Modern history

19

Austria

ON JUNE 2, 1919, a brief ceremony took place in the great hall of the old royal château at St.-Germain-en-Laye on the outskirts of Paris. Delegates from Austria, representing a morsel of what had once been a great empire, received their peace terms at a table covered with a red carpet, as the rows of allied delegates stared at them. The Czech prime minister, who knew several of the Austrians from the time they had all been colleagues, ostentatiously turned his back. The walls were decorated with pictures of animals, now extinct, from the Stone Age. “Several among us,” remarked Mordacq, Clemenceau’s aide, “could not help but notice that.” 1

Austria-Hungary, the vast collection of territories painstakingly assembled since the thirteenth century by the Habsburgs, was already disintegrating before 1914. At its heart the link between the Austrian territories (which included Slovenia, Bohemia and Moravia as well as the German lands) and the kingdom of Hungary (which ruled over Slovakia and Croatia) had become as tenuous as the hyphen which joined their two names. The Habsburgs had always found it wise to compromise with Hungary. In 1867, weakened by defeat at the hands of Prussia, they made the greatest compromise of all: the empire was now the Dual Monarchy, a partnership between two states, each with its own parliament. They still had the same ruler in Franz Joseph but he was emperor in the Austrian territories and king in Hungary. They used the same postage stamps and coins, negotiated a common foreign policy and, with much wrangling between delegations from each parliament, they shared expenses. Otherwise, each ran its own affairs.

Hungarian nationalism was not the only nationalism buffeting the empire in the decades before 1914. In the north, the Poles and the Czechs were stirring and in the south Italians were agitating to join the newly unified Italy. Serbs, Slovenes and Croats talked of greater autonomy, perhaps even a South Slav state of their own. If Hungarians had autonomy, why shouldn’t others? Franz Joseph, driven by the great but simple object of handing on what he had inherited to his successors, step-by-step gave way on nationalist demands to preserve the façade of imperial unity. In both his parliaments, the one in Vienna and the one in Budapest, the deputies increasingly organized themselves along national lines.

By the 1890s, the old emperor faced yet another challenge, from the new Austrian Social Democratic Party. Inspired by Karl Marx and drawing on the growing industrial working class as well as middle-class liberals in the great cities, it demanded universal revolution inside a reformed empire. Dr. Karl Renner, the affable and clever son of a Moravian peasant, who was the leading Socialist thinker on the national issue and a prominent Socialist deputy from 1907, downplayed the destructive threat of nationalism. He proposed an ingenious solution: each individual would be assigned to a nationality and each nationality would have an empire-wide body which would look after matters dear to nationalists such as culture and education. He was behind the times—or perhaps too far ahead of them. Nationalists in Austria-Hungary, as elsewhere, increasingly wanted their own states. Even his own party, the Social Democrats, for all its talk of working-class solidarity, was affected by nationalist rivalries.

In the last years of the peace, Austria-Hungary went from one political and constitutional crisis to the next. The Great War simply gave the final blow. “We were bound to die,” said Count Ottokar Czernin, one of the empire’s last foreign ministers. “We were at liberty to choose the manner of our death, and we chose the most terrible.” The civilian and military bureaucracies, never efficient at the best of times, fell apart under the strain of war, and national rivalries turned to hatred: Germans for Hungarians and Slavs for both. From 1915 onward, desertions from the army grew sharply as Czechs, for example, asked themselves why they were fighting for German or Hungarian officers against fellow Slavs especially as the war was going badly for Austria-Hungary. In the second half of 1916, the Russians won a great victory in Galicia and the Rumanians entered the war on the Allied side, temporarily seizing Transylvania. German troops salvaged the situation but the result was to leave Austria-Hungary very much the junior partner in the alliance. When the Austrian government urged Germany to consider a negotiated peace, it was met with a contemptuous lack of interest.2

In November 1916, the old emperor, a faded symbol of better days, finally died. It was increasingly clear that the peoples of the empire were tired of the war and, more dangerous, tired of the old order. The news from Russia in February 1917 brought warning of where such moods could lead. “If the Monarchs of the Central Powers are not able to conclude peace in the next few months,” warned Czernin, “the people will do so over their heads.”3 The new emperor, Karl, a gentle and sickly young man, sent out peace feelers to the Allies, which he was careful to keep secret from Germany. These went nowhere largely because the Italians, who had much to gain from the complete defeat of Austria-Hungary, were adamantly opposed to a separate peace.

