World War I as a Historical Divide

Béla Tomka
University of Szeged
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 4  (2022):675–701 DOI 10.38145/2022.4.675

While World War I certainly represents a historical rupture in Europe and many parts of the world, there are diverging views in scholarly literature and broader historical discourse regarding its character as a dividing line between historical periods. The essay identifies three main positions within the debate and elaborates on the broader consequences of these interpretations. Several scholars consider World War I as the end of an earlier, longer historical era. According to another periodization, the two World Wars and the two decades separating them make up an era together, which is distinct from the pre-1914 and post-1945 periods. Finally, a third major current interprets World War I as the overture to a new epoch. Each of the three approaches can be relevant to research on World War I and the twentieth century, but there are considerable divergences between the interpretations thus produced. If we regard World War I as the endpoint of the previous era, then great emphasis should be placed on the road leading up to the war. If we conceive of the two World Wars and the decades between them as a single unit, then we should focus on violence as a defining feature of the periodization, and short-term factors should be highlighted. Finally, if we understand the Great War as the beginning of a new period which lasted until the end of the twentieth century or beyond, World War I will be seen as the Urkatastrophe (primordial catastrophe) that set the stage for World War II and, indirectly, for the Cold War, while also generating seminal long-term processes in politics, society, and the economy.

Keywords: twentieth century, Europe, World War I, historiography, periodization

From the 1880s onwards, well before the actual outbreak of World War I, several leading personalities of the age began expressing their views on the character of a future war to be fought by the European great powers. Helmuth von Moltke Senior, the victorious German commander-in-chief of the Prussian-French war, warned the Reichstag in 1890 that if a war were to break out in Europe, neither its duration, nor its end could be foreseen. The losing great powers would not accept defeat or the peace terms. This situation would soon generate another, prolonged conflict, Moltke Senior predicted, which could last for seven years or even 30.1

Other predictions were made in a similar vein, but it would be highly misleading to consider these seemingly prophetic insights as universally shared. In fact, many contemporaries, although they feared a potential war, hardly shared anything resembling the aforementioned Moltke’s views, nor were they in any way able to foretell the specificities or significance of any impending conflagration. Quite symptomatically, instead of heeding Moltke’s admonition, the German military leadership relied on the somewhat modified version of Alfred von Schlieffen’s notorious plan, which anticipated a brief conflict. This plan entirely miscalculated the importance and the limits of contemporary innovations in the field of transport and military technology, which provided a much wider range of options for the defenders against the attackers than in earlier or subsequent wars. But Germany was not the only country to cherish such unrealistic ideas about the war. Ferdinand Foch, who eventually became the commander-in-chief of the Allied troops in France in 1918, published books in 1903 and 1904 that were reprinted several times over the course of the following years. In these works, Foch voiced his conviction that the future war would be a tremendous clash that could and would be decided swiftly, i.e., in a single gigantic battle.2

When the war broke out, it quickly became evident to contemporaries that it was a conflict of special intensity and significance corresponding much more to the vision of Moltke Senior than to the ideas of Schlieffen or Foch. This dawning realization turned out to be all the more valid when it came to the consequences of the war.3 Although Europe and the world were affected by numerous other major events throughout the twentieth century, the Great War constituted a significant caesura in European history. The present study explores the specificities as well as the long-term effects of World War I to determine the place occupied by the war in historical periodization.4

World War I can be regarded as a global conflict for several reasons. The origins of the war can be traced back to the unparalleled surge of globalization in the last third of the mid-nineteenth century. Europe was in the center of this process, and the European colonial powers controlled massive overseas territories, which made it nearly inevitable that a conflict involving them would reach a global scale. Thus, the actual hostilities stretched well beyond Europe, with crucial battles taking place in the Atlantic, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Moreover, during the war, the mobilization of human, natural, and other resources took place in a global dimension. In particular, the Allies relied on their overseas colonies in that respect, but other nations, such as the United States, also marshalled overseas resources. In addition, the war had an impact on international trade and other global connections even in areas such as Latin America, which did not take part in the actual struggle. Finally, the war was a series of global events that were intensively covered, debated, and analyzed by the media all over the world.5 Admittedly, this paper mainly focuses on the war and the historiography of the war in Europe, and thus it cannot do full justice to the global dimension of the war. Since there is no full congruence between national, continental, and global chronologies, and in Africa and the Far East, World War I constituted a less important rupture than it did in Europe, I cannot claim global validity for the results presented here, even if Europe was epicenter of the conflicts leading to the war and the major theater of warfare.6

While World War I undoubtedly represents a historical rupture in Europe and many parts of the world, there are diverging views in scholarly literature and broader historical discourse regarding its character as a dividing line between historical periods. There are three main currents within the debate. According to the first school of thought, World War I meant the end of an earlier, longer historical era. This interpretation prevailed, for instance, in the interwar French and British historiography, while today, some authors regard World War I as the end point of the “long nineteenth century.”7 According to another periodization practice, the two World Wars and the two decades separating them make up a single period which is distinct from the pre-1914 and post-1945 periods.8 Finally, a third major current interprets World War I as the overture to a new era.9 One idea that is frequently ventured is that the latter historical epoch came to an end in 1991, i.e., with the fall of the European Communist regimes. This notion is also captured by the concept of the “short twentieth century,” but there are some who would argue that we still live in the age that began with World War I.

Drawing distinctions between these periodization efforts and their analyses is not a self-serving exercise. As I shall show, a preference for one over another has serious implications for an interpretation of the entire twentieth century, as proponents of the varying periodizations lay emphasis on different elements of the period.

End of an Era

The first periodization, according to which the war was the end of a historical era, recognizes the extraordinary importance of World War I because it brought about new dimensions of violence in both qualitative and quantitative terms. However, changes of such historical significance usually do not result from a single event or series of events, i.e. they are not determined by short-term factors. According to this approach, the roots of the violence seen in the war went back to distant times.10

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Europe was the stage for comprehensive structural and ideological transformations which triggered changes in the nature of political violence manifested in a spectacular form during World War I. New forms of state power emerged, and this power began to penetrate geographical and social spheres where, earlier, it had had only moderate influence. In other words, governments exercised more and more control over their citizens and their citizens’ everyday lives. There were substantial shifts in the power relations of the individual European states, especially in the eastern and southeastern part of the continent. The Ottoman Empire was dwindling, and its place was taken over by new, virulent nation states in the Balkans. This launched a new wave of ethnic and diplomatic conflicts that had a strong impact on Central and Western Europe. Forms of mass politics also began to evolve in Western and Central Europe. As a result of this, the masses ceased to be an occasional force in political processes and started to be a major determinant.11

These political changes were accompanied by economic and social trans­formations. Industrialization strengthened the abovementioned administrative and military capacities of the state everywhere, and the organization of industrial workers into a social class also posed a threat to the ruling elites. Urbanization also facilitated the emergence of mass politics. The uneven pace of economic development decisively contributed to shifts of power among the European states.12

As researchers of political violence have pointed out, the general attitude toward violence had begun to change well before the war in Europe and elsewhere. The American Civil War was a totalizing war, as it blurred the borderlines between the military and the civilian population, warfare and the home front, and it also advanced the concept of unconditional surrender.13 A conspicuous sign of this change was the widespread conceptualization of war as a desirable and noble activity, a phenomenon also referred to as the glorification of violence. The intensification of political violence in the first decades of the twentieth century can be put down to numerous sources. In particular, three major political-ideological currents of the nineteenth century contributed to the explosion of political violence: nationalism, colonial imperialism, and communism.14

The most significant factor was the linkage of popular sovereignty and nationalist ideology.15 This became a quintessential force primarily in contested regions with heavily mixed ethnic compositions, most notably the Balkans and East Central Europe. As the emancipatory character of nationalism began to fade, the subordination of ethnic minorities increasingly came to be coupled with aggression at the end of the nineteenth century.16 The primary catalyst of violence was the Eastern Crisis, which began to flare up in the mid-1870s and which involved an intricate web of international, imperial, and ethnic conflicts. It was followed by outbreaks of brutal ethnic violence in the Balkans up until 1914. These bursts of violence were not entirely new, but the arsenal of the opposing parties became more powerful and the actors more intransigent. As has been noted by scholars of late nineteenth century political violence, “[t]he pattern of state oppression, terrorism, revolt, ethnic conflict, international intervention, forced resettlement of populations and ethnic cleansing and genocide was one that had already been established in Europe long before 1914.”17

From the end of the nineteenth century, radical national groups gained ground in Western and Central and Eastern European states as well. They not only put pressure on their own governments to force them to take more aggressive stances in international politics, they also intimidated foreign governments and public opinion in other countries. The diplomats closely monitored the radical nationalist demands and the xenophobic articles published in the press. The French and the Russians feared the Pan-German movements, while the Germans were alarmed by the Pan-Slav initiatives. The activism of the nationalist agitators produced arguments for similar groups in other countries and contributed to the development of an atmosphere of distrust in international politics.18

Another important political-ideological current which influenced the dynamics of political violence was colonial imperialism.19 The governments of colonizing countries could be relatively nonviolent when it came to domestic affairs but repressive and even brutal when it came to colonized populations. Clearly, several factors were at play, including racism, the effort to spread Christianity, and the pursuit of imperial territorial expansion. Material interests played a secondary role in colonization efforts. Most the colonies, with India being the most important exception, demanded more investment from the colonizing country than the revenues produced. This was true even when the balance was positive for certain business groups which tried to drive imperialist policy forward. Richard Findlay and Kevin O’Rourke also emphasize that in the globalizing world economy at the end of the nineteenth century, there were no antagonistic conflicts between the great powers that would have demanded a military solution.20 Therefore, colonial imperialism can be traced back primarily to ideological and political factors. Nonetheless, the imperialist attitudes were quite clearly detectable in the European escalation of violence after World War I, too. It was with reference to the British and Belgian colonies that the Nazis demanded similar territories outside Europe and on the old continent as part of their project to create a so-called “living space” for themselves, one that would clearly be based on racial discrimination.21

Finally, communism and bolshevism can also be classified among the key ideological sources of violence.22 Where authoritarian regimes blocked the gradual emancipation of the working class (particularly in Russia), revolutionary ideas in the labor movement became dominant. Long before the Russian revolution of 1917, Lenin and other Bolsheviks were of the view that profound social change could be achieved in Russia only by unrelenting terror.23 The Russian revolution, which broke out after three bloody years of war, turned into a brutal civil war which soon exported revolutionary and counterrevolutionary violence beyond Russia’s borders.24

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to regard the pre-1914 period as a mere prelude to World War I. The war was not inevitable. International relations of the time were not characterized exclusively by conflict, and significant efforts were made to maintain peace. It is no accident that after 1871, Europe experienced one of the longest periods in its history without wars between the great powers. There were several factors that prevented the outbreak of major armed conflicts. Most of the statesmen knew that a war would cause social upheaval and revolutions, and they were also aware of the additional political, financial, and economic risks. Although the military leaders of the great powers had called for an armed solution on several occasions before the World War, they were always restrained by the politicians, who knew that wars needed justification and that waging a comprehensive modern war was only possible with broad social support. The biggest political parties in Europe, the German Social Democratic Party and the British Labour Party, were unambiguously anti-militarist. Radical nationalism was an important factor, but it was hardly the only factor that influenced foreign policy in the countries of Europe.25

Era of World Wars

Moving on to the other periodizations of the twentieth century, works that consider World War I not as the endpoint of one era but rather as the beginning of a new one are in fact more common in the historical literature. As noted above, the decades between 1914 and 1945 were a period which was referred to as “another Thirty Years’ War” (Winston Churchill), the “Thirty Years’ War in the 20th century” (Raymond Aron), “the age of the European civil war” (Ernst Nolte), or simply “the era of violence” (Ian Kershaw).26 These decades were connected by the explosion of violence: well over 100 million people perished in wars, civil wars, Nazi extermination camps, and Soviet labor camps.27 According to the advocates of this type of periodization, this era differed fundamentally, at least in Europe, from the previous decades and especially the second half of the century, which brought a longer period of peace again.

Within the immense literature dealing with the causes of World War I, the revisionist approach that evolved around the turn of the millennium calls into question the idea that the outbreak of the war was somehow inevitable or highly likely because of the prewar tensions, crises, and pressures created by nationalist agitation. Instead, this approach assigns a greater role to the contingent incidents or unfavorable coincidence of specific events, especially during the July crisis. It accepts, however, the crucial role of World War I in the long-term escalation of political violence.28

World War I not only increased the number of the victims of political violence, it also signaled the beginning of a new quality of violence. This novel quality was the result of the combination of modern industrial technologies with the new conception of war, one that was reminiscent of the sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century wars of religion. Such clashes were conceptualized as battles between “good” and “evil.” Unlike the conflicts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which had comparatively limited aims (for instance, the preservation or fall of a given dynasty), the aim of the major powers in World War I was to destroy the enemy utterly.

The new culture of war involved, first, the cultural mobilization of the population for violence and, second, the changing practice of war.29 On all sides, the dehumanization of the enemy was a primary tool of cultural mobilization (some refer to this as psychological mobilization).30 This was greatly facilitated by the fact that, in the age of mass media, the governments had efficient tools at their disposal to distort information and widely disseminate such news reports. Initially, they exercised censorship only over news directly related to the military situation.31 Later, however, information regarding prevailing general sentiment and especially views of the war and also critical remarks made by politicians and politically exposed persons were also considered relevant from the perspective of military considerations, so they too were submitted to censorship. Accordingly, while in 1914, there was only one press officer in the German army, there were more than 1,000 of them by 1916.32 The expansion and modernization of the propaganda activities are demonstrated by the fact that, in early 1917, a Photo und Film Office (Bild- und Filmamt, BUFA) was set up within the military department of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in early 1918, Great Britain set up a Ministry of Information.33 Priority was accorded to the presentation of sexual violence perpetrated by the enemy.34 Serbian newspapers contained reports concerning rapes allegedly committed by members of the Austro-Hungarian army, and the Austrian press provided broad coverage of the atrocities allegedly perpetrated by Russian troops against women in Galicia. The aim was not simply to report on the assaults committed against women. The propaganda suggested that if men were unable to defend their women (and by implication their country), their masculinity itself would be endangered.35

However, the demonization of the enemy was not simply the product of censorship and propaganda. As recent research on World War I has pointed out, civil society also took an active part in this campaign.36 In October 1914, 93 prominent German intellectuals, including Max Weber and Albert Einstein, published a manifesto entitled “Appeal to the Civilized World.” In it, they rebuffed all accusations against the German army, from the violation of Belgium’s neutrality to the cruelties allegedly committed by German troops, and insisted that the German army was, in fact, the defender of German culture and, hence, the culture of the world. Attacks on the German army, they contended, were also attacks on German culture. In response, French scholars published a manifesto in which they argued that German culture and military aggression were closely related: the former bred the latter. As Henri Bergson, perhaps the most renowned philosopher in France at the time, put it, war was “the fight of civilization against barbarism.”37

As these examples make clear, the basic function of the culture of war was the creation of an antagonistic opposition of collective identities. Although critical voices eventually became louder, a markedly antiwar attitude was characteristic only of a rather small fraction of intellectuals throughout the war. These opinions were expressed most noticeably in Russia, Great Britain, France, and to a lesser degree in Germany and Austria-Hungary.38

Two important elements of the other key component of the new war culture, the change in the practice of war, merit particular emphasis here. Over the course of the war, military actions against civilians and the destruction of the memorial sites crucial to the cultural identity of the enemy became an increasingly standard tool in the arsenals of the opposing armies.39 To cite one example, one might think of the act of arson committed in Leuven in the first weeks of the war. The University of Leuven Library, which held a collection of precious codices and incunabula, was set aflame by the German army, an act without military justification.40 The tremendous fire power in the battlefields was another major element of the new practice of war which, not surprisingly, shaped the culture of war.

As the above makes clear, the war was waged not only in the battlefields by soldiers but also on cultural fronts involving the civilian populations, which is why it has come to be referred to as a total war in the historical literature.41 Since the conflict was a war of nations and empires with the participation of entire societies, acts of violence could be perpetrated in the name of the people, and violence could be deployed against the civilian populations. In other words, the enemy was no longer states and their armies, but the entire populations of other countries.42 The totalization of the war led to brutalization both in the ranks of the military and within the wider society, because it made ever increasing levels of aggression socially acceptable, arguably preparing the way for World War II.43 This process can be described not only as a transformation of the culture of war but also as a change in the prevailing political culture.

The use of physical violence evolved into an intrinsic instrument of partisan actors in the new order of the interwar decades, in which physical assaults were considered a legitimate means of political struggle. Therefore, the formal end of World War I did not mean an end to political violence. On the contrary, between 1917 and 1923, revolutions, counterrevolutions, civil wars, and violent ethnic conflicts shattered many parts of Europe.44 The process of brutalization was especially striking in Russia during the revolution and civil war and in Germany in the revolutionary period and during the moments of diffuse political violence of the 1920s and 1930s.45 In Russia, World War I was instrumental in the brutalization of politics, but often in a more indirect way. Violence did not simply originate on the battlefield. Rather, it had a more complex genealogy. The institutional weakness of the state had permitted cultures of violence to flourish before the Great War. The war destroyed the old state structures and state authority, releasing the preexisting propensities for violence, which started to feed on themselves. Many instances of violence (White, Green, criminal, and mob violence) were devastating but were employed mostly tactically. In contrast, the Bolsheviks practiced violence and the threat of brutality in a strategic way to transform society and create a new state. The strategic use of force helped them defeat their opponents, and it also led to the institutionalization of violence in the newly established communist state.46 Central and Eastern Europe was also highly affected by political violence after the war. In Hungary, the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary terror and the intense everyday violence that evolved in the early 1920s (which included, for instance, the beating of Jews at universities) were all manifestations of the above. However, compared to Russia or Germany, the situation was consolidated relatively soon, within a few years.47

The revolutions, counterrevolutions, and paramilitary violence showed that although Europe was exhausted by 1918, there was no general cultural demobilization after World War I.48 Not even the Paris Peace Treaties managed to lay down the foundations of an enduring peace or an era without violence on the continent. This failure should be put down less to a lack of wisdom among the diplomats and more to the fact that “the war in people’s heads” continued, i.e., wartime attitudes continued to live on in broad spectrums of European societies, even if significant differences could be observed across Europe. Mobilization for political violence began to decline in the 1920s, especially in the victorious countries (such as Great Britain and France), but demobilization was hardly complete there either.49 The change is well illustrated by the transformation of depictions of war in France. While before 1914, images of war were dominated by heroic cavalry attacks and the figure of the noble and self-sacrificing soldier, after the mid-1920s, heroism disappeared for the most part from these depictions, and war was often presented as a filthy and vile act. Thus, it has been suggested that the increase in political violence as a formative experience of the post-World War I order depended less on the experiences of the war and more on how a specific country had fared in the peacemaking processes after the war. Accordingly, recent studies underline the confusion and humiliation brought about by defeat, which played a key role in the eruption of violence in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Here, a “culture of defeat” emerged which, as a symptom of enduring cultural mobilization, prevented many war veterans and civilians from coming to terms with the war’s outcome and demobilizing themselves internally.50 However, even in the “cultures of victory,” political violence was an essential constituent of the interwar order. The task of securing the new borders in the context of ethnically and religiously diverse societies created considerable conflicts and violent excesses in countries as such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Ireland.51

In addition to this absence of cultural demobilization, the two World Wars were also connected to each other by the armed conflicts that broke out shortly after the end of World War I. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, Italy launched an attack against Abyssinia in 1935, the Germans and the Italians intervened in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, and war broke out between Japan and China in 1937.

Beginning of a New Era

There is another widespread position concerning World War I as a historical divide which considers the Great War as the overture to a new era that lasted not simply until the end of World War II, but much longer than that. Reference has already been made to the well-known concept of the “short twentieth century,”52 meaning the period between 1914 and 1991, but several works have chosen World War I (its beginning or its end) as the starting point, and they trace historical trends which lasted until the turn of the millennium or up to the present day.53 According to these works, the twentieth century was essentially a period of historical continuity, as the historical trends sparked or ignited by World War I were decisive even after World War II.54

According to historians who see World War I as the beginning of a new period stretching until 1991 or beyond, this continuity can be detected with regard to violence as well. Once the war culture and other characteristics of World War I have been acknowledged, and in particular the practices of demonizing the enemy and committing acts of violence against civilians (such as shelling and aerial bombardment, U-Boat attacks, requisition of food and labor, mistreatment and abuse of allegedly suspicious members of minority communities, etc.), these phenomena lose their distinct quality and become integral elements of war.55 The conscious application of this type of periodization to European history acknowledges the key importance of World War I and the extreme brutality of World War II, but it also points to widespread political aggression in the second half of the twentieth century. Globally, many wars were fought after 1945, and European powers were directly involved several of them. The colonial wars offer an obvious example, but the export of violence from Europe can be observed in other respects as well. The two superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union) and their allies often instrumentalized local conflicts in the third world for their own purposes and clashed with each other in proxy wars.

Moreover, political violence, though it may have lost some influence and resources, never ceased to exist entirely in Europe itself. From the 1960s, terrorist movements repeatedly committed violent acts, the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s involved mass violence and ethnic cleansing again, and recently, Russia has come into armed conflict with its neighbors on several occasions, disregarding international law time and again. In the decade after the turn of the millennium, nationalist mobilization took place in several other countries as well, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.56

For decades after World War II, the threat of political violence was moderate. Underlying factors included the ethnic homogenization of the nation states resulting from large-scale forced resettlements and assimilation. The threat of mutual nuclear destruction as a deterrent during the Cold War and the process of European integration were even more important reasons for the absence of major wars in Europe. Today, however, tensions are no longer bottled up by the logic of Cold War, and European integration is affected by centrifugal forces more than ever. The reappearance of security issues invites interpretations that draw connections between the current era and the age of the World Wars and promotes the related historical periodization.

However, World War I ushered in a long-term transformation that stretched beyond the mid-twentieth century not only in terms of political violence, but in international politics, social and economic affairs and ideologies. A crucial international and geopolitical consequence of the war was the termination of the classic European pentarchy. The empires of Central and Eastern Europe disintegrated, and the borders drawn by the peace treaties stabilized for the most part in the long run. The colonial system was seemingly only restructured, but the imperial overstretch of the British and the French accelerated the emancipation of their colonies. The imperial state as a form of territorial governance came under attack and began to retreat as the concept of the nation state continued its advance across the globe. Several decades and another brutal war between 1939 and 1945 were necessary to accelerate the course of imperial decline, but World War I was the starting point of this process and, thus, a global watershed.57

The victory of the Bolshevik revolution kicked off the evolution of the communist world system, and the rivalry between communist and capitalist countries left its mark on international relations throughout the century.58

Among the economic changes, increased redistribution and state control of business stands out.59 Government agencies and other authorities appeared in each belligerent European country. These bodies oversaw the allocation of raw materials, controlling finances and distributing food and other everyday necessities. As the war progressed, they became more and more powerful, indicating that the government had acquired competencies that would have been inconceivable previously and that they had undertaken a degree of responsibility for the living standards of citizens that had been essentially unheard of. After the war, these authorities were only partially eliminated, as illustrated, for instance, by the continued operation of the Center of Financial Institutions (Pénzintézeti Központ) in Hungary.60

The use of war loans to finance the war and precipitous inflation caused by the manipulation of state finances devastated the economies of the belligerent countries, but a similar fate awaited pre-1914 international commercial and financial relations as well. In some areas, war damages already hindered economic performance, and reconstruction also demanded considerable resources. Overseas investments had to be sold to finance the war. The bulk of the wartime investments flowed into the armaments industry, which later became redundant. There were excess capacities in other branches, too, and the human capital suffered heavy losses. These factors contributed to the Great Depression and thus to the political instability of the 1930s.61

The economic weight of the United States and Japan grew in the west and in the east, respectively, with long-term consequences. This was clearly indicated by the fact that while before 1914, the key currency of the international capital markets had been the British pound sterling and Great Britain had been the leading international creditor, insurer, and investor, after 1918, these functions began to be filled by the United States and the US dollar.62

As far as the broader social implications are concerned, it deserves to be mentioned that World War I brought a breakthrough in the development of mass democracies. In the previous era, parliamentary systems existed all over Western Europe, but only a small percent of the population had voting rights. However, during the war, the biggest sacrifices were made by the excluded groups, so they demanded their political rights. The introduction of women’s suffrage also picked up speed. This was due in no small part to the ever-larger presence of women in the workforce and, notably, in positions requiring forms of skilled labor. This process accelerated over the course of the twentieth century, becoming perhaps the single most important factor in women’s growing political and economic emancipation.63 However, the large-scale extension of the right to vote and the simultaneous spread of parliamentary systems also created some measure of political turmoil in the short run. While Great Britain managed to stabilize its democracy in the 1920s, most liberal democracies collapsed or had been overthrown by the early 1930s, and this contributed decisively to the escalation of international conflicts.64

With regards to long-term social processes, the war did not so much bring about a breakthrough as act as a catalyst which accelerated shifts already underway. The working class continued to grow during the war. In some countries, it increased by one third over the four years in question. Parallel to the expansion of the economic role of the state, social policy was also given greater emphasis. The war uprooted millions, thus contributing to the spread of new habits and attitudes. Relatively insulated peasant communities were increasingly exposed to urban values. The changes which took place to the roles that were played by women in society (particularly but not exclusively with regards to the presence of women in the workplace) are also a significant indication of changes in and challenges to social values. In the 1920s, the sight of a woman on her own in a cinema and another public place of entertainment became customary in European cities, while only a few decades earlier it would have constituted a rare incident.65


All in all, each of the three approaches presented above can be relevant for research on World War I and the history of the twentieth century, but there are considerable divergences between the interpretations they produce. If one regards World War I as the endpoint of the previous era, then strong emphasis should be placed on the road leading up to the war, or in other words the conflicts in Europe and the prevailing ideologies of the last third of the nineteenth century: how were the structural and cultural preconditions created that eventually led to the outburst of violence in 1914?

If one conceives of the two World Wars and the decades between them as a single unit, then the focus shifts to violence as a defining feature of the periodization, and emphasis falls on short-term factors. War is traced back to war in many respects, with World War II being seen as a consequence of World War I. This approach furthers an understanding of the dynamics of violence. It also highlights the relative peace prevailing in Europe for several decades after World War II and encourages one to explore the reasons for this peace. At the same time, this interpretation is Eurocentric and can barely account for long-term social and economic changes.

Finally, if we understand the Great War as the beginning of a new period lasting until the end of the twentieth century and even beyond, emphasis is placed on World War I as a defining watershed—even in comparison with World War II—which generated massive long-term political, social, and economic processes. Thus, World War I is to be seen not only as the prelude to World War II, but as an Urkatastrophe (primordial catastrophe) or “the great seminal catastrophe of this century,” (George F. Kennan) which triggered a series of conflicts.66 From the perspective of Central and Eastern Europe, this approach is particularly relevant, as World War I initiated the breakup of empires in the region and the rise of a new system of nation sates, and the common thread of the ensuing short twentieth century for Central and Eastern Europe was the dominance of authoritarian systems.

In contrast with total war, total history is unfeasible, as historians cannot consider the all the existing sources and research findings in their works. The approaches discussed above cannot be merged into one seamless narrative either. Instead, we see changing foci in the historiography of World War I, and this affects the assessments of the place of World War I in any historical narrative of the time.

Between the two World Wars, historians paid greater attention to the events leading up to World War I than they did to its immediate consequences, but they usually focused on relatively narrow issues. They were intrigued by the question of war guilt, in particular the responsibility of governments, which corresponded to the traditional view that placed the nation at the center of its narratives.67

In the 1950s and 1960s, concern with the events of World War II among both historians and the general public largely overshadowed interest in the Great War. Still, several excellent scholarly works were written on World War I in which the focus shifted to the masses affected by the war on the front and in the hinterland. This contributed to discussions of the long-term effects of World War I and new considerations of how the war had arguably shaped the whole of the twentieth century (some of which have been presented above).

At the beginning of the 1990s, when the new Europe was born and the interpretations of international relations based on the nation state principle seemed narrow or even obsolete, the concept of a “European civil war” gained popularity. As we have seen above, this notion included World War I. One of the key promoters of this idea was the Museum of the Great War, which was opened in 1992 in the Château de Péronne in the town of Péronne, France (the site of the Somme battles).68

This proved to be a temporary change. The centenary of the outbreak of the Great War coincided with growing international instability, which once again encouraged a search for correspondences between the age of World War I and our own days and thereby placed emphasis on long-term perspectives. But the larger framework for understandings of past events has not changed: interpretations of World War I continue to be shaped by historians, members of the public, and their broader social contexts.69



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1 Krumeich, “The War Imagined: 1890–1914,” 5.

2 Ibid., 7.

3 Winter, “Historiography 1918–Today”; Borodziej and Górny, Forgotten Wars; Leonhard, Die Büchse der Pandora; Gyáni, “A Nagy Háború: Kinek a háborúja?” 82–91; Clark, The Sleepwalkers; Horne, “Introduction,” xvi–xxviii; Winter, The Legacy of the Great War; Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction; Braybon, Evidence, History and the Great War; Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 1914–1918; Chickering and Förster, Great War, Total War; Winter et al., The Great War and the Twentieth Century; Keegan, The First World War; Horne, State, Society and Mobilization in Europe during the First World War; Winter and Baggett, 1914–18: the Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century; Geyer, “The Militarization of Europe, 1914–1945”; Winter, The Experience of World War I.

4 The literature on historical periodization is rather scarce: Karner et al., Epochenbrüche im 20. Jahrhundert; Stearns, “Periodization in Social History”; Koselleck, Zeitschichten: Studien zur Historik; Jordanova, History in Practice; Green, “Periodizing World History”; Besserman, “The Challenge of Periodization: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives.”

5 On the global dimension of the war, see Winter, “General Introduction”; Neiberg, Fighting the Great War: A Global History; Gerwarth and Manela, “The Great War as a Global War”; Janz, “Einführung: Der Erste Weltkrieg in globaler Perspektive”; Lakitsch et al., Bellicose Entanglements.

6 Segesser, “1918, a global caesura?”

7 Blackbourn, History of Germany 1780–1918.

8 Wehler, “Der zweite Dreißigjährige Krieg,” 32.

9 Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, ix.

10 Fischer, Griff nach der Weltmacht; Reimann, “Der Erste Weltkrieg.” For interpretations claiming that the Great War constituted the end of an era, see Osterhammel, “In Search of a Nineteenth Century”; Osterhammel, Die Verwandlung der Welt; Leonhard, “Legacies of Violence.”

11 McMillan, “War.”

12 Carreras and Josephson, “Aggregate Growth, 1870–1914”; Halperin, War and Social Change in Modern Europe, 51–143.

13 Leonhard, “Legacies of Violence,” 321.

14 Kershaw, “War and Political Violence in Twentieth-Century Europe,” 112.

15 Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1870, 22, 84; Mann, The Sources of Social Power, 730–32; Mann, “A Political Theory of Nationalism and its Excesses.”

16 Kershaw, “War and Political Violence,” 111.

17 Bloxham et al., “Europe in the world,” 39.

18 Mulligan, The Origins of the First World War, 233–234; Rauchensteiner, The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1914–1918, 34–35.

19 Dwyer and Nettelbeck, “‘Savage Wars of Peace’.”

20 Findlay and O’Rourke, Power and Plenty, xxiv–xxv.

21 Kershaw, “War and Political Violence,” 112; Traverso, The Origins of Nazi Violence.

22 Ryan, “‘Revolution is War’: The Development of the Thought of V. I. Lenin on Violence, 1899–1907.”

23 Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, 8–10.

24 Kershaw, “War and Political Violence,” 112; Beyrau, “Der Erste Weltkrieg als Bewahrungsprobe.”

25 Mulligan, The Origins of the First World War, 227–29.

26 Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 12; Aron, Peace and War, 297; Nolte, Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, 1917–1945; Kershaw, “War and Political Violence,” 112.

27 For different estimates, see Leitenberg, Deaths in Wars and Conflicts in the 20th Century, 3–15.

28 Mulligan, The Origins of the First World War, 16–17.

29 Becker, “Faith, Ideologies, and the »Cultures of War«,” 234.

30 Wehler, “Der zweite Dreißigjährige Krieg,” 32.

31 Demm, “Propaganda at Home and Abroad”.

32 Kruse, Der Erste Weltkrieg, 84.

33 Tworek, “Bild- und Filmamt (BUFA)”; Kruse, Der Erste Weltkrieg, 87.

34 Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction, 244–46; Morrow, “A Theory of Atrocity Propaganda.”

35 McMillan, “War,” 62; Steffen, “Othering/Atrocity Propaganda.”

36 Purseigle, “Warfare and Belligerence.”

37 Mulligan, The Origins of the First World War, 4; Irish, “Petitioning the World.”

38 Kramer, “Recent Historiography of the First World War. Part II,” 169.

39 Kramer, “Combatants and Noncombatants”; Watson, “‘Unheard-of Brutality’: Russian Atrocities against Civilians in East Prussia, 1914–15”; Gumz, The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire in Habsburg Serbia, 1914–1918, 44–59.

40 Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction, 6–30.

41 Strachan, “Total War in the Twentieth Century.”

42 Horne, “War and Conflict in Contemporary European History, 1914–2004,” 5.

43 Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars, 162.

44 On the conflicts in the immediate post-war years, see Böhler, Civil War in Central Europe, 1918–1921: The Reconstruction of Poland; Gerwarth, The Vanquished; Gerwarth and Horne, War in Peace; Révész: “Post-war Turmoil and Violence (Hungary)”; Balkelis, War, Revolution, and Nation-Making in Lithuania, 1914–1923; Bodó and Prónay, Paramilitary Violence and Anti-Semitism in Hungary, 1919–1921; Wilson, Frontiers of Violence; Stephenson, The Final Battle; Hart, The IRA at War, 1916–1923; Davies, White Eagle, Red Star; Roshwald, Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires.

45 Jones, “Political Violence in Italy and Germany after the First World War.”; Voigtmann, “The Baltikumer.”

46 Beyrau, “Brutalization Revisited.”

47 Gerwarth, “The Central European Counterrevolution.”; Gerwarth and Horne, “Paramilitarism in Europe after the Great War: An Introduction.”; Sammartino, “Paramilitary Violence.”

48 Geyer, “The Militarization of Europe, 1914–1945.”

49 Laurence, “Forging a Peaceable Kingdom”; Schumann, “Europa, der erste Weltkrieg und die Nachkriegszeit.”

50 Schievelbusch, The Culture of Defeat; Edgecombe and Healy, “Competing Interpretations of Sacrifice in the Postwar Austrian Republic.”

51 Eichenberg, “The Dark Side of Independence”; Kučera, “Exploiting Victory, Sinking into Defeat.”

52 Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, ix.

53 Krüger, “Der Erste Weltkrieg als Epochenschwelle.”

54 James, Europe Reborn: A History, 1914–2000.

55 For contributions that in specific aspects consider World War I a precursor to World War II, see, for example, Liulevicius, War Land on the Eastern Front; Winter, America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915; Prusin, Nationalizing a Borderland; von Hagen, War in a European Borderland; Liberman, The Holocaust and Genocides in Europe; Wróbel, “Foreshadowing the Holocaust.”

56 For example, see Feischmidt and Majtényi, The Rise of Populist Nationalism.

57 Gerwarth and Manela, “The Great War as a Global War.”

58 On the social consequences of the war, see Marwick and Purdue, “The debate over the impact and consequences of World War I”; Wall and Winter, The Upheaval of War; Winter and Robert, Capital Cities at War.

59 Winter, War and Economic Development; Hardach, The First World War 1914–1918; Offer, The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation; Wrigley, The First World War and the International Economy; Strachan, Financing the First World War.

60 Tomka, A magyarországi pénzintézetek rövid története, 1836–1947, 81.

61 Jolanta and Harrison, “War and disintegration, 1914–1950”; Capie, “Inflation in the twentieth century,” 164–66.

62 Broadberry and Harrison, “The economics of World War I: an overview.”

63 Grayzel, “Women and Men,” 263.

64 Reynolds, The Long Shadow, 39–83.

65 Marwick and Purdue, “The debate over the impact and consequences of World War I,” 113–21.

66 Kennan, The Decline of Bismarck‘s European Order, 3; Schulin, “Die Urkatastrophe des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts”; Mommsen, Die Urkatastrophe Deutschlands.

67 Winter and Prost, The Great War in History.

68 For recent examples of this view, see several contributions to Pennell and de Menese, A World at War, 1911–1949.

69 Brandt, “The Memory Makers.”


A World Lifted off Its Hinges: The Social Impact of World War I on Hungary

Zsombor Bódy
Eötvös Loránd University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 4  (2022):702–732 DOI 10.38145/2022.4.702

As was true virtually everywhere, World War I brought about significant social changes in Hungary. As a consequence of the wartime mobilization of the economy, the relationship between employers and workers in industry was transformed, as was the relationship between owners of different sizes of estates and farms and agricultural workers in rural areas. In both spheres, groups emerged which were much better organized than before. Some of them were capable of coordinated political action, and the balance of power between them changed rapidly over time. The wartime government tried to ensure continuous coordination and reconciliation of interests between the various ownership and labor groups in agriculture and industry, but it ultimately failed. Beyond the military defeat, this failure was the primary determining factor of the events of 1918–19 in Hungary. By analyzing the group dynamics of wartime society and the wartime economy in Hungary, this paper seeks to outline the social and historical background of the political struggles that came in the wake of the war. It ventures two core contentions. First, the emergence of various agricultural and industrial interest groups and their coordination with one another and with the government in the aftermath of the war constituted mechanisms of integration that had not existed before the war. As a result, the diverse socio-professional groups in Hungary became more integrated into one society within the framework of the state. The second finding contention is that the counterrevolutionary regime that took over in late 1919 was more successful than previous governments had been in establishing a balance between the different groups of owners and workers and learning from previous experience, and this was why it was able, ultimately, to consolidate its hold on power.

Keywords: World War I, Hungary, social history, labor history, history of rural society

Research on World War I and its immediate aftermath has gained new momentum in Hungary in the last half decade. Many works have been published on the specific processes and consequences of the territorial changes that occurred in the aftermath of the war, such as the refugee question.1 Works on the military-political situation at the end of the war have offered convincing and nuanced answers to old questions.2 Substantial volumes and studies have been published on the fluctuations of public opinion and events in 1918–1919 and on the politically motivated violence which came in the wake of the war.3 Much less attention has been paid, however, to the social consequences of the war, which were crucial to the events of the period from 1918 until roughly the mid-1920s.4 The concrete social effects of the war were not so much the result of military operations as they were of mobilization and, even more so, of the economic processes involved. Some understanding of the history of the war economy is crucial not only because the military strength of the powers that met on the battlefields depended to no small extent on the performance of their economies. According to international research, the mobilization of the war economy, intertwined with and interacting with cultural transformations, led to profound changes in all the European societies that were engaged in some way in the war.5 These changes altered the balance of power among social groups and political forces and also changed the relationship between employer and employee, the political system in some countries, and the position of women in society.6

The Effects of Wartime Mobilization on Social Groups in Industry and Agriculture and Their Political Consequences

World War I ignited or added kindling to several transformations within Hungarian society. The war and the mobilization of society and the economy radically increased the role of government institutions in the management of social conflicts as well as of everyday life (e.g., production, food supply, housing and workplace conditions). At the same time, it also restructured relations among social groups, which led to a dramatic transformation of political power relations in 1918. After the war had come to a close, it took many years and several political turnabouts for the administration to withdraw adequately from the management of everyday life in the hinterland and for the relative position of major social groups to stabilize. In the course of these processes, the situation of peasants, workers, employers, members of the middle class, and even women underwent radical changes.

This paper examines the impact that the social changes generated by the war exerted on the status and self-identification of the major social groups in Hungary and on their perception of one another. It also considers the ways in which the political behavior of these groups was determined by these transformations. I offer a dynamic tableau of the changes that occurred in the relationships among various social groups active in industry and agriculture, including changes that affected consequent access to power, as well as the ways in which party politics responded to and were shaped by these changes. The war also had a profound impact, of course, on the middle classes and on the situation of women, but for reasons of space and to maintain the focus of the study, these issues are not discussed here. I concentrate on the (re)emergence of groups and conflicts in industry and agriculture, which were the most decisive factors in setting the framework conditions for the political processes of the early interwar period.

Industrial Society in Hungary during and after Wartime Mobilization

The war placed industrial labor in an entirely new context. As was true in the other countries involved in the war, in Hungary, wartime production demanded centralized management of the labor force. In the relatively liberal labor market that had dominated Hungarian industry until then, there were two operational strategies for advocating the interests of workers: the individual and the collective. On the individual level, workers could change their workplace on a daily basis, since this practice was not substantially restricted by labor legislation. Collective advocacy was assured by the trade unions. Although they operated in a legally deregulated zone, the authorities did not effectively prevent them from organizing strikes. As a result of this, collective agreements were introduced in more and more branches of industry to regulate labor relations, at least in the urban agglomeration of Budapest and in some of the larger cities and towns. Although they did not have any legal weight, the compromises between the trade unions and the employers’ associations often worked because the strength of the organization on the opposing side made the other party and the individual stakeholders in the market comply with the agreement.7

The war, however, put an end to this liberal order of labor relations. Strikes were banned, and the labor force was tied to factories connected to the war industry. Individuals were no longer allowed to quit their jobs. This quickly led to friction, which the Hungarian government attempted to handle in a manner very similar to efforts in Germany and Austria. So-called “complaint committees” were established during the war, which were supposed to manage the conflicts arising in industry. These committees were trilateral bodies composed of the delegates of the state (civil servants and soldiers) and representatives of both employers and employees. However, there was an essential difference between Hungary and the abovementioned countries and the countries of the Entente: the Social Democratic Party of Hungary was not present in the National Assembly due to significant restrictions on suffrage.8 In this situation, the fact that the trade unions (related to the party) were involved in the management of labor conflict was especially significant. It signaled acknowledgement on behalf of the government, i.e., a drastic improvement compared to the earlier situation, and it was by all means a more significant step than something similar would have been in the countries in which the social democratic parties were already active parliamentary political forces.

The government made a strategic and deliberate decision to involve the institutions of the social democratic workers’ movement in the management of war mobilization, and this was manifest not only in the domain of labor issues in a strict sense. The other area was public food supply, with regard to which the government was obliged to take into account the consumer cooperatives organized on the basis of the trade unions. This institution was quintessential in the context of centralized food management because there was no other entity that would have been able to manage distribution based on the ration system in the districts inhabited by workers. Organizations related to the Social Democratic Party were also given a role in the administration of housing issues. The liberal tenement-markets that had functioned in Hungarian municipalities until 1914 had collapsed at the beginning of the war. First, the families of soldiers who had been drafted were exempted from paying rent, and since this measure had numerous additional implications that generated conflict, rents in general were regulated by the authorities. During the second half of the war, housing authorities were set up that were supposed to assign apartments under private ownership to those who applied to live in them. This measure was also necessary because industrial cities and towns were under increasing migratory pressure as a result of the wartime boom. At the housing authorities, litigation was decided by parity bodies that were usually presided over by a retired jurist and composed of representatives from the association of real estate owners and the association of tenants. The latter association was a satellite organization of the Social Democratic Party of Hungary.

It followed from the above that, as a result of the war, the Social Democratic Party was treated by the government in a way that would have been previously inconceivable. From the beginning of the war, the party itself demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with the government (like its sister parties with parliamentary representation in other countries), and when the war broke out, the party prompted its press to support the war (the party’s press had struck a pacifist tone in the period of diplomatic crisis prior to the declaration of war).9 The most important element of the pro-war position was that until the 1918 collapse, the social democratic leadership tried to prevent all strike initiatives and suppress all strikes that did break out, which was not unusual during the second half of the war. In exchange for this cooperative attitude, the Social Democratic Party hoped that it would gain the expansion of voting rights from the government and would thus win its place in the National Assembly. The party tried to take advantage of war conditions to keep the government under pressure so that it would be rewarded for its cooperative stance. For instance, workers employed in a whole series of war factories sent a telegram to the government demanding the expansion of voting rights.10 Their demands were repeated several times in the form of petitions addressed to the government. Below is the text of one such petition:

The workers of this factory can declare with a clear conscience that they have honestly and completely performed the duties imposed upon them by the war from the outset until now. They have been aware of the great significance and value of their work; they know that even though they have no weapons other than the tools in their hands, they have still been standing in the trenches; they know that with every strike of the hammer, they have been forging the weapons of national defense: they have defended their homeland with every breath.

This conviction boosted their sense of duty and their readiness to make sacrifices. It was this conviction that made them capable of putting up with the suffering and want that the war imposed on them particularly. It was this conviction—and only this!—that persuaded them as well as workers employed at all other factories that they should tolerate political disenfranchisement and the humiliating status of being excluded from suffrage. [...] The war cannot end without the homeland that they helped save and preserve with their lives and labor granting the most elementary yet most important right to them as citizens.11

The government appreciated the activities of the Social Democratic Party and the organizational network connected to it, and as noted above, the party was accorded a role in the management of everyday life in society, from the housing issue through public food supply and labor affairs.

At the same time, the changes affecting the workers’ organizations had an impact on the middle strata of society as well as employers. For the latter, the recognition of the trade unions represented a shock-like overturn of earlier power relations. The secretary of the National Association of Metallurgy and Machine Factories—the biggest employers’ organization in all sectors of the economy—made the following declaration with regard to this transformation:

It is enough to consider what it would mean if the trade union secretary whom hooligans would have driven away from even the neighborhood of a factory were to roll onto the premises through its wide-open gates in the four-horse carriage of the lofty factory owner as the supreme judge [...] so that he could pass judgment against the owner after having studied the most confidential books of the latter, interrogated him as the accused, and confronted him with workers whom he had previously treated with disdain. No momentous editorial or fiery agitation could measure up to its propagative effect.12

Membership in trade unions grew during World War I, and by the end of the war, they had established organizational networks among people working in the most important occupations in Budapest and some industrial cities. Parallel to this, membership in the associations and consumer cooperatives connected to the trade unions also increased significantly. The latter grew into a presence that was influential in multiple branches of business.13 The trade union treasuries were full due to rises in membership and membership fees, which were paid according to higher wages, and the trade unions continued to develop their infrastructure during the third and fourth years of the war as well, purchasing or building new headquarters, etc.

In contrast to this strengthening of the organizations of the workers, employers were on the defensive. They felt that the complaint committees were unable to make decisions that were unfavorable to workers because the authorities feared that such decisions would be unenforceable or would even provoke riots. In their view, the incompetent interventions by the civil and military authorities disrupted the internal balance at the factories and the previously healthy functioning of the labor market. As a matter of fact, their frequent complaints were not unfounded, because the military authorities overseeing the war economy were often inclined to support the interests of workers and wanted to avoid even the appearance of taking sides with “capital.”14

All in all, employers often contended that the government was trying to buy the loyalty of workers at the expense of employers. In certain areas, they tried to resist these efforts. In the war economy, food distribution became an issue of power, so employers did not want it to be turned over entirely to the social democratic cooperative. The National Federation of Industrialists established its own public supply cooperative and managed to have the government create a special body to coordinate food supply for workers. Representatives of each side served on this body on a parity basis, and the body managed the issue of food supply for workers through the two cooperatives. As far as this this organization was concerned, workers should always occupy a position of priority with regard to food supply: in other words, workers had to receive at least their official food quotas, even if the authorities were unable to ensure the originally planned food supply for the municipalities.15 This stood in stark contrast to the food scarcities suffered by the urban middle-class, which were alleviated only if a given family had relatives in the countryside who could provide them with agricultural produce.

Although the Social Democratic Party of Hungary struggled to keep workers under its control during the last year of the war, and the party had to walk a thin line between the increasingly radical demands of the workers and its policy of cooperation with the government, it finally managed to tackle the problem. The party was able to prevent the government from banning the trade unions and extending its direct control over its other institutions. And while numerous sources indicate that there were dissatisfied voices within the ranks of the workers regarding the leadership of the Social Democratic Party, the scope of the social authority of the institutions and organizations it ran still continued to grow. Although during the second half of the war the government elaborated plans regarding measures that would be necessary were it to switch to a hardline and oppressive policy toward the workers, these plans remained in the drawer.16 Certain politicians suggested—particularly after the big strikes in March 1918—that previously exempted trade union leaders and officials should be drafted into the military and that discipline should be restored by organizing the workers into military units. However, the government disregarded these proposals. It feared that these measures, which would also have included the closure of printing presses so that workers would not be able to disseminate their message on leaflets, would generate unmanageable resistance. It is quite remarkable that these sorts of ideas were supported mostly by bourgeois politicians, and the representatives of the army were more cautious in this respect. Thus, although the government realized that the social democratic organizations could not completely control the workers as it would have liked to have controlled them, it upheld its integrative policy to the end of the war. As a consequence of the above, by the end of the war, the position of workers employed in major industries was significantly strengthened (mostly as a result of their concentrated location in the urban agglomeration of Budapest).17 This was equally true with regard to changes in real wages: the situation of members of the middle class who earned fixed salaries deteriorated dramatically in comparison to workers, as did their political weight. Employers believed that certain trades, as “beneficiaries of the war boom,” had become excessively assertive, especially when the workers realized that the authorities did not dare curb their demands.18

The situation outlined above was neither peculiar nor unique in the European context. The war economy and the mobilization of society created a plethora of new forums of control elsewhere as well, and representatives of the working class played a role in all of them. Due to the boom in the military industry, the standard of living among workers often rose elsewhere too, while that of the middle class became relatively worse.19 At the same time, the level of organization of the working class grew to an immense degree throughout Europe, and employers became more organized in opposition to them. In most belligerent countries, the war entailed the recognition of workers’ parties as partners in the political arena, which also meant that they could become part of the expanding institutional network of organs representing labor and welfare issues and offering more and more services. The creation of ministries for social and labor issues in several countries was one symptom of this process.20 The idea of creating such a ministry in Hungary was entertained in 1917–1918, but it was implemented only after the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy and the Kingdom of Hungary within it.

Changing Social Power Relations in Industry in the Immediate Aftermath of the War

When Hungary collapsed at the end of the war, political power fell almost automatically into the hands of the Social Democratic Party as a result of the earlier widening of the party’s base. Thanks to a political transformation that changed Hungary’s form of government from a monarchy to a republic, a coalition government came to power during the winter of 1918–1919 in which the Social Democratic Party was the strongest member.21 However, more important than power relations within the government coalition was the fact that social democratic organizations could reach out to society more effectively than ever, especially in Budapest and the communities in its vicinity. While the key ministries pertaining to industry were all in the hands of social democratic parties, the trade unions managed to sign extremely favorable collective agreements for workers and at the same time made trade union membership compulsory for every worker, because the factories were not allowed to employ workers outside the organization.22 Moreover, the consumer cooperative linked to them could procure goods under especially good conditions, which was a valuable advantage in light of the general scarcity of food and fuel. Meanwhile, the middle-class consumer cooperatives complained about the difficulties they faced when trying to obtain such things.23

At the beginning of 1919, workers began to exercise control over certain factories beyond the scope of the collective agreements, including the management of production. The owners and the company boards felt that the factories were simply slipping out of their control. At that point, the leadership of the trade unions did not even attempt to go against the radicalizing workers, but rather took the lead concerning the initiatives aimed at getting rid of the employers altogether. Then, with the rise of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in March 1919, the social democratic institutional network did try to take over the management of everyday life in every domain. The factories were nationalized. The representatives of employers were simply ousted from the national social security institutions that previously had functioned on a parity basis. In theory, the trade unions’ consumer cooperative was supposed to assume control over the administration of trade throughout Budapest, and its leader was appointed people’s commissioner for public supply.24

This extension of the institutional network organized around the workers’ party was a unique occurrence in the wave of European social and political crises following World War I. Although parties that had espoused Bolshevik ideology tried (at times successfully) to seize power in other countries as well, the social democratic workers’ parties and trade union movements made no attempt to extend the system of institutions related to the social democratic parties and the trade unions in the realm of social and political power on such a scale. Elsewhere in Central Europe and especially in Germany and Austria, the workers’ organizations encompassed and integrated the industrial workers as a counter-society vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie. And the functioning of this organizational network was assured by the presence of the workers’ parties in the political arena. However, in those countries, the organizational network connecting the workers did not try to eliminate the market economy or exclude the representatives of the non-worker social groups from the economic and political decision-making processes.25

In Hungary, the organizational network that had originally been built around the workers overstepped its boundaries with this attempt. When it became possible in the aftermath of the war, the Social Democratic Party tried to improve the situation of its base, not through labor legislation or social policy regulations, as was the case in European countries at the time, but by reinforcing the power position of its organizations. This, however, did not prove enduring, and the excessive attempts of the party to enhance its power led to failure.26 When the Hungarian Soviet Republic collapsed in the second half of 1919, the institutional system that had originally underpinned working-class society took some heavy blows. Although at the time of the Great War, workers had represented a considerable weight in the urban agglomeration of Budapest, Hungary was still an agrarian country, and this made it impossible to stabilize the political rule of the organizations connected to industrial workers.

