers. According to a document written in 1894, the association had among its members veterans of the war of 1848–1849, the Italian war of 1859, the Schleswig-Holstein war of 1864, the Prussian and Italian wars of 1866, the Dalmatian campaign of 1869, and the occupation of Bosnia in 1878.58 This is well illustrated by the leadership of the association too. The first president was József Gottmann, while the vice-presidents were Károly Luxander and József Heimler. Gottmann was educated in a military institute, had fought under Radetzky in Italy in 1848–49, and had taken part in the battle of Solferino in 1859.59 Subsequently, he was dismissed as a hussar captain. József Heimler, who later became president of the association, enlisted in the army in 1854, fought at Magenta and Solferino and, in 1866, at Königgrätz.60 Finally, Károly Luxander enrolled in 1864 and fought in the Danish campaign and against the Prussians in 1866. 61

The statutes of the association set out its goals as follows:

a) To cultivate and propagate the military spirit, to maintain patriotic sentiment and loyalty to the king, and to maintain respect for the law and the lawful supreme authority, the esprit de corps outside the military service.

b) To provide financial support for the members of the association, to contribute to the medical expenses of sick members and the funeral expenses of deceased members, and possibly to provide financial assistance to the widows and orphans of the members left behind.62


The means of achieving these goals were also laid down in the statutes. Regarding the first point, which is now relevant to my discussion, they were as follows: the association had its own holiday calendar, which included dynastic and patriotic holidays as well as religious holidays including the king’s birthday and name day (August 18 and October 4), the queen’s name day (November 19), Saint Stephen’s Day (August 20), the procession on Holy Saturday, and the procession on Corpus Christi. On these days, the association marched as a body in uniform with side weapons and under the flag. In addition, on Good Friday at least two members were sent with swords and in uniform to guard the Tomb of Christ.63

Nurturing a sense of loyalty to the king was a priority for the association. This is shown by the fact that the first public march-out after its formation was timed for August 18, the birthday of Franz Joseph. The event was celebrated with particular pomp. The town was roused in the morning with the firing of howitzers and an alarm. People then marched to music to the festive mass in the cathedral, and after the official program, they held a popular festival.64 Franz Joseph’s birthday and name day were official holidays in Hungary. In Szombathely, all churches celebrated festive masses, but the central celebration always took place in the cathedral, where the town and county authorities, the military garrison, schools, and many associations appeared. Beginning in 1884, the Vas County MVA also joined, and it became an essential part of all dynastic celebrations. The association commemorated both the royal and the imperial anniversaries, which were not official holidays in Hungary. From the point of view of Hungarian law, Franz Joseph ruled in Hungary as king and not as emperor (as Austria and Hungary were, according to Hungarian law, two independent states). On the occasion of Franz Joseph’s 70th birthday in 1900, President József Heimler had a portrait of the royal family painted. This offers a clear indication of the central role of the emperor for the association. Indeed, this portrait was treasured by the association even in the interwar period.65

The other most important holiday for the association was August 20, the day of Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian king. This was one of the most important public holidays in Hungary, although it was not official due its Catholic character. With some exceptions, the Vas County MVA held its summer feast, the income from which increased the association’s fund, on this day every year. These were usually folk festivals following the mass, with a band, tombola, various outdoor games, and often fireworks in the evening.66 Thus, the association’s main patriotic holiday was linked to the Hungarian state, and the concept of fatherland meant the Kingdom of Hungary, not the unified Austrian Empire. In addition, the association had a strong local identity which was linked to the county. This is also shown by the flag itself. It had a picture of the Virgin Mary with the inscription “Virgin Mary, Patroness of Hungary” on one side and angels holding the holy crown and the coat of arms of Hungary and Vas County with battle badges at their feet and the inscription “Vas County Veterans’ Association” on the other. In addition to the county coat of arms, the colors of the flag (blue and white, the colors of the county) also expressed the attachment to the local community.67

A much more complex picture emerges, however, regarding the military culture nurtured by the association. On one hand, it fostered an attachment to the heroic past of the Imperial and Royal Army, in which its members had served and in which many of them had fought. This is perhaps best illustrated by the Millennium celebrations of 1896, to which the veterans contributed with a special commemorative day. On June 24, the veterans in Vas County of the battles of Solferino and Custoza held a meeting in Szombathely organized by the MVA. On the anniversary day, nearly 200 veterans of the battles gathered with a cockade with the inscription “1859–1866” on their chest. The deputy lord lieutenant and the town mayor and also the delegation of the military garrison appeared in the meeting, while the band of the Imperial and Royal 48th Infantry Regiment was provided by Corps Commander Archduke Friedrich at his own expense. The meeting focused on loyalty to the king and fatherland, a sense of duty, and the memory of fallen comrades. In his speech, József Heimler said,

As the Hungarian nation as a whole celebrates the millennium of its state-existence with a light that shines throughout the world, this time we, warriors fighting in wars, those who with the full devotion of our military oath and duty once risked our lives and blood in bloody battles for the fatherland and the throne, today, on the anniversary of the ever-memorable decisive and bloody battles of Solferino and Custoza, we have every right to enjoy a double celebration.68

It was also decided at the feast that the meeting would be repeated every five years, although we only know of one occasion (in 1901) when it took place again.69

In addition to the Habsburg Army’s heroic past, however, the veterans also nurtured the legacy of the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848–49. In 1886, for example, several Hungarian army veterans from Szombathely were invited to the flag consecration ceremony. Furthermore, Mária Lebstück, who was famous for fighting as a woman in the War of Independence and even received the rank of lieutenant, was also present. Lebstück arrived with the veterans from Pest, and she was personally welcomed at the banquet after the flag consecration, setting as an example for all those present. From the second half of the 1890s onwards, the veterans also took part in many events and ceremonies connected to 1848, such as the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sándor Petőfi, the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Lajos Kossuth, and the unveiling of the only statue of Kossuth in Körmend in 1907, the only statue of Kossuth in the county. They also frequently took part in the requiem masses on October 6, the day on which 13 Hungarian Honvéd generals were executed in 1849. Finally, in 1895 they joined the Vas County Honvéd Army Association as supporters, and between 1894 and 1899, the two associations had a common president, István Farkas.70

This duality is far from unique. For example, in several associations in Budapest, former veterans of the Hungarian Honvéd army were also enrolled, and in other places the president of the association was a former Honvéd army soldier. For example, Jenő Heinrich, the president of the Baldácsy Third Budapest MVA, fought throughout the War of Independence, after which he was imprisoned and then conscripted into the Habsburg Army.71 But the association protector himself, Antal Baldácsy, was also an officer of the Honvéd army. Heinrich’s case, moreover, highlights the fact that many members of MVAs in Hungary had served both in the Honvéd army in 1848–49 and in the Imperial and Royal Army. After the War of Independence, 25–30 percent of the former Honvéd army soldiers were conscripted, so it was not uncommon for MVAs formed in the 1870s and 1880s to have members with a dual military past.

Based on the above, the MVAs which formed in the towns of Hungary were not left untouched by Hungarian nationalism, especially from the 1890s onwards. In the 1870s and 1880s, for example, the use of traditional imperial symbols was still quite common. On the holidays of the associations, “Gott erhalte” (the imperial anthem) was played, and even in 1888, the associations in Budapest voted down the proposal to replace this anthem with the Hungarian anthem.72 In Sopron and in Fiume, the veterans originally wanted to display the two-headed eagle on the association flags, a plan which was only abandoned because the Ministry of Interior banned it .73

It is hardly a coincidence that in the 1880s Hungarian nationalists often blamed MVAs for “Germanisation.” Pesti Napló, for example (a periodical on Pest), reported on the founding and first march held by the veterans in Szombathely, characterizing it as a “pointless waste of time and money” as well as a “hotbed of Germanisation,” and as such, a “particularly unhealthy movement.”74 But the same accusation was also brought against the associations in Budapest for using the imperial anthem and German-language invitations to their events.75 These criticisms, however, interestingly did not find support locally. On the contrary, in Szombathely, for example, the newspaper of the Independence Party rejected the accusations made by Pesti Napló, highlighting the humanitarian purpose and Hungarian character of the association.76

Although imperial symbols were a constant target of criticism by Hungarian nationalists, they did not really cause much of a clash in everyday life until the turn of the century. In Szombathely, for example, the imperial anthem was used at all official dynastic celebrations until the 1890s, and it generated no particular scandal when it was played before thousands of people at the veterans’ flag consecration ceremony in 1886, just a few months after the so-called Janski scandal, which had provoked great uproar among nationalists.77

In the 1890s, however, the use of symbols began to change in parallel with the strengthening of Hungarian nationalism in general. The imperial anthem was replaced with the Hungarian anthem, in Sopron the German language of command was replaced with Hungarian, and the memory of 1848–49 became more and more important.78 In 1905, for example, the Mohács MVA held its own ceremony to commemorate the revolution which began on March 15, 1848.79 In the same year, the placing of a wreath on the local Kossuth statue was a key part of the flag consecration ceremony for the veterans of the Bosnian occupation campaign in 1878 in Hódmezővásárhely.80 The imperial anthem was now a source of conflict in Szombathely too, and at the commemoration meeting of the veterans of Solferino and Custoza in 1901, deputy lord lieutenant Ede Reiszig did not to deliver his speech, because the conductor of the military band insisted on playing “Gott erhalte” when the name of Franz Joseph was mentioned.81

The relationship with the former soldiers in the Honvéd army and the change in the use of symbols suggest that Hungarian nationalism had an impact on the urban MVAs, at least where Hungarian veterans played a decisive role in their operations. However, it had a specific content corresponding with local peculiarities and the veterans’ military past. Based on the example of Szombathely, the apparent contradiction between the Habsburg army and the 1848–49 tradition did not pose an insoluble dilemma for the veterans. For them, both were examples of military duty and a patriotic act through which they expressed their loyalty to the king. Fatherland in this sense meant the independent Kingdom of Hungary, but as the part of the Dual Monarchy under the rule of the Habsburgs. This is why Custozza and Solferino were presented as a symbol of loyalty to the Hungarian fatherland. For these veterans, the two were not easily separable. For example, József Heimler himself, who led the association from 1899 until his death in 1914, was a committed 1867 liberal. As a wealthy merchant (as the representative of Grazer Puntigam in Szombathely he managed the company’s interests in Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia), he was a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party and, later, of the Fejérváry government and then István Tisza.82 It should also be pointed out, however, that the supranational patriotic ethos of the army and the idea of the unified empire was also far from the veterans’ philosophy, as it had no tradition in Hungary.

The appearance of national symbols met with a completely different reception in Hungary than in Austria. In Ljubljana, for example, the replacement of the German language of command with Slovenian led to the dissolution of the Carniolan Military Veterans Corps, while in Hungary the local authorities welcomed these processes.83 The examples above, however, are largely from Hungarian-speaking or mixed-population towns, where the assimilation of the Germans was the most significant during the Dualist era. It is worth noting that this issue requires further research. In Szombathely, for example, there was no German-speaking local elite, while the local peculiarities significantly influenced these processes. In towns with strong German elites and a strong sense of local identity (e.g., Temesvár, Pozsony, and the towns in the Saxon territories of Transylvania), the members of the MVAs probably behaved completely differently.84

Returning to the example of Szombathely, the question of how the veterans and their activities were received by local society also arises. In this respect, there is also a kind of dichotomy. On the one hand, the formation of MVAs was supported by the leadership of the town and the county, as well as by a number of local landowners. Prince Ödön Batthyány-Strattmann was the association’s main protector, and the vice-protector was Bishop Kornél Hidassy. The formation also had the support of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria,85 Lord Lieutenant Kálmán Radó, Deputy Lord Lieutenant Ede Reiszig, Mayor Károly Varasdy, several financial institutions of Szombathely, and the landowners of the county.86

The great interest shown by the town is well illustrated by the flag consecration ceremony held on August 22, 1886. The flag itself was donated by two surviving members of the former Tailors’ Guild, which was then modified. The highlight of the two-day celebration was the consecration ceremony in the town’s main square in the presence of nearly 8,000 people. According to press reports, there were even people on the rooftops. The flag-mother was Mrs. Ödön Batthyány-Strattmann, but the town and county leadership also attended, as did many members of the county elite and several local associations. In addition, many MVAs arrived from different towns of the country. Finally, Colonel Rohonczy, the commander of the 5th Hussar Regiment stationed in the county, and a delegation of the 76th Infantry Regiment of Sopron (Szombathely was part of the supplementary area of this regiment) paid their respects on the day of the celebration. The latter regiment also provided the music. The festive mass was celebrated by István Horváth, the parish priest of Szombathely. After the ceremony, the association gave a banquet for 180 people, and the evening entertainment was held in three places in the town. 87

In other words, the association received considerable support from the county, the town, and the diocese, not only from official circles, but also from many individuals, as indicated by the high number of patron members described earlier. The local press also welcomed the formation of the association and appreciated its aims, irrespective of political affiliation.“ The parade, which was watched with warm interest by the people of our town, was in every respect a success [...] the most successful of all this year’s summer festivities.”88 The latter comment was echoed several times in the local press in the following years. The August 20 festivities of the veterans were basically folk festivals, and they drew crowds in the hundreds and sometimes thousands. These festivities were special highlights of the town’s social life. As one local newspaper noted in 1889, “I don’t know how, but this association was born under a lucky star in Szombathely. It succeeds in everything though everyone smiles at it.” 89

The second sentence of the report, however, also points out that the association’s reputation was far from self-evident. According to a local satirical magazine the “old children” were regularly smiled at with a touch of scorn in the town as they marched with their “toys” at every celebration and holiday.90 This seems to have continued in later years, and even on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the association in 1909, a local paper noted that the association was “often quite undeservedly the center of jokes and mocking banter.”91 Interestingly, however, these jokes never appeared in the local press.

The habit or practice of mocking veterans was not peculiar to Szombathely. There are several examples of this in many other places, especially in the 1870s and 1880s, and where there was a Hungarian or a significant Hungarian-speaking population. For example, in a report to the Ministry of Interior, the lord lieutenant of Sopron County wrote about the Sopron MVA founded in 1877. He contended that, “this association receives no support or sympathy from the locals,” and“ the citizens also show some aversion to this association, which is rather military in character.”92 Similar voices were heard from Mohács in southern Hungary93 and Arad at the other end of the country, where the mayor wrote that “the members waste their time on parades which have become comical in the eyes of the public.”94 The associations in Budapest also carried the stigma of the “serious old comedians.”95

The events of the association, however, remained popular until the turn of the century, when a rather spectacular break can be observed in the activity of the Vas County MVA. Its public appearances were pushed back. The most obvious sign of this was the end of the summer festivities on August 20 at the turn of the century. In 1913, a local newspaper described the association as follows:

The Szombathely Veterans’ Association does not boast a loud publicity of charity; the whole humble and valuable individuality of the brewery commissioner József Heimler, the president of the veterans, is expressed in the work of the association: to talk little and do as much as possible. To hold as few parades as possible and to wipe away as many tears as possible, to alleviate misery, to make easier the helpless old days of old soldiers.96

The stagnation of the Vas County MVA can probably be explained primarily by the fact that, while the number of war veterans decreased, only a few of those who had done their military service in peacetime joined the association. The association could not adapt to the changing social and political environment of the turn of the century. One of the local papers summed up the situation as follows in 1909: “A somewhat outdated but venerable institution of the old parade world is celebrating on August 15 in Szombathely. [...] The urban development of Szombathely, the progress of the electric tram has made the veterans’ institution a little outdated. Today, the veterans are no more than a crowd for the town or the church celebrations.”97

Veterans’ Associations in German-speaking Areas of Vas County

In Vas County, in addition to the MVA in Szombathely, 16 other veterans’ associations were formed during the Dualist era, all of them in the western areas inhabited by German-speaking “Hientzen.” Of these, 13 were purely German-speaking, two were mixed German and Hungarian, and one was German and Croatian.98 The associations recruited veterans not only from their own villages, which had populations of 1,000 or 2,000 people, but also from the surrounding settlements. Their main aims, as in the case of all MVAs, were to provide relief, foster an esprit de corps and a sense of loyalty to the king and the fatherland, and uphold the rule of law and good morals. There are no precise records of their memberships, but they were probably made up of peasants and artisans who had served as rank and file soldiers in the army. The leadership and organization were often taken over by the local elite. For example, the president of the Vaskomját (today Kemeten, Austria) MVA was Ármin Schocklits, a local landowner, and the vice president was Ferenc Hulfeld, the local teacher. The president and organizer of the Királyfalva MVA was General Wocher, also a local landowner, while the first president of the Némethidegkut (today Deutsch Kaltenbrunn, Austria) MVA was Mihály Rathner, the local priest.99

The local Hungarian nobility also played an important role in the organization and in providing financial and moral support for the associations. Of the three associations mentioned above, the patron of the Királyfalva MVA was Prince Alfred von Montenuovo and the patron of the Vaskomját MVA was Count Gyula Erdődy. The Némethidegkut MVA had most prestigious protector, however. It won the support of Crown Prince Rudolf, while the flag-mother position was taken by Archduchess Stefania. Of course, neither the crown prince nor the archduchess appeared in person at the flag consecration ceremony. Archduchess Stefania was replaced by a local landowner, the widow of Count Herman Zichy.100

It is not surprising that, while they did not always enjoy high esteem in the towns, MVAs were highly prestigious in the rural area. In 1876, for example, the lord lieutenant wrote the following about the Királyfalva MVA in his report: “In rural areas, however, it has a good reputation and is well respected, because it can boast members who are among the most distinguished members of the countryside and belong to the intelligentsia.”101 The rural association had no membership problems and, although it was presumably war veterans who first organized themselves in the 1870s and 1880s, the steady increase in the number of associations suggests that, later, they were able to recruit peacetime veterans who had done general military service. Thus, three associations were formed in the 1870s, four in 1880s and nine more after the turn of the century. The associations also played an active role in local society. They were not only regular participants in certain public and church holidays but also contributed to the village life by holding their own events. More than one association even organized readings and popular lectures for its members.102

In the case of the German-speaking MVAs, which were formed near the Austrian border, one might well assume that they were more influenced by the Austrian state-idea. But this was far from the case. Even an examination of their statutes suggests that, instead of common imperial consciousness, loyalty to the Kingdom of Hungary came to the fore. This is well illustrated by the fact that twelve associations had Saint Stephen with the Hungarian coat of arms and the Holy Crown on their flags, one (the aforementioned Vaskomját MVA) had King Matthias, and one had only the coat of arms and the crown. In addition, the Némethidegkut MVA, also mentioned above, had a portrait of Archduke Charles on its flag. Finally, many associations emphasized their Hungarian character in their choice of name and described themselves as “Hungarian military veterans’ associations.”103

The holiday calendar of the associations was also adapted to the above. All associations marched in uniform under the flag at the celebrations on Franz Joseph’s birthday, on Saint Stephen’s Day, and at all “church and patriotic” celebrations, to which they were invited by the organizers. Saint Stephen’s prominence was further enhanced by the fact that most of the associations also chose a patron saint, and in every such case, they chose the first Hungarian king.

Saint Stephen, as the founder of the Hungarian state, symbolized the Kingdom of Hungary, to which the loyalty of the veterans was primarily directed. This was also reinforced by the local church and noble elite, who played an important role in the organization and support of the associations and who were predominantly Hungarian. Their support was not without any ulterior motives, as they tried to direct the population towards the Hungarian national idea through associations with great prestige in the countryside. At the flag consecration ceremony of the Vaskomját MVA, for example, in his speech, deacon József Pulay noted the following Hungarian heroes as examples of valor for the veterans: János Hunyady, Tamás Erdődy, ban of Croatia (who was obviously included in the speech because of the presence of Gyula Erdődy), Mátyás Hunyadi, and the heroes of the War of Independence of 1848–49. After Pulay’s speech, Gyula Erdődy exhorted those present to show “loyalty and love for His Majesty, the most noble and righteous monarch.” The association also paid tribute to the king on the occasion of the consecration of the flag.104

The activities of the German-speaking MVAs were also positively assessed by the county administration. In his report on the Némethidegkut MVA, the lord lieutenant wrote,

The behavior of its members is not only honorable, but also shows loyal devotion to the reigning king and the Hungarian fatherland, which, with its beautiful character, has a good effect everywhere, but especially on the borders of the country, towards our Styrian neighbors and raises the self-esteem and character of the nation.105

The authorities also welcomed the formation of the associations, because, as the report on the Vasdobra (today Neuhaus am Klausenbach, Austria) MVA shows, the phenomenon that many veterans joined the neighboring Styrian association had gradually disappeared. This was seen as a positive development, even if close links with the Styrians were maintained and they were mutually present at each other’s celebrations. For example, four Styrian associations were represented at the flag consecration ceremony of the Vaskomját MVA, and several foreign associations sent their representatives to the flag consecration ceremony of the Nagyfalva MVA in 1911.106

In other words, the German-speaking associations, in addition to fostering the military spirit and esprit de corps, primarily considered it their task to pledge and nurture loyalty to the king and the Kingdom of Hungary. However strongly the Hungarian political circles may have wanted to push nationalism and Magyarization, these sentiments and ideologies were distant from the rural German-speaking population. Loyalty to king and country did not mean nationalism. Even at the turn of the century, the pre-modern so-called “Hungarus” identity, which had its roots in the Middle Ages but became dominant only in the early modern period, was still predominant among the German minority, and the degree of national mobilization (whether German or Hungarian) remained low. The essence of the Hungarus identity was loyalty to the Kingdom of Hungary without linguistic, religious, or cultural differences, mixed with strong local identity. The German minority groups in Hungary had no common national identity, and they identified themselves according to their place of residence, culture, and religion.107


In Hungary in the Dualist era, there was nothing analogous to the veterans’ movements found in Austria or Germany. Although the number of associations grew steadily before World War I, these associations spread only locally. The MVAs were formed above all in a German-speaking environment (mainly in western Transdunabia), even if they appeared sporadically among Slovaks and Croats in western Hungary and among Hungarians in the larger towns.

The lack of a veterans’ movement is perhaps most easily explained by the lack of a national army and the supranational ideology of the Habsburg Army. This is confirmed by the fact that the 1848–49 Honvéd army veterans’ associations were able to spread throughout the country in a short space of time. In 1867, the former veterans of the Hungarian War of Independence established their associations throughout the country on a territorial basis. As a result, within a year, Honvéd army veterans’ associations were established in every county and several towns, with a total of 50,000 members, and a central organization was even created.108

Attachment to national identity, however, would be an overly simplistic explanation. For example, the number of members in the case of the Honvéd army associations is somewhat deceptive: the associations themselves were largely formed by former officers in the seats of the counties, but membership was not entirely voluntary. It was prescribed by the administrative authorities on central orders, and even the Honvéd army veterans had to prove their identity. It is also surprising that the Royal Hungarian Honvéd Army established in 1868 was not able to influence the Hungarian-speaking population in this respect. Finally, the ideology of the army would not provide an explanation for similar attitudes among the nationalities. It is interesting, for example, that MVAs did not appear among the Serb or Croat population of the former military frontier.

The explanations (of which a sense of national identity is only one) are more complex. First, one must consider the political and economic situation of Hungary. Hungary had always occupied a special status within the Habsburg Monarchy, and military organization was no exception. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, Hungary was less integrated into the Habsburg fiscal-military state, and thus there was less of a military tradition on which to build.109

Financial considerations were an equally important factor. Since MVAs were primarily relief associations, their establishment and maintenance required significant financial sacrifices from the membership. Even to join a MVA required a considerable investment, as uniforms and side arms had to be purchased. Thus, the establishment of MVAs depended heavily on the financial strength and standard of living of the population, which was generally lower in Hungary than in Austria. Furthermore, there were also huge regional differences within Hungary. In rural areas in particular, the population invested primarily in fire-fighting associations and less often in economic or other cultural associations (such as reading or singing clubs), or in the creation of a broader relief association.110

In addition to the above, the lack of a widespread veterans’ movement suggests that there was simply no need to create such organizations, and this in turn point to the limits of the impact of general conscription on the wider society. On one hand, the militarization of society is a phenomenon of modernization, but even at the outbreak of World War I, nearly two-thirds of the country’s population was still traditional agrarian with a very low level of literacy in many places. The lack of MVAs indicates at least in part (and is explained by) the low degree of social militarization of the population. On the other hand, in the case of the Hungarian urban bourgeoisie and middle class, national reasons undoubtedly played a role. Though the officer corps and the army itself were highly prestigious and the spread of pre-military training among the Hungarian urban middle class suggests the importance of military values at the turn of the century, the supranational ideology of the army and the memory of the war of independence did inhibit the formation of MVAs among the national middle class.111 The mixed, often mocking reception of the associations formed in the larger towns also indicates the lower level of prestige enjoyed by veterans.

Even if one cannot speak about a general veterans’ movement in Hungary, the study of the MVAs that were formed nonetheless yields some interesting insights. One of these is that the Habsburg Army could have played a role in strengthening loyalty to the Habsburg House in this part of the Monarchy, but only in the Hungarian context. For historical reasons, there was no breeding ground for the idea of unified empire in Hungary, even among the German minority.

Given the small number of MVAs in Hungary, the state did not play a role in their spread and operation, but the local Hungarian elites supported them in some cases. The example of the MVAs in the German-speaking rural areas of Vas County reveals that, where the MVAs enjoyed a high level of prestige, the Hungarian elites tried to put them at the service of Magyarization. This met with only limited success, however. The identity of Hientzen was more dominated by the pre-modern Hungarus-idea, and even the Vas County MVA in Szombathely (and other towns) had a very special interpretation of the national consciousness. Not only was the use of imperial symbols common among veterans even in the late 1880s, but the heroic past of the Habsburg Army and the idea of the Hungarian nation were compatible for them, as both symbolized loyalty and duty to the king and the Hungarian fatherland. It was at the turn of the century that the imperial symbols began to be replaced by Hungarian ones. This also shows that the Hungarian national idea could have distinct meanings even in Hungarian-speaking populations, meanings which in some cases were very different from what was nationalists expected. Finally, it is noteworthy that these contradictions did not cause any conflict on the local level either, and the Vas County MVA was not exposed to nationalist critics from the Hungarian-speaking population of Szombathely. On the contrary. Even though it did not enjoy a high level of prestige, its humanitarian patriotic goals were recognized and its events were popular among the town’s population.


Archival Sources

Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archives] (BFL)

IV.1428. Politikai iratok gyűjteménye [Collection of political records]

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archive of Hungary] (MNL OL)

K148 Belügyminisztériumi levéltár, Elnöki iratok [Archive of Ministry of Interior, presidential records]

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Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Vas Megyei Levéltára [Nation Archive of Hungary, Archive of Vas County] (MNL VaML)

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Cieger, András. 1867 szimbolikus világa: Tanulmányok a kiegyezés koráról [The symbolic world of 1867: Studies on the era of the compromise]. Budapest: MTA BTK TTI, 2018.

Cole, Laurence and Daniel L. Unowsky, eds. The Limits of Loyalty: Imperial symbolism, popular allegiances, and state patriotism in the late Habsburg Monarchy. Austrian and Habsburg Studies 9. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007.

Cole, Laurence. “Visions and Revisions of Empire: Reflections on a New History of the Habsburg Monarchy.” Austrian History Yearbook 49 (2021): 261–80. doi: 10.1017/S0067237818000188

Cole, Laurence. Military Culture & Popular Patriotism in Late Imperial Austria. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Farkas, Katalin. “Régi honvédek a kiegyezéses rendszerben: Az 1848–49-es honvédegyleti mozgalom története a kiegyezéstől az 1880-as évekig” [Old Hungarian army soldiers in the compromise system: The history of the 1848–49 militia movement from the compromise to the 1880s]. Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 130, no. 4 (2017): 1017–55.

Frevert, Ute. A Nation in Barracks: Conscription, Military Service and Civil Society in Modern Germany. Oxford, New York: Berg, 2004

Gerő, András. Az elsöprő kisebbség: Népképviselet a Monarchia Magyarországán [The overwhelming minority: Representation of the Monarchy in Hungary]. Budapest: KKETTK Közalapítvány, 2017.

Gerő, András. Emperor Francis Joseph, King of the Hungarians. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Gyáni, Gábor, ed. The Creation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy: A Hungarian Perspective. New York: Routledge, 2021.

Hajdu, Tibor. Tisztikar és középosztály: Ferenc József magyar tisztjei [The officer corps and the middle class: Franz Joseph’s Hungarian officers]. Historia Könyvtár Monográfiák 10. Budapest: Institute of History of Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1999.

Hämmerle, Christa. “Die k.(u.)k. Armee als ‘Schule des Volkes’? Zur Geschichte der allgemeinen Wehrpflicht in der multinationalen Habsburgermonarchie (1868–1914/18).” In Der Bürger als Soldat. Die Militarisierung europäischer Gesellschaften im langen 19. Jahrhundert: ein internationaler Vergleich, edited by Christian Jansen, 175–213. Frieden in Krieg. Beiträge zur Historischen Friedensforschung 3. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2004.

Hirschhausen, Ulrike von. “A New Imperial History? Programm, Potenzial, Perspektiven.” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 41 (2015): 718–57. doi: 10.13109/gege.2015.41.4.718

Hochedlinger, Michael. “The Habsburg Monarchy: From Military-Fiscal State to Militarization.” In The Fiscal-Military State in Eighteenth-Century Europe: Essays in honour of P. G. M. Dickson, edited by Christopher Storrs, 55–94. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Judson, Pieter M. The Habsburg Empire: A New History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018.

Kövér, György. “Statisztikai asszimiláció Magyarországon, 1880–1910” [Statistical assimilation in Hungary, 1880–1910]. Századok 150, no. 5 (2016): 1221–58.

Leonhard, Jörn and Ulrike von Hirschhausen. “Does the Empire strike back? The Model of the Nation in Arms as a Challenge for Multi-Ethnic Empires in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century.” Journal of Modern European History 5, no. 2 (2007): 194–221. doi: 10.17104/1611-8944_2007_2_194

Márfi, Attila. “Baranya vármegye egyesületei (1867–1914)” [Associations of Baranya County (1867–1914)]. In Baranyai helytörténetírás: A Baranya Megyei Levéltár évkönyve [The local history of Baranya: Yearbook of the Baranya County Archives], edited by László Szita, 193–214. Pécs: Baranya Megyei Levéltár, 1988.

Melega, Miklós. A modern város születése: Szombathely infrastrukturális fejlődése a dualizmus korában [The birth of the modern city: Infrastructural development of Szombathely in the Dualist era]. Archivum Comitatus Castriferrei 5. Szombathely: Vas Megyei Levéltár, 2012.

Péter, László. “The Army Question in Hungarian Politics 1867–1918.” Central Europe 4, no. 2 (2006): 83–110. doi: 10.1179/174582106x147338

Pintér, József. A Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egyesület 50 éve [50 years of the Vasmegyei Aggharcos Association]. Szombathely, 1934.

Rayman, János. “A mohácsi hadastyán egylet” [The Mohács Veterans’ Association]. In A Janus Pannonius Múzeum Évkönyve 44–45 (1999–2000), edited by Ádám Uherkovich, 135–50. Pécs: Baranya Megyei Múzeumok Igazgatósága, 2002.

Rayman, János. “Adatok a Pécsi és baranyai hadastyán egyletek történetéhez” [Data on the history of the Pécs and Baranya veterans’ associations]. In Tanulmányok Pécs történetéből 5–6, edited by Font Márta, and Vonyó József, 183–200. Pécs: Pécs Története Alapítvány, 1999.

Rohkrämer, Thomas. Der Militarismus der “kleinen Leute”: Die Kriegervereine im Deutschen Kaiserreich 1871–1914. Beiträge zur Militärgeschichte 29. Munnich: R. Oldenburg Verlag, 1990.

Seewann, Gerhard. A magyarországi németség története [The history of the Germans in Hungary]. Vol. 1–2. Budapest: Argumentum, 2015.

Stergar, Rok. “National Indifference in the Heyday of Nationalist Mobilization? Ljubljana Military Veterans and the Language of Command.” Austrian History Yearbook 43 (2012): 45–58. doi: 10.1017/S0067237811000580

Tangl, Balázs. “Ezredideológiák és ezredkultúrák a cs. (és) kir. Hadseregben” [Regimental ideologies and cultures in the imperial (and) royal army]. Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 129, no. 3 (2016): 670–94.

Tangl, Balázs. “Katonás nevelés és a militarizmus kérdése a dualizmus-kori Magyarországon” [Military education and militarism in Dualist-era Hungary]. Aetas 32, no. 1 (2017): 45–67.

Unowsky, Daniel L. The Pomp and Politics of Patriotism: Imperial Celebrations in Habsburg Austria, 1848–1916. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2005.

Varga, Bálint. The Monumental Nation: Magyar Nationalism and Symbolic Politics in Fin-de-siècle Hungary. Austrian and Habsburg Studies 20. New York-London: Berghahn Books, 2016.

Vogel, Jakob. Nationen im Gleichschritt: Der Kult der “Nation in Waffen” in Deutschland und Frankreich, 1871–1914. Kritische Studien zur Geschichtswissenschaft 118. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997.

Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchman: The Modernization of Rural France 1870–1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976.

Zahra, Tara. “Imagined Noncommunities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis.” Slavic Review 69, no. 1 (2010): 93–119. doi: 10.1017/S0037677900016715

1* This research was supported by the Institute of Advanced Studies Kőszeg.

On the “new imperial history,” see Hirschhausen, “A New Imperial History?”

2 Tara, “Imagined Noncommunities.”

3 Cole, Visions and Revisions of Empire; Berger and Miller, “Building Nations In and With Empires”; Judson, The Habsburg Empire; Unowsky, Patriotism; Cole and Unowsky, Limits of Loyalty.

4 Gerő, Emperor Francis Joseph; Gyáni, The Creation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

5 See Vogel, Nationen im Gleichschritt; Frevert, A Nation in Barracks; Weber, Peasents into Frenchman.

6 Rohkrämer, Militarismus der kleinen Leute.

7 Allmayer-Beck, “Die bewaffnete Macht,” 88–99; Hämmerle, “Die k.(u.)k. Armee,” 175–85; Tangl, “Ezredideológiák.” For an international perspective, see Leonhard and Hirschhausen, “Does the Empire strike back?”

8 Cole, Military Culture, 308 and 322.

9 Ibid., 311. Also see Stergar, “Ljubljana Military Veterans.”

10 Among Hungarian historians, András Cieger was the only one to deal shortly with Hungarian veterans’ associations in one of his works. Cieger, 1867 szimbolikus világa, 93–95.

11 Varga, The Monumental Nation.

12 For the relationship between the Habsburg Army and Hungarian society, see Hajdu, Tisztikar és középosztály; Péter, “The Army Question.”

13 Gerő, Az elsöprő kisebbség.

14 The modern Hungarian language uses the word veterán, but in the late nineteenth century, the archaic words hadastyán and aggharcos were still used. In the study, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the abbreviation MVA (Military Veterans’ Association) to name each association.

15 In Hungary, the contemporary censuses asked about mother tongue, not nationality. Thus, no ethnic statistics are available regarding the age. For the problems of the linguistic data of the Hungarian censuses, see: Kövér, “Statisztikai asszimiláció.”

16 Cole, Military Culture, 126–29.

17 In 1913, the k.k. Österreichischen Militär-Veteranen Reichsbund had a total of 1,656 MVAs with a total of 209,761 members. However, more than a third of the Austrian MVAs (mainly Czech, Slovenian, and Italian) did not join the federation. Cole, Military Culture, 130.

18 In Hungary the establishment of associations was not regulated by law, only by a ministerial decree. According to this, the state limited its right of supervision to a minimum. The formation of associations was free, but the statutes required the approval of the Ministry of the Interior, while the operation of the associations was supervised by the local legislature. A m. kir. belügyministernek 1873. ápr. 29-én 1394. sz. a. kelt rendelete az egyesületek ellenőrzése tárgyában, Magyarországi Rendeletek Tára, 1873, 131–34.

19 Varga, Magyarország egyletei és társulatai, 522.

20 The Hungarian m. kir. Népfelkelés (in Austria, k.k. Landsturm) was a reserve force intended to provide replacements for the first line units. It was established in 1886 by Law XX.

21 MNL OL K150 1883. VII. 8. 5323.

22 Cole, Military Culture, 130.

23 The two journals are available in digitized and searchable form at https://adt.arcanum.com/hu/.

24 The database contains a list and markings of association documents remaining in the archives of the Ministry of the Interior: https://adatbazisokonline.hu/adatbazis/polgari-kori-egyesuletek.

25 Budapesti czím és lakjegyzék, 1891–1892, 220–29, Budapesti czím és lakjegyzék, 1913, 512 and 552.

26 Rayman, “Pécsi és baranyai hadastyán egyletek,” 192.

27 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of associations.

28 Rayman, “Pécsi és baranyai hadastyán egyletek,” 195.

29 Cole, Military Culture, 268–307.

30 MNL OL K150 1888.VII.8.31554.

31 Cole, Military Culture, 129.

32 On the history of the Germans in Hungary, see Seewann, A magyarországi németség története.

33 A Magyar Szent Korona országainak 1910. évi népszámlálása. Első rész, 47, 176–77, 180–81, 350–51, 356–57.

34 MNL OL K150 1875.III.4.776.

35 MNL VaML IV.401.b. 222/1886

36 MNL OL K150 1876.III.4.4682.

37 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of associations.

38 Anonymous, “Huszonöt éve,” Pécsi Figyelő, June 22, 1901, 3.

39 MNL OL K150 1885.VII.8.11379.

40 MNL OL K150 1892.VII.8.32180.

41 MNL OL K150 1876.III.4.23307.

42 MNL OL K150 1888.VII.8.31554.

43 MNL OL K150 1875.III.4.54388.

44 MNL OL K148 1885.IV.D.436; K148 1900.IV.D.192; K150 1887.VII.8.31055; BFL IV.1428. IX.2717/1903. I. and II.

45 Rayman, “Pécsi és baranyai hadastyán egyletek,” 184.

46 Pintér, A Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egylet, 5.

47 MNL OL K150 1892.VII.8.32180.

48 Rohkrämer, Militarismus der kleinen Leute, 34–36.

49 Cole, Military Culture, 131–36.

50 MNL OL K148 1897.IV.D.174.

51 MNL OL K150 1888.VII.8.74534, K148 1900.IV.D.192.

52 MNL OL K150 1885.VII.8.27780.

53 Melega, A modern város születése, 33–65.

54 Anonymous, “Aggharczosok,” Vasmegyei Közlöny, November 18, 1883, 3.

55 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of Associations, 1892, Szombathely r. t. város, 47.

56 Anonymous, “Izgágalom az aggharczos egyletben,” Vasvármegye, February 9, 1889, 6–8; Anonymous, “Az aggharcos-egylet jubileuma,” Vasvármegye, August 17, 1909, 2.

57 Anonymous, “Izgágalom az aggharczos egyletben,” Vasvármegye, February 9, 1899, 6–8.

58 MNL OL K148 1894. IV.D.2776.

59 Anonymous, “Gottmann József,” Torma, June 25, 1885, 2.

60 Anonymous, “Heimler József,” Vasvármegye, April 29, 1914, 3–4.

61 MNL VaML V. 173. b. 9/1909.

62 MNL VaML IV. 440. 29. box. 229,1884. 2. §.

63 MNL VaML IV. 440. 29. box. 229, 1884. 43 and 45 §§, 1888. 35 §.

64 Anonymous, “A vasmegyei hadastyán,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 21, 1884, 3; Anonymous, “Aggharczos-egyletünk,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 24, 1884, 2.