By 1918, the empire was near its end. Strikes brought the cities to standstill, parts of the navy mutinied in the Adriatic and the army hemorrhaged soldiers. The authorities watched helplessly as Czech and South Slav deputies openly demanded their own independent states and demonstrators took to the streets in support throughout the provinces. That August, Czechs, Poles and South Slavs met in the southern city of Ljubljana to demand their respective freedoms. The Allies, who had up to this point insisted that they had no intention of destroying Austria-Hungary, now gave up on it. The signs were there for friends and foe alike to see: Allied support for an independent Poland (most dramatically in Wilson’s Fourteen Points), France’s recognition in June 1918 of the Czechoslovak National Council, Wilson’s statement the same month that “all branches of the Slav race must be completely liberated from German and Austrian domination.” For Poles, Czechs, Rumanians, Slovaks, Slovenes or Croats, the prison doors were opening, whether or not they were prepared to escape.4

On September 15, 1918, his armies collapsing, Karl defied his German ally and issued a public appeal for a peace conference. The Allies, seeing victory at hand, rejected the offer. Two weeks later, after Bulgaria had dropped out of the war, Germany agreed that the Dual Alliance should ask for an armistice. On November 3 representatives of Austria-Hungary signed an armistice agreement. While Karl waited for an end to the fighting, the links that had bound his empire finally snapped. One by one the nationalities declared their independence: the Poles on October 15, the Ruthenes on October 19, and the South Slavs on October 29. On October 28 independent Czech and Hungarian governments took office in Prague and Budapest. Two days later, the German-speaking Austrian deputies in the parliament in Vienna appointed a German-Austrian government for what was left of the empire. The Social Democrats, who were particularly strong in what was an increasingly revolutionary Vienna, took the main offices. Renner became the first chancellor of the new republic of Austria.

Almost unnoticed, Karl renounced his part in the government of the two halves of his empire on November 11 and 13. In what was a forlorn attempt to keep the succession alive for his heirs, he did not formally abdicate. He kept his titles, the products of so many marriages, bargains and conquests: Emperor of Austria; King of Hungary, of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia, Lodomeria, Galicia, and Illyria; Archduke of Austria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Kraków; Duke of Lothringia, of Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukovina; Grand Duke of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastella, of Auschwitz and Sator, of Teschen, Friaul, Ragusa and Zara; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol; and on and on. It was all gone, and he himself was to slip quietly from the world in 1922, when he died in Madeira of influenza. In March 1989, a few months before the division of Europe into East and West ended, his empress, Zita, died.

Preoccupied with satisfying Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Rumania, the peacemakers had tended to overlook Austria and Hungary. The territorial commissions drawing new borders had assumed, like almost everyone else, that little Austria, reduced to its German-speaking territories, and Hungary, already shorn of the ancient kingdom of Croatia and of Slovakia, were lying inert, ready to be sliced into. What was fair to Austria and Hungary, according to the principles of self-determination, what was necessary if they were to survive, were questions that caused little concern in Paris. Neither country even had its own commission.