Rural Society during and after War Mobilization

The war led to new trends in rural society too, the nature of which was significantly different from the predominant trends in industry. The war and attendant mobilization contributed massively to the decay of the earlier peasant way of life (which had already been undergoing a dramatic process of transformation). A distinguishing characteristic of Hungarian agrarian society was that, due to the small size of their farms, relatively few of the many people who earned their living via agriculture could sustain themselves and their families on the bases of their own farming. There were many penniless day laborers and manorial servants, as well as farmers with only one or two hectares of land. The tensions arising from this situation had been evident for more than 25 years before the war. The root of the problem was of a demographic nature: with the broadening of the demographic transition, the village population began to grow, while the amount of arable land and the number of employment opportunities in agriculture did not increase in the first half of the twentieth century. On the contrary, ambitious infrastructural developments, railway construction, and flood relief work that had provided employment for the redundant agricultural labor force came to an end by the end of the nineteenth century. The so-called agrarian socialist movements—harvest strikes, local riots, etc.—had preoccupied state authorities for more than two decades before 1914. These authorities attempted to subdue these actions partly through social policy measures and partly by force.27

War mobilization had an ambivalent effect on the circumstances of the agrarian population. This group was heavily affected by the draft, since industrial workers, as a result of the interests of war production, were frequently exempted from military service (or they were ordered to work in their original factory). The lack of men caused serious disturbances to farming and family life in village society. At the same time, food requisitions—which were, in fact, the reverse side of the urban ration system—undermined the prospects of farmers.28 The shortage of labor, the military use of draught animals, and the reduction in manure application led to drops in average yields.29 Nonetheless, the war was still profitable for agriculture. The sale of produce in addition to the requisitions provided both big and small landowners additional revenues, and many contemporary articles reported on the high earnings made on the black market.30 At the end of the war and in the period following it, many farmers were able to pay back their earlier debts in the devalued currency. This all gave the landowning peasantry greater self-confidence and room for maneuver, and it also motivated them to assert their interests independently, an act that had been previously unknown to them. As a result of this, the Smallholders’ Party, the roots of which had extended to the period before the war, grew increasingly strong and became an important player by the end of the war.31 Much as workers and employees were flocking to the organizations of the Social Democratic Party, the peasants lined up behind the Smallholders’ Party.

However, the Smallholders’ Party and, behind it, the peasantry and rural intellectuals were certainly not the only important strata within rural society. The broad spectrum of landless social groups, which included servants and day laborers, faced a different situation than that of the independent farmers, and they were able to profit much less from the agricultural boom during the war. At the same time, they were hit severely by the loss of human lives in the cataclysm. Moreover, the big landowners tried to counterbalance the expansion of the organizations of the Smallholders’ Party in order to preserve their influence over the rural population. It was with that purpose in mind that they created the Farmers’ Party, which attempted to establish organizations to rival those of the Smallholders’ Party.32

However, the broad masses of the agrarian population that had only modest means or were poverty-stricken and sustained themselves from day labor could not automatically join either party. They constituted the most discontented group of the rural population.33 The soldiers in their ranks, who poured back into Hungary in November 1918 and were often armed and accustomed to violence, would regularly instigate the acts of unrest that were breaking out all over the country.34 These uprisings targeted the local administration, which had lost the sympathy of the locals—including the middle and big landowners—due to the requisitions and the draft. War losses, forms of the war economy that were seen as dubious, and the crumbling of the power hierarchy in rural society fed a strong sense of discontent that found expression not exclusively in diffuse movements, but sometimes also in more organized forms as well. As a result of the propaganda spread by the agitators associated with the Social Democratic Party, those involved in the uprisings tried to take over big estates as a whole and run them without redistributing the land. An especially acute conflict developed in Somogy County, where this movement was aimed specifically at the Smallholders’ Party.35

A long series of negotiations was held in the winter of 1918–1919 in an attempt to settle the conflicts connected to the problems of agrarian society. The talks were initiated by the government and held with the involvement of all the interested parties that had a politically meaningful structure. The intention was to arrive at acceptable and realistic land reform legislation and a comprehensive agricultural policy for the postwar period.36 The success of these negotiations and of the settlement of the land question as a whole would have contributed greatly to the stabilization of the republican government of November 1918.

The meeting, which was unprecedented in the twentieth century, brought together all the actors in the field of agricultural policy, including representatives of various organizations and agricultural experts with a diverse array of orientations, as well as several former and future ministers of agriculture. The necessity of implementing a large-scale transformation of the existing estate structure that would take into consideration the social status quo and the given political situation was acknowledged by all the participants, including those that stood to lose through such reform. However, the scale and the manner of the reform were subject to debate. Advocating the interests of the landed peasantry, the Smallholders’ Party sought to strengthen the peasant-owned small estates at the expense of the bigger estates in order to create as many stable and viable small estates in the country as possible. Their most important argument was that the peasants should pay compensation to the landowners who needed to be remunerated for lost land, and they had the financial means to make such payments. This was an indirect admission of the fact that the peasantry had also been among the beneficiaries of the wartime boom. In contrast, the representatives of the large estates spoke about the economic advantages of large estates, stressing that in some sectors, they are more productive than small estates, a fact which, they insisted, should not be underestimated, given the need to supply food to cities and the need for exports. But they also recognized that for social peace, a more equal distribution of land ownership was needed. The representatives of the Social Democratic Party agreed with the economic arguments put forward by the large landowners. They agreed that the big estates should be preserved in an integral form because they were advantageous from an economic perspective. The Social Democratic Party members were afraid that with the introduction of universal suffrage, they would become a minority in the next elections, and the representatives of the peasantry would prevail in the new National Assembly. They were therefore quite opposed to the further strengthening of this social group. One of their representatives said what the others had only implied, namely that the parceling out of land would only make the people concerned “reactionaries,” and that as much land as possible should be kept in public ownership.37 Although the debate formally ended with a compromise law—while bigger estates were the sites of violent clashes in numerous parts of the country—it was never implemented.

With the establishment of the communist dictatorship in March 1919, it was the ideas of the radical groups of the Social Democratic Party—and a handful of communists—that were temporarily adopted. This meant the expropriation of the big and middle-sized estates, but strictly without dividing them up: they still needed to be managed as single estates. In addition, as had been done by previous governments in earlier years, the government of the Hungarian Soviet Republic tried to requisition food in the villages at a fixed price so that it could feed the urban population. This, however, made the animosity that had existed between cities and villages since the war years worse than ever. Already during the war, the image of the peasant hiding food and exploiting the vulnerability of the middle class and the working class became widespread. This image was countered by the image of urban power exploiting the producers through requisitions that the peasants felt to be unjust. The Hungarian Soviet Republic only aggravated this conflict when it attempted to pay for the requisitioned food with so-called “white money.” The peasants did not consider these banknotes, which were printed only on one side (thus leaving the other side blank), to be of any value, although the value of the earlier currency (the crown) was rapidly plummeting. In a certain respect, the Hungarian Soviet Republic could also be interpreted as the dictatorship of the towns over the countryside or as the dictatorship of the organized urban food-consumers over the agricultural producers. This opposition—augmented by several other religious and political conflicts—was expressed in the form of local armed clashes and contributed significantly to the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which was, of course, accelerated by other external factors as well. The lack of land reform in the months of the dictatorship ensured that the issue would remain on the political agenda after the fall of the Soviet Republic, as tensions in rural society did not ease.

Managing Social Tensions during Consolidation after 1919

The downfall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic signified a turning point in the social dynamics triggered by the war. From that point on, the organizations which represented the working class, which had become strong enough during the war to serve as the base of a dictatorship, began to wither. It was not clear, however, how a stable equilibrium could be established between the workers, the middle classes, the peasants, and other smaller social groups in the towns and in rural society. For the most part, the elections of January 1920 propelled into the National Assembly representatives who bore the desires and fears of the middle classes and the peasantry—representatives who regarded the workers’ organizations, big industry, and often Jews with hostility, albeit to varying degrees. It was questionable how the slowly consolidating new state power would handle social conflicts, how it could strike a more or less reasonable balance between the bigger groups of society, and at what point the pendulum would swing back following the marked rise to (and then fall from) excessive power by the workers’ organizations. In addition to the loss of the earlier state framework, the sentiment of general uncertainty characterizing all of Hungarian society was heightened by the weakening of the currency as a measurement of value, which had far-reaching consequences in the midst of continuous inflation.

Inflation as Solution

In retrospect, the devaluation of the currency in the second half of 1919 and the first half of 1920 had numerous economic advantages. In fact, until the end of the war, inflation had been reined in. In October 1918, one golden crown was worth 2.32 paper crowns, though it should be noted that there was a bigger rise in the prices of primary commodities.38 Inflation began to accelerate in the spring of 1919, and from then on—with a brief pause and at a varying pace—it continued in two-digit monthly figures (and sometimes even higher) until April 1924.

For contemporaries, this inflation resulted in shifts in relations among the various elements of society: their circumstances became uncertain relative to one another. Most people questioned the value-measuring function of money that they had previously used to identify the relative worth of different products and social positions. All elements of society longed for inflation to come to a halt, because they saw it as a moral issue.39 The various urban groups wanted to stop “food usury,” while village society demanded the stability of the prices of goods. In the midst of continuously increasing prices, commerce became a scapegoat (a phenomenon which corresponded closely to the spread of anti-Semitism). Paying heed to general demand, the legislative body passed a law in 1920 against usury and profiteering, but this law did little more than expand the authority and duties of the Price Examination Committee, which had been created during the war. The law was intended to allow only “justified prices,” and it entrusted committees with the task of price monitoring.40 This system was in operation for some time, but it was extremely cumbersome and bureaucratic, and it generated constant tension because it was unable to keep up with the rapidly changing inflation and market trends.

The general plea for the stabilization of prices derived from the frustration that characterized several groups of society. Those who lived off their wages or fixed salaries were worried about the value of their earnings, while agricultural producers were anxious about the real price of their produce, and those who had savings feared that their savings would lose all their value. The members of the middle class were traumatized by the fact that they had to exchange their family “silverware” (jewelry, tableware, etc.) for food due to the unpredictability of cash flow.41 This explains the extremely austere proposals with regard to price monitoring.42 Within the context of the existing inflation, there was a general demand for the authorities to provide a steady supply of basic commodities—especially food—and to ensure that the most important living expenses, such as rent would not be subject to market price changes. Thus, the food supply allocated through the ratio system was maintained for industrial workers and public employees (the latter included a significant proportion of the middle class), as well as for war invalids and war widows, for a long period of time.43 The representatives of the trade unions and the manufacturing industry also made this demand. They feared that if food prices were deregulated, they would be forced to raise wages dramatically. And they were joined in this effort by members of the middle class who were affected by the continuous rise in prices.44 In 1920, bread prices in Hungary were a fraction of the prices in the neighboring countries. At the same time, agricultural producers demanded the free circulation of the food supply. This was gradually put into practice by the Bethlen government, and by September 1921, the free market circulation of foodstuffs was restored, although the workers were still guaranteed a cheap supply of flour by the authorities for another year, for obvious political reasons. The subsidized official supply of flour for war invalids, war widows, and civil servants continued until the summer of 1924.

With the free market of foodstuffs, the government induced agricultural producers—primarily the owners of the bigger estates who were producing for the markets (and not only to feed themselves)—to feel that their situation was tolerable under the new social conditions of the country within its new, significantly smaller borders. The gradual reestablishment of a free domestic food market remained bearable for social groups that did not produce food. Paradoxically, the reinstatement of the free circulation of food could be attributed to the inflation boom that most social groups considered almost unbearable.

For industrial companies, the free circulation of foodstuffs was made bearable by the fact that the government attempted to expand the internal market by squeezing out foreign consumer goods and created, through inflationary policy, resources for new investment.45 Representatives of big industry enjoyed a moment of symbolic recognition when Prime Minister István Bethlen attended their banquet organized in 1922 on the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of the National Federation of Industrialists. Bethlen reassured them that the government’s customs policy would support industry. The prime minister also made it clear that they could count on the government’s support against the far-fetched initiatives of the workers

Balance between Workers and Industrials

One of the cardinal points in the restructuring of social power relations was how to fit the industrial workers and their organizations into the new order after the war. The middle-class associations and political movements that sprouted up in 1919, which were meant to provide a kind of national and middle-class self-defense, attempted to build their own network of consumer cooperatives, and they sought to extend their control over the General Consumption Cooperative connected to the trade unions. They considered this necessary in order to break the power of the workers, reduce trade that was taking place on a non-cooperative basis (primarily identified with Jews), and, finally, to protect their interests from agricultural producers. These efforts were crowned with only partial success. The membership in middle-class consumer cooperatives rose sharply, but this was only temporary, as membership had declined significantly by the second half of the 1920s. There were several attempts by extreme right-wing middle-class movements to take over management of the General Consumption Cooperative, and these attempts enjoyed the support, to some extent, of the government. However, the General Consumer Cooperative remained under the social authority of the trade unions. The only thing to which the trade unions had to agree was that the board of the General Consumer Cooperative would also include representatives from the relevant ministry, which would make it possible for the government to supervise its activities. Following the agreement concerning cooperatives, the Bethlen government managed to reach a general settlement with the trade unions and the Social Democratic Party. According to the compromise concluded at the end of 1921, the so-called Bethlen-Peyer Pact, the trade unions could work freely in the domain of private industry, but they had to stay away from agriculture, state factories, and railways. Strikes again became an approved tool with which to negotiate labor conflicts if they revolved only around economic issues (such as wages, work hours, etc.) and not party politics.

Initially, this agreement, the details of which were not made public for a long time, caused a minor panic among the leaders of the manufacturing industry. They were afraid that it would trigger a tide of strikes which would enable the trade unions again to gain at least partial control over the factories, as had happened at the beginning of 1919, before the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. They feared that, just as during the war, the government was trying to pay for the support of the workers with their money.46 The government, however, managed to calm the industrialists. At the abovementioned banquet, Bethlen personally reassured the industrialists regarding the protection of private property, and he explained that, in his opinion, the lure of socialist thought had already been shattered, and socialism no longer carried the promise of radical changes, even in the eyes of its adherents: it was no longer seen as a solution to the ills of society.47 Its appeal had dimmed compared to what it had been before 1918. The fact that Bethlen was sitting between the two best-known Jewish businessmen in Hungary, Manfréd Weiss and Ferenc Chorin Senior, at the banquet held by the National Federation of Industrialists carried symbolic meaning with respect to the status of Hungarian Jewry: it signaled that from then on, the government would not pursue anti-Semitic policies. With these agreements, the government has managed to strike a balance between trade unions and the representatives of employers and at the same time to situate itself as the mediating party that would arbitrate between the two sides.

Consolidation in Rural Hungary: Land Reform and the Organization of Chambers of Agriculture

It was not only with regard to the conflicts between industry and agriculture and urban society and rural society that a balance somehow had to be struck. The internal power relations of rural society, which had been disturbed by the war, also cried for consolidation. However, by 1920, the question of how this should be accomplished was being examined in a different light than in the winter of 1918–1919. The leadership of the Smallholders’ Party, which had a substantial voice in the National Assembly after the elections, advocated the same ideas it had at the end of 1918; namely, that the land reform should serve to enhance the viability of the peasant-owned farms. Their opponents in 1920, however, were no longer the social democrats, who in the winter of 1918 had spoken on behalf of the landless agrarian laborers and had partly mobilized them for action. Rather, they now found themselves facing the representatives of big estates, who were fundamentally against land reform.48 They did not, however, deny the necessary of land reform, but they also did not hide their conviction that they considered land reform economically harmful and not necessarily reasonable even from a social point of view. It was unavoidable, in their eyes, only as a result of political pressure and as a means of mitigating internal conflicts within rural society and managing expectations and demands regarding land redistribution.49 Therefore, they wanted to make sure that landless agrarian laborers would be made the beneficiaries of the land redistribution. Of course, the latter could not be turned into peasants who would be able to sustain themselves from farming, as mere land redistribution would not have been enough to have achieved this goal. These landless agrarian laborers lacked both the expertise and the capital necessary to begin farming. This was precisely the argument in favor of the position of the smallholders, i.e., that the latter had both the necessary expertise and capital. However, the conception of land redistribution that corresponded to the interests of the big estates did not advocate the creation of viable farms. The act of giving a few acres of land to a pauper in the form of a small plot and a vegetable garden, for instance, was of great significance even if it did not provide a livelihood, because for those who had not owned any property before, this act already signified a radical transformation of their way of life and increased their prestige within rural society.

With these considerations in mind, a law was passed regarding the redistribution of plots as an urgent task to be completed before a more complex land reform would be elaborated. This, however, determined the direction for the planning of the land reform. The position of the landed peasantry was barely represented at the meeting at which the text of the law was discussed in detail. According to the overwhelming majority of those present, the law had to allow only for minor allocations. Archbishop of Esztergom János Csernoch, who represented the hundreds of thousands of acres of land belonging to the Roman Catholic Church (although he himself was born to a penniless family), specified that the maximum size of land allocated should be big enough to graze one or two goats, i.e., domestic animals of modest needs and proportions. Thus, they did not intend to create farms that would have cattle, which would have required the growing of fodder as well. The representatives at the meeting also deemed it important that the law should not precisely define who would be entitled to receive a plot. They feared that if they tried to stipulate this in a legal text, it would spark an endless debate that would serve only to increase tension among those concerned. Therefore, they put the decision regarding whose lands should be included in the land redistribution and who should receive land in the hands of the so-called “land re-allocation committees.” When the law was drafted, they muffled all opposition to the idea that only the chambers of agriculture should delegate members to the land redistribution committees. They wanted to avoid disputes regarding which organizations of the parties involved would be entitled to take part in the land redistribution through their delegates.50

The chambers of agriculture were created parallel to this as brand-new organizations. They were established with the specific objective of ensuring oversight for the bigger landowners and members of the middle-class and not leaving any room for the initiatives of the smallholders or day laborers. Membership in the chambers established via legislation was mandatory for the landowners and all groups of agricultural workers. The internal structure of the chambers was made up of various categories, and it was crucial where the boundaries of the categories would be drawn. The legislators made sure that “demagogue, revolutionary tendencies” could not become dominant within the chambers. They thought that the “conservative, state-preserving course” would not have a secure majority even in the category of landowners with 10 to 20 acres of land, because the latter had not opposed the land redistribution initiatives in 1918–1919 and had even supported them. Therefore, the categories were finally established within the chambers so as to ensure that the “reliable” strata would hold a majority in the landowners’ categories, and the agricultural workers were all put into a single category. Thus, the landowners’ categories—though much fewer in number—could force the former into a minority position because the law stipulated that each category had one vote on at each level of the chamber hierarchy.51

By setting up the chambers of agriculture in this manner and by granting them a role in the management of the redistribution of land, the government managed to restore the authority and influence of the middle and big landowning class in rural society. During the implementation of the land reform, it managed to determine quite precisely the smallest area of land to be redistributed, which could be sacrificed to satisfy the demands of the agricultural laborers. Thanks to the allocation, the position of the local élites was firmly reinforced, as they were the ones who could make decisions regarding the size of the lands distributed to individuals. While no self-subsistent farms were created, the possession of land still signified a much higher degree of integration for agricultural laborers in local society than they had previously enjoyed. As a result of this, there were no agrarian socialist movements in Hungary between the two World Wars of the kind that had existed in the period of slightly more than two decades preceding World War I, despite the fact that, due to natural population growth in the villages and the unfavorable international food market, living conditions in rural areas were worse than before. This change was one of the paradoxical outcomes of the social trends triggered by World War I. The so-called counterrevolutionary regime was thus able to stabilize the political balance of power in rural society in a way that was favorable to itself and which showed little change until the outbreak of World War II.52


During World War I, in Hungary, as in many other European states involved in the war, the existing social balances were upset and the scope of state activity in the economy and society was greatly expanded. The change in the balance of power was reflected in social policy and labor law measures in England, France, and Germany, where the Stinnes-Legien agreement between employers and trade unions was concluded at the end of 1918.53 These measures enabled industrial workers and, in many cases, the lower social strata in rural areas not only to achieve a formal extension of their political rights but also to attain a relative elevation of their social status and emancipation from the classical bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century. At the same time, their political representation, usually through left-wing parties (social democratic or socialist) was consolidated, which guaranteed their social advancement and facilitated the further development of social rights. In Hungary, however, although the war also upset the balance of social power and contributed primarily to the increase in power of the industrial workers, there was nothing resembling the waves of institutionalization of social rights in the Western countries.54 The political elite groups that had benefited from the shift in the balance of power resulting from the war did not seek to establish social rights or to entrench extended political rights in late 1918 and the first half of 1919. Rather, they sought simply to gain raw power. The transitional dictatorship in the Soviet republic was made possible by the strengthening of workers’ organizations, thanks to economic mobilization, and it rose and fell without bringing about any substantial social transformation through, for instance, the institutionalization of social rights or changes to the prevailing conditions in rural society.

After the fall of the dictatorship, the workers’ organizations lost their positions of power because they were no longer backed by the wartime economic mobilization which had given them so much room for maneuver. This allowed the government to return, to a significant extent, to pre-war liberal practices in the treatment of trade unions by European standards. It was also the reason why the old-new political establishment in 1920 was able to restore the previous order of rural society and to preserve the previous estate structure against all claims for change. Paradoxically, the social order of the counterrevolutionary regime, which was anti-liberal in its political language, remained much closer to the liberal social model of the nineteenth century in both rural and industrial terms in the early 1920s than was the practice in countries where the social impact of World War I had led to greater steps towards the development of the modern welfare state and labor law. 55

The Ministry for Public Welfare and Labor (the creation of which had been envisaged during the war) coordinated relations between the trade unions and employers in the 1920s. This development conformed completely to the situation in Austria.56 In 1927, Albert Thomas, the head of the International Labor Office, described the status of the Hungarian trade unions as follows:

The Hungarian cyndicalists seem to me to be in a similar situation to the German trade unionists before the war. Of course, they are not officially recognized by the state, I mean, they exist legally, but one doesn’t deal with them under any circumstances. And yet my comparison is imprecise: They were invited to two or three lunches or dinners by the ministers who received me. They were invited to the reception of the House. [...] One can compare their situation to that of the German trade unions before 1914. Let us say more, they are in the process of conquering those possibilities of contact with the government, those official receptions, which the German trade unions demanded in vain at the time.57


Although the operations of the trade unions were not legally regulated, the unions were allowed to work freely, as long as their efforts were not aimed directly at political objectives but rather focused on achieving economic goals concerning the employers. The government regarded them as partners in this task. Overall, Hungarian society became much more integrated after the war in the sense that under the expanding scope of government management, coordination among interest organizations of the most diverse social groups (owners and workers from the spheres of industry and agriculture) became permanent. The conditions for this were not equal, of course, because the mechanisms of interest coordination favored groups of a higher social status and limited room for maneuver of those who were interested in changing the social status quo. At the same time, this system, which emerged in the aftermath of World War I, proved surprisingly stable. It withstood the social tensions of the Great Depression around 1930, unlike the social and political systems of many other Central and Eastern European countries.

Archival Sources

Hadtörténelmi Levéltár, Budapest [Archives of Military History] (HIM HL)

I. 28. M. Kir. Honvédelmi Minisztérium iratai [Documents of the Ministry of Defence]

L’Archives de B.I.T. [Bureau International du Travail] Geneva

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian State Archives] (MNL OL)

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K 184 Földművelésügyi Minisztérium [Ministry of Agriculture]

K 578 Igazságügyminisztérium [Ministry of Justice]

Z 435 Vas- és Gépgyárak Országos Egyesülete [National Association of Metallurgy and Machine Factories]

Z 816 Háztartás Szövetkezet [Household Cooperative]

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Értekezlet a birtokreformról: A földművelésügyi minisztériumban 1918. november 20-tól november 29-ig [Conference on land reform: At the Ministry of Agriculture from November to 20 to November 29, 1918]. Budapest: Pátria, 1918.

Soós, Gyula. Húsz esztendő: Az Általános Fogyasztási Szövetkezet fönnállásának 20 éves története [Twenty years: The 20-year history of the General Consumption Cooperative]. Budapest: Álltalános Fogyasztási Szövetkezet, 1924.

Szterényi, Baron József, and Jenő Ladányi. A magyar ipar a világháborúban [Hungarian industry in the World War]. Budapest: Carnegie Alapítvány–Franklin társulat, 1934.



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1 Ablonczy, Úton; Ablonczy, Ismeretlen Trianon; Bencsik, Demarkációs vonaltól államhatárig.

2 Révész, Nem akartak katonát látni?; Simon, Az átmenet.

3 Hatos, Az elátkozott köztársaság; Hatos, Rosszfiúk világforradalma; Bödők, “Politikai erőszak”; Bodó, The white Terror.

4 Bódy, Háborúból békébe.

5 Two volumes on the subject of economic processes and their social impact in a German-French comparison: Boldorf, Deutsche Wirtschaft; Boldorf and Joly, Une victoire impossible?

6 Basic work on the social history of war: Kocka, Klassengesellschaft im Krieg. Provides a multifaceted overview of the findings of older research based on a cultural-historical approach: Michalka, Der Erste Weltkrieg. Analysis of war experiences: Hirschfeld et al., Kriegserfahrungen and Flemming and Bernd, Heimatfront. For an overview of the industrial policies of all Western countries involved in the war, see Geary, European Labour Politics. On the impact of the war on German and British society, see Chickering, Imperial Germany and Gregory, The Last Great War. For cultural history approaches, see Werber et al., Erster Weltkrieg. For a comparative cultural history enterprise, see Bauerkaemper and Julien, Durchlalten! especially Bauerkaemper and Julien, “Einleitung: Durchhalten!” 7–28. For a gender perspective on everyday life during the war, see Hämmerle, Heimat/Front. For a comparative analysis of the social and political effects of war, see März, Nach der Urkatastrophe; and Mommsen, Der Erste Weltkrieg. See also Barth, Europa nach dem Großen Krieg. Aulke offers a particularly interesting discussion of the cultural history of postwar political processes: Aulke, Räume der Revolution.

8 With regards to Germany, see Feldman, “Kriegswirtschaft und Zwangswirtschaft.” For a survey of all western countries involved in the war, see: Geary, European Labour Politics.

9 Litván, “A sajtó áthangolódása 1914 őszén.”

10 “Az élet és a halál demokráciája,” Népszava, December 1, 1915, 1–2.

11 PIL 658. f. 38. ő.e. Double-page printed matter with the signature of all workers employed at the factory dated May 2, 1917, which was sent to the government by the party via a number of organized workers from several factories.

12 Méhely, “A munkásügyi Panaszbizottságokról,” Munkásügyi Szemle, April 25, 1917, 204.

13 Soós, Húsz esztendő.

14 HIM HL I. 28. 1916. 4/a. eln. 473. doboz. K.u.K. Kriegsministerium’s letter to the Ministry of Defense on August 8, 1916, regarding the recommended policy regarding complain committees].

15 Magyar Gyáripar, January 1, 1917, 3. In his general order, the president of the Office of National Food Supply (Országos Közélelmezési Hivatal) stated that ensuring adequate food supplies for workers was more important than providing food for other inhabitants of Hungary. According to the order, workers had to receive their full rations even if this meant that the local authorities had to reduce rations for others.

16 On the preparations for martial law, see the following source: MNL OL K 578 94. doboz. Ig. min. 1918 – Bi – 143.

17 Bódy, “Szociálpolitika és szociáldemokrácia.”

18 According to various contemporary calculations, skilled workers involved in sectors vital to the military industry did not experience a substantial decrease in real wages until the end of the war. Indeed, the monthly wages of workers were nominally higher at the end of 1918 than the monthly pay of those engaged in typical middle-class employment. On the whole, average skilled laborers also had lower real-wage losses than military officers, civil servants, and white-collar company clerks. Furthermore, the real-wage losses of unskilled workers, especially industrial workers, were also lower than those of middle-class people in general. Szterényi and Ladányi, A magyar ipar a világháborúban, 223; Dálnoki Kovács, “A megélhetés drágulása a háború kitörése óta.”

19 Gregory, The Last Great War.

20 Schönhoven, “Die Kriegspolitik der Gewerkschaften.”

21 According to Tibor Hajdu, the Social Democratic Party of Hungary had one million members at that time. Hajdu, Az 1918-as magyarországi, 151–52. This high number could be primarily attributed to a rapid inflow of workers into trade unions, since the party had a relatively low number of members. However, the new members of trade unions practically became members of the party as well, and they also paid party dues.

22 For the collective agreement made by the National Association of Metallurgy and Machine Factories (Vas- és Gépgyárak Országos Egyesülete) in March 1919, see the following source: MNL OL Z 435. 2. cs. 19. t. Additional collective agreements from other economic branches were published in Munkásügyi Szemle 1919, 103–4, as well as in György, “Kereskedelmi alkalmazottak,” 33–36.

23 On the difficulties faced by the middle-class Household Consumption Association (Háztartás Fogyasztási Szövetkezet) with regard to procurement from central sources, see Háztartás Szövetkezet MNL OL Z 816 Vol. 2. 2. t. Igazgatótanácsi ülés, December 21, 1918. January 3, 1919.

24 Bódy, “Szociálpolitika és szociáldemokrácia,” 1457–75.

25 Angster, Konsenskapitalismus und Sozialdemokratie; Chickering, Imperial Germany; Horne, Labour at War.

27 Gyáni, “Nyugtalan századvég.

28 Bódy, “Ungarn als Sonderfall.”

29 The same thing happened in Germany. Müller, “Landwirtschaft und Agrarpolitik.”

30 Csíki, “Piac és feketepiac.”

31 Krusenstjern, Die ungarische Kleinlandwirte-Partei.

32 Sipos, A pártok és a földreform, 116–19.

33 Király, Nagyatádi Szabó István.

34 Révész, “Soldiers in the Revolution.”

35 Sipos, A pártok és a földreform.

36 Értekezlet a birtokreformról.

37 The debate also touched on a number of other detailed issues concerning the possibility or necessity of using large estates of joint-stock companies, churches, aristocrats, and medium-sized estates in the property reform.

38 Botos, “A fizetőeszköz inflációja”; Cagan, “The Monetary Dynamics of Hyperinflation.”

39 On similar tendencies in Germany, see Geyer, Verkehrte Welt.

40 For the opinion of the National Federation of Industrialists regarding the draft bill on profiteering, see Magyar Gyáripar, June 1, 1920, 15–16.

41 On similar traumas faced by the German middle class, see: Stibbe, Germany 1914–1933; Pogány “Két szempont.”

42 Károly Dietz, the ex–chief commissioner of Budapest police, urged in an article published in Nemzeti Újság the establishment of a board of inquiry composed of refugee civil servants and military officers. The members of this public body were to supervise all larger enterprises on a daily basis. OMKE 4. évf. April 15, 1920, 132.

43 A similar system existed in Germany, which also meant that the ratio of state expenditures compared to GDP increased dramatically. Before the war, it was 15 percent, while by the end of the war, it had reached 77 percent. März, Nach der Urkatastrophe, 114.

44 In addition, the National Federation of Industrialists expressed the opinion in the autumn of 1921 that state flour provisions needed to be extended. According to this association, in addition to workers and public servants, employees of private firms and shop assistants should also receive flour provided by the state. Magyar Gyáripar, October 16, 1921, 5. For their argument against the liberalization of trade of agricultural products, see: Magyar Gyáripar, June 1, 1922, 4–5.

45 Pogány, “A nagy háború hosszú árnyéka.”

46 From an article written by National Federation of Industrialists President Ferenc Chorin in the January 6, 1922, issue of the newspaper Budapesti Hírlap.

47 Magyar Gyáripar, June 1, 1922, 13–14.

48 Bódy, “Weder Demokratisierung noch Diktatur.”

49 Information from the periodical associated with large and middle-sized estate owners: Köztelek, April 24, 1920, 304 and Köztelek, June, 12, 1920, 443–44. According to the argument advanced in this article, the redistribution of every 100 acres of large and middle-size estates would result in the loss of 10 workplaces, and the smallholding family farms established on these lands would produce for the market and especially not for export. See also Czettler, “A birtokreform.”

50 The minutes of the preparatory meeting of legislation can be found at: MNL OL Belügyminisztérium K 148 BM elnöki iratok, 693 cs. 19. t. See also Gunst, “Az 1920. évi földreform.”

51 Preparatory materials of legislation related to chambers of agriculture can be found at: MNL OL Földművelésügyi Minisztérium K 184 2422. cs., K 184 2423. cs.

52 Bódy, “Weder Demokratisierung noch Diktatur,” 242–46.

53 Tennstedt, “Der Ausbau der Sozialversicherung”; Conrad et al., “Die Kodifizierung der Arbeit.”

54 Ritter, Der Sozialstaat.

55 For an analysis of similar processes in Germany, see Mai, “‘Verteidigungskrieg’ und ‘Volksgemeinschaft.’” For a comparative analysis on the subject, see Zimmermann et al., “La Première Guerre mondiale.”

56 Gutheil-Knopp-Kirchwald, Vom K.K.Ministerium.

57 “Les syndicalistes hongrois me semblent être dans une situation à peu près analogue à celle des syndicalistes allemande avant la guerre. Évidemment, ils ne sont pas officiellement reconnu par l’Etat, je veux dire que s’ils vivent légalement, on ne traite cependant avec eux en toutes circonstances. Et cependant ma comparaison même est inexacte: Ils ont été invité à deux ou trois déjeuners ou dîners par les ministres qui me recevaient. Ils ont été invité à la réception de la Chambre. [...] On peut comparer leur situation à celle des cyndicats allemands avant 1914. Disons plus, ils sont en voie de conquérir ces possibilités de contactes avec le gouvernement, ces réception officielles, que les cyndicats allemand réclamaient en vain à ladite époque.” L’Archives de B.I.T. Cat/1/27/2/1.


War and Revolutions: Trauma and Violence from a Socio-Psychological Approach*

Ferenc Erős (1946–2020†)
Janus Pannonius University of Pécs

Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 4  (2022):733–763 DOI 10.38145/2022.4.733

World War I, which broke out more than 100 years ago, placed not only a tremendous material and physical burden on the citizens of the participating countries, military and civilians alike, but also a psychological one. The study of the psychological consequences of the war has been pushed somewhat into the background in comparison to the historical and political analyses, though the uses of psychology—and broadly speaking, of the so-called “psy” disciplines, i.e., psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, social psychology, psychotechnics, criminology, pedagogy, etc.—were a crucial part of the history of this war. However, a history of the “psy” disciplines would not be complete without some discussion of the fact that World War I and World War II (and subsequent conflicts) played a fundamental role in the development of these sciences. Arguably, World War led to the emergence—as a kind of “experimental laboratory”—of practices and methods of the application of violence, trauma management, intimidation, terror, manipulation, and propaganda which draw on (and contribute to) insights from these disciplines, not to mention new approaches to the management of subjectivity and the manipulation of sentiments, which proved effective both in times of war and peace.

Keywords: trauma, violence, socio-psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psycho­therapy, World War I


The first modern war in world history—fought with new and formidable military technology, including machine guns, motorized vehicles, and poison gases—affected the lives of millions of people. The psychological consequences became the most clearly apparent in the case of soldiers doing armed service, who had to face challenges, constraints, threats, and perils that they had never or only rarely encountered before. In most cases, whether or not a soldier (who was reduced to machine responding to commands) survived depended far more on sheer luck rather than on personal heroism, courage, skill, or inventiveness. Soldiers were often subject to harsh physical punishment, humiliation, and aggression. The dehumanizing effects of the war and the experiences of violence and vulnerability created stressful conditions, giving rise to psychological disorders even in the cases of soldiers whose lives were not directly in danger or who were not subject to aggression, but who still witnessed the sufferings or deaths of their comrades and adversaries, not to mention soldiers who had perhaps participated, either as perpetrators or as eyewitnesses, in mass murders and reprisals. The psychological consequences of the war affected not only the soldiers fighting on the fronts, serving in the hinterland, or taken prisoner of war. They also affected families (both close and distant relatives) and a large segment of the civil population. The war, which involved the mobilization on a huge scale of material and human resources (and placed huge demands on people’s physical and mental strength), dehumanized relations among people to an unprecedented extent. It was a war of both physical and psychological resources: a war of “nerves.” War propaganda became an important military tool, which drew on modern mass-communication tools (print media, photography and film) and targeted not only enemy troops, but the entire civilian population of enemy countries, deploying the full array of hate speech rooted in conspiracy theories and cultural, national, ethnic, and religious prejudices and stereotypes. The psychological warfare used in World War I became a model for psychological wars and various forms of symbolic aggression which drew on mass emotions and urged the total annihilation of the enemy, and these forms of symbolic aggression were then used in later wars and even in times of peace.1

World War I and its immediate aftermath (revolutions and counterrevolutions, territorial and demographic reshuffling, political and economic crises) became the starting point for a series of additional collective traumas and mass psychological crises, especially in the defeated countries. These traumas played a substantial part in the preparations for and outbreak, evolution, and impact of an even more brutal conflict, World War II. More and more forms of collective aggression reared their ugly heads, and these forms of aggression, both real and symbolic, served to cause trauma to certain individuals or groups. Genocide, terrorism, forced relocations and deportations, ethnic cleansing, physical and psychological torture, etc., were all techniques of intentional traumatization that were already largely present during World War I.2

War Neurosis as a Subject of Historical Research

Among the “psy” disciplines, it was psychiatry that had the closest connection to battlefield events. World War I was the first war in which psychiatry as a discipline was exploited on a mass level. The experience thus gathered had a major influence on approaches and methodologies used in psychiatry in peace times and during later wars.3

In recent years, the study of the psychiatric practices used during World War I, especially the diagnosis and treatment of the syndrome collectively referred to as “war neurosis,” and the role of military psychiatry on the front and in the hinterland have become equally important areas of research. Whereas study of this topic formerly took place mainly within the confines of medical history, more specifically the history of psychiatry, nowadays, it has become an intriguing domain for historical research as well. For social historians, the unearthing and the analysis of the practices of military psychiatry shed light on daily life during the war, the multitude of mentalities regarding corporal and psychological suffering, the operational mechanisms of militarized healthcare and mental hygiene institutions and organizations, dominant power relations of supremacy within their walls, and the conflicts that doctors who had been mobilized in the army had to face as a result of the contradictions between their duty to live up to their Hippocratic oath on the one hand and to obey commands on the other.4 The topics of military psychiatry and war neuroses have lately kindled interest among gender researchers as well, as the diagnosis and qualification of war neuroses were intertwined with the issue of “masculinity” and “femininity,” a fact which sheds some light on an important moment in the history of modern discourses related to “masculinity.”5

The scope of psychiatry was not limited to the treatment of the psychologically wounded during the war. Psychiatry was an essential part of the wartime power apparatus, the mechanism of violence, offering a seemingly scientific ideological and political foundation that made it possible to decide who was suffering from some kind of illness acquired on the front and who was only “faking.” The mentality of psychiatrists and other experts regarding war neuroses was determined by their preliminary knowledge, the dominant scientific and theoretical paradigms and categories of diagnosis, and their conceptions of “normal” and “deviant.” However, the methods of treatment provided or recommended by them and the direction, purpose, technique, duration, and location were also influenced to a great extent by the overt commands or expectations of the military leadership. The whole topic of war neuroses, which stretches far beyond World War I, is a perfect illustration of the intertwining of “psy-knowledge” and power. At the same time, the national and local cultural and historical backgrounds all played an important part in this, since despite their common features, there were significant differences between the various “treatment cultures” and the mentalities and styles of military psychiatrists operating in the British, French, American, German, and Austro-Hungarian militaries.6

The foundations for the contemporary, historical-cultural approach to the issue of war neurosis were chiefly laid by the scholarship of Michel Foucault, partly through his works on the history of mental illness and partly by his exploration of how the development of human sciences was connected to the birth of the modern tools, practices, and sites (hospitals, asylums, armies, prisons, detention centers, etc.) of discipline, punishment, and violence.7 The Foucauldian notion of gouvernementalité proved essential, since it referred to the organized practices (mentalities, rationalities, and techniques) that were used to assert and maintain hegemony over subjectivity, or the “governance of the soul.”8

Numerous historical works have been published since the 1970s that examine the characteristics of the operation of military psychiatry in detail in different countries. These historical works rely first and foremost on archival sources, the records of military health-care authorities and organizations, the reports issued by military doctors and hospital commanders, patient files, etc., but they also use articles published in medical journals, diaries, letters written by soldiers on the frontline, and other personal documents, as well as medical records, memoirs, and contemporary photos and films made by amateurs or for scientific purposes.9 Literary works are also important sources, since the psychological torments, traumas, and post-traumatic effects of the war were subjects and themes in countless artistic creations, theater plays, and films created over the course of the past 100 years.10 The “Great War” and the psychological ordeals to which it led have left an indelible mark in the cultural remembrance of the countries involved.11

The most extensive historical research examines the military psychiatry performed in the British, German, and Austro-Hungarian armies. Paul Lerner’s seminal work12 on “hysterical men” explores the trauma policy of imperial Germany, and Hans-Georg Hofer’s monography13 scrutinizes the dominant psychiatric practices of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s military. Several pieces of scholarly literature focus on the methods of treatment applied by psychiatrists working in the British army and their institutional background.14 These writings give an in-depth account of how the individual states tackled the problematics surrounding war reparations, also referred to as “pension war,” i.e., the socio-political and financial crisis provoked by the mass demands for compensation (benefits, pensions, and other forms of assistance) and special needs (medical treatment and reintegration into the labor market) of the psychological victims of the war.15 Historians have demonstrated a special interest in the role and importance of psychoanalysis in the military psychiatry of World War I.16 The psychoanalytic approach to war neuroses and the wartime activities of psychoanalysts will be discussed below.

The Gray Zone of Psychiatry

Neurology and psychiatry as scientific disciplines (the two had not yet really separated at the time) underwent a tremendous evolution from the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century. Their advancement was partly due to the radical transformation of the paradigms of the notions of mental disorder and changed social needs and partly to the latest neuroanatomical and neurophysiological discoveries and revelations, which heralded the solution to the classic philosophical problem of “the body and the soul” through the natural sciences. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the major psychiatric and psychopathological theoretical constructs were created, and diagnostic frameworks and categories were set up for the categorization of mental illnesses, such as the typology by Emil Kräpelin, which was considered the global standard for nearly a century up to the dissemination of the American classification system (The American Psychiatric Society’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM). That was when large—and by contemporary standards modern—institutes of neurology and psychiatry were founded throughout Europe. It was also in these times that special neurological education was organized, the centers of which were university clinics with a focus on research, alongside specialized medical care.17

However, psychiatry still had a vast “gray zone,” meaning symptoms that could not be definitively classified under any of the diagnostic categories. These phenomena included “abnormal” psychological and behavioral manifestations (considered deviant), ranging from “perverted” or “aberrant” forms of sexuality through antisocial and criminal forms of behavior to various physical reactions, conditions, and symptoms that could not be traced back to any physical cause. Of these “abnormal” manifestations, the most important and the most disputed one was hysteria, the history of which goes back to Antiquity, to Galenical and Hippocratic medicine. For many centuries, hysteria was regarded as a satanic and demonic phenomenon, or a “feminine trouble,” a mysterious manifestation of female sexuality, and it was linked to the functioning of the uterus and its movement within the body. In the Middle Ages, diverse superstitions, beliefs, and myths related to witchcraft and malefice were attached to hysteria. Its medicalization, scientific examination, and “demythification” began only in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially thanks to the scholarship of Jean-Martin Charcot, a Parisian professor of neurology.18

One of the major faults of contemporary psychiatry was connected to the dilemma of whether hysteria was an illness of organic or psychological origin. As Charcot repeatedly demonstrated, the various bodily symptoms of hysteria, such as paralysis of the limbs, could be overcome purely through psychological treatment (hypnosis), and they could equally be provoked in those individuals who were sensitive to this. Charcot hypothesized that unbearable external shocks may induce hypnosis-like mental conditions and dissociative symptoms in the patient. While Charcot continued to regard hysteria as a syndrome mostly typical of women and assumed that it could be ascribed to some kind of a physical or degenerative nervous disorder, one of his disciples, Sigmund Freud, universalized the concept of hysteria and extended it to men.19 He contended that behind the symptoms of hysteria there was some kind of latent massive suppression, subconscious fantasy, usually a sexual trauma or abuse suffered in childhood. Freud considered hysteria an illness, a genre of neurosis, and he distinguished between two symptomatic forms of hysteria: hysterical conversion (conversion disorder), in which the psychological conflict manifests itself in various corporal symptoms, and anxiety hysteria, in which the anxiety is related to some external object (like in the case of phobias). While Freud rejected the explanation of hysteria by suggestion and considered hysteria a genuine psychological disorder, Charcot’s most influential French disciple, Pierre Janet, and his disciples proclaimed that hysteria was generated mostly by auto-suggestion, i.e., “simulation,” although external causes could also contribute to its onset and evolution.

By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become generally accepted that the symptoms of hysteria were motivated by some kind of earlier or current trauma, though there was no agreement concerning the classification of these symptoms. The Greek term trauma (“wound,” “injury”) had been used in the medical literature since the middle of the seventeenth century, especially in traumatology. Its primary meaning denotes specific physical injuries that can be seen with the eye or detected by various diagnostic tools (see “traumatology”). The modern concept of psychological trauma transposed this meaning from the corporal sphere to the phenomena of the psyche, but it has maintained its place in the medical discourse to this day. A more specialized form of scientific interest in psychological trauma took shape in the 1870s, and it was nourished by two major sources: experiences and observations regarding, first, the psychological consequences manifested in the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and, second, the mental condition of survivors of disasters, military campaigns, and wars.20 This was all closely related first to the fact that the contemporary power regimes and institutions (modern educational systems, health care institutions, bodies of public administration and justice, etc.) demanded much deeper insight into the privacy of individuals and families than before, or as Jean-Martin Charcot would have said it, into “the secrets of the alcove,” and they extended their control over this sphere as well. Second, it was inseparable from the rapid transformation of modernizing societies, urbanization, the development of transportation, industrialization, and the appearance of modern machines, police, and military tools, which meant a new and grave source of danger for masses of people both in times of peace and war and from a corporal and psychological perspective.21 The wars of the nineteenth century, such as the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, and the Balkan wars, and equally importantly the growing number of industrial and transportation accidents and disasters demonstrated that serious traumas could provoke certain bodily symptoms that somatic injuries could not explain or at least which could not be detected by the tools of contemporary medicine. Patients afflicted with such conditions were often classified as suffering from “traumatic neurosis” or “neurasthenia,” another term originally suggested by an American physician, George Bernard Beard. Although the terminology was extremely varied, neurotic women “with weak nerves” were mostly regarded as hysterical, whereas men were considered neurasthenic.22

The recognition of such disorders as illnesses became a crucial issue not only as a medical issue but also from the perspective of social politics and insurance. The phenomenon of the so-called “railway spine,” a syndrome of particular corporal and mental disorders typical of survivors of train accidents, was first described by British doctor Eric Erichsen in 1866. This diagnosis allowed such patients to claim damages from railway and insurance companies. Germany introduced general sickness and personal accident insurance in the 1880s. The aim of these socio-political measures for Chancellor Bismarck was to take the wind out of the sails of the Social Democratic Party and the growing trade unions. At the end of the 1880s, the scope of social security was extended to traumatic neuroses caused by workplace and traffic accidents. This measure generated a huge debate and gave rise to conflicts among German doctors. One of the poles of the dispute was represented by neurologist and psychiatrist Hermann Oppenheim (1858–1919), who was one of the most distinguished German psychiatrists and head physician of the Charité Clinic in Berlin. As early as the 1880s, Oppenheim was of the opinion that it was somatic disorders in the nervous system that played a decisive role in the etiology of traumatic neuroses.23 Others believed that most of the patients were only feigning these symptoms in the hopes of receiving some kind of compensation, benefit, or pension so that they could be relieved from further labor obligations as qualified invalids. In other words, they allegedly suffered from “benefit neurosis” or “profit neurosis” (Begehrensneurose). A large proportion of German doctors, however, did not share Oppenheim’s views. (Their rejection of his ideas was influenced in part by the fact that Oppenheim was not considered “patriotic” enough due to his Jewish origins.) These debates are a perfect illustration of the two dominant and conflicting approaches of the age to hysterical or traumatic neuroses. According to one, the symptoms of these neuroses were the product of some kind of organic or genetic disorder, and thus, they were to be regarded as genuine illnesses “equivalent” to organic bodily disorders. According to the other, these symptoms were to be attributed to psychological processes that can be influenced with purely psychological means and hypnosis. In the latter case, one cannot talk about a real illness, but only faking or “hysteria” in the ordinary sense of the word. Freud’s great and innovative insight—i.e., his notion that hysterical or neurotic individuals were suffering as a result of their own memories, life stories, and internal subconscious conflicts and not because of some organic ailment, and that they were not merely “faking” their suffering—did not, however, substantially break through the wall of opposition to psychoanalysis.

Shell Shock and Traumatic Neurosis

Although cases of traumatic neurosis caused by wars, mass catastrophes, and workplace accidents were well-known, World War I “produced” psychologically wounded individuals in unprecedented numbers. However, what the term “psychological damage” should denote was not as self-evident (nor is it today) as the kinds of injuries the human body might suffer in times of war, which ranged from milder wounds to debilitating injuries causing invalidity and long-term combat and work disability and various serious infections and contagious diseases (tuberculosis, sexual diseases, cholera, typhus, the Spanish flu at the end of the war, etc.) that exacted a death toll that was nearly as high as that of combat injuries. Despite the spectacular development of certain branches of psychiatry and neurology, the treatment of psychological disorders was still in its infancy at the time of World War I, at least in comparison to somatic medicine, which had a multitude of modern diagnostic and medical devices already. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was in the lead in this respect thanks to the medical school of Vienna, which had begun acquiring a remarkable international reputation in the second half of the nineteenth century.24

The most frequent and most characteristic symptoms of psychological injuries caused by the war were quite diverse and diffuse: uncontrollable tremors, an abnormal gait, spasms, stomach and intestinal disorders, paralysis of the limbs or their insensitivity to pain, chronic depression, glassy, blank eyes, occasionally loss of speech, dullness, and even temporal loss of hearing or sight. English psychiatrist Charles Samuel Myers first described this syndrome, which he called “shell shock,” in a medical article in 1915. This designation was then adopted by German physicians.25 The term “shock is caused by the exploding shells” captured the paralyzed, cramped body position which people suffering from this condition got into at the moment of the shock caused by the explosions: through their symptoms, they virtually relived the past trauma in the present.26 These symptoms were especially severe in the case of soldiers who spent weeks or months in the trenches, where nothing meaningful would happen for a long time, and then the sounds of exploding grenades would catch them completely off guard. According to British data, by December 1914, the proportion of those suffering from shell shock out of all those wounded on the front was seven to ten percent among officers and three to four percent among soldiers of lower rank. During the war, about 200,000 people were allowed to leave the army due to shell shock, and 65,000 were receiving pension as invalids in 1921.27 The frequent occurrence of shell shock went against certain initial expectations already at the beginning of the war. Numerous psychiatrists, neurologists, and other physicians on both sides believed that the “storm of steel” of the war (Ernst Jünger) would teach even the weak-nerved, weak-willed, and unmanly youth the importance of discipline, virile behavior, and self-sacrifice.28 In Thomas Mann’s novel, The Magic Mountain, war was supposed to “coerce” masculinity from the protagonist Hans Castorp, a “humanist bel esprit” and a “simple, spoiled child of life.”

Military doctors who encountered such cases early on in the war first attributed these symptoms to mere exhaustion, and they thought that a few days of rest would help. However, as the war progressed, the doctors serving on the front were less and less able to cope with the problem of “neurasthenics” in this way. Thus, the medical and health-care authorities of the Monarchy, Germany, England, and France were forced to make war-related psychological damage a priority issue. When World War I broke out, most belligerent countries, hence Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, and Great Britain, possessed a relatively advanced and organized health-care infrastructure offering treatment for injuries and illnesses of the body—infrastructure that could be mobilized quickly for war purposes as well. They had everything from military doctors on the front offering direct treatment through squads accompanying ambulance units, hospital trains, temporary camp hospitals, barrack hospitals, and garrison and war hospitals to specialized hospitals, university clinics, and post-treatment institutions and sanatoriums.29 Germany alone mobilized 24,000 doctors, while the western Entente Powers mobilized 29,000.30 Since Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire recognized the strategic importance of this area and the possibilities to apply the health-care and organizational experience thus acquired in the post-war period, the Ministries of War in these countries set up a carefully constructed hierarchy of bureaucratic institutions for health-care management. The latter was also facilitated by the fact that in these countries, the health care system had been run in a semi-military style based on a strict hierarchy even prior to the war.

Dealing with illnesses of psychological or neurological origin was also one of the general tasks of military health services. However, special neurological or psychiatric treatment was only provided on higher levels, i.e., at the neurological departments at certain hospitals and neurological clinics. Most of the psychiatrists and neurologists who had been enlisted in the army (among them several qualified psychoanalysts and registrars) were on duty as general practitioners with troops or in war hospitals, and only a few of them were later admitted to neurological departments.