65 Pintér, Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egyesület, 12 and 18; MNL VaML IV. 401. b. 772/1900.

66 See the reports of the local press (primarily Vasmegyei Lapok and Vasvármegye on August 20.

67 Pintér, Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egyesület, 7.

68 Anonymous, “Hadviselt harcosok emlékünnepélye,” Vasvármegye, June 25, 1896, 3.

69 Anonymous, “Harczosok mulatsága,” Vasvármegye, June 26, 1901, 5.

70 Pinter, Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egyesület, 15–19.

71 MNL OL K148 1879.IV.D.5026; K150 1885.VII.8.15001, Anonymous, “Egy érdemdús hadastyán,” Hadastyánok Lapja, 1882, 1.

72 Anonymous, “Germanizáló veteránok,” Pesti Hírlap, August 18, 1888, 7.

73 Hungary, which defined itself as an independent state, treated the double headed eagle as the coat-of-arms of a foreign state. In addition, in the eyes of Hungarian nationalists, it was a hated symbol as the sign of the unified Habsburg Empire MNL OL K150 1883.VII.8.47835.; K150 1882.VII.8.32180.

74 Anonymous, “Szombathelyről,” Pesti Napló, August 21, 1884, 2.

75 Anonymous, “Germanizáló veteránok,” Pesti Hírlap, August 18, 1888, 7.

76 Anonymous, “Az aggharczos egyletről,” Dunántúl, August 21, 1884, 2.

77 On May 21, 1886, under the leadership of General Ludwig Janski, officers of the Common Army put a wreath on the tomb of General Heinrich Hentzi in Budapest. Hentzi, who was the Austrian commander of Buda in 1849, during the Hungarian War of Independence died a heroic death during the siege of the castle. In his speech, Janski presented Hentzi as an example for his officers. The ceremony and Janski’s speech led to a domestic political scandal and huge demonstrations in Hungary. Hajdu, Tisztikar és középosztály, 90–94.

78 Anonymous, “Honvédek és hadastyánok,” Soproni Napló, February 16, 1909, 2.

79 Anonymous, “A mohács-kerületi I. katonai hadastyán egylet,” Mohács, March 19, 1905, 4.

80 Anonymous, “A boszniai harczosok zászlóavatása,” Hódmezővásárhely, September 12, 1905, 3.

81 Anonymous, “Harczosok mulatsága,” Vasvármegye, June 26, 1901, 5.

82 Anonymous, “Heimler József,” Vasvármegye, April 29, 1914, 3–4.

83 Stergar, “Ljubljana Military Veterans,” 49.

84 At the beginning of 1903, for example, the ball invitation of Brassó MVA, which portrayed the coat of arms of the old Principality of Transylvania and the black and yellow imperial flag, caused a minor scandal in the press. The case went to court, and the association was fined. Anonymous, “A tüntető meghívók büntetése,” Magyar polgár, March 14, 1909, 6; On the identity of the Saxons and their relationship to Hungarian nationalism, see Varga, The Monumental Nation, 103–25, and on the case of Pozony: 47–73.

85 The heir to the Bavarian throne, as the owner of huge estates in Sárvár, was a frequent guest of the county and an active participant in its social life.

86 Pintér, A Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egylet, 6.

87 Ibid., 8–10; Anonymous, “Zászló szentelés,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 26, 1886, 1–2.

88 Anonymous, “Aggharczos-egyletünk,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 24, 1884 2.

89 Anonymous, “Aggharczos egylet nyári mulatsága,” Dunántúl, August 25, 1889, 5.

90 Anonymous, “A veteránok,” Torma, October 17, 1886, 5.

91 Anonymous, “Az aggharcosegylet jubileuma,” Vasvármegye, July 13, 1909, 2.

92 MNL OL K148 1880.IV.D.4642.

93 Rayman, “A mohácsi hadastyán egylet,” 136.

94 MNL OL K148 1885.IV.D.436.

95 Anonymous, “Germanizáló veteránok,” Pesti Hírlap, August 18, 1888, 8.

96 Anonymous, “Aggharcosok és a bajor király,” Vasvármegye, December 14, 1913, 5.

97 Anonymous, “Az aggharcosegylet jubileuma,” Vasvármegye, July 13, 1909, 2.

98 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of Associations.

99 Anonymous, “A vas-komjáti aggharczos egylet zászlószentelése,” Vasvármegye, June 22, 1902, 5; MNL OL K148 1880.IV.D.665; MNL VaML IV.401.b. 214/1876.

100 Ibid.

101 MNL VaML IV.401.b. 214/1876.

102 MNL VaML IV.401.b. 802/1902, 300/1905

103 For the statutes, see MNL OL K150 1874. III. 4. 13640; 1875. III. 4. 776; 1886. VII. 8. 464; 1886. VII. 8. 465; 1889. VII. 8. 22689; MNL VaML IV. 440.

104 Anonymous, “A vas-komjáti aggharczos egylet zászlószentelése,” Vasvármegye, June 22, 1902, 5; MNL VaML IV.401.b. 511/1902

105 MNL OL K148. 1880. IV.D. 665.

106 Anonymous, “Aggharcos-parádé a nagyfalvai úton,” Vasvármegye, September 5, 1911, 5.

107 Baumgartner, “Der nationale Differenzierungsprozess.”

108 Farkas, “Régi honvédek,” 1019–23.

109 Hochedlinger, The Habsburg Monarchy.

110 For the case of Baranya County, see Márfi, Baranya vármegye egyesületei.

111 Hajdu, Tisztikar és középosztály, 227–54; Tangl, “Katonás nevelés és a militiarmus.”


Heroes of the Imagined Communities, Soldiers, and the Military: The Case of Montenegro, the Ottoman Empire, and Serbia before the Balkan Wars (1912–13)

Jovo Miladinović
University of Konstanz
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):105-140 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.105

The article illustrates the policy of wielding the hero as a symbolic political and nationalizing instrument in the Montenegrin, Ottoman, and Serbian armies before the Balkan Wars. The heroic became an integral part of other social disciplines (such as schools). Besides standing in a clear interdependent relationship, these social disciplines represented a necessary result of various centralizing processes of the governing elites. The primary efforts for the nationalization of the population were undertaken in the pre-/post-military life, in which the role of different state agents was equally important. Hence, the grid of the social disciplines became ever denser, which led to the uniformity of the heroic. This process enabled the legitimization of the ruling elites, subsequent actions in war, and heroization among recruits. The article argues that uniformity of the heroic is lacking in the Ottoman context. Given the ideological context and intellectual background of the preachers of nationalism, the consistency of the Ottoman heroic narrative before, during, and after military service is missing. The article shows that the so-called medievalism closely linked to the heroic offered a framework for constructing continuity between the immediate and distant past, providing meaning to someone’s death. A link between the past, the present, and the future was established, which constructed the nation’s primordial character and the feeling of ancient hatred towards an imaginary enemy.

Keywords: heroic, military, Montenegro, Ottoman Empire, Serbia, soldiers


I am (…) convinced that (…) just as each of you would give your life for your parents, other close relatives, your house and your property, just as you would do for yourself, if there were any danger, so too would you die and sacrifice your life for our exalted commander of the army, the King Petar I, because I know that among you, Serb sons, there is no such coward who would leave his loved ones, his house, and property, and shamefully flee just to save his life. No, no… Such renegades are no longer born to Serb mothers! (…) As our great-grandfathers, grandfathers, and fathers did, so should and must the descendants of Miloš Obilić, Kraljević Marko, Hajduk-Veljko, Tanasko Rajić, Stevan Sinđelić, Kurusla, and many other proud and undead Serb heroes should and must do.

A Serbian Officer Petar Bojović (1907)1

Petar Bojović was one of the many officers in the tumultuous first decade of the twentieth century who believed that the military could forge an ideal and conscious soldier and compatriot from what his peers in the Ottoman army called an ignorant or illiterate peasant (cahil köylü).2 Since the officers thought that the military played a crucial role in secondary socialization, they adhered to instrumental archetypes and metaphors, which were vital (albeit not adequate) to maintain the inner cohesion, control, and the recruits’ motivation.3 The military tried various strategies to stage and schedule the members’ daily activities and was also utterly imaginative when it came to formulating messages of purpose.4 One of these strategies was to fashion images of the ideal hero. Heroes are understood here as historical or fictional characters presented as having or are ascribed certain heroic qualities. The process of attributing heroes with particular virtues creates a sense of interaction between these heroes and their followers, followed by imitation and appropriation of heroic deeds.5

In this essay, I focus on the non-commissioned, junior, and high officers who defined and transmitted heroic norms in the military and negotiated them in military manuals and articles. To a certain degree, these sources serve as a genre of the ego-documents since the state actors relied on their personal experiences with recruits when conveyed their messages. Given the low literacy rates and poor infrastructure, oral propaganda methods in encouraging military mobilization played an important role.6 I adopt a comparative approach to explain similarities, differences, convergences, and divergences, and I also relate notions of heroism to specific institutions and actors.7 I analyze these sources by adhering to historical discourse analysis and seeing them as part of a system of “symbolic violence.” The military manuals and articles had to simplify the recruits’ complex social situations. Through these means of education, the officers tried to ascribe symbolic positive and negative symbolic meanings to specific processes.8

Examining the heroic allows one to look at the structures and discourses of nationalism, domination, subjecthood, and gender from a different angle. Soldiers had to possess the necessary masculine military virtues, which were supposed to become an integral part of their bodies and souls.9 The “stigmatized” and the “normal” are two sides of the same coin, and they were not persons but rather perspectives. The military wanted to create deviant behaviors and a black-and-white picture through which conformity could be quickly praised.10 Venerating the heroic facilitated the furthering of nation-building projects, cultivating solidarity among the recruits, and preparing them to lay down their lives, since the notion of heroism gave meaning to someone’s death. Soldiers were the recipients in this case; yet, connecting to the ideal hero is always selective and does not indicate the totality of the heroes’ features. Employing the ideal heroic enabled the legitimization of the ruling elites and subsequent actions in war among the recruits. But the notions of the heroic also became alive in the present.11 The existence these notions facilitated control over subjects, whereby the heroes functioned as “a double crowd.” The actions of the common men are measured and evaluated in relationship to these idealized heroes.12 The policy of wielding the hero as a symbolic political instrument and the nationalization of this heroic figures started in revolutionary France.13 Where did this discourse come from in Montenegro, the Ottoman Empire, and Serbia? What were the functions of these invented heroes? And how were they significant?

Heroes, Recruits, and Their Superiors

The discourse about the heroic in Serbia and Montenegro stemmed from several areas: the “golden age” of the medieval Serbian state under the Nemanjić dynasty, the myth and epic songs that revolved about the Battle of Kosovo (1389), the epic songs about the Serbian Uprisings (1804–1815) and the 1876–78 Ottoman-Serbian wars, and oral folklore about kinship heroes in certain parts of Montenegro.14 By instrumentalizing folklore as a legitimizing claim, the preachers of nationalism tended to constitute and encode certain societal norms as ethnonational.15 As new studies on the construction of the Kosovo epic have already illustrated, nationally minded actors from Serbia and Montenegro selected certain epic songs which had not been widespread among the people, disregarding others in the process, and they based their decision on their personal preferences. In doing so, they were inventing tradition.16

Folklore, however, did not constitute a foundation on which the nascent nation-states rested. Rather, the construction of the national narrative erected a foundation which in turn rested on studies and appropriation of oral traditions.17 Medievalism was closely linked to this process, which offered a framework for constructing continuity between the recent past and the distant past. By viewing the present through the prism of the medieval past (the continuing process of creating the Middle Ages), the elites sought to link the past, the present, and the future.18 This primordial character is palpable in the myth of Kosovo. It included historical and fictional characters and a whole cycle of epic poems in which the imagined Serbian community was presented as having been enslaved ever since they had lost the battle to the Ottomans. Three characters dominate the narrative: Prince Lazar (who died during the struggle, thus passing into eternal life by sacrificing his life for the imagined community); Miloš Obilić (a knight who killed the Ottoman Sultan, thereby displaying his courage and loyalty to his prince and nation), and Vuk Branković (who allegedly betrayed the prince, his father-in-law, and left the battle, thus deserting the army). The poems that referred to the myth and other subsequent events contained messages of moral principles, loyalties, bravery, infidelity, camaraderie, and an eternal fight between the imagined Christian/Serb and Muslim/Turk.

By surrendering life as a Christian martyr, one became a national martyr, meaning that the elites tended to blur the boundaries between state-fostered and local cultures.19 The canon of martyrs was weaponized against the Ottoman Empire. A newly constructed site of the invented tradition was located: the cradle of Serb-hood, Kosovo, which functioned as something between the place of mourning, memory, and mobilization.20 Binary opposition revolved around the myth, which inspired revenge and the nation’s rebirth.21 After making the 500th anniversary of the battle a state holiday in Serbia in 1889, the governing elites organized annual services on the day of the battle, which falls on the day of St. Vitus, hence Vidovdan. On the same day, they prepared the “memorial to Serbian fighters who died for their faith and homeland,” which raised the eyebrows among the Ottoman Hamidian elites.22

In Montenegro, the ecclesiastical powers also prepared a memorial service. Yet, the Montenegrin government did not publicize the memorial service by nurturing good relations with the Ottoman Empire. As a result, the imagined Muslim Albanian began to occupy the first place in the public discourse.23 In Montenegro, the myth claimed that its inhabitants were the direct offspring of the Serbs who had fled from Kosovo after 1389, finding refuge in the nearly inaccessible mountains, the unconquered fortress of the imagined Serb-hood and the Orthodoxy. Montenegrin soldiers were identified as sons of Miloš Obilić, so the highest military decoration carried his name. While discussing colonization measures in post-Ottoman areas after the Balkans Wars (1912–13), the Montenegrin Minister of the Interior used the same expressions that invoked the primordial narrative by referring to “the centuries-old silenced Serb hearths,” implying that they should be reawakened.24 Thus, this myth might take varying forms within the Montenegrin and Serbian public discourses, because Montenegro and Serbia “did not share the idea of liberating the oppressed Serbs, nor do we now share it,” as a Montenegrin official writes.25

The Montenegrin cap, which most of the soldiers wore, allegedly symbolized this narrative. This small and circular headgear consisting of a black part on the sides conveyed the message of mourning for the overthrown medieval homeland. In contrast, the red part on the top signified the blood. In addition to the king’s initials or cross on the top, five gold semicircles of a rising sun symbolized the five centuries since the Battle of Kosovo. A child would wear the cap as soon as (s)he stopped spending time in the cradle. A Norwegian officer noticed that this cap reminded a Montenegrin sailor of his homeland and people, and it was as vital to the Montenegrin as a national flag.26 But this myth in the Serbian context was also introduced in elementary and high schools, where children learned how to become honest, hardworking subjects like their national heroes.27 As outsider accounts and ego-documents illustrate, a Montenegrin or Serbian peasant or boy heard about the heroes before entering the barracks or participating in drills. While witnessing military training in Montenegro (1903), a contemporary made the claim that heroism filled a prominent place in the mind of the average Montenegrin. Montenegrins conceptualized these figures like celebrities, and these celebrities became a constituent part of their communicative and social memories.28

Thus, military discipline stood in a clear interdependent relationship with other social disciplines due to the elites’ various centralization processes. In Serbia, certain military buildings or units were named after these national heroes. The regiments celebrated the days on which the heroes died their heroic deaths, which then became their Patron Saint Days, or they participated in ceremonies surrounding the erection of monuments of these heroes.29 This ensured the performance and staging of the past, which were manners of reexperiencing it or inventing it for contemporaries.30 Since all people are mortal and all heroes are people, heroes must die, but a soldier would be admired after death. Death was one form of the heroic deed, and the average soldier could become either a heroic fallen figure or the person who paid tribute to the fallen hero by honoring his sacrifice. On the Patron Saints Day, he had to hear about and remember his unit’s fallen heroes/brothers.31

In the Ottoman context, heroes were used as figures in the constructing of a linear historical narrative (from the thirteenth century to the twentieth). Army recruits, for instance, were supposed to be able to name a few famous heroes. The public discourse linted the national tradition with the oral tradition. This reached its peak in Republican Turkey.32 One nevertheless notices a rigid hierarchy among these heroes, which emphasized masculine values. For instance, the rank and file would hear about Bayezid I (1389–1402) and his achievements at the height of the Battle of Kosovo, when the charge he led against the stronger enemy decided the outcome of the battle. Then, they might listen to the story of Adil the Corporal, who “was always looking for opportunities to serve his army.” Ottoman forces could easily maintain their hold on the castle due to his self-sacrifice during the siege of Nagykanizsa (1601). Of course, Adil stood under the command of another hero, Tiryaki Hasan Pasha, who “showed the whole world the greatness of the Ottomans in persistence and courage, loyalty and obedience to their superiors.”33 Thus, by learning about the military successes of these figures, the soldiers were supposed to learn the importance of sacrifice, endurance, discipline, intelligence, morale, loyalty, and courage.34

However, in contrast to the other cases, some Ottoman officers put particular emphasis on the deeds of heroines such as Kara Fatma. Kara Fatma was depicted as a lioness (dişi arslan), and in the officers’ narrative she was presented as a defender of the homeland and nation and as a mother of children who defended the homeland and nation. She encompassed both masculinity and femininity. During the siege of Erzurum (1877), Kara Fatma took care of Ottoman soldiers, brought water and food, carried the wounded on her shoulders, bandaged their woods, and took part in the fight. The underlining message is that only lions could bear from such women and that the martyr cemeteries also had graves where women lay buried.35 One should not, however, that this image of Kara Fatma was only one of many. Various (non-patriotic) versions of a Kara Fatma emerged in the Ottoman discourse fields beginning in the early nineteenth century.36 Still, the extent to which Ottoman officers used songs to encourage soldiers to emulate images of physical and emotional strength remains unknown. Some officers indeed complained after 1908 that the soldiers lacked physical and emotional strength.37 Scholars have already stressed that Ottoman soldiers also sang non-patriotic ballads (türküler). Erik Jan Zürcher assumes that perhaps the relatively high morale among the Ottoman soldiers during World War I might have been rooted in these ballads, in the sense of having nothing to lose.38

It was necessary to create this “social choreography” by crafting rousing narratives of heroic deeds because these narratives, it was hoped, would help supress undesirable respinses to the negative outcomes of military service. The officers sought to hail the draft as a rite of passage through which the imagined youth became a real man. The masculinizing effect of the draft was supposed to instill in the recruits virtues such as courage.39 However, many recruits entered the Serbian and Ottoman barracks with specific fears brought from home. They were told that excessive austerity reigned in the barracks and that the soldiers were severely punished when they made minor mistakes. As Serbian officers noted, this fear initially sprouted confusion. It then interfered with successful basic training, since the recruits were beset with feelings of sadness and longings for their kin.40

Some recruits chose to flee the army before they were ever actually called on to serve in the field, as many archival examples illustrate, not least because former soldiers and their neighbors told them how recruits were being treated in the Ottoman army. They would also leave after discovering that they might end up in Ottoman Anatolia, Hijaz, or Yemen, far from their loved ones. The regions were well-known for their hot climate, stormy conditions in the barracks, distance, and rebellions.41 By using images and narratives of heroic deeds and martyrs, the governments tried to underline positive notions about military service in order to nationalize and sacralize it.42 Singing, for instance, was a tested strategy in the Serbian case, since the officers noticed how singing helped calm fears and other unwelcome emotions among the recruits, and they combined it with marching. Some officers deliberately chose soldiers who could sing folk tunes or songs about heroes and had them mix with the newer recruits.43

Images and narratives about heroic deeds also paved the way for the establishment of a “primary group” in the military. The primary group had two principal functions to maintain morale for combat: (i) “It enforced group standards of behavior, and it supported and sustained the individual [faced with] stress[es] he would otherwise not have been able to withstand” and (ii) “the group enforced its standards principally by offering or withholding recognition, respect, and approval […], while the subjective reward for following an internalized group code enhanced an individual’s resources for dealing with the situation.”44 Here, the trope of camaraderie (druželjublje or kardeşlik, uhuvvet, alay arkadaşlığı) emerged, which was supposed to further socialization within the ranks of the military and to last even after military service had ended.45 Not only could this include other soldiers from different military branches, but it also embraced (for instance in the post-1908 Ottoman setting) all those who were not part of the military regardless of their national or confessional belonging.46 To aptly illustrate “the most beautiful image of loyalty and fidelity,” Serbian officers drew on epic songs and the image of Miloš Obilić, the epitome of all that was desirable in the military. Together with his two blood-brothers (Ivan Kosančić and Milan Toplica), Obilić had allegedly slaughtered the Ottoman sultan in the battle of Kosovo (1389), thereby killing many enemies before being “gloriously” dying in the process.47 Songs that ignited the military spirit and kindled a sense of camaraderie were part of the repertoire, and the Serbian NCOs often reminded soldier sof these heroes when teaching them how to use weapons.48

Further research would be necessary to determine the extent to which the establishment of the primary group was successful, but sources indicate that this was a challenging process for myriad reasons.49 The sense of camaraderie between the rank and file and their superiors, however, fostered a rigid hierarchization and the assigned patriarchal roles among them, which subdued the masculinizing effect of the draft. Military units were viewed as a new family (yeni bir aile gibi or kao porodica), in which the commander was considered one of many soldiers’ fathers. At the same time, their peers were seen as younger brothers.50 The NCOs, who in the Ottoman army were referred to as the soldiers’ “godfathers” (büyük baba), were supposed to “complete the education my father lacked” and teach the recruits how to become the true men. One of their most essential duties consisted of keeping their “children” healthy, which some soldiers expected them to do, and thus the soldiers also cared about their “fathers.”51 Older soldiers played the role of fathers who accepted the newcomers as their children, although only if the soldiers would dutifully act like brothers. In the Montenegrin and Serbian cases, the insistence of the importance of obeying one’s superiors was justified with the reference to the notion that disobedience and threason had ruined the medieval Serbian empire and “thrown Serbs into powerlessness and slavery [which lasted for] 500 years.”52 Unity was crucial in times of war, when a tremendous psychological mobilization was necessary, and when the NCOs and junior officers played a vital role in maintaining their units as parts of an effective fighting force, as studies have shown in the context of the Western Front during World War I.53

But in the Montenegrin and Serbian contexts, there were historical figures who, in the narratives, embodied the vices of treason and desertion, whereas in the Ottoman case, the figure of the deserter was faceless. Drawing on the lore, Serbian and Montenegrin officers depicted deserters, embodied in Vuk Branković, as the most despised persons. They sought to establish this image in the minds of the soldiers, too, since Serbian mothers, like their Ottoman counterparts, only gave birth to future heroes and lions. Vuk Braković was ideal for this role, because he allegedly left at the most crucial moment of the battle with his knights, betraying their brothers in arms. That is why this “cursed” Vuk was labeled as an infidel and oath breaker.54 The message was that it was better to die gloriously, like other heroes, than to betray everyone and live shamefully like the “damned” Vuk, whom the Ottomans soon killed him anyway. Not only was the soldiers’ masculinity but also his honor was at stake.55 An Ottoman officer sought to convey that those who absconded had neither a place among the people nor any honor. They were ungrateful cowards (nankör alçak) and a burden on the imagined homeland (vatanın yükü).56

The Serbian officers also sought to transmit desired values and certain functions by describing the deaths of these people or by citing the epic songs which made mention of their fates, such as that of Boško Jugović, one of nine brothers who died in the Battle of Kosovo while defending the greatest military shrine, the flag. Losing the flag also meant losing military honor, like in the Ottoman case in which the story of the standard-bearer Ali was supposed to illustrate the importance of the flag.57 Yet, if a regiment was distinguished by heroism or managed to steal the enemy’s flag, their chief father decorated either their regimental flag with an order or a medal for bravery or decorated their soldiers personally. This decoration was supposed to make the latter proud of serving in a particular regiment.58 Sometimes this was a calculated policy since the elites and officers realized that the passion for decorations in the Montenegrin setting could be used to pit certain kinship fraternities against each other. If a soldier was honored for heroism, he wore a medal for bravery every day, even if he was plowing or mowing the fields.59

Uses of images and narratives of heroism differed in the Serbian and the Montenegrin context due to the military organization of these countries. While the modernization of the Serbian military generally drew on the Prussian model, serving in the militia became the rule in Montenegro.60 Officers and the NCOs, who might know the people being drafted, directed the military exercises, which varied depending on the season. The role of the Montenegrin military fathers could be limited, since they had to negotiate often with their soldiers (who could turn violent if their superiors struck them) more often than their peers in the Serbian army.61 Moreover, the Montenegrin military relied on the state-led tribalization policies, since its organization revolved around the family and village structure. Depending on the context, this situation could both facilitate and repress the feeling of military superiority and subordination. The rank and file and the officers would instead “[agree] on something, whereby a very exact compliance with such agreements may not be expected,” as a Habsburg military attaché wrote during the Balkan Wars.62

Through images of heroic, a soldier in the Serbian and Ottoman armies was told that if he were to die, ecclesiastical authorities would pray for his soul, and his family and the whole imagined community would praise his heroic death and merits. Both king and sultan would take care of the soldier’s family, which would have God’s blessing, and thus they would prosper. A similar narrative was given for those who did not betray their military oath. They were assured that they would be respected and rewarded here on earth. Thus, by sacrificing their lives, the rank and file became members of the pantheon of heroes whose deeds would never be forgotten.63 Yet upholding this social contract lay at the heart of relations between the state and the soldiers. Hence, the state had to care for the soldiers’ families while their male relatives were at the front. Failure to fulfill this duty threw everything into question, as examples from World War I in the context of Montenegro amply illustrate.64 In some cases, this part of the contract came first, and only then came the tacitly signed agreement between the soldiers and the state, the foundation of which was the state’s obligation to provide food, equipment, and lodging and to ensure that superiors treated their inferiors with due respect. Were this contract broken, this could create serious problems for the state, since soldiers could flee or become unmotivated to fight.65

The heroes’ death offered the soldier and his family a chance to accommodate the human cost of the war in a vision of historical continuity, similar to British or German contexts amid and after World War I.66 In this regard, the combination of the locals and state-driven cultural norms is evident, because in certain parts of Montenegro, for instance, a detailed oral tradition among the kinship fabrics preserved the memory of the local heroes. It functioned as a memory bank, the canon of which the state authorities sought to control. Moreover, the local norms enculturated young males into their roles as warriors.67 It is doubtful whether this narrative motivated the soldiers during the war. For instance, German soldiers made jokes about the idea of the Heldentod after seeing the front during World War I. Yet some Serbian ego-documents show that some soldiers had used this idea to come to the terms with the deaths of their comrades or to comfort the soldiers’ mothers.68

Keeping in mind the period under examination, officers did not start from anything. Ideally, they only extended and added new meanings to the previously established social view of the population, meaning the population’s education only continued in the barracks.69 The primary efforts were undertaken in the pre-military and post-military life, in which the roles of birth parents, civil officials, paramilitary leaders, teachers, and clergymen were equally important.70 Indeed, not every Serbian peasant (the peasantry made up around 80 percent of the rank and file) found it amusing to spend several months in the barracks and swap his freedom for strict discipline. Even before 1912, national belonging in Serbia had not yet penetrated the broader layers of the population. Not everyone knew of or identified with the elites’ ambitious and imperialistic plans.71

Yet the state had succeeded by 1912 in one thing: by launching systematic public mobilization, it convinced its subjects that military service was one of their many assigned duties. Thus, “everything has been called up from the 17th to the 50th year of life” for the Balkan Wars, and in doings so, the authorities did not face any significant challenges. However, during the first weeks, both military service and the war itself were not enthusiastically praised by everyone, implying that this consensus of the peasantry cannot be interpreted as a national consensus.72

Nevertheless, one notices the uniformity of the image of the heroic among the Serbian social disciplines, a uniformity which was lacking in the pre-1913 Ottoman context—hinging on the ideological context and intellectual background of various actors, the consistency of the Ottoman heroic narrative before, during, and after military service is missing. While officers spoke about the soldiers, viziers, and sultan who had expended and defended the political borders of or laid down their lives for the imagined community, others (such as pan-Turkish intellectuals) would focus on the pre-Islamic pagan Turkic world.73 For example, in some parts of the Ottoman province of Kosovo, Muslim subjects had a distinct understanding of local heroes, whose self-sacrifice was praised. Still, their inner essence was not a national essence but rather was essentially confessional.74 In the Serbian and Montenegrin cases, the school and the military inculcated in the subjects of the state a deeply national sense of memory. The mental images became icons, stories, and myths the most significant feature of which was their persuasiveness.75 In the barracks, the officers and NCOs adhered to the medievalism of the past together as priests. However, not everyone was moved by this narrative since not everyone was interested in listening to the epic songs in school.76

As the 1900 and 1901 infantry curriculum openly advises, “when the soldiers are together, and when the weather is poor, heroic folk songs are to be read to them more often.” The more they were subjected to the latter, the more they absorbed this narrative as being natural.77 This “tradition,” as an officer calls it, excited and moticated the soldier. It “aroused courage and the desire for revenge and the return of the glory and greatness of the Serbs,” thereby uplifting and filling their chests, souls, and hearts with Serbian history, Serbian lands, pleasure, and the aspiration to be celebrated in the heroic struggle.78 By singing songs and reading about heroic ancestors, the officers tended to remodel a soldier’s perception of revenge and honor along the ethnonational line since the goal was to awaken the soldier’s desire for glory. Thus, a local’s sense of honor was entangled with the military, the imagined homeland, and his birth family. In this regard, any material gain was supposed to lose its value.79

The military fathers sought to control the soldiers’ emotions by constructing a narrative of collective trauma fueled by experiences of the pain and suffering of the imagined community. They acted as symbolic or cultural creators in the symbolic-cum-emotional representation of social suffering.80 As they heard this same narrative before, during, and after the military service/drill, Montenegrin or Serbian soldiers were expected to be eager seek revenge and reclaim the lost glory of the imagined medieval Serbian homeland. They were taught to look through the primordial perspective at the constructed past, which resonated on the eve of and during the Balkan Wars.81 This narrative represented the testament of Kosovo, and the soldiers would obtain eternal glory by being addressed as the avengers of Kosovo, like those who fell on the battlefield in 1389. This notion was also passed on during the literacy classes in the military. The narrative was embodied in the phrase concerning “our” five-century-old oppressor or enemy, which various Slavic-speaking Christians (both male and female) appropriated when filing petitions to the government.82 Since 1389, the imagined Turk had been killing, robbing, and demolishing the personal property of the imagined brethren. This “oppressor” committed an array of outrages acts, including desecrating places of worship, burning and mocking God, and selling Serbian brethren as slaves.83

Thus, through the heroic, the purpose of the military was to reify the construction of “the political enemy” since acting politically meant distinguishing friend from foe. A state exists as a political entity if it can make this distinction and fight the enemy in an emergency.84 Although the construction of an enemy in the Ottoman case is apparent, the enemies of the Empire remained rather faceless. The overarching message was to be ready to protect the imagined homeland (vatanı beklemek), which was intertwined with one’s honor and confessional loyalty.85

A soldier in Serbia also learned about how lucky he and his birth family were to live in this golden freedom. This narrative was essential in the domestic context (as it provided a tool with which to legitimize the rule of the elites, much as similar narratives had done earlier in France and the Habsburg Monarchy), and the later “international” context (as it provided motivation to restore freedom for and protect the imagined brethren).86 In the case of the larger international context, the narrative helped nurture the belief in the necessity of a “defensive” war against the Ottoman Empire within its territories.87 This narrative of an imperialistic war affected some Serbian and Montenegrin subjects. Like many British soldiers who fought in France during World War I, so too did Montenegrin soldiers during the Balkans Wars travel from the USA to fight “for the liberation of our oppressed brothers from a five-century-old enemy” in the first months of the Balkan Wars.88 Thus, educating the rank and file, mapping the imagined national territory, and fostering national loyalty were intertwined. In the Ottoman context, this involved references to battles in which heroes died or became famous.89

Depending on a soldier’s place of birth, Serbian officers would deliberately emphasize in their narratives a hero who had hailed from the same area as the soldiers. Hajduk Veljko was used as a figure in narratives intended to remodel recruits from the eastern provinces. Having died fighting against the Ottoman army in the First Serbian Uprising (1804–1813), he was similar to Miloš Obilić and other Kosovo heroes.90 The same strategy was utilized after the “liberated Serbian” brethren from the Prilep region (post-Ottoman Macedonia) began to serve under the banner in early 1914. In their case, Marko Kraljević was a hero, a historical person from the Middle Ages whose palace was in Prilep.91 Officers were so determined in their role as so-called educators that one of these recruits wrote in a censored letter, “we are dead sick when they tell us about Kraljević Marko.”92 Still, others identified themselves with the latter. While passing through some populated areas in late 1914, the Macedonian recruits boasted publicly that they were descendants of Marko Kraljević and were going to “liberate” Habsburg Bosnia.93

The practice of disparaging those who did not follow this narrative as lower men and expecting the soldiers to become heroes implies that the military distinguished this type of masculinity from other forms. All other men had to position themselves to the heroes. Hence, one could speak about hegemonic masculinity, whereby hegemony signifies the displacement of other forms of masculinity by this form, which was praised in the military as the norm. The idealized view of masculinity was used to construct the perfect self-image of the nation.94 Having been “the healthiest, strongest and youngest—the most capable of all the other people in our nation,” the masculine men’s bodies, which now embodied the heroic values, served as weapons to defeat the imagined enemy.95 The calling of the soldiers was difficult in peace times, and much more so in times of war. Soldiers had to endure harsh conditions, because they had to be in good health, have sturdy body, “male” strength, and a strong will.96 This notion of endurance also applied to those who fell into enemy hands, as they were expected to remain loyal. If they had complied or surrendered themselves, they were regarded as traitors and perjurers, meaning their national obligation did not cease after capture or defeat.97

But the hegemonic military masculinity, which played a role in the war, did not always correspond to actual worlds of the locals. It was not fixed but was embedded in specific environments. Locally seen, it was metaphorically represented through the interplay of specific masculine practices that had local significance.98 Thus, alternative masculinities were critical and could be defined as anti-types of the hegemonic model, including with respect to non-core groups.99 However, the reading of masculinities among the Ottoman subjects did not overlap with the reading of masculinities among the ruling elites. For instance, in the Lower Vasojevići, an area located in the Montenegrin-Ottoman borderland in the province of Kosovo, the Slavic-speaking Christians of the Vasojevići brotherhoods at certain times despised other Christians who did not belong to their kin. They viewed them as less worthy. They labeled them as Srblji, Srbljaci, or (H)Ašani (Tr. aşağı, meaning inferior) since they were regarded as not sufficiently manly. This term possessed a derogatory and subordinating reading like Arnautash, Grecoman, or Bulgarofil.100

One finds a similar narrative concerning the imagined Serbian (Srbijanac) from Serbia, who, given the state policy, could not carry a weapon publicly, which in the eyes of a Vasojević conveyed the message that they were also less worthy.101 This narrative was evident when a Montenegrin officer saw the official headgear (šajkača) of the Serbian army in Peć/Peja, a town which during the Balkans Wars (1912–13) was occupied by the Montenegrin army. After noticing that a certain number of the new rank and file consisted of the local Slavic-speaking Christians wearing the šajkača, the officer instructed them to buy the fez, “because you are not a soldier under that hat.”102 The authorities dubbed the headgear as a hat for scum (fukarska kapa), ordering even the locals not to display it on threat of arrest. Wearing the latter was interwoven with the notion of (hegemonic) masculinity or honor, and offending this notion could easily incite dispute or physical violence and could even push one to become a brigand.103

Sources do not reveal the extent to which these locally grounded hegemonic masculinities hampered the nationalization attempts of these polities; however, the case of the Romani population aptly shows that this could be possible. The word “Gypsy” in Montenegro had offensive connotations, and one could be prosecuted for using the term. Still, this did not stop the authorities from using it during World War I when they compared infectious diseases with this hidden non-core grouping.104 Allegedly, in the Montenegrin-Ottoman borderlands, only the Romani wanted to become blacksmiths, since the vocation was considered a disgrace, and those who practiced this trade were labeled the lowest people. In Serbia, most peasants did not want to make a sink or become trumpet players. That is why the Romani were generally appointed in the military as buglers.105 In the Serbian army, some soldiers did not want to eat together with the Romani soldiers, since the Romani were equated with the notion of filthiness and illness, as an officer recalls.106 In short, this means that pre-military prejudices were becoming embedded into the military, though the ruling elites made efforts minimize this.


By paying heed to the soldiers’ performance in the barracks and on the battlefield, and their voice fragments in sources during the Balkan Wars and World War I, one realizes that while some rejected the notions of heroism presented in the narratives offered by the state and the surround cultural milieu, others embraced these notions. Why this was the case and whether these narratives had long-term consequences are questions that can only be addressed with further research. In Montenegro, the Ottoman Empire, and Serbia, the heroic narratives shared many features with other heroic narratives in other parts of Eurasia. One could consider the Prussian context, where the ideal of the hero was intended to “put [men] in a frame to mind to fight, to kill and die willingly ‘for the fatherland.’” In addition to using notions of heroism to justify war, the Prussian elites presented imagined heroes “as role models for ‘average men.’” Hence, these visions occupied a special place in the collective commemoration of national warrior heroes.107 The was true to some extent in the French and Russian settings, where officers also used the medieval past, the heroic epics, national flags, and the military oaths as tools with which to foster the homogenization of recruits.108

These policies were supposed to enhance what George Moose calls “the Myth of the War Experience,” which presented the war as a meaningful and even secret event and included the people as active participants in the national quest through rites, festivals, myths, and symbols.109 The processes by which notions of heroism were adapted to new settings and the transformations of the narratives in which these notions found expression in these settings are also interesting. One could consider the Yugoslav case, where the officers used the same imagined heroes of the Serbian army in the contemporary context because they remained the “heads” of specific military units in the early 1920s.110 The national feature of the “Serb lands,” the boundaries of which the heroes had to reify before 1912, simply changed after 1918, becoming the new boundaries of the Yugoslav state, or “all the lands where our nation lives.”111 This change aptly illustrates that “the national-patriotic discourse simply manipulated, transposed and modelled itself on an existing set of symbols, metaphors and rituals.”112 The extent the heroic mitigated or furthered the development of a unified Yugoslav military culture in the interwar period remains to be answered.

But the success of the tropes concerning heroism as tools with which to foster loyalty and devotion to the military and the state also depended on what David M. Edelstein calls “the strategies of inducement,” which were intended to buy and maintain the population’s loyalty (i.e., tax exemptions, agrarian reform, welfare policies, financial and food assistance). It was essential for the elites to improve and support the wellbeing of the subjects if they sought to legitimize their rule or engagement in a conflict and ensure that their subjects did not lose heart.113 Soldiers and their families were looking for something tangible in return for shedding their blood (or losing their fathers, sons, and brothers) for the imagined community. Emphasis on the ideological essence of a given political push (for instance, emphasis on the importance of the national cause as a justification for a military campaign) is not enough to ensure the loyalty of the wider population or of the rank-and-file members of the army if material benefits are not provided. Through these strategies and the interdependence of the political and the material, the governments attracted locals to their armies. Hence, the latter knew how to win something for themselves and their families in exchange for their support for the war.114

Conceptualized as part of government practice, these strategies must be seen as a form of activity with which ruling elites sought to shape, lead, and influence their subjects.115 When one combines the strategies of inducement and the ideological techniques introduced above during and after military service and the coercive methods used with the subjects’ consent, it becomes clear that the state’s mobilization efforts never revolved around one strategy. In other words, they did not rely exclusively on national or confessional fervors. Instead, it was the interdependent use of an array of mobilization tools that yielded results. These factors worked together in complex interplay, and they had a powerful effect on the population, although varying success in varying contexts. Methodologically, it is not feasible to gauge which particular strategy counted more than the others.116 Thus, the elites had to approach and adjust to the subjects’ expectations and ways of acting.