The greater part of the old empire had been transformed with the end of the war into friends. This raised an awkward question. Who was going to pay Austria-Hungary’s reparations? Poland or Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia? “We cannot,” said Beneš firmly, “be held responsible for a war which we condemn.”5 The Allies agreed, which left as enemies only Austria and Hungary, two countries linked over the centuries at the core of the empire. Their representatives argued that they should not be seen as its heirs. As the Austrian prime minister, Karl Renner, reminded the peacemakers, the old empire had died in November 1918. “We stand before you,” he said that day in June, “as one of the parts of the vanquished and fallen Empire.” Austria was a new country. “In the same way as the other national States our new Republic too has sprung to life, consequently she can no more than the former be considered the successor to the late Monarchy.” The British legal experts thought this made sense. The Italians, who hoped to make gains at Austria’s expense, did not. 6

Both Austria and Hungary appealed for mercy and understanding. They admitted that there had been faults, even wickednesses, committed in the past, but these were not theirs. Like Germany, they claimed to have undergone a rebirth and a cleansing. They had got rid of the old regimes and now embraced Wilson’s sacred principles wholeheartedly. The Americans listened sympathetically. Wilson wanted to see Austria in the League of Nations as soon as it signed its treaty. The Europeans were sterner: Austria and Hungary must accept responsibility for the war, just as Germany had done, and on that basis be prepared to surrender war criminals and pay reparations. When Austria raised the awkward question of the responsibility of the other parts of the old empire, the Allies replied weakly that Austrians had supported the war more enthusiastically than anyone else: “Austria should be held to assume its entire share of responsibility for the crime which has unchained upon the world such a calamity.”7

In reality, even the Europeans were prepared to go easier on Austria than on Hungary. Although Austria-Hungary bore as much responsibility as Germany for the fatal series of events that led to the outbreak of war in 1914, by 1918 even its enemies saw it as very much the junior partner, dragged along by and increasingly subordinate to an expansionist Germany hell-bent on the conquest of Europe. The well-meaning but abortive attempts in 1917 by the new emperor to open peace negotiations left a favorable impression at least on the British and the Americans.

Austria benefited more from this perception after the war than did Hungary. Lloyd George bore it no particular hostility at the peace conference. Clemenceau, whose brother was married to an Austrian, had spent much time there before the war. Like many of his compatriots, he thought Austria-Hungary had been mad to ally itself with Germany, but he had not actively promoted its disintegration until late in the war. Orlando talked dramatically about Austria being Italy’s main enemy during the war, but Italian policy was ambivalent. Austria had been both enemy and ally in the past. Italy wanted to take Austrian territory, notably in the Tyrol, but it did not want Yugoslavia doing the same. Italian diplomats hinted to the Austrian government that, if there was no fuss over the Tyrol, their two countries might be able to form a close economic association.8

Hungary was another matter. Hungary went Bolshevik in 1919, while Austria remained socialist. It was fighting with most of its neighbors, while Austria was at peace. Hungary deserved punishment, Austria sympathy. It helped that, unlike Germany or Hungary, Austria was too small and too poor to be a threat. It had no strong sense of nationalism, for it had never been a country, only part of the Habsburg lands. In 1919 it was a strange misshapen orphan. Its picturesque and impoverished mountains and valleys clustered around the former imperial capital of Vienna, whose magnificent palaces, vast offices, grand avenues, parade grounds and cathedrals were built for the rulers of 50 million subjects, not some 6 million. “We have thousands more officials than we need,” the prime minister complained to a sympathetic American, “and at least two hundred thousand workmen. It is a fearful question to know what to do with them.”9 Half the population of Austria lived in Vienna, but there was little left to support them.

When the empire collapsed, so did an economic organism of which Austria had been at the heart. The Danube, navigable now from the Black Sea to southern Germany, ran through it. A huge Catherine wheel of railway lines revolved around it, linking up with other wheels around Budapest and Prague. In November 1918, the trade that carried food and raw materials into Austria and brought manufactured goods out stopped, as if, said a Vienna newspaper, by the blow of an ax. The coal and potatoes that once came from Bohemia and the beef and wheat from Hungary sat on the wrong side of new borders. Austria did not have the funds to buy them and its new neighbors were not inclined to be generous. Indeed, they were busy claiming their share of the imperial assets in Vienna: the works of art, the furniture, the collections of armor and scientific instruments, the books, the archives, even laboratories. The Italians chimed in with demands for works of art carried off to Vienna before Italy existed and the Belgians with a demand for a triptych taken by Maria Theresa.10