Oppenheim and his Opponents: The 1916 debate in Munich

How can the symptoms of combat neurosis be integrated into the system of the existing medical/psychiatric knowledge and diagnostic categories? In December 1914, at the beginning of the war, the abovementioned Hermann Oppenheim was commissioned to direct the 200-bed neurological department at the temporary military hospital set up at the Museum of Anthropology in Berlin. The experiences he acquired on the job seemed to confirm his earlier views about traumatic neurosis. His opinion, however, was not shared by most of his fellow neurologists and psychiatrists. Rekindling the debate that had already been on the agenda in German medical circles in the 1880s and 1890s regarding the entitlement to compensation and so-called “benefit neuroses,” Oppenheim’s opponents insisted again that the vast majority of combat neurotics—intentionally or subconsciously—were producing these symptoms in order to evade their obligations, receive some kind of temporary or permanent exemption from military service, and claim some form of compensation, disability pension, etc. Accordingly, those suffering from traumatic neurosis were “hysterical” in the ordinary, non-Freudian sense of the word, which in contemporary medical jargon was the equivalent of hypochondria, cowardice, lack of moral fiber and will, and even treason, not to mention an allegedly weak, unmanly, “effeminate” character.31 The stigmatization of hysterical patients also included the idea of “racial supremacy.” Alois Alzheimer, a professor of medicine from Breslau, for instance, attributed hysterical behavior, which he claimed was unworthy of German soldiers, to so-called psychopathia gallica, i.e., to “French psychopathy.”32 The victims of “war hysteria” were increasingly treated as scapegoats, and they were stigmatized even if they had earlier been recognized for their heroic acts. Already at that time, proposals were made to filter out the handicapped, the mentally handicapped, the homosexual, and so on, which then turned into brutal reality within the framework of the Nazi “euthanasia program.”33

The German Association for Psychiatry conference on war neurosis was held in Munich in September 1916 and was attended by 241 doctors, among them the leading authorities of psychiatry in Germany and Austria-Hungary.34 Oppenheim and his followers were in the minority compared to Professor Robert Gaupp from Tübingen, Professor Max Nonne from Hamburg, and other influential psychiatrists. One of the Hungarian participants, Artúr Sarbó,35 supported Oppenheim, but most of those present, who considered war neuroses simply a form of hysteria—not only questioned Oppenheim’s approach but also proposed new strategies of treatment. One of the methods was hypnosis and suggestion, the effects of which Nonne had already demonstrated in his presentation given in Hamburg in 1915, but at that time, this form of treatment was rejected with the argument that “such methods are unworthy of German soldiers” because they resuscitated “medieval mysticism.”36 However, after the 1916 conference, hypnosis also came widely into use, though it was combined with other methods. Thus, they tried the administration of drugs, isolation, keeping patients in a dark chamber, and various physical methods of “active therapy”—e.g., electric shock, hot or cold water cures, etc.—which were clearly punitive, humiliating, and painful. The proponent and best-known user of the electric shock treatment was German military doctor Fritz Kaufmann, who termed his procedure a “surprise cure,” during which faradic currents were briefly fed into the body of the patient-victim, causing tremendous pain.37 The different varieties of electric shock treatment became widespread not only in Germany and in Austria-Hungary. They were generally used on the other side as well in the French, British, and American armies.38

Some neurologists attributed the disappearance of symptoms—at least seemingly—in the majority of the cases of war neurosis after a few electric shocks exclusively to the direct physical effect of these shocks, while others ascribed this to the suggestive force of the doctor’s person and the therapy or the combination of physical and psychological effects. The use of these methods was justified as a necessary means to combat the plague-like spread of war neurosis, and the physicians were expected to make the patients thus treated able to return in short order to the battlefield or at least to restore their ability to work, thus relieving the state budget of any potential obligation to pay them a pension. That was what both the Austro-Hungarian and the German military leadership expected of psychiatrists, especially because, after the enormous losses suffered beginning in 1916, there was an increased demand for the maximum exploitation of human and financial resources. As the German Association for Psychiatry officially declared, “we must never forget that we as doctors have to put our work in the service of a single mission: the service of the army and our homeland.”39 Erwin Stransky, the president of the Association for Psychiatry in Vienna, affirmed that “in these times of hardship, our main focus should be the glory of our armies fighting in tight alliance, and not the wellbeing of the individual.”40 Thus, those affected by war neurosis, who were regarded as malingerers and deserters, were more and more frequently faced with a court martial. In many cases, such soldiers received a death sentence as a deterrent, and not only in the Austro-Hungarian and German armies, but also in the French and British armed forces.

The Centralization of Psychiatric Care

In order to increase the speed and efficiency of the methods of treatment, special neurological departments, so-called “nerve stations” (Nervenstationen), were established in the territory of Germany and the Monarchy beginning in 1916. In its ordinance41 of July 10, 1916, the Ministry of Defense of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ordered that members of the military who were suffering from neurological conditions were to be treated only in special neurological institutions or other medical institutions with experienced and qualified neurologists. At the same time, it urged the regional commands located on the territory of Austria-Hungary to designate those institutions that satisfied these conditions. Furthermore, the ministerial decree stipulated that the internal order in the neurological departments and institutions be made stricter, that the personal freedoms of the patients be limited, that previously issued exemptions be reviewed, and that recidivists be taken back to the same institution where they had been originally treated. The military command in Budapest reported on August 29 that there was no separate neurological institute for the treatment of war neurotics for the time being, and that the existing health-care establishments were not suitable for admitting further neurological patients. Thus, they requested authorization from the ministry to open a special medical facility planned in Újpest that would allow for “modern electric shock treatment” as well.42 In its ordinance43 of October 3, the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Defense approved the creation of the facility in Újpest. At the same time, the ministerial decree concentrated the treatment of the neurologically wounded in the following institutions on the territory of Hungary at the time: in the region of the military command of Budapest, the facility in Újpest; in the region of the command of Pozsony (Bratislava, Slovakia), the supplementary hospital in Nagyszombat (Trnava, Slovakia) and the state hospital in Pozsony; in the region of the command of Kassa (Košice, Slovakia), the medical institution of Rózsahegy (Ružomberok, Slovakia) of the Hungarian Royal Authority for Invalid Affairs; in the region of the command of Temesvár (Timișoara, Romania), the university clinic of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca, Romania).

“The Ice Age of Perils”: Psychoanalysis in World War I

The war affected the careers of the individual members of the psychoanalytic movement just as dramatically as the movement itself. It encumbered or severed international relations, destroyed the majority of the barely formed networks, limited organizational life, and most of all, compelled the practitioners of psychoanalysis to confront their own assumptions, theoretical conceptions, and therapeutic practice with crude reality, which included the immeasurable sufferings and losses caused by the war and all the social and historical traumas that led to the disintegration and annihilation of the “world of yesteryear” (to borrow from Stefan Zweig). At the same time, war as a large-scale “natural experiment” offered new opportunities for the application and scientific and official legitimation of the results of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud reflected on the socio-psychological problems raised by the war at the beginning of World War I in his essay “Reflections on War and Death.”44 As Freud put it,

It is obvious that the war must brush aside this conventional treatment of death. Death is no longer to be denied; we are compelled to believe in it. People really die and no longer one by one, but in large numbers, often ten thousand in one day. It is no longer an accident. Of course, it still seems accidental whether a particular bullet strikes this man or that but the survivor may easily be struck down by a second bullet, and the accumulation of deaths ends the impression of accident. Life has indeed become interesting again; it has once more received its full significance.45

Similar thoughts were put forward by Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi in his article published in the periodical Nyugat under the title “The Ice Age of Perils”:

There might be a perspective from which even horrible and thrilling events seem only large-scale experiments of experimental psychology. A kind of “Naturexperiment” that a scholar cannot conduct in his study, or in the atelier of his mind at the most. War is such a cosmic laboratory experiment [...] In times of peace, it can be shown only by scrutinizing the dreams, nervous symptoms, artistic creations, and religion of the individual with an intricate method (and even then one’s findings are scarcely given credit) that the human psyche has multiple layers and that culture is just a nicely ornamented showcase while more primitive goods are stocked in the back of the shop. The war has stripped off this masque with one tug, and revealed man in his inner, more genuine nature; it has shown the child, the savage and the caveman in man. [...] The war has catapulted us back into the Ice Age, or to be more precise: it has disclosed those deep traces which that age had left imprinted in the psyche of humanity.46

Ferenczi was detailed to the Hungarian hussars as an assistant doctor at the beginning of the war. He joined the 7th Hussar Regiment on October 26, 1914, in Pápa, and on January 4, 1916, he became the head of the neurological department of the Imperial and Royal Mária Valéria Barracks Hospital of Budapest.47 He served in the army until the end of the war, along with several fellow Hungarian and foreign psychoanalyst doctors. It was in the barracks hospital of Budapest that he came across masses of physical and psychological victims of the war. On January 24, 1916, he gave an account to Freud of his first case of psychotherapy:

I analyzed [...] a sufferer from war trauma for an hour. Unfortunately, it turned out that the year before the shock of the war he had lost a father, two brothers (through the war), and a wife through unfaithfulness. When such a man then has to lie for twenty-four hours underneath a corpse, it is difficult to say how much of his neurosis is due to war trauma. (He trembles and speaks in a mumble.)48

Ferenczi also wrote of his experiences in the barracks hospital in his article published in the medical journal Gyógyászat (Therapeutics).49 As he writes, he observed approximately 200 cases of war neurosis. According to Ferenczi, the symptoms (general tremors, abnormal gait, spastic paralysis, etc.) of such illnesses are caused by psychological traumas; and traumatic neuroses can be fundamentally classified into two groups—hysterical conversion (conversion disorder) and anxiety hysteria. This conception added a new alternative to the debate sparked at the time among military psychiatrists (Oppenheim and his opponents) at the psychiatric congress in Munich, where, as noted above, one of the camps attributed such neuroses to an organic (especially degenerative, neurasthenic) background, while the other camp qualified those suffering from traumatic neurosis as “hysterical” in the pre-Freudian, ordinary sense of the word, that is, as malingerers and “effeminate.”

Ferenczi was not the only one to have experimented with psychoanalytical methods in the medical treatment of war neurotics. Karl Abraham, his fellow psychoanalyst from Berlin, also founded a department dealing with war neurosis and other mental disorders in 1916 in Eastern Prussia at the military hospital in Allenstein (Olsztyn, Poland).50 Another German analyst, Ernst Simmel, the head physician at the “nervous station” of Posen (Poznań, Poland), combined psychoanalysis with hypnosis (as opposed to Abraham and Ferenczi, who disapproved of suggestive methods). He published a book of great interest about his achievements.51 On the other side, in England, experiments were also conducted using dynamic methods with a psychoanalytical orientation that were focused on exposing and understanding the suppressed mental conflicts and subconscious psychological contents of the patients without coercive interventions. The instigator of this treatment was British anthropologist and physician W.H.R. Rivers, who was working in cooperation with his colleagues C. S. Myers and William McDougall at Maghull Military Hospital near Liverpool.52 They elaborated group methods that allowed for the development of solidarity, assistance, shared responsibility, and empathy instead of blind obedience. Similar initiatives were launched by Wilfried Bion, John Rickman, Donald W. Winnicott, and other British psychoanalysts, who elaborated new group psychotherapeutic methods within the British army during World War II. These methods were introduced at the Tavistock Clinic in London in the 1950s and became known as the “Tavistock model.” Similar methods were experimented with in the United States as well, especially at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.53

Torture or Treatment?

Electric shock was also the prevailing procedure at the Mária Valéria Barrack Hospital. It was even more typical of the abovementioned medical institution in Újpest to which Ferenczi was unexpectedly detailed by his superiors in May 1917. There, he met one of the renowned Hungarian practitioners and enthusiasts of electric shock treatment, Dr. Viktor Gonda, whose method had attracted a great deal of attention all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire in military health circles and among the general public.54 As Ferenczi wrote to Freud in one of his letters in 1917, “[Dr. Gonda] is spreading himself around more and more here, is having column-length articles written about his miracle cures (in daily newspapers), and all the naive folk, from archduke to university professors on down, are coming to our hospital to observe the miracle together.” 55

What Gonda’s method consisted of is described in one of his articles from 1916: he placed electrodes on the legs of the patient, who “cries out in pain, my assistant holds down his arms because the patient would automatically try to defend himself and would push off the electrodes. I do not turn off the electricity at the first cries, but only after about half a minute.” Gonda’s article continued as follows:

By turning the electricity on and off, I repeat this procedure eight to ten times, accompanied by verbal suggestion. One or two attempts suffice for the patient suffering from the pain to become utterly willing to obey my command and properly express his will to try to walk. However, I do not satisfy his wish, but usually with the excuse that his little finger is not moving properly yet, I continue the administration of electricity, which becomes more and more painful for one or two minutes. In the meantime, I even turn up the current, and in order to increase the pain, I turn the electricity on and off. Under the effect of the latter, I have the patient bend and stretch his legs repeatedly. If this motion is carried out perfectly, I make the patient sit on the edge of the bed: he has to stand up upon my command uttered in a strong voice (after some pause when his panting and pulse have gone back to normal), and do that without any external help. After standing briefly, the patient has to take some steps while counting. Again, there is a short pause, then comes the walking and running exercise, when it is especially important that the motion be perfect and exempt from all trembling.56

Similar procedures and results were reported by medical Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. Taussig from the sanatorium on Rózsahegy57 and by Dr. Ignác Kemény, the medical director of patient department I/b of the Hungarian Royal Garrison Hospital of Budapest.58 Nonetheless, the views of doctors were divided over Gonda’s cure and similar treatments: they did not have the unanimous approval of old-school neurologists either. There is a letter, for instance, in the Vienna Archives of Military History that was written by Professor Károly Hoór, the dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the Royal Hungarian University of Budapest, to the K. u. K. Militärsanitätkomite (the chief military health care authority of the Monarchy), in which Hoór harshly criticizes Gonda’s methods. Professor Hoór pointed out that there was nothing new in Gonda’s therapy: similar methods had been in use for a long time at the University Neurological Clinic in Budapest, where thousands of war neurotics (allegedly) had been successfully treated since the breakout of the war. Gonda’s method was well-known and applied by German and French military doctors as well. The method, however, was far from safe: increasing the current dramatically led to a pulse of 180 and even death in several instances, including among Gonda’s patients. The dean also explained that the treatment was primarily based on a highly intensive suggestive effect.59

On the other hand, the effort of the health authorities of Austria-Hungary (also represented by Dr. Gonda) to get the treatment of war neurotics over with so that the patients could be sent back to the front as soon as possible was met with fervent protests. The Vienna Archives also contain a letter dated December 5, 1916 and written by the national medical superintendent of handicapped affairs of the Kingdom of Hungary (Baron Sándor Korányi) in which Korányi protests against the customary treatment of traumatic neuroses:

The treatment of traumatic neurosis is a psychological treatment that can only be successful in a supportive milieu. Anyone who has ever visited hospitals behind the frontline must know very well that their restless atmosphere, the rigid military régime which reigns inside them as well as their proximity to the place of acquiring the illness will present barely surmountable obstacles to the creation of this milieu. It is also undoubtable that after the psychological trauma having caused the illness, a certain time period will be needed until healing can take place so that the impression having provoked the illness could be dimmed enough to allow for the success of the treatment. It is a misconception of the essence of traumatic neurosis that gives ground to the exaggerated hope vested in healing and the suggestion that patients having recovered should not be given leave, but should be sent back to serve on the frontline.60

“In Cold Blood and with Calm Nerves”

By 1917, the penultimate year of the war, war neurotics constituted an increasingly serious problem for the Austro-Hungarian military leadership. As Austrian Prime Minister Count Czernin declared in a speech delivered in Budapest on October 2, 1917, the war must be continued “in cold blood and with calm nerves,” and victory must be secured.61 A few days later, the Austro-Hungarian military leadership—under the pretext of a German-Austrian-Hungarian fraternal reunion—convened a meeting in Baden near Vienna in order to discuss the most important measures to take regarding war neuroses. Some of the military doctors who spoke at the conference reported on the “tremendous successes” of electric shock treatment. Viktor Gonda cited 4,000 patients who allegedly had been successfully treated, and Ernst Jellinek, a psychiatrist from Vienna, reported as many as 56,000 successful therapies.62 However, this “success propaganda” could not conceal the fact that the soldiers (and civilians) who had suffered battle neurosis or other psychological damage as a result of the senseless war constituted a growing and increasingly unmanageable crowd.

Military neurology and psychiatry, which had a fundamental role in the mo­bilization, preparation, rehabilitation, and replacement of the “human resources” of the modern war, were less and less able to cope with the traumatic neuroses massively affecting the armies of the Central Powers, and protests were becoming increasingly vehement against the conditions reigning at the neurological departments of military hospitals, the violence to which they had recourse, the harsh treatment to which patients were subjected, and the often cruel and inhumane methods that were used. With the collapse just around the corner, the question of the treatment and rehabilitation of the psychologically wounded who were engulfing the military hospitals became completely unsolvable. The Austro-Hungarian, Hungarian, and Prussian military leadership had every reason to fear that war neurotics who were reentering civil life and inundating the streets of the big cities would prove fertile ground for pacifist, revolutionary, and anti-militarist propaganda. Military leaders were also increasingly concerned that soldiers would disobey their superiors, even by “overperforming” commands (cf. the “Švejk phenomenon”).

According to Emil Kraepelin, one of the most renowned German psychiatrists, the reasons for defeat in the war were the “psychopathic leaders of the revolution” who turned the mass hysteria prevailing among the population to their profit.63 The criminalization and stigmatization of war neurotics appeared not only in psychiatry but also in politics. Shell-shocked and psychologically wounded soldiers or so-called “war hysterics,” whom, as seen above, the majority of psychiatrists stigmatized as cowardly malingers, were made the scapegoats of the military defeat and accomplices responsible for the “stab in the back” of Germany. Women, spouses and mothers, and the “feminine pacifism” of the hinterland were also rebuked. As a consequence, most war neurotics were stripped of their old-age or disability pension after the war, and they were, again, labelled “benefit neurotics.”64

The War Is Over?

According to some estimates, by autumn 1918, the number of “war neurotics” reached 180,000 in Vienna alone, and revolutionary agitation thus fell on fertile ground. The general atmosphere was precisely described by Karl Kraus’ observations concerning military doctors. In The Last Days of Mankind, Karl Kraus portrayed the military doctor as a diabolic figure who becomes “less fit for service the more people he declares fit to fight, so securing a greater chance of survival for himself. [...] they secure the survival of the wounded—to be sent back to the front, where they won’t survive.”65

The failure of the therapeutic methods espoused and used by Gonda, Kaufmann, and others and the vacuum thus created also contributed to the fact that the military health authorities of the Central Powers began to look for new approaches and alternative treatments, especially towards the end of 1917, after the conference in Baden. Ferenczi, Abraham, and other psychoanalyst military doctors recognized that the moment had come when military health authorities or their individual representatives could perhaps be convinced about the applicability of psychoanalysis as an alternative cure. They stressed that psychoanalysis promised, in the words of Karl Abraham, “to go deeper in understanding the structure of war neuroses than any of the methods so far.”66

The Fifth International Psychoanalytical Congress was convened in that spirit in Breslau (Wrocław, Poland) at the beginning of September 1918, and the representatives of the military health authorities were also invited. However, the plans for the conference quickly went up in smoke because, due to the war chaos and travel difficulties, the Silesian town could no longer be approached. Nonetheless, at Ferenczi’s initiative, the conference was still held. The date and place of the event were moved to September 28–29 in Budapest. The Austro-Hungarian, Hungarian, and Prussian ministries of defense sent their delegates to the congress in the persons of some military doctors of higher rank.67 The high point of the congress, which Freud attended, was the debate on war neuroses, the keynote speech for which was delivered by Ferenczi himself (Ferenczi 1919),68 who had developed and completed his earlier study from 1916 on “Two Types of War Neurosis.” Ferenczi’s two discussants—Karl Abraham and Ernst Simmel—represented the Berlin Association for Psychoanalysis.69 In his presentation, Ferenczi drew a parallel between the materialist view of history and the organic-mechanistic neurological explanations. The latter, which according to him corresponded to the materialist view in sociology, failed completely: “The mass-experiment of the war has produced various severe neuroses, including neuroses in which there could be no question of a mechanical influence, and the neurologists have likewise been forced to recognize that something was missing in their calculations, and this something was again—the psyche.” 70 After that, Ferenczi reproached neurologists for having needed the horrendous experiences of the war to recognize the significance of psychoanalysis.

However, Ferenczi, Freud, and the other participants in the congress were also concerned about the future of psychoanalysis and its postwar perspectives, as they looked for a new, civilian role for psychoanalysts returning to civilian life. They formulated proposals and plans about how to use their experiences regarding war neuroses in peace times with a view to the mass healing of neurotics (whose number obviously would be increased by the masses of psychologically wounded victims of the war returning to their civilian lives). In accordance with these proposals, free psychoanalytical clinics were set up, first in Berlin (1920) and then in Vienna (1922), as well as training institutions.71

For the moment, however, they were forced to cooperate with the disintegrating ancien régime, which was able to run its bureaucracy to the last breath. In the shadow of impending defeat, the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of War was still planning additional measures for a more efficient management of the problem of war neurotics. In this spirit, further neurological departments were organized so that, in accordance with total mobilization, war neurotics could at least be put to productive work, even if they were unfit to serve on the front.72 It was with this objective in mind that the joint Ministry of War issued its decree on October 9, 1918 regarding “further construction of nerve stations and treatment of war neurotics.”73 In accordance with the therapies applied until that time, the decree recommended “electric, hydriatic, and mechanotherapeutical treatments,” as well as suggestive hypnosis. It prescribed, among other things, bedrest, isolation and a ban on hospital visits, an “arousing diet,” and smoking. It also put strong emphasis on work therapy. Physicians needed to do all of the above in a manner that ensured that “the patient never get the impression of being pointlessly tortured.” The decree also stipulated that “those patients who have already resisted the doctor’s efforts at several neurological stations should be transferred to such stations where healing is attempted through psychoanalysis.” A few weeks before the collapse of the Monarchy, this prescription had little practical significance. However, it was all the more significant symbolically, for it constituted an acknowledgment of psychoanalysis—if only as a last resort—as the treatment of war neurotics who had shown resistance to all other therapies. Plans were also made by the Prussian Ministry of War to set up similar neurological departments that would be open to psychoanalytic treatment, but obviously there was no time for their implementation.74

The medical treatment of soldiers affected by war neurosis is one of the most controversial chapters in the history of modern warfare and modern psychiatry. In this history, psychoanalysis undoubtedly played a humanizing role, under circumstances in which the majority of psychiatrists regarded the psychologically wounded of the war as “hysterical” and “malingerers” and considered it their principal duty to restore as swiftly as possible the ability of the soldiers to fight. The early initiatives pertaining to psychoanalytical theory and therapy connected to war neuroses aimed to understand symptoms and interpret the connections within the patient’s life story. Thus, they became precursors to the modern approach to individual and collective psychological traumas, though also sources of eventual heated debates and conflicts.75 At the same time, the bulk of psychoanalysts did not question the political and military goals of the war. Although they often voiced their reservations and fears in their private correspondence, as is clearly reflected in the letters exchanged by Freud and Ferenczi,76 they nonetheless identified with the powers that sent millions of soldiers into the trenches. Their efforts and involvement were primarily aimed at proposing new tools that seemed more efficient and more humane than the existing ones—which proved to be insufficient and caused unnecessary suffering to the patient—and to restore the mental health of soldiers suffering from psychological traumas for the sake of their “normalization.”

The famous Viennese professor of neurology Julius Wagner-Jauregg, who later received a Nobel Prize, was accused based on a complaint filed by one of his former patients affected by war neurosis of overseeing the harsh and even cruel treatment of war neurotics and regarding them as mere hypochondriacs or deserters at the institution that he directed. A committee of inquiry was set up in which Freud, serving as an expert member, expressed his professional disapproval of these methods of treating war neuroses. He thought that these procedures were brutal and merciless, yet he did not unequivocally condemn them. He even spoke highly of the professional and human qualities of Professor Wagner-Jauregg. As Freud explained to the committee, each neurotic was, in fact, a malingerer, but they were so without being aware of it, and this was precisely the core of their illness.77 Thus the psychoanalytical treatment did not offer a way out of the Catch-22 situation of stigmatization in which war neurotics found themselves: “If you heal my symptoms, you send me back into death, to the battlefield. If you do not, I will be mentally handicapped all my life.” This paradox has always characterized the basic condition of people suffering from combat fatigue, war neurosis, or trauma caused by other shocking events—from World War I through World War II to the Vietnam War, the Yugoslav Wars, the wars in the Middle East, and other conflicts.

In any case, psychoanalysis was the current that first tried to systematize and embed the experiences related to war neuroses in a theoretical framework, setting the tone for the discourse that would have a decisive impact on subsequent conceptions and research orientations regarding the phenomena of psychological trauma and post-trauma stress conditions. However, more specific research on traumas due to war and other severe shocks started only in the 1940s, after World War II had broken out. The pioneer of this more complex approach was American psychoanalyst Abram Kardiner, a former disciple of Freud.78 Kardiner emphasized that traumatic neurosis was a “stand-by state of mind” that served the defense of the ego by trying to eliminate and ward off potential dangers, and it was fixed to these situations as if the stimuli which triggered it were still present. The traumatized person may exclude these recollections from his or her memory or suppress them, but they continue to live on in his or her dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, and anxieties. Detailed examination of the latter conditions began only after the end of World War II, especially in relation to the traumatic experiences of Holocaust survivors. This was not independent of the question concerning the extent to which Holocaust survivors who suffered psychological damage and the relatives of the victims were entitled to compensation; and in general, to what extent their psychological torments would be recognized as a reality equal to physical suffering. The examination of the long-term traumatogenetic effects of World War II, which still has resonance today, would go beyond the scope of this study. The professional and also social debate concerning the status of psychological disorders caused by war acts, the antecedents of which—as seen above—date back to pre–World War I times, continued. Post-trauma neurosis or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gained full recognition as a legitimate psychiatric diagnostic category only after the Vietnam War, and it was first included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association in 1980. PTSD as a diagnostic category continued to generate debates, as a result of which the symptoms and limits of the disorder have been defined over and over again in the subsequent editions of the manual as part of the attempt to strike a delicate balance between treatment and stigmatization.79

Archival Sources

Hadtörténelmi Levéltár, Budapest [Museum and Archives of Military History] (HIM HL)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Vienna (ÖStA)

Kriegsarchiv (KA)

KM Präs Nr. 13. 756 /14.Abt. 15–25/155

The Archives of the British Psychoanalytic Society, London


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Ferenczi, Sándor. “Der Psychoanalyse der Kriegsneurosen.” In Sigmund Freud, Sándor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, Ernst Simmel, and Ernest Jones, Zur Psychoanalyse der Kriegsneurosen: Diskussion gehalten auf dem V. Internationalen Psychoanalytischen Kongress in Budapest, 28. und 29. September 1918, 9–30. Leipzig–Vienna: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1919.

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Ferenczi, Sándor. “Symposium on Psychoanalysis and the War Neurosis Held at the Fifth International Psycho-Analytical Congress Budapest, September 1918.” The International Psycho-Analytical Library 2 (1921): 5–21.

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Sarbó, Artúr. “Über den sogennnten Nervenschock nach Granat- und Schrapnell­explosionen.” Wiener klinische Wochenschrift 28, no. 4 (1915): 86–90.

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Secondary literature

Bergen, Leo van. Before My Helpless Sight: Suffering, Dying and Military Medicine on the Western Front 1914–1918. London: Ashgate, 2009.

Bihari, Péter. 1914: A nagy háború száz éve. Személyes történetek [Hundred years of the Great War: Personal narratives]. Pozsony [Bratislava]–Budapest: Kalligram, 2014.

Bogacz, Ted. “War Neurosis and Cultural Change in England, 1914–22: The Work of the War Office Committee of Enquiry into ‘Shell-Shock’.” Journal of Contemporary History 24, no. 2 (1989): 227–56.

Brunner, José. Freud and the Politics of Psychoanalysis. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

Brunner, José. “Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Politics during the First World War.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 27 (1991): 352–65.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore–London: John Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Caruth, Cathy, ed. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore–London: John Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Cocks, George C. Psychoanalysis in the Third Reich: The Göring Institute. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Csabai, Márta. Tünetvándorlás: A hisztériától a krónikus fáradtságig [Wandering of the symptoms: from hysteria to chronic fatigue]. Budapest: Jószöveg Műhely Kiadó, 2007.

Danto, Elizabeth Ann. Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918–1938. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Davies, Alisdair. “British culture and the Memory of the First World War.” In Confrontations and Interactions: Essays on Cultural Memory, edited by Bálint Gárdos, Ágnes Péter, Natália Pikli, and Máté Vince, 21–34. Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2011.

Davoine, Françoise, and Jean-Max Gaudillière. History Beyond Trauma. New York: The Other Press, 2004.

Didi-Hubermann, Georges. Invention of Hysteria. New York: The Free Press, 1992.

Eissler, Kurt R. Freud und Wagner-Jauregg vor der Kommission zur Erhebung militärischer Pflichtverletzungen. Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 1979.

Ellenberger, Henri F. The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books, 1970.

Erős, Ferenc. Kultuszok a pszichoanalízis történetében [Cults in the history of psychoanalysis]. Budapest: Jószöveg Kiadó, 2004.

Erős, Ferenc. Trauma és történelem [Trauma and history]. Budapest: Jószöveg Kiadó, 2007.

Erős, Ferenc, István Kapás, and György Kiss. “Pszichoanalízis a hadseregben” [Psychoanalysis in the army]. Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 35, no. 1 (1988): 142–48.

Falzeder, Ernst, and Eva Brabant, eds. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi. Vol. 2, 1914–1919. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Fischer-Homberger, Esther. Die traumatische Neurose: Vom somatischen zum Sozialen Leiden. Bern: Hans Huber Verlag, 1974.

Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Routledge, 1986.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Random House, 1975.

Gilman, Sander L. The Case of Sigmund Freud: Medicine and Identity at the Fin de Siècle. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books, 1992.

Hofer, Hans-Georg. “‘Nervöse Zitterer’: Psychiatrie und Krieg.” In Krieg, Medizin und Politik: Der erste Weltkrieg und die österreichische Moderne, edited by Helmut Konrad, 15–134. Vienna: Passagen Verlag, 2000.

Hofer, Hans-Georg. Nervenschwäche und Krieg. Modernitätskritik und Krisenbewältigung in der österreichischen Psychiatrie. Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2004.

Hoffman, Louise E. “War, Revolution, and Psychoanalysis: Freudian Thought Begins to Grapple with Social Reality.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 17, no. 2 (1981): 251–69.

Kardiner, Abram. The Traumatic Neuroses of War. New York: Paul B. Hoeber, 1941.

Kaufman, Doris. “Science as Cultural Practice.” Journal of Contemporary History 34, no. 1 (1999): 125–44.

Kirmayer, Laurence J., Robert Lemelson, and Mark Barad, eds. Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Kiss, László. “Rózsahegytől Chicagóig: Gonda Viktor (1889–1959), egy méltatlanul elfelejtett magyar orvos” [From Rózsahegy to Chicago: Gonda Viktor (1889–1959), an undeservedly forgotten Hungarian doctor]. Orvosi Hetilap 146, no. 18 (2005): 853–55.

Kiss, Zsuzsanna. “Hősök és bűnbakok a weimari Németországban” [Heroes and scapegoats in Weimar Germany]. In Bűnbak minden időben: Bűnbakok a magyar és az egyetemes történelemben, edited by György Gyarmati et al., 62–74. Pécs: Kronosz; Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára, 2013.

Kraus, Karl. The Last Days of Mankind, 1919. http://thelastdaysofmankind.com/act-ii-scene-8.html Last accessed on January 28, 2017

Kühne, Julia Barbara. Kriegshysteriker: Strategische Bilder und mediale Techniken militärpsychiatrischen Wissens (1914–1920). Husum: Mathiesen Verlag, 2009.

Lafferton, Emese. “A magántébolydától az egyetemi klinikáig: A magyar pszichiátria történetének vázlata európai kontextusban, 1850–1908” [From private asylums to university clinics. A history of Hungarian psychiatry in European context]. In A kreativitás mintázatai: Magyar tudósok, magyar intézmények a modernitás kihívásában, edited by Békés Vera, 34–73. Budapest: Áron Kiadó, 2004.

Laplanche, Jean and Jean-Bernard Pontalis. The Language of Psycho-analysis. London: Karnac, 1986.

Leed, Eric. No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in the First World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Leese, Peter. Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldier in the First World War. London: Palgrave, 2002.

Lerner, Paul. Hysterical Men: War, Psychiatry, and the Politics of Trauma in Germany, 1890–1930. Ithaca–London: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Lesky, Erna. Die Wiener medizinische Schule im 19. Jahrhundert. Graz–Cologne: Böhlau, 1978.

Leys, Ruth. Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Malleiter, Elisabeth. “Die Kriegsneurose in der Wiener Psychiatrie und Psychoanalyse.” Wiener Geschichtblatter 15, no. 4 (1994): 206–19.

Meyer, Jessica. Men of War: Masculinity and the First World War in Britain. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Micale, Mark S., and Lerner, Paul, eds. Traumatic Pasts: History, Psychiatry, and Trauma in the Modern Age, 1870–1930. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Michl, Susanne. “Ethical Conflicts in Wartime Medicine.” In War and Trauma: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914–2014, 105–14. Ghent: Dr. Guislain Museum, 2014.

Ridesser, Peter and Axel Verderber. Maschinengewehre hinter der Front: Zur Geschichte der deutschen Militärpsychiatrie. Frankfurt: Fischer, 1996.

Rivers, W. H. R. and Charles Myers. Psychology and Politics. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2011. First published 1923 by K. Paul, Trench, Trabner.

Rose, Nicolas. Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self. London: Routledge, 1989.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Railway Journey. London: Blackwell, 1980).

Schönbauer, Leopold. Das Medizinische Wien. Vienna: Urban und Schwarzenberg, 1947.

Sablik, Karl. “Die österreichische medizinische Forschung und der Anteil jüdischen Österreicher.” In Voll Leben und voll Tod ist diese Erde: Bilder aus der Geschichte der jüdischen Österreicher, edited by Wolfgang Plat, 160–70. Vienna: Herold, 1988.

Schott, Heinz, and Rainer Tölle. Geschichte der Psychiatrie: Krankheitslehren, Irrwege, Behandlungsformen. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2005.

Shephard, Ben. A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Sironi, Françoise. Psychopathologie des violences collectives: Essai de psychologie géopolitique clinique. Paris: Odile Jacob, 2007.

Theweleit, Klaus. Männephantasien. Vols. 1–2. Frankfurt: Verlag Roter Stern/Stroemfeld, 1977/78).

Van der Kolk, Bessel. “Soldiers and Psychoanalysts.” In War and Trauma: Soldiers & Ambulances 1914-1918, In Flanders Fields Museum Ypres : Soldiers & Psychiatrists 1914–2014, Dr. Guislain Museum Ghent, edited by Patrick Allegaert. Veurne: Hannibal, 2013.

1 With regard to the propaganda machine of World War I and its effects and afterlife, see, for example: Theweleit, Männephantasien; Kühne, Kriegshysteriker. See also Péter Bihari’s recent book: 1914. A nagy háború száz éve; and a study by Zsuzsanna Kiss, “Hősök és bűnbakok a weimari Németországban.”

2 See Sironi, Psychopathologie des violences collectives.

3 Key books and papers summarizing this topic: Hofer, “‘Nervöse Zitterer’”; Hofer, Nervenschwäche und Krieg; Kaufman, “Science as Cultural Practice”; Lerner, Hysterical Men; Micale and Lerner, Traumatic Pasts; Shephard, A War of Nerves; van Bergen, Before My Helpless Sight.

4 For more on this issue, see Michl, “Ethical Conflicts in Wartime Medicine.”

5 See, for example, Meyer, Men of War.

6 See Leese, Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldier.

7 See Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Foucault, Discipline and Punish.

8 See Nikolas Rose’s seminal work on the social history of modern psychology: Rose, Governing the Soul.

9 See first and foremost the groundbreaking work by Fischer-Homberger, Die traumatische Neurose.. See also Davoine and Gaudillière, History Beyond Trauma; Leed, No Man’s Land; Ridesser and Verderber, Maschinengewehre hinter der Front.

10 See the special issue of Journal of Literary Theory: Trauma and Literature (2012). See also Bihari, 1914, 549.

11 See, for example, Davies, “British culture and the Memory of the First World War.” See also Bihari: 1914, 538–46.

12 Lerner, Hysterical Men.

13 Hofer, Nervenschwäche und Krieg.

14 See, for example, Leed, No Man’s Land; Shephard, A War of Nerves; van Bergen, Before My Helpless Sight.

15 See especially Bogacz, “War Neurosis and Cultural Change in England.” With regard to the “pension war,” see Lerner, Hysterical Men, 223–48.

16 Brunner, Freud and the Politics of Psychoanalysis; Brunner, “Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Politics during the First World War”; Danto, Freud’s Free Clinics; Hoffman, “War, Revolution, and Psychoanalysis”; Kaufman, “Science as Cultural Practice”; Malleiter, “Die Kriegsneurose in der Wiener Psychiatrie und Psychoanalyse.”

17 See Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious; Schott and Tölle, Geschichte der Psychiatrie; Lafferton, “A magántébolydától az egyetemi klinikáig.”

18 On the history of the concept of hysteria, see first and foremost Csabai, Tünetvándorlás; Didi-Hubermann, Invention of Hysteria; Gilman, The Case of Sigmund Freud; Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-analysis.

19 See Gilman, The Case of Sigmund Freud, 11–68.

20 See Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy; Herman, Trauma and Recovery; Kirmayer et al., Understanding Trauma.

21 Schivelbusch, Railway Journey.

22 Lerner, Hysterical Men, 15–39.

23 Ibid.; Fischer-Homberger, Die traumatische Neurose.

24 On the history of the medical school of Vienna, see Schönbauer, Das Medizinische Wien; Lesky, Die Wiener medizinische Schule im 19. Jahrhundert. See also Sablik, “Die österreichische medizinische Forschung.”

25 Lerner, Hysterical Men, 15–39.

26 On reliving experiences of trauma, see Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy; Caruth, Unclaimed Experience; Caruth, Trauma: Explorations in Memory.

27 Rose, Governing the Soul, 20–21.

28 See, for example, Binswanger, Die seelischen Wirkungen des Krieges.

29 See A Hadtörténelmi Levéltár katona-egészségügyi iratainak repertóriuma 1740–1980.

30 Michl, “Ethical conflicts in wartime medicine.”

31 On the demonization of war hysterics and the use of them as scapegoats, see Kiss, “Hősök és bűnbakok a weimari Németországban.”

32 Alzheimer, Der Krieg und die Nerven. On the racialist theoretical aspects of the portrayal of the enemy on both sides, see Bihari, 1914, 230–32.

33 See Cocks, Psychoanalysis in the Third Reich.

34 Hofer, Nervenschwäche und Krieg, 244–54; Lerner, Hysterical Men, 75–81.

35 Sarbó, “Über den sogennnten Nervenschock nach Granat- und Schrapnellexplosionen.”

36 Brunner, “Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Politics,” 354.

37 Faradic electricity had been in use since the 1860s as a treatment for various neurological symptoms, following the example of American neurologist George Bernard Beard and German neurologist Wilhelm Erb. See Hofer, Nervenschwäche und Krieg, 283–338; Lerner, Hysterical Men, 86–123.

38 Leese, Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldier; W.H.R.Rivers and Myers, Psychology and Politics.

39 Quoted in Brunner, “Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Politics,” 358.

40 Ibid.

41 ÖStA KA, KM Präs Nr. 13. 756 /14.Abt. 15–25/155.

42 K. u. K. Militärkommando Budapest. M.A. Nr. 84028. ÖStA KA, KM 1916. Präs. 15–25/155–3.

43 ÖStA KA, KM Präs. Nr. 22.639/14. Abt. 15–25/155.

44 Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death.”

45 Ibid., 279.

46 Ferenczi, “The Ice Age of Catastrophes,” 125.

47 On Ferenczi’s activities as a military physician, see Erős, Trauma és történelem, 104–20; Erős et al., “Pszichoanalízis a hadseregben.”

48 Falzeder and Brabant, The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, 107–8.

49 Ferenczi, “Előzetes megjegyzések a háborús neurosis némely típusáról.” The article was published in English in 1916 under the title “Two Types of War Neurosis,” reprinted in Ferenczi, Selected Writings, 129–44.

50 Abraham, “Symposium on Psychoanalysis and the War Neurosis.”

51 Simmel, Kriegsneurosen und “psychisches Trauma.” On the activities of Simmel and the German psychoanalysts during World War I, see also Lerner, Hysterical Men, 163–89.

52 Leese, Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldier, 81–84.

53 Rose, Governing the Soul, 40–55.

54 Viktor Gonda was born in 1889 in Ungvár (Užhorod, Ukraine). He obtained his medical degree in Budapest in 1911 and then worked as a physician at the Liget Sanatorium. In 1916, he started to work at the medical facility of the Hungarian Royal Authority for Invalid Affairs in Rózsahegy as a neurologist. In 1917, he was transferred to Újpest. After the war, he worked in Romania for a time, and at the end of the 1920s, he emigrated to the United States, where he later worked as a professor of neurology in Chicago. He played a major role in propagating the use of electro-convulsive treatment in America. He died in 1959 in Palo Alto, California. See Kiss, “Rózsahegytől Chicagóig.”

55 Falzeder and Brabant, The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, 243.

56 Gonda, “Rasche Heilung der Symptome der im Kriege entstandenen ‘traumatischen Neurose’.”

57 K. u. K. Sanitäts-Chef in Kassa, E. No. 9294 K. u. K. Sanitäts-Chef in Kassa, E. No. 9294. 1916 Präs 15 25/155–3.

58 ÖStA KA 1917 14A 48-20 1–2.

59 ÖStA KA 1917 14a 43 – 20/14.

60 ÖStA KA 1917 43 20/1.

61 Quoted in Hofer, Nervenschwäche und Krieg, 358.

62 Ibid., 359–67.

63 Kiss, Hősök és bűnbakok a weimari Németországban.

64 Van der Kolk, Bessel, “Soldiers and Psychoanalysts.”

65 Kraus, The Last Days of Mankind, 1919.

66 Abraham, “Symposium on Psychoanalysis.”

67 The joint Austrian-Hungarian Ministry of War was represented by medical Colonel Dr. Pausz and medical Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. Valek. The Hungarian Ministry of Defense delegated medical Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. Szepessy, medical Major Professor Németh and medical Major Dr. Hollósy. The Prussian Minister of War delegated medical major Dr. Holm and medical Major Professor Casten. On the command ordering medical colonel Dr. Pausz to attend the event, see ÖStA KA 1918. 14. Appendix no. 29021.

68 Ferenczi, “Der Psychoanalyse der Kriegsneurosen.”

69 The talks on war neurosis delivered at the nominally international congress were also published in a separate booklet, completed with a paper by the absent Ernest Jones. Freud, Ferenczi, Abraham, Simmel, and Jones, Zur Psychoanalyse der Kriegsneurosen.

70 Ferenczi, “Symposium on Psychoanalysis and the War Neurosis.”

71 Erős, Trauma és történelem; Danto, Freud’s Free Clinics.

72 See Hofer, Nervenschwäche und Krieg, 566–76.

73 The German draft of the decree can be found at the Kriegsarchiv in Vienna (ÖStA KA 18. 14. A. 43–51). The Hungarian version of the document was registered at the Hungarian Royal Ministry of Defense on October 12, 1918. The document can be found in the Museum and Archives of Military History
(HIM HL 1918 Eü. oszt. 641 cs. 569480.12.) The transcription of the latter was published unabridged by Erős et al., Pszichoanalízis a hadseregben, 144–46.

74 The International Psychoanalytic Society, of which Ferenczi was elected president at the congress, expressed its gratitude in its letter of October 12, 1918, to the Royal Prussian Ministry of War for the work of their delegation at the congress and pledged to remain at the disposal of the ministry for the treatment and aftercare of war neurotics through the president of the German group, Dr. Karl Abraham (The Archives of the British Psychoanalytic Society, GO7/BA/PO/6/05).

75 Erős, Trauma és történelem, 13–26.

76 See Erős, Kultuszok a pszichoanalízis történetében, 127–147.

77 Eissler, Freud und Wagner-Jauregg.

78 Kardiner, The Traumatic Neuroses of War.

79 See Csabai, Tünetvándorlás, 113–140; Erős, Trauma és történelem, 13–26; Herman, Trauma and Recovery.

* This study was prepared with the support of a Klebelsberg Kunó Scholarship from the Balassi Institute (September–October 2013, Vienna) within the framework of Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA) project no. 109148 (Psi Knowledge as Social Discourses – Humanities in the Context of Power Relations). An earlier version of this paper was published in the electronic journal of medical and cultural history Kaleidoscope 8 (2014): 33–58 (http://www.kaleidoscopehistory.hu) with the title “Kínzás vagy gyógyítás? Pszichiátria és pszichoanalízis az első világháborúban” [Torture or healing? Psychiatry and psychoanalysis in World War I]. The majority of the cited archival sources were found at the Military History Archives of Vienna (Kriegsarchiv, or KA). I would like to express my gratitude to Gábor Kiss, the staff member of the Hungarian representation at the Kriegsarchiv, for his help.


Diverging Language Uses: Political Discourse in Hungary after World War I

József Takáts
University of Pécs
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 4  (2022):764–788 DOI 10.38145/2022.4.764

Following some introductory notes on methodology, this study analyzes the process of the intensifying militarization, polarization, brutalization, sacralization, saturation with extreme appeals to emotions, and apocalyptic tone of Hungarian political texts after 1918. It also examines the ways in which the National Darwinist political vocabulary, which evolved originally in the last third of the nineteenth century, survived after the World War, and how it created the double languages of nationalist discourse: the historicizing one and the racist one.

Keywords: Political discourses, brutalization, extreme political emotions, apocalyptic tone, National Darwinism

Although when reading historiographical works, I prefer fine-grained contextual analyses working with a synchronic sample to large-scale canonical ones based on a diachronic linguistic set,1 in this discussion, I adopt the latter methodology in the introductory part to demonstrate the obstacles one encounters when attempting an examination of the conclusions of the Hungarian political-intellectual history of World War I. The perspective and questions of political-intellectual historians differ, in my assessment, from those of political historians. The latter are primarily interested in political acts and purposes and the course and causes of events, while the former focus on the ways in which language is used and the linguistic means by which political identities are created, reinforced, and weakened; in other words, on the linguistic arena of politics as one of the preconditions of acts and purposes. Researchers who follow a methodology similar to mine concentrate mostly on the “order of statement” to which the individual statement of the political writing in question belongs.2 This will be my focus in the following analysis of various Hungarian writings from the years following World War I.

When analyzing early modern texts from the eighteenth century or the beginning of the nineteenth century, one can rely on the great academic achievements (mainly in English) that have been realized in the examination of political discourses. However, when interpreting writings from the twentieth century, we have to get by without the support of Pocock and Skinner. As is well-known, the major historians of political discourses who published their works in English ended the range of their research at the end of the eighteenth century, while their contemporary fellow researchers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (excellent intellectual historians such as Stefan Collini and Michael Freeden, for example) followed a different methodology. The major, influential and chiseled, long-standing political discourses of early modernism that drew partly on antique pre-texts and partly on newly emerged disciplines, the discourses of republicanism, raison d’état, the ancient constitution, cultivation, political economy and (later discovered) company were gradually dissolved in the standardizing language and dialects of modern politics from the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus, the archetextual conventions in the political texts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are different from the early modern ones: such “order of statement,” which although differing from the characteristics of the former great political discourses, still ensures the meaningfulness of the individual statements.

This methodological difficulty is topped with the uncertainty of the canonical place of World War I in the narratives of Hungarian history. In my opinion, the experiences of 1918–1919 (or 1918–1921), which were, of course, different for each social group, isolated or overshadowed the experiences of World War I in the memory of the political community. They pushed the latter into familial remembrance, thus severing from cause from and consequence: defeat in the war and the Treaty of Trianon with which it came to a formal close. This explains the curious phenomenon that, as has been pointed out recently by a scholar of the social history of the Great War, “in the Hungarian historical conscience,” in contrast with other countries, there is meager interest in World War I and its implications, even though “the number of Hungarian soldiers who died in the war exceeded by far half a million.”3

The canonical place of World War I is fundamentally determined by its borderline character: whatever happened in or to Hungary before 1918 has become a thing of the past, and it no longer generates any heated or contradictory emotions in the members of the political community. However, whatever happened in 1918 and afterwards (or whatever did not happen, though we think it did) is history that cannot sink into the past.4 World War I has become a thing of the past, as did the history of the Principality of Transylvania of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for instance, whereas its direct temporal (political-historical) implications are unable to do the same. To put it differently, today’s political agents can use World War I only with minimal efficacy, while they can very effectively use history in or after 1918. In the introduction to his seminal work The Identity of France, Fernand Braudel protested against the idea according to which “France ‘began’ in the eighteenth century with the Age of Enlightenment, that France was born of the dramatic ordeal to which it was subjected during the violence of the Revolution.” For him, the history of France dated back to the mist of times, to the third millenary BCE.5 Hungarian historians could similarly protest against the notion that Hungary “was born of the dramatic ordeals” of the civil wars of 1918–1921. Yet this opinion has its own revelatory force, as did the French view criticized by Braudel.

The great French historian expressed his unease when he stated that “what irks me even more is the drastic curtailing of chronology it implies: the ancien régime and the French Revolution are near to us in time, almost contemporary.”6 He was quite right about that. Likewise, Hungarian historians would also be well-advised not to let the events and texts of 1918–1921 become events and texts of the immediate past, “virtual parts of contemporaneity.” They should not let them lose their historical specificity as a result of a closing in of chronological proportions. Naturally, this methodological norm does not override the epistemological recognition that we cannot step outside our perspective of the present in our historiographical works. The past reproduced and narrated by us usually in writing is a peculiar construct: the past is always the past of the present, and the question is always: how so? And vice versa, our epistemological recognition does not redeem us from the (historical and not canonical or historical-political) obligation of a historian’s job to hear and make heard (in spite of the obvious challenges) the voice of the past in a form that is unassimilated to the present, but which can be reconstructed only in a construed manner. This expectation, like so many other expectations in life, is, of course, hard to meet.

Many of the scholars of World War I (contemporaries and later historiographers) depicted the Great War as a beginning: as an alpha. In his book-length essay entitled Világos pillanat (Clear Moment), dated summer 1941, Imre Csécsy wrote that the World War had been, in fact, going on for a quarter of a century, and that “the old war was simply started over.”7 This pattern is found in many other works, i.e., the notion that World War II was a continuation of World War I. “How long has this night been?” Csécsy asked in 1943. “Four years? Ten years? No, thirty years or so by now. / At the beginning of the century we thought the Age of Reason was dawning on us. [...] And then came the senseless canon fire.”8 The aufklarist metaphors of Világos pillanat made the year 1914 a kind of boundary, the origin of what was the present at the time, as opposed to the efforts of the Hungarian left and right in their policy on the past, the latter drawing the line at the year of 1918. In 1943, the experience of World War II made the experience of World War I live and contemporary. This is a prime example of the narrowing of chronological proportions mentioned by Braudel.

Another example (this one related to a historian) of a presentation of the Great War as a beginning is François Furet’s work The Passing of an Illusion, one of the main, oft-cited theses of which claimed that the three major totalitarian regimes and ideologies of the twentieth century (communism, fascism, and national socialism) “shared the same source—the war,”9 and they inherited their essential characteristics from the latter. As a continuation to war and war propaganda, a new political culture was formed according to Furet, which was characterized by a political discourse seeking immediate effect and losing any connection with morality, characterized also by mass manipulation, scorn for legitimacy, the veneration of power, the (deliberate) changing of political views into beliefs, “the former made up of noble intentions and ideas, the latter of expedience.”10

I also find these statements important, and I will rely on them, but I see more of an intellectual-historical relation between the political texts known from before 1914 and those produced after 1918 than that for which the birth metaphor and the concept of the new political culture of the French historian would allow. To put it differently and to borrow Hans-Ulrich Wehler’s metaphor, from an epistemological perspective, I perceive the Great War rather as a “giant transformer,”11 and not as an instigator

Likewise, Hannah Arendt sought the roots of totalitarianism not in World War I, but in the decades preceding it. I agree that the “transformation of nations into races,” that is, the conception of a more elementary, more original, naturalist political community behind the conventional one, which was partly made possible by the influence of Social Darwinism,12 was a decisive factor in the intellectual history between the two wars. For me, however, the key notion of the explanation is not racism but national Darwinism. Béla Németh G. wrote his fundamental study on national Darwinism several decades ago;13 it does not bode well for the Hungarian historical scholars of the racial narrative that they ignore this piece of work. There are also some authors connected to the international literature of nationalism research who emphasized the significance of the Darwinian motivation in the transformation of the concept of nation at the end of the nineteenth century.14 The Hungarian nationalist narrative was filled with concepts, arguments, and narratives taken from the Darwinian description of biological evolution in the 1870s,15 and this vocabulary was still in use in the 1920s, as I will shortly demonstrate with some relevant examples. For the moment, I only sought to highlight the continuity in intellectual history, although the “giant transformer” of war changed this vocabulary as well.

I do not intend, however, to diminish the undeniable intellectual-historical impact of the Great War. After 1918, the war was displaced onto the civil war between the political left and right, as the above-cited German historian Wehler observed.16 As I was trying to come up with a title for this paper, I considered “The Languages of the Civil War.” I decided to go for a more attenuated phrasing simply because not every political player spoke a civil-war language after 1918. Later analysts are often impressed by the radical speakers of yesteryear, and they often lose sight of thoughtful argumentation. I wanted to avoid this trap. It is not only the literature that I follow when I refer to the Hungarian period from 1918 to 1921 as the years of civil war. There were some contemporary analysts who also approached the subject form this perspective.17 The title of this paper (“Diverging Language Uses”) implies that the processes of homogenization and divergence are simultaneously present in the modern language of politics. There are times when the processes of homogenization become more visible, and there are times in which divergence is more conspicuous. The years following World War I belong to the latter category.