I would like to thank two anonymous peer-reviewers for their critical remarks, suggestions, and comments on the final version of the paper.

Archival Sources

Arhiv Bosne i Hercegovine, Sarajevo [Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina] (ABH)

Zemaljska vlada (ZVS)

Arhiv Jugoslavije, Beograd [Archive of Yugoslavia] (AJ)

Ministarstvo unutrašnjih dela (14)

Cumhurbaşkanlığı Devlet Arşivleri, Istanbul [Presidency State Archives] (CDA)

Dahiliye Nezareti Mektubî Kalemi (DH.MKT)

Vojni arhiv, Beograd [Military Archive of Serbia] (VA)

Popisnik 2 = Arhiv Prvog i Drugog balkanskog rata (1912–13)

Popisnik 3 = Arhiv srpske Vrhovne komande (1914–20)

Popisnik 6 = Ratna arhiva divizija i divizijskih oblasti (1914–20)

Popisnik 14 = Arhiva vojske Kraljevine Srbije do Balkanskih ratova (1847–1911)

Državni arhiv Srbije, Beograd [State Archives of Serbia] (DAS)

Ministarstvo inostranih dela, Političko-prosvetno odeljenje (MID PPO)

Ministarstvo inostranih dela, Političko odeljenje (MID PPO)

Državni arhiv Crne Gore, Cetinje [State Archives of Montenegro] (DACG)

Ministarstvo inostranih djela (MID)

Ministarstvo unutrašnjih djela, Upravno odjeljenje (MUD–UO)

Ministarstvo vojno, Vojni sudovi (MV–VS)

Političko-pogranični komeserijat Žabljak (PPKŽ)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Kriegsarchiv, Vienna (ÖStA)

Allerhöchster Oberbefehl Chef des Generalstabs (AhOB GSt)

Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts, Berlin (PA AA)

RZ 201 (1867-1919) R 14218: Türkei 203, Balkankrieg (1912–13)


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Glas Crnogorca (1873–1922), Cetinje

Službeni vojni list (1881–1941), Belgrade

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1 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 54–55.

2 Ömer Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 2–3; Vasfı, Efrad-ı Cedide Talim ve Terbiyesine Mahsus Hafta Cedvelleri, 8.

3 Arkin and Dobrofsky, “Military Socizalization and Masculinity”; Stefanović, “Nation und Geschlecht,” 241–52.

4 Feld, The Structure of Violence; Bröckling, Disiplin, 45; Kühl, Organisationen.

5 von den Hoff et al., “Helden-Heroisierungen-Heroismen,” 7–11.

6 Mann, The Sources of Social Power, vol. 2, 28–41; Schlögl, “Kommunikation und Vergesellschaftung”; Beşikçi, “Domestic Aspects.”

7 Kocka und Haupt, “Comparison and Beyond,” 18–21; Bourdieu, Die verborgenen Mechanismen der Macht, 83; Noiriel, Introduction à la socio-histoire, 30–58.

8 On the notion of active immunization, see Jahr, Gewöhnliche Soldaten, 181; Geißler, Erziehungsmittel, 182–287; Berger and Luckmann, Die gesellschaftliche Konstruktion der Wirklichkeit, 85.

9 Pravila službe, vol. 1, 14–15; Jokić, Vojnički bukvar, 43–46; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 2, 5–40; Refik, “Vazife-i Askeriye,” 80.

10 Jahr, Gewöhnliche Soldaten, 37.

11 Asch, “The Hero in the Early Modern Period and Beyond,” 5–7, 11; Von den Hoff et al., “Imitation heroica,” 9–32.

12 On the double crowd, see Canetti, Masse und Macht, 66–71.

13 Vovelle, “Heldenverehrung und Revolution; Schröner, “Helden im Dienst der Revolution.”

14 On the myth of Kosovo, see Zirojević, “Kosovo in the Collective Memory”; Čolović, Smrt na Kosovu polju.

15 Brubaker, Ethnicity without Groups, 17.

16 See Pavlović, Epika i politika; Pavlović and Atanasovski, “From Myth to Territory”; Pavlović, Imaginarni Albanac. On the notion of inventing tradition, see Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions.”

17 Baycroft, “Introduction,” 1–4, 6–8; Joep Leerssen, “Oral Epic,” 11, 17–18; Anttonen, “Oral Traditions and the Making of the Finnish Nation,” 50; Sundhaussen, Geschichte Serbiens.

18 Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory.

19 Čolović, Smrt na Kosovu polju, 41–48; Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory, 12; Leerssen, National Thought in Europe, 192–197.

20 Nora, “Between Memory and History”; Sundhaussen, Geschichte Serbiens; Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory, 3–5; Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning.

21 Koljević, The Epic in the Making; Emmert, Serbian Golgotha; Dundes, “Binary Opposition in Myth.”

22 “Naredba od 15.16.1889,” Službeni vojni list, god. IX, 15.07.1889, br. 28, 833–834; “Red svetkovine kosovske petstogodišnjice,” Službeni vojni list, god. IX, 12.05.1889, br. 19 i 20, 581–592; Ünlü, “Sırpların I. Kosova Zaferi’nin 500.”

23 Stenografske bilješke o radu crnogorske Narodne Skupštine sazvane u redovan saziv 15. januara 1914. god, II prethodni sastanak, 27.01.1914, 34; Andrijašević, Crnogorska ideologija, 512–14, 598, 694–700.

24 Stenografske bilješke o radu crnogorske Narodne Skupštine sazvane u redovan saziv 15. januara 1914. god, XV redovna sjednica, 21.02.1914, 434 (citation); Rakočević, “Kosovski kult u Crnoj Gori tokom 19. i na početku 20. vijeka.”

25 VA/Belgrade, P2, K18, F1, 8/2, #215, 24.11.1912, Rožaje, District Chief to a Serbian Commander.

26 Ippen, Novibazar und Kossovo, 16–17; Cozens-Hardy, “Montenegro und Ist Borderlands,” 389; Jovićević, Domaće i vaspitanej djece u Crnoj Gori, 36; Rovinski, Crna Gora u prošlosti i sadašnjosti, vol. 2, 347, footnote 3; Angell, Herojski narod: priče iz Crne Gore, 13, 19, 65.

27 Ilić, Udžbenici i nacionalno vaspitanje u Srbiji, 73, 75, 111–12, 123–25.

28 Connell and Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity,” 849–50; Durham, Through the Lands of the Serb, 273; Tomašević, Life and Death in the Balkans, 212–328.

29 “Rešenje #5333 i 5334 od 15/16.06.1889,” Službeni vojni list, god. 9, 15.07.1889, br. 28, 835–836; “Govor…,” Službeni vojni list, god. 24, 29.06.1904, br. 21, 459–462; “Naredba od 06.04.1888,” 178–82; “Izveštaji i referati,” Službeni vojni list, god. 12, 08.08.1892, br. 31 i 32, 927–930; “Na znanje,” Službeni vojni list, god. 19, 08.05.1899, br. 18, 529–530; “Saopštenje od 30.10.1903,” Službeni vojni list, god. 23, 30.10.1903, br. 42 and 44, 809–814; “Na znanje,” Službeni vojni list KSHS, god. 39, 15.06.1920, br. 24, 961–962; Milićević, “Imena srpskih pukova.”

30 Bucur and Wingfield, “Introduction”; Winter, “Introduction. The Performance of the Past: Memory, History, Identity”; Burke, “Co-memorations. Performing the Past.”

31 Brink and Falkenhayner, “Einleitung”; Bojović, Vaspitanje vojnika, 67–127.

32 Öztürkmen, Türkiye’de Folklor ve Milliyetçilik.

33 Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 39–48.

34 Tolga Cora, “Asker-Vatandaşlar ve Kahraman Erkekler,” 53–54.

35 Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 50–53.

36 Kutluata, “Geç Osmanlı ve Erken Cumhuriyet.”

37 Kenan, Zamanımızda Zabt u Rabt ve Terbiye-i Askeriye, 16.

38 Zürcher, “Ölümle Firar Arasında,” 96–97; Hartmann, Die Reichweite des Staates, 187–88.

39 Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 2, 10–44; Martinović, Upustva vojničkom, 15–16, 18–21, 29–31; Hewitt, Social Choreography. On propositional emotions, see Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt.

40 B. “Nekoliko napomena o izvođenju regrutske škole u pešadiji,” 454–55; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 46–48.

41 See, for instance, CDA/Istanbul, DH.MKT, 2168/1, 09 Şevval 1899 [20/02/1899], MoI to the MoW. ABH/Sarajevo, ZVS 1912, 20–47, #14189, 19.12.1911, Višegrad, Protocol compiled at the Višegrad County Office, dated 20.12.1911. Subject: An Ottoman military deserter Savo Minić; ABH/Sarajevo, ZVS 1912, 20–47, #4617, Višegrad, Protocol compiled at the Višegrad County Office, dated 20.05.1912. Subject: An Ottoman military deserter Ranko Kojadinović from Uvac in the Ottoman Empire.]; DAS/Belgrade, MID–PP 1911, #18, 05.02.1911, Javor, Customs Office to the MoFA; DACG/Cetinje, PPKŽ, F7, #50, br. 165, 17.03.1911, Žabljak, Knežević to the MoFA.

42 Forrest, “Conscription as Ideology.”

43 B. “Nekoliko napomena o izvođenju regrutske škole u pešadiji,” 455–56, 487–90; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 52; McNeill, Keeping Together in Time, 2–66.

44 Smith, “Combat Motivations among Ground Troops,” 130–31.

45 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 158–65; Sretenović, Potrebna znanja za vojnika, 59–61; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 4; Arif, Piyade Neferi, 22–23.

46 Ali, Acemi Neferin Terbiye-i Askeriye Muallimi, 13; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 17–18; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 2, 56–58.

47 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 71–72, 158, 60–65. See also Jovićević, Domaće negovanje i vaspitanje djece u Crnoj Gori, 55.

48 B., “Nekoliko napomena o izvođenju regrutske škole u pešadiji,” 455–56, 487–90; Jokić, Kaplar, 65; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 55 (footnote #1), 96, 105, 171. See also Geißler, Erziehungsmittel, 106–124.

49 Beşikçi, Cihan Harbi’ni Yaşamak ve Hatırlamak, 12.

50 Jokić, Vojnički bukvar, 68; Sretenović, Potrebna znanja za vojnika, 59; Arif, Piyade Neferi, 22; Arif, Orduda Terbiye, 76–77.

51 VA/Belgrade, P6, K509, F2, 6/21, 25.11.1915, Commander to the of the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Regiment of 2nd Levy; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 8–9 (citation); Vranješević, “O časti u opšte i vojničkoj časti osobeno,” 41; Radojević and Milenković, Propast srpskih regruta, 194–97.

52 Martinović, Uputstva vojničkom, 3, 65 (citation); Sretenović, Potrebna znanja za vojnika, 59, 65; and Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 69–162.

53 Watson, Enduring the Great War.

54 Stenografske bilješke o radu crnogorske Narodne Skupštine sazvane u redovan saziv 15. januara 1914. god. (I i II prethodni sastanak i IXXX redov. sjednica), VI redovna sjednica, 10.02.1914, 176; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 46–78.

55 Sretenović, Potrebna znanja za vojnika, 59, 65; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika.

56 Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 15, 27.

57 Jokić, Vojnički bukvar, 48; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 176–79; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 2, 37–38, 48.

58 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 167–71, 179–82.

59 Vukotić, “Nekoliko reči o Crnogorcu kao vojniku,” 863–64; Vešović, Pleme Vasojevići, 324–25, 342; Watson, Enduring the Great War, 61–62.

60 ÖStA/KA/Vienna, AhOB GSt Militärattachés Cetinje 60 G-Akten Geheime Berichte, Eindrücke und Erfahrungen auf dem montenegrinisch-türkischen Kriegsschauplatze 1912–13 vom k.u.k. Militärattaché in Cetinje, Hauptmann des Generalstabskorps Gustav Hubka, 1–4; Batrićević, “Crnogorska vojska uoči,” 31–35; Martinović, Crnogorska vojska, 53–60. See also Ratković-Kostić, Evropeizacija srpske vojske.

61 Martinović, Upustva vojničkom, 37–38, 40, 56–57; DACG/Cetinje, MV–VS, 1913/F9, #74, 25.09.1913, Peć, Fifth Platoon to the Royal Inquiring Commission and ibid, 1915/F14, #50, The guilty of Miloš, Dragiša and Milan Bakić for making a mess, etc.

62 ÖStA/KA/Vienna, AhOB GSt Militärattachés Cetinje 60 G-Akten Geheime Berichte, Eindrücke und Erfahrungen auf dem montenegrinisch-türkischen Kriegsschauplatze 1912–13 vom k.u.k. Militärattaché in Cetinje, Hauptmann des Generalstabskorps Gustav Hubka, 19.

63 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 55, 6163, 75; Stenografske bilješke o radu crnogorske Narodne Skupštine sazvane u redovan saziv 15. januara 1914. god. (I i II prethodni sastanak i I–XXX redov. sjednica), II prethodni sastanak, 27.01.1914, 34; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 2, 29–31.

64 DAS/Belgrade, MIDPO 1915, R458, F12, D5, 12/311, 12/312, #475, 09.09.1915, Cetinje, Serbian Legation to the MoFA and ibid, MID–PO 1914, R431, F15, D4, 15/249, telegram #619, 29.11.1914, Nikšić, Delegate of the Serbian Government to the MoW.

65 Troçki, Balkan Savaşları, 285–86; Beşikçi, Birinci Dünya Savaşı’nda Osmanlı Seferberliği, 267–68; Minasidis, “Mobilization (Ottoman Empire/Middle East,” 1–5.

66 Šarenac, Top, vojnik i sećanje, 83; Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory, 42.

67 Vukotić, “Nekoliko reči o Crnogorcu kao vojniku,” 65–66; Boehm, Montenegrin Social Organization and Values; Boehm, Blood Revenge, 47, 79.

68 Watson, Enduring the Great War, 155; Milenković, Propasat sprskih regruta, 200;

69 Oestreich, “Strukturprobleme des europäischen Absolutismus,” 44–47; Schulze, “Gerhard Oestreichs Begriff ‘Sozialdisziplinierung in der frühen Neuzeit,’” 270; and Leerssen, National Thought in Europe: A Cultural History, 140–43.

70 Jovićević, Domaće negovanje i vaspitanje djece u Crnoj Gori, 40, 73, 80–81, 83–84; Martinović, Upustva vojničkom, 8–9; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 23–24, 26–28, 34–35; Đurović, Modernizacija obrazovanja u Kraljevini Srbiji, 402–3, 441; Doğan, İlk ve Orta Dereceli Okul Ders Kitapları ve Sosyalleşme; Fortna, Imperial Classroom, 6, 137–39, 151; Üstel, “Makbul Vatandaş”ın Peşinde,“ 17–21, 28.

71 VA/Belgrade, P14, K11, F1, 41/1, Godišnji izveštaj o poslovima Đeneralštabnog odelenja Komande Timočke divizijske oblasti u 1899. godini, 1–4, 27–28; Die serbische und montenegrinische Armee, 15.

72 PA AA/Berlin, RZ 201, R 14218, #65, 10.10.1912, Belgrade, Ambassador to the Reichskanzler; Denda, “Završni izveštaji austrougarskog vojnog,” 30–31; Höpken, “‘Modern Wars’ and ‘Backward Societies’,”44.

73 Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 38–52; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 2, 45–48; Kurt, ‘Türk’ün Büyük, Biçare Irkı’; Kurt and Gulpinar, “The Young Turk Historical Imagination.”

74 AJ/Belgrade, 14–181–672, #14, 22.01.1920, Novi Pazar, District Chief to the MoI-DPS; Mihailović, Raonička buna, 63.

75 Asman, Duga senka prošlosti: kultura sećanja i politika povesti, 19–28, 31–32, 35–36, 39–45; Doğan, İlk ve Orta Dereceli okul Ders Kitapları ve Sosyallşeme (1876–1918), 14.

76 Troçki, Balkan Savaşları, 172.

77 Martinović, Uputstva vojničkom, 21, 29–30; “Nastavni plan za pešadiju stalnog kadra u godini 1900. i 1901. od 15.11.1900,” Službeni vojni list, god. 20, 25.11.1900, br. 45, p. 1120 (citation); “Nastavni plan za pešadiju od 16.04.1910,” Službeni vojni list, god. 30, 18.04.1910, br. 14, p. 356 (citation).

78 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 28–29.

79 DACG/Cetinje, MID, 1908/F158a, #3045, br. 1176, 16.08.1908, Žabljak, PPK to the MoFA; Vranješević, “O časti u opšte i vojničkoj časti osobeno,” 2–6; Dörner, “Die symbolische Politik der Ehre”; Beşikçi, Birinci Dünya Savaşı’nda Osmanlı Seferberliği.

80 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 33–151. On the process of symbolic-cum-emotional representation of social suffering, see Eyerman et al., “Introduction: On Social Suffering and its Cultural Construction”; Spasić, “The Trauma of Kosovo in Serbian National Narratives.”

81 “Crnogorci od 26.09.1912,” GC, god. XLI, 26.09.1912, br. 42, 1; “Srpskom narodu od 05.10.1912,” SN, god. LXXIX, 06.10.1912, br. 226, p. 1; Troçki, Balkan Savaşları, 172; Šarenac, “‘The Final Push Against the Eternal Enemy’.”

82 DACG/Cetinje, MID, 1908/F163, #4231, 141/1908, 20.04.1908, Cetinje, Mara Popović from Brezovica to the MoFA; ibid, MID, 1912/F207, #21, 18.01.1911, Cetinje, Radun Kuč from Gornja Ržanica to the MoFA; ibid, MUD-UO, 1911/F120, #4862/(2), 29.08.1911, Cetinje, Luka Bjelanović from Velika to the MoW; “Naredba od 15.06.1904,” Službeni vojni list, god. 24, 29.06.1904, br. 21, 457–458; “Govor…,” ibid, 461–62; Martinović, Upustva vojničkom, 22; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 29, 76.

83 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 76–77; Pejović, Vojnička čitančica za svakog vojnika; Jovićević, Domaće negovanje i vaspitanje djece u Crnoj Gori, 2.

84 Schmitt, The Concept of the Political.

85 Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 2–16; Ali, Küçük Zabitlere Nasihat, 55; Arif, Piyade Neferi, 214–15.

86 Bojović, Vaspitanje vojnika, 75–77; Martinović, Upustva vojničkom, 27; Jezernik, “Uvod: stereotipizacija ‘Turčina,’” 16, 22; Muršić, “O simboličkom drugojačenju.”

87 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 69, 132, 45; Sretenović, Potrebna znanja za vojnika, 65–66.

88 DACG/Cetinje, MUD–UO, 1913/F140, #3431, 20.11.1913, Crmnica, Milo Mitrov Živanović to the MoI; Watson and Porter, “Bereaved and Aggrieved.”

89 Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 1, 39–54; Fevzi, Osmanlı Efradına Maneviyat-ı Askeriye Dersleri, vol. 2, 45–48.

90 Geißler, Erziehungsmittel, 106–16, 124; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 55 (footnote #1), 96, 105, 171; Jokić, Kaplar, 65.

91 Mišković, “O razvijanju vrlina u našem narodu,” 15–16, 20; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 11–12.

92 DAS/Belgrade, MID–PPO 1914, R469, #272, 16.05.1914, Valjevo, Commander of Bitolj Infantry Regiment to the Commander of Drina Division District.

93 VA/Belgrade, P3, K73, F1, 2/37, #3164, 18.12.1914, Skoplje, KTNO to the MoW.

94 Tosh, “Hegemonic Masculinity and the History of Gender,” 42–43, 46–49, 51; Schmale, Geschichte der Männlichkeit in Europa, 152–53, 174–90, 195–200.

95 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 141–42 (citation); Messner, “When Bodies are Weapons,” 28–31.

96 Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 64, 169–71; Vešović, Memoari, 36.

97 Pravila službe, 1, 24–25; Bojović, Vaspitavanje vojnika, 169–71; Walzer, Obligations, 146–47, 156–57.

98 Connel and Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept,” 836–39, 849–51; Hearn, “Introduction,” 61; Hutečka, Men under Fire.

99 Schmale, Geschichte der Männlichkeit in Europa, 227.

100 Lalević and Protić, “Vasojevići u crnogorskoj granici,” 564; Ibid., 3; Vešović, Pleme Vasojevići, 344–45.

101 VA/Belgrade, P2, K18, F1, 8/2, #215, 24.11.1912, Rožaje, Sima Kastratović to a Serbian Commander.

102 DACG/Cetinje, MV–VS, 1913/F9, #74, 25.09.1913, Peć, Fifth Platoon to the Royal Inquiring Commission.

103 VA/Belgrade, P2, K54, F1, 16/8, #23, 29.03.1913, Istok, County Chief to the District Chief; Đilas, Besudna zemlja, 115; Babić, Politika Crne Gore, chapter 3.

104 Angell, Herojski narod: priče iz Crne Gore, 62; DACG/Cetinje, MUD–UO, 1915/F162, #2004(20), br. 3278, 29.03.1915, Cetinje, Vuletić to the MoW and ibid, OuBP, F5, #19, br. 1087, 06.05.1915, Bijelo Polje, OuBP to all district and municipality authorities.

105 Jovićević, “Plavsko-gusinjska oblast, Polimlje, Velika i Šekular,” 480; Vukotić, Uspomene iz tri rata, 95–98; Vukosavljević, Istorija seljačkog društva: sociologija seljačkih radova, 395, 398; Šarenac, “A View of the Disaster and Victory from below,” 79.

106 Pećinar, Od Srbije do Jugoslavije, 112–13.

107 Hagemann, “German Heroes,” 16–19, 24 (citation).

108 Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen, 298; Benecke, Militär, Reform and Gesellschaft im Zarenreich, 189, 193, 197.

109 Moose, The Nationalization of the Masses, chapters 1 and 4; Moose, Fallen Soldiers, 7 and chapter 5.

110 Jokić, Vojnički bukvar, 33, 48–49.

111 Bojović, Vaspitanje vojnika, 66, 151–54; Sretenović, Potrebna znanja za vojnika, 20–21; Jokić, Vojnički bukvar, 72–74.

112 Riall, Garibaldi, 23.

113 Edelstein, Occupational Hazards, 14, 51–52; Reinkowski and Karateke, “Introduction,” 1, 3–4; Obinger, “Vorsorgende Wohlfahrtsarbeit am Volkskörper.”

114 Marwick, “Problems and Consequences of Organizing Society for Total War,” 9, 15–18; Titmuss, Essays on “the Welfare State,” 45–47, 49–53; Moran, “Introduction.”

115 Donzelot, “The Mobilization of Society,” 69, 71–74, 77; Gordon, “Governmental Rationality: An Introduction,” 2; Foucault, “Governmentality,” 91.

116 Koselleck, “Der Einfluß der beiden Weltkriege auf das soziale Bewußtsein,” 28–29.

* This article was written as part of a doctoral dissertation funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD, Graduate School Scholarship Program #57320205) entitled “Heroes, Traitors, and Survivors in the Borderlands of Empires: Military Mobilizations and Local Communities in the Sandžak (1900s–1920s).” The project was done at the Chair for Southeast-European History of Humboldt University of Berlin and the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies of the Free University Berlin.


The Rise of a National Army or a Colonial One? Albanian Troops in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I

Anastas Bezha
Doctoral School of History, University of Szeged
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):141-168 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.141

The article discusses the under-researched topic of the Albanian troops in the Austro-Hungarian military during World War One. The topic represents a forgotten moment in World War One Balkan historiography, and it is also an unstudied colonial example. Based on English, Hungarian, and German archival and secondary sources, the article first provides a short historical description of the Albanian fighting units under the Ottoman Empire, their organization, and their infamously bellicose nature, up until the independence of the country. The paper then analyzes how these units became part of the Great War (despite the fact that the country itself remained neutral) under the Austro-Hungarian Army; first, as irregular fighting troops (Freischärler Albanien) between 1914 and 1916 and later as ethnical regimental units (Albanisches Korps or Albanische Abteilungen) between 1916 and 1918. Finally, the article compares the Albanian troops to other colonial forces of the time, including how these Albanian units were recruited, trained, and used in the battlefields with the purpose of creating a sense of loyalty to the Habsburg Monarchy. The case study of the Albanian Corps is a prime example of how the inability to ensure safety by force in a newly created state met with the geo-strategic and war necessities of a Great Power through colonial martial practices disguised as transnational help.
Keywords: World War I, Austria-Hungary, Albania, national and transnational army, colonial army, colonial practices

The entry into the Great War found the Austro-Hungarian Army in a precarious situation. By January 1915, the German general Ludendorff told his colleague Falkenhayn that “Austria’s emergency is our great incalculable.”1 Another German liaison officer reported back to Supreme Army Command (OHL) that the Austrians were “exhausted, rotten.”2 The frailty of the Austro-Hungarian Army had never been a secret to anyone. What was shocking was the dimension that it had acquired in such a short period.

In relative terms, the situation was the direct result of Monarchy’s own conditions and faults. For example, in matters of war-economy, there was a crisis of supply and prewar provisions. The 2nd Army fighting in the East had only 2,000 guns (of 45 different types) against the 3,000 of the Russians, and the majority of them were of lower quality, mainly made of bronze. Even more worrisome for the authorities was the incapability of their own industry to mass produce ammunition for these guns.3

Even if weaponry had not been a major issue, the failure by the end of 1914 of the Central Powers’ prewar strategy of a swift victory on one front and the repositioning of the troops on the other one unquestionably was. The Germans had failed to seize France quickly, and meanwhile, the Habsburg Armies were stuck with their nose on the ground after three unsuccessful offensives in Serbia. By the beginning of 1915, the k. u. k. forces were spread too thin on multiple stretches of the front, spanning from Poland and Ukraine in the East to the areas on the south in the Balkans and up to the mountain ranges of the Italian Alps. As chief of the General Staff (Armeeoberkommando, AOK), Conrad von Hötzendorf had pushed the Thronefolger and the emperor to launch a preemptive war against Italy and Serbia4 several times before 1914 precisely to avoid this bleak scenario: the encirclement and tightening of the “Iron Ring around Monarchy’s borders.”5 His warmongering—though also prescient warnings went unheard, and by the time of the conflict, Conrad and his staff had to fight an uphill war for which they were not prepared.6

Nonetheless, the greatest military issue was the human cost. By 1914, the Habsburg Empire had called into arms around 3,500,000 young men, which included all the trained reserves and a portion of the untrained territorial forces. In a short period, the intensity of the conflict led to casualties so massive that they were shocking and entirely unanticipated. By the end of 1914, losses amounted to 1,250,000 men, and by the end of the first year of the war, this number had risen to 2,738,500.7 The slaughter was as vertical in the martial hierarchy as it was horizontal. By the end of 1914, 3,168 officers had been killed, with total casualties amounting to 22,310, or almost half of the prewar corps of career and reserve officers.8 The lack of troops turned into an even greater security problem after 1916, due to the partial occupation of Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania and the resulting need for an administrative force. Thus, the most pressing issue at the time was for the AOK to find a solution that would have helped alleviate the rising military disparity with the Entente forces, furthered the geostrategic plans, and addressed security needs. The envisioned solution was the bolstering of the ranks through the recruitment of forces that were possibly friendly to Austria-Hungary’s cause, especially from invaded areas labelled “Friendly occupied territories.”9

One of these countries was Albania. First and foremost, Albania represented a geostrategic asset for whichever Great Power controlled it. At the height of the prewar rivalry with Vienna, the Italian Foreign Minister Tommaso Tittoni in 1904 had stated, “the true value of Albania lies in her ports and in her seacoast, possession of which would mean for either Italy or Austria-Hungary incontestable supremacy on the Adriatic Sea.” Any attempt by one or the other to seize this precious coastline had to be “opposed by all available means.” The Austrian position was identical: as long as the Albanian coastline remained nominally Ottoman or independent, there was no threat that another Great Power would risk her maritime and trade lifeline to Venice or Trieste.10 This position was reinforced by the time of the Balkan Wars of 1912–13, when on November 28, 1912 the Albanians declared through a “rocambolesque” series of events their independence from a collapsing Ottoman Empire11 and a policy of neutrality to defend themselves. The declaration proved insufficient to halt the Serbian and Montenegrin forces from seizing Kosovo and Shkodra, because according to the Serbian prime minister Nikola Pašić, “an independent Albania was neither desirable nor possible.”12

As a result of the Austro-Hungarian threats of war to Serbia and Montenegro, on December 17, 1912, the Great Powers ambassadors met in London to reach a peaceful settlement. The solution was a smaller and neutral state without key areas that were partly inhabited by Albanians, such as Kosovo, Dibra, Ipek, and Ohrid. The country was not established based on its ethnographic boundaries, but because its existence within the borders specified was considered “essential for the peace in Europe.”13 None of the interested parties was happy with the decision, but the Austrians had managed to prevent Russia’s satellite states from gaining a foothold on the Adriatic coastline, and Serbia and Montenegro had almost doubled in size.14

As Europe’s final diplomatic attempt to prevent war, Albania proved a short-lived experiment. Within a matter of months, the already weak government of Wilhelm zu Wied had collapsed as a result of inner power struggles and two revolts raging in central and south Albania. By September 1914, the country was in a state of anarchy and at the mercy of its neighbors. The first neighbor to take advantage of the situation was Italy, which seized the Saseno island and a month later, in October 1914, landed her forces in Vlora. Greece, fueling the irredentist movement of Vorio Epirus, seized large parts of southern Albania. After June 1915, Serbia took control of most of the country and ultimately installed her Albanian ally, Essad Pascha, as leader.15 Only with the Bulgarian entry into war on October 1915 and the opening of the Balkan front could the policy-makers in Vienna redirect their efforts to Albania. In the ministerial meeting of January 1916 over the new war aims of the Monarchy, the control of Albania by the k. u. k. armies was made a paramount concern, not only to ensure the safety of navigation for the Imperial fleet but also for the security of the left flank of the Central Forces stationed on the Macedonian front.16

A second reason for the decision of the AOK to recruit these troops was the long ethnographic policy that Vienna had pursued with the Albanians as a salient counterweight to the “Serbization” or “Slavization” of the peninsula.17 Mainly by supporting through investments the development of an Albanian national consciousness18 while simultaneously extending its economic and cultural control, the Ballhausplatz hoped to curb Albania’s political trajectory to its own advantage. The natives, who were mainly Muslim and were ethno-linguistically different from and often hostile to the Slavs of the peninsula, represented for the Monarchy an effective buffering force against the plans of her rivals (Italy and Russia). This cultural support along with political support during the Balkan Wars was not without a price. By the eve of World War I, the k. u. k. army, aware of its own weakness, would demand repayment of this “debt” in the form of men at arms.19

The recruitment of third-party and colonial forces ones during the Great War is a broader and well researched topic. However, in addition to being a subject which has been understudied, the recruitment of Albanian troops by the Austro-Hungarian army represents a rather fascinating historical question due to the dual nature of its problematic: when does support become exploitation in military terms of a weak, defenseless country by an empire? And how can one discern the foggy line between an independent national army and a dependent colonial one? These questions cannot be answered without putting into perspective the characteristics of these military units before and during World War I.

Albanian Troops under the Ottoman Rule

Fundamentally, the Albanian troops were and remained a mercenary force throughout the period of Ottoman rule, thus displaying all the characteristic and weaknesses that the mercenary system had.20 Historically, there were good reasons why the Ottomans chose to recruit these forces. First, in the Albanian lands, the existing strong feudal system endured under the sultan’s rule through the Ottoman process of istimalet.21 This meant that the Albanian fighters managed to keep unscathed their characteristic social structure, which was centered around local connections and obedience to lords, firstly through the timar (fief) system (post 1385) and later on the devshirme. Second, the Sublime Porte faced a major governance and safety deficit in Rumeli, especially after the end of the expansionist campaigns brought by Vienna’s defeat in 1683. The constructed castles and fortresses in the borderlands did not have the necessary manpower despite Istanbul’s attempt to fill the gap with Janissaries or state troops. Thus, the only remaining solution was to hire mercenaries with long guns and matchlock guns from Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Albania.22

These troops served in the Ottoman army as infantry or cavalry units, and commonly the Ottoman records described them as brave, fearless, heroic, hard and warlike.23 Due to their lifestyle, they generally engaged in guerrilla type warfare, with bands of mercenaries as small as 30 warriors under a sergeant (bölükbaşı tur.) up to 1,000 warriors under chieftain (başbuğ tur.).24 Despite the existence of several surviving contracts, the number of these units was fluid. For example, the leaders in the southern Albanian speaking vilayets (the Toskë alb.) based their ability to raise larger numbers of warriors on personal or vassalage connections (Bey-Agha/Ağa relationship).25 In the northern Albanian speaking vilayets (Gegëria alb.), it was much more difficult to recruit solders than it was in the south because the methods used were tied to blood or kinship (fis alb.) relationships and thus had a tribalistic nature. As such, the size of the mercenary units was linked to the “good name” of the leader’s family (oxhak alb.) and its origins.26

Usually, the troops served regionally and seasonally, with fighting periods of two, four, or at most six months.27 If called into arms in the summer, many Albanian fighters would withdraw from the battlefields by November, regardless of the current military situation. This scenario, which commonly happened with northern Albanians (the Gegë alb.), many times forced the Ottoman state to pay for additional mercenaries during winter rotations.28

As part of their contractual obligations (mukâvele tur.), these forces had to bring their own equipment and horses.29 This was a double-edged condition, because on the one hand, it saved the contractor from the obligation of paying for the equipment used by the mercenary forces, but on the other, it often weakened the Ottoman state because a given unit’s cohesion and fighting ability were greatly endangered by their lack of equipment or the striking differences in the assorted equipment which they brought to battle. This remained a distinctive characteristic of the Albanian fighting units up until the Balkan Wars, and it was noticed even by the Irish captain Duncan Heaton Armstrong, who served the Albanian Crown in 1914. 30

During the Tanzimat Era (1839–1876), the Ottoman state underwent a series of reforms, including the creation of a modern, centralized, and national army similar to the Prussian one. These reforms had an unintentional impact on the Albanian units as well. On the one hand, these strengthened the Albanian fighters by creating the necessary conditions for them to receive a stable income as regular or reservist soldiers and to develop professionally, as they were given a modern education and took part in training, and military drills, opportunities which they had not before (and this had undermined their ability to fight beyond small skirmishes when they operated as seasonal mercenaries).31 On the other hand, these reforms proved to be too constraining for the Albanian fighters due to their centenary military practices, mainly in the aspects of longevity of the service (from seasonal to five-year periods), the type of military units (from kinship/vassalage units to modern type regiments), and their deployment (from mainly native regional forces into imperial ones). As a result, the Tanzimat Era in military terms drew a wedge between the Ottoman Army and the Albanians, where one side saw these reforms as a necessity for the survival and safety of the empire while the other interpreted them as an infringement on freedom and military status quo. This led to a number of protests, insurgencies, and rebellions by the Albanians, which were met by the Ottoman authorities with counteroffensives, purges, imprisonments, and disarmament campaigns.32 As a result, by the beginning of World War I, the Albanian fighters had calcified features of a pre modern military unit: they were poorly or rather loosely organized, ill-equipped, and hardly trained, and they had an opportunistic (if not predatory) view concerning how they operated, fought, and attained their military objectives. The only incentive to use them was their military knowledge of the area as natives and their fighting spirit.


The Albanian Irregular Troops (Freischärler Albanien) under
the Austro-Hungarian Army (1914–1916)

The secret military operation of September 1914

The creation of a smaller Albanian state in 1912–13, proved a rather powerful incentive for many Albanians to ally with Austria-Hungary in 1914. The keenest supporters of the empire among these forces were the refugee Albanian leaders from the ex-Ottoman vilayets of Kosovo and Macedonia. Unsurprisingly, even before the official entry into the Great War, the Austro-Hungarian institutions had made plans for the recruitment of these forces as irregular troops with the hope of opening a second front that would have attacked Serbia from the South. In an encrypted telegram dating July 23, 1914, the Ballhausplatz informed its consuls in Albania and the k. u. k ambassador in Istanbul Pallavicini of the possibility of organizing and using the Albanian fighters in the offensive against Serbia. In the introductory section one finds the following: “In the event of the outbreak of war between the Monarchy and Serbia, from our point of view it would be very desirable—and fortunate, given the mood in the Serbian-Albanian border areas—that the Albanian population should be active and expose the Serbian military in those areas as a response to the terrible oppression imposed on them by the Serbian tyranny.”33

Two days later, on July 25, 1914, Augustus von Kral, the Austro-Hungarian diplomat in Albania, replied positively to Vienna’s military proposition. He had been in continuous contact with nationalist leaders from the north and from Kosovo (Hasan Prishtina, Isa Boletini, Bajram Curri, Selim Batusha, etc.), and they were all in favor of joint military action against the enemy (shkjau alb.) in the form of a general uprising. However, in his view, the most logical starting point for the operation was Albania, not Kosovo, because from there, the Monarchy could have shipped the necessary weapons and equipment for the Albanian fighters. From there, these forces, aided by the Monarchy’s officers, could have divided into two groups, which then would attack Serbia on two fronts, one toward Macedonia through the region of Dibra and one from the Albanian-New Serbia border of the Luma region.34

After receiving this encouraging answer and with the hope of gaining a military advantage for the Monarchy’s armies, on July 27, 1914 the Ballhausplatz instructed General Consul Kral to deliver to the “Albanian insurgent leaders” the following message:

The declaration of war against Serbia has not been made yet, but it is coming. I ask to You high-born [possibly the name of the leader] to spread the rumor among the Albanian insurgents that the state of war has already occurred, that Belgrade has been abandoned by its court and government, that Kosovo is completely emptied by the [Serbian] troops, and that k. u. k. troops have already crossed the Serbian border.35

The message cited above is significant for three reasons. First, each of the four statements was chronologically false, thus indicating that the Monarchy was willingly lying and quite possibly sending her allies to a slaughter with the hope of gaining a temporary military advantage for her own forces. Second, by initiating the operation from Albania, Vienna was willingly compromising the neutrality of the country, which she had previously protected and guaranteed in the London Conference of 1912–13.36 Third, the way in which these forces would have been organized and armed and the manner in which they would have operated under the directives of the k. u. k. officers were in total breach of the Hague convention of War on Land (1907).37 The archives do not indicate whether the message was ever transmitted through Kral to the Albanian leaders, but the logic of the events that came in the wake of its drafting suggest that it was.