Alarming reports reached Paris about conditions in Austria: the countryside picked bare of its livestock; the empty shelves in the shops; the spread of tuberculosis; the men in ragged uniforms; the thousands of unemployed—125,000 in Vienna alone. Factories stood still and the trains and trams ran sporadically. The former commander-in-chief of the imperial armies ran a small tobacconist’s shop, and lesser officers shined shoes. Starving children begged in the streets and there were long queues outside the soup kitchens. Girls from good middle-class families sold themselves for food and clothing. When several police horses were killed in one of the frequent violent demonstrations, the flesh was stripped from their bones within minutes.

The Viennese coffeehouses were still open and their orchestras still played, but their customers drank coffee made from barley and kept their overcoats on. Shops and restaurants shut early to save fuel and theaters were only allowed to open one night a week. The streets were dirty and uncared-for. Windows were boarded up because there was no glass to repair them. The Habsburg palaces had been ransacked and Schonbrünn was now a home for abandoned children, while the Hofburg was rented out for private parties. “Their whole attitude,” said an American observer of the Viennese, “was very much like that of people who had suffered from some great natural calamity, such as a flood or famine. Their attitude and their arguments were very much like those of a delegation seeking help for the famine sufferers of India, and there was a complete assumption that we were free from resentment and filled with a sympathetic desire to put them on their feet.”11

In January 1919, William Beveridge, a British civil servant (and later the father of the welfare state), was sent from Paris to assess Austria’s needs. He warned that, without immediate relief, there was likely to be complete social collapse. Already the provinces were refusing to send food into Vienna. Vorarlberg, at the western tip of Austria, was agitating to join Switzerland. Other regions might well follow suit. The socialist government could do little and it had to share its power with a self-appointed people’s militia. The peacemakers knew what these signs meant. They did not want Austria going the way of Russia or, later, Hungary. At the end of March, soon after the communists took over in Hungary, the Allies lifted their blockade and supplied credits to the Austrian government. They also shipped in food and clothing. Austria became the fourth largest beneficiary of Allied aid, after Germany, Poland and Belgium. By the spring of 1919, as a prominent Viennese journalist told an American, the situation was very serious but not yet hopeless. That June an attempt by the communists to seize power by force was put down relatively easily.12

The Austrian treaty was far from ready when the invitation went out to the Austrians to send their delegates to Paris; but, as Wilson said, it was a good idea to show that the Allies supported the Austrian government. They could not invite the Hungarians as well, when there was a communist government in Budapest, no doubt allied with the Russian Bolsheviks. Lloyd George was milder. He had heard that two hundred of the middle class had been killed in Budapest, but he could not vouch for the truth of that story. “We can’t,” he said, “refuse to make peace with the Hungarians because we don’t like their government.” In the end, it proved impossible to summon the Hungarians, because fighting broke out between Hungary and its neighbors.13

Austria’s delegation was led by its prime minister, Karl Renner, a cheerful, portly man, fond of good food and drink, card games and dancing. Renner was a moderate and a realist. When he left for Paris, crowds at the railway station shouted, “Bring us a good peace.” Renner replied, “Count on me to obtain all that is humanly possible for the good of our dear people. But we mustn’t forget that our unhappy country did not win the victory, and we beg you not to nourish mad hopes.” Along with his experts, he took with him a distinguished pacifist; a journalist who had friends in Paris from before the war, including Clemenceau; and Rudolf Slatin, a genuine British hero, who had been with General Gordon in the disastrous expedition in the Sudan (he was held prisoner by the Mahdi for years and then freed by Kitchener and given a knighthood). Slatin Pasha, as the British remembered him, wrote to his old friend Balfour, asking for Austria’s delegates to be allowed to negotiate face-to-face with the peacemakers. Balfour regretted that it could not be done, but used Slatin as an unofficial means of communication.14