The mushrooming of military metaphors and narratives in political writings can be regarded as the most direct consequence of the war. Metaphors and narratives play a crucial role in the creation and understanding of the “universes” of political texts. Not only do they direct the perception of the “world,” they also make it possible to imagine the forms of action in it: “Metaphor, therefore, defines the pattern of perception to which people respond,” Murray Edelman noted many years ago.18 Literary historian János Horváth’s 1921 booklet Aranytól Adyig (From Arany to Ady) contains in its title the names of two major poets in the Hungarian canon, nineteenth-century poet János Arany and early twentieth-century poet Endre Ady. Thus, we could hardly be blamed for assuming that it is a work of literary history, but it is just as much a political pamphlet. In this writing, Horváth describes the relationship of so-called conservative literature to the modernist school as follows: “There are two camps facing each other, but out of shooting range. Years have gone by since they first lined up. We have been waiting to see what will happen. In fact, nothing happened: a bit of shaking of the fists on the ramparts and constant clamor in the other camp.”19 Horváth thus conceptualizes literary life in terms of the movements of troops and sieges.

Military metaphors also abound in György Lukács’s article published in 1920 about Ottó Korvin. Lukács writes about outposts, vanguards, self-sacrificing heroism, enemies, mercenaries, and being on guard. He offers the following characterization of Korvin, the people’s commissar of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic: “As a true revolutionary, he did not undertake to carry out whatever duty was entrusted to him, but he performed his task with ardor and with all his might, a task that he did not seek and which profoundly contradicted his personal inclinations.”20 If we exchange the word “revolutionary” for “soldier” in the above sentence, we get the ideal portrait of the good soldier. Lukács’s text partly created the “true revolutionary” on the analogy of the “true soldier.” Zoltán Szász’s ambitious essay about Octobrism (the politics of the Hungarian revolution of 1918 was called by that name at the time) relates the whole history of humanity through war metaphors. In his first paragraph, he writes about fronts, frontlines, sudden advances, captured posts, and combat victories (although he abandons these metaphors later).21 Gyula Gömbös, a key figure in the counterrevolutionary actions of 1919 and future racialist party leader and prime minister, was described by the historian József Vonyó, who had studied him, as follows: “it is perceptible until the end of his career that he judged even the most complicated social problems from the angle of the soldier, and he wanted to solve them with soldierly simplicity. In his speeches, he would often refer to society as an army of disciplined soldiers following orders.”22

In Gömbös’s case, this is perhaps not so surprising. He was a military officer, after all. One of the reasons for the militarization of political texts could be that, as of 1918, there appeared in politics a legion of former military officers whose behavior and speech was quite different from the political patterns of the previous era. Some historians went so far as to call the members of the radical rightwing war generations who came on the stage after the war “a new political entrepreneurial class.”23 One of the consequences of the militarization of political writings was the dichotomization and polarization of the political arena construed by the texts. Political scientists usually argue, often referring to Carl Schmitt, that the dynamics of politics tends to create ab ovo a bipolar “universe” based on the logic of friend-enemy. That is not true. In reality, there are many kinds of linguistic constructions concerning the political space that differ from this. Even when presenting conflicting social situations, there have been such narrative types available that do not create an extremely polarized space. In his 1907 book Uj Magyarország felé (Toward a new Hungary), the “free socialist” Oszkár Jászi depicted the essential social conflict as a dialogue of generations in which one party is able to convince the other.24 Arguing for the importance of securing Hungarian cultural supremacy, Kuno Klebelsberg, the Christian-nationalist minister of culture, used a car-race simile in his parliamentary speech in 1928, conceiving of the political space given for the nation as a multi-player race course where one is competing against the neighboring nations.25

In the bipolar space of the political texts written after World War I, we find players in combat: Jews versus Hungarians, e.g., in János Horváth’s above-cited booklet, or bourgeoisie versus proletariat in György Lukács’s abovementioned article. We could mention innumerable writings as examples of both cases. And since many texts construed the “universe” of politics in similar ways, certain political speakers were given an opportunity to build their own positions in the space between the two previously created poles. In an editorial written for the newspaper Népszava in 1929, Ernő Garami, a proletarian leader returning from exile in Vienna, urged the social democratic working class to conduct a dual struggle: fight against bolshevism on the left and fascism on the right because both “are aiming for dictatorship, and because the biggest enemy of the working class is any type of dictatorship.”26 In his critique of Jászi’s memoirs in 1921, the liberal writer and businessman Miksa Fenyő found a different arrangement for more or less the same players in the political space construed in his text: when returning to the old political discourse, he put the dichotomy of “fanatics vs. skeptical minds” in the focus of his argumentation,27 as a result of which the “fanatic” revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries found themselves in the same compartment, while the other pole was occupied by the “skeptic” speaker himself, who was a “sworn enemy of all kinds of revolutions and even of counterrevolution.”28

Furthermore, the language of politics underwent an extreme “sentimentalization” in post-World War I political texts. One of the key domains of the latter was the irredentist narrative, which appealed to the emotions of pain, mourning, solidarity, devotion, etc., of its readers and listeners. In his 2009 book on the revisionist idea (which aimed to restore the borders of the Hungarian state, which had been modified after 1918), historian Miklós Zeidler quotes a speech held by Nándor Urmánczy, a speaker from one of the irredentist organizations, the Alliance of Protective Leagues (Védő Ligák Szövetsége), in 1920: “At the end of his speech [given for the inauguration of the statue], he expressed the intention of the Alliance—in accordance with the agenda of revenge—that the irredentist group of statues ‘become a place of pilgrimage for the nation, [...] a furnace of hate and vengeance.’”29 Hate and vengeance became fundamental political sentiments in communist texts as well. In his diary, émigré writer Béla Balázs described the communist commemoration of Ottó Korvin held in Vienna in January 1921: “The day before yesterday [there was] a Korvin commemoration in the underground room of Café Neue Wiener Bühne. The paper was a piece of black wallpaper with red stars, a big red gallows above the rostrum. Heated and fervent speeches: revenge! revenge! Then Gyuri [György Lukács] spoke beautifully, with pale ecstasy...”30 I do not know whether Lukács delivered his previously cited Korvin article or a version of it at the commemoration. In any case, the emotional economy of the article relied heavily on the polarizing distribution of love and hate: “The gauge of the revolutionary significance of vanguards of the proletariat is love for the proletariat and hatred for the bourgeoisie.”31

14–18: Understanding the Great War, a 2000 book by French historians Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker which offers an impressive discussion of the roles of violence, nationalism, and racism in and after World War I, contrasts the theses of Norbert Elias and George L. Mosse regarding the history of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century (in my view, a bit categorically), agreeing with Mosse. Elias, as is well-known, interpreted the German National Socialist system as a halt and a regression in the long process of civilization. By contrast, the French authors believe that “[t]he specific, momentary ‘decline of civilisation’ that Elias later thought he perceived in National Socialist totalitarianism actually took place in 1914–1918.”32 They supported Mosse’s thesis, according to which World War I had signified a genuine cultural turnabout: the brutalization of forms of conduct and uses of language, which then led to fascism and Nazism. As Mosse wrote in his book Fallen Soldiers, “during the First World War, in contrast, inspired by a sense of universal mission, each side dehumanized the enemy and called for his unconditional surrender,” as opposed to the practice of justification of the previous wars.33 This new war mentality lived on after 1918. Let me quote Mosse again: “The vocabulary of political battle, the desire to utterly destroy [sic!] the political enemy, and the way in which these adversaries were pictured, all seemed to continue the First World War mostly against a set of different, internal foes.”34

Brutalization is also detectable in post-World War I Hungarian political texts. In the preface to his book A harmadik Magyarország (The Third Hungary), written in 1921 (and in many other articles of his from 1919–1921), Christian-nationalist poet and ideologist István Lendvai called the revolutions of 1918–1919 “rat riots” and classified them as attempts by the Jewry to get into power, the only aim of which was “to step over our dead bodies and proclaim the victorious dominion of the one and only rat-dom.”35 In his reply to a survey conducted by the rightwing newspaper Gondolat around Christmas 1919, the Lendvai depicted Hungary as a sick human body infected by “Syrian [i.e., Jewish] microbes” and the “swarming multiplication and evil pillaging” of pathogens that “had to be removed both physically and spiritually” from the body so that the country could be healed by the medicine of the “Christian-national mentality.”36 The metaphorical conceptualization of the political community as a human body and of politics as medicine had been used frequently for several centuries. However, the metaphorization of the political opponent as a bloodthirsty rat or a lethal pathogen was a relatively novel linguistic creation.

After 1918, a multitude of political writings became imbued with an apocalyptic tone. In the closing chapter of his anti-Marxist book Marxizmus vagy liberális szocializmus (Marxism or liberal socialism), which was written in exile in Vienna during the autumn of 1919, the aforementioned Oszkár Jászi felt that only religious reform could show the way for humanity “out of the awful crisis […] of the entire culture.” As he put it, “The cleverest political objective is worth nothing in itself unless accompanied by a review of our fundamental intellectual values. Love instead of hatred, solidarity instead of class struggle, individuality and freedom instead of mass dictatorship ... (etc.).”37 Only if such new virtues were to replace the current ones could a “new world” be created, Jászi concludes. The joint idea of the all-encompassing “horrible crisis” of the political community under examination (humanity, the race) and the “new world” dearly longed for but accessible only through some kind of “renewal” that often imbued politics with goals of a religious or quasi-religious nature also emerged in the writings of authors far from Jászi’s universe. In Lendvai’s previously cited book, we witness a catastrophism that is characterized as desirable. “Devastation was unavoidable, necessary and salutary,” Lendvai announces in the first paragraph. He calls the collapse of the country “desirable” and “salutary” because it may release “the self-healing instincts of the race” and “its awesome health and heroic strength.” And this racial revolution could lead to a new life: “Then the Hungarian forest, with its burnt branches and torn-up trunks, will throb again with renewed blood and thick chlorophyll.”38

The apocalyptic tone often entails the sacralization of the political language used in post-World War I texts. The writings of the revisionist movement often presented Hungary’s territorial loss using the narrative and symbols of the Passion of Christ. I cite from the writings of Miklós Zeidler once again:

The minorities, having betrayed Hungary and having benefited from its territory, found themselves in the role of Judas and of the Roman soldiers casting lots for Christ’s mantle; Patrona Hungariae took the shape of Mary, who nourishes the Son, weeps for him, and takes his corpse down from the cross, while the great powers, which did not have the courage to make a fair decision and which shook off all responsibility, were likened to Pilate. This was how the revisionist concept broadened into a kind of religious movement that identified the dissolution of historical Hungary with the story of Christ’s suffering and revision with the good news of the Gospel.39

 In his biography of Béla Kun, György Borsányi cites several examples in order to demonstrate how the communist leader used Jesus analogies in various political situations. After he took a beating while in custody in February 1919, Kun was asked about those who had beaten him, and he replied with a sentence alluding to the words of Jesus’ sufferings on the cross (“they know not what they are doing”). At the Young Workers’ Congress in June, Kun cited verses from the Books of Moses, according to which a whole generation had to perish for the next one to enter the Promised Land.40 In Borsányi’s assessment, Kun made a huge impression with these gestures.

The sacralizing concept and (metaphors) of a new world and the advent of a new life played a fundamental role not only in communist and socialist idiomatic language, but also in the discourses of racialist ideologists. As Lajos Méhely put it in his 1933 criticism of the old-fashioned president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (who belonged to the elite of the Horthy régime but was still very much an old-school liberal) and his fellow scholars, “a new world is dawning on us. They do not believe that the false doctrine of liberalism has fallen once and for all and that a new form of life is spreading its wings. They do not see that the racial spirit has resurrected…”41 In Méhely’s phrasing, reference to the unquestionable truth of the natural sciences merged with sacralizing expressions from the Christian lexicon. In the 1920s and 1930s, the orators of rightwing veterans’ associations talked in their speeches about “Hungarians suffering for their own kind,”42 while communist speakers such as Lukács, who had written about Korvin, sanctified their own political intentions by glorifying the martyrs of the proletariat.43 The narratives of both veterans’ associations and the communist movement merged militarization and sacralization, military virtues and Jesus’ virtues in a continuation of the similar linguistic traditions of the war propaganda.

In his book on political religions, Emilio Gentile writes that at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was World War I that drove the sacralization of politics the most decisively and the most productively, partly through the intensification of the cult of the nation and partly through the politicization of historical religions.44 Gentile defines his understanding of the sacralization of politics and political religion as follows: “A religion of politics is created every time a political entity such as a nation, state, race, class, party or movement is transformed into a sacred entity, which means it becomes transcendent, unchallengeable, and intangible.”45 Political religions have existed since the end of the eighteenth century, Gentile writes, and they can imbue democracies just as they do totalitarian régimes. World War I played a key role in our twentieth-century history. War propaganda stressed in every country involved in the war that God was on their side; war was presented as an apocalyptic event, a combat between the good and the bad. Propaganda attempted to justify violence by presenting it as necessary for the victory of good, and it presented the enemy as the incarnation of evil. The speakers of the rightwing veterans’ movements and those of the communist movements tailored this sacralized war idiom to suit their own purposes.

The rising militarization, polarization, brutalization, and sacralization of language and the saturation of texts with words and tropes suggesting extreme emotions and an apocalyptic tone (i.e., the linguistic patterns some Hungarian examples of which I have cited above) can be regarded as the intellectual-historical consequences of World War I even if earlier writings had also relied on military metaphors, the dichotomization of space, intense appeals to emotion, and emphasis on an alleged distinction between the sacred and the profane. The influence of the World War is perhaps shown by the co-presence of these patterns in certain texts and the tendency to take them to the extreme. As seen above, these patterns occur in the texts by both leftwing and rightwing authors, but not in each and every one of them. One of the most common experiences of researchers working on political-intellectual history is the asymmetry between language use and political stance. There were some political writings produced after the war that did not contain any of these patterns. One could mention, for instance, Miksa Fenyő’s above-cited criticism of Jászi or the commemorative speech by old-school liberal historian Dávid Angyal for István Tisza (which I did not cite in the discussion above). In István Bethlen’s inaugural speech as prime minister in 1921, one hardly discerns any indications of this kind, similarly to the 1922 theoretical declaration by the Social Democratic Party of Hungary.

In his excellent book A nép lelke (Soul of the people), Balázs Trencsényi recently advanced the thesis that Hungarian political culture saw an ethno-cultural turn after 1919.46 I have several objections against this claim. I believe its validity does not extend to speakers who can be considered leftwing politicians and who scarcely used any ethno-nationalist vocabulary in those times. However, as I mentioned above, a pronounced ethno-nationalist discourse had been in use for several decades: the national Darwinist discourse. In the last third of the nineteenth century, it was already in parallel use or in symbiosis with the archaizing idiomatic language of nationalism—as was the case with plenty of texts after World War I. The irredentist movement, the objective of which was to restore Hungary’s prewar borders, could not abandon its archaizing discourse for the sake of an ethno-cultural one.47 At most, it mixed them. Thus, I would describe the transformation of Hungarian political culture after 1919 in the following way: the archaizing and ethno-nationalist doublespeak of the aristocracy came into a dominant position, while all other utterances that did not use this double language or some discursive variant of it were pushed to the periphery or semi-periphery of political discourse. László Péter, an excellent historian based in London, once gave the following title to an interview presenting his oeuvre: “I have always considered the state itself as the protagonist.”48 Personally, I consider the ruling class the protagonist of modern Hungarian history, so I will first have a look at the two languages spoken by the ruling class and then at one used by their linguistic rivals.

The national Darwinist past of the post-World War I racial narrative can be studied in many, many texts. The 1921 article “Két faj harca” (The struggle of two races) by Dezső Szabó, perhaps the most influential radical rightwing writer and ideologist, features not only the key notions of this half-century-old lexicon (fight for survival, the battle among races over life and death), but its consequences as well:

1. In this life-or-death battle, every member of the race is a potential source of solidarity and help for all the members of the race. 2. In the critical moments of the fight for survival, every member of the race can subordinate his own interests to those of the race. 3. The members of the race are capable of the most heroic acts of taking initiative and responsibility for the sake of the race.49

This three-point normative description is that of the Jewish race fighting a life-or-death battle with Hungarians, for according to Szabó, the Jewry is the kind of race whose example another race must imitate if it wants to come out victorious in the fight for survival. This vocabulary creates an extremely conflictual political universe in which the conflict cannot be resolved, the stakes could not be higher, and the essential struggle requires the continuous and intense attention of the players—huge, nondescript, homogeneous collectives that cannot be broken down into more original components. At the same time, this political universe has a certain moral beauty and heroism of its own (at least in Szabó’s version): it offers safety for the members of the collective and allows them to live a heroic life. However, the limits of morality stop at the boundaries of the race: there is no such thing as interracial ethics.

The national Darwinist discourse is both naturalist and will-based. Races are the way they have been shaped by fate because they are natural and not cultural communities. The concept of race does not imply a choice. “The Jews are compelled by an implacable force innate to their faith and blood to seek continuous conquest,” Szabó writes. At the same time, it does not suffice for races to survive. They must strive to comply with the normativity of the race so that they will be characterized by “a magnificent unity, a planned combat,” “a gigantic construction of the future.” According to Szabó, Jews satisfy this norm of the race, while Hungarians do not. The elements of national Darwinist reasoning listed above were not products of the war. Nearly all of them are found in László Arany’s ambitious 1872 poem “Hunok harca” (Battle of the Huns), in which Arany presents the fight for the survival of the German race and the Hun/Hungarian race. Some post-World War I writings applied the narrative of the fight among the races without using any of the national Darwinist core concepts. One such work is the previously mentioned booklet by János Horváth, Aranytól Adyig. In Lendvai’s aforementioned A harmadik Magyarország, national Darwinist reasoning is complemented with racist arguments: for Lendvai, the Jews constitute an inferior race with “a slavish soul,” and this is the dominant contention of the text. The anti-Semitic perspective could, indeed, be coupled with various languages in political texts after World War I.

The racial narrative did not replace the archaizing idiomatic language of nationalism after 1918. Rather, the two coexisted side by side. This is how racial biologist Lajos Méhely quite self-assertively began his article criticizing Albert Berzeviczy, the president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences: “In the domain of the racial idea, I do not consider myself incompetent, for it is common knowledge that when the one-thousand-year-old Hungary was laid on the bier by her external and internal enemies, I was one of the first to recognize the true reasons for our collapse,” which was, Méhely contends, the “Jewish menace.”50 In this sentence, the expression “one-thousand-year-old Hungary” evokes the archaizing framework, while being “laid on the bier” is part of the irredentist narrative, which also used the archaizing framework. In fact, it was the same language that the other party, Berzeviczy, used when he uttered the following words criticized by Méhely: “The Hungarian land and the Hungarian nation dispose of an unparalleled assimilative force that imbues with every true virtue and turns into genuine Hungarians even those who did not originate from Hungarians.”51 It was not the language that Méhely was refuting, but its implications: he rejected assimilation, i.e., the view that assimilation could override ancestry.

In a clear-cut case, these two nationalist discourses would have a different community in the center: for the archaizing one, it would be the nation as a political community, whereas for the racial narrative, it would be race as a natural community before politics. When writing his article and faced with Berzevicky’s argument, Méhely must have been aware of this conflict, yet he maintained the tense coexistence of the two discourses in his text. Thus, if we suppose that he did this on purpose, then he must have proceeded in this way because it was the presence of the archaizing framework that linked his text to the linguistic milieu of the political-cultural elite of the Horthy regime or because the archaizing language would lend some patina to his reasoning. Perhaps he hoped to buttress the communicativeness and authority of his text by drawing on the archaizing framework. Lendvai might have been motivated by similar considerations when, in the preface to A harmadik Magyarország, which is thoroughly dominated by the racial narrative, coming to the vision of the racial future in his line of thought (in the very last sentence of the preface), he changed “faj” (race) to “nemzet” (nation), a word that he had not used before: “I believe, I wish, I hope: my nation [“nemzet”] and I myself will see the advent of more lasting, creative values, and national life will be able to continue with the unconscious, un-reflected self-expression of a strong organism.”52 While in Dezső Szabó’s article, conscious racial life was the norm, the goal envisioned by Lendvai was the unconscious and vitalist implementation of racial existence.

Historian Miklós Szabó offers the following explanation for the surge of racial discourse in the interwar period: given the territorial losses the country had experiences, the rightwing elite drew the conclusion that the “political mythology” of the nation as a historical community had proven weak in comparison to the elementary ethnic awareness of the minorities that were tearing the country apart. The historical state had not proven firm enough to maintain the political community, thus a more stable and more fundamental framework had to be found for the political community: i.e., race and ethnicity as a pre-political community of descent.53 This is probably how it all happened. But I think that the rightwing elite drew some conclusions not only from the territorial losses the country had faced, but also from having lost its own leading position in 1918–1919, which led to the spread of the racial narrative.54 Nonetheless, the archaizing nationalist discourse was still needed in order to justify the recovery of lost territories and the preservation of the traditional ruling position. This political language remained effective throughout the interwar era and World War II, it outlived the decades of the communist regime, and as has been shown in Gábor Zoltán Szűcs’s political science analysis, it played a fundamental role in the political reasoning at the time of the political transformation.55 The upswing of the racial narrative could also be explained as an effect of war propaganda, as the aforementioned Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker do in14–18: Understanding the Great War did.56

The notion of race meant not only a more elementary community than the nation: it staked a claim to a certain natural scientific legitimacy, and it was also imbued with a certain fatality and combativeness at the time. Miklós Szabó is discerning with his contention that, in the interwar period, race was an “anti-Semitic technical term,” though this conceals the other side of the concept as the carrier of a social promise. Authors who wrote about a racial revolution in 1919–1921, such as Endre Zsilinszky, a fellow party member of Gömbös’ at the time, were expecting to see a major overall spiritual transformation that “must reshape the mentality and morality of the Hungarian nation.”57 Analyzing a parallel German phenomenon in his book The Crisis of German Ideology, George L. Mosse points out that the supporters of the “German revolution” came from social classes that sought to maintain their privileged status above the working classes but were, at the same time, utterly dissatisfied with their world: “The tension between their desire to preserve their status and their equally fervent desire to radically alter society was resolved by the appeal to a spiritual revolution which would revitalize the nation without revolutionizing its structure.”58 This description could also be applied to the social promise of the Hungarian racial revolution.

As the militarization and sacralization of the postwar political texts demonstrate, part of the “discursive toolkit” at the disposal of speakers was used by political players who considered one another adversaries or enemies. There were, however, some key concepts, metaphors, narratives, and explanatory schemas that continued to be restricted to a given political subculture. Indeed, it was partly these linguistic patterns that engendered political subcultures. Class struggle, class oppression, and class exploitation were the notions common to the leftist discourses, while Jewish expansion, Christian renaissance, and racial instinct common to those of the right (which is not to say that the former cropped up in every leftwing writing, much as the latter were not necessarily found in every rightwing piece of discourse). The two sets of three expressions create radically different and decidedly fictive universes.59 There are often different political subcultures behind diverging language uses: fictive communities and institutions making it possible to imagine them.60 At the end of the century, the nineteenth-century process of the homogenization of the language of modern politics was broken by the separation of two political subcultures with different social backgrounds and different languages: the social democratic workers’ movement and the Catholic-Christian political community. The history of the languages of these two subcultures is the prehistory of the diverging postwar uses of language.

In my handbook on political-intellectual history, I treated the notion of “Hungarian” as understood and used on the right and the left: “These two sides can be characterized the most easily on the basis of their relation to the events of the recent past: the former rejected the initiatives of the two revolutions (and the socialist workers’ movement and ‘radical counterculture’ that preceded these revolutions), while the latter regarded one of them as its own tradition.”61 Today, I would say, rather, that in the interwar period, it was the continuous exegesis of the civil war years of 1918–1921 as an “arche-event” that shaped the political traditions of the left and the right. Historian Gergely Romsics, who offers a rich discussion of the narratives of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the memoirs of the members of the political elite, identifies “two grands récits with ramifications” in these Hungarian memoirs: leftist and rightist.62 Would we get the same result if we studied the exegesis of the civil war years in an extensive text corpus? Romsics arrives at the conclusion that, in the post-World War I years, there were several rightwing linguistic variants in the public discourse (pinned together by a common vision of the enemy) that could compete with the social democratic language (and its Marxist lexicon), but “a consistent democratic-liberal linguistic play was missing.”63

According to Giovanni Sartori, the secession of communists from the social democratic movement after 1918 tied the latter to Marxism more than ever. As Sartori writes, “From 1920 on, a rivalry developed between the brothers who parted for the title of the ‘true Marxist.’ [...] Between 1920 and 1940, the rivalry with Communists forced European Socialists almost unanimously into Marxist positions.”64 But this was only partially true of Hungarian social democrats, who remained Marxists,65 and their discourse remained partly Marxist as well. But only partly. The necessity of distancing themselves from the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, the impact of the country’s territorial losses on the position of all political players, and the new situation in 1922 (the party making it into the National Assembly) forced the leaders of the Social Democratic Party of Hungary to open up from a linguistic point of view. The June 28, 1922 theoretical declaration of their first parliamentary faction is an interesting document because in its first sentence it adapts to the linguistic context of the utterance through the evocation of the archaizing nationalist discourse only later to use this linguistic gesture for the historical reinterpretation of its own political legitimacy. Below are the opening sentences of this theoretical declaration:

Upon first appearing in the legislative body of the Hungarian nation after a millennium of state existence to take part in legislative work and national administration on an equal footing with the other social classes within the framework of the state constitution, the representatives of the working class of Hungary wish to dedicate their first words to gratitude and acknowledgment. / We wish to remember our hardworking ancestors, who broke up the fallow land for a long, long time while enduring inconceivable hardships and sufferings … dripping in the sweat of their faces to make this land fertile and this country suitable for human civilization, and the inhabitants of this country capable of an organized existence as a state and as a society. / They lived in disenfranchisement. Their life and existence were always in the hands of the so-called upper classes of society, so today, when we enter here as their successors, we deem it our duty to place our wreath of gratitude on their unmarked graves and their dust, mixed with the soil of our motherland.66

Various elements of the phrasing in these passages cited above, such as “a millennium of state existence,” “the legislative body of the Hungarian nation,” “the framework of the state constitution,” “fertile land,” “dust mixed with the soil of our motherland,” “wreath of gratitude,” are linguistic elements that could occur in any speech using the archaizing language of nationalism, not to mention, of course, the allusion to Genesis 3:19. That such expressions were used here can be interpreted as a cooperative gesture: self-adjustment to the dominant linguistic schemas of official politics. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the choice of political language use is the message itself. At the same time, the passage cited above offers a (non-adaptive) interpretation of political representation in which their own (Marxist) language also looms in the background: the group of working-class representatives regarded itself as the leaders of a class and considered their fellow MPs class representatives as well. Moreover, the second and the third paragraphs offer an alternative historical narrative to the narrative of archaizing nationalism. This alternative narrative elevates the mute, unspoken millennial history of the disenfranchised lower classes to a position alongside the one-thousand-year history of the upper classes that had been written and told so many times, and it does so partly by appropriating some of the expressions of the language of archaizing nationalism.

The declaration also announces (also through its language use) the acceptance of the historical constitutional framework (which tacitly implies giving up Marxist objectives) and its plebeian reinterpretation. The alternative narrative of the second and the third paragraphs is a continuation of the earlier efforts of the movement (party) to create its own historical Pantheon and system of traditions.67 These paragraphs offer a characterization of the Social Democratic Party of Hungary not simply as the party of the working class but of the lower classes in general. By claiming to speak in the voice of the descendants of the disenfranchised, the party put itself in the position of the accuser leveling charges against the villains of history and the restorer of historical injustice, while its political opponents were shown as the successors to the disenfranchisers. The catchwords of archaizing nationalism provided a linguistic passage to communication with political adversaries, but their alternative use undermined the dominant discourse. Thus, the linguistic strategy of the declaration can be seen as both adaptive and offensive. This, however, cannot be regarded as an intellectual-historical consequence of the Great War. Rather, it was a consequence of the consequences of the war.


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Méhely, Lajos. “Berzeviczy Albert fajszemlélete” [Albert Berzeviczy’s theory of race]. A Cél, no. 10, 1933.

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Péter, László. Az Elbától keletre: Tanulmányok a magyar és kelet-európai történelemről [To the east of Elbe: Essays on Hungarian and East European history]. Budapest: Osiris, 1998.

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Romsics, Gergely. Mítosz és emlékezet: A Habsburg Birodalom felbomlása az osztrák és magyar politikai elit emlékirat-irodalmában [Myth and remembrance: The dissolution of the Habsburg Empire in the memoirs of the Austrian and Hungarian political élite]. Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2004.

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Sartori, Giovanni. Demokrácia [Democracy]. Budapest: Osiris, 1999. Originally published as Democrazia. Cosa è (Milano: Rizzoli, 1993).

Szabó, Dezső. “Két faj harca” [The struggle of two races]. A Nép, May 5, 1921.

Szabó, Miklós. “Magyar nemzetfelfogások a 20. század első felében” [Hungarian concepts of the nation in the first half of the 20th century]. Mozgó Világ 9, no. 4 (1983): 50–60.

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Szűcs, Gábor Zoltán. Az antalli pillanat : A nemzeti történelem szerepe a magyar politikai diskurzusban, 1989–1993 [The Antallian moment: The role of national history in Hungarian political discourse 1989–1993]. Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2010.

Takáts, József. “Eötvös-revízió: Jászi Oszkár levele az Uralkodó eszmékről 1935-ben” [Rethinking Eötvös: Oszkár Jászi’s Letter Concerning the “Ruling Ideas” in 1935]. 2000, no. 9 (2012): 27-35.

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Vörös, Boldizsár. “A múltat végképp eltörölni”? Történelmi személyiségek a magyarországi szociáldemokrata és kommunista propagandában 1890–1919 [“Erasing the past for once and for all?” Historical personalities in the propaganda of the Hungarian social democratic and communist propaganda 1890–1919]. Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézet, 2004.

Wehler, Hans-Ulrich. “Der zweite Dreißigjährige Krieg.” In Der Erste Weltkrieg: Die Urkatastrophe des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Stephan Burgdorff, und Klaus Wiegrefe, 23–35. Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2004.

Zeidler, Miklós. A revíziós gondolat [The revisionist thought]. Pozsony [Bratislava]: Kalligram, 2009.

1 On the distinction between historical and canonical examinations, see Takáts, “Saját hitek,” 13–14.

2 Cf. Pocock, “Burke and the Ancient Constitution,” 206.

3 Bihari, Lövészárkok a hátországban, 12.

4 I discuss this in more detail in my review of Péter György’s book Állatkert Kolozsváron – képzelt Erdély. Takáts, “Öt széljegyzet.”

5 Braudel, The Identity of France, vol. 1, History and Environment, 19.

6 Ibid.

7 Csécsy, Világos pillanat, 25, 104.

8 Ibid., 349.

9 Furet, The Passing of an Illusion, 162.

10 Ibid., 169–73.

11 “Seither erwies sich dieser Krieg als ein gewaltiger ‘Transformator,’ der alle beteiligten Völker mit ihrer Wirtschaft und Sozialstruktur, ihrer Staatsverfassung und Innenpolitik, ihrer Mentalität und Wertewelt...” See Wehler, “Der zweite Dreißigjährige Krieg,” 26.

12 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 157, 171.

13 Németh G., “Létharc és nemzetiség.”

14 Gellner, “A nacionalizmus kialakulása,” 67–68.

15 Takáts, Modern magyar politikai eszmetörténet, 69–70.

16 Wehler, “Der zweite Dreißigjährige Krieg.”

17 For instance, Rupert, “Egy lustrum távlatából,” 24. A further example: Csécsy, “A pénz és az állam,” 26.

18 Edelman, “Metaphor and Language Forms,” 67.

19 Horváth, Aranytól Adyig, 5. For a brief analysis of the booklet, see Takáts, “Megfigyelt megfigyelők.”

20 Lukács, “Korvin Ottó,” 66.

21 Szász, “Az oktobrizmus történelem-bölcsészeti kritikája,” 207.

22 Vonyó, “Gömbös Gyula jobboldali radikalizmusa,” 245.

23 Janos, Haladás, hanyatlás, hegemónia, 177. According to the author, in the first two decades of the twentieth century, two new classes of political entrepreneurs appeared in two waves, thus transforming the world of politics: first the radical intelligentsia and then far-right radicals. See also 160–63.

24 Jászi, Uj Magyarország felé. For a brief analysis, see Takáts, “Eötvös-revízió,” 32.

25 Klebelsberg, Neonacionalizmus, 245–47.

26 Garami, “Jobbra is–balra is.” It is worth adding to the above citation that the author called the Horthy régime “pseudo-parliamentary fascism.” Garami, “Amíg nem késő.”

27 On the “ardor versus self-restraint” model, see Takáts, “Kemény Zsigmond és a rajongás politikai fogalma,” 1214.

28 Fenyő, “Elmúlt hetekből.” Fenyő’s self-description evoked the words of József Eötvös from the nineteenth-century Hungarian liberal tradition and those of Thomas Babington Macaulay from the English one.

29 Zeidler, A revíziós gondolat, 201.

30 Balázs, Napló 19141922, vol. 2, 452–53.

31 Lukács, Korvin Ottó, 64.

32 Andoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 1914–1918: Understanding the Great War, 34.

33 Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars, 174.

34 Ibid., 160. This quotation is taken from the chapter entitled “The Brutalization of German Politics.”

35 Lendvai, A harmadik Magyarország, 8.

36 Mihelics, “Magyar irók karácsony-esti gondolatai a magyar irodalom újjászületéséről,” 6.

37 Oszkár Jászi, Marxizmus vagy liberális szocializmus, 131.

38 Lendvai, A harmadik Magyarország, 10–11.

39 Zeidler, A revíziós gondolat, 234.

40 Borsányi, Kun Béla. Politikai életrajz, 116, 183.

41 Méhely, “Berzeviczy Albert fajszemlélete.” On Méhely’s racialist views, see Gyurgyák, Magyar fajvédők, 87–101.

42 This word usage is quoted in Kerepeszki, “A Turul Szövetség,” 356.

43 Lukács, Korvin Ottó, 67.

44 Gentile, Politics as Religion, 32.

45 Ibid., xiv.

46 Trencsényi, A nép lelke, 356.

47 See for example Zoltán Krasznai’s book on the continuity of the nationalist discourse surrounding geography: Krasznai, Földrajztudomány, oktatás és propaganda, 99.

48 Péter, Az Elbától keletre, 385.

49 Szabó, “Két faj harca.” Péter Nagy was wrong in claiming in his monograph that this article was about “the racial supremacy of Hungarians.” See Nagy, Szabó Dezső, 307.

50 Méhely, Berzeviczy Albert fajszemlélete.

51 “Berzeviczy Albert ünnepi beszéde Herczeg Ferenc hetvenedik születésnapja alkalmából,” 316.

52 Lendvai, A harmadik Magyarország,13.

53 Szabó, “Magyar nemzetfelfogások a 20. század első felében.”

54 More specifically, from the increase of the profiteering and increased influence of the rival social group during the war. According to Péter Bihari, it was from 1916 that the internal fault line of the middle class became a virtual abyss; that was when the press began to write about “Jewish expansion.” Bihari, Lövészárkok a hátországban, 14–15.

55 Szűcs, Az antalli pillanat. With regard to national history as a political language, see especially page 16.

56 Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 1914‒1918. Understanding the Great War, 154.

57 Zsilinszky’s article published in Szózat on March 11, 1920 is quoted in Kerepeszki, A Turul Szövetség 1919–1945, 159.

58 Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology, 7.

59 I have borrowed the expression “fictive world” from Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. It is not only totalitarian movements that create a fictive world in tension with the normal world, but other political organizations as well that generate a faith-like commitment.

60 “A [political] subculture can be coherent and homogeneous despite weak personal ties. The carrier of such strong ‘spiritual’ integrity is a shared way of speaking.” See Enyedi, Politika a kereszt jegyében, 28.

61 Takáts, Modern magyar politikai eszmetörténet, 106.

62 Romsics, Mítosz és emlékezet, 61. As far as I know, the Hungarian chapter by Romsics (59–97) is the most congenial linguistic analysis of post-World War I Hungarian political texts.

63 Ibid.,76. On rightwing discourses linked by the shared image of the enemy, see 95.

64 Sartori, Demokrácia, 165.

65 “I do not know any current people in the Social Democratic Party who would have suggested giving up Marxist dogmas or part of them. Ernő Garami, Anna Kéthly and Antal Bán died as Marxists. Not even in the hour of hardship would Károly Peyer make a concession, so minor in the eyes of present-day practitioners of realpolitik, to change the name of the party from ‘Social Democratic Party of Hungary’ to ‘Hungarian Social Democratic Party.’” Hajdu, “Demokrácia és diktatúra válaszútján 1919-ben és 1945 után,” 391.

66 “A Magyarországi Szociáldemokrata Párt elvi deklarációja,” 87.

67 Vörös, “A múltat végképp eltörölni?,” 109, 111.


The Urban Space Through the Eyes of Women: The 1849 Siege of Buda in Women’s Ego-documents*

Emese Gyimesi
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 4  (2022):789–823 DOI 10.38145/2022.4.789

This study examines how female city dwellers experienced the siege of Buda Castle, a crucial event of the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848–1849, and the image of the city in their writings. The analysis focuses on three women’s ego-documents: the autobiography of Emília Kánya, the first female editor in the Habsburg Empire, the letters written by a young actress, Lilla Bulyovszky, to her husband and a letter by Anna Glasz, a resident of Buda Castle. I explore the kinds of mental map that emerge in the ego-documents in which the authors reflect on the urban experiences during the siege and the emotions that dominate their writings.
Keywords: Revolution and War of Independence of 1848–1849, urban history, female use of space, city representations

In her 1903 autobiography, Emília Kánya, writing in Fiume, offers the following recollections of the bombardment of Pest in 1849:

Back in the first half of May—I don’t know the exact date when—Hentzi, the governor of Buda Castle, began to besiege our beautiful young city. I was a very ignorant and gullible little woman, and so I didn’t even think that this would turn into a siege of Pest, but with my childish mind I believed that these bullets were just misdirected shots sent from Svábhegy to Buda Castle by our soldiers and that they were just whistling in front of our windows in Zrínyi Street by chance. But then I was informed: this is the siege of Pest, a soulless, cruel siege, a testimony to the mindless and heartless fury that Hentzi wanted to unleash on the innocent capital. It was an ignoble revenge for the many defeats the Austrian army had suffered at the hands of our lads lately.1

Although the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848–1849 has long been a focus of study as one of the most important topics of Hungarian historiography, the history of women’s experience in the event has so far been relegated to the background. Apart from the biographies of a few prominent female figures (such as Mária Lebstück, who fought in men’s uniform and was appointed lieutenant, and Lajos Kossuth’s sister, Zsuzsanna Kossuth, who is regarded as the first Hungarian nurse),2 this question has hardly been addressed, although many surviving ego-documents would allow us to examine it. While there have been studies on the involvement of women in public affairs, the first efforts to gain women’s suffrage, or the manifesto “To Patriots!” demanding equality for women, written in April 1848 by Blanka Teleki, head of the famous girls’ school in Pest,3 individual stories, the private sphere, and everyday experiences remain almost entirely unexplored. The literature on the relationship between the 1848 revolutions and women is also characterized by a focus on issues in the public sphere, such as women’s emancipation, and how these issues were reflected in the writings of the women writers of the time.4

There is also a lack of fundamental research on how female city dwellers saw Pest-Buda5 in the mid-nineteenth century and how their writings reflected on their uses of urban space.6 In my study, I link these two issues through an analysis of three women’s ego-documents. I look first at the autobiography of Emília Kánya, quoted above. I then consider the letters sent by Lilla Bulyovszky, an actress working at the National Theatre, to her husband. I conclude with an examination of a letter by Anna Glasz, a resident of Buda Castle, which Glasz wrote over the course of several weeks during the siege, thus transforming it into a kind of diary, even if it remained addressed to someone else. I will analyze, on the basis of these sources, how these women experienced the siege of Buda Castle, a crucial event of the Revolution and War of Independence. I also consider the image of the city in their writings, that is, how they create an impression of the war-struck city while recording their experiences.

The concept of the mental map is linked to the name of urban planner Kevin Lynch, who studied the interaction between the urban environment and the individuals living in the city. In his iconic book The Image of the City, he studied American cities (Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles) on the basis of the mental maps of their inhabitants.7 He distinguished five defining elements of the urban image (paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks). The first category includes paths, streets, and promenades, that is, the transport channels that a city dweller follows, the second includes major borderlines (edges), and the third includes quarters or areas (districts).8 The fourth category is made up of important junctions (nodes), which can be strategic places, as they can be the centers of life in a neighborhood, and the fifth category consists of major mileposts and signposts (landmarks), which are external reference points that help orientation (mostly physical objects that are easy to identify and that are highlighted in a given context because of their specificity).

I focus primarily on the ways in which the authors of the aforementioned sources write about nodes and districts, as their narratives offer examples of the ways in which urban spaces were put to new uses by inhabitants of the city during the extraordinary circumstances of the siege of Buda in May 1849. I seek to identify the kinds of mental maps that emerge from the reflections in these ego-documents on the urban experiences during the siege. I also explore, on the basis of comments made in the three ego-documents, the ways in which the social status of the people fleeing the siege influenced their choices (and by implication, options) of mode and route of flight, and I consider the emotional tones of the three narratives of the events.

In recent decades, approaches to analyzing ego-documents have changed radically. With the foregrounding of the lives of common people and the increasing presence in the secondary literature of the perspectives of microhistory and Alltagsgeschichte, analyses of individual experiences and motivations have become more and more important in historiography.9 Since the 1960s, the term “experience” has become a key concept in social history, incorporating the processes by which individuals attribute meaning to and thereby essentially construct the events they experience.10 The case studies and the selected sources presented in this inquiry represent diverse modes of such meaning-making. Thus, they offer examples of how interpretations of events and perceptions of the city were influenced by the genre of the ego-document in question and the worldview of its author.

The Siege

The siege of Buda Castle from May 4 to 21 was an important stage in the 1848–1849 Revolution and War of Independence. Pest-Buda had been occupied on January 5, 1849 by the imperial commander-in-chief, Prince Alfred zu Windisch-Grätz. The Hungarian government and parliament retreated to Debrecen in the Trans-Tisza region, where on April 14, the dethronement of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine was proclaimed and Lajos Kossuth was elected governor. After the successes of the spring campaign, the Hungarian government considered the recapture of the capital of paramount importance, both in terms of foreign policy and because of the symbolic power of the liberation of Buda.11 Thus, after the victory at Komárom, one of the most important battles of the war, the Hungarian armies, led by Artúr Görgei, marched towards Buda instead of pursuing the fleeing imperial troops. This decision was criticized afterwards from both military and political points of view. In 1869, Mór Jókai reflected on this in his iconic novel, The Baron’s Sons (A kőszívű ember fiai), discussing why the recapture of Buda was so vitally important to the Hungarians: “What to the Punic people was Carthage, to Israel, Jerusalem, to Christianity, the Holy Land, to the French, Paris, to the Russians, Moscow, to the Italians, Rome—it was to us Buda Castle.”

The commander of Buda Castle was Major General Heinrich Hentzi von Arthurm.12 On May 4, Artúr Görgei demanded that he surrender the castle, and Görgei warned Hentzi to spare the Chain Bridge and the city of Pest on the left bank of the Danube. He also promised not to launch an attack from this direction.13 In his reply, however, Hentzi made it clear that he would not abandon the castle, and he warned that he would shell Pest.14 In the following weeks, the imperial army aimed artillery fire at the beautiful row of mansions on the banks of the Danube from Buda Castle, as well as many other buildings in the downtown area and the Lipótváros (Leopoldstadt), and Terézváros (Theresienstadt) districts.15 The unified neoclassical townscape of Pest, built in the Age of Reform (1825–1848),16 was severely damaged. The only purpose of Hentzi’s action was to instill fear. He had no legitimate military motives, as the castle was not under attack from the Pest side of the Danube. Given the main targets of the bombardment, Hentzi seems to have wanted to teach a lesson to the people of Pest, who had shown their devotion to the revolutionary cause. The National Theater, the Redoute (which had been home of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly in the second half of 1848), and the Hall of Commerce (in which István Széchenyi had established the National Casino) were among the buildings hit.17 Although the recapture of the capital was a great success for the Hungarian army, the inhabitants of Pest were shocked by the many deaths and injuries and the destruction of the architectural environment, which left many people homeless. Those who suffered Hentzi’s bombardment saw him as “the cannibal-hearted commander of Buda Castle.”18 The shock endured by the townspeople may have been exacerbated by the fact that they had not had to endure such a siege for as long as anyone could remember. The War of Independence, which began in the autumn of 1848, was the first truly significant conflict involving armed violence in the country since the end of Rákóczi’s War of Independence in 1711.

The Mental Map of Contemporary City Dwellers: Urban Architecture and the Perception of the City in Pest-Buda in the Age of Reform

Before analyzing the ego-documents and presenting Kánya’s, Bulyovszky’s. and Glasz’s experiences of the siege, it is worth providing some context by giving a description of the Age-of-Reform city that was so severely damaged by Hentzi’s artillery fire. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Pest was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe. Around 1800, it was still a predominantly German-speaking city, provincial and backward by European standards, but in the 1830s, it began to develop rapidly, and the Hungarian-speaking population grew dramatically.19 The neoclassical townscape and increasingly metropolitan physical environment were, curiously, the result of a disaster, as most of the buildings in the city center were built or rebuilt after the great flood of 1838.20 The inundation destroyed almost two-thirds of the buildings in Pest, so the building regulations that were adopted included strict criteria concerning the quality of building materials, wall thickness, façade design, and public health requirements.21 In the following years, fast-paced and massive construction projects led to the urbanization of the suburbs, which had previously had a rural atmosphere. The city began to shed its provincial character both in terms of architecture and transportation, and it began to resemble other European metropolises,22 emerging as a major European trade junction, political center, and cultural hub by 1900 (by which time it had become part of the city of Budapest, officially created in 1873 with the unification of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda).

The significant shifts in demographic figures left its mark on the cityscape. The proportion of housing areas increased, and the first planned district, Lipótváros, became Pest’s most elegant quarter, characterized by a uniform style of multi-story houses and linearly designed streets.23 These features were also noteworthy because in 1832, 80 percent of the buildings in Pest consisted only of a ground floor.24 In the 1840s, the first public transport vehicles, omnibuses, appeared in the streets, connecting the inner parts of the city with the popular excursion sites in Buda and Pest. This can also be seen as an indication that the city’s inhabitants no longer considered their city traversable on foot.25

The first urban planning concept had been drawn up in 1808, when the Pest Planning Committee was established under the chairmanship of Palatine Joseph von Habsburg of Pest. During the Commission’s term of office, the National Museum,26 the German Theater,27 the National Theater,28 the so-called Vigadó (Redoutensaal),29 and the Lloyd Palace, home of the National Casino, were built.30 In addition to the plans for public buildings, the Commission also gave approval for private construction projects, thus contributing to the development of a unified neoclassical urban landscape in Pest, mainly thanks to the work of two particularly outstanding architects, Mihály Pollack and József Hild.31 This cityscape was drastically altered (at some points of the city, virtually destroyed) by the bombardment ordered by Hentzi.

For some more decades, Terézváros, Józsefváros (Josephstadt), and Ferencváros (Franzstadt) would continue to count as suburbs with a rural atmosphere. According to Emőke Tomsics, even in the mid-nineteenth century, most of residents of the downtown area perceived the city as a closed unit encircled by the mediaeval city walls (which, however, no longer existed at the time), and many people thought of the areas beyond as rural or countryside.32 This peculiarity of the mental map of the city’s inhabitants is well illustrated by an anecdote according to which the German actors of the Deutsches Stadttheater of Pest in Theater Square (present-day Vörösmarty Square) often exchanged banter with and mockingly asked the members of the National Theater (located at the point corresponding to the southeast corner of present-day Astoria): “well, how are you faring—out there”?33

One of the prominent goals of the nationalist movements of the nineteenth century was to make Pest-Buda the capital of the country. As part of this, the idea of uniting the twin cities was suggested as early as the 1830s, primarily as a vision of the most influential reformer of the era, Count István Széchenyi.34 In June 1849, the Hungarian government decreed the unification of Pest and Buda, but after the defeat of the War of Independence by the Habsburg dynasty, this was annulled.35 In the following decades, the grand visions of the Hungarian nationalist movement and urban development became closely intertwined.36 Nevertheless, Pest, Buda, and Óbuda would not be united until 1873 (six years after the 1867 Compromise establishing the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy), when the city was officially renamed Budapest.

“What had become of our beautiful city!” The Autobiography of Emília Kánya

According to Pierre Bourdieu, the biography is merely a rhetorical illusion, since real life is always chaotic. Different events, emotions, and actions become a logical and coherent whole only in the mind of the individual writing the biography, who constructs a destiny out of a life, a coherence out of coincidences. In the case of Emília Kánya’s autobiography, this process of construction is emphatically and clearly perceptible in several respects. First, the text was written more than five decades after the events, by which time the memory of the Revolution and War of Independence had been transformed to a considerable extent and become cultic. Second, in her narrative, Kánya foregrounded her identity as a woman, portraying herself in a way that was as consistent as possible with the norms and social expectations of the time. Third, she wrote her autobiography primarily for her children and consequently seems, on the basis of the text, to have paid particular attention to crafting the image of the loving mother.

Emília Kánya’s autobiography is a treasure trove for researchers in many respects. Several studies and a doctoral dissertation have already been written about her career as the first female editor in the Habsburg Empire, her role as a female patriot,37 and her time spent in Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia),38 but her reflections on the War of Independence and the urban spaces of Pest-Buda at the time have never been analyzed. She led a life of norm transgression: as a mother of four, she divorced her husband, and in 1860, she founded Családi Kör (Family Circle), a journal that would be published successfully for the next twenty years. In her autobiography, however, she does not emphasize the unusual and norm-breaking nature of her career. On the contrary, she offers an exquisite balanced of the image of a dutiful, modest, norm-following woman in traditional female roles on the one hand and her pioneering enterprise on the other. Even in terms of the few weeks addressed by the present study, a traditional female role, that of the mother, is dominant in Kánya’s description of the siege in May 1849, alongside her personal experiences of Hentzi’s bombardment. Although Kánya was 21 years old at the time of the events, her memoir was written fifty-four years later, in 1903, so they must be treated as the recollections of a 75-year-old woman.

Born in Pest, Emília Kánya knew the city well and had followed its changes since her childhood. She had been barely ten years old at the time of the great flood of Pest in 1838, she had attended the opening of the National Theater, and she had witnessed the laying of the foundation stone of the Chain Bridge. Her father, Pál Kánya, was a prominent teacher at the Lutheran Grammar School. He was closely associated with many members of the contemporary intelligentsia in Pest and with the family of the then Palatine Archduke Joseph, who was very active in the development of the city. As a child of a Lutheran family, Emília Kánya grew up in the area of Kohl Markt Square, now Deák Square, known as “Insula Lutherana” because of its Lutheran institutions (church, grammar school, etc.). In 1847, she married Gottfried Feldinger, the son of an iron merchant from Temesvár (today Timişoara, Romania). Their first child, Irén, was born on October 23, 1848, so Kánya went through the siege of Buda Castle with her then barely seven-month-old daughter. The latter fact, which provided a way of focusing on the image of the mother fleeing with her daughter in the commemorative act, fundamentally determined the narrative of the parts of the autobiography that relate to the period of the War of Independence.

Kánya notes in her narrative that she is not writing with the intention of documenting military and political events, but rather to record her personal experiences: “I’m not going to talk about the facts, which are historical and which are now etched in the memory of generations, I just want to give an account of the prevailing mood a little.” At the onset of the siege, she was visiting her relatives in the Nákó House, on the site of present-day Gresham Palace, in the immediate vicinity of the Pest end of the Chain Bridge.39 She soon had to flee, as this area was particularly exposed to the artillery fire from Buda Castle. She was assisted in her escape by János Balassa, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine, whose sister also lived nearby:

He had already arranged that we should not spend the night in this exposed house, we should pack the most necessary things and he would take us all to a safer place in the evening, but we should not go by carriage, which would be an easier safer target for the shooters, but should escape on foot, remaining near to the buildings.40

They went to the Medical University, confident that the building’s thick walls would provide enough protection. They holed themselves up in the vast halls of the university in Újvilág (now Semmelweis) Street in the city center, while outside, the volley of cannonballs was incessant. As even this area was considered an especially high-risk zone for shelling, the next day, they moved to the “then newly built and still uninhabited” Commercial Hospital in Hársfa Street in Terézváros.41

Due to the bombardment, most people were on the run from the city center. Those who could sought refuge in the suburbs or the surrounding villages. The mental map described above, centered literally on the narrow urban core, was transformed in a flash by the emergency. Suddenly, the outlying neighborhoods offering hope for refuge were given special attention. Although Terézváros already counted as a suburb, it was not a danger-free zone. Many of the people in the area perished in their beds or at their desks from the shells hitting the buildings. Almost all the ego-documents written during the siege or in retrospect recounted tragedies of this kind, either personally experienced or heard second-hand. Emília Kánya’s autobiography captured the constant stream of horrific news of burnt buildings and shells crushing the legs of people walking by or smashing their heads. She also made a special note of the tragedy suffered by the young son of an acquaintance, Lutheran minister János Melczer from Rákoskeresztúr. Melczer’s son’s legs were mangled by a shell.42

Hársfa Street was located in the outer part of Terézváros, closer to the City Park, bordered by gardens and grassy areas. However, Hentzi did not spare this part of the city either. Kánya vividly describes both the sight of the shells drilling into the ground nearby and the thick black smoke billowing from the roofs of the city buildings, as well as the terrible sounds of the “infernal whistling,” a more “hideous” noise than anything she had ever heard.43 One night, after the bullets had come so close to the hospital building in which they had taken shelter that the windows had cracked and shattered in the courtyard, she decided to leave Pest behind altogether. “Away from here, away from the city, to where the fiery embers of hell do not reach! I was haunted all the way by the fiery shreds of paper and bullet fragments. I ran all the way through the City Park and only stopped at the Hermina Chapel.44 There, I collapsed on the steps of the chapel, took my dear little Irén [her daughter] in my arms, and wept bitterly. I could hardly recover my senses.”45

The modes and destinations of the flight of the inhabitants were fundamentally determined by their social status. The poor and less well-off fled to the City Park to escape the danger, creating a kind of “tent city” or refugee town, as this area was out of the reach of the castle artillery. In 1903, Kánya, who did not flee to the City Park with her family but only passed through it, penned the following recollections: “Where there are buildings around the chapel now, there were trees and lawns then, and many thousands of poor people huddled under tents made of tarpaulins. All that misery! They were selling food, making noise, bargaining, crying, swearing. And the cannons just roared on and on!”46 In Kánya’s mental map of the city at the time of the siege, then, the City Park was, in Kevin Lynch’s terms, a landmark of sorts, an area sharply separated from its surroundings.