A day later, Vienna reassured Kral (who by then was acting as the leader of the operation) that the Monarchy would provide 2,000 rifles, 100,000 cartridges, and 50,000 Kronen to the “insurgents.”38 On July 29, the Ballhausplatz also informed the chief of the Evidenz Bureau Colonel Hranilovic, who as the k. u. k. army representative had agreed to the necessity and objectives of the operation, of the military details.39 The same day, Kral traveled toward Castelnuovo (Herceg Novi), where he met with multiple Albanian leaders, such as Hasan Prishtina, Isa Boletini, and Dervish Hima, to attempt to organize the operation.40 According to the plan, the Austro-Hungarian authorities would have secretly shipped the necessary weapons and ammunitions41 to the port of Shëngjin in unmarked boxes, along with the Albanian fighters from the Serbian controlled regions of Kosovo along with six k. u. k. army officers. The Albanian leaders on the other side had the duty of securing the landing area and procuring the transportation animals (200–300 horses). After the successful conclusion of the first phase, the forces would divide into two groups and attack the enemy from the Macedonian and Serbian borders, as had been suggested earlier by Kral. The odds of success were fairly high, considering the fact that other tribal leaders from Northern Albania (the so-called great highlands or Malësia e Madhe) had replied positively to Consul Kral’s request.42

Despite the initial enthusiasm, by the end of September 1914, the entire operation had become a massive fiasco for the Monarchy. One of the many reasons for this failure was the multiple delays that the operation suffered. By early August, most of the weapons had arrived, but there was no sign of the horses that were needed to transport them43 or even of the key k. u. k. army officers in charge of the action.44 These delays became even more persistent throughout the entire operation, since the country had no road or railway system. Even more problematic was the fact that the landing area and the route through which the forces had to travel through were constantly subject to incursions by the peasant (Muslim) rebels45 in central Albania and the predatory raids of the tribal highlanders of the north.46

Another major reason for the failure of the operation was the lack of secrecy from all the actors involved. The Monarchy bore the lion’s share of the responsibility for its inability to transport in secrecy most of the troops and weaponry via commercial vessels. These lines, according to the Albanian expert prof. Seiner, were operated mainly by sailors of Italian and Slavic origin many of whom were spies for their own governments.47 As a result, by early August, the majority of the interested powers in Albania had caught a whiff of Monarchy’s actions on the ground.48 The Albanians also bore some of the blame, because multiple Austro-Hungarian reports indicate that personnel close to the Albanian government and even tribal leaders had divulged relevant information to enemy powers.49

Nonetheless, the biggest obstacle to the successful completion of the operation of 1914 was the reigning chaos between the chain of command and the forces on the ground. Practically, there was no defined hierarchical organization or even trust between the institutions (the Ballhausplatz and the Evidenz Bureau) and the actors.50 When Kral came down with malaria in August,51 the operation became even more hectic and chaotic, because the k. u. k. officers had no direct line of communication with the center from where they could have gotten information and orders. The most vivid testimony to the relevance of this issue was the frustrating letter sent by k. u. k. army officer Lieutenant Colonel Spaits on September 10, 1914:

Since August 9, I keep receiving the answer ‘as soon as possible’ from Vienna and partly from Durazzo. Now that everything is finally in place and all precautions have been taken care of, the order ‘later’ comes! I will comply with this order, but I hereby decline any responsibility, even if the whole thing fizzles into the sand! Such an endeavor, the preparation of which covers a distance of 100–150 km, cannot be regulated in the same way as the departure of a battalion in the absence of all means of communication!52


Furthermore, under the chaotic AOK/Albanian leadership, it became almost impossible to keep a mercenary and heterogeneous force like the Albanian fighters motived and organized. By mid-September, the operational funds had gone dry, while expenses for a mercenary force that had not even once fired a gun against the enemy kept increasing.53 The situation grew worse, as the k. u. k. officers had to bargain on daily bases, using money they didn’t have, to prevent mutinies, discourage desertion, and cope with threats posed by hostile tribes. In another letter dated September 12, the infuriated Lieutenant colonel Spaits wrote the following to consul Kral: “...these good-for-nothing people in Mirdita, Ibolje, and Fierza! They stage a revolution every day for breakfast! Last night they came and asked for 80 Mauser [rifles], otherwise they wouldn’t let us pass through! I prefer to spend 10,000 more kronen—just to keep peace and not to have a riot that the Italians would hear about! This is the only reason why I have approved even the most outrageous demands! Our so-called “Noble Guard,” made of twelve men recruited by Nopcsa from Merturi, Rajah, and Sirlu, costs us 48 Kronen every day; they are more of a burden than a benefit to us. These guys are lazy, [and since] the locals are jealous of them, [they have] demanded that we also take a ‘guard’ from them—of course, a ‘man’ from every ‘fis’ [tribe]… All these negotiations come with the same corresponding shouting and ‘readiness to shoot,’ and they always end up with a bag full of money.”54

The tribulations of the k. u. k officers in Albania came to an end when, by September 30, the Evidenz Bureau ordered the withdrawal of all of Monarchy’s personnel, thus ending the joint offensive against Serbia.55 By the beginning of October 1914, the majority of the Monarchy’s officers had left the country, which by then had plummeted into anarchy after the departure of the Albanian Crown and Government under the threatening guns of the rebels and the approaching Serbian Army. However, as was typical of them, the Albanian irregulars who had been taking part in the secret operation passed another winter enjoying the fruits of another mercenary expedition that, from their point of view, had been successful, even if not actually fought.

The Albanian Legion and the Durrës’ offensive (Autumn-Winter 1915–1916)

The military fiasco of 1914 convinced Conrad and the imperial authorities, that it had become, if not impossible, obsolete to conduct modern, large-scale operations in the frame of the Great War with “irregular forces” like the Albanian mercenaries. The country, which since the Balkan Wars had been at the mercy of marauding gangs, had to be secured under the k. u. k military administration. However, using these forces under a “shaky/joint” military hierarchy meant in principle taking more imperial troops from other fronts, and this was a luxury that the AOK could not afford.

For these reasons, by December 1915, the AOK had contacted Hasan Bey Prishtina, an Albanian nobleman from Kosovo, with the proposition of organizing the Albanian warriors into a larger ethnic unit under the k. u. k. army, similar to the Polish legion. During the first two years of the war, Hasan Bey and his 8,000 fighters had fought against the pro-Entente Esad Pasha’s troops, the Serbian and Montenegrin forces, thus proving himself worthy for the Monarchy’s cause. Additionally, he had good links with the Bulgarian military authorities and had advocated a quick political organization of the occupied parts of Albania while rejecting political offices for himself.56

Hasan Bey saw the AOK proposition as positive and, if it were to prove necessary, he offered to travel personally to Vienna to discuss the details. After the Austro-Hungarian armed forces would have concluded the occupation of Albania, he planned to form a strong force of 15,000 men to fight against the Italians on the southwestern front.57 Upon receiving this encouraging reply, the AOK put at his disposal 10,000 kronen for the formation of the legion and asked him to raise as quickly as possible a force of at least 10,000 men.58 The necessary equipment, including weapons, uniforms, coats, blankets etc. which had been seized by the Montenegrins, could have been collected from the two depos of Mitrovica and Ferizovic (or Ferizaj in Albanian). However, the transport of this equipment had to be arranged by the Albanians themselves, since the rail lines had been destroyed and most of Kosovo’s and Albania’s horses had been taken by the retreating Serbian forces.59 In addition to the money and the rifles, the Legion was also promised eight batteries of guns, each with 240 rounds of ammunition. As a final request, the AOK instructed him to avoid as much as possible any conflict in the newly liberated areas, because these incidents would harm the reputation and safety of the Monarchy’s troops.60

After many detailed discussions, Hasan Bey agreed to organize a brigade of Albanian volunteers. This would consist of two half brigades, each of two regiments. These would in turn be divided into four battalions, which would respectively consist of four çetas of 100 men each. The çetas subsequently would be divided into four sub-çetas. Hasan Bey would be provided with a k. u. k. general staff officer serving under him as aide-de-camp, fluent either in Albanian or French. The two half-brigade commanders, the four regimental commanders, and the 16 battalion commanders had to be K.u.K officers, while the çetas and sub-çetas were to be led by Albanians selected personally by Hasan Bey.61 The first recommendations for these positions by the AOK were Captain Hässler, Lieutenant Colonel Nopcsa, Lieutenant Rudnay, and Captain Steinmetz, along with four other non-commissioned officers. The rest of the officer spots in the legion would have been filled with volunteers. The Albanian legion was subject to the Austro-Hungarian Army orders and its regulations. However, Hasan Bey invoked the right to proceed legally and liquidate spies on the spot, particular Serbian spies.62

Volunteers, who would be between 20 and 25 years of age, would receive basic training and wear the distinctive badges of the Albanian Legion (black and yellow armband with a black and red cockade on it).63 As a final step, they would swear their loyalty with a handshake.64 Each one would be paid like an Austro-Hungarian soldier, receiving a payment in advance every ten days, including a daily allowance of one and a half Kronen. The leaders of the sub-çetas would receive a payment similar to that of a train conductor, while the çeta commanders would get a paycheck of 175 kronen per month. Initially, upon the directives issued by the AOK, the legionnaires were not offered any other benefits (such as food or tobacco) apart from their paychecks, because it was thought that these recruits were doing their patriotic duty. If anyone distinguished himself in the battlefield, they would be given rewards, and bronze medals would be distributed according to soldiers’ merits.65 Hasan Bey spoke out vehemently against this condition, because he feared that if the volunteers were not been self-sufficient, they might easily turn into a gang of robbers. The legionnaires had to be given the same level of care and remuneration as the Austro-Hungarian soldiers, since generally they had to operate in very resource-poor areas.66

The directives of the Third Army Command dating December 12, 1915 stipulated in which areas and under what conditions the Albanian volunteers had to be recruited.67 Particular attention was given to the zones where the “good name and influence” of Hasan Bey was thought to be stronger, particularly areas around Vushtrri, Prishtina, Gjilan, Ferizovic, and Novipazar. The AOK expected him to be able to recruit some 6,000 warriors for the Legion in a period of 20 to 25 days, with at least 2,000 men from his hometown of Vushtrri and another 2,000 from Prishtina by January 5, 1916. Regarding the conditions, there was a strict policy of religious demarcation between the recruits and the area where they would have served. According to this policy, the Muslim or Catholic recruits could only join their own religious units in the legion and serve in areas where their faith was predominant among the locals. As a result, the recruits were to be divided into three groups: the first group of 2,000–3,000 Muslim Albanians from Ipek and Mitrovica under the command of Captain Hässler would have operated in the area of Podgorica; a second group of 3,000–4,000 Catholic Albanians from Gjakova under the lead of Lieutenant Colonel Nopcsa68 would have fought in Shkodra and Lezha; and a third group of 1,000 Muslim Albanians from Prizren and Prishtina under Captain Steinmetz would have stormed Kruja. Hasan Bey was against the breakdown of the volunteers according to their religious or tribal affiliations because he feared that this would create dangerous competition between Catholics and Muslims which later could promote separatist tendencies and destroy the vision of Albania’s unity. In his opinion, religious conflict was a minor issue in Albania, and it only occurred in the area of Shkodra for political reasons.69

Despite the initial enthusiasm of the AOK for the Legion, the recruitment of volunteers from Kosovo proved more tedious and time-consuming than expected. Due in no small part to the disagreements between Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria over the respective zones of influence and military control in Djakova and Prizren,70 the recruitment process almost came to a halt during the entire month of December 1915. Another factor which led to delays was the typical slow pace of the Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy, which was made even more hesitant and cumbersome by the racist attitudes of many army officers regarding the Albanian legionnaires and their lack of trust for their would-be brothers in arms. A certain Captain Lauer, for instance, wrote the following:

I don’t expect anything at all: so far, the Albanians have done nothing, and they will not do anything in the future. They stroll behind the front just to annoy us, and if there is any action on the front, then they are not available. They just want to eat at our expense, … [they are] nothing more than an undisciplined, rotten, unreliable burden. Together with their leaders.71

By January 26, 1916, the Third Army Command had compiled a report with title “Results of the actions directed by the VIII - XIX Corps Commando.”72 According to the data, the recruitment of the Albanian legionnaires had gone more slowly than expected: Nopcsa had gathered only 2,000–3,000 men in Blinisht, and Steinmetz had managed to sway only some 1,000 volunteers and Captain Ghilardi expected to recruit only 1,000 warriors from Prizren. Hässler had only 200 men ready to fight in Ipek, and he was expecting to recruit more people from the region of Dibra with the help of the nationalist nobleman Murad Bey Toptani. Additionally, another squadron of 700 men in Vushtrri (probably under the command of Hassan Bey) was available to engage on the front. These relatively small numbers notwithstanding, the army command saw these forces as adequate to start the offensive in Albania and thus secure two main objectives: first, to liberate 15,000 men held captive by the Serbian forces who were attempting an escape by sea from the port-cities of Durrës and Vlora; second, the Italians had to be driven from all Albanian territory, if possible.73

Upon receiving these orders, most of the members of the Albanian Legion under the command of the imperial officers began to prepare for the final charge toward the sea. Steinmetz moved with his men from Prizren to Selita,74 from where he headed towards Lezha and Durrës, later joining Nopcsa’s group on January 30, 1916.75 Nopcsa and his forces had been struggling to march toward the front due to the encirclement between the fleeing Serbian and Montenegrin forces and their allies in the region of Mirdita. The tribal leader (or bayraktar in Turkish) of this area—the catholic Prenk Bibë Doda—had been involved in pro-Serbian activities, and he had prevented the recruitment of 1,000 men from his tribe to the Albanian legion, as previously promised to the k. u. k. army. Only when Gjakova fell into Austro-Hungarian hands could Nopcsa and his men travel toward Tirana. There, his forces met with the forces of Hässler, who had left Prizren along with 1,600 men on January 30 and was charging with full speed toward Durrës.76 Hässler’s legionnaires were the first troops initially to seize Tirana,77 and on February 16, 1916, they encircled the Italian rear forces in the small town of Kavaja from a hilly position. In the heat of the fight and without the necessary artillery cover, Hässler’s unit pressed the offensive on its own while storming an important hill in front of Durrës and seizing two mountain guns. In the process of conquering the city, Hässler himself was badly wounded.78 Despite this victory, the pursuit of the enemy forces fleeing toward Vlora was halted, as the Austro-Hungarian forces were spread too thin and a second regrouping was necessary in order to replenish the supplies.

Nonetheless, the offensive against the Entente forces in the south resumed quickly under the lead of the Bulgarian standing Captain Ghilardi,79 who had entered the service of the k. u. k. VIII. Corps Command. In a short period of time, he managed to set up nine battalions with 500 men, mainly with recruits from northern Albania. After first securing the plains south of Durrës, Ghilardi then directed his forces toward the region of Myzeqeja. By March 8, he had taken Lushnja and Berat, and the following day he captured the city of Fier. After successfully driving off the Italian rear guard across the Vjosa river, his forces camped on the northern bank of the river near Këlcyra, a position which they would have held until the end of the war.80 The military regrouping of the k. u. k. XIX Corps Command under Lieutenant Marshal Ignaz Trollmann on March 3, 1916 brought “the colonial campaign”81 with the help of the Albanian Legions to an end.

Attempts to build an Albanian Army (Albanisches Korps) between
1916 and 1918

While it may have offered an excellent example of a major victory for the Monarchy against the Entente forces, the invasion of the country turned into a major administrative challenge for the military authorities, especially in regard to the safety question. As a result of the low number of the imperial troops in the country, the gang activity of the natives and proximity to the Italian and French forces, the AOK opted to create an Albanian Army. By February 1916, the army command announced a proclamation asking all physically fit male Albanians between the ages of 18 and 50 to enroll as volunteers. According to this command, each house had to provide at least one man for military service, usually the youngest and healthiest.82 The volunteers would receive six to eight weeks of training, which included, in addition to military exercises, instruction in German and Albanian. In a similar fashion to the recruitment propaganda used on Bosnians soldiers in 1878,83 the proclamation made an appeal to the bellicose spirit, sense of duty, and patriotism of the Albanians and encouraged them to take arms:


…we now turn to you with the request that you protect your fatherland with arms in hand alongside us. No capable Albanian would watch idly while the enemy bursts into his country, no one would find it compatible with his honor not to dedicate his weapon and his life to the fatherland to defend it against every enemy… Remember, brave Shqypëtaren, that Albania’s best days were those when the greatest Albanian folk hero Skanderbeg, with his well-trained soldiers, was horror to the enemies of Albania. He and his brave comrades are your role models!84

The initial idea of the AOK was to organize this army into eight and later eleven battalions with 600 to 800 men85 trained by Dalmatian and Bosnian-Herzegovinian officers and soldiers. The first cycle of enlistment and training would start on May 15, 1916, followed by annual cycles every first of September and December.86 Additionally, commissions were created for the enlistment of the volunteers in each military district, and if anyone attempted to avoid the conscription, he had to face punishments which began with fines in gold or cattle and went to being driven from their homes or even burned by the authorities. Certain categories of people were excluded from the obligation to enlist, such as clergyman, free professionals, civil officials, tribal elders, and adult sons who were providing care for sick and weak family members.87 The enlisted had to bring their own weapons, including ammunition and cartridge belts, as well as bread sacks and water bottles.88 Meanwhile, the k. u. k. army had the responsibility of equipping them with uniforms and insignia similar to the Albanian Legion consisting of volunteers from Kosovo (hats with red and black cockades and a yellow armband).89

Though the AOK actively used the clergy and tribal leaders to bolster the recruitment process, it managed to recruit less than half the expected number of soldiers during each of the three cycles: 2,452 men were recruited in the first cycle, 1,889 in the second, 2,876 in the third, and an unexpected increase in the fourth and final cycle, which managed to produce 4,292 volunteers.90 The reasons for this failure were multiple, starting from the wrong policy of initially applying a voluntary form of enlistment addressed to a skeptical and indifferent society. Even when enlistment was made obligatory, the authorities couldn’t enforce their own decisions. They simply didn’t have the necessary manpower to chase down deserters or gang members. Yet interestingly, the main problem was the fact that most of the instructors didn’t know Albanian.

In a final attempt to address this problem, during the third and fourth cycles, the authorities opened training courses for aspiring officers with the hope of turning them into instructors for the other Albanian recruits. The basic conditions for their enrollment in the program were: having a clean penal record, knowledge of reading and writing in Albanian, and being from a “good family.”91 After performing service on the frontlines for six weeks, these officers were named “Ensigns of the Albanian Militia.” However, the Austrian-Hungarian military authorities recognized that,

due to their low level of education, it is of course not possible to apply [to them] the same standard of classification as applied to our junior officers. For this reason, the main focus rests on their military, practical, and moral suitability as leaders and instructors in the state militia.92

Though the rhythm of applications for both programs increased in time, opposition to the entire process remained strong. At the center of the critics were the Austro-Hungarian officers stationed in Albania, who saw the organization of an eight-week training program for the Albanian militia as a difficult, unreasonable, and very costly endeavor. One senior officer pointed out in March 1917 that of the expected 800 men for the sixth Albanian battalion in Lushnja, only nine volunteers had enlisted.93 Another officer wrote of the demoralizing effect that the Albanian trainees had on the Austro-Hungarian forces working with them:

It remains a sad picture when one sees our old countrymen working hard in the most miserable swamp areas, while young Albanians in neat uniforms, go for walks in the cities.94


By August 1917, the officer’s critical remarks had caught the attention of the Operational Department of the AOK. As a result, the department ordered the XIX. Corps Command stationed in the country to stop playing “soldiers’ games” with the Albanians and use them for agricultural purposes or in workers’ departments. A detailed report on the “Albanian Militia” experiment was also mailed with the order. It was written for the most part in a tone of disappointment and despair:

forcing the occupying forces to provide non-commissioned officers for training purposes is downright damaging to our force due to the low number of troops… [even] if the Albanians are eventually trained with a great deal of effort, they will desert to the enemy side at the first sight. They’ll grab their weapons or will form gangs of robbers in the mountains. If you catch a deserter […] you cannot treat him with the full strictness of our laws, because the Albanian has not taken an oath, but only a vow… Finally, these Albanian battalions, which no commander dares use in battle, are a blessed propaganda tool for the Entente, which points out that we brought military service to the Albanians instead of freedom.95

A National Army Experiment or a Colonial One?

Answering this question is not an easy task because generally it involves taking into consideration two interconnected elements: first, the context, meaning the precise nature of the relations between the two countries and the direction which this relation took during the war, and second, the historical/military evolution that the Albanian troops underwent as part of the k. u. k. army.

Regarding the context, there is a rich bibliography on this period which indicates Albania’s strong and increasing dependency on the empire.96 This dependency97 had grown more intense by the time of the Great War due to the unilateral decisions of the Habsburg policy-makers, which initially sought to drag the newly-born and weak state from its safe position of neutrality98 and later compromised its territorial integrity as a bargaining chip, offering territories first to Italy99 and later to Bulgaria and Greece.100 After the successful “colonial campaign”101 in Albania, matters of neutrality and territorial integrity became obsolete topics, since the imperial policy-makers threw the existence of the country as a whole into question. In the GMR meeting of January 1916 over the new war aims of the Monarchy after the successful invasion of Serbia and Montenegro, two factions split over the future of the country. On one side, the Ballhausplatz with Minister István Burián sought the creation of a friendly and bigger Albania with territories from Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro as a counter solution to the Slavic problem in the peninsula. On the other side stood the AOK, with Conrad advocating the annexation of the entire country as the ideal solution for a failed state-building experiment in the Balkans.102 De jure, the GMR didn’t reach any agreement over the fate of the country, but de facto the country was run and modelled administratively by the Army to match and further promote its integration into the Monarchy (legally, fiscally, and financially), similarly to the quasi-colonial Bosnian model.

As the context gave meaning to the actions of the k. u. k. army in Albania, we can certainly argue that the historical/military evolution of the Albanian troops during the war served and gave shape to the colonial agenda of the Monarchy in the country. I use the word colonial because this evolution had similar characteristics to other cases of colonial armies used by other Great Powers of the time.

The first characteristic was the passage from a premodern to an institutionalized fighting force. Historically speaking, with certain exceptions,103 the Albanian soldiers remained largely outside the Ottoman military either due to their komitadji/mercenary nature or due to the rather loose and atrophying authority of the Ottoman state. This deviation from the institutions remained a staple characteristic even during the Tanzimat Era, when a number of revolts in the Albanian-speaking areas were directed against the obligatory enlistment of soldiers serving abroad or in other parts of the empire.104 The entry into the Great War changed this military paradigm, because due to the managerial qualities of Austria-Hungary as a Great Power, a large number of Albanian warriors were involved in large-scale, modern, and complex military operations. This change is only comparable with other colonial armies of the time (such as the French Armée d’Afrique and Armée Coloniale, etc.), where alien bellicose groups without past institutional or state-building experiences entered into the service of modern national or imperial armies (post-mercenaryism).105

This institutionalization came thanks to the military regimental system. The regiments as a western modernity replaced the previous socio-military structures, where at the center were the personal, vassalage, or kinship connections.106 As a result, the ability to enlist and send into war the fighters shifted from individuals to a chain of command which—importantly—was alien to the natives. Additionally, the regimental system brought other changes that aimed toward the creation of a cohesive, loyal, and professional fighting body, such as: a periodical salary and a pension, continuous drills and training, a defined period of military service, a system of rewards (medals, acknowledgments, etc.) and punishments based on a military law or code, a common regimental culture/camaraderie, etc. Last but not least, all the colonial regimental units were distinguished by unique regimental colors, distinctive signs, badges, accessories, or uniforms, which symbolized the union between the old and the new or the native and the colonial power.107 These patterns of a modern but colonial regiment were visible in the Albanian units during the Great War, especially in the cases of the Albanian Legion and the Albanian Army.

The second characteristic was the introduction of the Albanian soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian army as a martial race.108 This concept is distinctive for the majority of the colonial units of the time, because it represented the fusion of the prejudices of the Western authorities (binary view Occident/Orient, realm of progress vs. realm of war) and their need to uphold their military power in the “new lands.” As a result, different native communities/races were elevated to a special social and military status due to their “innate martial qualities,” and they were rewarded with the “honor” of serving along with other imperial troops as special units. The British were the most successful among the other colonial powers to encourage the construction of artificial communities for their bellicose interests, where for example between 1885 and 1912, three allegedly martial races (Sikh, Gurkha, and Rajput) played an increasingly important role in the British Indian Army.109

The Austro-Hungarians, famous for their “army of many nations,” had a regimental system that was quite open and adaptable to different ethnical groups.110 However, only after the invasion of Bosnia-Herzegovina 1878 and the recruitment of the Bosnians did the colonial concepts of “martial races” jump inside the Habsburg military. The Bosniaken, though militarily very capable, remained during the whole period of their service a foreign and exotic fighting entity for the imperial authorities and general public, mainly due to their alien/oriental nature.111 The same approach was visible with the Albanian units, where the majority of the k. u. k. troops were instructed to treat the Albanians differently, not for political reasons, but also due to their socio-anthropological peculiarities and alleged proclivity for war.112 According to the General Staff officer and military historian Hugo Kerchnawe:

It is understandable that, under these circumstances, efforts were made to use the human resources of the country for purely martial purposes, rather than as a liberator, as an ally, while at the same time meeting the warlike wishes of the population. This way, we pacified the troubling elements and used them wherever. They could express their warlike spirit in an expedient manner, especially at the front.113

These characteristics, along with other minor elements such as the use of ideological mechanisms to motivate the troops (support of the Albanian nationalism) and distinctive elements of racism, point to the idea that the Albanian troops under the k. u. k. army went through a transformative process that aimed their evolution (purposely or not) into a quasi-colonial unit more than a national and independent army. Despite the fact that these military processes are very similar with the Bosnian counterpart and other colonial regiments of the time, the answer remains to the basic question (was this an imperial force or a colonial one) inconclusive due to the short lifespan of this “military experiment,” which came to an end with the end of the war.

Archival Sources

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Vienna (ÖStA)

Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (ÖHHStA)

Politisches Archiv (PA I): k. 66, 936.

Kriegsarchiv (KA)

Neue Feldakten (NFA): HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, k. 10, 68.

KK XIX. Korps., k. 2574.


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Watson, Alexander. The Fortress: The Great Siege of Przemysl. London: Penguin Books, 2019.

Williamson Jr., Samuel R. Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1991.

Yıldız, Gültekin. Neferin Adı Yok: Zorunlu Askerliğe Geçiş Sürecinde Osmanlı Devleti’nde Siyaset, Ordu ve Toplum (1826–1839) [The soldier doesn`t have a name: Politics, army and society in the Ottoman Empire in the transitory process of conscription (1826–1839)] Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2009.

1 Ludendorff, Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914–November 1918, 142.

2 Stone, The Eastern Front 1914–1917, 155.

3 Ibid., 156–57.

4 See Clark, Sleepwalkers, 99–118.

5 For a concise explanation of Conrad’s preemptive war strategy, see Williamson Jr., Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, 50–51.

6 See Watson, The Fortress.

7 Deak, Beyond Nationalism, 193.

8 Ibid., 194.

9 In regard to the imperial reasons for the recruitment of soldiers from these countries, see the article by Lehnstaedt, “Ein Ende mit Expansion.”

10 Fried, “The Cornerstone of Balkan Power Projection,” 428.

11 Csaplár-Degovics, “The Independence of Albania and the Albanian-Ottoman Relations 1912–1913.”

12 Swire, Albania: The Rise of a Kingdom, 145.

13 Fried, “The Cornerstone of Balkan Power Projection,” 429.

14 At the end of the Balkans Wars, Serbia’s territory expanded by over 80%. See Clark, Sleepwalkers, 99.

15 Fried, “The Cornerstone of Balkan Power Projection,” 434.

16 Bezha, “Austria-Hungary and the Albanian project,” 139–43.

17 On the imperial activity in Albania, see the book of Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft im Spannungsfeld von Politik und Militär.

18 On the Austro-Hungarian involvement in the Albanian national movement, see Toleva, Der Einfluss Österreich-Ungarns auf die Bildung der albanischen Nation 1896–1908.

19 ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Kral, on July 7, 1914.

20 The mercenary system had indeed a great weakness: when payment came slowly or not at all, mercenaries commonly mutinied, lived off the land, became bandits, or all the three at once; the end result was that the local people always paid the price. Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States ad 990–1990, 83–84.

21 Inalcık, The Status of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch under the Ottomans, 408–10.

22 Yıldız, Neferin Adı Yok, 17–30, 147–49.

23 Örenç, “Albanian Soldiers in The Ottoman Army during the Greek Revolt at 1821,” 505

24 Ibid., 507.

25 One of the most powerful noblemen of Central Albania was Esat Pasa Toptani, who during the Siege of Shkodra in 1913 commanded a disintegrating Ottoman army of 35,000 men, of which 15,000 were ex-Ottoman redif (reservist) soldiers, mainly Albanians. Vlora, Kujtime, 81.

26 Another example from northern Albania was the tribal leader and later King of Albania Ahmet Bey Zogolli (Zogu), who had under his command a band of 2,000 armed soldiers from his area of influence and origin, the Mati region. Heaton-Armstrong, The Six Month Kingdom, 92.

27 Yıldız, Neferin Adı Yok, 147–49.

28 Örenç, “Albanian Soldiers in The Ottoman Army during the Greek Revolt at 1821,” 506.

29 Erdem, “‘Perfidious Albanians’ and ‘Zealous Governors’,” 215.

30 Heaton-Armstrong, The Six Month Kingdom, 90.

31 Beaujour, Voyage militaire dans l’Empire Othoman, 347–49.

32 Pollo, Historia e Shqipërisë, 129–30.

33 ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Löwenthal and Kral in Durazzo, to Pallavicini in Istanbul, on July 23, 1914.

34 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Kral from Durazzo to MdÄ, on July 25, 1914.

35 ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Kral, on July 26, 1914.

36 After the assassination of the Thronfolger, Vienna pressed without success the Albanian Crown to renounce the position of neutrality by joining the war against Serbia. ÖHHStA PA I/66, MdÄ to Macchio, on 19.8.1914.

37 Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, October 18, 1907. See the online version https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/INTRO/195. Last accessed on March 31, 2022.

38 ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Kral, on July 28, 1914.

39 ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to AOK officer Hranilovic, on July 29, 1914.

40 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Report for the AOK to MdÄ (with title: Albanian leaders, who worked against Serbia, during the Austrian-Serbian war), on September 28, 1916.

41 By August 5, 1914, nine crates of explosives and around 500,000 cartridges were shipped from Pola, of which 200,000 were of caliber 7.9mm for the Mauser rifle, while the rest were of caliber 7.65mm for the Turkish Mauser rifles. ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Kral, on August 5, 1914.

42 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Halla to MdÄ, on July 29, 1914.

43 ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Kral, on August 6, 1914.

44 Lieutenant Colonel Spaits arrived in Albania on August 14, thus delaying even more the operation. ÖHHStA PA I/936, Halla to MdÄ, on August 11, 1914.

45 The peasant rebellion in central Albania in 1914–1915 was organized by Muslim peasants who opposed the nomenclature of a Christian European prince like Wilhelm zu Wied as the ruler of the country. With the motto “Dum Babën” (we want our father), they sought the reestablishment of the Sultan’s rule in Albania.

46 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Kral to Berchtold and the Evidenzbüro (AOK), on September 18, 1914.

47 ÖHHStA PA I/936, AOK to Berchtold, on November 16, 1914.

48 ÖHHStA PA I/936, AOK to MdÄ, on September 8, 1915.

49 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Löwenthal to MdÄ, on August 12, 1914.

50 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Kral to MdÄ, on August 12, 1914.

51 ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Löwenthal, on August 29, 1914.

52 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Kral to Berchtold and Evidenzbüro (AOK), on September 18, 1914. Letter nr.1 from Lieutenant colonel Spaits reporting from Bicaj on September 10, 1914.

53 There is no real account of the total sum of the expenses for the operation, but the sources indicate that between the period of July 29, 1914 and September 6, 1914, Consul Kral had spent some 45,046 Kronen for the upkeep of the mercenary army, while Consul Halla had spent around 17,128. ÖHHStA PA I/936, MdÄ to Evidenzbüro (AOK) and Kral, on September 22, 1914.

54 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Kral to Berchtold and Evidenzbüro (AOK), on September 18, 1914. Letter nr.2 from Lieutenant colonel Spaits reporting from Bicaj on September 10, 1914.

55 ÖHHStA PA I/936, Halla to Spaits, on September 30, 1914.

56 ÖStA KA, NFA, HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, K. 10, December 16, 1915 (Op. Nr. 8166).

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 ÖStA KA, NFA HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, K. 10, December 19, 1915 (Op.nr. 19280).

60 Ibid.

61 ÖStA KA, NFA HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, K. 10, December 20, 1914 (Op.nr. 964).

62 Ibid.

63 ÖStA KA, NFA, KK XIX. Korps, K. 2574, February 1, 1916.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 ÖStA KA, NFA, HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, K.10, December 26, 1915 (Op.nr. 8417).

67 ÖStA KA, NFA, HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, K 10, December 22, 1915.

68 Pollman, Baron Ferenc Nopcsa’s Participation in the Albanian Military Campaign, 167–86.

69 ÖStA KA, NFA, HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, K. 10, December 26, 1915 (Op. Nr. 8417).

70 Valkov, When Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary were Neighbors, 240–59.

71 ÖStA KA, NFA, KK XIX. Korps, K. 2574, without date.

72 ÖStA KA, NFA, KK XIX. Korps, K. 2574, January 26, 1916.

73 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft im Spannungsfeld von Politik und Militär, 499–500.

74 ÖStA KA, NFA, HHK AK 3. Armee OPAK, K.68, January 21, 1916 (Op. Nr. 739).

75 ÖStA KA, NFA, KK XIX. Korps, K. 2574, February 1, 1916.

76 Ibid.

77 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft im Spannungsfeld von Politik und Militär, 501.

78 Ibid. 502.

79 Csaplár-Degovics, “Komandanti I Djelmenise Shqiptare,” 112–77.

80 Ibid.

81 Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg (v.4), 80. The authors of this officious war account put the term in quotation marks themselves.

82 Kerchnawe, “Die Militärverwaltung in Montenegro und Albanien,” 289–91.

83 Šuško, Bosniaks & Loyalty, 535.

84 San Nicolo, Verwaltung Albaniens, 83.

85 Kerchnawe, “Die Militärverwaltung in Montenegro und Albanien,” 291.

86 Schwanke, “Zur Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Militärverwaltung in Albanien,” 404.

87 Scheer, Zwischen Front und Heimat, 178.

88 Kerchnawe, “Die Militärverwaltung in Montenegro und Albanien,” 289–91.

89 Schwanke, “Zur Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Militärverwaltung in Albanien,” 404.

90 Ibid., 405–11.

91 San Nicolo, Verwaltung Albaniens, 92–94.

92 Ibid., 94.

93 Schwanke, “Zur Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Militärverwaltung in Albanien,” 408.

94 Scheer, Zwischen Front und Heimat, 181.

95 Ibid.

96 See the book by Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft im Spannungsfeld von Politik und Militär.

97 According to international law, between 1870 and 1945, dependency came in three forms: colonies, protectorates, and mandate territories. Fieldhouse, Colonialism, 16–19.

98 ÖHHStA PA I/66, MdÄ to Macchio, on August 19, 1914.

99 Fried, “The Cornerstone of Balkan Power Projection,” 431.

100 Ibid.

101 Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg (v.4), 80.

102 Bezha, “Austria-Hungary and the Albanian project,” 139–43.

103 One of these figures was also Isa Boletini, who for a certain period of his life served in the Sultan’s royal guard in Istanbul. See Blumi, Reinstating the Ottomans, 145–46.

104 Pollo, Historia e Shqipërisë, 129–30.

105 For a comprehensive analyzes of the colonial French Armée d’Afrique, see Clayton, France, Soldiers and Africa.

106 The closest case of similarity with the Albanian one is the replacement of the precolonial Moghul military system of Mansabdari with the modern British colonial regiments in India. See Roy, Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia, 45–120.

107 As an example, we can recall the badge of the Gurkha units, symbolized by two crossed Nepalese daggers (kukri) under the British lion or imperial crown. One could also think of the Sikh uniforms, which are a mixture of the British ones and the famous turban as headgear.

108 The Martial Race theory was partly the product of an anthropological quest by the British civilian and military officers. They engaged in ethnology, which meant the study of racial physiognomy and ethnography and the study of social customs. See Chene, “Military Ethnology in British India,” 121–22.

109 Roy, “The Construction of Regiments in the Indian Army,” 130.

110 Scheer, “Habsburg Languages at War,” 62–78.

111 The representation and conversion of the ex-Muslim enemy into the proud, loyal, and exotic warrior of the empire was an academic invention of anthropologists such as Solomon Friedrich Krauss, who was commissioned to travel and document epic songs and other ethnographical sources in Bosnia by Vienna’s Anthropological Society. At the same time, the new image of the Muslim Bosnians was put forward by the army as a P.R. stunt for the general public with the purpose of demonstrating that the empire was on par with other colonial military forces, such as the French Foreign Legion or the British Indian Imperial Army. See Cordileone, “Swords into Souvenirs,” 169–70.

112 Most officials were completely unfamiliar with the situation in Albania. The corps command had to hold its own instruction courses, which were based on a brochure written by the Albanian missionary Lovro Mihacević in 1906, Tribal Structure, Norms, and Customs of the Albanians.” The brochure stated that the Albanians had to be viewed differently, because even if the Albanian has plenty of weapons and ammunition and likes to shoot, he does not do it with malicious intent, but rather to show that he has a weapon.” Schwanke, “Zur Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Militärverwaltung in Albanien,” 415.

113 Kerchnawe, “Die Militärverwaltung in Montenegro und Albanien,” 289.



Nationalizing Habsburg Regimental Tradition in Interwar Czechoslovakia

Kevin J. Hoeper
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):169-204 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.169

In interwar Czechoslovakia, the construction of a well-founded military establishment was a core component of the state building process. Reflecting broader trends across the post-imperial, particularly post-Habsburg space, Czechoslovak state builders deployed a rhetoric of radical military transformation predicated in part on a rejection of the imperial military legacy. As this article shows, however, certain elements of Habsburg military tradition survived the transition from empire to nation-state. Focusing on the legacy of Bohemia’s old Habsburg regiments, I argue that “imperial” military tradition could be adapted for use in the new republic through a process of selective reimagining. During the interwar period, regimental groups consisting of Czech-speaking Habsburg veterans dedicated considerable time and energy to the project of “nationalizing” Habsburg regimental tradition. By emphasizing the historically Czech character of their former regiments within the broader Habsburg military establishment, these veterans’ groups provided a means by which Bohemia’s old imperial regiments could be incorporated, conceptually, into prevailing interwar narratives of Czech military heritage.
Keywords: Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, military tradition, veterans, regiment

On March 25, 1936, President Edvard Beneš addressed members of the Czechoslovak 5th Infantry Regiment with a speech on “military tradition and its meaning for our armed forces.”1 Every army, he began, requires a sense of tradition, which “undergirds the soldier’s self-confidence, strengthens his sense of self, and, at the decisive moment, his courage and bravery.” Beneš then offered his listeners a litany of the Czech nation’s martial heroes. He began with the warrior kings of medieval Bohemia, who “strengthened our once independent state and won it a proper position of power in Europe.” Next, he continued on to the fifteenth-century Hussites, who had resisted the “political oppression” of the Holy Roman Empire. Then, skipping forward in time, he brought up the Czechoslovak “Legionnaires,” who had fought with the Allies against the Central Powers during World War I. With these three eras in mind, Beneš confidently claimed that “our army, though young, already has a rich and old martial tradition.”

Conspicuously absent in this litany were five centuries of history during which the lands of Czechoslovakia had been part of the Habsburg empire and had contributed countless soldiers to its armies. At the end of his speech, Beneš meditated aloud on these soldiers’ proper place in Czechoslovak tradition. They were “sons of our nation,” Beneš conceded, but because they had served in “foreign armies” when “we did not have our own state,” these sons “did not belong to us.” Belonging to the emperor, these warriors of the past were unsuitable “for national and state tradition,” regardless of their personal bravery or soldierly competence. In Czechoslovakia, Beneš explained, the army should only draw inspiration from warriors of the past who had fought out of “zeal for a separate state community.” The Hussites and Legionnaires met these criteria, while the nation’s sons who had donned Habsburg uniforms did not.