When his train arrived in Paris, Renner apologized, in French, for not speaking the language. He said how pleased he was to be visiting Paris for the first time. He smiled obligingly for the press. Another of his party managed a quiet dig when he was asked about the train journey through the battlefields: “Someone had the forethought to slow the passage of our train so that we could the better see France looking so lovely in this jolly month of May.” The Austrians behaved impeccably, even when they were obliged to wait patiently for their terms because the Council of Four, which had summoned them in a burst of enthusiasm, as promptly forgot them. They played cards, read and went for long walks. “We got good French food and wines,” recalled one, “which most of us enjoyed after the long hungry years.” When it could be arranged, their Allied guards took them out for little expeditions. Renner asked especially to see a French agricultural college. The Austrians made a good impression—quite unlike, everyone said, the Germans, who had by then also arrived in Paris. In St. Germain the locals were particularly fond of a delegate from the Tyrol, in his chestnut hunting jacket and little green hat with its large black feather. They did not realize that he was dressed in mourning because the largely German-speaking southern part of the Tyrol had already been awarded to Italy. 15

Enough was leaking out about the peace terms, mainly from the Italians, to make the Austrians uneasy and depressed. Austria’s borders had been largely left to the specialist committees, who had heard from countries such as Czechoslovakia or Italy about what they wanted, but not of course from Austria itself. Galicia went to Poland, Bohemia to Czechoslovakia. Some three million German-speaking Austrians went with them. Otto Bauer, Austria’s cleverest socialist and its foreign minister, made an impassioned speech back in Vienna. “No less than two-fifths of our people are to be subjected to foreign domination, without any plebiscite and against their indisputable will, being thus deprived of their right of self-determination.” He had a point, but few in Paris were prepared to listen.16

The Allies had also decided that Austria would not be allowed to join up with Germany. This was not something they had anticipated having to do. They had not after all expected that there would be an Austria at all. Nor had the German-speaking Austrians, apart from a handful of right-wing nationalists, shown much inclination to join Germany. They were after all the dominant group in a great empire. “God save the Emperor,” the old anthem went, “Closely with the Habsburg throne, Austria’s fate remains united.”Anschluss, or union, never commanded widespread support until the last days of the Great War. On October 16, as Austria-Hungary was scrambling desperately to get out of the war and indeed to survive, Emperor Karl announced the creation of a new empire “in which every people would build its own political community in its own area of settlement.” Unlike Czechs or Poles or Slovenes, German-speakers had never developed such a community. Who would need them when, as looked increasingly likely, there were no more emperors? How would they live among a Slavic majority? The German-Austrians faced a bleak future, whether or not Austria-Hungary survived, and it was out of that pessimism that the demand for Anschluss with Germany burgeoned.17

On October 21, German-speaking deputies in the Austrian parliament met as a Provisional National Assembly. They did not truly represent a nation as the Czech or Slovenian deputies did and, at that point, they asked not for union with Germany but for self-determination for Germans within the old Habsburg empire. By November 11, however, there was no longer either emperor or empire. It was also clear that the states emerging out of the wreckage of Austria-Hungary had no interest in any sort of political arrangement with German-speaking Austria. On November 12, the assembly, speaking in the name of all Austrian Germans, proclaimed the republic of Austria in one breath and asserted that it was part of the larger German republic in the next. It was an act born out of fear, much as Croatia’s decision to join with Serbia was. Germany, the onetime enemy and the mistrusted ally, suddenly looked like a refuge. Unlikely political groups joined forces in those bewildering last days of the empire— anti-Semites, Jews, nationalists, socialists, liberals, Tyrolese and Styrians fearful of falling under Italian or Serbian rule—to demand union with Germany.18

Many Austrians, in fact, had reservations about Anschluss: Catholics, the great majority, who did not like North German Protestants; businessmen who feared German competition; and Viennese who did not want their city to take second place to Berlin or Weimar. Austrians of all classes remembered the long rivalry between Prussia and Austria for leadership of all Germans and the way in which Germany had refused to let Austria-Hungary make a separate peace during the war. But what alternative was there for them now?