Wealthy citizens tried to leave the city behind them completely. This is how the Kőbánya railway became a particularly important node for them. Kánya’s family had only one goal in mind: no matter where they were going, they should be heading for the railway at all costs, and so they went to Kőbánya, where a multitude had already gathered, presumably following a similar strategy. In the crowd, Emília Kánya spotted the aforementioned author Jókai and his famous wife, actress Róza Laborfalvi. The importance of social status was also evident here. The Kánya family was having lunch in the garden of a tavern, as were many others waiting for the train. Emília Kánya was accompanied not only by her husband and child, but also by a nanny, who had tied some essential items of clothing into a large shawl before leaving Terézváros and who had carried the little girl in her arms during the journey.47 Some important attributes of the bourgeois mentality were thus retained even in the times of greatest emergency. The family finally managed to leave the city. They fled to the village of Pilis, near Pest, where Sámuel Sárkány, a good friend of Kánya’s husband, served as the Reformed pastor.48

Kánya’s narrative puts considerable emphasis on her role as a mother. The description of their flight contains numerous references to the presence of her daughter. With regard to the night spent at the Medical University, Kánya noted that the little girl had been the only one among who had been able to fall asleep. The adults had stayed awake on the hard benches at the university. References to the daughter remained prominent in the description of the subsequent “stations” of their flight. This may be related to the fact that, in contrast with many other ego-documents about the siege, fear is the most dominant emotion in the description of the events, more specifically, the fear of a mother concerned for the safety of her child. The decision to leave Terézváros is also presented along similar lines: “folding my husband’s arms in mine, I escaped from the hell that I could not possibly endure any longer, so overwhelmed was I by the horror, the danger threatening my child’s life.”49 Thus, Kánya’s recollections of the events, at least according to the autobiography, were fundamentally determined by the fact that she had experienced the threat of Hentzi’s bombardment as a mother. The presence of her infant daughter influenced her decisions (at least according to her autobiography) and greatly heightened her fears, but the girl also represents, in the narrative, the perfect counterpoint to the horrors. Recalling the lunch in the garden of the restaurant in Kőbánya, Kánya writes, “I reveled in the cooing of my dear little child: she cooed so sweetly as if there were nothing wrong with the world, with the sweet sun of God and the cloudless blue sky upon us.”50

If we consider the autobiography as a whole, it is striking that Kánya’s references to use of space in peacetime revolved around the downtown area of Pest, the Buda Hills (Svábhegy, Városmajor), and the city’s “green salons,” i.e. the parks that functioned as important catalysts for social life in the period. Thus, the mental map that emerges from her writing does not focus on the different districts so much as on nodes, such as the Insula Lutherana, which provided her with a family home during her childhood and after the breakup of her first marriage. During the siege of Buda, however, she was forced to flee into and move over urban spaces that had previously been and, for the most part, would also remain completely indifferent on her mental map. Such was the case with Hársfa Street in Outer Terézváros and Kőbánya, which provided an opportunity to leave the city by way of the railway network. The only station of their flight that she had known and loved since her childhood was the City Park. This may be why, in her memoir, she highlights the sad, strikingly unusual appearance of the park, which had become a refugee camp. Even more emotional and astonishing, however, is her description of the demolished city:

My God! What had become of our beautiful city! Danube Lane had become almost unrecognizable. The great Redout building had been ruined by shells, its great columns lay on the ground, its windows like the sockets of blinded giant eyes, staring darkly ahead. And Nagyhíd Street [present-day Deák Street], the streets and squares nearby! So moved was I by this horrible sight that I burst out crying, shedding hot tears, which were tears not merely of pain, but of unbridled disgust and contempt at such a barbarous display of revenge! What crime had that poor town and its peaceful inhabitants committed! How many people were made homeless, whose homes and property were now in ruins!51

The Redoute, or Vigadó, had played an important role in both the cultural life of the Age of Reform and the political life of the War of Independence. The building, considered a pinnacle of neoclassical architecture in Pest, was inaugurated in 1833. Its concert hall had hosted such notable musicians as Johann Strauss and Ferenc Liszt. In July 1848, the first National Assembly of the People was also held here, at which Lajos Kossuth asked for 200,000 soldiers to continue the fight for freedom. The destruction of the building was thus symbolic, as was its reconstruction in 1865, albeit in a different form.52

Most of the city’s inhabitants were confronted with the scale of the devastation of Hentzi’s bombardment when they returned to the areas of the city that had been deemed particularly dangerous during the siege and therefore had been abandoned by many. Kánya, who had fled to Pilis, returned to Pest on the second day after the Hungarian victory, but even during her absence she was preoccupied (at least according to her later recollections) with the losses suffered by the city and its inhabitants: “The bombardment of my dear native city continued on and on, and night after night we heard every single shot, destroying who knows whom and what that we loved!”53 It was upon her return that it became clear to her that many of the imposing buildings of Age-of-Reform Pest, which had flourished in her childhood, had been destroyed. The shocking sight of the Vigadó in ruins was also mentioned in the writings of many of her contemporaries and in the contemporary press. In her memoirs, Kánya emphasizes both the destruction of the city’s architectural environment and the desperate plight of the its homeless. In contrast with the impressions shared in the writings of many of her contemporaries, in her case, the strong emotions (“unbridled disgust,” “contempt”) aroused by the sight of the destruction were explained with reference to purely humanitarian considerations. Although in other parts of her autobiography the role of patriotism is also very prominent, she does not describe the siege of Buda from the perspective of a Hungarian citizen impassioned by nationalist sentiments, but rather as a mother fearing for the wellbeing of her family and her hometown.

According to Liz Stanley, a biography shows ever different elements of a life actually lived, so it can be interpreted as a kaleidoscope.54 From the same elements of a story, new configurations may emerge each time we look at them. In Kánya’s autobiography, the interpretative framework of events was determined by the maternal role above all else. She weaves her personal experiences of the siege of Buda into the narrative of an escape. This procedure had a fundamental impact on her mental map as well. As the inner city of Pest constituted a site of danger for and therefore threat to her family’s life, her primary goal was to search for a suitable escape route. All the while, she used a kind of biblical allusion. Her writing shaped the autobiographical self with the help of the Virgin Mary’s topos: the tone of the text is set with allusions to the plight of the prototype of the mother who is looking for safety and seeking accommodation for her child.55 Kánya is cast (casts herself) in the role of the mother fleeing in times of distress with her baby of only a few months of age.

“Not for all the treasures in the world would I trade having been present at the magnificent capture of Buda Castle”: Lilla Bulyovszky’s Letters

Lilla Bulyovszky, a sixteen-year-old actress of the National Theater,56 lived through the siege as a young wife. In November 1848, she married Gyula Bulyovszky, one of the chief protagonists of the revolutionary events of March 15 who worked in the Ministry of the Interior in the spring of 1849.57 Thus, the young couple did not go through the siege together, as Gyula had moved to Debrecen with the Hungarian government in January 1849, while Lilla was tied to her acting job in Pest.

When examining correspondences, it is worth bearing in mind one of the most important characteristics of this type of source; namely, that the person writing the letter formed their narrative and self-image for the addressee. Letters, which provide space for self-reflection, are a particularly important part of the narrative that the person has created about their own life.58 At the same time, the writer constructs an image not only of themselves but also of the addressee and their relationship.59 In Lilla Bulyovszky’s letters, the images of the devoted, bold woman patriot and the loving wife are prominent.

As Bulyovszky wrote her letters at the time of the events, they offer impressions of the excitement surrounding the siege, which had not yet been decided. She wrote the following lines at 9 o’clock on the morning on May 14:

Back on the ninth, the daily bombardment made me, like everyone else, move out of the city, although the suburbs are even more expensive than the city center on such occasions. … The city is bombarded every day, sometimes in the evening, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, countless houses have already burnt away, as they say, there was a fire in Sip Street, and even our belongings may have been burnt.60

In the above sentence, Bulyovszky is referring to their residence in Pest, Síp Street, which was close to her workplace, the National Theater. As for the location of her temporary accommodation, she wrote merely that it was “towards the small woods,”61 presumably referring to the area around the City Park, which her contemporaries would call the Stadtwäldchen (Városerdőcske, Small City Woods).62 In the weeks of the siege, the post office in the casern on Üllői Road was the most important node on her mental map because it was here that she was able to stay in touch with her husband. As she wrote at 6 p.m. on May 18, “At the moment, the post office is in the casern at Ülle, a good one hour’s walk from my present dwelling, but I still went twice a day until I finally received your two letters, to my great joy.”63 The Üllői Road casern was built between 1845 and 1848.64 It is entirely typical of the mental map of Pest in the Age of Reform that Lilla Bulyovszky did not consider this part of Pest part of the city. The following remark from the same letter testifies to this: “I cannot even read the newspapers, because there is no one to bring them to me, I dare not go into the city, because my life is very dear after reading your letter.”65

From the outset, the relationship between Lilla and Gyula was coupled with a zealous love of their homeland. Lilla initially explained her attraction to Gyula, for instance, as the fervor felt by a patriot girl long before she had become aware of her love. Her journal entries provide a detailed description of how they met and how their love developed.66 They met at several balls in early 1848 and danced together on each occasion. March 15, 1848 was important emotional milestone for Lilla, when she listened to Gyula’s speech in front of the Landerer printing house, a venue crucial for the Revolution: “many beautiful and true words had parted from his lips, at which I felt a special affection for him that I would decipher thus: who would not love and respect this enthusiastic patriot?”

In recent decades, the secondary literature has gradually stopped treating nationalism as mere ideology or discourse and has begun to consider it the sum total of lived feelings, experiences, and personal memories.67 Approaching the question of nationalism in everyday experience from an innovative perspective, Anthony P. Cohen began to use the term personal nationalism to refer to the active role played by members of a nation as individuals in their own right as they personalized their sense of nationhood and created their own meanings.68 Cohen’s concept was further elaborated by Raúl Moreno-Almendral, who focused on nation-building from a micro-historical perspective.69 As sources, ego-documents offer opportunities to examine how individuals experience their national identities, how they tailor these identities to their life situations, and how they use the concept of nation to make sense of their life experiences and life events. They thus offer insights into the ways in which national identity influences how people think, how they understand their destinies, and their perceptions of the world. This approach, as exemplified by Reetta Eiranen’s research, can be useful in examining the correspondence of engaged and married couples at the time, as it offers some grasp of why a commitment to the national ideal provided a fundamental bond between couples that cemented romantic feelings.70

In the letters written by Lilla Bulyovszky to her husband, the description of the besieged city is also tinged with national sentiments. In both Lilla’s letters and the letters written by her husband to her, the recapture of Buda Castle is presented as a great event which was an exceptional and sublime happening to experience personally. This perspective even overrode their sense of fear. Lilla offers the following description of her experience of the conclusion of the siege on May 24:

My Gyula, I am poor, but not for all the treasures in the world would I trade having been present at the magnificent capture of Buda Castle. From two o’clock until the morning I sat on the sandhills, listening to the constant sound of rifles, and with every shot a deep prayer flew from my bosom to heaven for the life of our honvéd [Hungarian soldiers] fighting for freedom; how my soul rejoiced when I spotted the first national flag! Later, I went to the banks of the Danube, I saw how the Croats were thrown down from the battlements, but, alas, I also saw how the soldiers, holding the Nádor-Kert [Palatine’s Garden], fighting for their fatherland and honor, were floating down, some dead, some wounded. I could not keep watching, I left the banks of the Danube and walked the streets of our shattered city with tears in my eyes. Only here and there are windows to be seen in the houses, the new market houses all stand mute, as if the inhabitants had died, some in Leopoldstadt look as if they were about to fall apart within a minute.71

The sixteen-year-old actress had such a strong desire to see the events from up close that she watched the siege unfold from the banks of the Danube. Her curiosity was not unique. In a letter written on May 21, the newspaper writer and editor Richard Noisser marveled that “people are so used to the shooting that thousands of curious people are standing on the Pest banks watching this history [sic].”72 Even more astonishing to him was the fact that three-quarters of the crowd were women, undeterred by the fact that shots were occasionally fired from the castle in the direction of the onlookers for “private amusement.”73 In this situation, the Danube constituted a borderline (or edge, to use one of Lynch’s terms) separating Buda and Pest and at the same time functioning as the “stage” for the events as seen from Pest and thus becoming an “auditorium.”

In an earlier letter, dated 18 May, Lilla Bulyovszky had already mentioned that her only “amusement”74 in her solitude was watching the artillery shells being launched at the castle and at Pest. However, it is clear from her writings that she did not watch the siege closely out of sheer curiosity, but rather out of patriotic fervor. She was aware of the symbolic significance of Buda, of the fact that the siege of this city was one of the most important events in Hungarian history. Nor can we overlook her remark that she had also watched “how the Croats were thrown down from the battlements,”75 and it was only the sight of the corpses of the defenders of the Hungarian cause that was so unbearable to her that she felt compelled to leave the scene.

In the couple’s correspondence, it is also worth noting how the husband, Gyula Bulyovszky reacted to his wife’s experiences of the siege at close quarters, while he himself was far away from the events. On May 6, when the news reached him that the imperial army was shelling Pest, he wrote the following lines:

The news is just beginning to spread here that Henzi [sic] is having Pest bombarded, believe me, my angel, if it is true, my Lord Henzi’s bullet shocks my heart no less than the windowpanes of the buildings on Danube Lane. My soul trembles at the knowledge that my only treasure, my wife, is so exposed to this terror, and I am, in turn, exalted in the knowledge that, if I have been kept from the glory of our fight, at least you, the better half of my soul, share in it, though not with a weapon that belongs in the hand of man, but with the secret fervor of your heart, which is the purest prayer before God, who watches over nations with His omnipotence.76

And at the end of the siege, he wrote the following:

Your trembling and the struggle between life and death since Buda was taken are now over, and you who have stood heroically near the danger will ever remain in the great memory of the days to come. You were witnesses of what centuries would not bring us, if we could live to see it. The more I trembled for you, the better it feels now that, beyond the horriblenesses [sic] of danger, you at least, my sweet Lilla, have been an eyewitness to this sublime event, and you shall tell me many a good and great tale among your kisses.77

Although Lilla, having experienced the events at first hand, frequently referred to the significance of the successful siege, the rhetoric in her letters contains less pathos than the writings of her husband, who observed the developments from Debrecen. Rather, her letters contain information that is interesting from the point of view of the history of lifestyles. She regularly wrote, for example, about the high prices in the city, both for accommodations and for food. During the siege, the suburbs became more expensive than the city center, which everyone was trying to flee. She described how much she paid for a bed in her temporary accommodation in the suburbs, where there were six people to a room, so there was constant chatter and noise, and in the next room “singing and shouting, as is customary in a public house.”78 Nevertheless, she stayed there even after the siege had ended because, as she wrote on May 24, there were no accommodations in the city “even at a good price.”79 Her letters show that the National Theater, which was closed during the siege and reopened on May 23, could not pay her wages that month. She had to deal with a significant rise in prices. In addition to rent, bread, pork, and beef were also, she writes, “super expensive,” and the price of shoes and clothing had also increased.80

In her description of the conditions following the recapture of Buda, Lilla Bulyovszky not only reflected on the physical environment of the city but also described how the citizens of Pest tried to get to Buda as quickly as possible to purchase possessions that had been looted from the destroyed buildings in Buda, which the soldiers sold for trifling amounts.81 Those who got from Pest to Buda as quickly as possible got the best prices, but transport between the twin cities was not easy:

Those who went to Buda in the morning, clinging on the Chain Bridge ledge, risking their lives, got everything cheap; in the afternoon, we too wanted to cross, my mother was already in the boat, the crowds were overflowing, I luckily could not go in, the boat turned upside down and only eight people who fell on their feet were able to escape, thank heavens my mother was among those eight…82

At the point of the siege when the Hungarian soldiers had broken into the castle, Hentzi ordered the Chain Bridge to be blown up, but the attempt made by his aide, Alois Alnoch von Edelstadt, failed. Although the bridge was not officially opened until after the defeat of the War of Independence in November 1849, it was used by the military on occasion from January that year, and on May 27, 1849, Pál Hajnik, the newly appointed police chief of the city, allowed civilian pedestrians to cross. According to Lilla Bulyovszky’s description dated May 24, the most determined inhabitants of Pest attempted the crossing immediately after the siege in the hopes of material gain. The young actress would not have rejected the chance to purchase stolen “goods” sold by the soldiers at low prices had her mother’s accident on the Danube, mentioned above, as well as a lack of funds, prevented her from crossing the river to “shop.” Thus, she could only report on her landlord’s acquisitions (silver cutlery, a pocket watch with a large chain, a gilded mirror, etc.).83 The joy of the siege, which ended in a Hungarian victory, the pain of wandering in a shattered city, the absence of her husband, and the problems of everyday life all feature prominently in Lilla Bulyovszky’s narrative. As a result, her letters paint a nuanced picture of the period of the siege and of everyday life in the weeks that followed, both in terms of emotional history and in terms of lifestyle and urban history.

“Our fortress is also heavily damaged”: Anna Glasz’s Letter from Buda Castle

A viewpoint radically different from the writings of Emília Kánya and Lilla Bulyovszky emerges from a letter written in German by Anna Glasz, during the siege, addressed to Mrs. Ignác Andrássy, née Mária Végh.84 The only certain information about the writer is that she was a resident of Buda Castle. In the press of the 1820s and 1830s, the name “Glasz Anna, született Anchély Aszszony [Anna Glasz, née Mrs. Anchély],” who “has been engaged in the education of adolescent maidens for several years” at Szervita Place, Pest, appeared several times.85 Although there is no clear evidence that this Anna Glasz was the same as the Anna Glasz who lived in the Buda Castle in 1849, the fact that at that time there was a daughter named Anna in the Anchely family (ennobled in 1801) suggests that she might well have been.86

The address on the inside page of the letter reads “Nach Martonvásár. St. Péter.” The latter may refer to Kajászószentpéter, located near Martonvásár, Fejér County, 36 kilometers from Budapest. The estate of Kajászószentpéter came into the possession of the Andrássy family around 1790. In the 1830s, Ignác Andrássy served as a Lieutenant Colonel (Oberstleutnant), a rank higher than major and lower than colonel.87 When he died in 1837, the estate passed through his wife to the gentry Végh family.88 The addressee of the letter, Mária Végh (1799–1876), had been a widow for twelve years at the time of the siege of Buda in 1849. She had turned fifty that year. She would die childless. In 1846, she established a foundation for the poor in Kajászószentpéter.89 In 1875, a year before her death, she donated the family’s valuable library of nearly 400 volumes to the National Library.90

Compared to the sources analyzed so far, Anna Glasz’s letter shows the perspective of the “other side,” both geographically and politically. As a resident of Buda Castle, she (unlike the previous two women) was afraid not of Hentzi’s bombardment but of the cannons of Artúr Görgei besieging the castle. Some of her comments also show that she was not exactly pleased with the Hungarian victory.

Of the city’s inhabitants, those living in the Buda Castle district were the most directly affected by the siege.91 Hentzi had warned them as early as April 23 that he would defend the castle to the last, and he advised them to leave their homes or to have enough food on hand for two months. Although this caused considerable alarm among the inhabitants of the district, very few people heeded his advice, as they did not want to leave their valuables behind, even though they could not afford to buy large quantities of food at short notice.92 During the siege, those who remained in the castle were plagued not only by food shortages, but also by fear of diseases, with epidemics of cholera and typhus both breaking out within the castle walls. On top of all this, they were forced to live in cellars, and even then they were not really safe, because shells would often break through the ceilings of the cellars.93

Anna Glasz started writing the letter on May 11 and finished it on May 26. In a sense, it thus became a diary of sorts (if addressed to someone else), because during the two weeks between the two dates, she repeatedly recorded current events along with her emotional responses to these events. A sentiment of uncertainty pervades her letter, and she hints several times that she cannot tell what the next minute will bring. The very first sentence of the letter alludes to this: “I am still alive.”94 Like Lilla Bulyovszky, Glasz dated the events to the hour. In the first section of her letter, dated May 11, she looks back on the first moments of the siege, which had begun a week earlier:

Eight days ago today, that is, at noon on the fourth, a dreadful shelling began, which continued uninterruptedly for 24 hours and lasted for a total of six days, with but a few quieter interludes; the most terrifying moment, however, was the night of the eight, when the Castle was bombarded with red-hot bullets, one of which set fire to a large building in Herrengasse, which burned to the ground. Earlier, several buildings, including the i[mperial] palace, caught fire, though fortunately the fire was put out.95

In the above passage, Glasz referrs to two significant features of Buda Castle: one of the key mediaeval streets in the area, Úri Street (Herrengasse / Gentlemen’s Street), which runs from Dísz Square to Kapisztrán Square and the royal palace at the southern end of Castle Hill in Buda. In the rest of the letter, she mentions other streets, squares, and buildings damaged by the shelling.

The description of Pest in her letter dwells on the destruction (or, rather, the incoming news of the destruction) in the areas affected by the bombardment. It is worth noting the buildings she highlights. First on the list were the Redoutengebäude and the Trattner-Károlyi House (which had burned to the ground). Emília Kánya also mentioned the Redoute of Pest, while the Trattner-Károlyi House was home to a major printing house of the Age of Reform, as well as the Hungarian Scientific Society.96 The two-story building, which had survived the great Pest flood of 1838, had been extended with the addition of a third story in 1846–1847. Its roof structure was completely burnt down in the bombing, but it was later restored.

Although the bombardment of Pest was portrayed as a terrible event in Anna Glasz’s letter, unlike many of her contemporaries, she did not interpret the act as a barbarous crime committed by Hentzi, but rather as a “terrible consequence” of the attacks launched by Artúr Görgei, who laid siege to the castle. She was referring shelling which took place on the night of May 8, which caused considerable damage to the castle buildings: “Even then, the commander here thought he would take revenge on Pesth if such events were repeated. This was done in the night [from the eighth to] the ninth with shells, which caused terrible destruction [in Pest].”97 Although the letter is rather imprecise in its timing (Hentzi had started shelling Pest on the fourth and had kept the barrage of shells going almost every day),98 it clearly shows that Anna Glasz accepted Hentzi’s justification for the retaliation. Thus, in her eyes, Hentzi was not “the cannibal-hearted commander of Buda Castle,” but a leader who acted to protect the castle and did exactly what he had threatened to do because his earlier warnings had been ignored. As far as her perspective is concerned, it is also worth noting that Glasz called it her “last joy” that Norbert Andrássy, a family member of the addressee, was appointed aide-de-camp to Ludwig von Welden, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial and Royal Hungarian Army.99 This remark suggests that Glasz was loyal to the imperial court, as does the fact that, unlike many other townspeople, she seems, on the basis of her letter at least, to have taken no joy in the end of the siege as a moment of liberation, but rather was only relieved that she was no longer in any direct danger.

Anna Glasz’s letter mentions the name of another person who remained loyal to the empire. Her entry of May 14, in which she recounts the events of the previous two days, again highlights the houses on fire in Úri Street and on Dísz Square, (to which she had referred in earlier passages), but she mentions other Buda districts (Víziváros / Water Town, Krisztinaváros / Christinenstadt), mainly in connection with acquaintances living there: “The night before yesterday, there was a fire in the Wasserstadt [Víziváros], in Landstrasse [Ország Road], and in two places in Christinenstadt very close to Wirozsil’s, with a rather violent wind; and yesterday at around 10 o’clock at night, several buildings in the fortress in Herrengasse and on Paradeplatz [Dísz Square / Parade Square] caught fire.”100 The name Wirozsil probably means the family of Antal Virozsil, a university professor and jurist who had been styled Rector of the University of Pest in 1841.101 In July 1848, he requested permission to retire, after which he moved to Krisztinaváros.102 When the siege of Buda Castle ended with the victory of the Hungarian troops on May 21, 1849, Anna Glasz fled to Virozsil’s family. This personal acquaintance is why Krisztinaváros occupied a prominent place on her mental map.103 Her address there is given at the end of the letter thus: “Aldásisches Haus, Nro. 227,” referring to the so-called Áldásy House, commissioned by master butcher Antal Áldásy in the early 1840s.104 In a refashioned form, this building still stands on Krisztina körút 57. It houses the Museum of Theater History.

Glasz’s letter not only gives us a bird’s-eye view of the twin cities, the descriptions of which are fundamentally influenced by the news of the destruction caused by shells and cannonballs, it also features a poignant, personal experience of the city, which affects the writer’s own home:

Our fortress has also been heavily damaged. In the square in front of my windows, some 40 shells fell; two of them broke through the roof of our house, two others ricocheted off and exploded in the courtyard, a glowing twelve-pounder grazed the window of my back room, where I had retreated and where I was still lying in bed at 3 o’clock in the morning half asleep, and fell down just in front of it. So far, however, God has protected me wonderfully! As I write this, a rather violent volley of cannon fire has just begun.105

These lines are found in the first entry of May 11, which describes the events of the night of May 8. The entry on the morning of May 14 begins thus:

Oh, Marie, what scenes of horror! The shelling of the fortress and the assault on the waterworks continue with short intervals almost all the time. (…) Altogether, yesterday was probably the most terrible day for the fortress; innumerable shells were fired in, so that we hardly pay attention to grenades or cannonballs anymore.106

The pumping station, the “waterworks” which supplied the castle with water from Víziváros, near the Buda end of the Chain Bridge, was of strategic importance to both Görgei and Hentzi, as there was no well inside the castle.107 Thus, Hentzi, thoroughly preparing for the siege, reinforced the weak points of Buda Castle, which had previously fallen into decline, and had a palisade built to protect the waterworks, which he connected to the Buda bridgehead of the Chain Bridge.108 Görgei hoped that by storming and destroying the waterworks, he would be able to force the surrender of the castle, since the garrison could hold out for no more than a few days without water. To his surprise, however, the first major assault on May 4 failed under fire from the castle cannons, and the siege was thus considerably delayed compared to his preliminary plans.109

Alongside the descriptions of her feelings of fear and uncertainty, Anna Glasz’s letter also contains accounts of everyday life in the besieged castle. When there was no cannon fire, she suffered from a lack of food. Food supplies were evidently not unlimited in the besieged castle. The rations ordered for civilians were limited, and meat ran out as early as roughly May 8, so they could only get supplies from the soldiers’ stocks. Glasz offers the following description of the “daily routine” of the inhabitants of the castle and those that chose to flee:

The morning is usually fairly quiet, but around noon, the shooting starts with increasing intensity and usually lasts until after midnight. From 6 to 7 o’clock in the evening, all those who want to leave the fortress may do so, but only at the Water Gate. Mostly, it is women and children who leave. They are escorted by an officer to the palisades at the waterworks, which the Croats occupy. Beyond them stand the Hungarians, and the fugitives are left to their fate.110

 The Water Gate (St John’s Gate in the Middle Ages), which made it possible to leave the castle, stood on the eastern side of the southern end of Dísz Square (towards the Danube). A week earlier, on May 7, a delegation from the city council had approached Hentzi with a request to permit elderly men, women, and children to leave the castle. Although he had allowed this, he had also tried to persuade those who wished to leave to stay in order to avoid demoralizing the soldiers defending the castle. He had promised to do his utmost to protect them and compensate them fully for any losses they might incur. Nevertheless, hundreds of Buda Castle denizens left their homes from May 8 onwards.

Only two days after the end of the siege, on May 23, did Glasz move to the residence of the aforementioned Virozsil family in Krisztinaváros. She did not write a word about May 21, the day on which the Hungarians triumphed and recaptured the castle and Hentzi was mortally wounded. For Glasz, the end of the siege did not bring liberation. Her last entry, dated May 26, begins with the same words as her first, on May 11: “I am still alive.”111 This similarity does not put what had happened into a reassuring framework. Rather, it reveals a state of anxiety that was still unabated. All the more, since, at the end of the letter, the repeated sentence no longer figures as a single, simple assertion, but rather is accompanied by the following explanation: “I am still alive; that is, I walk around, eat, drink, sleep; but my spirit is broken…”112 During the siege, her home was half destroyed, and many of her possessions were lost.113 The metaphor can refer both to the destruction of the belongings in the badly damaged buildings by the impact of the cannonballs and to the idea that those belongings fell prey to the soldiers who, as Lilla Bulyovszky’s letter indicated, sold the objects looted from the buildings in the castle at a low price after the siege had ended. The letter concludes with a condensed summary of events. Having lived through the siege and having spent seven days and nights in a cellar, Glasz considers it a miracle that she survived.114


My study presented three different women’s accounts of the siege of Buda Castle in 1849: three different accounts in which, despite the different backgrounds and perspectives of the authors, there are many common elements. During the siege, the roles of the various districts became much more important on the mental maps of these three authors than in peacetime. The question of whether a given point in the city was within firing range of the Buda Castle, i.e. how much of a target it could be, how easily it could be hit by shells, became a fundamental issue. As many of the city’s inhabitants were forced to flee, the focus in Pest-Buda shifted from the downtown area to the suburbs.

One essential consideration when using ego-documents as sources is the relationship between experience and text. In other words, one must remain aware that the events originally experienced and their narrated, constructed versions are never identical. When examining a mental map, this is a particularly pressing issue, since one cannot ignore which kind of source a given description of a cityscape is found in. Thus, research on the uses of space is closely linked to research on the uses of writing.

Emília Kánya remembered her 21-year-old self at the age of 75 and described her experiences of the city at that time in the framework of a narrative that she shaped into a story of escape. Her mental map is largely determined by a self-image centered on her maternal role and, as a result, her writing focuses on how she and her child sought escape routes in the menacing urban environment and how she tried to stay out of the siege’s reach. The direction of escape through the different parts of the city (the downtown area, Terézváros, the City Park, and Kőbánya), with the movement flowing towards the suburbs, can be considered typical, but the choice of the nodes within these spaces (the medical university, the Commercial Hospital) was made possible by Emília Kánya’s individual network of contacts. Her narrative also draws attention to the fact that social status fundamentally influenced the mode and destination of flight. She was able to leave the city as a wealthy bourgeois woman. Her child was looked after by a nanny, and they merely passed through the tent camp in the City Park, which for poorer townsfolk was a destination. New nodes appeared on the mental maps of the authors of the analyzed ego-documents, depending on their life situations and objectives. For Emília Kánya, who wanted to leave the city, the railway junction at Kőbánya became important as a means of escape, as was true for many other wealthier citizens, and in her autobiography this featured as the site of an impressive mass scene. For Lilla Bulyovszky, who wished to correspond with her absent husband, the post office in the Üllői Road casern was a key node for communication. For Anna Glasz, in whose letter it was the friendly rather than the familiar ties that dominated, the Krisztinaváros residence of the Virozsils meant a crucial node and refuge.

The ego-documents on which I have based this discussion contain descriptions of a wide range of emotional responses to the events, which were experienced differently, depending on the varying family roles and political visions of the authors. When considered at the intersection of the study of nationalism and of emotional history, the texts emerge as expressions of three radically different mentalities. Emília Kánya, who went through the events as a mother, did not focus on her national identity during the siege, but rather on her family and urban identity. Her descriptions of the neighborhoods through which she traveled while fleeing are imbued with dread. She regarded every part of Pest as dangerous terrain in which the safety of her child was threatened, which is why she wanted to leave the city. However, her first impressions of her return after the siege were fundamentally shaped by her identity as a denizen of Pest and the pain she felt at the sight of the destruction of her native city. Although other parts of her autobiography show that she sympathized with the cause of the Hungarian War of Independence, she recalled the events of May 1849 without nationalist overtones, adopting a purely humanitarian stance.

In contrast, Lilla Bulyovszky’s letters seem to offer the perspective of a young actress who prioritizes her patriotism and national identity and who considers the siege of Buda one of the most sublime and outstanding experiences of her life. Of the three ego-documents examined, hers is the only one in which positive emotions predominate. She addressed her letters to her husband from the position of a young, loving wife and a bold patriot fervently committed to the fight for freedom. For her, the city was the “stage” of a historic national event, which she wanted to follow as closely as possible, so the excitement and then the sense of joy at the Hungarian victory overwrote all other emotions. She used the banks of the Danube as an “auditorium” in order to see herself as part of the extraordinary event. And for her, Lipótváros, which she roamed after the end of the siege, was the sad “backdrop” that made her realize the serious damage caused by the bombardments.

The depiction of the city in the German-language letter by Anna Glasz, a loyal imperial subject residing in Buda, was shaped by a mixture of hearsay, incoming news, and the author’s own experiences. The imagined and the experienced images of the city became intertwined in the letter. As she herself resided in Buda, the descriptions of Pest are more imagined, while the descriptions of Buda are drawn on experience. Unlike Kánya and Bulyovszky, Glasz was in her home in Buda Castle throughout the siege. She also had to experience the destruction of a large part of her home, and she was compelled to seek shelter at a time when many other city dwellers were able to return to their homes. In her letter, which records the events of the siege simultaneously, as a series of signs, there is a constant shift of scale as she paints an image of the city. In one passage, we see the city and the castle in “extreme long shots,” while in another, we are given intimate “close-up,” but every passage contains references to the enormous scale of destruction.115

Although there is a rich literature on the military history of the 1849 siege of Buda Castle, an analysis of the ego-documents of women who lived through the events furthers a significantly more nuanced grasp of individual experiences of this phase of the War of Independence. The fact that these writings focus not on the frontlines but on the everyday problems in the “hinterland” (high prices, lack of food) is but one consideration. An examination of these women’s perceptions of the city and the emotions expressed in their ego-documents reveals how the unprecedented experience of war affected the mental maps of civilians. It also reminds us that research on the experiences of the denizens of the city does not exclusively belong to urban history. Any study of the theme of the “lived city” would ideally be connected with discussion of the “lived family” and the “lived nation.”

Archival Sources

Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvtár és Információs Központ, Kézirattár [Manuscript Archive of Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences] (MTA KIK Kt.)

Kiscelli Múzeum, Térkép-, Kézirat- és Nyomtatványgyűjtemény [Kiscell Museum, Collection of Maps, Manuscripts and Prints]


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Kiss Gy., Csaba. “Fiumei képek Kánya Emília idejéből” [Pictures of Fiume in the time of Emilia Kánya]. In Évek és színek: Tanulmányok Fábri Anna tiszteletére hatvanadik születésnapja alkalmából, edited by Ágota Steinert, 177–81. Budapest: Kortárs, 2005.

Kivimäki, Ville, Sami Suodenjoki, Tanja Vahtikari, eds. Lived Nation as the History of Experiences and Emotions in Finland, 1800–2000. Tampere: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

Kivimäki, Ville, Sami Suodenjoki, Tanja Vahtikari. “Lived Nation: Histories of Experience and Emotion in Understanding Nationalism.” In Lived Nation as the History of Experiences and Emotions in Finland, 1800–2000, edited by Ville Kivimäki, Sami Suodenjoki, and Tanja Vahtikari, 1–28. Tampere: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-69882-9_1

Kövér, György. Biográfia és társadalomtörténet [Biography and social history]. Budapest: Osiris, 2014.

Moreno-Almendral, Raúl. “Reconstructing the history of nationalist cognition and everyday nationhood from personal accounts.” Nations and Nationalism 24, no. 3. (2018): 648–68. doi: 10.1111/nana.12427

Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The M. I. T. Press, 1960.

Magyar, Erzsébet. “Kertek, parkok Buda-Pest társaséletében a 19. században” [Gardens and parks in the social life of Buda-Pest in the nineteenth century]. Budapesti Negyed 12, no. 4. (2004): 136–64.

N. Szegvári, Katalin. Út a nők egyenjogúságához [The road to women’s equality]. Budapest: Magyar Nők Országos Tanácsa–Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1981.

Nemes, Robert. “Women in the 1848–1849 Hungarian Revolution.” Journal of Women’s History 13, no. 3. (2001): 193–207. doi:10.1353/jowh.2001. 0072.

Nemes, Robert. The Once and Future Budapest. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.

Péchy, Blanka. Hűséges hűtlenek [The faithful unfaithfuls]. Budapest: Magvető, 1969.

Sisa, József. “Az Üllői úti laktanya és a ‘várszerű’ stílus” [The Üllői Road barracks and the “castle-like” style]. In Hild József építészete, edited by Katalin Marótzy, 43–54. Budapest: Terc, 2008.

Sisa, József. Motherland and Progress: Hungarian Architecture and Design 1800–1900. Basle: Birkhäuser, 2016.

Smith, Mark M. The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege. A Sensory History of the Civil War. Oxford–New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Spira, György. A pestiek Petőfi és Haynau között [The people of Pest between Petőfi and Haynau]. Budapest: Enciklopédia Kiadó, 1998.

Stanley, Liz. The Auto/Biographical. Vol. 1, The Theory and Practice of Feminist Auto/Biography. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992.

Szabadfalvi József. Múltunk öröksége: Elmélettörténeti perspektívák [The legacy of our past: Theoretical and historical perspectives]. Budapest: Gondolat, 2016.

Tomsics, Emőke. Budapest Atlantisza: A pesti Belváros átalakulása a 19. század végén [Atlantis of Budapest: The transformation of the Pest city center at the end of the nineteenth century]. Budapest: Városháza Kiadó, 2015.

Török, Zsuzsa. “Kánya Emília szerkesztői és írói pályája” [Emilia Kánya’s career as editor and writer]. Irodalomtörténet 42, no. 4 (2011): 475–89.

Walton, Whitney. “Writing the 1848 Revolution: Politics, Gender, and Feminism in the Works of French Women of Letters.” French Historical Studies 18, no. 4 (1994): 1001–24. doi: 10.2307/286726

Zimmermann, Susan. “‘Ne így, hazám hölgyei!’ A magyar negyvennyolc és a nők” [“Not like that, ladies of my country!” The Hungarian 48 and women]. Eszmélet 10, no. 37 (1998): 187–90.

Zimmermann, Susan. Die bessere Hälfte? Frauenbewegungen und Frauenbestrebungen im Ungarn der Habsburgermonarchie 1848 bis 1918. Budapest: Promedia Verlag–Napvilág Kiadó, 1999.

1* Supported by the ÚNKP-20-4 New National Excellence Program of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund.

Kánya, Réges-régi időkről, 107.

2 Deák, “Ha nő kezében a zászló,” 100–6; Kapronczay, “Kossuth Zsuzsanna, az első magyar főápolónő tevékenysége a szabadságharc idején.”

3 See, e.g., Nemes, “Women in the 1848–1849 Hungarian Revolution”; N. Szegvári, “Út a nők egyenjogúságához”; Zimmermann, “Ne így, hazám hölgyei!”; Zimmermann, Die bessere Hälfte?, 19–22.

4 See, e.g., Walton, “Writing the 1848 Revolution”, Boetcher Joeres, “1848 from a Distance: German Women Writers on the Revolution.”

5 Budapest was not established until 1873, with the merging of Pest, Buda, and Óbuda, each of which had been an independent town until then. Regarding the urban history of the period preceding that date, several names are used. Most Hungarian historians use “Pest-Buda,” which I also keep in this study when referring to the twin cities in the Age of Reform. (Robert Nemes used “Buda-Pest,” which is also found in works by many Hungarian, German, and English authors from the 1830s onwards. Nemes, The Once and Future Budapest, 10.)

6 On the mental map of city dwellers of Budapest at the end of nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, see, e.g., Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience: Fin de Siècle Budapest.

7 Lynch, The Image of the City, 2.

8 Ibid., 46–90.

9 Kövér, Biográfia és társadalomtörténet, 65–96; Gyáni, “Az ego-dokumentumok történetírói haszna.”

10 Canning, “Feminist History after the Linguistic Turn,” 376–77.

11 Hermann, “Buda bevétele, 1849. május 21.,” 97–98.

12 Hermann, “Heinrich Hentzi, a budavári Leonidász,” 34–60.

13 Ibid., 55.

14 Ibid.

15 Bácskai, “Budapest története 1686–1873,” 114.

16 In Hungarian national memory, the two decades preceding the 1848–1849 Revolution and War of Independence have been labelled the “Age of Reform” since the early twentieth century. The main strivings of the period focused on the establishment of a modern Hungarian nation and bourgeois society, stressing the necessity of radical reforms. Most national symbols crucial for the Hungarian national identity in literature, architecture, and politics emerged during this era.

17 Spira, A pestiek Petőfi és Haynau között, 530.

18 Lutheran minister János Melczer used this epithet for Hentzi after a shell severed his eleven-year-old son’s legs. The event is mentioned in Emília Kánya’s memoir.

19 Nemes, The Once and Future Budapest, 8.

20 Bácskai, “Budapest története 1686–1873,” 97.

21 Ibid., 97.

22 Nemes, The Once and Future Budapest, 108.

23 Bácskai, “Budapest története 1686–1873,” 96.

24 Ibid., 99.

25 Ibid.

26 Sisa, Motherland and Progress, 90–94.

27 Ibid., 86–89.

28 Ibid., 78–79.

29 Ibid., 86–89.

30 Bácskai, “Budapest története 1686–1873,” 97.

31 Ibid., 114.

32 Tomsics, Budapest Atlantisza, 77.

33 Ibid., 77.

34 Nemes, The Once and Future Budapest, 55, 58.

35 Ibid., 167.

36 Ibid.

37 Török, “Kánya Emília szerkesztői és írói pályája”; Bozsoki, “Egy női karrier elbeszélésének nehézségei”; Bozsoki, “Editorial Strategies of Hungarian Women Editors”; Bozsoki, “A honleányság mint női emancipáció. Kánya Emília alakja és munkássága.”

38 Fábri, “Egy XIX. századi írónő Fiume magyarjairól”; Kiss Gy., “Fiumei képek Kánya Emília idejéből.”

39 Kánya Emília, Réges-régi időkről, 106.

40 Ibid., 107.

41 Ibid., 107–8. On the history of Commercial Hospital, see, e.g. Liptay, “A pesti kereskedelmi kórház,” 116–18.

42 Ibid., 108.

43 Ibid.

44 Through her father, Emília Kánya was on friendly terms with Palatine Joseph, who had built the chapel in honor of his daughter, the charitable Hermina, after she died as a young nun. The Hermina Chapel was still under construction at the time: the foundation stone had been laid in 1842, but the shrine was not consecrated until 1856.

45 Kánya Emília, Réges-régi időkről, 108–9.

46 Ibid., 109.

47 Ibid., 108.

48 Ibid., 109.

49 Ibid., 108.

50 Ibid., 109.

51 Ibid., 110.

52 On the history of the Vigadó, see Holló, The Vigadó: A Fairy-tale Palace on the Danube; Sisa, A magyar művészet a 19. században, 69–70; Sisa, Motherland and Progress, 86–89, 300–7.

53 Kánya, Réges-régi időkről, 110.

54 Stanley, The Auto/biographical I, 158.

55 Bozsoki, “A honleányság mint női emancipáció,” 115–16; Bozsoki, “Sokat tehet a nő a társadalomban.”

56 Her original name was Lilla Szilágyi. After her marriage, however, she appeared in public as Lilla Bulyovszky, both as an actress and as a writer. In 1859, she left the National Theater in Pest, and over the course of the next fifteen years, she enjoyed a distinguished international career. In Germany, she became known as Lilla von Bulyovszky, and her greatest successes came at the Court Theater in Munich.

57 Péchy, Hűséges hűtlenek, 36.

58 Eiranen, “The Narrative Self,” 90–91.

59 Ibid., 91.

60 V. Waldapfel, A forradalom és szabadságharc levelestára, vol. 3, 350–51.

61 Ibid., 359.

62 Magyar, “Kertek, parkok Buda-Pest társaséletében a 19. században,” 145.

63 V. Waldapfel, A forradalom és szabadságharc levelestára, vol. 3, 359.

64 Sisa, “Az Üllői úti laktanya”; Sisa, A magyar művészet a 19. században, 218. It was later known as the Maria Theresa Barracks and then, later, as the Kilián Barracks. It played a key role in the 1956 revolution, as it was located at an important strategic point in Budapest, at the corner of Üllői Road and Ferenc Boulevard, near Corvin Alley, which by then had become a gateway to the city center. In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the same area occupied a very different position in relation to the contemporary center.

65 V. Waldapfel, A forradalom és szabadságharc levelestára, vol. 3, 360.

66 MTA KIK Kt., Ms 2442/8. The journal has not yet been published in its entirety; excerpts have been published in Blanka Péchy’s novel about Mrs. Lilla Bulyovszky, née Szilágyi: Péchy, Hűséges hűtlenek.

67 See, e.g., Kivimäki, Lived Nation.

68 Cohen, “Personal Nationalism,” 808. Quoted in: Kivimäki et al., “Lived Nation: Histories of Experience and Emotion in Understanding Nationalism,”8.

69 Moreno-Almendral, “Reconstructing the history of nationalist cognition and everyday nationhood from personal accounts.” Quoted in Kivimäki et al., “Lived Nation: Histories of Experience and Emotion in Understanding Nationalism,” 8.

70 Eiranen, “Personal Nationalism in a Marital Relationship.”

71 V. Waldapfel, A forradalom és szabadságharc levelestára, vol. 3, 387.

72 Ibid., 371–72.

73 Ibid., 372.

74 At the time, the Hungarian term “mulatság” meant not (only) entertainment but also pastime in a broad sense.

75 The garrison led by Hentzi numbered some 5,000 men. An infantry battalion consisting of one Italian and one Ukrainian-Polish battalion of regulars and two Croatian battalions of border guards made up the bulk of the castle’s defenders (Hermann, “Heinrich Hentzi, a budavári Leonidász,” 55). Lilla Bulyovszky presumably believed that the vast majority of the soldiers fighting against the Hungarian soldiers were of Croatian descent.

76 V. Waldapfel, A forradalom és szabadságharc levelestára, vol. 3, 309.

77 Ibid., 394.

78 Ibid., 351.

79 Ibid., 388.

80 Ibid., 350.

81 Ibid., 387.

82 Ibid., 387–88.

83 V. Waldapfel, A forradalom és szabadságharc levelestára, vol. 3, 388.

84 Kiscell Museum, 27066. The letter was published by Ervin Seenger. Seenger, “Levél Buda 1849. évi ostromáról,” 479–80.

85 Hazai’ s Külföldi Tudósítások, August 25, September 1, September 12, 1821. Hazai’ s Külföldi Tudósítások, October 15, October 19, 1831.

86 Her father, János Anchely, who had been promoted to the nobility, served first at the Court Chamber and later at the Governor’s Council between 1769 and 1786, and then as the director of the Episcopate of Vác. On December 4, 1801, his wife, Anna Sagmiller, and his five children, Károly, Ferenc, Dávid, Anna, and Mária, were ennobled together with him.

87 Farkas, “Andrássy Ignác Thuróczy-krónikája,” 226.

88 Czanik, Kajászó(szentpéter) község és református egyháza története, 31.

89 Farkas, “Andrássy Ignác Thuróczy-krónikája,” 226.

90 Ibid, 226.

91 See Spira, A pestiek Petőfi és Haynau között, 518–26.

92 Ibid., 518.

93 Ibid., 521–22.

94 Seenger, “Levél Buda 1849. évi ostromáról,” 479.

95 Ibid., 479.

96 H. Boros, “A Trattner-Károlyi ház Pesten,” 150.

97 Seenger, “Levél Buda 1849. évi ostromáról,” 479.

98 Hermann, “Heinrich Hentzi, a budavári Leonidász,” 56.

99 Seenger, “Levél Buda 1849. évi ostromáról,” 479. Although von Welden held the post of commander-in-chief for a short time, from April 12 to May 30 only, Norbert Andrássy remained the aide-de-camp to Julius Jacob von Haynau, von Welden’s replacement, too. Thus, it fell to him a few months later, in September 1849, to accompany the vanquished Artur Görgei, who had taken Buda Castle, to Klagenfurt, the place of his exile, after Hungary’s surrender at Világos had ended the War of Independence. (Görgey, Életem és működésem Magyarországon 1848-ban és 1849-ben, vol. 2, 435.)

100 Seenger, “Levél Buda 1849. évi ostromáról,” 480.

101 On the career of Antal Virozsil, see Szabadfalvi, Múltunk öröksége, 9–19.

102 His retirement was only temporary, however, and a new phase in his career began after the defeat of the War of Independence. When the university authorities were dissolved by Karl von Geringer on August 20, 1849, Antal Virozsil was appointed President of the provisional University Council. He was appointed Rector in 1850 and Imperial Councilor in 1851.

103 Krisztinaváros was the youngest suburb of Buda, founded in the early 1770s. Although the city magistrate had originally intended to settle vineyard workers without possessions there, the area soon became a popular elite quarter for wealthy citizens. By the early nineteenth century, it had taken on a suburban character with gardens. Some of its newer buildings served as summer resorts for people who owned houses in Buda Castle (Gál, “Kétszáz éves a Krisztinaváros I.,” 20–22).

104 Gál, “Kétszáz éves a Krisztinaváros II.,” 19.

105 Seenger, “Levél Buda 1849. évi ostromáról,” 479.

106 Ibid., 480.

107 Hermann, “Heinrich Hentzi, a budavári Leonidász,” 55.

108 Ibid., 55.

109 Ibid., 56.

110 Seenger, “Levél Buda 1849. évi ostromáról,” 480.

111 Ibid., 479–80.

112 Ibid., 480.

113 Ibid.

114 Ibid. No accurate register of the number of civilian victims during the siege has survived. One of the most “renowned” victims was Mrs. Ferenc Bogács née Barbara Payerl, daughter of Royal Councilor Franz Payerl von Perleberg, retired director of the Registry of the Hungarian Royal Court Chamber; she was sitting by her breakfast table when she was killed by a grenade hitting her house (Spira, A pestiek Petőfi és Haynau között, 524).

115 Little research has been done on the sensory experiences of people who lived through or died in the wars of the nineteenth century. On the sensory history of the American Civil War, see Smith, The Smell of Battle. (One of the chapters analyses the reflections of a volunteer nurse, Cornelia Hancock, on the sense of smell.)




From the Austrian-Hungarian Point of View: An der schönen blauen Donau and the Accursed Black Mountain Wreath in the Balkans

Albert Doja
University of Lille
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 4  (2022):824–869 DOI 10.38145/2022.4.824

In this paper, I contribute to the debate about hegemonic relations between the West European “core” and southeast European “margins” by showing the links between political institutions and knowledge production in the metropolitan Austrian-Hungarian areas on peripheral southeast European societies, including Albania. In particular, I address new aspects of a continuous resonance in the politically instrumentalized theories of the Illyrian origins of the Albanian language and the traditional tenets of Albanian history, culture, and society. In the course of discussion, I address their promotion in the works of key scholars from Leibniz to Thalloczy and Nopcsa serving the pervasive hegemonic and expansionist interests of Austrian-Hungarian imperial colonialism. Arguably, the effects of methodological imperialism are reproduced later to legitimate other, similar purposes of political, economic, and social control by means of cultural and political engineering in national-communist and post-communist Albania.

Keywords: knowledge production, Illyrian theory, Albanian studies, history, cultural traditions, Leibniz, Thalloczy, Nopcsa, Austria-Hungary, Albania


The focus on the history of institutions, the careers of particular individuals, and intellectual biographies, trajectories, and followers is crucial to understanding scholarly networks between metropolitan Austrian-Hungarian areas and peripheral southeast European societies, including Albania, much as it is similarly indispensable to any discussion of the relations between mainstream and local traditions. The number of solid studies that address the ideological foundations and political practices of scholarly production in and on southeast Europe has also been rising steadily, at least since the 1990s. The critical handling of ethnographic-historical sources and the actual contributions by practitioners in the discipline produced within certain methodological and theoretical frameworks involving Austrian-Hungarian intellectual influence may also be of equal importance in assessing the development of Albanian studies.1

Despite the absence of an actual West European colonial presence in southeast Europe and Albania, the expansion of the parameters of imperialism and colonialism are nevertheless applicable and, if contextualized, they are useful and fruitful categories of interpretation. The many arguments for a “metaphorical” or “surrogate” understanding of colonialism and pseudo-imperialism demonstrate the rich symbolic possibilities of a specific political system which in its very development points immediately to manifest Western imperialist moorings.2 Often such arguments have contextualized the disguised “supra-colonial,” “crypto-colonial,” or “self-colonizing” conditions,3 which are arguably new terms for the old concepts of internal colonialism, post-colonialism, and neo-colonialism, which elsewhere I have shown to have permeated public life in Albania and Kosovo.4 Such a contextualization is crucial in the historical and the current production of any knowledge at a given time and in a given place, as any knowledge or “theory is always for someone and for some purpose.”5 This can also contribute substantially to a more nuanced understanding of how Austrian-Hungarian colonialism maintained and continues to maintain a surprising degree of cultural and political influence far beyond its official spheres of power.