Beneš’s speech illustrates a central problem of military tradition in interwar Czechoslovakia: how should the historical deeds of Czech Habsburg soldiers be interpreted? But it also elucidates a vital point about “military tradition” more broadly. Since states and armies do not officially celebrate every aspect of their past, military tradition is not synonymous with military history. Military tradition is better understood in processual terms as the careful curation of military history—the lifting up of certain eras or episodes and the downplaying of others.2 In this way, the cultivation of military tradition creates a useable version of the past that is then instantiated by an army’s symbols, ceremonies, and customs. Ultimately designed to convey a certain set of desired values, the cultivation of military tradition is thus sensitive to changing societal attitudes, political ideals, and cultural conceptions of service and sacrifice. In the multinational Habsburg empire, official military tradition conveyed a vision of the past that emphasized service to the dynasty and loyalty to the empire above any one nation. When the empire collapsed in 1918, the history of its “supranational” army had little resonance in the new (or newly enlarged) “nation-states” of East-Central Europe. While Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Romania all resorted in varying degrees to the integration of formerly Habsburg officers and the repurposing of Habsburg military structures, there was little impetus in these states to celebrate such continuities in the realm of official tradition.3 Instead, evoking memories of the Habsburg army as an oppressive, “denationalizing” institution and explaining the need for radical military transformation, politicians and defense officials promised to build armies that were “brand-new and pristinely national.”4

If, as the dominant contemporary paradigm would have it, historical development culminated in the eclipse of empire and the emergence of nation-states, then official military tradition would be designed to celebrate those who had fought and died in service of this project. In Poland, for example, recently reconstituted after centuries of partition, the Poles’ long history of service in the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, and Romanov armies was sidelined in favor of more recent history, namely, Poland’s post-1918 border conflicts with Ukraine and the Soviet Union. Fought in defense of the reunified Polish state by soldiers in Polish uniform, these conflicts had a “national meaning” that was “undisputed.”5 The situation was somewhat different in Yugoslavia, which brought together into a single state the Habsburgs’ former South Slav territories and the preexisting Kingdom of Serbia. Many saw the Serbian army as the chief instrument by which this “liberation and unification” of the South Slavs had been achieved. By adopting the Serbian army’s prestigious mantle and many of its institutions and cultural assumptions, the Yugoslav army found little need to integrate the history of South Slav soldiers in Habsburg uniform into the narrative of its history, function, and future.6

The creation of new national military traditions and the obfuscation of Habsburg military legacies were thus important aspects of the nation-state project in East-Central Europe. As the speech by Beneš shows, Czechoslovakia was no exception. As one scholar has even suggested, it was in Czechoslovakia that the break with the imperial military past was pursued most vigorously.7 Yet the study of Czechoslovak military tradition also reveals countervailing attempts to reclaim certain elements of the imperial military inheritance. Importantly, the same language of nation used to reject the Habsburg military past could also be used to reclaim parts of it. As this article shows, this occurred primarily at the regimental level. In other words, while the history of the Habsburg army proved difficult to incorporate, the history of its Czech-speaking regiments could be rewritten from a more national perspective and made to fit the needs of Czechoslovak military tradition. This “nationalization” of Habsburg regimental history thus offered a subtle means by which to reclaim a useable Czech military inheritance from the wreckage of the multinational empire.

As we shall see, this project had supporters and opponents in interwar Czechoslovakia owing to the ambiguous legacy of the empire’s Czech-speaking regiments. Therefore, we will begin in the late Habsburg era and examine two parallel discourses surrounding army regiments: one in which they served as vehicles for imperial propaganda and a second that framed certain regiments as “national” institutions. Next, we will look at the complex history of Czech-speaking regiments during World War I and their eventual deployment, under the Czechoslovak flag, in the young republic’s postwar border conflicts. The second part of the article then tackles the development of Czechoslovak military tradition. Here, we focus in particular on regimental veterans’ groups, which served as the chief interlocutors and translators of Habsburg regimental history for a Czech national audience. Part three concludes with an investigation of the process by which the Czechoslovak army eventually adopted the history of the empire’s Czech-speaking regiments as its own.

Between Nation and Empire: Czech-Speaking Regiments in the Habsburg Army

In the late Habsburg empire, military tradition served the needs of imperial state building. In 1867, after two unsuccessful wars and an ensuing political crisis, the Habsburg empire split into two separate halves: “Austria” and “Hungary.”8 While continuing to recognize the monarchical authority of the Habsburg dynasty, the two halves of “Austria-Hungary” were now legislatively and administratively independent of each other, with both halves having an elected parliament and governing cabinet. One of the few empire-wide institutions to survive this split was the Austro-Hungarian “Joint Army,”9 which continued to recruit soldiers from both halves of the monarchy and which was overseen by the Imperial War Ministry in Vienna. Many elites, such as Archduke Albrecht, thus touted the army as the “last cohesive ligament of the split-up monarchy.”10 Military tradition became an important arena for instantiating this claim, and the final third of the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of interest in military Traditionspflege (the cultivation of tradition).11 Military symbols and celebrations conveyed a vision of the past that emphasized the army’s historical devotion to the Habsburg dynasty and the unified Habsburg “Fatherland.” Some tradition projects, such as the rechristening of Vienna’s armory collection as the more ambitious “Army Museum” in 1891, aimed at a broad civilian audience.12

Within the military, this project of renewal-through-tradition manifested primarily at the regimental level. This is unsurprising since, as one commentator wrote in 1861, “the history of our army lies in its regiments; in the individual regiments reside the elements of that immense moral force which is called the spirit of the Austrian army.”13 While the regiment had always been a pillar of Habsburg army culture, conscious efforts to cultivate regimental tradition increased dramatically in the late nineteenth century. Alongside its customary function as the focus of soldiers’ collective military identity, the regiment took on a second, more overtly political function. As another commentator observed during this period, regimental tradition projects contributed to the army’s goal of creating not just “internally competent warriors,” but also “loyal, contented subjects” inoculated against the “corrosive influence of modern subversive ideas.”14

One indicator of the regiment’s growing importance in the late nineteenth century is the upsurge in published regimental histories, since, to fulfill their dual military and political functions, regiments needed to codify their own mythical pasts.15 As the Vienna War Archive journal proclaimed in its inaugural 1876 issue,

there is hardly any means more suitable for lifting the military spirit, for invigorating the most noble warrior virtues—love of Kaiser and Fatherland, loyalty to the flag, courage, and willingness to sacrifice—than a glance backward on the glorious past of the unit to which the soldier belongs as a family member…16

The same article then provided practical guidelines on the style, content, and structure of an ideal regimental history. With this sort of technical support and subsidized printing costs at court publishing houses,17 Austria-Hungary saw 198 new regimental histories published between 1860 and 1906, compared with only 24 in the preceding half decade.18 To supplement these tomes, which were usually written in German (the army’s official language of command), many regiments published abridged versions for use by the common soldier. Written in the soldiers’ native languages and focusing on acts of bravery by the humble infantryman, these volumes were often distributed to soldiers to mark special regimental occasions, such as the dedication of a new battle flag.19 As one commentator wrote in 1899, presenting soldiers with this sort of material offered a necessary corrective to public-school education, which the author considered overly fixated on local or national affairs. It was through army and regimental history, he argued, that soldiers would be exposed to “real history,” that is, “the history of the whole monarchy” (Gesammt-Monarchie).20 If, as many hoped, the army was to become a true “school of the peoples,” then its regiments would be the classrooms.21

Yet while military elites idealized the regiment as an engine of imperial patriotism, there existed a parallel discourse in which the regiment embodied local or regional particularisms.22 The origins of this discourse lay in the late eighteenth century, during which Austria’s regiments were “territorialized,” that is, tied to specific recruiting districts. Thus, by the late nineteenth century, many Bohemian regions had been home to the same regiment for nearly a century. The 35th Infantry Regiment, for example, had made its home in the city of Plzeň since 1771.23 To be sure, for most of the nineteenth century, the army purposely stationed most regiments far from their home districts.24 Nevertheless, these units saw generations of local men pass through their ranks, and as a result, they often became popular symbols of local or regional identity. Both inside and outside the ranks, colorful nicknames like the 28th Regiment’s Pražské děti (Children of Prague) expressed the local character of particular units.

The territorialized nature of Habsburg regiments also tended to give them certain ethnolinguistic profiles. By 1914, the Bohemian lands were home to around forty infantry regiments, a few of which were quite homogeneous. Examples here include the mostly Czech-speaking 102nd and mostly German-speaking 73rd from south-central and northwestern Bohemia, respectively. But most Bohemian regiments, especially those recruited from districts along the Czech-German “language frontier,” included both Czech-speaking and German-speaking soldiers in varying ratios.25 Even in these “mixed” regiments, administrators tried to organize soldiers into linguistically homogeneous subunits (i.e., battalions or companies). By requiring soldiers to select their preferred language and then organizing them accordingly, this practice encouraged soldiers to think of themselves in increasingly national terms.26 This policy also affected public perception of local regiments. As Tamara Scheer has argued, regiments were often “not regarded publicly as Habsburg supra-national entities, but were identified by their regimental languages as, for example, Czech, German, or Hungarian.”27 For Bohemia’s mixed regiments, this sort of national coding proved more complex. South Bohemia’s 75th Regiment, comprising about 80 percent Czech speakers and 20 percent German speakers, provides an interesting example. When the regiment received a new battle flag in 1912, the ceremony included a rendition of the Czech national hymn “Kde domov můj” (Where is My Homeland?) by the regimental band. But later, at a luncheon for military and civilian VIPs, one speaker pointed out that “both of the local district’s nationalities serve in the home regiment.” He continued by expressing hope that “the harmony of both nations represented in the regiment should shine as an example for the harmony of both nations inhabiting our beautiful homeland.”28 In this way, people often discussed Habsburg regiments, whether homogeneous or mixed, in terms of their “national” profile.

These parallel discourses of the regiment—as embodiments of empire or nation—were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Even among military intellectuals, some suggested that celebrating regiments’ national character strengthened their ability to popularize imperial patriotism at the local level.29 Regimental ceremonies, popular fixtures of the festival calendar, lend credence to this argument. In 1883, for example, Mladá Boleslav’s Czech-speaking 36th Regiment marked its 200th jubilee with an extravagant, weekend-long ceremony. In a printed address prior to the event, the city’s mayor encouraged citizens to help celebrate their “homeland regiment,” which “has our sons [and] our brothers in its ranks.”30 On the day of the jubilee, inhabitants responded eagerly to the mayor’s call and thronged the streets in their thousands. Some adorned their homes with banners reading “To the success of the 36th Regiment!” and “God bless the arms of our regiment!”31 Crown Prince Rudolf attended the event, having served with the 36th from 1878 to 1880, and his presence lent it an air of imperial majesty. The nationally oriented regional newspaper Jizeran responded well to the event, noting that “our people [lid] has merged with the military to such an extent that it took this military celebration as its own and made it into a national celebration.” At night, the report continued, “a national celebration in the truest sense of the word” took place. Fueled by music from the regimental band and beer dispensed at tents for each of the regiment’s companies, soldiers and civilians celebrated well into the night.32 Public celebrations of this kind demonstrated the regiment’s capacity to embody local and national pride within an overarching imperial framework.

At the same time, particularly in the immediate prewar decades, Czech-speaking regiments increasingly found themselves the subjects of controversy. Around the turn of the century, Bohemia’s increasingly polarized nationality politics induced bouts of public unrest during which Czech-speaking formations sometimes refused orders to pacify protestors.33 In 1898, Prague’s 28th Regiment also generated controversy after three of its reservists responded to their commanding officer with the Czech word zde (present) rather than the prescribed German response hier at an annual muster. This provocation, for which the soldiers in question received two days’ confinement, became a cause célèbre for Czech politicians, who, by vigorously defending the accused, sought to solidify their nationalist credentials among the voting public.34 During partial army mobilizations in 1908 and 1912 intended to cow neighboring Serbia, several Czech-speaking formations refused to board troop trains and were declared to be in a state of mutiny. Motivating factors here included pan-Slavist sentiment—that is, antipathy toward war with the “brother” nation of Serbia—as well as local squabbles between Czech-speaking and German-speaking soldiers.35 Yet while soldiers usually held back from criticizing the empire or dynasty, per se, military officials increasingly associated Czech-speaking regiments with disloyalty and disobedience.

The outbreak of war in 1914 sharpened these suspicions. In the spring of 1915 on the eastern front, significant elements of Prague’s 28th and Mladá Boleslav’s 36th Regiment allegedly deserted en masse to Russian lines. At the time, military investigators explained this behavior as a function of the Czech soldier’s inherent disloyalty, and, after two centuries of service, both historic units were disbanded. But as recent scholarship has shown, these “mass desertions” often had less to do with nationalism or disloyalty and much more to do with poor logistics and planning, which left the accused regiments in untenable military positions.36 Indeed, it was the military’s overzealous reaction to these events that tended to sharpen soldiers’ national grievances. One method used by the military involved reducing the percentage of Czech speakers in individual units. This meant assigning new recruits not to their local regiments, but to supposedly more “dependable” ones—usually German-speaking or Hungarian-speaking units.37 Reducing the proportion of Czech-speaking soldiers also meant diluting traditionally Czech-dominated units. In 1914, for example, Čáslav’s 21st Regiment was 80 percent Czech-speaking, but by 1918, this figure had dropped to 75 percent.38 This experiment often had unintended consequences. Assigning soldiers to regiments dominated by speakers of a different language tended to exaggerate their perceptions of national difference, which were even further inflamed in the later war years, as worsening supplies caused some to associate access to provisions (or lack thereof) with certain national groups.39 Nevertheless, in spite of mass casualties, dwindling supplies, continued outbreaks of insubordination, and the intensification of rank-and-file nationalism, Czech-speaking regiments proved themselves generally capable. This was particularly true on the Italian front, where pan-Slavist critiques of the war had less purchase.40 In 1917, the Italian 3rd Army issued a report to subcommanders warning them not to assume that Slavic units would present easy targets. The report mentioned Czechs in particular, noting that they “defend themselves with unrivaled tenacity and would rather let themselves be killed in the trenches […] than surrender.”41 By one account, soldiers of south Bohemia’s 91st Regiment had a particularly fearsome reputation among the Italians, earning them the nickname “Green Devils” on account of their green regimental facings.42

In October 1918, as the empire reached its breaking point and national governments began to emerge across the Habsburg imperial space, these new states’ competing territorial claims led to new conflicts. In Prague, the new government faced a German separatist movement in the western borderlands, Polish claims to the contested city of Těšín, and a Hungary determined to hold its Slovak territories. In desperate need of troops, Prague made extensive use of Czech-speaking Habsburg formations returning from the front. In a few cases, entire Habsburg regiments escaped the collapsing front in good order and placed themselves at Prague’s disposal. Such was the case for west Bohemia’s 88th Regiment, for example. During its return voyage from the Balkan front, the regiment’s Czech-speaking personnel deposed their commander and elected a reserve officer to take his place. Swapping their Habsburg army badges for cockades in the red-white colors of Bohemia, they also decided to part ways with their German-speaking regimental comrades and proceed as a “Czech” regiment in the service of the new government.43 In other instances, like that of the 75th, the brunt of the field regiment fell captive during the Italians’ last-minute Vittorio Veneto offensive.44 In such cases, only the regiments’ reserve battalions made it home, where they then served as skeleton formations for the construction of new field units.

Whatever the specific circumstances, these formerly Habsburg units came to comprise the so-called “domestic army” and, with orders from Prague, they helped pacify the German separatist borderlands. By December 1918, elements of the Czechoslovak Legions began to trickle home and join the “domestic army” in the field. After a brief showdown with Polish troops over the fate of Těšín, this composite Habsburg-Legionnaire army deployed to Slovakia, which had been claimed by both Prague and Budapest. The 1919 battle for Slovakia pitted the ad hoc Czechoslovak forces against a relatively well-organized Hungarian army and, while the conflict was ultimately decided in Czechoslovakia’s favor by Allied intervention, the campaign nevertheless exposed severe organizational weaknesses in the improvised Habsburg-Legionnaire army. Through the winter of 1919–20, in an attempt to place the improvised army on a more permanent organizational footing, the Czechoslovak Ministry of National Defense oversaw a process of army “unification.”45 During this process, fifty-one formerly Habsburg regiments amalgamated with twenty-one formerly Legionnaire regiments to form forty-eight brand-new Czechoslovak regiments.46 For the remainder of the interwar period, these forty-eight units, with institutional origins in the regiments of old Austria, formed the main combat branch of the Czechoslovak army.

As we have seen in this first section, the history of the Habsburg empire’s Czech-speaking regiments is one of ambiguity. On the one hand, regimental tradition became an important vehicle for Habsburg “Fatherland” propaganda in the late nineteenth century. Yet these same regiments often became equally important embodiments of Czech national pride at the local level. Within the ranks, regimental linguistic practice tended to increase soldiers’ sense of national self-identification, while controversial acts of insubordination—and their politicization by Czech nationalist parties—earned Czech-speaking regiments a reputation as “unreliable.” The war introduced its own ambiguities. Highly publicized instances of “mass desertion” seemed to confirm military elites’ worst suspicions regarding Czech-speaking regiments, even as some of these units proved to be model combat formations. Finally, in 1918 and 1919, formerly imperial regiments provided a central element of Prague’s improvised national army and, after 1920, the institutional basis of the permanent Czechoslovak army itself. Embodying both empire and nation, the old Czech-speaking regiments of the Habsburg army created interpretive controversy in the new republic.

War Veterans and the Nationalization of Habsburg Regimental History

Like their Habsburg counterparts several decades earlier, Czechoslovak state builders understood the political benefits of a well-articulated body of military tradition. While official Habsburg military tradition conveyed a historical vision of loyalty to dynasty and Fatherland, the nascent Czechoslovak army was to embody the principles of democracy and national self-determination that had legitimized the Republic’s creation. Thus, the army looked to the wartime Czechoslovak Legions as its chief wellspring of historical identity.47 First organized in 1914 by émigré Czechs living in Russia and later bolstered by Czech-speaking and Slovak-speaking volunteers from Russian POW camps, the Legionnaire units eventually saw service with the French, Italian, and Russian armies. Having taken up arms against the empire during the World War, the Legionnaires best exemplified Czech national resistance to Habsburg rule and were widely understood as having played the key role in securing Czechoslovak independence. In popular culture, the Legions were also seen as the direct predecessors to the postwar Czechoslovak army.48 In a process Martin Zückert has labeled the “state invention of military tradition,” the Ministry of National Defense created a number of memory institutions to cultivate this mythology.49 New army traditions such as holidays, unit designations, and the uniforms of the Prague Castle honor guard were designed to reflect the army’s Legionnaire origins.50 For a civilian audience, the Legionnaire veterans became paragons of citizenship and masculinity, and their privileged “national warrior” status was underscored by public commemoration, political access, and generous social benefits.51

The state’s invention of Czechoslovak military tradition thus promulgated an exclusive vision of Czech military identity. The Czech soldier worthy of emulation was one who had striven for political independence and who had resisted foreign (i.e., “Habsburg”) domination. The 1935 speech by President Beneš that opened this article made essentially the same claim. The Czech soldier in Habsburg uniform may have been a competent warrior, but he had not contributed to the project of Czech independence as had, for example, the Legionnaires or Hussites. Embedded within this distinction was a state-centric, teleological understanding of history in which the struggle for statehood gave conceptual unity to an otherwise disjointed Czech military identity. Thus, in terms of official tradition, the centuries of Czech service in the Habsburg military became something of a historical black hole.

In this context of institutional amnesia, custodianship of Habsburg regimental history passed into the hands of Habsburg war veterans. Numbering at least one million, Czechoslovakia’s Habsburg veterans were a socially, politically, and ethnolinguistically diverse population with an equally diverse range of veterans’ groups. Some veterans’ groups organized on the basis of a specific political ideology, while others relied on a shared sense of unique victimhood (there were, for example, groups for war invalids and former POWs).52 Of interest here are those veterans who continued to value their Habsburg regimental affiliations and participated in veterans’ groups based on these shared identities.

The Czech regimental veterans’ movement can be roughly divided into two phases, coterminous with the two interwar decades. During the 1920s, Czech regimental groups were small, few in number, and disunified. Early examples include groups dedicated to Prague’s 28th and Mladá Boleslav’s 36th. At this point, though, Czech regimental groups paled in comparison to those of German-speaking veterans centered primarily in north Bohemia.53 Wary of these German groups in particular, some military officials requested a ban on regimental organizing. After the administration refrained from a general ban, both Czech and German regimental groups were permitted to operate, though under government observation (see section three). Still, the number and size of Czech regimental groups remained low. This lack of interest, which was mostly self-imposed among Czech-speaking veterans, changed dramatically around the late 1920s. As historian Jiří Hutečka has suggested, the worldwide economic depression caused many veterans to lose their jobs and breadwinner status, which encouraged many to reappraise their wartime service in search of a lost sense of masculine pride. Simultaneously, the rise of Nazi Germany and the threat of another major war encouraged many Czech-speaking veterans to position themselves as sage witnesses to the last great European conflict.54

This conceptual sea change resulted in an explosion of Czech Habsburg regimental groups. In south Bohemia, veterans of the 75th Regiment established an organization in 1932 that by 1936 had grown to 1,347 members and eight local chapters.55 Veterans of the 102nd Regiment, meanwhile, organized a large association that eventually included 24 local chapters and 3,467 members.56 This association even published its own monthly newsletter, Stodruhák (One-hundred-seconder). Western Bohemia’s 88th Regiment also saw efforts to organize veterans. In 1934, the group’s first annual reunion was attended by around 1,000 former 88ers, and within a few years the 88th Regiment association had several local chapters and a central administrative group in Prague. The 75th, 88th, and 102nd regimental groups are the most well-documented, but certainly not the only ones, and around a dozen Czech regimental groups cropped up throughout Czechoslovakia during this period. A particularly important development for the Czech regimental veterans’ movement was the creation of an umbrella federation, the Kamarádské sjednocení (Comradeship Union), in 1935. Uniting some half dozen Czech regimental groups, including the 75th and 88th groups mentioned above, the Union also put out a monthly (later bi-monthly) journal called Kamarádství (Comradeship), which served the regimental veterans’ movement as a central discussion forum.57 By printing associational news and excerpts of regimental history from the union’s many subordinate associations, Kamarádství not only encouraged the creation of additional regimental groups, but also helped weld diverse regimental narratives into a well-articulated and relatively coherent veterans’ discourse.

This sort of organizing, based on shared regimental affiliation, reflected specific impulses and concerns, which in turn produced a unique sort of veterans’ activism. For one, regimental organizing reflected a desire to socialize among former comrades. While veterans’ groups of all stripes referenced “comradeship” ubiquitously, it often served as a byword for an idealized “frontline” experience in which social, political, and religious differences had ostensibly disappeared in the face of mortal danger.58 Within the regimental movement, though, “comradeship” took on a more concrete meaning. Regimental comrades were often those with whom one had shared trench sectors or, as one German-language regimental history put it, “the last bite, the last sip.”59 As a Czech-speaking veteran wrote for Kamarádství in 1933, regimental comrades who had served at different points in the war or in separate companies nevertheless shared an indelible regimental bond: “membership in the same regiment inspires mutual confidence, even if there had not been any previous acquaintance.”60 This was especially important since many regiments, with a full combat strength of around 4,000 men and officers, saw four or five times that number of men pass through their ranks during the war.61

The regiment also framed veterans’ experiences of war, creating highly localized memory communities within which certain names, places, or dates conjured worlds of unique shared images and experiences. Within the 102nd Regiment association, for example, the regiment’s participation in the disastrous crossing of the Drina River on September 8 and 9, 1914, held special significance as a uniquely horrifying experience and became a concrete point of postwar commemoration.62 As a narrative device, the regiment also helped ex-soldiers demystify their disjointed memories of combat. After the war, the writing and reading of regimental war narratives helped the individual veteran contextualize his own role in the wider war by situating the regiment (and thus the ex-soldier himself) within the proper tactical and operational contexts.63 Nearly every regimental veterans’ group engaged in the production of regimental histories, which they published in single-volume books or, more commonly, monthly newsletters. Contributing to regimental histories or newsletters allowed veterans to articulate individualized war experiences within the context of a comprehensible war narrative and a meaningful collective identity that they themselves controlled.

Herein lay the regiment’s most important function for Czech-speaking Habsburg veterans. Unable to claim Legionnaire status and invoke Czechoslovakia’s hegemonic “national warrior” archetype, Habsburg veterans encountered a public culture that ascribed little significance to their wartime sacrifices. This exclusionary war discourse was more than a matter of pride and was in fact inscribed onto Czechoslovakia’s welfare code, with the result that the vast majority of former Habsburg servicemen were not entitled to the same benefits enjoyed by their Legionnaire counterparts.64 When Habsburg veterans did appear in public discourse, their experiences were usually reduced to “forced and senseless suffering” endured while in “foreign service.”65 With Czech-speaking Habsburg veterans trapped between two archetypes—one that was highly desirable but inaccessible and a second that reduced their sacrifices to “senseless suffering”—the ability to craft a unique regimental identity allowed veterans to ascribe significance to their war experiences on their own terms.

In the first issue of Stodruhák, the monthly newsletter of the 102nd Regiment veterans’ association, one of its editors declared that, “it will be up to us to inform the public how our regiment conducted itself during the war and how it contributed to the liberation of our homeland.”66 In addition to the 102nd’s wartime record, the association also inherited responsibility for the regiments’ deeper history, and Stodruhák frequently published pieces by veterans who had served with the peacetime 102nd during the 1880s and 1890s. While the 102nd was a young regiment, only created in 1883, other Czech-speaking regiments had histories that stretched back to the eighteenth and even seventeenth centuries. Regardless of the age of the unit in question, constructing a regiment-based veteran’s identity involved the blending of history and memory, with both subjected to veterans’ collective control and reinterpretation.

That the onus to preserve the history of the 102nd and other Czech-speaking regiments fell on the shoulders of their former members meant that these men also had the freedom, collectively, to shape that history however they pleased. Herein lies the most important factor explaining the nationalization of Habsburg regimental history in interwar Czechoslovakia. Marginalized in a society where wartime service attained real significance only if it had contributed to national liberation, many Habsburg veterans attempted to “link their wartime experience to the story of the victorious Czech nation.”67 While Habsburg army veterans could never attain a “national warrior” status on par with the Legionnaires, they could at least craft useable identities as 28ers, 36ers, 75ers, 88ers, 102ers, etc. As a result, the very people most motivated to cultivate Habsburg regimental history were those who also intended to use their regimental identities for demonstrating the national significance of their forgotten sacrifices.

In other words, by emphasizing certain elements of their units’ prewar, wartime, and postwar histories, veterans hoped to fashion new and thoroughly nationalized regimental identities. Central to this project of reimagination was establishing the historical “Czechness” of certain regiments within the Habsburg military. Veterans asserted that service in Czech-speaking regiments had insulated soldiers against the denationalizing impulses of the wider Habsburg army. A veteran-authored history of the 36th Regiment, published in 1923, argued that the 36th had been a space where there had been no need to hide Czech national sentiment: “The regiment was purely Czech and the ‘lads’ did not have to fear that they would be ratted out, and therefore loosened the reins on their national sentiment at every opportunity.”68 Other veterans argued that the atmosphere of linguistic homogeneity within certain units even helped to “rescue” prodigal Czechs who had been lost to “Germanization.” As an older veteran wrote in 1933, remembering his time in the ranks during the early 1880s: “Within the 102nd regiment, the men were purely Czech up to the rank of sergeant—there might be 1–2 Germans in the company, but these were Germanized sons of Czech families who, in a few short weeks, quickly acclimatized to Czech attitudes and learned [to speak] Czech.”69

In some cases, veterans connected their regiment’s Czechness with local or regional identities. Jan Vošta, chairman of the 75th Regiment association, prefaced a 1936 regimental scrapbook by arguing that the shared south Bohemian heritage of the regiment’s soldiers had helped bind them together during the war. As casualties mounted, he wrote, the 75er at the front had been joined by “his father and his brother […] blood of the same blood, sons of the same part of south Bohemia.”70 Another 75er, in an essay on the regiment’s wartime commander František Schöbl, fondly remembered how Schöbl had once given a speech to the men that began by addressing them as “South Bohemian soldiers, descendants of the Hussites, Seventy-fivers!” The author remembered the speech as an “historical moment” when a “Czech officer, even though in Austrian service, was able to awaken in us a feeling of national and state tradition.”71 Here, the 75th was made a symbol of south Bohemia’s special place within Czech military heritage and an embodiment of the Hussite revolutionary tradition.

Veterans also took care to frame their former regiments as having been bastions of Czech resistance to Habsburg imperial aims. As we saw above, the fin-de-siecle decades’ fraught domestic politics and a series of partial army mobilizations occasioned several instances of mutiny in predominantly Czech-speaking regiments. When the army mobilized in 1908 during the Bosnian Annexation Crisis, for example, elements of the 36th Regiment had been declared in mutiny after soldiers refused to board troop trains. “The incident,” 36er veterans claimed in their 1923 regimental history, “was a welcome opportunity for certain circles to demonstrate their disfavor towards every Czech regiment and ours in particular.”72 In the hands of veterans, of course, the “disfavor” of Habsburg military circles became a badge of national honor. Veterans also mythologized instances where Czech-speaking regiments had refused to carry out internal policing duties against their co-nationals. An older veteran of the 102nd Regiment, remembering his service during the 1890s, celebrated the 102ers’ refusal to use rifle or bayonet against street demonstrators during Prague’s 1897 riots. Thanks to instances like this one, he insisted, “Czech cities liked to see conscious Czech regiments in their garrisons.”73

In addition to these prewar incidents, veterans celebrated acts of national “resistance” during the war itself. Members of the former 75th Infantry Regiment, for example, lionized their subversive role in the famous 1917 battle of Zborov. At Zborov, the Russian army had made use of independent Czechoslovak Legionnaire brigades for the first time, scoring a decisive victory over opposing Habsburg forces—among them the 75th. In Czechoslovakia, the date of the Zborov engagement (July 2) became “Army Day,” a holiday for celebrating the Legionnaires’ contributions to independence and the Legionnaire origins of the new army.74 Hoping to capitalize on the mystique surrounding Zborov, veterans of the 75th Regiment framed their defeat by the Legionnaires as the product of intentional, nationally minded resistance. According to former 75ers, the regiment’s Czech-speaking soldiers had voluntarily ceded their positions at Zborov, allowing themselves to be captured by the attacking Legionnaires without firing a shot, thereby contributing to Legionnaire victory.75

As they reconceptualized their regimental identities and sought to make them more “Czech,” veterans returned again and again to this theme of resistance. Tying together memories of the prewar period and the war itself, veterans commemorated their old regiments as islands of Czech nationalism within the Habsburg military. This narrative strategy was popular because it coincided with the hegemonic ideal of Czech military identity based on anti-Habsburg struggle. But as the example of the 75ers and Zborov illustrates, this strategy often required veterans to embrace a “passive” form of resistance that paled in comparison to more proactive forms of resistance embodied by the Legionnaires. Adopting the resistance narrative meant ceding traditional notions of martial masculinity and embracing such unmilitary acts as desertion, refusal of orders, or willful surrender.76 For most of the 1920s, veterans were willing to make this compromise in order to carve a space for themselves within Czechoslovakia’s official culture of war remembrance. In the 1930s, however, regimental activists were more willing to scour their regiments’ histories for positive examples of Czech military virtue, even if these deeds had been done under the Habsburg banner. Following this impulse, veterans reappraised conflicts of the past in a way that allowed for the occasional confluence of “Czech” with “Habsburg” interests. Regimental histories published during the 1930s, for example, often celebrated the early-modern Habsburg-Ottoman wars as an acceptable collaboration between Czech soldiers and their Habsburg overlords in defense of Europe.77

Rehabilitating memories of the distant past was one thing, but veterans in the 1930s also reconceptualized their regiments’ contributions during the World War itself. Reflecting new emphases on dutiful wartime service was a series of museum exhibitions staged by regimental veterans’ groups in the mid-1930s. Rather than shying away from the Habsburg soldier’s war experience, these exhibitions placed weapons, maps, medals, trophies, and other combat artefacts directly before the Czechoslovak public. A 1936 exhibition put on by veterans of the former 88th Regiment, installed at the Beroun city museum, even included a full-scale replica trench.78 A much larger exhibition staged that same year in Prague brought together individual installations organized by veterans of the 21st, 28th, 36th, 88th, and 102nd Regiments. During its brief run at the Holešovice exhibition grounds, this display of regimental militaria was attended by an estimated 80,000 visitors and was even recommended to active-duty troops by Prague’s garrison commander.79

In addition to the prewar era and the war itself, veterans highlighted the period between October 1918 and the summer of 1919, when their regiments had fought in Czechoslovakia’s brief postwar border conflicts. As Hutečka has argued, this 1918–19 moment was central to the project of reimagining the role of Czech-speaking veterans.80 For those involved in the regimental movement, it was also central to cultivating a national mythology for their old units. As noted in the preface to the 75th Regiment essay collection from 1936,

The question arises: If the 75th Regiment as a whole performed its duty so well throughout the entire duration of the war despite a series of debacles, reestablished and replenished again and again, how would its sons and grandsons perform their duty […] once it was no longer defending a foreign dynasty, but rather, within the framework of the Czechoslovak Republic, its native [home region of] Jindřichův Hradec and Tábor? They gave a clear answer to this question in 1919 at Těšín and in Slovakia[.]81


Here, the 75ers deemphasized the “resistance” model and argued instead that theirs had been a regiment of model martial resilience under the Habsburgs. Even so, they claimed, the regiment’s latent national fervor remained untapped until 1918, when it deployed alongside the Legionnaires in defense of the republic’s threatened borders. For the 75ers—and the regimental veterans’ movement more broadly—the postwar border conflicts came to represent a long-awaited moment of apotheosis when Czech-speaking regiments were finally able to demonstrate their full military potential in pursuit of national rather than “foreign” aims.

Regimental Continuity and Czechoslovak Military Tradition

As we have seen, nationalizing the history of the empire’s Czech-speaking regiments offered Habsburg veterans a means with which to claim their own status as warriors for the nation. To self-identify as a former 36er, 75er, or 102er was to claim membership in a historically “Czech” military community that, while created to serve a “foreign” dynasty and empire, had nevertheless contributed to the Czech national cause before, during, and after World War I. In the remaining pages, I examine the Czechoslovak army’s gradual acceptance and recognition of this vision. Here, too, regimental veterans’ groups provided a vital interlocutory role. By establishing close ties with their Czechoslovak “successor” units, these groups came to embody a certain continuity between the regiments of the old empire and those of the new republic.

This convergence was neither preordained nor without opposition. For one, while institutional continuities seemed to create a predecessor-successor relationship between Habsburg and Czechoslovak regiments, this concept had no weight in official tradition. As mentioned above, the Czechoslovak army began its life as an improvised force consisting primarily of formerly Habsburg and formerly Legionnaire regiments. In light of severe organizational shortcomings exposed during the 1919 Slovak campaign, the Ministry of National Defense mandated the unifikace (unification) of these Habsburg and Legionnaire units in early 1920. Resulting in forty-eight new “Czechoslovak” regiments, this process preserved many elements of the Habsburg regimental system. Czechoslovak recruiting districts, for example, more or less mirrored those in force before 1914 while, of the forty-eight new Czechoslovak regiments, thirteen carried on the same regimental numbers as their imperial predecessors.82

With the benefit of hindsight, modern-day assessments tend to interpret the 1920 unification as a conscious and ultimately successful effort to preserve continuity at the regimental level.83At the time, though, the impulse to downplay the Czechoslovak army’s Habsburg legacy problematized these continuities, and there were many in the Czechoslovak military who completely rejected any relationship between Habsburg regiments and their Czechoslovak successors. In official terms, Czechoslovak regiments were not considered successors to the old imperial regiments at all, only to the “domestic army” regiments that had emerged from them during the imperial army’s collapse. As military publicist Karel Teringl wrote in 1938, for a twentieth-anniversary retrospective on Czechoslovak army tradition: “Since our regiments are not continuations of Austro-Hungarian regiments, and have no internal relationship to them, they began to form their own tradition from the moment they were created, that is, after the revolution…”84

Officially, then, there existed a legalistic conceptual barrier across 1918 that severed Czechoslovak army regiments from their Habsburg forebears. Consider the case of the Czechoslovak 35th Regiment, created in 1920 through the unification of the Habsburg 35th and the Legionnaire 35th. In addition to the continuity in unit designation, the new Czechoslovak 35th was, like its predecessor had been since 1771, stationed in the west Bohemian city of Plzeň. Despite the obvious continuities, incorporating the history of the old 35th was made conceptually difficult. In 1930, in an attempt to “awaken and deepen” soldiers’ “grasp of the regiment’s military tradition,” officers decided to furnish the 35th’s regimental canteen with a plaque honoring its fallen members. Seeking approval for the project from the Ministry of National Defense, the organizers were careful to note that the plaque would commemorate “those members of the regiment who fell in battles for the liberation of our homeland and the defense of its integrity—battles in Italy, at Těšín, and in Slovakia.”85 The many Plzeňers who had fallen in service with the old imperial 35th did not count among this number. Thus, while unification preserved a level of institutional continuity between Habsburg and Czechoslovak regiments, that continuity did not necessarily translate into the realm of official tradition.

Meanwhile, during the early 1920s, Czechoslovak military officials maintained a deep suspicion of the nascent regimental veterans’ movement. By the mid-1920s, German-speaking veterans concentrated in north Bohemia had constructed a well-organized network of at least half a dozen individual regimental groups.86 It was largely in response to these German groups that the Czechoslovak state first took notice of Habsburg regimental organizations. As early as February of 1923, senior military officials met in Prague to discuss the growing problem of regimental veteran organizing.87 Military officials feared that the real purpose of German regimental groups was to maintain contact among former comrades so that these units could be “reactivated” in the event of a Habsburg war of restoration or a border conflict with Germany or Austria. As one government report put it wryly in 1925, in the event of a future war “these regimental associations among our Germans […] might prove to be an unpleasant surprise.”88

During this early period, the relatively small and disunified Czech regimental groups were considered equally subversive, but for different reasons. Not deemed security threats like their German counterparts, Czech regimental groups still appeared dangerous because, as one report put it, they too served to “revive memories of the former military attitudes under Austria” and threatened “the development of C[zecho]sl[ovak] military tradition.”89 In 1923, the Ministry of National Defense asked the Ministry of the Interior, which regulated associational life and public assembly, to ban Habsburg regimental organizing entirely. While the Ministry of the Interior shied away from this request, the two ministries did begin cooperating to minimize what they saw as the most egregious aspects of regimental veterans’ activism. Throughout the interwar period, the government regularly intervened in the affairs of regimental veterans’ groups, instructing them to excise particular elements of reunion programs or parts of regimental publications.90 Within its own jurisdiction, the Ministry of National Defense had greater freedom of action. In 1923, the Ministry banned active-duty military personnel from participating in or interacting with Habsburg regimental groups, though this ban proved to be quite flexible in practice.91

The result, as far as Czech-speaking regimental groups were concerned, was a process of accommodation between veterans and military officials. An instructive case here is that of the 36th Regiment veterans based in Mladá Boleslav. During the 1920 unification of the Czechoslovak Army, Mladá Boleslav’s 36th Regiment had been redesignated the Czechoslovak 47th Regiment. This change of regimental number, from 36 to 47, elicited powerful reactions from veterans, who allegedly “exhibited dissatisfaction and wonder at why they deprived a regiment with such grand history and tradition of such a dear title.”92 Former members of the regiment spent the early 1920s begging the Ministry of National Defense to return its original number 36. When these attempts failed, the veterans began organizing a mass rally to demonstrate publicly for the regiment’s re-designation. When military administrators learned of this plan, they immediately implored the Ministry of the Interior to ban the event. From their perspective, the event represented a “revival of traditions of the former monarchist army” and was thus “antithetical to present attempts to inculcate a conscious, lively state feeling and loyal allegiance to the Czechoslovak state.”93 The 36er veterans strenuously rejected this interpretation. On March 3, 1924, a police observer sat in on a meeting of reunion organizers and reported that they

consider it their duty to point out that the former infantry regiment no. 36, based in Mladá Boleslav and recruited purely from Czech districts, was never seen by Czech people as a militaristic formation belonging to the Austrian dungeon and Habsburg dynasty, but quite to the contrary, was always a symbol of national consciousness and manful defiance.