By 1918, many Austrians saw Anschluss as the only hope for protection and prosperity for their little country. In the universities and coffeehouses, pan-German intellectuals talked dramatically of rejoining the severed branch to the great German tree. The Socialists were enthusiastic because, as Bauer argued, Germany was moving leftward. Joining the Austrian and German working classes would strengthen socialism everywhere. Renner’s attitude was more pragmatic and more typical: “the fear of famine and unemployment and Anschluss as the only possible solution.”19

The new provisional assembly in Vienna opened negotiations with Germany. The Austrians moved cautiously, making it clear to the Germans that any union must respect Austria’s unique character. The Germans were equally cautious. Germany did not want to annoy the peacemakers unnecessarily, especially before its own terms were settled. As Brockdorff-Rantzau, the German foreign minister, made clear to Bauer, Germany had to think of itself. If the Allies thought that it was gaining territory in the south, they would be all the more inclined to take away its land in the west and east. 20

These discussions were academic. The Allies had made up their minds, largely at France’s insistence, to forbid any union between the two German-speaking countries. Briefly, at the end of the war, the French had toyed with the idea of encouraging Austria and Bavaria to unite, to form a strong Catholic bloc to counter Protestant Prussia. When it became clear that neither the British nor the Americans would support the breakup of Germany, French policy switched to preventing Austria from falling into Germany’s arms. In Vienna, the French representative dropped heavy hints that if Austria wanted favorable peace terms, it should abandon all talk of Anschluss. France was for peace, said Clemenceau. “But if we reduce our armaments, and if, at the same time, Austria adds seven million inhabitants to the population of Germany, the power of our German neighbours will increase in a manner very threatening to us.” Wilson worried that this might contradict Austrian self-determination, but in the end he and Clemenceau agreed in April that there would be a clause in the German treaty specifying that Germany must respect Austria’s borders. Lloyd George suggested a face-saving compromise: that Austria could join Germany if the League of Nations approved. Wilson accepted the suggestion with relief, and clauses were inserted to that effect in both the German and Austrian treaties. Since the vote in the League Council had to be unanimous, this effectively gave France and Italy a veto. 21

At the end of May the Austrian delegation complained gently that it was rather disturbed over the “incertitude” about its peace terms. The treaty for Austria, along with those for Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, still lay in bits and pieces around Paris, in this committee or that commission. The Council of Four, which had to approve the final drafts, had been occupied with last-minute negotiations on the German treaty and wrangling over Italy’s claims. Austria and its problems came well down the list. As a British expert complained, “There is practically no one on the spot who has really sound knowledge and experience, and of course the Italians are very difficult.”22

What the Austrian delegation finally saw on June 2 was a slapdash document—“a simulacrum of a Treaty,” in Hankey’s opinion. Some clauses had been lifted wholesale from the German treaty and there had been no time to check for accuracy and consistency. The Austrians were startled to learn, for example, that they were forbidden to have submarines. The terms were also, as Clemenceau explained with some embarrassment, incomplete. The Allies had not been able to agree on some of Austria’s borders, especially those with Italy, in the Tyrol, and with Yugoslavia. Because of a last-minute disagreement, Clemenceau had been obliged to tear out the section on the Yugoslav borders just before he handed the terms to the Austrians.23