The critical review of the scholarly production on Albania and southeast Europe offers a reconstruction of the shifting ideological foundations of the cultural particularism and cultural determinism in the writings of Austrian-Hungarian scholars on Albania and the Albanians. As with German-writing “non-traditions” more specifically,6 the task is therefore not simply to summarize previous and established insights and opinions, but rather to question the previously established opinions that today seem to be one-sided or condemnable. Ultimately, we need to consider how to engage constructively with the past in ways that may develop a vision for renewed approaches within Albanian studies from the perspective of those critical and internationally oriented positions that we need to strengthen and promote today.

Illyrian Theory of Albanian Ethnogenesis

Among the classical earlier cases are the reflections of prominent polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), who, with a show of unusual intuition, first speculated on the Illyrian origins of the Albanian language. He showed sporadic interest in Albania and Albanians since his first writings, namely in March 1672, in relation to his broader encyclopedic interests.7 He involved himself more directly in Albanian issues during his first stay in Vienna (1688–1689), when he tried to attract the attention and interest of the Austrian emperor. The fall of Ottoman-captured Belgrade to the Austrian imperial army on September 6, 1688, gave him the opportunity to address Emperor Leopold I with a memorandum known as De Albania occupanda,8 in which he advised the continuation of the military offensive until the Ottomans had been forced out of the Balkans.

In his later writings, Leibniz was interested and participated in the intellectual discussions regarding philological and historical issues about the Albanian language. Namely, he was in doubt about the Slavic origins of the Albanian language. “As this language prevails along the Adriatic coast, it is incorrectly called lingua illirica [i.e. Slavic language],” whereas the language of the ancient Illyrians must have left a mark in the Epirus highlands.9 He then assumed an Illyrian origins of Albanian, “from where we learn what the language of the ancient Illyrians was,”10 “whose remains survive in the today’s special language of the Epirots.”11 He preferred to refer to Albanian as an Epirotic language, i.e. the language of inhabitants of Epirus.12 Current critical readings often notice the formulation in less than a single line of Leibniz’s assumption of the Illyrian origins of Albanian language as an opinio communis of the intellectual quarters of the time, which must have led Leibniz to a “pseudo-identification of Albanian as an Illyrian language.”13 It was also considered “an extraordinary intuition of the genius Leibniz” in the history of Albanologie,14 which “might be weighed up to be correct according the standards of today’s knowledge.”15

Leibniz inferred his assumptions from a polyglottic situation in which Albanian-speaking people lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under Ottoman rule. Though largely confined to the domain of oral expression, since at least the sixteenth century, Albanian language nourished several ecclesiastical literatures.16 Writings in Albanian were more frequent in the North, facilitated by the major Catholic evangelization efforts launched under the patronage of Propaganda Fide. They included publications in Albanian of a Catholic Missal by Gjon (John) Buzuku in 1555, the Christian Doctrine by Luca Matranga in 1592, and another Christian Doctrine and the Roman Ritual and Mirror of Confession by Peter Budi in 1618 and 1621. In addition, a first Albanian Dictionary was published by Frank Bardhi in 1635, and a first substantial work of religious literature not translated but originally written in Albanian was published by Peter Bogdani in 1685.

Despite their limited dissemination, texts written in Albanian at that time may have stimulated the cultivation of the Albanian language, which, in combination with ecclesiastical rivalries and a differential opposition to Ottoman rule, must have promoted an inherent cultural process of differentiation among Albanian speakers in the western Balkans. I have argued elsewhere that the contradicting motivations of language politics, political resistance, Enlightenment ideas, Orthodox evangelism, ecclesiastical friction, and missionary confrontation must have created the conditions for a boundary work of the social reorganization of linguistic and cultural differences.17 From the second half of the sixteenth century, this boundary work may have placed great value on belonging to a linguistic-cultural community, engendering a distinctive consciousness that the Catholic missions deliberately strengthened.

Leibniz addressed his memorandum known as De Albania occupanda18 in these circumstances, just as he anticipated later his assumption of the Illyrian origins of Albanian based on the Albanian linguistic material produced precisely in this context. He clearly stated this when he showed particular pleasure concerning “a book and a dictionary of Albanian language, from where we learn what the language of ancient Illyrians was.”19 Leibniz must have based his speculations about Albanians and the Albanian language on Albanian texts by authors like Peter Budi in 1621 and Frank Bardhi in 1635, who considered Albania and Epirus, Albanians and Epirots, or Albanian and Epirotica language as simply one and the same country, people, and language.

At that time, the modern term “Epirus” was used as a synonym for “Albania” (Epirus sive Albania, or Epirus hodie Albania). More precisely, before 1622, “Upper Albania” was identified with “Western Macedonia” and “Epirus” was identified with “Lower Albania,”20 which was used as an alternative to Epirus until the nineteenth century,21 while the Epirots and the Epirotica language were identified with the Albanian people and Albanian language. In Skanderbeg’s own words in October 1460, “se le nostre croniche non menteno noy ne chiamamo Epiroti.”22 In 1483, the main Epirot character in a Venetian play used swearwords in native Albanian (Epirota 11.803).23 In 1593, Pope Clement VIII equated Epirots with the Albanians (opera Epirotarum, quos vocant Albanenses).24 Again in 1685, Peter Bogdani equated Epirus with Lower Albania (Arbëni Poshtërë).25

The marginal annotations on the linguistic material that Leibniz thumbed through in the Albanian text of the Christian doctrine by Peter Budi were taken, quite literally, from the “Remarks on the Epirotic, i.e. Albanian, Language and Letters” introducing the Latin-Albanian Dictionary by Frank Bardhi.26 Among the first texts, Leibniz observed undoubtedly Bardhi’s remark that “the special idiom of the Epirotic people or Albanian language is different in the way of speaking both from the Greek and from the Illyric, or Slavic, even though it spread out between the two; people’s boundaries and the environment seem to have been obtained [from it].”27

While in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the term “Illyrian” remained distinct from “Albanian” as a people and language name, and was rather used as a synonym for “Slavic,” Albanian prelates and intellectuals forcefully insisted on the distinction between the Albanian language and people on the one hand, and the Greek and Illyrian (i.e. Slavic) languages and peoples on the other. In addition, Albanian linguistic and cultural distinction grew stronger through the more political rather than the religious resistance among Albanian-speaking Catholics to Dalmatian bishops,28 which is clear evidence of a boundary work of opposition to both Slavic Catholicism and Orthodox Slavic speakers.

Alongside the observations noted by Leibniz in the Dictionarium Latino-Epiroticum (seù Albanesiarum), Frank Bardhi also published a substantial apology of Skanderbeg in 1636, intended against Slavic megalomaniac and brash historical fabrications, in order to restore George Kastrioti the Epirot, known as Skanderbeg, as the invincible Epirotic prince of Albania.29 At the same time, Peter Mazreku, Albanian archbishop of Antivari (1624–1634) and apostolic administrator of Serbia (1634–1642), called on the Holy See for a full mission program, including the establishment of an Albanian college, distinct from the “Greek” (Orthodox) and “Illyrian” (Slavic) colleges in Rome.30 He clearly advocated the construction of Albanian Catholicism in connection with the Catholic universality and in distinction and separate from the Slavic Catholicism known at that time as “Illyrianism.”31 In turn, as Albanian Catholic Archbishop of Skopje Peter Bogdani reported, Slavs denounced the Catholic religion as arbanaška vjera, the “Albanian faith.”32 Overall, similar ideas and actions set the conceptual and substantial framework for how to think about Albanian linguistic and cultural distinctiveness in the seventeenth century.

At about the same time as Leibniz, the learned Father Giorgio Guzzetta (1682–1756), who was from Piana degli Albanesi near Palermo in Sicily, made similar assumptions about Albanians and their language.33 He used the same texts written by these North Albanian authors such as Peter Budi, Frank Bardhi, and Peter Bogdani, whom he called “modern Macedonians,” while Frank Bardhi identified as “Epirot” (Franciscum Blanchum Epirotam) and Peter Bogdani as “Macedonian” (Pietro Bogdano Macedone) to distinguish themselves from the Slavs and from the Greeks. They were well educated in Latin at the Propaganda Fide College, and they took the initiative to write many books in their own langauge.34 For Guzzetta, modern Albanian was a mix of Latin and ancient Albanian, which he identified with Ancient Macedonian,35 while he insisted that Albanians should be distinguished from the Greeks and from the Slavs and be recognized instead as the direct descendants of ancient Macedonians and Epirots.36

In his earlier memorandum De Albania occupanda, Leibniz highlighted with sound arguments the appropriate geostrategic position and the political and economic advantages of the Habsburg House, were this superpower of the time to orient its expansion toward the Albanian-speaking areas in the Balkans.37 In addition, according to Leibniz, the Habsburg Empire would be welcome as a liberator, not an invader, because the Austrian possession of the western part of the Balkans would enable and ensure in compensation the much sought freedom and prosperity of these areas. At first glance, Leibniz acted as an encyclopedist, but he also believed that “close to the very mighty there are various opportunities for useful enterprises.”38 Actually, his intention was to gain the sympathy of the Austrian Emperor, as well as a suitable position as a political advisor to the Habsburg court, which he ultimately obtained in 1712.

Leibniz’s speculations coincided with the political and military developments experienced by the central and western Balkans at the end of the seventeenth century during the Great Turkish-Austrian War. It is perhaps not a mere matter of coincidence that just one year after his memorandum, in September 1689, the Holy League army established its main military camp in Kosovo.39 This also coincided with the Albanian anti-Ottoman movements of the seventeenth century, which culminated in the important part played by the aforementioned Archbishop of Skopje Peter Bogdani (1630–1689), who had already organized anti-Ottoman resistance among the Albanian Catholics during the 1684–1687 Morean Ottoman-Venetian war. In 1689, the Albanian archbishop was again at the head of the North Albanian Catholics who joined the Austrian army in Kosovo against the Ottomans.40

Current critical readings often make note of Leibniz’s interests in and speculations on the Illyrian origins of the Albanian language, focusing only on his interest in Albanian from the perspective of language history,41 while ignoring the political implications. These implications are treated simply as the “personal traits of any human character,” as is assumed for instance with his intention to obtain a promotion in his personal career as political advisor to the mighty ruler of the time, which would enable him to fulfill his long-term plans in his intellectual-scientific career.42 This kind of intellectual-scientific collusion with “the personal interests of a human character” is ignored as being necessarily oblivious to the ways in which it serves the hegemonic political aspirations of the superpower of the time. In addition, these issues are deemed as overcoming the limits of a very albanologische research discussion, as long as the social engagement and intellectual activity of the scholar remains within the parameters of the moral and ethical code of scientific research of the time.

Viewed from this perspective, the hegemonic policies of any European great power at any time might have supported in one way or another speculations similar to those by Leibniz on the future of Albanian-speaking areas after his suggestion of their inclusion within the Habsburg Empire. Of course, Leibniz cannot be faulted if the speculations he ventured for the sake of his own personal career contributed to the tragic exodus of Christian populations from Kosovo and North Albania during the Turkish-Austrian War. Nor can he be faulted for the future relationships between the possible instrumentalization of Austrian-Hungarian Albanologie and the hegemonic policy of political, military, economic, and cultural expansion of the Dual Monarchy in the Albanian-speaking areas in the second half of the nineteenth century until its dissolution after the end of World War I. Again, it is not Leibniz’s fault if his assumption on the origins of the Albanian language as the “language of the ancient Illyrians” is stigmatized in our time as the “official thesis” that is said to have shaped the cultural-mythological foundations of albanologische studies.

Austrian-Hungarian Kulturpolitik and the Foundation of Albanologie

The context of Habsburg Austria-Hungary shows clearly the extent to which imperial interests informed the politics of knowledge on southeast Europe. The particular Habsburg brand of imperial expansionist energies were of short distances,43 and they were projected into the Ottoman territories in southeastern Europe rather than overseas. In the nineteenth-century context of the hegemony of Russia in Eastern Europe, the displacement of Austro-Hungarian political and economic interests out of Germany and Italy brought the concentration of the foreign policy of the Habsburg Monarchy on southeast Europe as the only way to resist Pan-slavism and Italian imperialism.

A premier “colonial situation” for Austria-Hungary was located in the former Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were occupied in 1878 and finally annexed by the Monarchy in 1908. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decade or so of the twentieth, the continued weakening of the political and economic position of Austria-Hungary in the other southeast European states, which were becoming increasingly independent, fostered a particular interest among Austro-Hungarian policy makers and thinkers in Albanian-speaking areas. Austria-Hungary played an important role in the formation of an Albanian independent state in 1912, and Albania acquired political independence only at the cost of massive economic dependence.

Surely, Austrian-Hungarian objectives were hidden behind a discourse of a “duty” to “civilize” the southeast European peoples, “improve” their living conditions, and bring the region “back” to Europe.44 The Monarchy had carefully worked out a strategy to survey Albanian natural and cultural resources, as evidenced, for instance, by typical actions of a policy of colonial rule at the initiative of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Balkan-Kommission was founded in 1897 at the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Academy, followed by an Albanien-Kommission in 1914. In 1904, the Institut für Balkanforschung was established in Sarajevo Landesmuseum (Zemaljski Muzej) under the leadership of Carl Patsch. While it was a “domestic” institution in the Monarchy’s occupied territory, the Sarajevo institute focused its research attention on Montenegro and Albania rather than on Bosnia. With the joint sponsorship of Foreign and Trade Ministries, an Albanerkonvikt was founded in 1908 in Vienna, followed by an Albanien-Komitee in 1913 within the Österreichische Verein zur Förderung Albaniens. The General Staff of Austro-Hungarian Armies in the occupied territories finally urged a census in Bosnia in 1879 and Albania in 1918. After all, the annexation of Bosnia in 1908 was “justified” by the considerable investment in infrastructure and education, and the railway of the Balkanbahn project in the late nineteenth century was intended to include northern Albania in the Austrian-Hungarian expansionist policy.

In addition, regular research expeditions were organized by the Austro-Hungarian Academies of Sciences,45 and several scholars traveled to southeast European territories to explore the countries and the peoples. They took an interest in medieval Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Bulgaria, including the supposed ancient features of the history and culture of the Albanian-inhabited areas. The intensive exploration of southeastern Europe must be seen as an expression of the Austrian-Hungarian claim to face competition from Italy and take the leading role in southeast European studies, which came to be branded Balkanologie. It was influenced by the discursive conjunction of nationalism and linguistics and was dominated by philological approaches. The so called “Balkanologists” were mainly concerned with ethno-linguistics and historical linguistics, as the languages of southeastern Europe were still in a process of standardization as part of the process of linguistic nation-building. Additionally, through the de-hierarchization of culture in romantic nationalism, folk literature and customs became a legitimate subject of academic research, and in the late 1800s, folklore studies had become the major part of Balkanologie.

At the same time, the intensification of Austrian-Albanian relations in the fields of politics, commerce, culture, education, and research contributed to the emergence of a network of maritime lines, railway projects, post offices, consulates, trade companies, social welfare institutions, and credit banks. It is argued that this was a form of informal imperialism based on structural violence.46 Structural violence affects people differently in various social structures, and it is very closely linked to social injustice, widely defined as the systematic ways in which some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from achieving their full potential. It seems more persuasive to see here a form of “cultural imperialism,”47 the main thrust of which is “cultural violence.”48

Habsburg aspirations and actions intended to secure and strengthen Austrian-Hungarian political, economic, and cultural influence over Albania are a good indication of the creation and maintenance of unequal civilizational relationships. They put emphasis on the practice of promoting and imposing aspects of culture that could be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence. Methods of Austrian-Hungarian cultural imperialism and cultural violence included the instrumentalization of religion, ideology, language, art, research, and education. These methods took various forms, such as an attitude or a formal policy of academic influence and research preferences aimed at reinforcing the cultural hegemony of Austrian-Hungary, which would then determine Albanian cultural values (Volkskultur) in the margins of Europe and modern civilizations (Kulturvölker).

The Monarchy had earned the right to provide religious and cultural protection (Kultusprotektorat) to Ottoman Catholics in general and more specifically to North Albanian Catholics in successive agreements with the Ottoman Sublime Porte in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in the mid-nineteenth century also in agreement with the Vatican and the Propaganda Fide.49 The main target of religious, educational, and cultural activities under the cover of Kultusprotektorat was to empower a wide emancipatory and civilizational process among Catholics in North Albania. Especially after the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), the political and diplomatic engagement of the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs intensified in order to strengthen religious and cultural identity politics and promote an Albanian Catholic unit under an Austrian protectorate. Since “Albanians are a strong and totally anti-Slavic people,” they could be united into a Catholic Albanian block, which, together with Muslim Albanians, could be used as a stronghold to prevent the expansion of the Slavic Orthodox block on the eastern shores of the Adriatic.50

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Austro-Hungarian Kultusprotectorat played a prominent role in the Albanian national awakening and in expanding its own vital interests in the Balkans. However, Russia also aimed to expand in the Balkans as a protective power of the Orthodox Slavic population. With the ongoing weakening of the Ottoman Empire and growing opposition to Russia and Serbia, the Albanian question became the main objective of Austria-Hungary, which had to rival with Pan-Slavism and Italy, which since 1891 had become a new power interested in the Balkans.51 At the turn of the twentieth century, internal and international political and economic reasons to preserve its vital interests prompted the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to take an active and increasingly prominent role in the Albanian nation-building process.52 From 1896 onwards, inspired by the same cultural and religious policy applied earlier to Bosnia, the Ballhausplatz (Foreign Office) regularly elaborated various so-called Albanische Aktionspläne.53

These massive action plans went beyond the Kultusprotektorat mandate over the Catholic Albanians and sought to foster and strengthen a common historical consciousness among both Christian and Muslim Albanians with the intention of securing and strengthening the political, economic, and cultural influence of the Dual Monarchy over the whole Albanian population. They would help foster, it was hoped, a preference not only among Catholics but also among Muslim Albanians for the Habsburg Monarchy over other Powers, as both Christian and Muslim Albanians may appreciate Austro-Hungary for its religious tolerance and its resistance to Pan-slavism. By means of extensive financial support of educational and cultural activities, Austro-Hungarian policy seemed to boost the strong sense of honor and the national consciousness among Albanians, which generated a general and superficial perception that Austria-Hungary would be one of their main supporters when Ottoman rule had eventually to crumble. As a result, Albanians would have a sense of gratitude toward the Habsburg Monarchy, which in turn could give Austrian interests in Albania an advantage over other political and economic competitors, including Italy.

These plans included the development of a subset of Balkanologie, known as Albanologie, which encompassed research on Albanian history and language, including the folkloric studies (Volkskunde) of people’s culture and life worlds. A group of Austrian and Hungarian writers, with a strong interest in Albanians and their history, language, and culture, mobilized themselves to this end, and this led to the emergence of the founding generation of Albanian studies. Research expeditions in Albania undertaken by several of these scholars were intended to provide a clear picture of cultural, social, economic, and political life in the region, which could then be exploited for investment opportunities by the Dual Monarchy. Surely, there was no concrete political program for instrumental research but rather a generous stimulation of Albanologische studies, so that in a more serious situation, such as World War I, the leaders of this field of study and their findings could be put at the disposal of the Austrian state interests.

Austrian and Hungarian research institutions exploited every possible way to promote themselves systematically as the future centers for the study and presentation of southeastern Europe and Albania. They presented an agenda for continued research that promised the production of knowledge that would be useful to the military, economic, and political interests of Austria-Hungary.54 Research and publishing activity by the leading figures of Austro-Hungarian balkanologische and albanologische studies experienced a boom that paralleled the political interests of the Dual Monarchy in the height of its political and commercial rivalry with Italy and in the course of World War I, which bore witness to the military occupation and administration of the region.55 With an implicit attempt to gain recognition by the state and achieve a footing as a university discipline, the leading scholars of this movement showed an intensive interest in the study of the occupied territories in southeastern Europe, including Albania.

Albania itself as a political entity was the joint success of the Ballhausplatz Foreign Office and the Austro-Hungarian pioneers of albanologische studies, who functioned as an Albania lobby to train and prepare activists for the Albanian national movement to establish an independent Albanian nation state. The importance of the Austrian and Hungarian pioneers of albanologische studies in the imperial periphery, however few in number, together with other adventurers, travelers, traders, soldiers, and colonial consuls, is reflected and, indeed, was intensified by the development of the imperial center. Their influence can be shown not only on local people, especially the elites, but also in their decisive influence over imperialistic processes.56 The structural character of this influence reflects, as elsewhere, a growing unease with the moral, economic, systemic, cultural, and temporal facts of imperial powers.57

Scholarship went hand in hand with collaboration, if not collusion, with the military occupation and political administration of these areas, and some renowned Austrian, Hungarian, and other scholars worked on Albanian issues both for academic research and for the expansionist policy of the Dual Monarchy. Unlike Leibniz, who was an independent intellectual hoping to gain the attention and support of the Habsburg Crown, the same cannot be said of many diplomats, politicians, civil servants, and secret agents.

Among them, Johann Georg von Hahn (1811–1869) was the first but not the last diplomat in the Austro-Hungarian foreign service to work extensively on Albanian history and the Albanian language and cultural traditions.58 He was followed by a number of learned diplomats, such as Theodor Ippen (1861–1935), Alfred Rappaport (1868–1946), and August Kral (1869–1953), but also high-ranking officials of the Dual Monarchy, such as Ludwig von Thalloczy and his associates, who published the first major research and source collections on Albania.59 Others, such as Ferenc von Nopcsa (1877–1933), Carl Patsch (1865–1945), and Franz Seiner (1874–1929), were in constant contact with Habsburg political, diplomatic, and military authorities as intelligence/liaison operatives on the ground. The work of many others may also have been exploited for political and commercial strategic objectives.60 Some eminent scholars, such as Gustav Meyer (1850–1900), professor of comparative linguistics at the University of Graz, may have continued undisturbed academic research on Albanian language history. In turn, Norbert Jokl (1877–1942), senior librarian (Oberstaatsbibliothekar) at the University of Vienna, was persecuted as a Jew, discharged from his job, arrested, deported, and ultimately perished in a Nazi concentration camp. Conversely, Maximilian Lambertz (1882–1963) managed to become a member of the East German Communist Party and thrived as a professor of comparative linguistics and dean of the Faculty of Education at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig.

From the 1830s to the aftermath of World War I, many of these scholars dealt with language history and archaic cultural features of the Albanian society, including customary behavior and the so-called tribal organization. Their preferred topic was Albanian ethnogenesis, which included the question of Illyrian heritage and the extent and results of successive processes of the Hellenization, Romanization, Slavicization, and Islamicization of present-day Albanian-inhabited areas.61 In the German-speaking tradition of folklore studies (Volkskunde), they often investigated buildings, costumes, implements, customary laws, and archaic structures to elaborate survivalist theories of historical continuity and autochthony.62 Among the pioneers of Albanologie, prominent Hungarian scholars and officials such as Ludwig (Lajos) von Thalloczy and Baron Ferenc von Nopcsa were the most active Albanian lobbyists, and they both played significant roles in Austrian-Hungarian politics in the Balkans. As they became leading theoreticians of both Austro-Hungarian Albanologie and the Albanian nation-building process,63 they both represent typical cases of the speculations that were ventured on Albanian history, Albanian culture, and the Albanian state and society.

Albanian Medieval History

Lajos Thalloczy had wide-ranging Balkan interests and collected significant historical sources on the Balkan peoples, especially on Bosnian medieval history, at a time when securing Bosnia, after its occupation in 1878, became a central aim of Austro-Hungarian Balkan policy.64 From the outset, he took over covert spy missions, first in Russia and then, in the spring of 1882, in Serbia, Bulgaria, Istanbul, Greece, and finally coastal Albania. Thalloczy was sent on behalf of Hungarian political circles who were concerned by the increase of reports on foreign agitations that appeared between 1878 and 1882 in these areas. Under the cover name of a travel correspondent, he was charged with the task of providing intelligence about the attitudes of Albanian highlanders and sending secret political and economic reports, primarily to the Hungarian Minister of Trade in Budapest.65 He seems to have successfully incited several Catholic and Muslim groups in the North Albanian Highlands to revolt in 1883 against Ottoman rule, which further complicated Austro-Hungarian status quo policy in the aftermath of the fall of the Albanian League of Prizren.66 This mission nevertheless allowed Thalloczy to take a liking to the Albanians and start collecting historical data about them.

Educated in history, economy and law, Thalloczy became a history professor at the Theresianum in Vienna and the University of Budapest, and he became a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He also served in multiple positions as a senior court official (Hofrat) and director of Hofkammer archives, which came under the jurisdiction of the joint Ministry of Finance and Bosnian Affairs. From this privileged position, he pursued his interest in the medieval Balkans by publishing and analyzing document records. He was most interested in medieval Bosnia and Dalmatia, and he started to deal with Albanian issues only as a result of his interest in medieval Bosnian studies.67 At the time of the massive Albanian action plans launched by the Ballhausplatz Foreign Office at the turn of twentieth century, he may have not participated in the secret ministerial meetings, but he may have read the records and he clearly took part in the implementation of the planned actions.

By the end of the nineteenth century, there was no comprehensive overview of Albanian history and therefore no interpretation of Albanian identity from the perspective of its history from Antiquity to modern times. In the framework of the Albanian action plans developed by the Dual Monarchy with the intention of furthering the cultivation of an Albanian historical consciousness, Thalloczy was recommended by his fellow scholar and diplomat Theodor Ippen, who at the time was serving as the Austro-Hungarian consul in Shkodra, to write (anonymously) the first history book in Albanian.68 The task was to provide an easy reader that could create a unified understanding of the history of the Albanian people and a common framework of reference for the Albanian-speaking community as a whole.69 By July 1897, Thalloczy had completed the German-language manuscript, which he identified as a Populäre Geschichte der Albanesen.70 It was translated into Albanian as T’nnoλunat e Scćypniis (or “Albania Events”) by Stefan Zurani, a well-known agent of the Dual Monarchy and at that time a subordinate of Thalloczy in the Hofkammer archives.71 A few months later, 600 copies were printed under an unnamed North Albanian identified as a “Gheg who loves his country” (prei gni Gheghet ći don vênnin e vet) in a printing place with a fictitious name.72

The Ballhausplatz Foreign Office approved of and supported the plan on the provision that the history book must not be anti-Ottoman and must contain nothing suggesting that the Monarchy was in any way involved.73 In his narrative of Albanian history, Thalloczy replaced the myth of Pelasgian origin with a notion of Albanian descent from the Illyrians and created a history of the Albanians as a distinct people. He explicitly affirmed that Albanians had always had their own individual identity (selbstständige Entität), a strong “community awareness” (Stammesbewusstsein), a pronounced need for autonomy, and even a glorious history, which should make them hope for a political future.74

While it is impossible to know how this book affected the Albanian national movement, it was certainly quite popular as a product of “literary propaganda.”75 To facilitate its reception, Thalloczy explicitly adopted the Albanian perspective and deliberately used a declamatory and sermonic style of moral exhortations to national unity, which in principle would be quite unexpected of a history book. He managed to write a history book in a popular style, acceptable both in content and in form to all Albanians. The writing and publication of the history book in Albanian was seen as stepping stone in a broader literary movement to accelerate the recognition of a unified Albanian alphabet,76 which the Ballhausplatz Foreign Office would later continue with the establishment and organization of the Literary Commission of Shkodra in 1916–1918 for the promotion of a common standard Albanian language.77 More importantly, to transcend religious, regional, and dialectal divisions in Albanian society, which was particularly heterogeneous at the turn of the twentieth century, Thalloczy combined in a coherent whole the different historical perceptions of both Christian and Muslim Albanians in both North and South. To this end, he focused on periods in which there were shows of national unity and provided illustrations of a common Albanian history, common ancestry and origin, a common language, common Christian and Muslim heroes, and common Albanian virtues of bravery and heroism. He aimed to fabricate common national symbols and principles of common belonging and togetherness, which could be utilized to create social cohesion and further a modern nation-building process.

Consistent with the recommendations of Ballhausplatz Foreign Office, Thalloczy did not narrate the events of the recent past, and he did not even mention the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy among the great powers with an interest in the Balkans. In turn, he provided a clear periodization of Albanian history, insisting on Albanian autochthony, historical continuity beginning with the era of the Illyrians, and steady relations with western realms in order to show a sense of belonging to the West and a possible backup that would bring an advantage to Austria-Hungary. In doing so, he offered a brief outline of the connections between Hungarian and Albanian history, emphasizing the Illyrian presence in the Carpathian Basin and identifying the Hungarian Janos Hunyadi and his son Matthias Corvinus as allies of the Albanian Skanderbeg in the hard times fighting against the Ottomans.78

Thalloczy may have played an important role in restoring the historical Skanderbeg to a respectable position among the Albanians as the founder of a medieval independent Albania, a builder of the modern state, and a representative of European civilization who made Albania the last European defensive bastion against the Ottomans.79 He also described Ottoman rule with emphasis on the freedom fighters in Catholic North Albanian areas, and he replaced the lack of an independent Albanian state tradition with the biographies of noble families and the rise of outstanding Albanian individual personalities in the Ottoman military and political elite. This is congruent with his own view, according to which the continuity of statehood in Hungarian history was due primarily to the steadiness of the Hungarian aristocratic families and the traditions they had cultivated.

Thalloczy had begun collecting primary data in 1882 which he intended to use to prepare a definitive Albanian history for a scholarly audience, and he sought financial support for the publication of a collection of sources on medieval Albanian history, without which the history of Albania could not be written.80 The successive tenants of the Ballhausplatz Foreign Office took a considerable interest in his work, and when Austro-Hungarian interests in Albania increased during World War I, Thalloczy again hit the mark with the publication of two monumental and unsurpassed collected works of Albanian-related medieval sources and historical research.81 These works are considered the first scientific collective works on Albanian historiography, and they remain the most important and most influential works of Austro-Hungarian Albanologie.82 While he paid painstaking attention to professional aspects, supplying his edition of primary sources with a modern critical apparatus and applying the highest methodological standards of the era, the positivist spirit in which Thalloczy worked made historical synthesis a task for later generations.

Albanian Archaeology and Lifeworlds

Another remarkable record of this period came with the work and activity of Ferenc Nopcsa, who spent much of his time in northern Albania at the beginning of twentieth century. He provided a myriad of fascinating observations on Albanian life and customs, most of which were recorded in his memoirs, which are recently published both in German and in English translation.83 A Hungarian nobleman and secret agent of the Dual Monarchy, he was also active in politics, and he interfered actively in Austrian-Hungarian foreign and military affairs.

Among many things, he took an active part in the so-called Albanian campaign of 1908–1909 in the course of the annexation crisis, which was intended to relieve Austro-Hungarian troops in Bosnia and Dalmatia by helping Albanian armed bands break into Montenegro.84 In the years to come, while for Ottoman authorities he was an Austrian-Hungarian spy and agitator, he exploited any opportunity offered by Ballhausplatz Foreign Office, always pursuing his own aims, however, which made the opponents of the Monarchy see him as one of their most dangerous agents. Nopcsa had become an influential person in the political forces in North Albania, which also facilitated his research work because of the support he enjoyed among the local population. He became an Albanophilic hero for most North Albanians, and in 1913, he even self-nominated himself for the selection of a European peer to become the crowned head of the newly independent Albania.85

As a Hungarian nobleman apparently with distant kinship relations to the old Hunyadi family, Nopcsa made frequent references to the historical alliance between Skanderbeg and Hunyadi, if for no other reason than to build his own personal following among the Albanians.86 In 1916, when the Army Supreme Command needed to appoint Austro-Hungarian officers with language skills and knowledge of local life and traditions, Nopcsa served as a military officer to recruit and command the Albanian volunteer forces in the course of Albanian operations.87 He received a military decoration “in recognition of the excellent services executed in front of the enemy,” even though his military service was ultimately a total failure,88 as his plan was rather to get back his position as an intelligence officer, which was more suitable for him.

Nopcsa excelled in paleontology and geography, he established a genuine archaeological interest in the Balkans, and he is often lauded as the leading scholar of the albanologische studies of his time. His heartfelt love for the Albanians made him an important and romantic chronicler of Albanian people’s lives and archaeological heritage, and he provided important and ambitious works of a sound scholarly quality in the fields of geology, natural history, prehistory, medieval history, geography, and ethnology.89 They focus on the remains of monumental architecture and the Illyrian origins of domestic implements, cultural traditions, and customary laws. As a whole, they were meant to surpass the Illyrisch-Albanische Forschungen published by Thalloczy in 1916, to which Nopcsa, to his frustration, had not been invited to contribute.

Nopcsa was the first scholar to draw attention to the similarities between the Albanian Koman culture and the Transdanubian Keszthely culture in the Carpathian Basin, and he was also first to recognize the late Antique Illyrian features that appear to be related to the tenth-century Byzantine items recovered in Albania.90 Nopcsa left a number of substantial ethnological works unpublished which were probably completed before 1923 in manuscript. Focusing on the Highland communities of North Albania and their customary laws and religious beliefs and practices, they are widely used by Albanian scholars in early Albanian translations which are only recently published.91

Whereas Hahn focused his investigations on southern and central Albania,92 the Highland areas of North Albania were central to Nopcsa and his generation of scholars. Since the mid-nineteenth century, several diplomats pursued cultural and research activities in the northern areas, after the Monarchy installed constant representation in Shkodra, the intellectual and political center of North Albania and the center of Albanian Catholicism, in which Austro-Hungarian foreign policy took an increasingly prominent part, culminating in 1916–1918. In this context, Nopcsa secured the support of the Austrian government, after explicit intervention by the Hungarian government, to have full access to official documents and a free hand in his research.93 His focus on North Albanian Catholic areas may also betray an earlier inducement of Austro-Hungarian policy aimed to separate Catholic Albania and create out of it a distinct political unit as a protectorate of the Dual Monarchy.94

However, taking into consideration his wide academic interests and his systematic publications, it can be assumed that Nopcsa might have planned to extend similar investigations in central and southern Albania.95 In addition, he based his findings on actual observations of people’s behavior, rather than on scholarly presumptions and conclusions concerning religious identification. Furthermore, the religious indifference of both Muslim and Christian Albanians on the ground offered a strong argument against the idea of some isolated Ballhausplatz officer for installing a Catholic Albania in a northern restricted territory. More importantly, Nopcsa’s efforts as an agitator in the planed Albanian campaign of 1908–1909 in the course of the annexation crisis of Bosnia were based precisely on the coordination of Muslim and Catholic Albanian communities, which the Austro-Hungarian Consul of Shkodra in charge of this operation supported explicitly in terms of the future autonomy of a larger territory regardless of religious denominations.96 Definitely, from today’s perspective, Nopcsa provided a valuable contribution to Albanian ethnography, the importance of which lies not only in the empirical evidence he recorded but also on his well-grounded comparative analyses.

Disaffected Austrian and Hungarian Albanologische Studies

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Albanian studies were shaped by a deliberate effort to involve them in the successive cultural-ideological programs of imperial-colonialist and national-communist state propagandas. They were fueled first by the decisive claims to colonial expansion and the influential rivalry between Habsburg Austria-Hungary and other great powers97 and later by the affirmative determination of national state regimes in Albania.98 They have been dominated progressively by the obsessions of antiquarianism, autochthonism, continuity, authenticity, antecedency, and exclusive idiosyncrasy, and they have elaborated several theories on Albanian history, language, culture, and society.

In this context and for that purpose, Lajos Thallocy, Ferenc Nopcsa, Theodor Ippen, Carl Patsch, and many other Austrian and Hungarian scholars traveled in Albania and the Balkans. Their inquiries were closely linked to the diplomacy and politics of the Dual Monarchy, which encouraged and funded them in the hopes of acquiring better knowledge of the Albanian language, history, culture, and tradition. This research activity was part of the Austro-Hungarian political project to strengthen its influence on Albanians and anticipate expansion into the Albanian areas under Ottoman administration. The programmatic and theoretical limitations of these studies can also be explained as a consequence of Austro-Hungarian vital interests, which expected research assistance in fulfilling the political project for Albania and Albanians.

In the work in which Thalloczy saw himself and his contemporaries engaged in, the goal he set more narrowly for himself was to establish the sources illuminating Hungary’s relations with its Balkan neighbors,99 and one of his main editorial series covered sources and documents about the territories annexed to the kingdom of Hungary.100 Thalloczy shared the Hungarian patriotism and the dual allegiance of Hungarian-minded Habsburg officials in the attempt to make the Balkans a source of strength rather than a potential threat for their dual loyalty. He saw history as an important dual task, both Hungarian (national) and Austro-Hungarian (imperial).

His historical work later came to acquire almost prophetic power as the record of a Magyar empire, and he is often accused of having espoused and expressed historical views that have no validity beyond Hungarian national narratives and are little more than historical justifications for Hungary’s political claims in the Balkans.101 Thalloczy may have stressed his doubts about the late nineteenth-century imperialist school or the glib nationalism of Hungarian celebrations. He nevertheless remained the Hungarian who best understood the Balkans, acknowledged the valor of the Balkan peoples, and, in no small part out of his sympathy for them, served as “our man in the Balkans” in the sense that the nationalist age required “experts” for the areas that nationalists sought to hegemonize.102 Even shorn of the semi-fascist rhetoric with which they were later invoked, Thalloczy’s Balkan studies show the patriotic self-absorption of the age, in which a Hungarian geopolitical vision dominated.

In Thalloczy’s hands, Bosnia appeared as a triangle between the Adriatic and the Danube, its more densely populated northern lands opening towards the Danube plain of the Hungarian “mother territory,” while Croatian and Serbian noble lineages were of interest chiefly for their loyalty to their Hungarian and later Habsburg sovereigns. Similarly, his Albanian concerns were bound up with the question of Albanian viability as a barrier to Serbian designs. Namely, in the words of his Croatian associate Milan Sufflay, as part of a “high Catholic living dam” along the Adriatic against the assaults of both Slavic and Greek Orthodoxy.103 All this does not quite harmonize with the repeated “appeals to the tremendous substantial knowledge, critical method, and strict objectivity of his scientific activity” that are usually claimed by Austrian and Hungarian historians.104

At the time of the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia in 1908 and again during the Balkan Wars in 1912, Thalloczy submitted proposals to the Hungarian government recommending state-organized academic research in order to improve cultural communications with the peoples of the Balkans. He contended that the primary prerequisite was an excellent knowledge of local languages, and he urged for the compilation of modern, up-to-date dictionaries of Balkan languages as a best possible reaction in order to profit from the new political and economic conditions. The first Albanian-Hungarian dictionary published in 1913 harmonized both with Thalloczy’s relevant recommendations and with Hungarian imperialistic aspirations,105 clearly acknowledging the role played by the Dual Monarchy in Albanian nation building and state formation.

In that mixed nationalist and imperialist age, Thalloczy’s historical research was characterized above all by a conjunction of positivist method and ingrained bias.106 Objectivity became a grim readiness to recognize obstacles to national and imperial goals, not an attempt at emotional distance from them. Undoubtedly, however, like Leibniz in his time and despite the possible interests of their intellectual and professional career, Thalloczy and his fellow scholars working on Albanian history, language, and society were not colonialist collaborators, and they may not have been aware of the political purpose and motivation of their theoretical and methodological choices. Nevertheless, the formation and development of their intellectual-scientific convictions were necessarily enabled within a philosophical and worldview framework that was defined by the fundamental premise of Austrian-Hungarian imperial-colonialist policies.

The ideological premises and the political conditions of this framework dictated both research issues and their theoretical and methodological choices. These choices limited the methods used for research, in particular the methods used for collecting, identifying and outlining the empirical, factual, philological, and folkloric data that were needed for the verification or the opposition of some readymade arguments and not others. In this context, sociological imagination, comparative research, and critical analysis as foundations to theoretical explanations were not necessary. As had been true in the case of Leibniz, ideological premises and political conditions motivated assumptions and arguments about the Illyrian origins of the Albanian language and Albanian history and culture, obviously regardless of whether these arguments proved misleading or mistaken after further research or whether they would be regarded as useful findings in the present-day state of research.

The Illyrian theory of Albanian origins was promoted in the nineteenth century by the Austro-Hungarian pioneers of Albanologie, who aimed to make it possible, as Leibniz had done in his time, to extend a direct link with the provinces already placed under the supervision of the Dual Monarchy. Like the encyclopedic and intellectual speculations of Leibniz and his contemporaries, the Illyrian assumption of Albanian origins is not merely a matter of research, but above all a political issue, conditioned by imperial-colonialist aspirations. In the context of Austro-Hungarian vital interests, which sought to counter Pan-Slavism and compete with Italy in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the Illyrian theory was endorsed as a reaction to the Pelasgian theory initially supported by Greek and Italian politics. It emerged in the lively intellectual atmosphere of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, when Austro-Hungarian political aspirations inspired the first workshops of Balkanologie and Albanologie107 and the joint Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported the first research expeditions in the Balkans.108 Definitely, the Illyrian theory of Albanian ethnogenesis, forcefully established in the history book written by Lajos Thallocy and translated into Albanian by Stefan Zurani and as well in the ethnological investigations by Ferenc Nopcsa, must have served Austro-Hungarian politics of colonial expansion, which sought to gain supremacy over Italy and oppose Slavic penetration into the Balkans.

That this research activity evolved within the same framework of Austro-Hungarian vital interests in the Balkans is not a value judgement but a fact claim. Within the context of political utilitarianism, the passion for research among Austrian and Hungarian scholars like Thalloczy and Nopcsa and their genuine sympathy for Albanians are out of the question. Their writings remain a serious and important contribution to highlighting Albanian linguistic, historical, cultural, and social issues. In addition, the merits of their theories are beyond the framework and aspirations of the inquiry here, especially as contemporary historical-philological accounts have accumulated sufficient empirical evidence to assess the probabilities of the Illyrian origins of the Albanian language and Albanian history and culture. The evidence for a comprehensive picture is primarily linguistic, and its significance became clear only with the development of modern historical linguistics in the second half of twentieth century.109 Long before that, however, theories and arguments of the Illyrian origins of the Albanian language and the traditional tenets of Albanian history, culture, and society served the hegemonic and expansionist interests of Austrian-Hungarian imperial-colonialism, just as they are embraced later for other, similar purposes.

In the aftermath of World War I, although Austrian scholarship claimed scholarly hegemony in and on southeastern Europe, the demise of the Dual Monarchy can be seen as the demise of the regional scope of Austrian scholarship, which was now compromised by a new political order.110 Professional institutions such as the Balkan-Kommission and Albanien-Kommission of the imperial Academy and the Balkan-Abteilung of the Museum für österreichische Volkskunde became relics of a bygone imperial past.111 Their fate is indicative of what was left of the great Danube Monarchy, politically unstable, suddenly of marginal international influence, and without any of the pomp of empire.

The contexts of the geopolitical position of Austria-Hungary towards Albania and southeastern Europe in the decades before World War I and the position of Austria towards this area in the interwar period and during World War II shaped respective research activities and public opinions. Scholars, travelers, adventurers, and experts either followed or furthered the multilayered economic and political interests of their state community. Austrian interests in southeastern Europe, including Albania, lost priority due to differing geopolitical contexts and a reshaping of the state’s character and size. They never totally broke down, however, and the same experts and officials remained in place until the late 1930s. Parallel with Nopcsa, a new generation of albanologische scholars, such as Norbert Jokl and Maximilian Lambertz, were active in Vienna in the interwar period and expanded the focus of research on Albania.

In this context, the scientific approach rebranded under the more sanitized term “Southeast European Studies” (Südostforschung) was transformed “from a discipline of Austro-German national revisionism into a tool of National Socialist geopolitics” in which Austrian expertise also played a considerable role.112 In particular, Albania seemed to become a refuge where one could escape the sad realities of interwar and Anschluss Vienna. No longer the victim of a Byronic fantasy of an untamed wildness, interwar Albania emerged as a projection screen for nostalgic fantasies of any number of disaffected Austrian and German writers, a miniature of either a great imperial past or a grand European future.113 The production of fictional literatures set in the Balkans, featuring Balkan and Albanian protagonists, or otherwise concerned with southeastern Europe was a means whereby the Austrians and Germans, like their fellow British and French, supplied their literary entertainment industries and their political ideologies through the “imperialism of the imagination.”.114 Now, the interest in Albania increasingly shifted from imperial expansionism and acquired the character of a pure exoticism.

Nopcsa traveled to North Albania at practically the same time as Edith Durham (1863–1944), a Victorian British traveler and human-rights activist, and Margaret Hasluck (1885–1948), a Scottish scholar and British intelligence operative from World War I to World War II. They all selected and reported observations exclusively from the North Albanian areas, and they all singled out certain seemingly “archaic” phenomena, which they labeled and reified as “Albanian.” In particular, they provided important and easily accessible ethnographic sources of interesting information on Albanian life worlds and the functioning of customary laws, more specifically about the North Albanian variant known as the Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit. They all regarded these local customary laws based on blood relations, known in a short-cut designation as Kanun, as the very essence of the Albanian Volksgeist, though very different genres are represented in the multifarious works that resulted from their documentation.115 In particular, they all addressed the sustainable archaic structures, although they often recorded the eclectic nature of customary laws and insisted on identifying elements of Illyrian origins and any association with Roman law and with certain traditions of various German tribes.

Native Albanian Studime Albanologjike

The overall picture of ambivalent and conflicting perceptions of customary laws in North Albania, together with readymade arguments about Illyrian heritage and Illyrian-Albanian continuity, are taken over by native scholars to boost an intellectual discourse of national pride. In particular, many members of the Franciscan and Jesuit monastic communities in North Albania felt attracted to the past and made it their personal mission to save and collect archaeological items. They facilitated archaeological activity to record and collect antiquities in the Catholic schools and monasteries in Shkodra and often took an active role in searching for promising findings. Among them, Father Stephen Gjeçov (1874–1929) was an Albanian Kosovo-born Franciscan priest and freedom fighter who dedicated himself at the turn of the twentieth century to recording North Albanian traditions and collecting archaeological artifacts, which Nopcsa also processed for his own research.

In Nopcsa’s footsteps, Gjeçov began to publish his research from 1913 onwards in the Franciscan journal Hylli i Dritës, which was printed in Shkodra. After his tragic death at the hands of nationalist Serbs in Kosovo,116 the stylized text of customary law based on his research was published in 1933 by his fellow Franciscans of Shkodra.117 The Albanian native movement culminated in this traditional collection of revitalized customary law and the writing of Lahuta e Malcis by Father Gjergj Fishta (1871–1940), a major national epic poem of Albanian literature published in 1937 and also promoted by Maximilian Lambertz among German-speaking audiences.118 They both glorified the customary practices of North Albanian Highlanders as a strong element of identity, especially alongside the century-old Albanian resistance to Slavic penetration. While Nopcsa, Durham, and Hasluck left a series of travel writings of genuine value to posterity,119 Gjeçov and Fishta provided remarkably authoritative works in which customary social institutions are either described with textbook precision or idealized with epic poetry heroism.

Another part of the Monarchy’s heritage was the so-called Albanien-Komitee founded in the summer of 1913, which was reestablished in the early 1920s and continued to bring together the social, political, and economic groups that took an interest in Albania. In addition to organizing the education and accommodation of Albanian students who enjoyed state scholarships, they paid attention to their personal development, enabling them to know the old historical traditions of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire in Albanian nation building and state formation, including albanologische studies.120 Among them, Alex Buda (1910–1993) and Eqrem Çabej (1908–1980) would later become the emblematic figures of native Albanian studies. Even a graduate engineer in botany like Ilia Mitrushi (1904–1986) was encouraged by Norbert Jokl to compile a dictionary of Albanian plant names recorded in the regional variations of their taxonomic, morphological, anatomical, and ecological aspects.121 As a result, the topics of Balkanologie and Albanologie broadened in southeastern Europe and in Albania.

Notwithstanding the authorship, imperial-colonialist purposes, and literary propaganda upon which Austrian and Hungarian works of albanologische studies were produced, they provided an archetype model for Albanian studies both in interwar and in communist Albania. Thalloczy, in particular, is considered to have proposed and laid down with scientific rigor the most important views of Albanian history and the fundamental perspectives and tenets of the historical myths from which Albanian historiography has not yet deviated. It is possible that not all the Albanian historical theories can be found in his work, but it seems certain that Thalloczy listed most of them for the first time together.122 Although some of his observations may have turned out to be wrong, biased, or misleading, his contributions still provide a short expedient for further speculation by native scholars in Albania. Similarly, Nopcsa’s intuitive insights have led Albanian historiography to identify early medieval Albanian culture with Koman culture and to focus on the Illyrian heritage and early medieval research with the aspiration of proving on archaeological grounds the existence of Illyrian-Albanian continuity into the early Middle Ages.

At the turn of twentieth century, the rapid and unquestionable adoption of Austrian and Hungarian theories and arguments of Illyrian origins of Albanian language and the antiquated traditions of Albanian history, culture, and society were clearly a reaction to Slavic nationalism, which eventually contributed to reifying the opposition between Slavs and Albanians.123 In the second half of twentieth century, the communist regime adopted and supported the same theories with the explicit aim of relocating the center of Albanologie from foreign figures and institutions to local scholars in Tirana, which was nothing than the capitalization on imperial-colonial albanologische studies, now transformed into national-communist studime albanologjike.124 Notwithstanding the introduction of a sense of academic distance and professional discourse structured by the jargon of Marxist-Leninist ideology and methodology, a significant number of these studime may have served largely as propaganda for Albanian public opinions rather than as actual research for academic audiences. They aimed to glorify and further mystify a narrative of Albanian history punctuated by continuous revolt and uprisings against foreign despotic rule and by the role of the Albanian working masses as freedom fighters and state makers.

More than anyone else, the faithful native epigones of Austro-Hungarian Albanologie applied Marxist-Leninist premises and methods in line with Party directives to create a salvation Albanologji, provide a uniform framework for existing historical and linguistic topics, and propose a system the substance and concepts of which are still present in Albanian studies. Aleks Buda is believed to have established a historical tradition that had been virtually non-existent, while he is also argued to have heavily based this tradition on the historical patterns established earlier by Thalloczy in his anonymous Albanian history published in 1898.125 Similarly, Eqrem Çabej moved backward to Indo-Europeanist historicism and the descriptivist regularities of diachronic sound changes (Lautgesetze) advocated by the old school of Junggrammatikers. The historicism of this methodological choice reduced linguistic investigation to the descriptivist empiricism of surface phenomena, such as an essentialist description of the historical changes that the Albanian language underwent. This proved essential for compromising Albanian studies as a whole in order to comply with party ideology, which aimed at the essentialization of Albanian ethnogenesis.126

Even the myth of Skanderbeg differed slightly from the original archetype of a unifying national hero in order to highlight his leadership abilities as a terrific military commander, a virtuous cultivated leader, and a great politician and diplomat, which was meant to parallel the communist supreme leader and legitimate the communist regime. More importantly, versions of the Illyrian theory of Albanian origins developed in competition with other hypotheses, some of which are revitalized anew in the social and political conditions of post-communist Albania.127 Readymade theories concerning the Albanian language and Albanian history, culture, and society still provide a short expedient for further studies by native scholars in Albania, which continue both to dominate academic efforts and to exacerbate interethnic and international relations in the Balkans.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Austro-Hungarian efforts to promote Illyrian theories of Albanian ethnogenesis might have served as an effective obstacle to the Illyrianism of Slavic nationalism. At the same time, Slavic nationalism and chauvinism adopted more exaggerated, more aggressive, and more virulent strategies against Albanian identity politics. In turn, it can be argued that the overthrow of Pelasgian theories gradually facilitated the conventional use of the ancient term “Epirus,” which replaced and obscured the historical concept of “Lower Albania” in the modern historiography. After the fabrication of modern Greece out of the joint efforts of German, European, and Greek “megali ideas,” the language, people, and country names “Epirus” and “Epirotic” increasingly signified the Grecized habitat of the area. The homogenizing identity politics that followed was intended to root out the Albanian people as a cultural entity, the Albanian language, and Albanian history and cultural heritage from the border areas of Epirus in present-day northern Greece, while the irredentist claim of Greek nationalism over so-called “North Epirus” in present-day southern Albania still prevent emancipation from old Balkan megalomanias.

In backlash, many publications by professional and amateur historians and linguists revitalize again the Pelasgian theory, first among the Albanians of Greece (Arvanites) and then in the Albanian context of the 1990s and 2000s. They are widely read and commented on, linking in various ways Pelasgians, Epirots, Illyrians, Etruscans, Greeks, and Albanians in a single historical genealogy, according to various motivations and using various kinds of evidence,128 most of which is nothing more than fanciful linguistic acrobatics intertwined with folk etymologies. Pelasgian theories clearly play the role of a counter-discourse in opposing mainstream and well-established views of origin and ethnogenesis, which allow Albanians to transform their actual socioeconomic and geopolitical marginality into an imagined cultural centrality and superiority.129 In turn, they prove again that ideological premises and political conditions dictate both research issues and the choice of theoretical and methodological approaches.

Imperial Exoticism and Distortion of Life Worlds

The funding of religious, literary, educational, and publication activities for a long time and the intensification of research inquiries and expeditions in Albanian areas may reveal another specific methodological disaffection with many imperial writers of the old generation of albanologische studies. They were supposed to discover and domesticate the Albanian “noble savage,” which was barbarized in the Oriental reality of Ottoman rule but was waiting to be emancipated, transformed, and civilized in a new Euro-centered Austro-Hungarian reality. More importantly, they considered their own reconstructions and descriptions organized and codified in collected texts as a hardly reasonable but given evidence of life practice and historical continuity.