Later at the same meeting, the organizers further emphasized this point, arguing that their regiment had never been “an instrument by which Czech lads were transformed into unthinking creatures of Austrian militarism.”94

After a series of negotiations involving the event organizers, local administrators, and the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of National Defense ultimately gave in. Their consent was given on the condition that the reunion focus not on the 36th Regiment, per se, but on its history of “resistance” to the Habsburg empire. In terms of public branding, then, the event took place as a “Celebration of Resistance by Former Members of the 36th against Former Austria,” rather than the originally intended “Reunion of 36ers.”95 Agreeing to this compromise, the 36ers finally held their reunion in June of 1924 and drew some 25–35,000 attendees. The main event, which was held on a Sunday, included a ceremonial procession of veterans alongside “all local patriotic and national associations.” Most surprisingly, given its recent ban, the Ministry of National Defense even authorized the participation of active-duty Czechoslovak troops. Mladá Boleslav’s 47th Regiment took part in the ceremonies with gusto, treating veterans and locals to demonstrations of “modern assault tactics.”96

To coincide with the reunion, the 36er veterans compiled a ninety-six-page history, which laid out the regiment’s Czech national credentials from its founding in 1683 to the present. True to their word, the veterans who authored the history focused on the 36th’s character as a “purely Czech regiment” as well was its history of rebellious “resistance” to Habsburg imperialist aims. The book’s chapter on World War I, for example, focused entirely on the regiment’s “mass desertion” to the Russians in the spring of 1915. At the same time, the booklet did not shy away from rehabilitating certain positive elements of the regiment’s long history under the Habsburg dynasty. Most surprising, perhaps, was its coverage of 1848–49. During the revolution, the 36th had deployed to Slovakia to battle the Hungarian revolutionary army. In the veteran-authored regimental history, this campaign was recast as “aid to the Slovak national guard against the Magyars.”97 Formulated this way, the regiment’s participation in the dynastic counterrevolution of 1848–49 was reframed as an example of early Czech-Slovak solidarity, with obvious parallels to the 36th Regiment’s more recent involvement in the Slovak campaign of 1919.

In the end, the reunion’s main goal—the renaming of Mladá Boleslav’s 47th Regiment—went unfulfilled, rejected once again by the Ministry of National Defense for “technical and administrative reasons.” Where the reunion did succeed, though, was in popularizing the 36er veterans’ “Czech” version of their own regiment’s history. It also succeeded in establishing a relationship between the 36ers and their 47th Regiment “successor” that continued throughout the interwar period. When the Ministry of National Defense acquiesced to the 36er reunion of 1924, and to the participation of the 47th Czechoslovak Regiment, they framed this decision as a one-time exception to their “fundamental opposition” to Habsburg regimental organizing.98 But by and large, army administrators ignored their own official stance and took a lax approach toward contact between Czech regimental veterans’ groups and active-duty military personnel. Indeed, the following year, when the city of Mladá Boleslav bequeathed a new regimental flag to the 47th, 36er veterans took an active role in the ceremony.

This was itself an important symbolic gesture. During the early and mid-1920s, towns and cities across the republic began commissioning new regimental flags for their local Czechoslovak regiments. Often involving local notables and patriotic societies, the commissioning of new regimental flags was meant to represent the birth of a new army. Indeed, recognizing their symbolic power, the Ministry of National Defense insisted to the country’s town councils that each of the army’s regiments be gifted a new flag in time to celebrate the republic’s tenth anniversary in 1928.99 That veterans of Habsburg regiments often took part in the symbolically weighted dedication ceremonies gave informal sanction to the predecessor-successor relationship. And it is clear that Habsburg regimental veterans’ groups understood the flags of their Czechoslovak successor units to be their collective property too. When veterans of the 75th Regiment held their first annual reunion in 1929, they insisted that their successor unit, the Czechoslovak 29th, be represented at the reunion by a delegation of officers, its regimental colors, and the regimental band. In their letter to the Ministry of National Defense—whose approval they required for such a delegation—the veterans evoked the idea of an unbroken lineage between the Habsburg-era 75th and its 29th Regiment successor. Referencing “brotherly partnership” and the “joyful consolidation of our national army,” the 75ers wrote that “we would feel abandoned at the reunion if we were not able to walk in the shade of our [regimental] banner.”100 On this occasion, as on others, the veterans’ request was granted. Several years later, in 1935, veterans of the Habsburg 102nd Regiment donated a ceremonial ribbon to be affixed to the battle flag of their successor regiment, the Czechoslovak 48th. Following the ribbon ceremony, soldiers of the 48th assembled alongside veterans of the 102nd for a joint inspection by a local brigade commander.101 This desire to foster relations between Habsburg predecessor and Czechoslovak successor regiments was not one-sided either. When the 102nd Regiment veterans’ association held their fifth annual reunion in May 1936, the Czechoslovak 48th Regiment was more than happy to accept honorary chairmanship of the festival committee.102

As the 1920s gave way to the 1930s, Habsburg regimental veterans’ groups became constant fixtures at Czechoslovak army ceremonies. To be sure, many voices within the military community continued to reject the principle of regimental continuity and the army’s embrace of Habsburg regimental veterans’ groups. A 1935 editorial in Vojenský svět (Military World), insisted that the old regiments of Austria-Hungary “are known to our military only as dry numbers.” The author continued by pointing out that “we have our own regiments, which must lie in the hearts of the people more so than the Austrian ones.” In conclusion, he insisted that Habsburg regimental associations were “not something that our public life requires.”103 His recommendation came too late. By this point, even the Ministry of National Defense had begun sending delegations to events hosted by, or in conjunction with, Habsburg regimental associations. In July of 1932, for example, the south Bohemian town of Písek hosted a celebration of its hometown Czechoslovak 11th Regiment. Veterans of its predecessor unit, the Habsburg 11th Regiment, were also in attendance, giving the appearance of a single regimental community that blended the imperial past with the national present. Also in attendance was the Minister of National Defense, Dr. Karel Viškovský, whose address reflected many of the arguments circulating within the regimental veterans’ movement:

It is a wonderful habit of former soldiers to gather and thereby renew their bonds to their regiment. And the “Eleveners” are rightfully proud of their regiment and its history, which was glorious and heroic since the days of old Austria. Even then, the “Eleveners” were not considered Austrians [Rakušany] but were already at that point the nucleus of a future independent nation!

The minister’s further remarks included references to the “famous deeds of the regiment” during the early-modern Ottoman wars as well as its “meritorious” service in the 1919 campaigns for Těšín and Slovakia.104 This speech, given by the republic’s most senior military administrator, was a clear recognition of the attempt by Czech-speaking Habsburg veterans to recast their former regiments as useable symbols of Czech military heritage.


As a mechanism by which states and armies ascribe significance to the past, the creation of military tradition offers a powerful lens through which to observe moments of rupture and reconfiguration.105 In interwar Czechoslovakia, debates about regimental numbers, flags, and lineages reflected much larger questions about the Czech nation’s relationship to its imperial past. From one perspective, the empire was the very antithesis of the national republic, and the history of its Czech-speaking regiments offered little inspiration for the Czechoslovak soldier of the present. This assessment reflected a teleological understanding of history that culminated with the emergence of nation-states and thus marginalized people and institutions not linked to the realization of this project. The countervailing perspective was expressed succinctly by Rudolf Kalhous, a former Habsburg officer and architect of the Czechoslovak army’s 1920 unification. Discussing the Habsburg army’s Czech-speaking regiments in his 1936 memoir, Kalhous wrote that “it is true that they served foreign interests, but it was nevertheless our people [lid] who won these regiments their name and respect.”106 In Kalhous’ eyes, the history of the empire’s Czech-speaking regiments, some of which traced their origins to the early seventeenth century, belonged collectively to the Czech people and deserved recognition in the new army.

Initially rejected by Czechoslovak state builders and military officials, this latter perspective nevertheless gained traction in the later 1920s and 1930s thanks to the motivated activism of Czech-speaking veterans in the Habsburg regimental movement. Sidelined within Czechoslovakia’s culture of commemoration, these veterans sought to change the narrative regarding their wartime service by demonstrating their contributions to the Czech national cause. The result was a symbiotic relationship of sorts: the preservation of Habsburg regimental history depended on marginalized veterans, who in turn relied on regimental history for crafting useable veterans’ identities. In short, Habsburg regimental history “became Czech” during the interwar period because its chief custodians needed it to be so. That this nationalized version of Habsburg regimental history was eventually sanctioned by the Czechoslovak army reflected the willingness of local army commanders and senior defense officials to permit increasingly formal ties between Habsburg regimental groups and their Czechoslovak successor units.

Ultimately, the story of how Habsburg regimental history became Czechoslovak military tradition suggests some limits to radical, post-imperial state building in East-Central Europe. Monopolized in theory by the state, the process of creating military tradition in interwar Czechoslovakia proved surprisingly sensitive to challenges by organized regimental groups. At least at the regimental level, this process was one of accommodation on the part of veterans and military officials alike. These findings also point to the ambiguous role of “nation” as a contemporary framework for interpreting the imperial past. After all, arguments both for and against the incorporation of Habsburg regimental history mobilized the language of nation and reflected specific interpretations of Czech national life under the empire. In a broader regional perspective, then, this case study of Czechoslovakia’s old Habsburg regiments suggests further research on the negotiation of military tradition as a fruitful analytical tool for understanding nation building in East-Central Europe—not only after 1918, but also the region’s many other moments of political caesura.

Archival Sources

Národní archiv [National Archive], Prague (NA)

Czechoslovak Interior Ministry collection

Státní okresní archiv Benešov [State District Archive Benešov], Benešov (SOkA Benešov)

102nd Regiment Veterans’ Association collection (fond no. 1934)

Státní okresní archiv Beroun [State District Archive Beroun], Beroun (SOkA Beroun)

88th Regiment Veterans’ Association collection (fond no. 818)

38th Regiment Flag Dedication Ceremony Organizing Committee collection (fond no. 1326)

Vojenský historický archiv [Military-Historical Archive], Prague (VHA)

Ministry of National Defense collection

Czechoslovak 38th Regiment collection



1. odd. – 1. oddělení (1st Section)

f. – folio

HlŠ – Hlavní štáb (General staff)

Inv. č. – inventární číslo (inventory number)

k. – karton (carton)

MNO – Ministerstvo Národní obrany (Ministry of National Defense)

MV – Ministerstvo vnitra (Interior Ministry)

PMV – Presidium Ministerstva vnitra (Presidium, Interior Ministry)

PO - Památník odboje (Resistance Memorial)

ppl. - pěší pluk (Infantry Regiment)

PZSP – Prezident Zemské správy politické (President of the Political Land Administration)

sign. – signatura

STRP - Státní tajemník u říšského protektora v Čechách a na Moravě (State

Secretariat for the Reichsprotektorat of Bohemia and Moravia)

VO – Vojenské oddělení (Military Section)

ZO – Zpravodajské oddělení (Intelligence Section)


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Solpera, Jan. Komplikovaná proměna: Jak se z Pětasedmdesátníků v letech 1918–1920 stali Devětadvacátí a nejen o nich [A complicated transformation: On how the seventy-fivers became twenty-niners during the years 1918–1920 and other zopics]. Acta Historica Novodomensia 5. Jindřichův Hradec: Muzeum Jindřichohradecka, 2010.

Stegmann, Natali. Kriegsdeutungen – Staatsgründung – Sozialpolitik: Der Helden- und Opfersdiskurs in der Tschechoslowakei 1918–1948. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2010.

Stegmann, Natali. “Soldaten und Bürger: Selbstbilder tschechoslowakischer Legionäre in der Ersten Republik.” Militärische Zeitschrift 61, no. 1 (2002): 25–48. doi: 10.1524/mgzs.2002.61.1.25

Šustrová, Radka. “The Struggle for Respect: The State, World War One Veterans, and Social Welfare Policy in Interwar Czechoslovakia.” Zeitgeschichte 47, no. 1 (2020): 107–34. doi: 10.14220/zsch.2020.47.1.107

Wingfield, Nancy M. “The Battle of Zborov and the Politics of Commemoration in Czechoslovakia.” East European Politics and Societies 17, no. 4 (2003): 654–81. doi: 10.1177/0891242403258288

Wrede, Alphons von. Geschichte der k. und k. Wehrmacht: Die Regimenter, Corps, Branchen und Anstalten von 1618 bis Ende des XIX. Jahrhunderts. Neudruck. Vol. 1. Starnberg: LTR, 1985.

Zückert, Martin. “Memory of War and National State Integration: Czech and German Veterans in Czechoslovakia after 1918.” Central Europe 4, no. 2 (2006): 111–21. doi: 10.1179/174582106x147347

Zückert, Martin. Zwischen Nationsidee und staatlicher Realität: Die tschechoslowakische Armee und ihre Nationalitätenpolitik 1918–1938. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2006.

1* Support for this research was provided by the Fulbright Commission of the Czech Republic and the German Academic Exchange Service.

Beneš, Armáda, 35–39.

2 Abenheim, Reforging, 13.

3 Jedlicka, “Die Tradition”; Marin, “Imperial”; Newman, “Serbian”; Šedivý, “Legionáři”; Zückert, Zwischen, 80–95.

4 Newman, “Serbian,” 320.

5 Mick, “The Dead,” 234.

6 Newman, “Serbian,” 332.

7 Jedlicka, “Die Tradition,” 441.

8 Officially, the two imperial halves bore the names “Kingdom of Hungary” and “the Kingdoms and Territories Represented in the Reichsrat.”

9 Alongside the Joint Army, there also existed two “National Guard” armies, the Austrian Landwehr and Hungarian honvédség. These forces were administered separately by the Austrian and Hungarian governments but would be deployed alongside the Joint Army in times of war.

10 Allmayer-Beck, “Die bewaffnete Macht,” 94.

11 On the contemporary emergence of Traditionspflege in the German empire, see: Abenheim, Reforging, 23.

12 Allmayer-Beck, “Die bewaffnete Macht,” 89.

13 L.W., “Die Herren,” 357.

14 “Die Pflege,“ 249–50.

15 Meteling, “Regimentsideologien,” 30.

16 “Ueber die Verfassung,” 5.

17 Lukeš, “Plukovní kroniky,” 40–41.

18 Zitterhoffer, “Die Heeres-,” 1451–70.

19 See, for example: Listy v úpomínku.

20 “Die Pflege,” 250–51.

21 On the “school of the peoples” concept, see: Leonhard and von Hirschhausen, “Does the Empire strike back?” 209–10.

22 For a discussion of regional and regimental identity during the Napoleonic wars, see: Baird, “According.”

23 Von Wrede, Geschichte, vol. 1, 366.

24 Rothenberg, The Army, 110.

25 On the “language frontier” concept, see: Judson, Guardians of the Nation.

26 Scheer and Stergar, “Ethnic Boxes,” 583.

27 Scheer, “Habsburg Languages,” 67.

28 “Dvojí významnou slavnost,” 85.

29 W.P., “Ein Nachwort,” 3.

30 “Anläßlich,” 4.

31 “Slavnosť plukovní (Dokončení),” 4.

32 “Slavnosť plukovní,” 2.

33 Dvořák, “Kus,” 5–6.

34 Hutečka, “Politics,” 121–25.

35 Hutečka, “Politics,” 127.

36 Lein, Pflichterfüllung; Reiter, “Die Causa”; Schindler, Fall, 142–45.

37 Šedivý, Češi, 65; cited in Kučera, “Entbehrung,” 124.

38 Plaschka et al., Innere Front, vol. 2, 336.

39 Kučera, “Entbehrung,” 124, 134.

40 Hladký, “Czech Soldiers,” 75–76.

41 Šedivý, Češi, 137; quoted in Hladký, “Czech Soldiers,” 78.

42 Beneš, “Vojákům.”

43 Prokop, “Stručné dějiny,” 285 (VHA, fond ppl. 38, k. 6 “Historické zprácování).

44 Solpera, Komplikovaná, 20.

45 Břach and Láník, Dva roky, 127–30.

46 Fidler, “Unifikace,” 165–68.

47 Jedlicka, “Die Tradition,” 441.

48 Zückert, Zwischen, 81–85.

49 Zückert, “Memory,” 112–14.

50 Šedivý, “Legionáři,” 228–29.

51 Stegmann, “Soldaten und Bürger, 30–37.

52 Šmidrkal, “The Defeated,” 86–90.

53 Ibid., 87–88 and 93–95.

54 Hutečka, “Žižka, Not Švejk!”

55 Široký, “Založení spolku,” 179–83.

56 Annual report, “Pokladní zpráva Ústředí za rok 1936,” n.d. (SOkA Benešov, fond 1934, Balík spisů).

57 Hutečka, “Kamarádi frontovníci,” 249; Šmidrkal, “The Defeated,” 86 and 91–93.

58 For a thorough examination of “comradeship,” see: Hutečka, “Kamarádi frontovníci.”

59 Reuter, “Zum Geleit,” 1.

60 Hajek, “K sobě,” 81-3.

61 Beneš, “Vojákům”; Trenkler, Válečné děje, 7.

62 Ruller, “Připravená porážka?” 6.

63 Cavell, “In the Margins,” 202–3.

64 Šustrová, “The Struggle,” 107–34.

65 Zückert, “Memory,” 112.

66 Majer, “Několik slov,” 5.

67 Šmidrkal, “The Defeated,” 86.

68 Musejní odbor, Pamětní spis, 3.

69 Dvořák, “Kus historie,” p. 5.

70 Vošta, “Úvodem,” 8.

71 Brumlík, “Vzpomínka,” 33.

72 Musejní odbor, Pamětní spis, 13.

73 Dvořák, “Kus historie,” 5–6.

74 Wingfield, “The Battle of Zborov.”

75 Regentík, “Zborov,” 138.

76 For a discussion of gender and Habsburg veterans’ memory politics, see: Hutečka, “Kamarádi.”

77 See, for example: Komárek, “Krátký náčrt,” 9.

78 Photo album, “Spolek příslušníků pěš. pl. Berounského ‘Cihláři’ – Odbočka Zdice,” (SOkA Beroun, fond 818).

79 Hornof, “Programové prohlášení,” 298.

80 Hutečka, “Completely Forgotten,” 13.

81 Vošta, “Úvodem,” 8.

82 Fidler, “Unifikace,” 167.

83 Ibid., 168.

84 Teringl, “Vojenská tradice,” 51.

85 Letter, Vojenské zátiší pěšího pluku 35 to MNO Presidium/1. odd., July 4, 1930 (VHA, MNO presidium, karton 8653, inv. č. 14081, sign. 59 8/32).

86 Šmidrkal, “The Defeated,” 87–88 and 93–95.

87 “Protokol porady v presidiu MNO dne 26./II.23,” February 26, 1923 (VHA, MNO Presidium, karton 12403, inv. č. 16067, sign. 45 ¼).

88 “Záznam,” April 20, 1925, 2 (NA, PMV, sign. 225-768-4, f. 64).

89 Šmidrkal, “The Defeated,” 84; Memo, MV to PZSP v Praze, July 13, 1925 (VHA, MNO Presidium, karton 12403, inv. č. 16067, sign. 45 ¼).

90 Šmidrkal, “The Defeated,” 85–86.

91 Memo, MV to PZSP v Praze, Brně, Opavě, August 12, 1923 (VHA, MNO presidium, k. 12403, inv. č. 16067, sign. 45 ¼).

92 Musejní odbor, Pamětní spis, 68.

93 Memo, MNO/HlŠ/ZO to PMV, February 26, 1924 (NA, PMV, sign. 225-768-5, f. 68).

94 Police report, “Schůze přípravného výboru, Šestatřicátníků,’” March 4, 1924 (NA, PMV, sign. 225-768-5, f. 66).

95 Zückert, “Memory of War,” 116.

96 “Po sjezdu,” 1.

97 Musejní odbor, Pamětní spis, 10.

98 Memo, MNO/HlŠ/ZO to PMV, June 17, 1924 (NA, PMV, sign. 225-768-5, f. 52).

99 Letter, MO to Městská ráda v Berouně, January 21, 1925 (SOkA Beroun, fond 1326, folder 2 “Došlé dopisy.”)

100 Letter, Výbor Sjezdu Pětasedmdesátníků to MNO Presidium, June 25, 1929 (VHA, MNO Presidium, karton 7823, inv. č. 12812, sign. 45 6/13).

101 Ledvina, “IV. sjezd Stodruháků,” 152-XXXI.

102 Poster, “VI. sjezd v Dobříši,” (SOkA Benešov, fond 1934, Balík spisů).

103 K.M.B., “Kapitoly,” 179.

104 “Sjezd Jedenáctníků,” 77.

105 Abenheim, Reforging, 22.

106 Kalhous, Budování, 140.


“To Work–To Sacrifice–To Die”: The Cult of Military Martyrs and its Manifestation in Slovakia during the years 1938–1945

Patricia Fogelova
Slovak Academy of Sciences, Institute of Social Sciences of Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):205-234 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.205

The Slovak Republic of 1939–1945 was established on the doorstep of the deadliest war in history. It almost immediately became an active participant in the war as an ally of Nazi Germany. Moreover, already in March 1939, Slovakia, just after its foundation, found itself in a military conflict with Hungary. These facts were naturally reflected in all spheres of society, including urban spaces. This study aims to analyze interventions in the public spaces of Slovak towns related to a cult of martyrs. There was strong need to justify the new Slovak Republic’s participation in the war. This need became increasingly pressing, especially after the invasion of the Soviet Union, which met with the disapproval of the majority of the population. I therefore ask how the regime responded to this. I am especially interested in following questions: how were public spaces transformed change in an effort to build a martyr cult before and after the attack on the Soviet Union? Were there significant interventions in connection with this event (the declaration of war against the USSR)? Had the symbol of a martyr or a soldier changed, and if so, how? The study is organized chronologically. I analyze interventions in public spaces during the so-called Little War in March 1939, at the moment of entry into the war against Poland in September 1939, and at the moment of entry into the war against the USSR in June 1941. I examine interventions on architecture-material level which involved the renaming streets and the creation of memorials. I also focus on perceptions of the street as a “stage” for military parades or ceremonies in the course of which soldiers were awarded decorations.

Keywords: interventions, military, nation, politics, public space, Slovak Republic 1939–1945


In this article, I aim to analyze efforts by the state to create symbolic embodiments of martyrs and heroes in the period between 1938 and 1945 in Slovakia. With this analysis, I seek to contribute to the discussion of the authoritarian regimes and their propaganda uses of the concepts of martyrdom and heroism in the urban public spaces. I also consider how the participation of the Slovak army in the war as an ally of Nazi Germany affected the public urban spaces. Chronologically, I follow events and interventions in public spaces in Slovak cities in connection with the conflict also known as the Little War with Hungary, the entry into the war against Poland, and the entry into the war against the USSR. The latter (Slovakia’s participation in the war against the USSR) is often cited in Slovak historiography as an important milestone which significantly influenced the moods and attitudes of the majority of Slovak society towards the regime of the Slovak Republic. The regime enjoyed the support of the majority for the first years of its existence, but with its decision to go into war against the USSR, it lost this support. Thus, the following question arises: with its involvement in the war against the Soviet Union, did the regime attempt to make propaganda elements parts of the public urban space, and if so, how? The interventions on which I focus are not limited to the placement of statues and monuments and the renaming of streets, but also include state organized festivities in public spaces, especially military parades and celebrations which involved awarding soldiers decorations.

Historiography and Methodology

In the last few years, public space as a topic of historical research has enjoyed considerable popularity in the region of Central Europe.1 Particular attention has been paid to works dedicated to the creation of historical memory.2 Some of these works also deal with research on public space understood through the perceptions of streets and squares as “stages” or “scenes.”3

In the case of non-democratic regimes, which dominated Central Europe twentieth century (though by no means exclusively), one can speak of the significant impact of politics on public space. According to the hypothesis suggested by urban planners, the development of urban public space was one of the main priorities of nondemocratic regimes.4 The architecture and other symbolic uses of urban spaces in the Third Reich offer ample illustrations of this political practice, as do the symbolic uses of urban space in Soviet Russia at the time.5

The case of Slovak towns in the mid-twentieth century also fits this trend. One finds several works reflecting the relationship between politics and the symbolic uses of public space in Slovak towns during the war, although many of these towns saw only comparatively minor war-related interventions in the human geography of their urban spaces.6 However, there is no comprehensive study which focuses on the relationship between militarization of society and the transformation of public spaces. With this paper, I contribute to the discussion of this topic.

For purpose of my inquiry, I interpret public spaces as sites which can be understood as the opposite of private spaces. They are managed by public institutions and laws, and they are usually accessible to all citizens. They have four metaphorical dimensions: legal, functional, social, and material-symbolic.7

Political regimes are unquestionably aware of the value of public space as visible and accessible sites, and there is clear connection between the ideologies on the basis of which political regimes make their claims to power and the ways in which they use public spaces. The uses of public space are often closely connected to propaganda, a term which I understand as referring to the efforts of the state to shape people’s opinions and manipulate them by disseminating potentially misleading information, presenting arguments, and crafting a symbolic language.8 As Jowett and O’Donnell have noted, propaganda is systematic in its efforts to shape public opinion, and it serves the aims of those who craft it.9

According the Cambridge dictionary, the word martyr means a person who suffers or is killed because of his or her religious or political beliefs and is often admired for having adhered to these beliefs in the face of persecution.10 By this definition, a person can become a martyr (and usually does) immediately after his or her death, but this can also happen later, and a person can be transformed into a martyr by regime and then used as an instrument of political propaganda.11 Research into the relationship between the political regime, the nation, and the martyrdom draws on a rich tradition. In his book Die for Germany: Heroes in the Nazi Pantheon, Jay W. Baird focuses on several strategies that were used to create a cult of martyrs in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. This cult evolved from a unique tradition, nurtured by ancient stories and medieval legends, and the heroic death was perceived as a form of redemption at the time. Through death, the sins of the fathers were to be washed away. Death was cast as the promise of national resurrection. The collective trauma which Germany suffered after World War I was a breeding ground for similar considerations. Finally, as Baird emphasizes, the development of similar notions of heroism in nationalist debates has often stemmed from the a nation’s perceived inferiority and a concomitant feeling of despair.12

Similar parallels are found in Slovak society in this regard. An alleged thousand-year period of Hungarian oppression was one of the key motifs used by Slovak nationalists and historians since the middle of the nineteenth century.13 The feeling of belonging to an oppressed nation persisted in part of Slovak society even in the interwar period. As Adam Hudek points out, the construction of the Slovak national story (not yet fully developed in the interwar period) also contained elements connected to the personification of history through the personalities of the nation’s heroes and martyrs. Of course, this is not unique to the Slovak national narrative. Notions of martyrdom are integral parts of the national stories and national mythologies which spread across Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.14

Public spaces provided a stage where these images could be physically depicted. before the establishment of Czechoslovakia, Hungarian cities were full of urban spaces that were used as sites for the expression and glorification of elements of the various (often competing) national narratives.15

However, as Anton Hruboň points out, the roots of the narratives of martyrdom used by Andrej Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party can be found in connection with Rodobrana.16 Rodobrana was a paramilitary organization of the Slovak People’s Party (later renamed Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party). It was established in January 1923. The organization’s role was to ensure the safety of party members, especially during public gatherings. It was established in January 1923. was known for its catholic and anti-socialist attitudes.

A guide Rodobranecký katechizmus written by Vojtech Tuka17 proclaimed as martyrs e. g. victims of tragedy in Černová,18 fallen Slovak volunteers in the revolution of 1848/184919 or members of the group around Jánošík.20 Hruboň also refers to the relationship between Rodobrana and the cult of martyrdom of Vojtech Tuka, which was related to his imprisonment during the existence of Czechoslovakia.21

Short Preview

The Slovak Republic 1939–1945 was established in March 1939, just a few months before the outbreak of World War II, after the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. The secondary literature contains ample materials on the circumstances of its formation.22 In addition to domestic political reasons, its main engine was Germany’s foreign policy ambitions to redraw the map of Europe, which had been established by the Versailles peace treaties after the World War I. The non-democratic regime in Slovakia was essentially created immediately after the Munich Agreement and Vienna Award, in the autumn of 1938, as a consequence of which Czechoslovakia suffered territorial losses. The Munich Agreement, which made clear the willingness of the Allies to give in to Germany’s territorial demands, transformed the social atmosphere in Slovakia. The destabilization of Czechoslovakia led to the decline of democracy in the country. Authoritarian elements began to come to the fore and remained even after the establishment of an independent Slovakia. This period was characterized by the elimination of political opponents, persecution of minorities, and the introduction of a one-party government.23

Those changes also affected the creation of an autonomous Slovakia. The autonomous Land of Slovakia was formally established by Constitutional Act No. 299/1938 on November 22, 1938. However, the declaration of independence had already been made on October 6, 1938. From the outset, one sees the transformation of the government into an authoritarian regime, as Zuzana Tokárová has argued persuasively in her book. 24 The regime can be characterized as authoritarian with limited political pluralism, a vague ideology, and a lack of political mobilization. However, it gradually took on several totalitarian tendencies. Propaganda played an important role in the strategies used by the emerging regime, for example a propaganda office was established in October, only a few days after declaration of independence. The head of this office was Alexander Mach.25 As Igor Baka mentions, the central aim of the propaganda was to cast the birth of the Slovak state as the result of the efforts of the Slovak nation.26

I argue that the symbol of the martyr was an important part of wartime propaganda in Slovakia, and public spaces provided ideal sites for this propaganda because of their visibility for the inhabitants of and visitors to the cities. The symbol of the martyr, I argue, was used as a motif in narratives intended to prove the oppressive nature of the regimes which, until the creation of an independent Slovakia, had controlled Slovak territory and also to help the regime legitimize its existence and its involvement in the war against Poland and the Soviet Union alongside Germany. If I consider the cult of martyrs as part of propaganda at the time, it should be understood as one element of the systematic attempt to shape public opinion. The cult of the martyr, which was addressed to Slovakia’s Catholic majority, would win support for Slovakia’s involvement in the war as a German ally. I claim these propagandistic interventions in public spaces related to the cult of martyrs can be seen mainly in the social dimension (in the form of celebrations and holidays, military parades, and festivities) and the material-symbolic dimension (the erection of statues and monuments and the renaming of streets). I focus on these two dimensions. As mentioned above, I proceed chronologically, primarily concentrating on county centers (cities where the bureaucratic apparatus of the regime was concentrated).

Slovak Cities and the Rise of the Authoritarian Regime

The authoritarian regime largely determined what was happening in Slovak society, including Slovak cities. After the events of the autumn of 1938, the cities found themselves under new rule and facing new pressures. The liquidation of political opponents was followed by the construction of a new, mostly Slovak urban elite in many towns. The representatives of this elite had the support of the governing Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party. Although it is possible to speak of a certain degree of continuity in the cases of some cities,27 there were significant changes to the ways in which power was exercised. The cities were no longer headed by elected representatives from the democratic elections, but by appointed party representatives. The mayors were replaced by government commissioners, and the city councils were replaced by advisory boards.

The fates of the members of the previous urban councils differed from town to town. Jewish Parties were banned and their members were excluded from the elite.28 Some members of the Christian elite started to cooperate with Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party, while others lived in seclusion or retired. Some of them (for example Bernard Rolfesz, who had served as the mayor deputy in Nitra) ended up in internment camp in Ilava.29 These changes all pointed in the same direction: a more authoritative way of managing the cities.30

These changes significantly affected the nature of interventions to all four aforementioned dimensions of public urban spaces. From the perspective of the legal dimension, public spaces were used and controlled in accordance with the interests of new political actors, which meant the government and the relevant ministries and the new or old-new urban elite. The ideas of these actors were transferred to other dimensions of public space. The interventions also concerned the functional dimension (changes in the uses of public spaces, e. g. the change of a given site from a leisure zone to a zone with a political purpose), the social dimension (political rituals and celebrations), and the material-symbolic dimension (interventions related to ideological motivation, political propaganda, and actual construction activities).31

Building the Regime, Searching for Martyrs, and Intervening in the Public Space

The emerging regime made its first interventions in public spaces immediately at the end of October 1938, when a mass and sudden renaming of streets took place in all major cities. 32 Such an intervention was a means of furthering a change in the political and social paradigm in Slovakia in the public arena. Personalities and events connected with the autonomist movement came to the fore, while personalities connected to the Czech or Czechoslovak social and political visual language had to be erased.33 Personalities who had become significantly involved in the Slovak autonomist movement or who had suffered or been killed because of their national beliefs34 gained importance.

This trend was most pronounced in the city of Prešov in eastern Slovakia. In November 1938, Prešov became the biggest city in eastern Slovakia, taking over the position of Košice.35 The whole region (historically known as Šariš and Zemplín) belonged to the poorest parts of the Czechoslovakia and had only weak historical and cultural ties to the Czechs. Therefore, during the whole interwar period, the city and region had been frequent targets of propaganda in both directions: of propaganda - Pro-Hungarian and anti-Hungarian. This continued after the Vienna Award.36

The new advisory board and its head, government commissioner Alexander Chrappa, decided to rename several streets after the martyrs connected with the region. The streets of martyr Hula, martyr Hanušovský, martyrs Tomášovci, and martyr František Majoch were created here. The nominees were killed either in connection with the activities of the Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party or in connection with activities identified by the regime as “national.”

This use, in the renaming of the streets, of the names of local personalities who had been killed during previous period was part of the propaganda effort aimed against Hungarian oppression and Czech oppression, and it was also intended to prove the loyalty of the new political elite of the city to the autonomous government.

The choice of the martyrs, I would argue, was not accidental. Two streets were renamed after people who had been killed by Hungarian Bolsheviks. Ján and Ondrej Tomášovci (father and son) were killed in 1919 by Hungarian Bolsheviks. František Majoch,37 who served as a Catholic priest in the village of Hermanovce near Prešov, was also killed by Hungarian Bolsheviks in August 1919.38 The other two streets were renamed after young peasants. Ján Hanušovský died in September 1923 during the assembly of the Slovak People’s Party in Košice. The assembly took place in the presence of Andrej Hlinka. The accidental death of Hanušovský was caused by a quarrel between the supporters of Hlinka (members of Rodobrana) and supporters of socialist parties in Košice. Matej Hula died in July 1925 in the village Nižný Šebeš near Prešov. He died accidentally in a fight between villagers and Czech gendarmes.

The Cult of Andrej Hlinka in Ružomberok

In addition to cults of local martyrs, such as the abovementioned cult of martyrs in Prešov (which did not cross the city limits), a cult of Andrej Hlinka was also nurtured. Hlinka was the leading figure in the interwar autonomist movement, and he died less than two months before the “ľudácky” regime came to power. The new regime adored the personality of Hlinka and his political career. He was depicted by the state organs as a suffering martyr, and the image of Hlinka as a martyr became an important element of state propaganda. 39 This cult of Hlinka as a martyr was fully developed even before 1918, and as Roman Holec states, Hlinka consciously built this aura of the martyr and let it built by others.40 The image of Hlinka as someone who had suffered, which was an image shared by a large part of the Slovak public, grew more intense after his death. Autonomous government which took power in Slovakia from in 1938 only continued to build on this legacy. Streets, squares, statues, and memorial plaques dedicated to Andrej Hlinka began to appear in large numbers in public spaces in Slovak cities. The use of in public spaces of depictions of Hlinka as a martyr took place against a background of massive agitation.41 The propaganda, led by Mach, emphasized the importance of remembering Hlinka’s martyrdom in every municipal council in every town and village. According to Mach, “[we should] always have this name in front of our eyes and in our squares and streets ..., so in time, there must be a monument to Andrej Hlinka in every city.42

While the first commitment was easy to fulfill for the cities (especially without financial costs) and perhaps each city had its own Hlinka Street (located mostly in the central part of the city), there were not many monuments dedicated to Hlinka. The propaganda was replaced by the reality of war, and many cities did not have the funds to erect costly monuments.

A monumental building dedicated to Hlinka was created only in Ružomberok, a town in central Slovakia where Hlinka had worked and where he was also buried in August 1938. His mausoleum was built there in 1938–1939. The magnificently conceived building replaced a more modest project. At the initiative of the mayor of Ružomberok, the city took over the financial burden and the technical design of the building.43 Construction was financed using city monies in the amount of 1.5 million Slovak crowns.44 An important message during its construction was that only Slovaks would be employed to erect the building. The designers of the project were city architects and engineers. The local construction company from Ružomberok took care of the construction. Other projects were also launched under Slovak direction. The press did not forget to emphasize that the marble used was also Slovak.45 By publishing the list of local and regional companies in the press in detail, city officials presumably sought to demonstrate that they could provide a fitting place for Hlinka to rest in peace themselves, without the help of the state.

Creating an Idea of Martyrdom for the Slovak State in March 1939:
The Cult of Anton Kopal in Bratislava

“The first martyr of the nascent independent state, brother, guard, Slovak young man.”46 These are some of the names used by the Slovak press immediately after the establishment of the Slovak state in March 1939 to refer to the 27-year-old member of the Hlinka Guard, Anton Kopal. Kopal, who came from the village of Veľké Uherce near Nitra, worked in Bratislava as a laborer. When he was killed on March 10, 1939 in street fighting between military and gendarmerie units and the Hlinka Guard and Freiwillige schutzstaffel47 units, the propaganda machine immediately took advantage of his death. The press presented Kopal as a man who was fired from a factory in Prague after the events of October 6, 1938. From the outset, the stereotype of an honest working Slovak who had suffered in “foreign” because of his attachment to his national identity was presented to the public.

Immediately after Kopal’s death, a demonstration farewell took place in the public space in front of the Slovak National Theater in Bratislava. Members of Hlinka Guard, Hlinka Youth, and Freiwilliege Schutzstaffel took a part in the demonstration too. Kopal’s death has been presented as a sacrifice for the freedom of the Slovak nation against Czech centralism. The autonomous flag and the Slovak double cross (symbols connected with the new regime) were part of the whole ritual, which took place in front of a crowd of several thousands. The ritual was completed by the Slovak anthem and guard songs. The Hlinka Guard naturally played an important role in the whole procession. During the march through the city streets, one of the main stops was the Hlinka Guard headquarters. The whole ritual was intended to amplify feelings of support for Slovak independence and to reinforce the image of the Hlinka Guard as one of the main pillars of the new state. The place of Anton Kopal in the “pantheon” of martyrs for Slovak freedom, along Hlinka, was also confirmed a few days later by Alexander Mach during a speech at the Hlinka Guard demonstration’s meeting on Hviezdoslav Square in Bratislava. 48

Kopal’s affiliation with the Hlinka Guard was one of the main factors that made him the first martyr after March 1939. As Mach often repeated, Kopal’s heroism offer eloquent testimony that “the guards would rather fall than betray the nation.49 At the same time, Mach used his death to strengthen the image of the Hlinka Guard as the organization which was equivalent to a proper army. The army itself also added to this narrative on the outside. This was already evident on the first anniversary of Kopal’s death. On this occasion, a monument was unveiled in Kopal’s birthplace during the festivities. Ferdinand Čatloš, serving as Minister of Defense, took a part in the ceremony.50 In his speech, he assured the audience that the “Hlinka Guard is one with the army and the army is one with the Hlinka Guard.”51

Immediately after the establishment of the Slovak Republic on March 14, 1939, a conflict erupted between Slovakia and Hungary in eastern Slovakia which lasted a few days. 52 It came to a tragic end with the bombing of Spišská Nová Ves on March 24, 1939, which claimed a total of twelve victims. In connection with this unfortunate event, a funeral demonstration was held in the city which was interpreted by the regime in similar way to Kopal’s death. The deaths of inhabitants of the city were considered a sacrifice made for the newly emerging state. 53 Alexander Mach and Karol Murgaš attended the funeral as distinguished guests. 54 As in the case of the farewell to Anton Kopal in Bratislava, the Hlinka Guard and the Freiwillige Schutzstaffel played an important role in the funeral ritual in Spišská Nová Ves.

