Monday, 12 December 2011

Slavonia, Slovenia, Slovakia

Just north of Krakow, as the single-track rail line turns East for the airport, I thought I caught a glimpse of a Vauban fort. Some later searching on Google earth revealed it in all it's pentagonal glory - lunette, caponiers, ravelin, glacis, bastion and sally ports - but Fort Kleparz was not by Vauban, or even 17th century, but built by the Hapsburgs in the 19th. Most of it is derelict and collapsing, but the enterprising Poles have turned the old barracks and magazines into a nightclub.

Central Europe is covered in such things, of course, and many more have fallen into ruin or been robbed of their 4m-thick brick structures to construct surrounding dwellings, only those with some continuing use such as a military stores surviving today. The reason for the position and orientation of the fort is clear from the map of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire below (clicky to make big); it was on the front line with Russia. 

All those ethnic groups that made governing the Empire such a headache for the Hapsburgs haven't gone, of course. Mostly they are now separate nations. Mostly they are either in the EU or want to be. The Hapsburg Empire was no fly-by-night affair; it lasted, more or less, from 1804 to 1917. Economically, the peoples within it did well, with GNP growth exceeding both Britain's and Germany's during the 19th century, free trade within the Empire, the economies of a common security and defence system and a prototype Equal Opportunities policy ahead of its time in reserving civil service posts for quotas of ethnic minorities. 

Norman Stone quotes Albert Sorel in saying that Austria-Hungary had not a government but a diplomatic service that also administered. Within that pithy observation lies the clue as to the Empire's fundamental weakness; that so much energy was spent keeping it together. It was the same for the Soviet Empire in its last few years. And ours. And so will it be for a Republic of Europe, if such a thing ever takes flight (imagine more Howard Hughes' 'Spruce Goose' than a Hercules). And so history circles all again, like a snake biting its tail.


Greg Tingey said...

Actually, the Habsburg Empire lasted a LOT longer than that:
Start with Karl V in 1516!

Anonymous said...

A good analogy, such a ramshackle empire, very apt.

Chris said...

Austria-Hungary! One of the most beloved countries (empires? confederations? cat-herding attempts?) among alt.history and 'weird but true' wonks.

The jurisdictional infighting between Royal (Hungarian), Royal-Imperial (Austrian) and Royal-and-Imperial (Austro-Hungarian) institutions could make your head spin.

One example: thanks to various political compromises between the 1860s and ~1918 there was officially *no such place* as Austria, even though Vienna was the seat of the whole empire!

outsider said...

Brilliant thinking. Which makes the Good Soldier Schweyk the archetypal EU citizen.

banned said...

They missed out Trans Carpathian Ruthenia, they always do that.
It's the tail end of Slovakia ceded to Ukraine after WW2 for no paricular reason.

Many 19C German speakers would rather have let the Hapsburgs empire collapse and concentrate on the bigger business of who was to lead Greater Germany, them or Prussia.

Prussia won of course creating the so called German empire over decades starting with the humble beginings of the Zollverein, a cozy little Post Office Union. It is the model which Germany is repeating starting with the 1951 European Coal & Steel Community which was supposed to bind Germanys industry to that of France but which, of course, worked other way round.

My point being that it's all been done before and with disastrous results.