In particular, they consciously or unconsciously promoted the idea that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the “unknown” Albanians were still at the stage of the last “undiscovered” people in the Balkans. They lived in “Accursed Mountains” (Bjeshkët e Nëmuna), or like their fellow Montenegrins surrounded by a “Black Mountain Wreath” (Crna Gorski Vijenac).130 They were so close geographically to mainstream Europe and yet so distant culturally, relegated to the southeastern “margins of Europe,” to recall a phrase coined to refer to Greece, the other southeastern European neighbor.131

As current critical approaches to German-speaking Albanologische studies acknowledge,132 the Orientalizing and Balkanizing images of former Austrian and Hungarian writers put emphasis on the so-called Albanian “tribes” and their primitive laws, archaic blood revenge, the primitiveness and purity of indigenous people, Spartan simplicity yet incomparable hospitality, and so on. In particular, a special genre of accounts on blood feuds developed. These narratives were inspired in particular by the Austrian and Hungarian travelers whose writings, typical of a travelogue, were primarily aimed not at providing information or conducting scholarly work, but at making sensational discoveries,133 which could be brought back “home” to satisfy the insatiable desire to acquire artificial prestige similar to what is known today in network ratings.

Some of these writers depicted Albanians as “tribesmen” in their “Accursed Black Mountain Wreath,” either as savages and barbarians or as outstanding virile and heroic “sons of the eagle.” The impression was always given that the Albanian life was one of “barbarism,” concerned with blood feud and nothing else. Otherwise, a very appealing sentiment of heroism was used as part of a definite tendency towards an idealization of Albanians, especially the northern mountaineers, depicting local life and customs in a heroic and glorious light, idealizing patriarchal society and its manly features, such as bravery, honor, and hospitality. A well-known example from the nineteenth century is the portrayal of Albanians by Gustav Meyer, one of the most important representatives of Austrian Albanologie. “No one should be surprised that among Albanian people, where writing and reading is a rare luxury, and where rifle—and what an ancient and adorned flint-lock rifle—is often the most precious possession of a man, a Dante or a Luther has not yet emerged to bring them the benefits of a written language.”134

Similarly, Thalloczy ironized after a Sarajevo conference with Bosnian educational officials in 1907, wondering why Bosnian youths did not learn more. He commented sourly that liberal views would be fine somewhere in southern Germany, and he believed that in Bosnia “the fist was more appropriate than the pen.”135 Again, in the final stage of his career as Civil Commissar in the Habsburg military occupation of Serbia in World War I, his goal for the occupation was to show Serbs how much better Habsburg administration was than their own, an aspiration and arrogance which anticipated the racial arrogance to come.

More seriously, Nopcsa embarked to investigate and promote the special values of “the free but savage people of North Albania,” whom he considered a distinct “highland people with a specific character developed outside the modern world.”136 Arguably, his detailed descriptions of cultural traditions, customary laws, and life worlds were intended to represent a typical Albanian “noble savage” who needed to be discovered, domesticated, and emancipated once entering the works of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. As such, they offer a direct link of Austro-Hungarian albanologische studies to the Albanian policy of the Dual Monarchy, especially with regard to the typical imperial-colonialist representation of “other” peoples as subjects of Austro-Hungarian investigation and civilization.

In the second half of twentieth century, native studime albanologjike in Albania followed in the same footsteps to justify the class struggle launched by the communist regime against the “backward customs” of a certain people.137 In their rush to obey party directives in adopting a socio-class exclusive understanding of the “people,” these studies must have inadvertently paved the way to the much-abused considerations of much Albanian history, culture, and politics. As a result, many simply believe or deliberately assert that in Albanian society, customary laws, archaic structures, patriarchal gender relations, and religious and regional divides necessarily play important roles.

Many of the social, economic, demographic, cultural, educational, and gender transformations in Albania under socialism, including the folklorism of cultural traditions and Albanian studies,138 in spite of their achievements, must have had a devastating effect for many people. Much of Albania was depopulated and repopulated, north and south, rural and urban, pa dallim krahine, feje dhe ideje “notwithstanding regions, religions, and convictions,” as the watchword of the time went, along with a full and open-ended “circulation” policy (qarkullimi) that in many ways kept all the people under the control of the regime. The social and cultural agendas adopted by the communist regime were by no means selective, and the often violent programs to modernize whichever people were deemed less culturally or ideologically advanced cannot substantiate the perception and specific isolation of a “backward” rural, tribal, patriarchal, and customary Catholic North.

Rather than specific North Albanian traditions that are often said to rely on parallel legitimacy structures or be the source of resistance to the communist regime, it can be argued these traditions are the unintended consequence of the imperial-colonialist representations of North Albanian society and culture that were first worked out by Austro-Hungarian albanologische studies. As mentioned earlier, Thalloczy presented his wide-ranging Albanian history as a work written by an unnamed North Albanian “Gheg that loves his country,” while Nopcsa regarded the image of Catholics in North Albanian Highlands as a “free, but savage” people. Prototypical backward representations of North Albanians were adopted by communist policies, and they were further reified in the ideological struggles against supposedly “conservative” and “regressive” perceptions of people’s culture that are legitimated in the discourse of native studime albanologjike.139 By promoting the national-communist “further revolutionization” and cultural engineering campaigns to build the “New Man” in Albanian socialist society, these studies may have been responsible for the further reification of many essentialist views on Albanian history, culture, and social behavior.

As I showed elsewhere more specifically in relation to the “instrumentality of gender and religious categories,”140 generalized views on Albanian society came all too often to essentialize gender relations and regional differences between life worlds shaped by different religious cultures, between North and South, between mountains and plains, and between urban and rural settings. They reify gender relations and customary behaviors, they alienate so-called “backward” people, and they act as instrumental political resources with which to establish hierarchical relations.

The Rediscovery of a New Exoticism

After World War II, the early twentieth-century image of the Albanians, mainly elaborated within a German-speaking tradition of Austrian and Hungarian scholars,141 was frozen until about the end of the century. Like other East European countries that were rediscovered as “new exotic lands” in the aftermath of the demise of socialism,142 the exotic image of Albania and the Albanians was reasserted when the country opened again to foreign travelers. The mountains in North Albania were exploited from the early to the late twentieth century in very similar ways, open to discoverers and adventurers.143 Reports of a traditional social structure based on kinship, together with the blood feud and the archaic customary and legal institutions, aroused the enthusiasm of many Western scholars and journalists.

Many of these scholars are contemporary experts and commentators within what I refer to as the New German-speaking School of Balkankompetenzen.144 Some of these writers put under the spotlight and conventionally describe purported Albanian customary laws, blood feuds and honor killings, religious beliefs, hospitality, marriage codes, archaic family structures, sworn virgins, and patriarchal customs.145 Others do not hesitate to mount virulent rhetorical attacks of denigration and vilification on the ground of a presumed “irrationality” of a “culture-bounded” people who are believed to be caught into their supposed tribal organization and tribal laws.146 They continue to flock to the highlands of North Albania, ready and willing to believe that Albanians still live by the strict laws of the Kanun. They are in search of what they imagine, again, to be the distilled essence of the mountain spirit, a barbarous and splendid anachronism embodied in a sort of primitive and fearless mountain people living according to an ancient code of honor enforced by “tribal” law on the margins of modern Europe.

The continued strength of this kind of imperial exoticism in Western scholarship is shocking. Since the 1950s, as I have shown in detail elsewhere,147 Claude Lévi-Strauss in his Tristes Tropiques bitterly deplored similar stances in travel writing and anthropology.148 To borrow his terms, the literature on Albania and the Balkans would represent another instance of the same mistake of an entire profession or an entire civilization in believing that humans are not always humans. Some of these humans, by implication, are more deserving of interest and attention merely because in the midst of Europe they seem to astonish us, if not by their “monkey tails” then by the apparent strangeness of their customs, attitudes, and behaviors.

Many accounts produced in the modern Balkankompetent tradition of the New German-speaking School may show a great concern for ethnographic approach and historical source-criticism or a high level of academic sophistication. Yet, as I have shown in detail elsewhere, they are characterized by inner mechanisms of exclusion and hierarchies, which necessarily reproduce substantive empirical and methodological flaws in research outcomes, yielding to strategic othering, methodological essentialism, dubious deconstructionism, and outright misinterpretation of Albanian foundational myths, national history, social structures, and cultural behavior.149 Arguably, this methodological imperialism reproduces a discourse of Western superiority that serves to legitimate political, economic, and social control.

A curious mixture of identification and exoticization has characterized depictions and descriptions of Albanian culture, history, and society from an external Western point of view, as for instance in the case of pervasive German-speaking traditions. In turn, the foreign attitude became crucial from a native point of view, since there was both an unequal power balance and an internalization of external ideas. Ultimately, Albanian culture and self-image are very much influenced by a fundamental division between what is associated with the civilized world and what is associated with a peripheral position within the Western system, and thus Albanian culture and society are compelled to navigate between the two. The outcome culminated in a conflict between the idea of the Illyrian ethnogenesis and the eternal nation, embedded in Albanian nationalism, and the actual shortage of political sovereignty for much of Albanian history. This meant that the focal point of the constrained nation became an aggressive negotiation of the political supremacy of Western ideas about the validity and free development of what is conceptualized as national culture and heritage.

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Österreichisches Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (ÖStA HHStA) Vienna

Politisches Archiv (PA)

Kriegsarchiv (KA)


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1 I am grateful to Krisztián Csaplár-Degovics and Gábor Demeter for their invitation to write this article for the Hungarian Historical Review and for constructive comments and suggestions helping improve my arguments and bringing to my attention a number of Hungarian details.

2 Fleming, “Orientalism.”

3 Pandolfi, “L’industrie humanitaire”; Herzfeld, Anthropology through the looking-glass; Kiossev, “Self-Colonizing Metaphor.”

4 Doja, “Démocratie et stabilité.”

5 Cox, “Social Forces,” 128.

6 Gingrich, “The German-Speaking Countries.”

7  Leibniz, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, vol. 4, Politische Schriften, part 1, “Consilium Aegyptiacum” 15, “Justa dissertatio” II, “De Zaimis et Timariotis,” 318–21; “De primo Visiro,” 324–26; “De Christianis in Turcico Imperion agentibus,” 331–37. https://leibniz.uni-goettingen.de/files/pdf/Leibniz-Edition-IV-1.pdf.

8 “Leopoldus Primus Austriacus Imperator turcas Europa divulsos opprimet armis,” Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, vol. 4, part 3, 27–38.

9  “Quant à la langue des Albanois j’ay peur que ce ne soit une espece d’Esclavon; car cette langue regne le long de la mer Adriatique. On l’appelle par abus linguam illyricam. Mais je crois que la langue des anciens illyriens estoit toute autre chose s’il y en avoit un reste dans les montagnes de l’Epire, cela seroit tres curieux, et tres digne de nostre recherche.” Leibniz, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, vol. 1, part 24, 414. Leibniz to Maturin Veyssiere De La Croze, Hanover, June 25, 1705, 736. https://leibniz.uni-goettingen.de/files/pdf/Leibniz-Edition-I-24.pdf#414.

10 “Vous m’avez fait beaucoup de plaisir, en me mandant d’avoir reçu un livre & un Dictionnaire de la Langue Albanoise; par là nous apprenons quelle étoit la langue des anciens Illyriens.” Leibniz, Opera Omnia, vol. 5, 36. Lettres à M. Maturin Veyssière La Croze, Lettre XV: De la langue albanoise, Hanov. 10. Decemb. 1709, 494. https://books.google.fr/books?id=KWxkAAAAcAAJ.

11 “Et credibile est, ejus reliquias in peculiari quâdam linguâ Epirotarum hodiernâ superesse, cujus specimina edita vidi.” Leibniz, Opera Omnia, vol. 6, Epistola insigni viro Johanii Chamberlaynio, Vienna, 13 Januarii 1714, 197. https://books.google.fr/books?id=B-o8AAAAcAAJ.

12 B. Demiraj, “Si ta lexojme Lajbnicin,” 166.

13 Reiter, “Leibniz’ens Albanerbriefe,” 88.

14 Kastrati, Historia e albanologjise, 171–72.

15 B. Demiraj, “Si ta lexojme Lajbnicin,” 164.

16 Hetzer, Geschichte des Buchhandels.

17 Doja, “Ecclesiastical pressures.”

18 Leibniz, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, vol. 4, part 3, 27–38.

19 Leibniz, Opera Omnia, vol. 5, 494.

20 According to Philip Cluver (1580–1622), “Albania distinguitur in Superiorem, quae Macedonia pars occidentalis; & Inferiorem, quae olim Epirus & exigua pars Helladis.” Cluverii, Introductio in universam Geographiam, 361–62. https://archive.org/details/philippicluverii00clve_7/page/360/

21  Lorentis, Νεωτάτη Διδακτική Γεωγραφία, 434; Aravantinos, Χρονογραφεια της Ηπείρου, vol. 1, 121.

22  Arch. St. Milano, Carteggio Sforzesco, Albania, cart. 640. Published in Monti, “La spedizione”, 159.

23  B. Demiraj, “Mallkimi i epirotit (1483).”

24 Brief from Pope Clement VIII to Felipe II, March 27, 1593. Published in Floristan, “Jerónimo Combis”, 179. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=5709678.

25 For more details and related sources, see Xhufi, Arbërit e Jonit, 10–21. I am also grateful to Kosta Giakoumis for providing further information in a personal email communication, November 6, 2021.

26 Reiter “Leibniz’ens Albanerbriefe”; B. Demiraj, “Si ta lexojme Lajbnicin.”

27 Annotationes de lingua, & litteris Epirotarum, seù Albanesiorum: “Proprium Epiroticae gentis idioma, seù Albanesia lingua à Graeca, & Illyrica, seù Slavonica loquendi ratione planè diversa est, licèt inter vtriusq; gentis confinia veluti media constituta conspicitur.” Bardhi, Dictionarium latino-epiroticum, BKSH An.IV.R.1. https://books.google.fr/books?id=EPtJAAAAcAAJ.

28 Molnár “The Catholic Missions,” 76–77.

29 Bardhi, Georgius Castriottus.

30 APF, SOCG, vol. 263, fol. 266r-284v.

31 Fine, When ethnicity did not matter, 255–61.

32 “Schiete per antonomassi Feesse Cattoliche i thone arbanasca vera,” Bogdani, Cuneus prophetarum, BKSH An.V.a.10, https://www.bksh.al/details/113182.

33 Guzzetta, L’osservanza, 45.

34 “Da lodare sono quindi i moderni Macedoni che, ben istruiti nelle lettere latine nel Collegio de Propaganda Fide, presero l’iniziativa di scrivere in questo idioma piissimi libri ad uso della loro gente e di consegnarli ai nostri tempi nei caratteri tipografici noti.” Guzzetta, L’osservanza, 42.

35 “Stando così le cose, una sì grande varietà di voci, sia latine sia barbare, di cui è ricca l’odierna lingua vernacola degli albanesi, si andò componendo a tal punto che noi diciamo che essa non è del tutto latina, ma un misto di latino e di macedonico antico.” Guzzetta, L’osservanza, 45.

36 While a hostage in the Ottoman court, George Kastrioti had chosen the name Iskander (Skanderbeg) as a reference to Alexander the Great of Macedon, whose mother hailed from Epirus, and as noted above, he used to call himself Epirot (“noi ci chiamiamo epiroti”).

37 B. Demiraj, “De Albania Occupanda,” 65–66.

38 “Bey einem grossen Potentaten sich weit andere Gelegenheiten zu nützlichen Verrichtungen finden.” Hirsch, Der berühmte Herr Leibniz, 221.

39 Bartl, Albanien, 71.

40 Malcolm, Kosovo: a short history, 140–47.

41 B. Demiraj, “Si ta lexojme Lajbnicin.”

42 B. Demiraj, “De Albania Occupanda.”

43 Feichtinger et al., Habsburg postcolonial.

44 Stachel, “Der koloniale Blick.”

45 E.g. Haberlandt, Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge.

46 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft, 17–26.

47 Tomlinson, Cultural imperialism.

48 Galtung, “Cultural Violence.”

49 Deusch, Das k.(u.)k. Kultusprotektorat.

50  ÖStA HHStA, PA XII/256 Türkei IV, “Denkschrift über Albanien,” Memoir by F. Lippich, Consul in Shkodra, Vienna, June 20, 1877.

51  ÖStA HHStA, PA I/473 Botschaftsarchiv Konstantinopel, “Die albanesische Action des k.u.k. Ministeriums des Äussern im Jahre 1897,” Memoir by Zwiedinek, Albanien-Referent in Ballhausplatz, Vienna, January 11, 1898.

52 Toleva, Der Einfluss Österreich-Ungarns.

53  ÖStA HHStA, PA XIV Albanien.

54 Marchetti, Balkanexpedition.

55 Schwanke, “Zur Geschichte.”

56 Mommsen, Theories of imperialism.

57 Proudman, “Words for Scholars.”

58 Hahn, Albanesische Studien.

59 Illyrisch-Albanische Forschungen; Acta et diplomata res Albaniae.

60 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft, 244–45.

61 E.g. Hahn, Albanesische Studien; Illyrisch-Albanische Forschungen.

62 E.g. Nopcsa, “Beiträge zum Vorgeschichte”; “Die Herkunft”; Albanien; Pikëpamje fetare; Fiset e Malësisë.

63 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft im Spannungsfeld; Csaplár-Degovics, “Ludwig von Thalloczy.”

64 Okey, “A Trio of Hungarian Balkanists.”

65 Csaplár-Degovics and Jusufi, “The Birth of the First Hungarian–Albanian Dictionary (1913),” 259–60.

66 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft, 333–37.

67 Takács and Langó, “Archaeologia Hungaroalbanica,” 314.

68 Hetzer, Geschichte des Buchhandels, 129; for more detail see Hetzer, “Ludvig von Thalloczy.”

69  ÖStA HHStA, PA XIV/20, General Consul Ippen to Foreign Minister Goluchowski from Shkodra on the “Abfassung einer albanesischen Geschichte,” May 18, 1897.

70  ÖStA HHStA, PA XIV/20, Thalloczy to Finance Minister Kallay from Vienna, July 10, 1897.

71  ÖStA HHStA, PA XIV/20, note of the joint ministry of finance on Thalloczy’s “Geschichte Albaniens,” September 15, 1897; Finance Minister Kallay to Foreign Minister Goluchowski from Vienna on the printing costs of the book and invoices paid to Thalloczy, February 16, 1898; PA XIV/22–23, copies of the book; PA I/8/774, on regular secret payments to Stephan Zurani.

72 [Ludwig Thalloczy], Të ndodhunat e Shqypnis, prej nji Gege që don vendin e vet [translated by Stefan Zurani], Skenderie [Vienna: Adolf Holzhausen], 1898; new edition by Raim Beluli, Shkodra: Botime Françeskane, 2008.

73 Csaplár-Degovics, “Ludwig von Thalloczy und die Albanologie,” 145–46.

74  ÖStA HHStA, PA XIV/20, Thalloczy to Finance Minister Kallay from Vienna, July 10, 1897.

75 Hetzer, “Die Funktion des Skanderbeg-Mythos”, 112.

76  ÖStA HHStA, PA XIV/20, Thalloczy to Finance Minister Kallay from Vienna, July 10, 1897.

77 Omari, “Çështja e gjuhës.”

78 Csaplár-Degovics, “Lajos Thallóczy and Albanian Historiography,” 128.

79 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft, 380.

80  ÖStA HHStA, PA XIV/21, Thalloczy to Foreign Minister Aehrenthal from Vienna, July 21, 1911.

81 Thalloczy, Illyrisch-Albanische Forschungen; Acta et diplomata res Albaniae.

82 Csaplár-Degovics, “Ludwig von Thalloczy und die Albanologie,” 148.

83 Nopcsa, Reisen in den Balkan; Nopcsa, Traveler, Scholar, Political Adventurer.

84 Robel, Franz Baron Nopcsa und Albanien, 48–69.

85 Elsie, “The Viennese scholar.”

86 Csaplár-Degovics, “Introduction,” 10.

87 Pollmann, “Baron Ferenc Nopcsa’s participation.”

88  ÖStA HHStA KA, Neue Feldakten, K.u.K. XIX. Korpskommando Op. Nr. 727/13 (March 30, 1916; May 31, 1016). See also ÖStA HHStA KA, Neue Feldakten, K.u.K. AOK Op. Nr. 24112 (April 20, 1916).

89 Nopcsa, “Beiträge zum Vorgeschichte”; Nopcsa, “Die Herkunft”; Albanien: Bauten, Trachten und Geräte Nordalbaniens; Geographie und Geologie Nordalbaniens.

90 Takács and Langó, “Archaeologia Hungaroalbanica,” 311–13.

91 Nopcsa, Pikëpamje fetare; Fiset e Malësisë.

92 Hahn, Albanesische Studien.

93 Nopcsa, Fiset e Malësisë, 67.

94 Krasniqi, “Oscilimet e identitetit shqiptar,” 15–16.

95 Eberhart, “Von Ami Boué zu Hugo Adolf Bernatzik,” 17–18.

96 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft, 656.

97 Doja, “The Beautiful Blue Danube”; Doja, “From the German-speaking point of view”; Doja, “Lindja e albanologjisë.”

98 Doja “From the native point of view”; Abazi and Doja, “From the communist point of view.”

99 Okey, “A Trio of Hungarian Balkanists,” 256.

100 Magyarország Melléktartományainak Oklevéltára. Codex Diplomaticus Partium Regno Hungariae Adnexarum, 4 vols., edited by Lajos Thallóczy, and Antal Áldásy (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1903–1915).

101 Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft, 174.

102 Okey, “A Trio of Hungarian Balkanists,” 258.

103 “Die Kirchenzustände im vortürkischen Albanien,” in Thalloczy, Illyrisch-Albanische Forschungen, 189.

104 E.g. Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft, 174.

105 Csaplár-Degovics and Jusufi, “The Birth of the First Hungarian–Albanian Dictionary (1913),” 267.

106 Okey, “A Trio of Hungarian Balkanists,” 259.

107 Illyrisch-Albanische Forschungen; Acta et diplomata res Albaniae mediae aetatis illustrantia.

108 Haberlandt, Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge; see Marchetti, Balkanexpedition.

109 Hamp, “The Position of Albanian”; S. Demiraj, Prejardhja e shqiptarëve; Matzinger, “Die Albaner als Nachkommen der Illyrer.”

110 Gruber, “Austrian contributions.”

111 Marchetti, Balkanexpedition.

112 Promitzer, “Austria and the Balkans.”

113 Hemming, “German-speaking travel writers.”

114 Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania.

115 Reviewed in detail elsewhere, Doja, “Customary laws.”

116 Mata, Shtjefën Gjeçovi.

117 Gjeçov, Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit.

118 Lambertz, Gjergj Fishta.

119 Durham, High Albania; Durham, Some tribal origins; Nopcsa, Fiset e Malësisë;Die Herkunft”; Hasluck, The unwritten law in Albania.

120 Csaplár-Degovics, “Lajos Thallóczy and Albanian Historiography,” 142.

121  I was a young, aspirant scholar in the 1980s, but privileged that late in his life Ing. Ilia Mitrushi trusted me to publish his dictionary, which unfortunately remains unpublished as I handed it down to his family after his death.

122 Csaplár-Degovics, “Lajos Thallóczy and Albanian Historiography,” 137.

123 Doja, “From the native point of view.”

124 Abazi and Doja, “From the communist point of view.”

125 Csaplár-Degovics, “Lajos Thallóczy and Albanian Historiography,” 113–20.

126 Abazi and Doja, “From the communist point of view,” 174.

127 Doja, “Customary laws.”

128 B. Demiraj, “De Albania Occupanda.”

129 Gefou-Madianou, “Cultural polyphony”; Rapper, “Pelasgic encounters.”

130 The “Balkans” are first a geographical notion of a mountain range on the Balkan Peninsula that comes in a variety of forms, including the “Accursed Mountains” (Bjeshkët e Nëmuna), a local term for the mountain range in North Albania, and the “Black Mountains” (Crna Gora), the name of Montenegro alluded to in the “Mountain Wreath” (Gorski Vijenac), a masterpiece of Montenegrin literature written and published in 1847 by the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro Petar II Petrović-Njegosh.

131 Herzfeld, Anthropology through the looking-glass.

132 E.g. Gruber, “Austrian contributions”; Kaser, “Albania: Orientalisation and Balkanisation”; Hemming, “German-speaking travel writers”; Marchetti, Balkanexpedition; Promitzer, “Austria and the Balkans”; Gostentschnigg, Wissenschaft.

133 Kaser, “Albania: Orientalisation and Balkanisation.”

134 Meyer, “Della lingua.”

135 Okey, “A Trio of Hungarian Balkanists,” 262.

136 Nopcsa, Fiset e Malësisë, 19.

137 Abazi and Doja, “From the communist point of view.”

138 Doja, “Évolution et folklorisation”; Abazi and Doja, “From the communist point of view.”

139 Abazi and Doja, “From the communist point of view.”

140 Doja, “Instrumental borders.”

141 Doja, “The Beautiful Blue Danube.”

142 Skalnik, “West meets East.”

143 Kaser, “Albania: Orientalisation and Balkanisation.”

144 Doja, “The New German-speaking School of Balkankompetenzen.

145 Kaser, “Albania: Orientalisation and Balkanisation”; Kaser, “Family and Kinship in Albania.”

146 Krasztev, “The price of amnesia.”

147 Doja, “From Neolithic Naturalness.”

148 Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques.

149 Doja, “The New German-speaking School of Balkankompetenzen.


The Story of Croatian Bosnia: Mythos, Empire-Building Aspirations, or a Failed Attempt at National Integration?

Dénes Sokcsevits
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 4  (2022):870–912 DOI 10.38145/2022.4.870

The nineteenth-century processes of “nation-building” and national integration took place in the western regions of southeastern Europe against a distinctive backdrop. The formation of national self-images, the creation of a national self-definition, and indeed the emergence of any clear consensus on who constituted or should constitute a given national community proved daunting tasks for the multi-ethnic and multi-religious populations of southeastern Europe in the provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire.
The essential contention of this inquiry is that religious and national identities are not clearly interrelated in southeastern Europe (much, indeed, as they are not clearly interrelated elsewhere). I offer, as a clear illustration of the untenability of religious identity as an adequate foundation for nation building, an examination of the case of Bosnia and the development of a sense of identity and national belonging among Bosnian Croats and Muslims. Even the case of the emergence of the modern Serbian and Croatian nations, often cited as archetypes of national identities which developed along religious fault lines, is not as clear as it often seems to be in the public mind. It was not the only possibility, but rather was merely one alternative, an alternative that was shaped as much by internal circumstances as by the prevailing foreign political situation: the emergence, meaning, and “content” of the nation can be interpreted as a response to these factors.

Keywords: Bosnia, Croatia, nationalism, Muslims, Catholics, Ortodox, empire building

The emergence of the modern Croatian nation was the result of an extremely complex process of national integration, which in some cases only took final form in the twentieth century. The intellectuals and politicians who developed the national program(s) played an essential role in the move towards integration, but their influence on the actual development of the processes themselves was nonetheless limited, even if they tended to assume (wrongly) that their words bore great weight. At the same time, the differences that had developed in earlier periods (for example, religious and denominational affiliations) should not always be seen as barriers to national integration within the community of speakers of the same language. One often comes across the claim that, in the Balkans, religious belonging essentially predestined the processes of national belonging and nation building. This contention, however, proves only partly true, even simply from the perspective of the final outcome of these processes (for instance, in the case of the Serbs and Croats). In other cases, external circumstances, the shifts in events and conditions, and the impact of external factors thwarted processes of integration that were underway. The failures of national integration among the Bulgarians and Macedonians offer good examples. One hardly needs the divine gift of prophecy to see that, had Greater Bulgaria, which was created by the 1878 Treaty of San Stefano (or more precisely, by the successes of the Russian armed forces), not been torn to pieces by the opposing European powers at the Congress of Berlin, the integration of the linguistically and religiously very close Macedonian Slavs into the Bulgarian nation would not have been an insurmountable task for the Bulgarian intellectual and political elites. And it would be simply foolhardy (and methodologically unsound) to project the current situation back to the mid-nineteenth century, claim that the situation at the present is the “outcome” of processes of national integration, and then assess the nation-building programs and strivings on the basis of this apparent “success.”

In the last decades of the twentieth century, influenced in no small part by the bloody events that came with the disintegration of the second Yugoslav state, in Western (and also Hungarian) public opinion, thanks in large part to the writings of several figures in the media with only the most superficial grasp of the situation, the image of the Balkans as a region torn since its earliest history by ethnic conflicts began to spread (again). Thus, for example, one reads time and time again of the ancient tensions between Serbs and Croats, though the chronicles contain mention of not a single armed conflict between these two “peoples” before the twentieth century, and before the mid-nineteenth century, even their national narratives and theories of national belonging did not collide with each other much. Of course, the opinions and national stereotypes that emerged and gained sway in public opinion often had as little to do with any observable reality in the nineteenth century as they do today. The only real similarity one finds is that the “educated West” always had the right to offer ethical judgements and condemnations concerning the individuals and/or countries on the historical stage of the region.1 The best example of this is the image that emerged of the national liberation movements in the Balkans and the Ottoman state, which sought to squash them. Victor Hugo, Byron, and their contemporaries felt an overwhelming sympathy for the Greek freedom fighters, and they rallied French and English public opinion to their cause, writing dramatic works about the massacres and cruel acts committed by the “barbaric Turks” (for instance the massacre at Chios, also famously immortalized in a painting by Eugène Delacroix), but no one bothered to note that the “poor, defenseless, oppressed” Balkan rebels (both Serbs and Greeks) had completely cleansed the liberated territories of their Muslim civilian (Turkish or even Islamic Slavic) populations.

The Question of Denominational Belonging and Nation in Bosnia: Ante Starčević’s Innovative Approach to the Followers of Islam

The abovementioned claim according to which national integration in the Balkans was shaped by religious belonging—a claim found repeatedly in the secondary literature on the region—is most certainly not true of the peninsula as a whole. The Albanian nation, after all, successfully united followers of the Islamic Faith, the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Christian Church. Sectarian-religious differences proved an obstacle to national integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in relations between Croats and Serbs. For the Albanians, a shared language and common cultural traditions proved an adequate foundation for integration.2 This was not the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where attempts that began in the nineteenth century to promote integration from various sides or to hinder similar efforts on other sides were mutually conflicting and ultimately contributed to the situation in the last decade of the twentieth century, when divisions came to the fore and the inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who essentially speak the same language, became three separate and opposing nations whose identities are based on religious affiliation.3 In the discussion below, I consider the fate of one of these attempts, the Croatian attempt at integration in Bosnia. From time to time, I mention the endeavors of other sides in this conflictual situation simply to clarify various aspects of the essential questions I am raising, but I do not delve into the problems of integration between Catholic and Orthodox factions, nor do I consider the Croatian and Serbian secondary literature on the subject.

The uprisings of Christian peoples of the Balkans against Ottoman rule in the nineteenth century inevitably took the form of religious conflict, and the serious mutual atrocities committed by armed groups against civilian populations (such as acts which took place in Bosnia during the 1875 uprising) gave rise to lasting tensions among the peoples of different faiths which hardly vanished in the twentieth century, the many political and cultural shifts and upheavals notwithstanding. This historical legacy has been one of the factors that has hindered the integration of Muslims into the Serbian nation, although attempts were made by Serbian politicians and intellectuals to win over members of the Slavic population who follow the Islamic faith.

In the literature of southeastern Europe, from the folk heroic songs to the works of the Renaissance and Baroque and even works by nineteenth-century Romantic authors, anti-Ottoman sentiment is a strong element, or in other words, there are many, many works which could be characterized as anti-Turk (antiturcica). The same was true of Croatian popular thought, as shown both in the heroic songs that were passed on by word of mouth among the broader population and in the fiction that appeared in print. The Muslim Ottoman Turks were cast as the enemy and the Christians as the heroes of freedom. One can easily see how, against this backdrop, Ante Starčević, who later founded the Croatian Party of Rights, gave utterance to an almost revolutionary notion in the history of the peoples of southeastern Europe in 1858 when he used words of praise in an article about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. This constituted a startling break with the existing literary tradition and the practices in the print media of attacking not only the Ottoman Turks but also their religion. It is clear from Starčević’s later writings and speeches that his principal aim was to integrate the Bosnian Muslim population into the Croatian nation.

Other Croatian and Serbian politicians had also sought to do this, of course, but Starčević was the first to attempt to do this not by hoping to convert Muslims to Christianity but by showing respect for their religious beliefs and culture. It is worth keeping in mind, of course, that the war between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire had come to an end in 1791, and most of Croatia had not been under Ottoman rule since the Peace of Sremski Karlovci in 1699. Thus, the conflicts of previous centuries were a distant memory.

The Medieval and Early Modern Roots of Croatian National Integration

In order to understand Starčević’s initiative towards national integration, one must first know a bit about the roots and developmental stages of Croatian national integration. The processes that took place between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries proved important for the later movement towards Croatian national integration, the formation of a unified Croatian nation, and a nation-state encompassing the whole of what was regarded as Croatian ethnic territory. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Venice finally managed to assert control over the Dalmatian cities. Much of the Kingdom of Bosnia, which had become independent at the end of the fourteenth century and was becoming increasingly Catholic as a consequence of the efforts of the Franciscans, had become part of the Ottoman Empire by 1463. After the Battle of Mohács in 1526, some two-thirds of Croatia and Slavonia also became part of the Turkish Empire. The Croatia which remained, which was referred to as the remnants of the remnants by the Croatian orders of the time, continued to form a kind of commonwealth with Hungary under the protective wing of the Habsburgs, but in comparison with the period before Mohács and the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, ties between the two parts of this country were looser. The first evidence in writing of Croatian independence dates to 1527. In a letter to Ferdinand Habsburg, the Croatian Sabor emphasized that Croatia had once been an independent kingdom and had voluntarily joined the Hungarian crown. At the same time, however, relations between the remaining Croatian coastal territories and the fragments of Slavonia had become closer, and the Croatian-Dalmatian Sabor, which had previously met separately, was united with the Slavonic Provincial Assembly.

In the sixteenth century, the Croatian ethnonym (and later the name Croatia itself) spread to medieval Slavonia through the members of the nobility who were attached to their identities as Croats but who had fled Croatia, and the name Slavonia came to refer to the eastern parts of the territory between the Drava River and the Sava River. The notion that the provinces (Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia, or by their historical Croatian name, Trojednica or Trojedno Kraljevstvo, in Latin, Regnum trium unum, or Kingdom Three-in-One, and also, from time to time, alongside these three, also Bosnia) belonged together began to take form in the writings of members of the Croatian nobility and the Croatian orders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as did the long-term goal of liberating these provinces from Ottoman rule. The liberation and unification of the Croatian territories (Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, and even Bosnia) became a primary political goal among the Croatian orders. The struggles against the Turks, however, ultimately united the Croats and the Hungarians into a kind of community with a shared fate and quest, and Croatian aspirations for independence were only theoretical in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This bond of a shared fate is perhaps best exemplified by the writings of the Zrínyi brothers, Miklós (Nikola VII Zrinski) and Petar (Petar IV Zrinski or Péter Zrínyi in Hungarian).4 By the middle of the seventeenth century, however, the image of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia as a unified community of states that stood on an equal footing with Hungary was clearly emerging in the mind of Juraj (Georgius) Ráttkay, one of the most prominent Croatian historians of the period and a member of the Zrínyi circle, and the united Croatian-Slavonian orders were also beginning to demand equal status with Hungary.5

One must keep in mind, of course, that there were other Croatian priests and monks who were active in the diocese of Zagreb, apart from Ráttkay, and who contributed to the development of Croatian nationalism, and some of the bishops of Zagreb also played a role in the birth of early Croatian nationalism. The Zagreb diocesan synod of 1634, which convened for the establishment of a national denomination, was a particularly important milestone.6

The ideas and efforts of Pavao Ritter Vitezović were also of immense importance to the development of Croatian nationalism, in particular the way in which this nationalism evolved in the nineteenth century. In his work Croatia rediviva (Croatia Reborn), which was published in 1700, Vitezović offered a bold vision of a great empire under Croatian leadership that would unite the neighboring Slavic states of the Balkans and even include Hungary.7 Vitezović was far ahead of his time with his ideas, and his ambitious national plans had no concrete political repercussions among his contemporaries in the eighteenth century, much as the visions of Slavic unity and an imagined Illyrian-Slavic motherland found early on (in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) in the writings of some Croatian (mainly Dalmatian) authors (such as Vinko Pribojević, Mavro Orbini, Ivan Gundulić, and Juraj Križanić) never became part of Croatian political thinking among the larger public, since it was really only found, before the emergence of the Illyrian movement, among members of the Croatian and Slavonian nobility.8

In the history of early Croatian national thought, a Catholic notion that took form in the Illyrian colleges in Italy in the seventeenth century occupies a special place. Indeed, the very question of who should or should not be considered an Illyrian was already a subject of debate in the seventeenth century, and the right to use the House of Saint Jerome in Rome (the seat of the Natio Illyrica in the Eternal City) was decided in a lawsuit in 1656. 9 This decision further narrowed the group of those who belonged to the so-called Illyrian nation. According to the Holy See decision of 1656, the Illyrians were to be understood as the Catholic Slavs of Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (this decision excluded people who had come from some of the Austrian hereditary provinces that constituted what today is Slovenia). This idea spread partly through the writings of Croatian Jesuits and Dominicans, but in particular as a consequence of the work of the Bosnian Franciscans, both in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the territories under Hungarian control, and also in the territories of the Franciscan Order of Saint John Capistrano in Hungary and Slavonia in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This is particularly evident in the work and writings of the prominent figures of the Croatian Franciscan cultural circle in Buda, such as Emerik Pavić, Grgur Čevapović and Matija Petar Katančić. For example, the very name Dalmatian and Illyrian, which were used in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, spread among Croatian ethnic groups in Hungary in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries precisely through the works of this ecclesiastical intelligentsia, and the appearance of an early unified Catholic Illyrian-Dalmatian national consciousness was observable both among the Croatian nobility and among the bourgeoisie. Through Croatian national ideologies, movements, and political parties in the nineteenth century, however, these views became part of Croatian national consciousness. Vitezović’s visions in particular exerted an influence on both the ideas of the Illyrian movement led by Ljudevit Gaj in the 1830s and 1840s, which proclaimed Southern Slavic unity, and the aforementioned Starčević’s Croatian Party of Rights, which formed in the 1860s and aspired to create an independent Croatian state (and which, in part because of the influence of Vitezović’s ideas, could be considered a sort of “Greater Croatia” party).

The Origins of the Croatian Idea of Bosnia

The notion that Bosnia was Croatian, however, was by no means a nineteenth-century creation. It can be found in Croatian literature and historical works from the Renaissance and even Baroque periods. In his sort of proto-nationalist political and ideological writings from the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Vitezović offers a clear sketch of this idea. Bosnia was first mentioned as a Croatian land in a fourteenth-century Croatian version of a twelfth-century chronicle from the seaport town of Bar on the Montenegrin coast. Bosnia itself was sometimes under Serbian, sometimes Croatian rule in the tenth century (of course, it was a much smaller area than present-day Bosnia, referred to as the little land of Bosnia10 by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus), but this meant little more than temporary and nominal rule, which was replaced by Byzantine rule in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

The Bosnian banovina embarked down the path towards independence at the end of the twelfth century, although the Croat Šubić family temporarily took control of it in the late thirteenth century. By the fourteenth century, however, Bosnia had gained independence not only from the Šubić family but also from its powerful neighbors, Dušan Nemanjić’s Serbia and Hungary, which by then was under the rule of the House of Anjou. It became an independent kingdom, and the Kotromanić dynasty expanded its state at the expense of the medieval Croatian territories. Bosnia also remained separate from the neighboring powers for a long time from the perspective of religion through the independent Bosnian church, mistakenly called Bogomil (and in the Middle Ages patarenes, patarini). Bosnia was originally part of the Catholic Church, as it lay to the west of the Theodosian line on the Drina River (in the era before Ottoman expansion into the region, there were very few Orthodox in the eastern periphery of Bosnia), and the Western Church never abandoned its ambition to bring the inhabitants of the area back into the Catholic fold.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, the Western Church had proven largely successful in these efforts, following the peaceful conversion of the majority of the Bosnian population by the Franciscan monks who had established themselves in Bosnia in the mid-fourteenth century, though Stjepan Tomaš, the second-to-last Bosnian king, had expelled the remaining people (deemed heretics) who had refused to convert. In the surviving Slavic-language sources of the Bosnian state at the time, the Croatian ethnic name was only rarely used, and one could well conjecture that Bosnia might have embarked down the path towards the development of a separate national identity in the modern era had it not been for the Turks. In 1463, however, the Bosnian kingdom was dissolved by Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror. The landlord social stratum in Bosnia, which had evolved in a distinctive way in the Ottoman Empire and had managed, by the end of the sixteenth century, to ensure that its estates would be hereditable, was not compromised of actual descendants of the old landowning class (or if so, only in small numbers) and thus was hardly a guardian of Bosnian state traditions. Rather, the members of this stratum were fully integrated into the Bosporus empire.

The memory of the medieval Bosnian state was only preserved, as a consequence of a combination of fortunate circumstances, by the Bosnian Franciscans, who were given permission to pursue their efforts by the Ottomans, with later elements of Croatian identity emerging through contact with Croatian territories not yet occupied by the Turks or already liberated. Bosnia was referred to as the Croatian land of Bosnia in the works of Bosnian Franciscan poets in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In a poem titled “The Croatian Virgins to Croatia,” which was published in 1626, Tomko Mrnavić Bošnjanin referred to the inhabitants of Bosnia as Croats. August Vlastelinović, also a Bosnian Franciscan, wrote in 1637, “the dominion of Prince Stipan has crumbled, the mighty realm of the Bosnian king, the courage of the Croatian people is broken.” In a book published in Venice in 1704, Ivan Filipović, a native of Sinj, addressed the patron saints of his country: “Defenders of our countries, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia, and the entire Croatian-speaking people, pray for us.” In his book The Flower of the Conversation of the Illyrian or Croatian-speaking People, which was printed in 1747, Franciscan monk Filip Grabovac, born in Vrlikan, refers to Bosnia in a poem titled “Glory to Dalmatia” as a Croatian province.11

These ideas found the most exuberant expression in the writings of the aforementioned Vitezović, who was active at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Vitezović included not only Bosnia but also present-day Slovenia and Serbia in his vision of a Croatia reborn, or Croatia rediviva. Vitezović referred to all Southern Slavs as Croats, and in his petition to Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli on the borders of Croatia, he referred to Trans-Croatia (Serbia), Central Croatia (Croatia proper and Bosnia), and Seaside and Midst-River Croatia (Dalmatia, Slavonia).12 Vitezović’s work was immensely important, because the leaders of each of the two nineteenth-century Croatian national ideologies, Illyrianist Yugoslavism and Starčević’s theory of Greater Croatian integration, regarded Vitezović as a forerunner and drew on his ideas. In another one of his works, Bosnia captiva (which was dedicated to the Croatian Viceroy Peter Keglević), Vitezović called on Keglević, a Croatian nobleman who was also of Bosnian descent, to try to reclaim his homeland for the Holy Crown, to which it had once belonged. He offered the following plaintive sigh in this work: “If only Croatia would at least cherish the hope that Turkey, soon to be defeated again, will hand over the keys to the city of Jajce!”13

Bosnia in the Nineteenth-century Visions of Croatian National Integration

In his pamphlet Disertatia iliti Razgovor, Count Janko Drašković, who essentially set the political agenda of the nineteenth-century Illyrian movement, argued that, on the basis of Croatian state law (according to which Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, and Bosnia were all Croatian kingdoms), Croatia should be united with Bosnia under Habsburg rule. Drašković was thinking of the whole of Bosnia, and not just the parts of western Bosnia to which the Croatian nobility referred as Turkish Croatia, which had been part of Croatia as late as 1592 (Drašković later formulated an even more ambitious vision of southern Slavic unity). Vitezović’s views, however, also shaped Ljudevit Gaj’s Illyrianism, which proclaimed broader national integration (Croatian, Slovenian, and Serbian) and a more far-reaching notion of Yugoslav unity. The circle of bishops surrounding Bishop Strossmayer, who was also an exponent of the idea of South-Slav unity, took a similar line in the second half of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, the Croatian literature of the first half of the nineteenth century continued the anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic tradition of the Renaissance-Baroque period and proclaimed the need for the South Slavic peoples to unite against the Turks just as their sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century predecessors Pribojević, Gundulić, and even Križanić had done. I am thinking for instance of Croatian poet Ivan Mažuranić’s epic Smrt Smail-age Čengića (The Death of Smail-aga Čengić), a major work of Croatian Romantic literature which unambiguously depicts the conflict between Montenegrins and a Muslim landlord as a clash between oppressed Christians and oppressive Muslim rulers (although the work could also be interpreted as depicting a generalized conflict between tyrants and the oppressed).14

In the 1850s, there was a significant change in Croatia’s relationship to Islam and more generally to the Southern Slavs in Bosnia of the Islamic faith when the Croatian national ideology developed by Ante Starčević and Eugen Kvaternik, which envisioned and aspired to the creation of a large Croatian state without Serbia on the basis of real and imaginary Croatian state law, appeared. This ideology stood in stark contrast to Illyrianism, which sought Southern Slavic unity.

The emergence of a narrower Starčevići-Kvaternik Croatian national ideology (narrower compared to the ideas of Gaj and Strossmayer) was strongly influenced by the fact that the attempt at national integration of Illyrianism had failed among both Slovenes and Serbs, and that in Serbia, a Serbian national ideology had emerged, and this ideology included its own and political ambitions and programs. The theoretical and practical work of Ilija Garašanin and enlightened Serbian writer, linguist, and ethnographer Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in the 1840s offers a clear example of this. As it so happens, Starčević’s broader notion of Croatian identity, which in his view included Orthodox and Muslims living in the territory of Croatian state law, alongside Catholics, was a direct reaction to a work by Karadžić in which Karadžić characterized Southern Slavs who spoke the Štokavian dialect as Serbs, whether they were Catholic, Muslim, or Orthodox.15 Starčević regarded it as essential to integrate Bosnian Muslims into the Croatian nation, since both the Serbs and the Croats regarded the nationality of Bosnia’s inhabitants as the decisive factor that would settle the question of the state to which Bosnia would ultimately belong.

The Serbs, however, had spoken of Bosnia as a Serbian province from the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and Karadžić, as noted, considered the inhabitants of Bosnia to be uniformly Serbs. This idea, however, did not originate with Karadžić. It was a view espoused by most of the well-known Slavic philologists of the period, including the Slovene Jernej Kopitar and the Slovak-Czech Šafaryk, who lived in Vienna. For the preachers of the linguistic national model, factors such as shared historical tradition, the sense of belonging to a common state, or even the role of religion as a repository of culture and thus also an element of cultural difference did not matter or were not given the same importance.16 It is worth noting, however, that some former members of the Illyrian movement accepted Karadžić’s views and even the use of the ethnic name “Serbian” in the interests of Southern Slavic unity. Imbro Ignatijević Tkalac published a book in German on the so-called Eastern Question in which he predicted a bright future for the Serbs, whom he saw as the valiant heroes who had ousted the Ottomans and the nation that would finally create southern Slavic unity, a unity that would include the Croats.17

From then on, efforts towards Serbian national integration consistently included the aim of integrating non-Orthodox Christian Southern Slavs, though this was never achieved in practice. In his Načertanije (or draft plan), a writing that was secret at the time, Garašanin, who drew up the Serbian national program, promised religious equality, which he said would satisfy all Christians and “possibly some Muslims.” Garašanin does not touch on what would become of Muslims who were not satisfied with Serbian religious policy, much as he also offers no tactics with which to win the trust and sympathies of Bosnians of the Islamic faith, although he does suggest several ways to win over the Catholics and Franciscans in Bosnia.18 In the aforementioned work, Karadžić writes in a flattering tone about Bosnian Muslims. He praises their commitment to their faith, although he attributes this to their Orthodox Christian origins and contends that they were simply heirs to the strong tradition of religious conviction of their ancestors.

There were several reasons behind the failure of the integration attempts. Perhaps the most important of these was the simple fact that the Serbian national tradition and Orthodoxy were closely linked, and the liberal thinkers of the nineteenth century failed to recognize the significance of this link (though Garašanin saw this). The Serbian Orthodox Church was both the guardian of the Serbian tradition of statehood and the institution through which Serbian national consciousness was spread (for example, among the Orthodox Vlach population of Croatian and Bosnian origin). In the Serbian Principality of the nineteenth century, Eastern Orthodox Christianity was the state religion. The historical interweaving of Serbian identity and Orthodoxy was present in the public mind and even permeated the schools. All this contributed to the fact that, for the majority of Serbs, religious and national affiliation were closely intertwined, and thus in practice, the prevailing understanding of Serbian identity did not include Catholics or Muslims, even if they spoke the same or a similar language. In the case of the latter, the profound mistrust between Orthodox and Muslims also hindered national integration and even any form of rapprochement.

The national uprisings of Christians in the Balkans in the nineteenth century had been accompanied by atrocities, murders, and acts of ethnic cleansing committed against Muslim populations everywhere, including in Serbia, and there had been frequent reprisals against Christian civilians by the Ottoman forces. Clearly, this hardly contributed to the integration of Muslims into the Serbian community, so Karadžić’s claim that Muslims who spoke the Štokavian dialect were Serbs remained little more than an optimistic vision or wishful thinking. The situation is perhaps captured eloquently by the simple fact that Prince-Bishop of Montenegro Petar II Petrović Njegoš’ epic poem Gorski vijenac, or “The Mountain Wreath,” which is regarded as one of the prominent masterpieces of nineteenth-century Serbian Romantic literature, is in part about the tragic expulsion of Muslim Montenegrins. Karadžić’s comparatively enlightened ideas of integrating Muslims met with little interest in the latter half of the nineteenth century among the Serbian elites either. The recollections of Bosnian Franciscan Anto Knežević offer an illuminating example of this. Knežević visited Belgrade before the Bosnian uprising of 1876 and was received by Serbian minister Blaznavac. Blaznavac encouraged the Bosnian Serbs to rise up against Ottoman rule, and he assured Knežević that Serbia would help: “As soon as they launch the uprising, call on the Turks [i.e. the Bosnian Muslims] either to be baptized immediately or to flee wheresoever they can if they don’t want to be massacred.” Knežević, the Bosnian Franciscan, was appalled by this and offered the following reply: “Sir, that is horrifying, for they are our brothers, even if they are Turks.” He added that, in time, the Bosnian Muslims would see the light and repent for what they had done in the past to their Orthodox brothers. The minister, however, continued: “Do not believe this! The Turks are followers of a faith of curs, and as long as they adhere to their cur faith, you will never have any peace.”19

The atrocities that were committed against the Muslim population during the anti-Turkish Serb uprisings of the early nineteenth century (and which today we would refer to as ethnic cleansing) thus sowed the seeds of deep mistrust among the majority of Bosnia’s Islamic population and reduced the chances of Karadzic’s arguably enlightened vision of national integration across religious lines of ever becoming a reality.

In strong contrast with this, Ante Starčević and his followers broke with the anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic traditions of Croatian literature. In 1851, Starčević offered the following call for unity with Muslims in the Zagreb periodical Narodne Novine (The People’s Newspaper): “In Bosnia lives the purest and least corrupted part of our nation, which can more easily do without us than we can do without it.” He made another gesture in support of unity with people he regarded as Croatian Muslims in the 1858 issue of the Hervatski kalendar (Croatian Calendar) when he presented the Prophet Muhammad as a great historical figure. In 1876, in an article titled “The Eastern Question,” Starčević contended that the Bosnian landlords were not Turks, but rather were “the purest and most ancient Croatian nobility in all Europe.”20 This assertion, which admittedly seems astonishing at first, is made a bit clearer by interesting data collected by Ivo Banac, according to which some Catholic and Muslim clans still regarded themselves as related to each other at the beginning of even the twentieth century.21 Eugen Kvaternik was also firmly convinced that Bosnia was Croatian (as were, in his view, the Bosnian Muslims), and in his assessment, it was necessary for the Habsburgs to take Bosnia from the Serbs (and, through them, the Russians) and, of course, annex it to Croatia.22 The deeply religious, fanatical Catholic Kvaternik, however, sought to bring the Muslims back into the fold of the Catholic Church, as his first letter to Austrian foreign minister Count Johann Bernhard von Rechberg-Rothenlöwen in 1860 makes clear:

If the king of the whole of Croatia succeeded in reconquering these lands—iure postliminii—and were to unite them with other nations, it would be quite natural that the 400,000 Muslims would, under the influence of the Catholic State, become Catholics and not Pravo-Slavs.23

The Bosnian Franciscan Ivan Frano Jukić was the first to venture the claim that the Bosnian beys and agas were the descendants of the nobility of the medieval Bosnian kingdom. According to Jukić, these descendants of the Bosnian nobles who had converted to Islam formed the Bosnian Muslim ruling class, and thus Starčević’s aforementioned idea (that the Bosnian Muslims represented the “purest and most ancient Croatian nobility in all Europe”) was in fact inspired by Jukić. As it so happens, recent historical research based on Ottoman sources has shown kinship between very few noble families and the Bosnian Muslim elites, and there is no convincing evidence of any mass Islamization in fifteenth-century Bosnia. For the most part, the medieval Catholic Bosnian nobility either migrated to Croatia (for instance the Keglević, Janković, Jurišić, and Jelašić families) or were unable to maintain their social positions in Bosnia under Ottoman rule.