Although the peacemakers used the German treaty as a template, they went easier on Austria. On war guilt, for example: it was one thing to punish the kaiser, but, as Lloyd George pointed out, Emperor Karl had not been on the throne in 1914. As for reparations, the experts originally worked out an impossible scheme whereby Austria and Hungary would end up paying most of the old empire’s war debt as well as reparations. “If a man were kept alive by charity,” said Balfour, “he could not be asked to pay his debts.” The job of setting the figures for reparations was eventually turned over to the reparation commission, which two years later admitted that Austria could not pay anything at all. Hungary, less fortunate, was scheduled to make annual payments in gold and materials. It actually met its obligations for several years, until its economic situation grew so bad that the Allies both advanced loans and suspended reparations. In 1930, during the Depression, Hungary’s reparations were rescheduled, with payments to start in 1944.24

When he received the terms, which were made public once they were handed over, Renner made a dignified and conciliatory speech. “We know,” he said, “that we have to receive peace out of your hands, out of the hands of victors. We are firmly resolved to conscientiously weigh each and any proposition laid before us, each and any advice offered by you to us.” Back at their hotel, the Austrian delegation pored over the treaty, as one said, “very sad, bitter and depressed when we realized that Austria had received harsher terms than Germany while we had hoped they would be more favourable.” In Austria itself, where there were three days of mourning, the shock and disillusionment were profound. “Never,” said an editorial in a left-wing paper, “has the substance of a treaty of peace so grossly betrayed the intentions which were said to have guided its construction as is the case with this Treaty.”25

The Austrians submitted their written comments and then waited while the peacemakers, depleted in July by the departure of many of the top statesmen, considered their own responses. “The contrast was great between the sunny gardens,” recalled an Austrian financial expert, “our leisure, the good fare and our prolonged expectation of the punishment which we the defeated enemies had to expect from our conquerors.” He passed the time by reading Alexandre Dumas and avoiding the nervous conversation of his fellow delegates. The Austrian strategy was to concentrate on several key issues rather than all the terms. They left the reparations clauses alone, on the sensible grounds that they would never be able to pay. They managed, however, to get some important concessions, including a clause prohibiting Austria’s art treasures from being divided up among the successor states. 26

The peacemakers also agreed to a plebiscite in the area around Klagenfurt in the south of Carinthia, which was also being claimed by Yugoslavia. Perhaps this was to compensate for ignoring the self-determination rights of the Germans going to Czechoslovakia in the north, perhaps because Yugoslavia did not inspire quite the same enthusiasm as Czechoslovakia, or perhaps simply to defuse what threatened to become another small war.

Klagenfurt, a peaceful country of lakes and hills on the northern slope of the Karawaken mountains, dotted with medieval monasteries, Gothic churches, Baroque palaces and whitewashed chalets, had once been on the front lines between the Austrian empire and the Ottoman Turks. The end of the war had left a makeshift Austrian administration in the north; in the south, a heavy-handed Yugoslav occupation soon stirred up resistance. Tension was high between Austrians and Yugoslavs along the armistice line and there was sporadic fighting. In 1919 Klagenfurt’s population of about 150,000 was mixed; Slovene-speakers were in a majority, but the main towns were German. Most people switched easily between one language and the other. In February, an American mission drove through, stopping people at random to ask which nation they belonged to. The results surprised them: “The Slovene who does not want to be a Jugo-Slav is a curiosity we should never have believed in had we not seen him, and in large numbers.”27

Italy was the main stumbling block to a decision, objecting in principle to Yugoslav claims but also anxious to prevent the railway line that linked its new port of Trieste with Vienna from running through Yugoslav territory. The Commission on Rumanian and Yugoslav Affairs threw the issue up to the Supreme Council, which simply bounced it back again. In May, the smaller problem of Klagenfurt got drawn into the bitter dispute between Italy and its allies over Italian borders on its east. The Yugoslavs sat on the sidelines worrying. The Austrians began to hope. As Wickham Steed reported, “a marked disposition to be very tender towards Austria had become noticeable among the ‘Big Three.’ The Southern Slavs began to fear that, while the Italians were driving a hard bargain with them in the Adriatic, the other Allies would support the Austrians in driving a hard bargain with them in the delimitation of the Slovene frontier in Carinthia.” 28 The Yugoslav delegation reduced its demands slightly, a gesture that was vitiated when Yugoslav troops in Carinthia suddenly surged north at the end of May. The Council of Four ordered a cease-fire; it was a measure of the council’s dwindling authority in Central Europe that fighting stopped only after several weeks. In the meantime, the Yugoslavs seized the whole area around Klagenfurt and much useful Austrian war matériel, and the Italians took part of a crucial railway line.