The Outbreak of World War II and Propaganda against Poland in Public Spaces

In September, when Germany launched an attack on Poland, the Slovak state had existed for only a few months. In connection with the beginning of the war, the changes affected mainly the territory of western and northern Slovakia. In preparation for the war, the relevant military infrastructure was built in this area, including the construction of military warehouses, trenches, and antiaircraft shelters and repairs were made to roads and bridges. 55

Meanwhile, the public space became mainly a stage for propaganda. This propaganda sharpened against Poland in August 1939 and was undoubtedly part of Germany’s preparations for war.56 Demonstrations in the squares were an integral part of it. The largest of these demonstrations took place in Bratislava on August 22, 1939. The unplanned arrival of Hlinka Guard members took place in Slobody Square in the early evening. The organizer of this demonstration was the guard itself, and according to the press, up to 100,000 people took part, including 50,000 civilians.57 Given the spontaneity of the whole demonstration, I regard these estimates as exaggerations. It is clear from the archival reports that the whole event aimed to prepare the Slovak population for the impending conflict with Poland. The demonstration was therefore in the spirit of the motto “We want ours, we want ours, we want everything that is ours!” 58 Karol Danihel’s59 speech to the guards and the civilian population was intended not simply to incite anti-Polish sentiment, but also to defend Slovakia’s cooperation with Germany and, above all, to motivate Hlinka Guard members to obey any orders they might receive in the coming days.

The end of summer in the Slovak countryside was traditionally marked by harvest festivities.60 In the Slovak agrarian environment, these festivities are of special importance. They are milestones in which harvesting and field work symbolically come to an end. For the regime, this holiday was an important propaganda tool. The festivities were primarily used to highlight the regime’s social efforts, but the content changed significantly depending on domestic political developments. Throughout the existence of the Slovak state, in all major cities politicians performed on stage as part of harvest festivities and filled the celebrations with their own content. 61

At the time of the attack on Poland in September 1939, one of the main points of the harvest celebrations in Zvolen was the performance of Jozef Kirschbaum.62 He replaced Jozef Tiso on the stage, who did not take part in the celebration, even though according to the original plans, he would have participated. In his speech, Kirschbaum emphasized that Slovaks, in cooperation with Germany in the attack on Poland, were only pursuing the correction of an old injustice, and thus the return of territories that had been taken away from Slovakia. Unity with Germany was also symbolically underlined by the decoration on the square where the celebration took place. Slovak and German flags flew on the sides of the square.63 A similar speech was held a few days later in the small town of Topoľčany, where the Minister of Economy Gejza Medrický spoke in the same spirit. 64 The politicians were trying to convince their audiences that it was the duty of every brave individual to fight for the nation and that the performance of military duty is equivalent to work in the field or in the factory.

Constant persuasion of the audience of the necessity of a military attack on Poland suggests that massive support from the population was crucial for the regime. The propaganda campaign, also conducted through demonstrations in public, eventually proved effective. As stated by Zuzana Tokárová, who examined the shows of loyalty by the population in the city of Prešov, even though military aggression was accepted with reluctance by many residents, in practical terms, there was no great resistance to the idea of going to war with Poland.65 In addition to gaining support, the regime pursued another goal by organizing various demonstrations and celebrations. Through the speeches, the political elite sought to create a national collective identity that would be connected to a picture of the peaceful character of a Slovak who wants nothing but what belongs to him.66 The cult of the heroism of the martyr for the homeland began to thrive in these months (it had also appeared in hints in the previous period), because with the onset of the war, the regime had an ever more pressing need for this cult.67

Further militarization of Slovak society68 in the public space took place mainly through the organization of celebrations associated with the honor of soldiers. The soldier as a symbol was closely tied to discipline and obedience slogans that were often used in the contemporary propaganda. According to a speech held by Jozef Tiso in June 1939 in Prešov,

The whole Slovak nation lives in its military determination to live, work, and die for its nation and state, and even the most independent soldier is determined to do the same. The Slovak soldier will always be a model for every Slovak. The nation gives the army its tradition. A soldier gives a nation his qualities: military modesty, unity, unpretentiousness, toughness, and perseverance.69

In the propaganda of the time, these qualities were contrasted with “decadent” capitalist society. Tiso imagined the typical Slovak as a humble, hard-working, unassuming man, and it was in these points that the propaganda sought parallels with the symbol of a soldier who was to become a model of civic virtues. 70

From the point of view of political leaders, it was important to makes shows of Slovak-German unity in front of the local audiences. In the public space, there was an opportunity to do so during the military festivities in Piešťany, which took place in mid-October. Both Ferdinand Čatloš71 and Jozef Tiso took part in them. On Hlinka Square, in the central area of the city, Slovak and German pilots were honored and decorated. Tiso himself presented the award of the victorious cross72 to the General of Antiaircraft Artillery Fritz Hirschauer. In addition to Tiso and Čatloš, the ceremony was also attended by the Minister of Transport Július Stano and the Commander-in-Chief of the Hlinka Guard Alexander Mach. The Hlinka Guard also had a role at the ceremony, and a guard parade was part of the performance for the Piešťany audience. In Tiso’s speech, the words devotion, courage, and perseverance were repeated many times as the virtues to adorn every soldier. The celebrations included military music, and the Slovak and German national anthems were also played.

The offensive militarization of Slovak society which began in August 1939 also affected the cult of Andrej Hlinka. When, at the end of October 1939, his remains were ceremoniously transferred to the newly built mausoleum, the propaganda took the opportunity to connect Hlinka’s personality with the symbol of a warrior. According to Ferdinand Čatloš, Hlinka was no longer just a martyr and the founder of the state. He also became a warrior with military virtues.73 In an editorial printed in a Slovak newspaper, Čatloš did not forget to highlight Hlinka’s masculinity and authority, which were aspects of his personality that were highly valued in the contemporary propaganda.

After the end of the fighting in Poland, the war agitation in the propaganda weakened. In the subsequent period, the symbol of the martyr-soldier-hero appeared in public space mainly in connection with the celebration of public holidays and various anniversaries. The army played an important role in the celebrations of the first anniversary of state independence in March 1940. The national holiday of March 14 was celebrated in all major cities and culminated in a military parade. These ceremonies were intended to evoke the strength of the Slovak army and the determination to defend its country among the audience. The speeches again addressed the need to cultivate military virtues, and they emphasized the need for discipline and unity.74 In the capital, where the entire government took part in the military parade, an army order was issued by Jozef Tiso.75 The army presented itself on the streets of the city as the greatest source of support for the young state. After a military parade on Slobody Square, the army moved through the streets of the city to Vajanského nábrežie. Here, the army had to show the audience its strength, discipline, and unity. At the head of the parade was General Alexander Čunderlík, followed by his aides, military music, and the honor guard. The propaganda did not forget to emphasize that the infantry, which formed the largest part, drowned out the sounds of the military music with its thundering footfalls.76 Undoubtedly, the greatest response was evoked by motorized units, including panzers, which had to make an extraordinary impact on the audience of the time. In terms of reflections on the army’s traditions, references to the past of the Hungarian and Czechoslovak troops were out of the question. According to the periodical press, “There was no Slovak army and it was born.”77 Only the connection between the legend of the army from Sitno and the army of that time came into consideration.

Sitno is the mountain near Banská Štiavnica, where according to a folk story, a sleeping army is waiting to help the Slovaks in bad times. The story about the knights of Sitno is found in the work List of Slovak fairy tales published in 1931. It was written by Jiří Polívka (a Czech philologist and Slavist).78 According to propaganda, like the mythical army under Sitno, the Slovak army should have be prepared to defend itself.79

The propaganda also highlighted the “building” aspect80 in the army, especially on the occasion of the May 1 celebrations. According to the ideas of Jozef Tiso, the army was to become a builder of the nation. This included the involvement of the military in politics. Tiso also stressed that the military should primarily protect the nation, not the individual. 81

War against the Soviet Union, Militarization of Slovak Society, and Public Space as a “Stage”

Slovakia’s involvement in the war against the Soviet Union in June 1941 marked a new wave of militarization of Slovak society. This trend affected public spaces, especially in connection with the staging of celebrations and shows of loyalty. These rituals included a ceremonial welcome of frontline soldiers. In the city of Prešov, which was a strategically exposed city with a large military garrison, ceremonial welcomes were held regularly either in the area near the Church of St. Nicholas or in a less solemn spirit directly at the train station.82 Representatives of not only military but also civilian authorities took part, including representatives of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party, the Hlinka Guards, the Hlinka Youth (Hlinkova mládež), and the Slovak Red Cross (Slovenský červený kríž). There were also pupils from all the schools in Prešov. The welcomes that were held for soldiers from the front contained several recurring elements: a strict organization and hierarchy in the central area near the Church of St. Nicholas, the presence of the most important personalities of the regime from the region. The space was dominated by a ceremonial tribune with a place of honor for a mayor, a government commissioner, and German officials. In June 1942, the ceremony was attended by the mayor Andrej Dudáš, the government commissioner Vojtech Raslavský, the German consul Peter von Woinovich, and the chairman of the DP Franz Karmasin. Representatives of church and cultural institutions were also present.83 The most distinguished guest was the Minister of Defense Ferdinand Čatloš.

More urgent for the regime was the need to associate the symbol of the soldier with the very existence of an independent state. The celebrations of state independence, which took place on March 14, were ideally suited to this. With the start of war operations against the USSR, the army came to the forefront of the celebrations. Its members occupied places of honor during ceremonial parades alongside the main representatives of cities and counties. During the celebrations, the audience was presented with an image of Slovak independence and freedom closely connected with the symbol of a soldier ready to lay down his life for his homeland.84 The regime purposefully linked the preservation of the state’s independence with its involvement in the war alongside Nazi Germany. The celebrations of state independence stretched over two days. The city’s public space was properly decorated for the celebrations with Slovak, German, and Hlinka Guard flags. Illuminated shop windows in the city center were decorated with busts of Hlinka. The two days of celebrations culminated in a military parade.

The Cult of the Unknown Soldier

Initially, the regime used the symbol of an unknown soldier, who was also depicted as a hero. The only exceptions were articles published in the newspaper Slovák with short biographies of those who had fallen at the beginning of the war. However, the regime did not initially create any specific cult of the personality of a fallen soldier. The soldier was an anonymous hero with no specific destiny and no name.

In this spirit, a monumental statue was planned as a tribute to of the Slovak Air Force. It was to be erected in the small village of Liptovský Peter in the north of Slovakia. The initiator of this event was Minister Ferdinand Čatloš, who planned to build a modern airport near the village.85 In October 1942, when Čatloš discussed the monument with the well-known Slovak sculptor Majerský,86 the Slovak political scene had already become considerably radicalized. That month, a law on leadership was passed87 which marked a significant attempt towards a totalitarian establishment. A few months earlier, in May 1942, Act no. 70/1942 Sl. Coll. on the Slovak working community had been passed, which was an attempt to establish a corporative society. The reflection of these changes can be seen to some extent in the design of the monument. The design of the monumental sculpture, authored by the sculptor Ladislav Róbert Ján Majerský, contained ideological elements that radicals sought to promote in Slovak society. However, these elements were given legitimacy in the internal political struggle by the wing grouped around president Tiso.

The dominant element of the monument which had been envisioned was the symbol of the pilot with the airport revolving around his figure. Below it, the Slovak soil was depicted on a pedestal, on which the Slovak working community awaits the arrival of Slovak eagles with joy.88 The design worked ingeniously with contemporary ideological concepts such as land or the notion of the working community. Part of the design was to emphasize that Slovak sandstone would be used in the creation of the statue. The monument was to be bold in size. It was planned to be 12 meters tall. However, Čatloš assessed the costs as too high and the creation of the monument was postponed indefinitely.

As the war continued, the need to explain Slovak participation grew. In Slovak historiography, there is a perception that, despite the efforts of government, the population of Slovakia had not been persuaded of the need to wage war against the USSR. Less attention is already paid to the tools that were used by the regime to do this. I noted above that the cult of the martyr for the homeland was fostered (quite naturally) immediately in connection with direct participation in the war. The regime’s efforts to foster this cult were undoubtedly visible in September 1939. It is noteworthy that these efforts were less visible in the case of the attack on the USSR. Of course, the welcome shown to frontline soldiers and the importance of the army in state celebrations of independence were among the pillars of the presentation of military (and political) power in public spaces. On the other hand, the cult of the martyr for the homeland did not seem to be at the forefront of the agitation speeches delivered at the celebrations for a while.

The Cult of Eugen Budinsky

The most significant attempt to build a cult of personal sacrifice for the homeland among the soldiers in the Slovak army can be considered the cult associated with the person of Eugen Budinský. Budinský89 came from a middle class family in Ružomberok. Part of his family became Hungarian under the influence of Magyarization at the beginning of the twentieth century and part of the family saw themselves as Slovaks.90

After the establishment of the Slovak Republic, Eugen Budinsky, who was an excellent athlete, was chosen by the Minister of Defense Ferdinand Čatloš as his aide charged with the responsibility of organizing military sports.91 After the invasion of the Soviet Union, Budinsky joined the Slovak Rapid Division, which in late July and early August 1942 participated in the fighting in the Caucasus. He died in action on August 4, 1942 near the town of Kropotkin. According to the recollections of several soldiers, Budinský was one of the most popular Slovak officers on the Eastern Front.92

Budinský became the prototype of a perfect Slovak for the regime. He had been a “manly,” capable athlete who had shown protective concern for his subordinates. He was exactly the man that the propaganda machine needed. In Budinsky’s personality, the people who crafted the propaganda found the missing piece they needed to build an image of a disciplined army and sacrifice for the benefit of the nation. The representatives of the regime decided to replace the hitherto vague cult of an unknown soldier with a cult of a particular personality. It was no secret that the fate of a particular personality would serve well “as a sign of early and fresh commemoration of Slovak victims for the idea of state independence.”93 Čatloš, who initiated the whole event, was extremely involved in honoring (or manipulatively crafting and using) the memory of Budinský.

Budinský’s remains were transported from the Caucasus to Ružomberok, where a reverential celebration was organized on the occasion of the first anniversary of his death. The importance of this event for the regime was underlined by the personal participation of Tiso and Čatloš. Other prominent guests also sat in the audience, such as Minister of Transport Július Stano and Minister of Finance Mikuláš Pružinský.94 Part of the celebration was the unveiling of the mound dedicated to Budinský, set in the central area of the city, between the manor house of St. Sophia and the entrance to the barracks.95 The monument was three meters high, and at the top was mounted a sculpture depicting Budinský and his soldiers in the fight against the enemy. The author of the project was the well-known Ružomberok architect Jozef Švidroň, and the construction was financed by the Ministry of Defense. At the initiative of the ministry, the Ružomberok barracks were also named after Budinský.

The unveiling of the monument to Budinský was one of the important propaganda acts of the regime. The idea of erecting a Budinský monument in that spot stemmed from the regime’s efforts to develop the martyr cult associated with the personality of Andrej Hlinka. On a practical level, this was offered as a logical solution, as Budinský was a native of Ružomberok. Although Hlinka was a key figure in the regime’s propaganda and the regime’s decisions were based on the narrative of his martyrdom, a need had arisen to present new examples to the public of self-sacrificing heroes who would follow Hlinka’s legacy and fight for the independent state. This intention clear in the speech held by Tiso, who during the unveiling of the monument emphasized the spirit of the national hero and his commitment “to work – to sacrifice – to die.” 96 Almost immediately after its ceremonial unveiling, the mound was included among the regime’s pilgrimage sites. In addition to Hlinka’s mausoleum, Budinský’s resting place has become part of the program of every major visit to the city. As early as August 14, 1943, a Bulgarian envoy stopped at the site during his visit.97 The last resting place of Hlinka, as a politically and culturally active personality and national martyr, thus found a parallel in the monument to Budinský, a war hero who had sacrificed his life to defend his homeland. The installation of this monument in the public space of the town of Ružomberok meant a further strengthening of the town’s image as an official pilgrimage site of the regime.

However, the efforts to build the cult of the martyr for the homeland associated with the figure of Budinský cannot be described as successful on a national scale. The spread of the narrative of Eugene Budinský’s fall in battle as a national martyr and hero came to a halt in the following months, and his cult never really developed. The events of the following months and, in particular, the emergence of resistance to the government at the turn of 1943 and 1944, which culminated in the events of the Slovak National Uprising in August 1944, did not offer the regime much space to cultivate the martyrdom cult.


From the outset, the Slovak Republic of 1939–1945 connected its existence with Nazi Germany. The sudden emergence of the state under the pressure of German aggression meant that government officials were forced to explain to the Slovak population the ambitions of the new state and the traditions on which it built its claims to legitimacy and power. Therefore, the rapid sequence of events and the entry into the war alongside Germany largely determined the propaganda. Government officials grabbed swift, populist solutions. Propaganda was adapted to this situation. One of its most important stages was the urban spaces of the country, which provided useful backdrops for the authoritarian regime because they were under state control. From the outset, the regime continued the almost 20-year tradition of the autonomist movement, and in the first months, it drew on this tradition in its interventions in public spaces. This was especially reflected in the renaming of the streets. The symbol of martyrdom, connected from the beginning with Andrej Hlinka in particular, became an important factor in the formation of the national identity created by state. In some cities, attempts were also made to foster local cults of martyrs. The city of Prešov offers one example, where the martyrdom cult represented by local personalities was a part of anti-Hungarian propaganda.

Later, in connection with the conflict with the central Czech government and the military conflict with Hungary in March 1939, the importance of defending the establishment of an independent state came to the fore. The symbol of martyrdom for the homeland was represented in this case by the victims who emerged from both conflicts. In honor of the fallen heroes, reverential festivities were held. These festivities were used to nurture the idea in Slovak society that independence is not free and, if necessary, one may well need to lay down one’s life for it. These ideas were then used by political representatives when the state joined the war against Poland. Slovak propaganda in August 1939 significantly contributed to the militarization of Slovak society, and urban spaces again played an important role. They became sites of demonstrations and military parades to prepare society for an attack alongside Germany. The regime militarized society by creating an image of a peaceful Slovak who was just defending himself. According to this propaganda, the typical Slovak did not want expansion. He wanted only what rightfully belonged to him.

As part of the militarization of society, the regime also used the symbol of military discipline as a model of civic obedience. The highest state officials, including Tiso, imagined the typical Slovak as a humble, hard-working, undemanding man, and it was at these points that propaganda sought parallels with the symbol of a soldier who was to become a model of civic virtues. The army was to serve as a model for the citizens also in the work of construction, which was contracted mainly in connection with the celebration of Labor Day. As in the case of the military, discipline and obedience played an important role in the establishment of labor camps, and they were qualities that were seen as (or depicted as) key to the regime’s leaders.

Slovak society was further militarized in connection with the attack on the Soviet Union. Welcoming frontline soldiers in the city center became a standard part of events in public spaces. These events were attended by a wide urban audience, including school students and representatives of the army and the city. The symbol of the soldier as hero was an increasingly prominent part of the celebrations of state independence. The culmination of efforts to promote the martyrdom cult in public spaces came with plans for and the erection of monuments dedicated to specific personalities. From the outset, visual narratives of martyrdom in public spaces were connected mainly with the personality of Andrej Hlinka. Later, Eugen Budinský’s was added. Both personalities came from Ružomberok, so the cult of martyrs was strongest in this city. Their last resting served as an official pilgrimage site for the regime.

In conclusion, the discussion above shows that the notion of martyrdom as a narrative trope was an integral part of propaganda at the time. This notion was used, largely successfully, in the regime’s attempts to gain the consent of the Slovak Christian majority to join the war against Poland and the Soviet Union. The martyrdom cult was implemented every time the regime needed to explain the demands of militarization. Public spaces were important sites for martyrdom propaganda, and this propaganda mostly affected the social dimension of these spaces (for instance in celebrations dedicated to martyrs) and their material-symbolic dimension (for instance with the renaming of streets and the creation of memorials).

The cult of sacrifice for the homeland was fostered with particularly fervency in the time immediately before or during the outbreak of a specific conflict involving Slovak society. However, the regime reacted mainly to the war situation at the given moment, and the narratives of martyrdom were used systematically and with clear purposes as part of the propaganda.

The symbol of the martyr, and the soldier as hero underwent process of evolution during the period under discussion. Initially, the regime used personalities who sacrificed themselves for the cause of an independent Slovak state. Undoubtedly, the most prominent figure from this perspective was Andrej Hlinka, who became a symbol of the authoritarian regime and after whom a square or street was named in each city. His vocation as a priest also played an important role. Later, it was necessary to rely on new personalities. Guardsman Anton Kopal, who became a symbol of resistance against the Czechs, was tied to radical circles, including Alexander Mach. In addition, his death could be questioned as having merely been a matter of coincidence. A more acceptable personality was Eugen Budinský, an officer of the Slovak army and a capable, masculine athlete who could be portrayed as having been determined and committed to his homeland. However, due to the rapid fall of the Slovak state, this cult could no longer developed. Andrej Hlinka thus remained the most prominent figure of the Slovak martyrdom cult during World War, and this cult has survived in a large part of Slovak society to the present day. The continuity of the martyrdom cult can also be seen in the form of the martyrdom of Jozef Tiso, who is considered as a martyr today mainly—but not only—by radical right-wing groups in Slovakia.

Archival Sources

Štátny archív v Žiline so sídlom v Bytči, pracovisko Liptovský Mikuláš [State Archive Bytča, Department in Liptovský Mikuláš] (SA Bytča)



Slovák 1939–1943

Slovenská sloboda 1939–1942

Tatranský Slovák 1943


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Łupienko, Aleksander. “Some remarks on the birth of modern city planning in the Polish territories (1850–1914): the impact of the hygienic movement.” Mesto a dejiny. The City in History 5, no. 2 (2016): 18–34.

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Mannová, Elena. “Pomníková kultúra v Bratislave: Spomínanie – vizualizácia moci – reprezentácia.” [Culture of monuments in Bratislava: Remembering–visualisation of power–representation]. Acta historica neosoliensia 18, no. 1–2 (2015): 236–57.

Oxfordský slovník světových dějin [A dictionary of world history]. Praha: Academia, 2005.

Palárik, Miroslav, Alena Mikulášová, Martin Hetényi Martin, and Róbert Arpáš. The City and Region Against the Backdrop of Totalitarianism: Images from the Life in Slovak Republic (1939–1945), Illustrated by City of Nitra and Its Surroundings. Studies in Politics, Security and Society 17. Berlin: Peter Lang GmbH, 2018.

Paměť míst, událostí a osobností: historie jako identita a manipulace [Memory of places, events and personalities: History as identity and manipulation]. Edited by Milan Hlavačka, and Antoine Marès. Praha: HÚ AV, 2011.

Pejs, Oldřich. “Jozef Tiso jako hlava státu a nejvyšší vojenský velitel” [Jozef Tiso as head of state and supreme military commander]. Vojenská história 22, no. 2 (2018): 7–34.

Pekár, Martin. “Politics and Public Space in Slovakia between 1938–1945: The example of Prešov.” In Cities in Europe, Cities in the World, 1–13. Weimar: Bauhaus-Institut für Geschichte und Theorie der Architektur und Planung, 2015.

Pekár, Martin. “Replacement of Municipal Political Elite as a Tool for Seizing Power and Consolidating an Authoritarian Regime in Slovakia 1938–1940.” Mesto a dejiny. The City and History 9, no. 1 (2020): 93–111.

Pekár, Martin. Východné Slovensko 1939–1945: Politické a národnostné pomery v zrkadle agendy Šarišsko-zemplínskej župy [Eastern Slovakia 1939–1945: Political and national conditions in the mirror of the agenda of the Šariš-Zemplín county]. Prešov: Prešovská univerzita v Prešove, 2007.

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Tokárová, Zuzana. Slovenský štát: Režim medzi teóriou a politickou praxou [The Slovak state: The regime between theory and political practice]. Košice: UPJŠ, 2016.

Tokárová, Zuzana. “Social Status of the Interwar Jewish Political Elite in Prešov and Its Influence on Surviving the Holocaust.” Historický časopis 69, no. 4 (2021): 655–76.

Welch-Guerra Max, Harald Bodenschatz, Piero Sassi. Urbanism and dictatorship: A European Perspective. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2015.

1 Welch-Guerra et al., Urbanism and dictatorship, 248; Palárik et al., The City and Region Against the Backdrop of Totalitarianism, 280; Pekár, “Politic and Public Space”; Bírešová, “Prezentácia štátnej ideológie,” 51–64; Hořejš, Protektorátní Praha, 320; Lipták, “Kolektívne identity,” 117–31; Pokludová, “V záři miliónů”; Hristova and Czepcynski, Public Space between reimagination and occupation, 188; Łupienko, “Some remarks on the birth of modern city planning in the Polish territories,” 1834.

2 Mannová, “Pomníková kultúra v Bratislave”; Švorc, “Gedenktafeln und Denkmäler in der Slowakei”; Pokludová, “Pomníky: místa kolektivní paměti, zapomnění i smíření s minulostí”; Hojda and Pokorný, Pomníky a zapomníky, 280. Hlavačka et al., Paměť míst, událostí a osobností: historie jako identita a manipulace, 685. Skoczylas, Pamięć społeczna miasta – jej liderzy i odbiorcy, 292; Kwiatkowski, Pamięć zbiorowa społeczeństwa polskiego w okresie transformacji, 470.

3 Hájková et al., Sláva republice!, 536; Kušniráková et al. Vyjdeme v noci vo fakľovom sprievode a rozsvietime svet, 245.

4 Bodenschatz, “Urbanism and dictatorship,” 20.

5 Hagen and Ostergren, Building Nazi Germany, 496; Adam, Art of the Third Reich; Cohen, Architecture in Uniform; Filtzer, The Hazard of Urban Life in Late Stalinist Russia, 379.

6 Palárik et al., The City and Region Against the Backdrop of Totalitarianism, 280; Pekár, “Politic and Public Space”; Fogelová and Pekár, Disciplinované mesto, 198; Szalay et al., Vojnová Bratislava 1939–1945, 336.

7 Siebel and Werheim, “öffentlichkeit und Privatheit in der überwachten Stadt.”

8 Oxfordský slovník světových dějin, 479.

9 Jowett and O’Donnell, Propaganda & Persuasion, 7–8.

11 Macho, “Martýrium ako heroizačný instrument.”

12 Baird, Die for Germany, 243–44.

13 Hudek, Najpolitickejšia veda, 15–34.

14 Ibid., 17–18.

15 Lipták, “Kolektívne identity a verejné priestory.”

16 Hruboň, “Budovanie kultu Jozefa Tisa,” 215.

17 Vojtech Tuka (1880–1946) served as prime minister in 1939–1944. He was a member of the radical pro-Nazi wing of Hlinka Slovak People’s Party. He was also the founder of the paramilitary organization Rodobrana. In 1920s and 1930s, he was arrested on charges of treason and espionage in favor of Hungary. His person is also closely connected with the persecution of Jews and anti-Jewish laws.

18 The tragedy in Černová took place on October 27, 1907. During a dispute over the consecration of the church (the inhabitants of Černová demanded that the church be consecrated by Hlinka), the gendarmes began shooting at the crowd. 15 people died in the shooting. The tragedy is considered one of the peaks of the violent Magyarization of Slovaks.

19 Slovak volunteer expeditions were organized by the Slovak National Council during the uprising in 1848 and 1849.

20 Juraj Jánošík (1688–1713) was a legendary “early rebel.” He was a member of the insurgent troops in the uprising against the Habsburgs by Francis II Rákóczi, and he later was a member of the imperial troops. His life as a highwayman lasted less than two years. In 1713, he was executed. Representatives of the Slovak national movement romanticized his character in the middle of the nineteenth century and his story is part of Slovak legends.

21 Fedorčák, Tuka proti republike, 269.

22 Lipták, Slovensko v 20. storočí, 365; Baka, Politický systém a režim, 322. Summary for non-Slovak readers: Teich, Kováč and Brown. Slovakia in History, 413.

23 Baka, Politický systém a režim, 13–30.

24 Tokárová, Slovenský štát: Režim medzi teóriou a politickou praxou, 272.

25 Alexander Mach (1902–1980) was the head of Hlinka Guard (1939–1940, 1940–1944) as well, and also served as Minister of Interior (1940–1944). Alexander Mach belonged to the pro-Nazi wing of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party, and he was also responsible for persecution of the Jewish community of Slovakia. After the war, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison (he was released after having served 23 years).

26 Baka, “Mechanizmus, ciele a metódy pôsobenia ľudáckej propagandy v rokoch 1938–1939,” 285.

27 We can talk about continuity in the case of Ružomberok. One can find more on interventions to the legal dimension in Fogelová and Pekár, Disciplinované mesto.

28 See Tokárová, “Social Status of the Interwar Jewish Political Elite in Prešov.”

29 Bernard Rolfesz was of Hungarian nationality, as was Karol Sefcsík, another member of the city administration). See Palárik et al., The City and Region Against the Backdrop of Totalitarianism, 135. See also: Pekár, “Replacement of Municipal Political Elite.”

30 Pekár, “Replacement of Municipal Political Elite.”

31 For the categorization of dimensions of public space applied to the example of the Slovak Republic of 1939–1945, see Fogelová and Pekár, Disciplinované mesto, 26–33 or in general Siebel and Wehrheim, “öffentlichkeit und Privatheit in der überwachten Stadt,” 4–13.

32 Palárik et al, The City and Region Against the Backdrop of Totalitarianism, 280.

33 The first changes in the public space were aimed against Czechs. The changes were closely related to the declaration of Slovak autonomy on October 6, 1938. The changes against Jews followed later, affecting mainly the legal dimension (for instance the introduction of a curfew in the night and the expulsion of Jews from public spaces and the centers of the towns) and the social dimension (antisemitism during the ceremonial speeches in towns). Anti-Semitism has found expression in the city streets on the level of graffiti paintings of pejorative symbols. Later, Law nr. 177/1940 Sl. Coll. was adopted. The regime used this law, called the “Sanitation Law,” in relation to new construction projects, which in many cases affected property which had been owned by Jews.

34 The interpretation of the deaths of selected martyrs is questionable. As is clear in the discussion below, the deaths of some martyrs were more or less accidental.

35 Košice (until that time the second biggest city in Slovakia) became part of Hungary due to the First Vienna Award on November 2, 1938. Košice belonged to Hungary until the liberation of the city by the Red Army in January 1945.

36 Pekár, Východné Slovensko 1939–1945, 46–55.

37 František Majoch worked together with priests Štefan Onderčo (a close associate of Andrej Hlinka and also a leading supporter of the People’s Party in eastern Slovakia) and Jozef Čárský (a Catholic priest in Široké near Prešov). Later, he became a bishop in Košice. He held this position until 1939, and again after 1946. He organized an assembly against the Hungarian Bolsheviks in December 1918, and he belonged to the leaders of the Slovak national activities in the eastern Slovak region at the time.

38 Harčar, Žil som v Košiciach, 28–33.

39 Letz and Mulik, Pohľady na osobnosť Andreja Hlinku, 277.

40 Holec, Andrej Hlinka, 115.

41 “Duch Andreja Hlinku vládne Slovenskom.Slovák, October 28, 1938, 2.

42 Ibid.

43 State Archive in Bytča, Department in Liptovský Mikuláš, Municipal notary office, no. 17–20, box. 8, Minutes of the Municipal council, June, 10 1939.

44 “Ojedinele zrealizovaná povďačnosť.” Liptov, September 29, 1939, 1.

45 Ibid.

46 “Spi sladko, brat Anton.” Slovák, March 15, 1939, 2.

47 Freiwillige Schutzstaffel, founded in the late 1938, was a paramilitary wing of the German Party (Deutsche Partei) in the Slovak Republic: 1939–1945. It organized members of the German community in Slovakia.

48 Do boja za náš vznešený ideál. Slovák, March 21, 1939, 4.

49 “Cesta nemecko-slovenského kamarátstva znamená: nový život, nový svet, spravodlivosť a slobodu.” Slovák, March 12, 1940, 3.

50 On the relationship between the Hlinka Guard and the army, see: Sokolovič, Hlinkova garda 1938–1945, 236–40.

51 “Cesta nemecko-slovenského kamarátstva znamená: nový život, nový svet, spravodlivosť a slobodu.” Slovák, March 12, 1940, 3.

52 On the conflict known as the Little War, see: Cséfalvay, “Predohra a priebeh maďarsko-slovenského ozbrojeného konfliktu v marci 1939.”

53 “Krv nevinných privedie k víťazstvu našu pravdu!” Slovák, March 29, 1939, 4.

54 Alexander Mach represented the government, and he was also the commander of the Hlinka Guard. Karol Murgaš was at that time the chief of the political staff of the Hlinka Guard.

55 Baka, “Slovensko vo vojne proti Poľsku v roku 1939,” 27.

56 Baka, “Návrat odtrhnutých bratov.”

57 “HG v Bratislave v pohotovosti,” Slovák, August 24, 1939, 2.

58 In the autumn of 1938, Slovakia lost an area of 221 square kilometers in northern Slovakia, which fell to Poland. The agreement between the Czechoslovak and Polish governments was based on the Munich Agreement, signed on September 30, 1938.

59 Karol Danihel was a politician and notary. He was district commander of the Hlinka Guard in Malacky, and from May 1942 until September 1944 he served as the chief of staff of the guard. Danihel was a supporter of Tiso and of the conservative wing of the Party.

60 The harvest festival was one of the traditional festivities in the rural environment associated with the annual agricultural cycle.

61 Fogelová and Pekár, Disciplinované mesto, 123.

62 Jozef Kirschbaum (1913–2001) was a politician and diplomat. He was secretary-general of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party in 1939–1940, and beginning in 1942, he served as a diplomat in Switzerland.

63 “Ešte o sviatku Zvolena,” Slovák, September 8, 1939, 7.

64 “Jednotný hlas znie Slovensko: Už nikdy viac nebudeme otrokmi!” Slovák, September 5, 1939, 5.

65 Tokárová, “Od lojality k apatii,” 67.

66 “Jednotný hlas znie Slovensko: Už nikdy viac nebudeme otrokmi!” Slovák, September 5, 1939, 5.

67 Baka, “Návrat odtrhnutých bratov,” 136–39.

68 On the militarization of Slovak society, see: Baka, Slovenská republika a nacistická agresia proti Poľsku, 132–40.

69 “Armáda budovateľkou štátu a lepšej budúcnosti,” Slovenská sloboda, July 1, 1939, 1.

70 Also see: Pejs, “Jozef Tiso jako hlava státu a nejvyšší vojenský velitel,” 16.

71 Ferdinand Čatloš (1895–1972) served as minister of defense and general. He organized and commanded the Slovak army campaign in Poland.

72 The Slovak Victorious Military Cross went through several developmental stages. In the period between 1939 and 1942, from its establishment until the first modification, its insignia was divided into three classes and the award was given to persons who showed personal bravery, dedication, and presence of mind on the battlefield or performed an important act with the entrusted unit to contribute to a favorable outcome or military operation, as well as to those who had made outstanding contributions to the Republic. For more information, see: Purdek, “Vojenská symbolika.”

73 “Hlinka – bojovník!” Slovák, October 29, 1939, 1.

74 “Oslavovali sme najväčší slovenský sviatok,” Slovenská sloboda, March 16, 1940, 2.

75 “Duch 14. marca vládne nad Slovenskom,” Slovák, March 16, 1940, 3–4.

76 “Slovenské vojsko defiluje,” Slovák, March 16, 1940, 5.

77 Ibid.

78 The similar story is also known in the case of Mountain Blaník in the central part of the Czech Republic.

79 “Slovenské vojsko defiluje,” Slovák, March 16, 1940, 5.

80 Metaphorical uses of the term “building” (budovateľský) were common in the communist era, but this term was often used by the Slovak wartime regime too. For example, Jozef Tiso was described in the contemporary propaganda as president-builder.

81 “Armáda je budovateľským činiteľom národa,” Slovák, May 4, 1940, 3.

82 “Hold vlasti vojakom,” Slovenská sloboda, June 14, 1942, 1. See also: “Ďalší oddiel frontových vojakov v Prešove,” Slovenská sloboda, June 19, 1942, 3.

83 “Hold vlasti vojakom,” Slovenská sloboda, June 14, 1942, 1.

84 “Slovenská sloboda,” Slovák, March 14, 1942, 1.

85 Šumichrast, “Keď rinčali zbrane, múzy nemlčali.”

86 Ladislav Róbert Ján Majerský (1900–1965) was an important Slovak sculptor. He was one of the founders of modern Slovak sculpture. He devoted himself to the creation of sculptures, memorial plaques, and reliefs. His work is still part of several Slovak cities. See Šumichrast, “Keď rinčali zbrane, múzy nemlčali,” 152.

87 Law no. 215/1942 Sl. Coll. on Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party.

88 Šumichrast, “Keď rinčali zbrane, múzy nemlčali,” 155.

89 Originally named Budaváry. He changed the surname in 1940 because of its connotation, which were suggestive of Hungarian ancestry.

90 Jašek, “Dôstojník v prvej línii,” 40.

91 Ibid., 43.

92 Ibid., 49.

93 “Pietna slávnosť v Ružomberku,” Slovák, August 8, 1943, 3.

94 “Odhalenie mohyly pplk. Budinského,” Tatranský Slovák, August 14, 1943, 2.

95 State Archive in Bytča, Department in Liptovský Mikuláš, Architect Jozef Švidroň - Kucbel in Ružomberok, 1928-1949, Construction of the Monument to Lt. Col. Budinsky in Ruzomberok, 1943.

96 “Najväčšie národné cnosti: Pracovať – obetovať – zomierať,” Slovák, August 10, 1943, 1.

97 “Oficiálna návšteva bulharského vyslanca v Ružomberku,” Tatranský Slovák, August 14, 1943, 1.


Practices of Creative Disobedience: A Key to Economic Success in Socialism? A Case Study of a Hungarian Agricultural Cooperative

Zsuzsanna Varga
Eötvös Loránd University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 3  (2021):444-465 DOI 10.38145/2021.3.444

In this article, I examine the fate during the decades of socialism in Hungary of the agricultural company Árpád-Agrár Ltd. of Szentes, which which has flourished up to the present day. Its predecessor, the Árpád Mezőgazdasági Termelőszövetkezet (Agricultural Producer Cooperative), was established in 1960, during the last wave of collectivization. Most members were gardeners who specialized in a Bulgarian type of horticulture.

One of the central questions in my inquiry is how individual gardeners’ best practices were preserved and further developed within the structure of a socialist cooperative. I also consider how the Árpád Cooperative used the economic reforms of 1968 to expand its market-share.
In my analysis of the successful transfer of knowledge and processes of adaptation, I devote particular attention to the human factor, taking into consideration both the changing relationship between the leadership and the membership of the cooperative and the formation of a class of managers who had had experiences in the West and had a more open-minded mentality. These factors offer a possible explanation as to why this agricultural community chose the organizational form of a cooperative at the time of the change of the political regime and was transformed into a public limited liability company only a decade later.

Keywords: Hungary, socialist cooperatives, horticulture, adaptation, bottom-up initiatives, agrarian lobby, market reforms, innovation

Árpád-Agrár Ltd. in Szentes is considered one of the national leaders in Hungary in the production of cocktail tomatoes and peppers as well as in the growing of seedlings. Vegetable cultivation is based on renewable energy and the utilization of thermal water and cutting-edge technology. For the purpose of protecting plants, the use of chemicals has been replaced with the use of organic materials.