The notion that Bosnia was fundamentally Croatian was espoused and proclaimed by many pro-right Croatian politicians and historians in the nineteenth century. Starčević, who stood on comparatively liberal grounds, considered it unacceptable that in the “modern era” (i.e., the nineteenth century) religious difference could be an obstacle to national integration.24

Bosnia was considered Croatian not only by these two politicians of the Party of Rights, but also by all nineteenth-century Croatian historians (regardless of party affiliation), including Franjo Rački and Vjekoslav Klaić. Admittedly, their Serbian contemporaries considered Bosnia Serbian, and this was true well into the twentieth century. The well-known Serbian anthropogeographer Jovan Cvijić, in contrast, believed that the inhabitants of Bosnia in the Middle Ages were Bogomils and Orthodox, and that it was only through the proselytizing of the Franciscans, who behaved like militant zealots in their efforts to spread their faith, that religious difference had strengthened and now threatened to separate what Cvijić referred to as the “Serb-Croat” people.25

The Muslim-friendly ideas of Starčević and his adherents, however, found expression in Croatian literature (the same cannot be said of Serbian literature). Josip Eugen Tomić, for example, chose prince Husein Gradaščević as the protagonist of his 1879 novel Zmaj od Bosne, or “The Dragon of Bosnia” (a kind of title or nickname that had been given to Gradaščević by historical tradition),26 and portrayed him as a praiseworthy hero of the struggle for independence.27 Ante Kovačić, another Croatian writer who belonged to the circle of the Party of Rights, wrote a satire titled Smrt babe Čengićkinje (Death of Granny Čengić), in which he attacked Smrt Smail-age Čengića (The Death of Smail-aga Čengić), Mažuranić’s romantic epic (mentioned earlier in this article), which had strong anti-Turk or rather anti-Muslim overtones. These compositions sought to nurture sympathy among Croatian readers for their Bosnian brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith.

Bosnia at the Crossroads of Croatian and Serbian National Aspirations

The struggle between Serbs and Croats, fought mainly through propaganda, over whether Zagreb or Belgrade would manage to integrate the populations in the territories between them into their national narratives and political bodies was underway. This struggle was made more complex for both sides by their political positions. The tiny state of Serbia was semi-dependent on the Turks, and its room for maneuver was influenced by Austria and Russia, while the limited autonomy enjoyed by the Croats gave them even less room for maneuver in foreign policy than the Serbs had. Despite this, Garašanin had been sending agents to Bosnia since 1844, where the Serbian Orthodox Church had already been working for decades with increasing success among the Orthodox communities for national integration with Serbia. The Croats had already tried to gain a foothold through the Bosnian Franciscans during the period of Illyrianism (though with appeals to Yugoslav unity), so only the initiatives of the Party of Rights circle had any real success. The situation became increasingly tense in 1876, when the Bosnian Serb rebels declared their intention to join Serbia, which went into battle against the Turks for Bosnia but failed. At the same time, after the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy invaded Bosnia, the Croatian Sabor sent a resolution28 to Franz Joseph appealing to him to unite the new province with Croatia (an initiative which also failed). These two opposing endeavors of the Serbs and Croats became a source of serious tensions between the two nations.29 A press war broke out between Croatian and Serbian newspapers over the question of which nation had the legitimate claim to Bosnia and its inhabitants.

Starčević was perhaps the figure who was most strongly opposed to the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia. A large part of Croatian public opinion did not share his views, as it was hoped that Bosnia would then be annexed to Croatia-Slavonia. The pro-independence Starčević, however, had no wish to be the recipient of this “gift” from Austria (and it soon became clear that Vienna and Pest had no intention of making such a gift to the Croats). Starčević called for cooperation among the three Bosnian religious communities, as he feared that both Austria and Russia would try to bring them under their control. His concerns were hardly unfounded. After 1878, however, Croatian national integration efforts in Bosnia were not realized, or only to a limited extent.

Austro-Hungarian governor Béni Kállay espoused a policy of a unified Bosnian nation which prevented the integration of Muslim Bosnians into Croatia or Serbia. Admittedly, however, he could only boast of relative success. In 1891, in a poem published in the Kállay-backed journal Bošnjak, the eminent poet and writer Safvet-beg Bašagić still wrote in favor of the Bosnian national concept. A few years later, however, Bašagić identified as a Croat and had come to espouse Starčević’s views. In developing his new concept, Kállay chose the term Bosniak as the designation for this nation, which is a Slavic variant of the Turkish name for the inhabitants of the region, Bosnaklar (Bošnjak). Noel Malcolm, citing Bosnian authors, notes that the name Bosniak was only used by Muslims to refer to themselves.30 This was not the case, however, as Catholics had also used this name in the past, for instance a group of Catholic Croats who settled in and around Pécs in the seventeenth century and who, as the sources make clear, always referred to themselves as Bosniaks.31 According to Tomislav Kraljačić, Kállay wanted to apply the Hungarian nation-state model to Bosnia (this model is, in its essence, the same as the French national model):

Fundamentally, this [model] is a transformation of the doctrine of the Hungarian political nation. It is being adopted with the aim of creating a reliable political nation in an ethno-religiously heterogeneous society in Bosnia and Herzegovina led by the landowners as the pillars of this society.32

Kraljačić writes of the ethno-religious heterogeneity of Bosnia, but in my view, in 1882, one finds only the germs of a modern national consciousness, even among Catholics and Orthodox.33 Kállay, who represented the Austro-Hungarian (and not only Hungarian) Empire, tried to implement both an enlightened policy of modernizing state administration and modern institutions familiar from the British colonial model and to make the tensions arising from religious differences manageable in some way.34 An emphatically separate Croatian and Serbian national consciousness did not become widespread among the Catholic and Orthodox communities before 1914, a fact to which the still prevalent view of Southern Slavic unity and the existence of one and only one South Slavic nation contributed (and of course the modern national idea had not exactly gained strong influence among the largely uneducated Bosnian peasant population). It is possible that Kállay’s project to unify the Catholics and Orthodox simply came too late (due to the influence of modern nationalism, which had been gaining ground in Croatia and Serbia in the second half of the nineteenth century), but it is also possible that there was never really a strong chance of welding the different religious denominations of Bosnia into a unified Bosnian nation. In the twentieth century, Croatian and Serb aspirations essentially canceled each other out, although the Croats at times seemed to have had a better chance of successfully integrating the Muslims of Bosnia.

Thus, for a period of two decades beginning in 1883, acting through joint Minister of Finance and Governor of Bosnia Béni Kállay, the monarchy pursued a policy which was partly aimed at preventing Bosnia and its inhabitants from becoming attached to the Serbian or Croatian national narratives or integrated into the Serbian or Croatian political bodies, as both Vienna and Budapest were convinced that the monarchy’s position in the region would be equally threatened, whether Zagreb or Belgrade were able effectively able to state their claims to Bosnia. Partly for this reason, Kállay developed the concept of a unified Bosnian nation and forbade and strove to hinder Croatian and Serb integration efforts. According to Imre Ress, “Kállay sought a means of eliminating the rivalry between Serb and Croat nationalism and of overcoming Muslim religious conservatism by creating an integral Bosnian national consciousness.”35 His plan failed not only because he was too late (as noted above, this was hardly the only explanation), but also because he was unable to seal the Bosnian population off entirely from outside (Croat and Serb) influences.

Moreover, Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević, the most prominent Croatian poet of the time, became the editor of the literary section of the Sarajevo-based scientific and literary journal Nada, which Kállay had launched (and which was printed in Cyrillic and Latin letters). Kranjčević used the journal to publish works by the best representatives of Croatian modernist literature. The Serbs, however, boycotted the magazine.36 Ultimately, all Kállay really achieved with this journal was to hinder the integration of Bosnian Muslims into Croatia and Serbia and to awaken in them a sense of separateness that could not be explained solely by religious differences (the creation of a unified Albanian nation at least raises questions about the theory of insurmountable divisions between so-called civilizations on the basis, largely, of religious difference, a theory perhaps most frequently associated today with the work of American social theorist Samuel Huntington).37

Admittedly, there had been a struggle and even an armed uprising led by Bosnian nobles and agas in the 1930s against Istanbul for autonomy, but the main reason for this had been opposition to the Tanzimat reforms, which had threatened the privileges of the Bosnian Muslim landowners. In other words, this struggle had not had a truly national character. The integration of the Bosnian Muslim Southern Slavs into a national community was slow to take shape, but the process began during the period in which the region was under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy, and there were already signs of a transformation from a religious community to a national community. It was first and foremost Mehmet-beg Kapetanović Ljubušak and his circle that supported the principle of a separate (Muslim) Bosnian nation, but by the turn of the century, most of the Muslim secular intelligentsia had become more sympathetic to the Croatian national narrative, with only a minority of them gravitating towards the Serbs.38 Later, the Muslim ecclesial community became more of the foundation for separate Bosnian national aspirations.39 Although in principle Kállay had sought to prevent the Bosnian Orthodox from identifying with the Serbian nation as well, by obtaining from the Patriarch of Constantinople the right to appoint the leaders of the Orthodox community and by replacing the Greeks with Serbs, the Monarchy had in fact created an opportunity as early as the 1880s for the development of initiatives towards the integration of the Bosnian Orthodox population into the Serbian national narrative and nation, which was sanctioned (admittedly after a long struggle) by state recognition of the autonomy of the Orthodox community in 1905. In 1907, the Serbian National Organization was founded. The strivings of the Islamic religious community for autonomy also gained state recognition in the early twentieth century. The Muslim community was politically divided in the early twentieth century. The Muslim National Organization, founded in 1906, was more in favor of autonomy, while the Muslim Progressive Party, founded in 1908, was Croatian-oriented.

The shift in the church organization also constituted a turning point in the process of Croatian national integration. In 1882, the pope consented to the creation of the Archdiocese of Sarajevo (with the bishoprics of Banja Luka and Mostar), with Josip Stadler as Archbishop of Sarajevo. Stadler, who held this post from 1882 until his death in 1918, was a supporter of the so-called Trialist movement, which sought the unification of the Croatian-inhabited provinces. While the Franciscans of Bosnia had always favored southern Slavic unity, from the outset, the Franciscans of Herzegovina and Bishop Paskal Buconjić of Mostar were focused on promoting Croatian national integration.40 The Croats were slow to form a political community, and it was only in 1906 that they initiated the establishment of the Croatian National Community, which was only a cultural association at the time, as they were not permitted to pursue Croatian national policy or use national symbols. The Serbs, in contrast, had been able to use their national colors and symbols freely, partly from 1886 and fully from 1905. In 1910, shortly after the Annexation Crisis of 1908 (the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia), Bosnia-Herzegovina was given a constitution, and in provincial parliament that was elected at the time, the Croatian community, led by Nikola Mandić, generally cooperated with the Muslims against the Serbs, who were in the relative majority and were casting their gaze towards Serbia. After Kállay’s failure, the Austro-Hungarian authorities in Bosnia allowed the use of Croatian and Serbian ethnic names, and after the annexation, the constitution drafted by István Burián recognized three nations. But neither the Croats nor the Serbs gave up on their visions to integrate the Muslims of the region into their nations (they had already largely, though not entirely, abandoned their aspirations to assimilate each other), and both sides enjoyed some successes in this struggle (for instance, the cultural society Gajret, which was established in 1903, strove to promote Serbian identity among the Slavic Muslims, while the most powerful Muslim political organization allied itself with the Croatian party against the Serbs at the outbreak of World War I). The Serbs also tried to make gestures to win over the Muslims, and a work was published that listed prominent Ottoman officials of Bosnian descent among Serbian national heroes.41

Of course, there were exceptions and instances of cooperation between Serbs and Muslims in the name of South Slavic unity, for instance, Young Bosnia, a separatist movement that was active in Bosnia before the outbreak of World War I, or the aforementioned Gajret, which later was unambiguously oriented towards the Serbs, but which at first, when Safvet-beg Bašagić has played a more prominent role, had been more closely linked to the Croats.42

Indeed, at the time of the Balkan wars, Bosnian Muslims volunteers enlisted in the Serbian army even when some of the units of this army had massacred Muslims in communities in Kosovo.43 There was just as much distrust of Muslims among Serbs, of course, as there was of Serbs among Muslims because of the atrocities which had been committed by the Ottoman authorities and armed Muslims (for instance, when the First Serbian Uprising had been brutally squashed or at the time of the April Uprising of 1876).

Cooperation between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims was hindered by the fact that some leading Serbian politicians had a very low opinion of Bosnian Muslims. In his memoirs, the prominent sculptor Ivan Meštrović described a typical (and widely cited) conversation that he had in 1917 with Stojan Protić, a leading Serbian politician and the first prime minister of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Protić allegedly said that, when our army crosses the Drina River, we will give the Turks [this was the term he used to refer to Bosnian Muslims] 24 or perhaps 48 hours to return to the faith of their ancestors, and those who are unwilling to do so will be massacred, as we did in Serbia back in the day.44

Protić’s vision was not transformed into a reality at the time. Brutal atrocities of this kind were committed in 1918, but the official Belgrade leadership did not attempt to put his plan into practice.45

Hungarian Policy in Relation to Croatian National Integration Aspirations, with Regard to Croatian Ideas on Dalmatia and Bosnia

People active in political circles in Hungary first became aware of the Croatian national integration efforts after the emergence of the Illyrian movement, and it was then that the Hungarian press and then Hungarian politicians began to react to the Croatian nation-building ideology. Ljudevit Gaj, the leading figure of the Illyrian movement, took an active part in the Slavic-Hungarian language policy struggles by publishing two brochures written by Slovaks in Croatian lands. One was a pamphlet written in German by Samuel Hojč titled “Sollen wir Magyaren werden,” or “Should we become Magyars?” This writing, which encouraged opposition to the Magyarizing efforts of the Hungarian administration, became a source of tensions between Hungarians and Croats because Hojč had it published in Karlovac under the pseudonym Domoljub Horvatović, and it was seen by the Hungarians as a Croatian attack on the Hungarian cause and was even discussed as such in the National Assembly in Pozsony (Pressburg, today Bratislava, Slovakia). The second work was a writing by Lutheran pastor Georgius Rohonyi, another Slovak author who exerted in influence on the relationship between Croats and Hungarians at the time. Rohonyi’s Palma quam Dugonics similesque Magyari Slaviae erupere attentarunt, vindicata, which was written in Latin but was also distributed in manuscript form in Croatian translation, was intended as a response to remarks made by Hungarian author András Dugonics (many, many years earlier) denigrating the Slavs. However, even the Hungarian political knew little of the new political, civil rights, and territorial demands of the Croatian movement at the time.

Ferenc Császár, who had once taught at a grammar school in Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia), had been the first person to try to inform the Hungarian public about the situation in Croatia and the Illyrian movement in 1839. He had portrayed the figures of this movement as Pan-Slavic agitators who were threatening to upset the old Hungarian-Croatian alliance, and this image of the Illyrians was passed on in the Hungarian press of the 1840s.46

Thus, the image (ominous for Hungarians and the Habsburgs) of a Pan-Slavic empire as envisioned by the Croats had already appeared in the writings of Császár, but at the time, the Hungarian political elite was troubled not by Croatian plans that staked a claim to Bosnia (Hungarian public opinion was not even aware of Drašković’s pamphlet, in which Drašković cast his gaze on Bosnia), but rather insisted on Slavonia as an integral part of Hungary, drawing on historical sources.47 Hungarian politicians also did not accept the basic Croatian aspiration for national integration (which envisaged the unification of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia), and they even questioned Croatia’s status as a legal political entity. This was captured in statements made at the National Assembly in Pozsony, such as, “Where is this Croatia? Ah, it was destroyed long ago, in the time of King Matthias!”

In the 1840s, Lajos Kossuth, one of the most prominent Hungarian politicians of his time, also rejected the Croatian public law theory as unfounded, thus also rejecting the legal foundations of the old Croatian autonomy, which had been based on customary law, and he did so at a time when the Croatian national movement was seeking to expand its claims (and emphasize what it saw as the legal justifications and foundations of these claims) and was demanding the full unification of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia. This explains why the proposal made, at Kossuth’s suggestion, by Pest County in 1842 to detach Croatia (more specifically, the counties of Zagreb, Kőrös, and Varazdin) from the Hungarian administration was hardly well received by the Croatian national movement. Later, in late 1847, in a speech at the National Assembly in Pozsony, Kossuth questioned the very existence of Croatia as a legal separate, sovereign entity. “There is no Croatia,” he said, and he was only willing to accept use of the word Croatia “if no constitutional force is attached to the term.”48

Not everyone in Hungary shared Kossuth’s views concerning the question of Croatia and public law. The Hungarian conservatives cooperated with the Illyrianists after 1845, because, as was true in the case of many other questions, they did not want to make any changes to the Hungarian-Croatian public law relationship (not even on the question of Slavonia), as the articles by Count Antal Széchen make abundantly clear.49

Even in the Hungarian opposition, there were those who showed some understanding of or even support for Croatian national aspirations and even Croatian territorial ambitions. In his Szózat a magyar és szláv nemzetiség ügyében (Appeal on the issue of Hungarian and Slavic nationhood), Miklós Wesselényi, in contrast with Kossuth, characterized most of the Croatian national claims as legitimate, including the existence of a separate Croatian nation:

Croatia and Slavonia existed and still exist as a country. It had and still has its own nationhood, though tied to the Hungarian nation. They can justly demand the use of Latin, used instead of the mother tongue, or even the living mother tongues in their bosoms and in their internal administration; they can demand not only that they be permitted to live with their mother tongues among their families and in solitude, but that they be permitted to foster and cultivate them. 50

Wesselényi also recognized Croatian territorial claims, and he supported the unification of “Dalmatia, Croatia, and Slavonia,” and in his plan to transform the Habsburg Empire into a “federation of states” (a plan outlined in the same writing), he would have linked the Slavic part of Istria to Croatia and the Italian part of the peninsula to the Italian federal unit. Wesselényi made no mention of Bosnia, however, which at that time was still part of the Ottoman Empire. It is worth noting that by the end of August 1848, Kossuth was also willing to recognize Slavonia as part of Croatia.

After 1860, the Hungarian political elite or at least Ferenc Deák, who had done much to further Croatian-Hungarian reconciliation, recognized the basic legal and territorial aspirations of the Croatian national movement. The Croatian-Hungarian Compromise of 1868 explicitly stated that the Hungarian side recognized the right of the Croats not only to Dalmatia but to Slavonia as well, in theory. In the meantime, however, the Austrian parliament had declared the province part of Cisleithania, and the Hungarian government had no desire over the course of the next few decades to assert Croatian virtual rights, which figured in the Compromise and had the sanction of Emperor Franz Joseph, against the predilections of the Austrians. Franz Joseph had already approved of the Austrian decision, but he had also had no qualms about signing the Croatian-Hungarian Compromise. In connection with this, Éva Somogyi quotes the critics of the whole system on which these compromises rested (in other words, the Croatian–Hungarian Settlement or Nagodba of 1868 and the Austro-Hungarian Compromise or Ausgleich of 1867), who contend that this system was based on a lie. Somogyi challenges this argument, however, nothing that “the ‘resolution’ of the public law situation in Dalmatia shows that the complex compromise system on which the Ausgleich and the Nagodba rested had been built required uncertainty and imprecision on questions of public law, and it was advisable to avoid unambiguous decisions in the interests of making this system work.”51

The question of Bosnia and where it belonged only became relevant in 1878, after the occupation, and of course there was no question of the Hungarians
ever supporting the decision of the Croatian Sabor to annex Bosnia to Croatia (the newly annexed province was under joint Austro-Hungarian rule). This dual system of governance was not without problems, and the demands made by the Croatian Sabor (and the Croatian press) left no doubt in the minds of the government actors in Vienna and Budapest concerning the strength of Croatian nationalist demands. Indeed, the Croatian aspirations for a tripartite transformation of the Habsburg Monarchy became clearly palpable, even if they were not formulated so explicitly. Kálmán Tisza and the Hungarian government saw the issue very clearly, however, and the Hungarian Council of Ministers subsequently dealt with the matter. The prime minister even drafted a memorandum for the emperor in which he included a proposal for the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina between Cisleithania and Transleithania. The press campaign launched in the early 1880s by Frigyes Pesty against any Croatian-Hungarian compromise may well have been linked to Kálmán Tisza’s political ideas about Bosnia.52 Tisza’s plan was hardly unknown to the monarchy’s scholars.53 The text of the plan explicitly considered this division of Bosnia necessary in order to prevent Croatian trialist visions from threatening the empire (though I would note, these aspirations really only threatened the dualist system). Indeed, the memorandum is explicit about this:

As a final arrangement, however, the only solution that could be seriously taken into consideration would attach part of the lands in question to the lands of the Hungarian crown and the other part to the kingdoms and lands represented on the Austrian Imperial Council. This is the only way to ensure that the dualist structure of the Monarchy will not be threatened by the enlargement of the Empire to include Bosnia and Herzegovina. The inclusion of these two lands as direct imperial members of the Monarchy and their incorporation into the Monarchy in this form would be utterly contrary to dualism. This would create a third group of states in the Monarchy, which would draw Croatia, Dalmatia, and one or two lands from the territories represented on the Imperial Council or at least parts of them to itself… and the triad would be created in the Monarchy with a third, Slavic member.54

Tisza also advocated the annexation of Slavonia to Hungary, which clearly would have been necessary to establish a direct Hungarian link with the northern part of Bosnia. However, Franz Joseph did not support the Hungarian prime minister’s ideas, though he was also similarly unsupportive of the demands of the Croatian Sabor.

In the last decades of the Dualist era, questions concerning the place of Dalmatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Empire (i.e., the question of which part of the Empire they should belong to) was addressed several times in discussions on Hungarian-Croatian and Austrian-Hungarian-Croatian relations. Interestingly, the Hungarian political elite and much of the press also treated Croatian claims to Dalmatia as part of the Greater Croatian imperial aspirations, even though Hungary had acknowledged the legitimacy of this claim in the Croatian-Hungarian Compromise of 1868. When the Hungarian opposition (which still sought Hungarian independence from the Habsburgs) was making friends with people on Croatian oppositional circles, Ferenc Kossuth and his associates promised the Croats that they would support the reattachment of Dalmatia to Croatia (and the Hungarian crown), which led to the Fiume Resolution, in which Croatian opposition parties made the Hungarians a peace offer. As perhaps was to be expected (given the logic of oppositional party politics), the liberal periodical Az Újság (The Newspaper) criticized the supporters of the Fiume Resolution and the Hungarian political forces allied with them. It is worth quoting passages from some of these articles, especially on titled “The Croatian adventure.”55 According to Az Újság, the Fiume Resolution was little more than a manifesto of sorts of the vision of a Greater Croatia:

So let the coast from Trieste to Budva be Croatian. This was the program with which they set out to forge Hungarian-Croatian peace. The extreme newspapers of the coalition greeted this with a howl of triumph. It must be admitted, however, that the 1867 wing [the pro-dualist wing] of the Hungarian coalition was averse to this alliance. But the bait—Dalmatia—is having an effect here too.

After coming to power in 1906, the Hungarian opposition coalition forgot the promises it had made to the Croats concerning Dalmatia (Franz Joseph only allowed them to play a governmental role if they were willing to abandon demands for any major changes in public law). However, in Hungarian political life, the question of the part of the empire to which Dalmatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina should belong and, thus, the issue of Croatian ambitions (or the need to hinder or counter Croatian ambitions) continued to be raised later, even after the outbreak of World War I.

During the war, numerous solutions to the so-called Southern Slavic question within the Monarchy were proposed. The most strident opposition to any trialist solution or any solution that in any way threatened the Dualist system came from Prime Minister István Tisza, the National Party of Work, and the leading Hungarian political circles, and they maintained their firm opposition to these ideas right up to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The annexation of Dalmatia to the lands of the Hungarian crown was repeatedly demanded by the Hungarian public law (independence) opposition throughout the Dualist era. In 1889, Rezső Havass provided a new ideological foundation for this (with appeals not only to public law but also to economic arguments), and he continued to emphasize this view in the following decades, but unlike Pesty, he wanted to annex the province to the Hungarian crown on the basis of the 1868 Hungarian-Croatian Compromise (whereas Pesty would have attached it directly to Hungary, together with Slavonia). Havass’ vision harmonized with Croatian interests (at the time, Croats accounted for more than 80 percent of Dalmatia’s population, and they were also in the majority in the seaside cities and even in the leadership positions in the seaside cities). The issue remained on the agenda in the press, however, and during World War I, the idea of annexing other southern Slavic provinces to the Hungarian crown were also warmed up, as were the visions of other figures (such as Jenő Cholnoky and Gusztáv Beksics) concerning the creation of a great Hungarian empire. Cséry Lajos, for instance, nurtured these kinds of ideas in his 1915 booklet Új honfoglalás (A new conquest of a new homeland).56

In a book published in 1981, Bosnian Croatian historian Luka Đaković quoted minutes from meetings of the Hungarian Council of Ministers and claimed that the Hungarian government had already decided in 1915 to annex Dalmatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and even Slavonia to Hungary.57 Considering the delicate and complex public law relations and legal system of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this claim has to be taken with reservations.

At a meeting on October 2, 1915, the Hungarian Council of Ministers did indeed deal with this important issue of public law.58 This urgency of the question was in part a product of the events of the war. The suggestion had been made that Russian Poland should be annexed to the monarchy, more precisely the Austrian part, and the Hungarian leadership feared that this might compromise Hungary’s position vis-à-vis Vienna. Balance could be reestablished, were this to happen, by annexing Dalmatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Hungarian crown. This question was discussed at this October meeting of the Council of Ministers, where Prime Minister István Tisza was granted authorization to make a statement on the matter at the joint ministerial meeting in Vienna. Tisza did just thus at a meeting on October 6.59 In my view, it is worth noting that the matter was not discussed behind the backs of the Croats, and indeed the document emphasizes that Tisza invited Baron Iván Skerlecz, the viceroy of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia, “as a public law figure with an primary interest in the aforementioned group of questions.” At the Council of Ministers meeting, in connection with the annexation of Dalmatia to the Hungarian Crown, explicit and emphatic reference is made to Article XXX of the Law of 1868, which “almost obliges” the Hungarian party to annex the province to the Hungarian Crown, united with Croatia. The idea of annexing Slavonia directly to Hungary was indeed raised at the meeting, but mention of this is immediately followed in the minutes by the following text: “all these questions will have to be debated and determined at the time with the involvement of the competent Croatian-Slavonian and possibly Dalmatian figures.”60 Given the shaping ideas of the period, I think it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that there were no Croatian political figures (including Magyar-friendly Croatian politicians) who would have agreed to the annexation by Hungary of Slavonia. And without asking the Croatian Sabor, this major change in public law could not have been implemented anyway, and the document clearly indicates that the Hungarian government had no intention of consulting with the Croatian Sabor.

Hungarian ideas and political aspirations concerning Croatian national integration, tripartite plans, or the question of which part of the empire Dalmatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina should belong to became irrelevant with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918. The newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes created a new situation. For the Croats, however, this new situation bore an important affinity with the old. Where earlier, they had had to contend with Austrian and Hungarian centers of power, now, they found themselves under the sway of a Serbian center of power.

Croatian Attempts to Integrate Bosnian Muslims in the Interwar Period and during World War II

Between the two World Wars, the issue was still unresolved in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.61 In many ways, the following contention by Ivo Banac reflects the reality of the earlier period of the rivalry between the Croat and Serb national projects for Muslims: “the Muslim masses in Bosnia instinctively felt that national alignment, whether to the Croat or the Serb side, was dividing their community, especially seeing as how the Croat-Serb conflict in Bosnia was particularly intense. Being a Serbian Muslim meant being anti-Croat and vice versa.”62 The Yugoslav state was firmly dominated by the Serbs between the two World Wars, and this had negative and even tragic consequences for Muslims as well (they suffered severe atrocities, including many deaths, at the hands of Serb nationalist extremists). The circumstances were particularly dire for the Muslim communities after the proclamation of a dictatorship by King Alexander in 1929. The Bosnian agrarian question took on a national dimension, and the land reform measures led to bloody clashes between Muslim landowners and Serb peasants, with the state power giving its support to the peasants.63 This may explain why, although the JMO (the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation), which was led by Mehmed Spaho64 and was the most powerful political party of the Muslim community, constantly tried to maneuver between Belgrade and Zagreb, most of the members of the Muslim intelligentsia at the time identified as Croats. Indeed, with the exception of Spaho, all the party’s MPs identified as Croats. (It is perhaps worth noting that Spaho insisted on his Muslim identity, in the national sense, but one of his brothers identified as Croat and the other as Serb.) Serbian politician Svetozar Pribičević wrote the following on this: “The (Muslim) intelligentsia is overwhelmingly Croatian-oriented, and the masses blindly follow the intelligentsia.”65

This was the period when Safvet beg Bašagić, who as a subject of the Habsburg Monarchy had not identified himself as either Croatian or a Serbian Bosnian, openly declared himself Croatian. In 1931, he published Znameniti Hrvati – Bošnjaci i Hercegovci u Turskoj carevini (Illustrious Croats – Bosniaks and Herzegovinians in the Turkish Empire) a biographical encyclopedia of Bosnian Muslims who had played significant roles in the Ottoman Empire.66

Bašagić was not the only Muslim intellectual to publish writings in the 1930s emphasizing the Croatian identity of Muslims, of course, and articles in this vein later proliferated in the press of the Independent State of Croatia. In 1936, for instance, Abdulatif Dizdarević wrote an article titled “Muslim Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” and Munir Šahinović Ekremov published an article titled “Muslims in the Past and Present of the Croatian Nation” in the 1938 yearbook of Croatian youth in Bosnia- Herzegovina.67 In 1938, Muhamed Hadžijahić published a book on Croatian Muslim literature before 1878 in Sarajevo.68

Naturally, Catholic Croatian authors also wrote many such works in the interwar period emphasizing the Croatian identities of Muslims. One could mention Stjepan Banović, who published a book in 1927 titled The Croatianness of the Old Dubrovnik and Bosnians and Herzegovinians, or Mladen Lorković, whose well-known work Narod i zemlja Hrvata (The country and lands of the Croats) treated Muslims as part of the Croatian nation, and Krunoslav Draganović, who expressed a similar view in his book Hrvati i Herceg-Bosna (Croats and Herzegovina), which he had published under the pseudonym Hrvoje Bošnjanin in 1940 (it was banned by the Yugoslav authorities).69

Tensions between Croatians and Serbians over Bosnia flared up in 1939, when, on the eve of World War II, the Croatian banovina was created as a step in the process towards the federalization of the previously centralized state (and as a compromise between Serbs and Croats that was intended to save the country). The question of the borders of this new political entity (which included not only historical Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia but also territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina) led to conflicts not only between Croats and Serbs, but also between Croats and Muslims and even among Croats. Many of the members of the Croatian Peasant Party, which had negotiated the compromise, were against it. They claimed that “a Free Croatia without Bosnia would be like a man without lungs,” or they argued against the partition of Bosnia, insisting that “within Croatia, Bosnia occupies a special place with Hercegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina are the core, the center, and the pillar of the Croatian territory (...) We will not allow Bosnia and Herzegovina to be partitioned!”70

When Bosnia was eventually partitioned, this caused great consternation among Muslims. Although they unquestionably bore resentment for the Croats, their anger was directed primarily at the Serbs. Croatian politician of the Peasant Party Vladimir Maček wanted a referendum to determine which part of the Yugoslav state Bosnia would belong to, but the Serbs, fearing defeat, refused to go along.71 Džafer Kulenović, who was Mehmed Spaho’s successor, suggested the creation of an autonomous and larger Bosnian federal entity, which would have included not only the parts earlier attached to Zeta and Drina banovinas (in 1939), but also the parts of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar that were inhabited by a Muslim majority. The Bosnian demand for autonomy increased after the great disappointment with the Croatian elite, and these endeavors indicated that unity based on religious grounds had come to the fore.

After Yugoslavia had been shattered by the Axis powers in World War II, Bosnia became part of the Independent State of Croatia. In 1939, the Ustaše was still strongly opposed to the partition of Bosnia. They espoused Starčević’s views and considered the Muslims and the entire province to be Croatian. Ante Pavelić, Prime Minister of the puppet state, referred to Muslims as the flower of the Croatian nation, and there were Muslims who, claiming to be Croats, played a leading role in the Ustaše government. Muslims were not unambiguously supportive of the Ustaše state and dictatorship (soon, masses of Croats turned against them). Horrific massacres of the inhabitants of Muslim villages by the Serbian nationalist royalist rebels, the Chetniks, drove Muslim crowds to the side of the Ustaše during the war (from which the Croatian state could not protect them), but there were still some initiatives among them for autonomy from the Croatian state, since they felt that, the rhetoric and praise notwithstanding, they had been given no real access to state power. They wanted to establish an autonomous Bosnia with German help and to create their own armed forces.72 The Nazi invaders went so far as to form an SS division (the Handsar Division) that was composed for the most part of Bosnian Muslims, with a small number of Croats, but this division was then taken to fight in France (it was later brought back, but it quickly soon crumbled in the fight against the partisans). By the end of the war, many of them ended up in the partisan formations fighting under Tito.

The Failure of the Croatian National Integration Experiment after World War II: The Rise of an Independent Bosnian Nation

In May 1945, as the war slowly ground to a halt, Croatian Ustaše troops fleeing to Austria were handed over by the British to the communist partisans, who quickly slaughtered tens of thousands of them. Many of the Croatian troops were Muslims.73 Muslim intellectuals who identified as Croats were either killed in the war or forced to emigrate. The Croatian attempt to integrate Bosnian Muslims into the Croatian nation thus lost any real foundation, if for no other reason than simply because the Tito government resolutely blocked it and granted Bosnia-Herzegovina the status of a separate republic (though initially it did not declare Muslims a separate nation, but rather merely added them to the number of people belonging to the category of “unspecified Yugoslav nationality”). The Yugoslav communist leadership did not support the integration of Muslims into the Serbian nation either (though many Muslim intellectuals followed this path in the leadership of the new state between 1945 and roughly 1965, mainly because of Serbian dominance within the party leadership in Bosnia). Finally, in the 1960s, the call for the recognition of Muslims as a separate nation became stronger and stronger, both among Muslims and in the party leadership. This recognition was officially granted in 1968. They were referred to as Muslims with a capital M, which was a significant step, as according to the rules of spelling in Croatian and Serbian, the names of nations are written with a capital letter, while the same term would designate religious affiliation if written with a lower-case first letter. The term Bosnian only began to be used as a designation of a nation after 1990.

For Croatian politicians and writers in exile and even for some Croatian nationalists still living in Yugoslavia, time stood still. They were not willing to acknowledge that in Bosnia and among the Muslim community in Bosnia, nationalist aspirations for independence (aspirations which earlier had perhaps often been latent but had also at times been quite evident) were beginning to rise to the fore. Croatian émigrés, who were opposed to the communist regime in Croatia, may well have believed that this behavior on the part of Muslims was merely a consequence of the dictatorship and that once this dictatorship had been overthrown, Muslims would “come back” to the Croatian nation. In an article titled “Herceg-Bosna i Hrvatska” (Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia), which was published by Hrvatska revija (Croatian Review) in Buenos Aires in 1963, exiled Franciscan historian Dominik Mandić’s argued for the Croatian origin and nationality of Muslims. Mandić proposed that Bosnia and Herzegovina should be an autonomous entity within a newly independent Croatian state.74 Émigré authors such as Kazimir Katalinić and Ivo Korsky were still firmly convinced that Muslims were the “flower of the Croatian nation.”75 Admittedly, in its 1988 program, the Croatian Republican Party in exile had written about the relationship between Muslim and Catholic Croats and Bosnia and the more “narrowly understood” Croatia that “despite their identical Croatian origins, historical events have given these two parts of Croatia different characteristics.” The party therefore suggested that the territory of the then Croatian Socialist Republic and Bosnia-Herzegovina should be transformed into a Croatian federal state consisting of two parts.76

Franjo Tuđman, one of the Croatian politicians living in Yugoslavia (for a time in a state of internal exile), also embraced the notion that the Muslim communities of the region would identify as Croats if given the chance. Tuđman had fought as a member of the partisans during the war. He then served in Tito’s regime before falling afoul of the dictatorship and even being imprisoned. He served as the first president of independent Croatia during the breakup of Yugoslavia, and he was in office when the referendum on Croatian independence was held in 1991. In his 1982 book Nacionalno pitanje u suvremenoj Europi (The National Question in Contemporary Europe), Tuđman claimed that the “vast majority of the Muslim population... when given the opportunity, always considered themselves part of the Croatian nation.” He also insisted that Bosnia was “the natural hinterland of Croatia, and its separation from Croatia had fatal consequences.”77

In his book, Tuđman proposed that, just as multi-ethnic Vojvodina or Albanian-majority Kosovo were part of Serbia as autonomous provinces, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina should form a federal entity within Yugoslavia. However, when Yugoslavia broke up in 1991–92, the Muslim Bosnian political elite did not cherish the political aspirations that Zagreb had expected them to have. In an attempt to give expression to its own interests, Bosnia-Herzegovina first tried to stay out of the war, and when this failed in the wake of the Serbian invasion, it was compelled to enter into an alliance with the Croats.

Attempts to implement the various international plans for the internal partition of Bosnia (the Vance-Owen plan, the Owen-Stoltenberg plan, etc.) turned Croats and Bosnians (who had been allies of a sort) against each other, in part simply because the manner in which these plans were implemented depended almost entirely on circumstances on the ground, or in other words, if there were armed Croats on the ground, a Croatian administration was set up, if there were armed Serbs, a Serbian administration, and if there were armed Bosnians, a Bosnian administration. The proposal made to the Croatian side by Slobodan Milošević regarding the partition of Bosnia (which from a territorial point of view was simply the 1939 solution, which meant a loss of land for the Muslim side) only exacerbated the situation.

The war which broke out between Croats and Bosnians in late 1992 and early 1993, which involved a number of serious acts of war on both sides (Croats in and around Mostar, Bosnians in central Bosnia), only came to an end in 1994 in large part as a consequence of US mediation. In the Washington Agreement, peace was concluded between the Croatian and Bosnian sides (the following year, they fought together again against the Bosnian Serb forces). They also agreed to establish a Bosnian-Croat Federation, which was enshrined in the Dayton Peace Treaty of December 14, 1995. The armed confrontation, which lasted a few months and did not include all the areas where Bosnians and Croats lived together (for instance, in Tuzla and the Sava River region, Bosnians and Croats continued to fight together against Serbian forces), finally put an indisputable end to the centuries-old Croatian attempts to integrate the Muslims of the region into the Croatian nation and the Croatian national narrative and relegated the idea of a Croat Bosnia to the world of historical myth.78

Archival Sources

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Vienna (ÖStA)

Haus-, Hof und Staatsarchiv (HHStA)

Politisches Archiv I (PAI)

Kt. 459 Titkos iratok [Geheimakten] Liasse IX. Bosznia-
Hercegovinára vonatkozó iratok 1877–1883.


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1 Maria Todorova’s book on the image of the Balkans that took form in the West and the images that the peoples of the Balkans have of themselves garnered considerable praise and became widely familiar (and was also translated into several languages). See Todorova, Imagining the Balkans. I was pleased to find, when this essay was originally published in the periodical Limes in 2003, that I had reached conclusions similar to Todorova’s conclusions about images of the Balkans abroad.

2 See Csaplár-Degovics, Az albán nemzettéválás kezdetei (1878–1913).

3 See Džaja, Konfessionalität und Nationalität Bosniens und der Herzegowina.

4 Miklós Zrínyi (1620–1664) was a military leader and statesman, and he also authored the first epic poem in Hungarian, Szigeti veszedelem, or The Siege of Sziget, a poetic narrative of the battle against the Ottoman forces in 1566 in which his great-grandfather Nikola IV Zrinski perished. His brother Petar (1621–1671) was also an important military leader, statesman (banus of Croatia) and also wrote poetry, though unlike his older brother Miklós, Petar wrote in Croatian.

5 On Ráttkay and the ideas of the Croatian-Slavonian orders in the seventeenth century, see Bene, Egy kanonok három királysága.

6 See Molnár, Magyar hódoltság, horvát hódoltság.

7 Vitezović, Croatia rediviva and Blažević, Vitezovićeva Hrvatska.

8 On early, pre-modern notions of Illyria, see Fine, When Ethnicity did not Matter in the Balkans. See also Blažević, Ilirizam prije ilirizma,

9 Bene, Egy kanonok három királysága, 130. Sándor Bene’s excellent book offers a clear overview of Ráttkay’s political vision: an equal alliance among Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia (the “Kingdom Three-in-One” and Hungary). Notably, Ráttkay did not include Bosnia in his Croatian state project.

10 χοριον Βοσωνα/horion Bosona. (DAI)

11 I take the citations from the poem from the second edition (published in Split in 1991) of the 1937 Crvena Hrvatska by M. Štedimlija (published in Zagreb).

12 Vitezović, Croatia rediviva. The volume contains Ritter’s writing (held in Bologna) to Marsigli on the question of the Croatian borders: Responsio ad postulata comiti Marsilio. Odgovor na potraživanja grofa Marsilija, 187–215.

13 Ritter, Bossna captiva.

14 On the image of Turks (meaning Muslims) in the earlier Croatian literature, see Dukić, Sultanova djeca. On economic and social conditions and relations in the Ottoman Empire, see Demeter, A Balkán és az Oszmán Birodalom.

15 See Kovčezić za istoriju, jezik i običaje Srba by Karadžić.

16 Demeter and Bottlik, Maps in the Service of the Nation.

17 Tkalac, Das serbische Volk, 345–46.

18 Garašanin, Načertanije. The secret plan only came to light at the beginning of the twentieth century.

19 Jelenić, Kultura i bosanski franjevci, vol. 2, 207.

20 The two citations are found in Starčević, “Ocjena drugog sveska Bosanskog prijatelja I. F. Jukića,” 6, and Starčević, Istočno pitanje, 16.

21 See “Ima jedna Bosna” [There exists one Bosnia]. Enes Karić interjúja Ivo Banac történésszel. Danas, Zagreb, January 22, 1991; and Banac, Protiv straha, 70–79.

22 On Kvaternik’s ideas concerning Bosnia, see Gross, Izvorno pravaštvo, 268–69 and Pavličević, Hrvati i istočno pitanje, Chapter titled: “Eugen Kvaternik o istočnom pitanju od 1859–1868. godine,” 393–405.

23 Kvaternik’s letter to Count Rechberg (Pismo Eugena Kvaternika grofu J. B. Rechbergu 1), Kvaternik, Politički spisi, 127. In 1868, Kvaternik published a two-volume work on the so-called Eastern Question. Kvaternik, Istočno pitanje i Hrvati.

24 For a summary of the ideas and aspirations of the Croatian Party of Rights, see Gross, Povijest pravaške ideologije and Gross, Izvorno pravaštvo.

25 Cvijić, Balkansko poluostrvo i južnoslovesnke zemlje. In his work, which was published under the dictatorship of King Alexander, Cvijić wrote not of the Serbian nation but of the Serb-Croat nation, in support of the idea of Southern Slavic unity, which was the official government line.

26 Husein Gradaščević (1802–1834) rebelled against Istanbul in 1831 in response to reforms introduced by Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II which sought to weaken the privileges of the nobility. The uprising, the goal of which had been Bosnian autonomy, was defeated, but Gradaščević, who died under mysterious circumstances after having been allowed to return to the Ottoman lands after a brief period of exile, remains a Bosnian national hero to this day.

27 Tomić, Josip Eugen: Zmaj od Bosne, Zagreb, 1879. The novel was published a year after the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and was an immediate success, as the fate of Bosnia was a major concern for Croatian public opinion at the time.

28 Petition in form of “felirat” / “adresa.”

29 These problems contributed to the fall of Croatian poet and viceroy Ivan Mažuranić, as he could not ensure that Croatian legal measures would not go beyond their jurisdiction with this resolution, as was claimed by Franz Joseph. On the relationship of Croatian politics to the Eastern Question and Bosnia, see Pavličević, Istočno pitanje i Hrvati, in particular the chapter titled “Hrvatski sabor u istočnoj krizi (1875–1878),” 406–24.

30 Malcolm, Bosnia, 148. Malcolm refers to the work by Bosnian author Mustafa Imamović, “O historiji bošnjačkog pokušaja.” Purivatra, Muslimani i bošnjaštvo, 31–70.

31 See the material under Regnicolaris Conscriptio for the year 1715 in Baranya County in the MNL OL Online Database. https://adatbazisokonline.hu/ Last accessed on June 1, 2022.

32 Kraljačić, Kalajev režim u Bosni i Hercegovini, 524.

33 In 1878 and 1882, the various religious groups fought together against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Demeter, and Csaplár-Degovics, A Study in the Theory and Practice of Destabilization.

34 See Malešević, “Forging the Nation-centric World: Imperial Rule.”

35 Ress, “Kállay Béni bosnyák nemzetteremtési kísérlete,” 246.

36 Ibid., 250; Ćorić, Nada, 136–42.

37 On the gradually emerging process of national integration among the Bosnian Muslims under Habsburg rule, see Donia, Islam pod dvoglavim orlom.

38 See Ress, “Kállay Béni bosnyák nemzetteremtési kísérlete,” 243–53 and “A bosnyák nemzettudat fejlődése,” 254–73. See also Donia, Islam pod dvoglavim orlom.

39 On the Bosnian national idea, see Filandra et al., Bošnjačka ideja.

40 On the situation in Bosnia and Croatian political initiatives, see Grijak, “Položaj Hrvata u Bosni i Hercegovini u drugoj polovici 19. i na početku 20. stoljeća.”

42 Malcolm, Bosnia, 152.

43 Malcolm, Kosovo, 254. According to the report sent to the Vatican by Lazer Mjeda, archbishop of Skopje, Serbs massacred some 25,000 Albanians (most of whom were Muslims) in 1912–13. The European press at the time reported on the atrocities, and Serbian Social Democrat Dimitrije Tucović condemned them.

44 Meštrović, Uspomene na političke ljude i događaje. The chapter in question: “Diskusije sa Stojanom Protićem,” 63–67. The incriminating statement (“Kad prijeđe naša vojska Drinu, dat ćemo Turcima dvadeset i četiri sata, pa makar i cetrdeset i osam, vremena da se vrate na pradjedovsku vjeru, a što ne bi htjelo, to posjeći, kao što smo u svoje vrijeme uradili u Srbiji”; found on page 66) was spoken in May 1917 in Nice, where the members of the Yugoslav Committee were negotiating with Protić, who was representing the Serbian government. Trumbić was also present as the head of the Committee, as were a few other members, but according to Meštrović, they were never able to make their voices heard. When the latter was finally able to pose a question to the Serbian political, Protić affirmed the statement he had already made.

45 Malcolm, Kosovo, 273. He mentions 6,040 Albanians who were murdered in 1918 out of revenge, and atrocities were also committed in Bosnia. Malcolm, Bosnia, 162. On the Serbian side, these brutalities were usually justified with reference to the anti-Serb activities of the so-called Schutzkorps, the anti-Serb forces set up by the Austro-Hungarian authorities, but contrary to popular belief, in addition to Muslims and Catholics, there were also many Serbs who served as members of these notorious units. Banac, Nacionalno pitanje u Jugoslaviji, 301.

46 Császár, “Utazási töredékek. Horváthon.”

47 The question of so-called Lower Slavonia had been raised before. In 1790, Skerlecz wrote a discussion paper on the subject titled “Fundamenta quibus ostenditur tres inferiores Slavoniae comitatus semper ad iurisdictionem regni et bani Slavoniae pertinuisse.” In Miskolczy, A horvát kérdés története és irományai, vol. 1, 427–29. This writing was republished by the Croats in 1832, when the question was again on the agenda. On the Hungarian side, among the polemical writings on the question of whether Slavonia belonged to the Slavs, it is worth mentioning György Gyurikovics’s work published in Tudományos Gyűjtemény (Scientific Collection) in 1836 and titled “Verőce, Szerém, Pozsega vármegyék és a Gradiscai, Brodi, Pétervárad Grenzschafts Regementek vidékei a Magyar Országnak elválaszthatatlan Teile”, as well as Georgius Fejér’s “Croatiae et Slavoniae cum Regno Hungariae nexus et relationes.” Almost up to the present day, Croatian historiography has considered the area Croatian territory, even in the Middle Ages, which is why it is perhaps worth mentioning that in the most recent historical atlas published in Zagreb, the issue is discussed in light of the results of research on the Hungarian Middle Ages, and two full pages of maps are included on the “migration” of Slavonia, clearly showing where the province was in the fifteenth century and where it ended up in the eighteenth. Regan, Hrvatski povijesni atlas, 330–32 and 342–44.

48 Barta, Kossuth Lajos 1848/49-ben, vol. 1, 440. For Kossuth, Croatia existed only as a geographical term.

49 Széchen, “A horvát bonyodalmak, I–IV”; Széchen, “Még egy szó a horvát ügyekről.”

50 Wesselényi, Szózat a magyar és a szláv nemzetiség ügyében, 271.

51 Somogyi, Hrvatska u zajedničkom sustavu, 267. According to Somogyi, these two apparently contradictory stances actually contributed to the survival of the empire on the basis of compromises.

52 Imre Ress called attention to the possible link between Frigyes Pesty’s press campaign and Kálmán Tisza’s political plan in an essay included in a volume of papers from a 2019 conference on Hungarian-Serbian relations held in Belgrade. Ress, “Thallóczy Lajos és Kállay Béni.”

53 Rutkowski, Der Plan für eine Annexion Bosniens. See also Szabó, Ungarns Politik gegenüber Bosnien.

54 Confidential Memorandum by Royal Hungarian Prime Minister Tisza on the treatment of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the foreseeable regulation of public law relations. January 1883. AT-OeStA/HHStAPAI 459 Secret documents: Liasse IX. documents regarding Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1877–1883. Box 459/2.

55 Az Újság, October 8, 1905.

56 One example of this imperial thinking is Jenő Cholnoky’s Jövőnk az uralkodóház (Our future is the ruling house). For more on Hungarian imperial ideas in the Balkans, see Romsics, A magyar birodalmi gondolat, and also Dupcsik, A Balkán képe Magyarországon,70–123.

57 Đaković, Položaj Bosne i Hercegovine u austrougarskim koncepcijama. The sources cited by Đaković, a Bosnian Croatian author, are included in Iványi, Magyar minisztertanácsi jegyzőkönyvek. They do not substantiate Đaković’s contentions, however.

58 Iványi, Magyar minisztertanácsi jegyzőkönyvek, document 103, 189–97. The source publication includes the statement made on the matter in German as well, which Tisza presented at the joint ministerial meeting, with the addition of several new points.

59 Iványi, Magyar minisztertanácsi jegyzőkönyvek, 194.

60 Ibid. On page 193 of this work, a statement is found by Iván Skerlecz according to which the governor of Dalmatia told him in a conversation that the Dalmatian population did not want to be annexed to Croatia, but Skerlecz insists that this is not true. The latter was confirmed by the experiences on the ground of Ferenc Herczegh, who was neutral on the issue. According to Herczegh, the Dalmatian Catholics clearly regarded themselves as Croatian and wanted to unite with Croatia rather than with an independent Dalmatia. See Herczegh, Szelek szárnyán, Budapest, 1905.

61 For a detailed discussion of the question, see Džaja, Politička realnost jugoslavenstva.

62 Banac, Nacionalno pitanje u Jugoslaviji, 13.

63 For an objective account of the social and economic conditions of the first Yugoslav state, not slanted by national bias, see Bíró, A jugoszláv állam 1918–1939

64 Kamberović, Mehmed Spaho.

65 Pribičević, Diktatura kralja Aleksandra, 24. Pribičević originally had it published in 1933, during his time as an émigré in France.

66 Bašagić, Znameniti Hrvati Bošnjaci i Hercegovci.

67 See Šarac and Primorac, Hrvatsko podrijetlo bosansko-hercegovačkih Muslimana.

68 Hadžihajić, Hrvatska muslimanska književnost prije, 1878. In socialist Yugoslavia, however, Hadžihajić related differently to the question of Muslim national identity. See the book by him published in 1947: Hadžihajić, Od tradicije do identiteta: Geneza nacionalnog pitanja bosanskih muslimana.

69 Draganović, “Hrvati i Herceg-Bosna (povodom polemike o nacionalnoj pripadnosti Herceg-Bosne).”

70 The citations of the ideas of the Croatian Peasant Party are taken from Ferdo Čulinović’s book Jugoslavija između dva rata, vol. 2, 142. On the politics of the Croatian Peasant Party, see Matković, Povijest Hrvatske seljačke stranke.

71 On Maček’s view concerning Bosnia, see the book by Ljubo Boban titled Sporazum Cvetković-Maček.

72 See most recently Hoare, Marko Attila: Bosanski muslimani u drugom svjetskom ratu.

73 This contention is made by Krunoslav Draganović in his book The biological extermination of Croats, but the demographic findings of Vladimir Žerjavic confirm that there were several thousand Muslims among those who were executed. See Žerjavic, Opsesije i megalomanije.

74 Mandić, “Herceg-Bosna i Hrvatska.”

75 Katalinić, Argumenti. Also Korsky Hrvatski nacionalizam. I have drawn on the views of Korsky and Katalinić as expressed in their books printed in Zagreb in the 1990s. When these books were published, both Korsky and Katalinić were living as émigrés.

76 Katalinić: Argumenti, 83.

77 Tuđman, Nacionalno pitanje u suvremenoj Europi, 142.

78 According to Bosnian writer Ivan Lovrenović, if one wanted to define Bosnia from an exclusively national-political point of view, that would be a dead end, which is why both Kállay and the Yugoslav leadership under Tito failed. Lovrenović, A régi Bosznia, 144.