The Yugoslavs resisted the idea of partition, which was now being floated; they also strenuously objected to the proposal, mainly from the British and the Americans, for a plebiscite. (They suspected that they would lose.) They had some support from Clemenceau, who was always mindful that he might be asked to hold one in Alsace-Lorraine. Wilson, however, was determined that in this area, at least, the inhabitants would choose for themselves. On May 31 he emerged from the Council of Four and, as the French raised their eyebrows, announced, “If the experts will follow me, I am going to explain the matter to them.” The Big Four and their experts crawled around a huge map on the floor. An irritated Orlando butted an American out of his way.29

The Yugoslavs muttered about boycotting the treaty with Austria but eventually agreed to a compromise. The part of Austria just to the north of Slovenia would have a plebiscite; if the inhabitants voted to join Yugoslavia, then the northern, more German part would also hold one. In October 1920 the vote, which all observers agreed was done in exemplary fashion, took place; a majority of 22,000 to 15,000 was for staying with Austria. The voters seemed to have been swayed by their economic links with Austria and a feeling that Austria was more advanced than the new Yugoslav state. For women voters, the knowledge that their sons were liable to conscription in Yugoslavia but not in Austria may also have played a part. If they could have seen into the future, when Austria became part of Nazi Germany, and Slovene children were forced into German schools and Slovene identity largely suppressed, would they have voted differently?30

The Yugoslav army made a dramatic march into the disputed zone immediately after the result was announced but withdrew without fuss two days later. The Slovenes in Yugoslavia complained bitterly about the “amputation” of national territory and suspected, probably correctly, that Serb leaders had never really been prepared to go to the wall, that they were far more concerned with Serbia’s borders in the north and in the east.31 Yet another grievance entered the catalog in the new Yugoslav state and yet another bitter memory was left between neighbors.

Austria asked for another concession from the Allies, a strip of territory from the western edge of Hungary. (In shape, it was close to the proposed corridor between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which the Peace Conference had turned down.) The Austrians argued that the inhabitants were mainly German. Unfortunately, they had never lived under Austrian rule and appeared to see themselves as part of Hungary. Of course, said a British expert, it was no use asking them because the communist revolution in Hungary had thoroughly confused them. (The Austrian government found this a useful argument when the question of a plebiscite was raised by Hungary.) Austria also used strategic grounds—Vienna, along with crucial roads and railways, was too close to the Hungarian border— and, rather plaintively, nutritional ones. The area had always supplied food to the Viennese, who had been lacking vegetables and milk ever since Hungary became an independent state. The Hungarians produced their counterarguments but the peacemakers listened to the Austrians. Most of the area, with the exception of one city, went to Austria. Hungary tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hitler to hand it back in 1938 as a reward for staying neutral during the Anschluss. Austria thus became the only defeated nation to gain new territory at the Peace Conference. It signed the Treaty of St. Germain in September 1919.32

Austria’s first experience with independence was not happy. In the 1920s its economy staggered from crisis to crisis, tided over by parsimonious loans from the powers. Even before the Depression unemployment ran at well over 10 percent a year. In March 1938, when Hitler, with the connivance of the Austrian Nazis, moved in, Austrians, if they were not Jewish or communist, greeted Anschluss with relief. Hitler made a triumphal march from his birthplace just over the Austrian border to Vienna as ecstatic crowds cheered and threw flowers. Even rational men such as Renner were briefly swept up. In 1945 a chastened Austria regained its separate existence and an old Renner became its president. There has been little talk of Anschluss since.

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