Immediately after entering the company’s office in Szentes, one notices the certificates, awards, and diplomas from every decade of the enterprise’s existence decorating the walls. The earliest are from the 1960s, from the time of the Árpád Mezőgazdasági Termelőszövetkezet (Agricultural Producer Cooperative).1 The current company views the Cooperative as its predecessor both from the legal perspective and from the perspective of historical continuity. The commitment to this continuity is reflected in the way both the 50th and 60th anniversaries were celebrated.

In this paper, I focus on the socialist period of the company’s history. I begin with a discussion of how “socialist” the Árpád Cooperative really was. How did individual farmers dealing with intensive horticulture and production for the market fit into a socialist-type large-scale organization which at the time was essentially unknown in the world of Hungarian agriculture? I also consider how the Cooperative used the economic reforms of 1968 to expand its market. I make use in my analysis of the official documents of the Árpád Cooperative as well as the press and oral sources.2

Historical Background

The roots reach back to 1875, when Bulgarian gardeners moved to Hungary, or more specifically to the estate of the Count László Károlyi, where they founded a farm of roughly 15 hectares (ha).3 The Bulgarians made sure to settle alongside natural waterways. The major elements of the Bulgarian-type of gardening were the following: careful choice and arrangement of plants, protection against frost, use of hot-beds for seedlings, raised beds for growing, continuous irrigation, and soil treatment. Using these methods, the settlers and their descendants were able to get their vegetables to market before other producers, which led to significant profits.4

Most of the labor was handled manually. For periods of planting, hoeing, picking, and preparation for market, the Bulgarian gardeners hired seasonal laborers. More and more of these laborers learned these unique methods, and over time, vegetable growing in Szentes began to resemble Bulgarian horticulture more and more. Between the two World Wars, specialization became advanced. The production of green peppers and early cabbage varieties came to the fore, and the comparatively small gardens (1–1.5 ha) could produce significant incomes for various families. Before World War II, more than 700 families in Szentes produced vegetables for market distribution.5

In this region, the land reform of 1945 did not cause significant restructuring, as there were no large estates to divide.6 The situation of the local society remained much as it had been between the two World Wars. On the one hand, there was a group of small-plot, market-oriented gardeners, while on the other there was also the continued presence of a large group of landless agricultural laborers.

In the second half of 1948, the forced organization of cooperatives began, based on the Soviet model.7 In socialist agriculture, the place of individual farmers was taken by large-scale plants (sovkhozes, kolkhozes) which were based on collective production. As such, the planned economy, based on mandatory plan targets, was spread to agriculture. The compulsory delivery system and policy of price control ensured that the producer (the farmer) kept less and less of the profits made from the product. This was the antithesis of how the specialized gardeners of Szentes, who produced for the market, farmed. It is not surprising that they did not want to give up individual farming for a collective farming. The other significant section of local society, the landless agricultural laborers, took a different view. They saw the cooperatives as an employment opportunity and thus were the major social basis of the emerging world of socialist agriculture. The first cooperative in Szentes was founded in 1948, largely with the participation of prisoners of war returning from the Soviet Union, which is why it was named “Kalinin.”8

At the beginning of the process of forced collectivization, the leadership of the Hungarian Communist party9 was of the view that three to four years would be enough to force the Hungarian peasantry into socialist agriculture. Due to the resistance of the peasantry, neither the first (1949–53) nor the second (1955–56) collectivization campaigns reached the target goals.10 After the suppression of the 1956 revolution, in its efforts to consolidate its hold on power, the Kádár government abandoned compulsory deliveries and halted the second collectivization campaign. A large portion of the peasantry took advantage of the opportunity to leave the collective, and the number of cooperative members decreased from 343,000 to 119,000.11

While most of the peasantry was leaving the cooperatives at the turn of 1956–57, the gardeners of Szentes decided that they would form a genuine cooperative. On January 27, 1957, 68 gardeners in Szentes established a szakszövetkezet (a sort of cooperative).12 This form of cooperation was quite different from the Stalinist model that was being promoted.13 The new enterprise brought together its members mainly in the areas of sales and purchasing but allowed them to continue pursue their work in horticulture individually. The gardeners of Szentes quickly responded to the new situation, in which they were no longer obliged to make compulsory deliveries of their agricultural products. Thus, the market economy made a partial reappearance in one of the major branches of the Hungarian economy. The gardeners of Szentes hoped to profit directly from these widening market opportunities without having to rely on purchases by state bodies.

After three successful years, however, the members felt that the cooperative was enjoying less and less political support, especially after the third collectivization campaign was launched in early 1959. After lengthy debates, the best path forward seemed to be to transform the cooperative into an agricultural producer cooperative.14 The decision was made at the general meeting of January 27, 1960.15Although they could have joined another existing cooperative, as more than ten had been established in Szentes by this point, they decided to establish their own. This made it possible for them to choose their own leadership and keep control over several other essential issues. The investments of the post-1957 period were not lost, as they were transferred to the collective property of the new cooperative. 78 percent of the members of the earlier cooperative joined the Árpád Agricultural Cooperative.

What was behind the Socialist Facade?

When establishing the cooperative, one of the most important tasks was to prepare the charter laying out the ground rules, which were based on the Soviet kolkhoz legal form.16 For example, the members were obliged to manage their production tools and livestock in a collective form. Another mandatory element was collective labor in the form of brigades and smaller work groups. The cooperative members were given “work units” in exchange for their labor. The “work unit” served as a means of quantifying labor and the foundation of remuneration.17

During the first two collectivization campaigns in the 1950s the Hungarian cooperatives were given a model legal framework (charter) all the points of which were mandatory. On the eve of the third collectivization campaign, the Ministry of Agriculture published a model charter which functioned only as a guideline for basic rules, so it provided a degree of flexibility.18 For example, it recommended the Soviet “work unit” system as the most advanced form of remuneration, but this could be combined with alternative forms of payment. There was also some flexibility concerning household plots.19

The membership of the Árpád Cooperative in Szentes took advantage of this opportunity and enacted 14 modifications when writing its own charter.20 My interview subjects often repeated the words of the former cooperative president László Szabó: “When one can see he needs new clothes, it is best to go to the tailor and have some custom made rather than simply acquire one-size-fits-all, as whatever you get off the rack, it will either be too loose or too tight.”21 László Szabó himself was a successful and respected gardener, and he thus knew that this branch, which required exceptional attention and expertise, could not be transformed overnight into a completely foreign and unknown labor organization.

What did this mean in practice? The Árpád Cooperative organized mandatory labor brigades, but the members continued to work individually in their own gardens and conducted sales collectively. There was thus no labor supply issue for the cooperative, as members could bring in family members who were not members of the cooperative. The so-called family-farmed horticultural brigade was directed by a respected local gardener, Imre Kotymán. The form in which labor was organized was not the only thing which was adjusted to local farming traditions. Remuneration was also revised, integrating the logic of sharecropping, which created clear incentives.22

As part of the efforts to adjust to the main profile of horticulture, an unusual set of regulations was worked out for household plots. Members could choose to request a maximum of 0.5 ha of arable land per household plot. A fraction or complete area of this could be used for gardening, and in these cases, the household plot was calculated based not on area but instead on the number of hot-beds. It is also worth mentioning that the cooperative established a bare minimum number of labor units per household when measuring eligibility.23

In order for the cooperative to be able to adopt this outwardly socialist but inwardly (in terms of several of its elements) individual horticulture system, it had to have the approval of both the city and county party leadership. This was especially significant given that the cooperative president was not a member of the Communist party. The party secretary of Szentes, Sándor Labádi, had a key role. He was present at the cooperative’s general meetings and took a proactive part in the debates.24 With the knowledge he gleaned here, he was able to convince the higher authorities that these local initiatives were not concessions which would allow old-time peasant lifestyles to continue but rather were measures which would contribute to the transformation of the economy. Such local initiatives made continuity in labor-intensive vegetable production possible, and this served the interests of consumers in the cities.25

The reason this line of argument worked was that the same approach was being announced at the time at the national level of agricultural policy by the members of the agrarian lobby centered around Lajos Fehér (Ferenc Erdei, Imre Dimény, Ernő Csizmadia, etc.).26 They supported grassroots initiatives that improved the individual incentives of cooperative members and in turn ensured growth in production. Erdei’s research institute, the Research Institute of Agricultural Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (in Hungarian, Agrárgazdasági Kutató Intézet, or AKI), had been following and analyzing changes in the local practices of remuneration and work organization for years. Based on their studies, Fehér and his group convinced the political leadership to accept these local initiatives in spite of the fact that most of them deviated from the kolkhoz Model Charter. Thanks to the successful mediation between the party leadership and the peasantry, in the first half of the 1960s, more and more local initiatives were transferred from the category of “forbidden” to the category of “tolerated,” and this significantly widened the scope of action for cooperatives.27

In this atmosphere, after the initial difficulties of the transformation, the leaders of the Árpád Cooperative began to consider the idea of large-scale horticulture. Initially, this was tested only on a restricted area, because they had difficulty convincing twelve people to work on a trial basis for a year. However, the first year produced such impressive results that in the following year large-scale horticulture was implemented on a far bigger area. The expanding area provided ever more opportunities for the use of machinery. The seedling planting tractor and a modern irrigation system became cost-efficient when used on large territories.

As an effect of the improvements in production and higher earnings, large-scale horticulture became increasingly attractive over the course of the next several years. The 60-person brigade was formed into a well-integrated collective. The wisdom of the cooperative leadership is reflected in the fact that they did not try at the same time to eliminate the family-farmed horticultural brigade. In fact, they even offered support to expand it (more land, irrigation systems, etc.). This group also became more efficient and remained an independent labor organization unit within the cooperative. The two vegetable-producing units recorded their costs and production results separately (i.e. independently of each other), but they competed with each other in production and development. The minutes of the leadership meetings indicate a spirit of competition which motivated both units and led to increasingly impressive results.28 In 1964, the Árpád Cooperative began regularly to win prestigious national awards. These awards included prizes won at the National Agricultural Fair for products like peppers, kohlrabi, tomatoes, etc. as well as recognition given by the Ministry of Agriculture.29

The Period of Market Reforms

In the early years, when there was an actual disjuncture between legal norms and cooperative behavior, practices of “creative disobedience” played a key role. They led to visible results which made the Árpád Cooperative a unique phenomenon among Hungarian cooperatives.30 In the mid-1960s, the overwhelming majority of producer cooperatives struggled with start-up difficulties, shortages of equipment and labor, and unwillingness to work. The abovementioned grassroots initiatives facilitated the consolidation process of the cooperatives, but there were many villages and smaller communities where local leaders stuck with the Stalinist rules. In coping with the defiance of the provincial party-state, Lajos Fehér and his network tried to create a legal and administrative environment in which the authorization of local initiatives coming from below would be independent from the attitude of the local party-state apparatus. To this end, they initiated a comprehensive agricultural reform program. 31

As preparations for the general economic reforms progressed in Hungary and the contours of the New Economic Mechanism emerged, the arguments of the agrarian lobby received increasing attention and acceptance. The leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party sought a solution through a new system of economic management, one which combined planned and market economies. In an interview on precursors to the New Economic Mechanism, Economic Policy Secretary of the Central Committee Rezső Nyers indicated that the agricultural reform “had already addressed the questions of the economic mechanism from the agricultural perspective.”32 This is largely explained by the fact that, since the abolition of the compulsory delivery system in November 1956, a significant amount of experience with market incentives had been gathered. Among the many reform steps in agriculture, I will mention here only those that affected the functioning of cooperatives. The cancellation of machine-tractor stations in 1965, the write-off of debt, and an adjustment of the pricing system in 1966 all meant that the dismantling of the Stalinist system of socialist agriculture had begun.33

In the fall of 1967, Parliament accepted two laws which defined the economic and social relations of agricultural cooperatives for the next twenty years. 34 The new legislation incorporated the fruits of successful collaboration between the politicians and high-level administrators in the agrarian lobby and the agrarian economists. Law III on agricultural producer cooperatives aimed to resolve the duality which had arisen from the discrepancy between producer cooperative practice and the legal regulations in force. The abovementioned “tolerated” local practices, especially in the areas of remuneration, work organization, and household plot farming, were finally “legalized” in 1967.35

What did this significant shift mean for the life of the Árpád Cooperative in Szentes? Cooperative president László Szabó summarized this for the members as follows:

In the period of direct control, the state dictated the resources that the cooperatives would receive, specified how much they could produce and what they could produce, and stipulated who they could produce for and what price they could sell at. Whatever income remained was distributed to the members after public debts had been settled. Development was precisely dictated and had to be financed through credit, as the farms lacked their own funds at the time.

Indirect control caused an enormous change, given that within a regulatory framework, the collective’s leadership itself defined what it would produce, and at the time could choose for whom and for what price. Income covered costs, and members were given shares based not only on the proportion of their contributed labor: members could define their development from funds collected from their own income.36

For the cooperative, 1967 was truly the beginning of a new era. This was apparent in modifications made to its production system. Earlier, it had been forced to produce certain products in the name of “the expectations of the peoples’ economy” or “supply responsibility,” regardless of economic common-sense. Had these decisions been left to the cooperative membership or leadership, they would have been made differently. The Árpád Cooperative, which was based on horticulture, had become something of a “variety shop” by the 1960s. The expectation that all agricultural cooperatives produce meat and bread applied to them and to all other cooperatives.

In addition to horticulture, the other two main branches of the cooperative were cropping and husbandry. As of 1968, both could be rationalized in accordance with local conditions. A few plant types that were produced just for “the interest of the peoples’ economy” were phased out of the plant sector. And as pig breeding and shepherding were de-emphasized, the development of turkey and goose husbandry was brought to the fore.37 The guiding principles in the structuring of activities were profitability and increased efficiency. Taking advantages of opportunities in Law III of 1967, the Árpád Cooperative began expanding so-called supplementary activities falling outside its core agricultural activities (e.g., hiring out transportation and producing in-house animal compound feed). The most dynamically growing unit was the cooperative’s construction brigade. While earlier the execution of investments required waiting for state construction firms to schedule, from this point on, the farm provided its own construction crew.38 A 20-hectare greenhouse covered by polyethylene sheets was constructed between 1969 and 1971. In 1972 a 6.5-hectare glass greenhouse area was completed. (Today this is called the “old yard.”) The first modern turkey plant in the Árpád Cooperative was built between 1973 and 1976. In the last third of the 1970s, two large investment projects were carried out. One involved the construction of a 13.6-hectare glass greenhouse yard between 1977 and 1980 (the new yard), and the other was the creation of a new office center.39

Market reforms enabled the cooperative to manage the goods it produced, i.e., they gave the cooperative the opportunity to conduct sales. Corporate clients from this point on had a direct relationship with the cooperative, and the “tutelage” of local councils came to an end. Cooperatives could sell goods produced collectively or on household plots both to corporate purchasers and retailers, food industry companies, and foreign trade companies. This was called the multi-channel sales system. Furthermore, the cooperatives could open their own shops in which they could sell their goods.

In the new economic environment after 1967, the “creative disobedience” of the early years turned into a situation in which the cooperative was technically sticking to the new Cooperative Law but was pushing the regulations to their limits. Below, I will present examples which show why this was necessary.

The Human Factor

The Law III of 1967 created an entirely new situation for the cooperative membership by cancelling the “remainder-principle” income distribution system inherited from the Stalinist kolhoz. While earlier, the cooperatives had only been able to pay their members after they had met their obligations to the state, beginning in 1968, they could count payment for labor during the season as a production expense. Payment, as such, thus took priority over state budget receivables and the payout of material expenses. As a result, for the first time in their lives, cooperative members were paid a predetermined and guaranteed sum and, in proportion with the work performed, were regularly and continuously paid wages. The stabilization of incomes situation increased the attractiveness of the cooperative sector. While in the years of collectivization and even later migration from the agricultural sector was significant, by the late 1960s, the process had reversed and workers were beginning to return to agriculture.40

By the end of the decade, the increasing appeal of the Árpád Cooperative is shown in the fact the farm could hire people for a trial period. 41 After one or two years of employment, a decision was made on whether to offer a given employee membership. (The status of member had several advantages which were not available to employees.) The trial period thus served as a useful filter in the interests of creating a quality labor pool. For this reason, the fact that all cooperatives in the socialist period had employment duties throughout (meaning they were forced to employ all applicants) is worthy of attention.

In terms of the renewal of the labor pool, a new tendency emerged, whereby an increasing number of the children of cooperative members considered joining the cooperative. László Szabó proudly reported on this during one of the general meetings:

[T]he children of the cooperative members are knocking on the door. It is as if the ice has broken, as if they have tossed aside the old habit of the children of cooperative members becoming industrial workers only; they are coming and applying. We accept these young people as members, so that using the property their father gathered they may learn to farm. With the entry of young people, new needs will appear for culture, sports, kindergartens, but in the future we will spend on this from our income, which we earned together!42


Examining the social base of the cooperative, we see that scholarships were offered to those who continued their education in agricultural faculties on the condition that they work at the cooperative after graduating. Young married couples received support to build homes (interest-free loans), and later a separate financial fund was created for this purpose. This all helped ensure that experts with higher education would gladly settle in Szentes. In the 1970s, retiring members who had a past of individual gardening and experience were replaced by young people with degrees from universities and colleges.43

In the 1970s, several cooperatives in the country experienced changes in the post of president. Many of the “founding fathers” with peasant roots stepped away from the position of president at this time, as they felt they could not keep up with accelerating developments.44 László Szabó, who was born in 1910, was able to keep pace, and he surrounded himself with young experts. He was an outstanding team builder. This characteristic is reflected in the following anecdote: during his 25-year term (1960–1985), he was often asked what the secret to being a successful cooperative president was. His answer was, “the most important thing is to make sure that the branch managers do not provoke fights with one another!”

In the 1970s, with a well-trained pool of experts, the Árpád Cooperative entered a new period of growth. Their vegetable production took place in three different types of greenhouses:

• By the end of the decade, the area of its glass-covered greenhouses reached 27 hectares;

• An additional 48 hectares of greenhouses were covered with polyethylene sheets with their own heating systems; and

• 41 hectares without heating systems.45

At that point, the cooperative already had twelve thermal water wells. After the 1973 oil crisis, while energy costs soared, the value of local energy sources increased. These were used in several ways in local farming. Glass and foil greenhouses were heated using local energy sources, as was the turkey plant and, later, the grains drying facility.46

Cooperation in Research, Development, and Consulting

At the time of the New Economic Mechanism, the leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party recognized the necessity of opening to the West.47 Thanks to the agrarian lobby, large-scale agricultural farms played an intensive role in knowledge and technology transfers.48 Hungarian cooperatives adopted industrial-like closed production systems from capitalist countries. After livestock breeding and cropping systems had been transformed, in the mid-1970s, a large number of horticulture production systems also began to undergo change.49

In order to launch effective development within horticulture, three conditions had to be met. Experts familiar with the most up-to-date production procedures had to be available, people were needed who had production experience with new methods, and the sector had to be able to acquire necessary funds. The system organizer accepted responsibility for working out industrial-like technological solutions and continuously developing them. Furthermore, he was responsible for technically adapting the systems for adjoining member farms, in accordance with local conditions. Local expert consultation was also continuously provided. 50

One of the basic conditions for the dynamic development of horticulture production systems was cooperation among people involved in research, education, and consulting. Under the chairmanship of Professor László Koródi, the Department of Vegetable Production at the Horticultural University worked on plant breeding, the training of expert engineers, and the installment of a professional advisory system, which was an enormous boon to transitioning production systems. He worked particularly closely with the Árpád Cooperative.51

The technical development launched in the early 1970s caused deep-rooted changes in production, as the increased use of machinery and chemical materials led to the introduction of new breeds and new agro-procedures. After the end of World War II, the technology of greenhouse construction developed rapidly, especially in the cold countries of Western Europe. The Netherlands turned out to be the market leader. Although Hungarian cooperatives could import greenhouses mainly from East Germany, horticultural experts regularly took part in study tours in Netherlands.52

Cooperation in Sales

As noted above, according to the 1967 Law on cooperatives, the farms themselves chose how to sell their products. Furthermore, cooperatives selling vegetables and fruits were given a free hand in setting their sale prices. A reader today gets a sense of the significance of this by recalling that one of the most important characteristics of the planned economy was the system of centrally determined fixed prices. The New Economic Mechanism reformed this approach by introducing a three-pronged pricing system: prices set by the state were accompanied by prices that could fluctuate within a spectrum set by the authorities and also free market prices, which were determined solely by supply and demand.53

From January 1, 1968, fruit and vegetable prices were also included in the free price category. Numerous barriers to the actual emergence of market logic remained, however. One of the most important of these barriers was the fact that the storage and transport infrastructure remained in the hands of the Zöldért enterprises, which thus continued to purchase the dominant share of produce.54 Prices exercised a defining influence here too. Formally, Zöldért enterprises did not have a monopoly position, but they nevertheless dictated prices, and their profits depended on the price differential between consumer and producer prices, which could amount to a difference of two or three times. Thus, they could generate a significant income by doing nothing more than buying products and selling them to the enterprises with retail networks, such as Közért and Csemege. Their interest was in maintaining this price differential rather than in maximizing sales, and they were protected by their de facto monopoly. Such a system, in which their interests were separate from those of both producers and consumers, was especially harmful in the case of early season vegetables. At the end of the rather lengthy product chain, this system had negative consequences for both producer and consumer, albeit in different ways.

The conflict between the Árpád Cooperative in Szentes and the Zöldért company of Csongrád County would merit a separate paper. In an interview with me, Dr. Sándor Márton, the chief accountant of the cooperative, stated that as early as the 1960s he and other members of the cooperative leadership had advocated for the removal of this unnecessary and costly middleman. 55 As a result of the market reforms of 1968, the legal framework was established, and the leaders of the cooperative launched an effort to attain wholesaler rights. This required finding allies at the highest levels. Imre Dimény, Minister of Agriculture and Food, played a decisive role in this. 56

At the initiative of the Árpád Cooperative, the so-called Early Vegetable Production System was established in 1975. In addition to production, it dealt with several kinds of sales based on common interests. The Early Vegetable Production System of Szentes covered glass greenhouses, heated and unheated plastic foil greenhouses, and early outdoor/open-air production.

Initially, the initiative had two partners. Within five years, there were eight, and two years later, there were twenty. By this point, the Early Vegetable Production System covered three counties (Csongrád, Szolnok, and Bács-Kiskun). It is important to add that the system covered 20 farms and 3,500 household gardens and small-scale producers.57 The Árpád Cooperative played the role of gestor in the Early Vegetable Production System. It provided know-how and the production technology for certain varieties of sprouts to member farms. In order to be able to share the best technology, it established cooperation with the Horticultural University and the Consulting Service of the Vegetable Production Research Institute. The consultants of the Early Vegetable Production System offered assistance not only in the field of production technology adaptation, but also in compliance, with weekly visits to the member farms.58

The integration of production entailed cooperation among the members of the Early Vegetable Production System in the field of purchasing, given that in vegetable production, systems increasing volumes of seeds and consultancy had to be acquired, as did plant protection materials, machinery, and parts.

Regarding joint interests in sales, its essence lay in the fact that the member farms, unlike when dealing with Zöldért, did not calculate vegetables by the percentage of price gap but instead based on joint decisions defining the commercial costs per kilogram of product. They held that the greatest success in their first year was the sale of vegetables for 58 million forints at a cost of only 2.1 million Forint, which represented 3.6 percent of gross value: “those participating in the system had never conducted commerce this cost-efficiently.”59

By the mid-1980s, the Early Vegetable Production System had established contractual relationships with 46 companies and twelve private traders.60 Early Vegetable Production System trucks made weekly deliveries to Szombathely in the same manner as they did deliveries to the ÁFÉSZ chain of shops in Nyíregyháza. The outstanding quality of the vegetables is reflected in the fact that there were private commercial partners who were willing to travel as much as 330 km in their cars from Nagykanizsa to pick up produce.

It is also interesting to note how, in the communication networks of the time (when computers were not in use), it was possible to harmonize the production and sales processes of several primary products. Dr. Miklós Csikai, who directed the Early Vegetable Production System from 1983, summarized this in the following way in an interview:

The branch managers of the member farms met at least three to four times a year for a discussion, the goal of which was to develop the plan for the next year. These are then the circles of customers, which currently stand at several hundred small and large companies, economic units, and stores. In this way, the annual quantities of given products and given cooperatives develop, and the production system ensures them secure sales. Knowing this, the given cooperatives put together their final production plans, with attention paid to the household greenhouse producers with contracts. Everything counts: type, quality, quantity, and time of delivery handled by the production system, but in the meantime they are informed about demands.

The contracts lay all this out in precise detail. Based on them, work begins in the glass and plastic foil greenhouses. Later, throughout the year, they always know precisely how much produce to sell, in which week, and on which exact day.

Every Wednesday at 10:00am, the representatives of the member farms involved in common sales meet in my room and calculate the quantity of goods, with a daily breakdown, which are offered up for joint sale by the various cooperatives. This is very precise data, and that is necessary, as our sales division can only come to agreements with various buyers with this knowledge in hand.61

Before my reader forms a utopian notion of the functioning of the socialist vegetable market, let me note that the “state of war” with Zöldért lasted throughout the period. I offer a few examples of this conflictual relationship. The Early Vegetable Production System carried out significant exports. For example, they controlled 90 percent of all exported green peppers. Produce for export was transported in refrigerated wagons. They were stacked at the Zöldért side tracks by the System’s own workers, meaning the Zöldért employees never touched the produce. However, Zöldért charged a disproportionately high price per 100 kg. There were also constant conflicts in domestic commerce. A warehouse was rented from Zöldért for which the company charged ten times the normal rate. Ministerial mediation between the parties was in vain, and the conflict only began to subside at the end of the 1980s, when the Zöldért company of Csongrád county signed a cooperation agreement with the Early Vegetable Production System. The 1987 agreement laid out the following goal: “with an eye on common interests to create the conditions for fruit and vegetable production in the region, a unified distribution system, and at the same time a more efficient operation of the tools created for this purpose and in the hands of Zöldért.”62 Every word was justified and would have been appropriate earlier as well, but the agreement came too late. The agreement was quickly made redundant by the regime change. In the end, the Árpád farm bought Zöldért’s former facility.

After the Regime-Change

In Szentes, the year 1990 marked not only the change of regime but also a change in the post of president. Dr. János Lóczi, who had succeeded László Szabó in 1985, resigned from his post. The membership elected as president Dr. Miklós Csikai, the director of the Early Vegetable Production System. 63 His leader mentality and approach were of vital importance during the transition. As he explained in our interview, he spent most of 1992 sitting down with people to discuss the future of the cooperative. 64 Based on experience he had gained in the Netherlands, he was able to explain how cooperatives could have a legitimate role in the market economy. The players in horticulture could only reduce their vulnerability to powerful commercial chains and suppliers by working together. Although each member could have claimed property valued in the millions of Forints, in the end, only 27 of the 1,024 members indicated their intention to quit the collective.65 This number meant that an absolute majority of the members recognized that in the interests of the efficient use of accumulated property and employment for about a 1,000 people, they should remain together and continue to work together.

At the end of the 1990s, the Árpád farm underwent another organizational change. Given the agricultural policy climate of the time, those functioning as collectives had limited opportunities. In 1999, the Árpád cooperative, like many other cooperatives, decided that it would transform into a joint stock company.66 A mission statement from this time makes clear the importance of continuity in the value system:

Mission: Our tradition-respecting, capital-strong stock company, with its team of well-prepared experts, will satisfy and meet the expectations of consumers and their needs, serve its partners, stockholders, and employees with forward-thinking, market-sensitive planning, detailed quality work and outstanding products and services.

Vision: Árpád-Agrár Ltd. as a stock company which works in harmony with its environment, respects traditions, has widespread international business relations, and is known in Europe and across the country.

Producing branded products on an outstanding organic foundation, with up-to-date technology, at a world-class level, which meet the strictest food-security standards and consumer demands. From producing basic materials to the final product, with processes built on one another, and with the services we deliver to ensure the full satisfaction of customers and stable and high profits. Playing an integrating role in the region, the company provides a stable living for several thousand families. We serve as an example in our use of high-level horticultural technology which is environmentally friendly.

Responsible and risk-assessing management, highly trained employees, and the company’s retirees are all proud of the Árpád name, identify with its goals, and are satisfied individuals.67

Translated by Frank T. Zsigó

Archival Sources

Árpád-Agrár Zrt. Irattár [Archives of the Árpád-Agrár Ltd.] (ÁAI)

Szentes and its Region Fruit and Vegetable Production & Distribution Cooperative., 1957, 1959, 1960.

Árpád Agricultural Cooperative, 1960–1987.

Árpád Cooperative, 1992, 1999.

Árpád-Agrár Ltd., 2001.

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary] (MNL OL) Budapest

M-KS-288. f. Documents of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, 1956–1989


Primary sources

Csongrád Megyei Hírlap [Csongrád County Newspaper], 1966, 1974, 1987.

Gazdasági Figyelő [Economic Observer], 1965, 1971.

Hajtatás, korai termesztés [Propagation, Early Cultivation], 1980.

Pártélet [Party Life], 1963.

Népszabadság [Free People], 1970, 1984.


Fóris, Imre ed. Mezőgazdasági termelőszövetkezeti törvény. Földjogi törvény [Law on collective farms: Law on land rights]. Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó, 1968.

Mezőgazdasági Statisztikai Zsebkönyv [Agricultural statistical pocketbook]. Budapest: KSH, 1971.


Interview with Miklós Csikai. March 12, 2019. (Author’s files.)

Interview with Imre Dimény. February 9, 2010. (Author’s files.)

Interview with Sándor Márton. August 23, 2019. (Author’s files.)


Secondary literature

Belényi, Gyula. “Az alföldi agrárvárosok mezőgazdasági népességének szerkezeti változásai az 1940-es években” [Structural changes of the agricultural population of the agricultural towns of the Great Plain in the 1940s]. Agrártörténeti Szemle 29, no. 1–2 (1987): 115–39.

Boross, Marietta. “Bolgár és bolgár rendszerű bolgár kertészetek Magyarországon 1870–1945” [Bulgarian and Bulgarian-type gardeners in Hungary, 1870–1945]. Ethnographia 84, no. 1–2 (1973): 29–52.

Bódi, Ferenc, and Ralitsa Savova. “A bolgárkertészek Magyarországon a 19. század végén és a 20. század első felében – környezeti és gazdaságantropológiai aspektusból” [Bulgarian-type gardeners in Hungary in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century – from an environmental and economic anthropological point of view]. Magyar Tudomány 179, no. 3 (2018): 373–82.

Bóth, Ildikó ed. “A hagyomány kötelez!” A szentesi Árpád 60 éve, 1960–2020 [“Bound by Tradition!” 60 years of the Árpád Agricultural Company in Szentes, 1960–2020]. Budapest: Kossuth Kiadó, 2020.

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1 The academic literature on collectivized agriculture uses both the term collective farm and the term cooperative. In this paper, I use the term cooperative. The full translation of termelőszövetkezet is producer cooperative, emphasizing the difference from cooperatives for consuming or assessing credits. In this paper, the term cooperative should be understood as producer cooperative.

2 The archival materials of the Árpád Agricultural Cooperative are still in the company archives. Thanks to the excellent archivist work of Dr. Edit Takács, the files are arranged according to each predecessor: Szentes and its Region Fruit and Vegetable Production & Distribution Cooperative, Árpád Agricultural Cooperative, Árpád Cooperative, Árpád-Agrár Ltd. The archival references in this paper first give the predecessor’s name, then the box number, and finally the title and date of the document cited.

3 Mód, “Bolgár kertészek Szentes környékén,” 27–30.

4 Boross, “Bolgár és bolgár rendszerű bolgár kertészetek Magyarországon”; Bódi and Savova, “A bolgárkertészek Magyarországon.”

5 Takács, “Adatok.”

6 Belényi, “Az alföldi agrárvárosok,” 126–32.

7 Ö. Kovács, “The Forced Collectivization,” 211–21.

8 Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin was a Soviet revolutionary. The names of later agricultural cooperatives often bore the names of heroes of both the Soviet and Hungarian communist movement. The political radicalism of the poor peasant membership was also reflected in the names like Red Flag, Red Star, Red Dawn, Liberation, etc. The local press (Viharsarok) regularly reported on these cooperatives.

9 The name of the communist party in Hungary changed several times. Between 1945 and 1948, it was the Hungarian Communist Party (MKP). Between 1948 and 1956, it was the Hungarian Workers’ Party (MDP). After 1956 and until its fall in 1989, it was the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP).

10 Varga, “Three waves of collectivization.”

11 MNL OL M-KS-288. f. 28/1957/1. ő.e. (This abbreviation – ő.e. – refers to the so-called “őrzési egység,” which was the smallest unit in the archival system of the party records.) Memo on the situation of the agricultural cooperatives and their problems, January 10, 1957.

12 ÁAI, Szentes and its Region Fruit and Vegetable Production & Distribution Cooperative. Box nr.1. Minute of the founders’ meeting. January 27, 1957.

13 Chris Hann devoted his book to specific type of Hungarian cooperative model which emerged mostly in regions dominated by vineyards, orchards, or horticulture. In his book, which was written in English, he retained the use of the Hungarian term szakszövetkezet. Hann, Tázlár.

14 These debates were reflected in the minutes of the general meetings. ÁAI Szentes and its Region Fruit and Vegetable Production & Distribution Cooperative. Box nr.1. Minutes of general assemblies, December 20, 1959, January 3, 1960.

15 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr.1. Minutes of the statutory meeting, January 27, 1960.

16 Davies, The Soviet collective farm, 131–70.

17 The brigade leaders kept written records in the “work unit” book of how many “work units” a member had earned for work done in the course of the year. At the end of the economic year, the member would be given a share of the cooperative’s income on the basis of this written record. To be more precise, wages were only divided among the members of the cooperative after the cooperative had met its obligations to the state. For a detailed discussion of the problems and failings of the “work unit” system, see Swain, Collective Farms, 42–44.

18 Varga, The Hungarian Agricultural Miracle, 127–29.

19 A cooperative member was permitted to maintain ownership of a household plot not more than 0.57 ha in size. A household was also permitted to have a specified number of livestock.

20 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr. 1. The model charter of the Árpád Cooperative, 1960.

21 Author’s interview with Miklós Csikai, March 12, 2019. Author’s interview with Sándor Márton, August 23, 2019.

22 Ferenc Erdei, who was one of the defining personalities of the agrarian lobby, published an article on the incentive system of the Árpád Cooperative. Born in Makó, during his visits home, Erdei regularly stopped at the Árpád Cooperative. Erdei, “A Szentesi Árpád Tsz,” 41–42.

23 Ibid. 43.

24 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr. 7. Minutes of the management meeting, 1960–1965.

25 See the article written by the first secretary of the MSZMP in Szentes district. Márton Kurucz, “A zöldségtermesztés nagyüzemi fejlesztése,” Pártélet, 8 (1963) 2: 72–79.

26 Lajos Fehér had joined the illegal communist movement as early as before 1945. It was at that time that he formed a close relationship with post-1956 party leader János Kádár. Between 1957–1962, Lajos Fehér was the head of the Agricultural Department of the MSZMP’s Central Committee. After 1962, as Deputy Prime Minister, he oversaw agriculture. See more on his network: Papp, Fehér Lajos, 295–314.

27 Varga, “Agricultural Economics.”

28 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr. 8. Minutes of the management meeting, 1966–1973.

29 See the “Chronology,” in Bóth, “A hagyomány kötelez,” 265–69.

30 Márton Lovas, “Szövetkezet-vezetés közgazdaság szemlélettel. A szentesi Árpád Tsz eredményei az országos versenyben,” Gazdasági Figyelő, June 9, 1965, 8. István Kaczúr, “El lehet érni újabb rekordokat. A paprika- és hagymatermesztésről beszélt Apró Antal a szentesi Árpád Tsz-ben,” Csongrád Megyei Hírlap, May 24, 1966, 1–2.

31 Varga, Az agrárlobbi, 121–40.

32 Ferber and Rejtő, Reform(év)fordulón, 20.

33 MNL OL, M-KS 288. f. 28/1966/8. ő.e. Submission on the guidelines of the new law on cooperatives. September 23, 1966.

34 Fóris, Mezőgazdasági termelőszövetkezeti törvény.

35 Varga, The Hungarian Agricultural Miracle, 190–95.

36 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr. 2. Minutes of the year-end assembly, January 19, 1970.

37 Csikai et al., Ötven év tükrében, 24.

38 Ferenc Cserkúti, “Merész tervek Szentesen. A termálvízzel fűtött üvegházak nagy hasznot hajtanak,” Népszabadság, April 7, 1970, 9.

39 See the “Chronology” in Bóth, “A hagyomány kötelez,” 265–69.

40 Mezőgazdasági Statisztikai Zsebkönyv, 230–31.

41 Márton Lovas, “Egy zárszámadás margórájára,” Gazdasági Figyelő, February 10, 1971, 10.

42 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr. 2. Minutes of the year-end assembly, January 27, 1973. 2–3.

43 At that time, the following people began working at the Árpád Cooperative: Gábor Hegedűs (seedling production), Levente György (livestock breeding), and the future president, Dr. János Lóczi (horticulture). Plant protection emerged as a new branch, led by plant protection engineer István Csölle.

44 Juhász, “Az agrárértelmiség szerepe.”

45 Csikai et al., Ötven év tükrében, 28–31.

46 József Tóth, “A termálenergia komplex felhasználása a szentesi Árpád Tsz-ben,” Csongrád Megyei Hírlap, February 6, 1974, 3.

47 Germuska, “Failed Eastern Integration.”

48 The Bábolna State Farm led by Róbert Burgert played a crucial role in the early phase of the technology transfer. András Schlett offers a well-articulated analysis. His monograph covers the whole socialist period of the Bábolna State Farm. Schlett, Sziget a szárazföldön, 35–45.

49 Varga, The Hungarian Agricultural Miracle, 201–12.

50 Csikai, “Kertészeti termelési rendszerek,” 109–13.

51 Ibid. 114–15.

52 After receiving his university degree in 1966, Miklós Csikai worked for a year at the Naaldwijk Research Institute in the Netherlands and at private gardeners in Westland. Author’s interview with Miklós Csikai, March 12, 2019.

53 Pető and Szakács, A hazai gazdaság, 433–39.

54 Among the state purchasing companies, its profile consisted of trading vegetables. This is what its name suggests, which is a kind of abbreviation of “vegetable sales.” It had a countrywide network.

55 Author’s interview with Sándor Márton, August 23, 2019.

56 Author’s interview with Imre Dimény. February 9, 2010. (Author’s files.)

57 Vilmos Taba, “Fóliás tájakon, IV.” Hajtatás, korai termesztés 11, no. 1 (1980): 20–27.

58 Csikai, “Kertészeti termelési rendszerek,” 110–12.

59 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr. 2. Minutes of the year-end assembly. February 7, 1976. 8.

60 “Termelőszövetkezeti zárszámadásokról jelentjük”, Csongrád Megyei Hírlap, February 7, 1987, 1–2.

61 Benedek Tóth, “Nagybani piac Szentesen. Sikeres a primőrök termelői értékesítése,” Népszabadság, July 31, 1984. 5.

62 ÁAI Árpád Agricultural Cooperative. Box nr. 14. Minutes of the management meetings, October 16, 1987.

63 Csikai et al., Ötven év tükrében, 28–31.

64 Author’s interview with Miklós Csikai, March 12, 2019.

65 ÁAI Árpád Cooperative. Minutes of the transformation assembly. August 7, 1992.

66 ÁAI Árpád Cooperative. Box nr. 1. Minutes of the general assembly. September 10, 1999.

67 ÁAI Árpád-Agrár Ltd. Box nr. 13. Minutes of the board’s meetings. December 6, 2001.