I looked at one of the sources and I found the following about the German identity of Austrians:
Changing Meanings of “German” in Habsburg Central Europe:
One avenue of approach to investigating the Germans in nineteenth-century Central and Eastern Europe is to analyze the changing popular meanings of the terms “German” and “Germans” as they were used at all levels of public life during the nineteenth century. In the next two sections of this essay I look at specific approaches to this question, one from 1848 and the other from the late nineteenth century in Habsburg Austria. Both of these historical moments witnessed renewed public debate over the meanings of “the Germans” and “Germanness,” and a few examples will suffice to show both the early diversity of meaning of the terms, and also the ways the use of the terms and their meanings changed over fifty years.
The conflicts over the meanings of a German nation in 1848 engaged a limited stratum of society. The efforts of this stratum built in part on an appropriation of Habsburg state modernization processes that were rooted in moral, intellectual, and social reform visions of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As Arnold Suppan points out in his essay, the eighteenth-century reform efforts of Maria Theresa and particularly Joseph II produced policies that treated the German language as the new lingua franca (to replace Latin) of the Habsburgs’ culturally diverse holdings. The reformers’ goals—to increase the coherence of administration, the productivity, loyalty, and moral capacities of their subjects through increased educational and economic opportunities—all produced policies favorable to German language use at every level of society, although not necessarily unfavorable to the use of other local languages as well.
It is not difficult to see how early German nationalists conflated the reformers’ focus on the utility of the German language with the alleged cultural and later the national qualities of those who used this language. German nationalists adopted this sense of cultural leadership in part as a political response to the claims of the Magyar, Polish, and later Czech nationalists who opposed Habsburg centralization and saw their interests best reflected in decentralized structures. The functional importance of the German language to the centralized empire became the foundation for several arguments promoting the political interests of German-speakers as such. But one should be wary of confusing the terms “German-speaker” with “German,” since many Magyar and Czech nationalists in the early nineteenth century, for example, spoke German fluently, and did not define their nationalist loyalties in terms of their linguistic competence. Furthermore, since the term “nation” had traditionally referred to a political corporation and not a linguistically defined community, it is not surprising to hear speakers of one language around 1800 declaring their loyalty to a nation represented by a different language. We have only to think of those urban German-speakers in the Prussian partition of Poland who proclaimed their loyalty to Poland against their region’s absorption by Prussia. Examples such as this also remind us that throughout the nineteenth century, differences in religious, regional, or class identification often determined social loyalties far more powerfully than dif- ferences in language use.
What range of cultural qualities did the term “German” connote in a local social context by 1848? Did it also refer somehow to an interregional community of Germans? The sudden profusion of public political debate unleashed by the revolution sharply conveyed diverse contemporary meanings of concepts like nation, Germans, Germanness, and Germany in the territories of the Habsburg Monarchy. Almost overnight, these concepts became an integral part of the popular rhetoric used to demand political, economic, and social reform in ways that had been impossible before the revolution terminated the Vormärz censorship regime. In 1848, most civically engaged people in Austria appear to have agreed that nationhood was inextricably linked to the pressing issues of personal, community, political and social freedom. Most revolutionaries conceded that without the guarantee of such liberal freedoms, national consciousness could not be spread and national greatness certainly could not be attained. Many historians of 1848, however, tended to present liberalism and national rights as alternatives to each other, even if allegedly naïve political actors at the time did not understand the inevitability of this dichotomy. According to this version of events, individuals and parties eventually had to choose between their liberal and their national commitments. The 1848ers, however, did not understand the issues in quite such binary terms. Mid-nineteenth century activists more often than not conceived national development and political freedoms as mutually constitutive of each other. One could not exist without the other; these were not separate or separable issues. Most bourgeois nationalists (Czech, German, Slovene) believed that the development of their nation depended on the moral progress of their people, and such progress—to be accomplished above all through civic education—could not be guaranteed without the benefit of basic civil rights and the experience of political participation.
When the Viennese German nationalist newspaper Schwarz-Roth-Gold complained about peasant apathy to the nation in August 1848, it did so in terms that linked national identity inextricably to progressive political and moral values. “Traditional education made people stupid. The majority of Austrian peasants does not even know that there is a Germany and that it is their fatherland! . . . Traditional forms of education did not want to . . . provide our children with the example of the free men of their national past, out of fear that it would teach them [to think] independently.” It was the very quality of freedom that characterized everything having to do with nation, and this link of liberal ideas to national identity forged a concept of nation far different from the concepts we encounter around 1900. This may help us to understand why the statutes of several German nationalist organizations in 1848, for example, made membership available to “any Austrian citizen without regard to religion, nationality, or estate.” How could membership in a German nationalist organization be open to individuals of “any nationality?” Clearly the activists who formulated these statutes did not wish to limit membership in a German nation to those who were German-speakers or who felt themselves to be German, but rather opened their community to those who shared their cultural values and political commitment.
If political activists understood a German national community as one that was open to all who partook of their idealism, then the second point to understand about 1848 is how very few people actually shared a sense of national consciousness. Not only did very few peasants express a sense of national belonging, as the quotation above demonstrates, but those who did see themselves as part of a nation often defined that nation in highly parochial terms. The prominence of nation in public discussions should not blind us to the deeply local ways in which it was conceived and understood. Rather than speak of the Germans in East Central Europe, when it comes to 1848 we can perhaps speak of those Tyrolers, Upper Austrians, Styrians, Bohemians, or Moravians who also considered themselves to be German. Activists who sought to spread national enlightenment to the peasantry in 1848 usually formulated their appeals in terms of highly localized interests. This constituted a strategic choice, but it also reflected the beliefs and experiences of the nationalists themselves. In very few places (Vienna, Graz) did discussions of nation transcend local understandings to incorporate broader political and social visions. When, for example, the young Karl Stremayr, a law student at the University of Graz, ran for election to the Frankfurt Parliament, a body whose task after all was the construction of a German nation-state, his speech to local peasant voters hardly mentioned Germany. Instead, he focused on the need to end the feudal economic system and the absolutist regime, and on his loyalty to the emperor.
This situational understanding of nation also permeated discussions among activists who held more radical nationalist positions in towns where nationalist con- flict between different groups had broken out. The Slovene historian Peter Vodopivec recounts one such example of local tradition shaping nationalist positions in southern Styria, where German-speakers and Slovene-speakers often lived in close proximity. In 1848, Slovene nationalists in Ljubljana/Laibach (in neighboring Krain province) demanded the creation of a new province that would unite all Slovenes in the monarchy. Several Slovene nationalists in Styria, however, opposed the division of their traditional province along national lines. Instead of creating a Slovene province with its own diet, the Styrian Slovenes promoted greater national reconciliation and equal- ity among nations within Styria. A poem dating from 1848 and cited by Vodopivec captures a very different kind of nationalist agenda and includes the following lines (written alternately in Slovene and German):
How happy are we brothers,
in beautiful Styria,
we need not fear any ill,
our unity makes us strong,
the knowledge of both languages,
this promotes commerce,
to go our separate ways,
would harm us all.
German-speaking deputies to the Styrian diet charged with creating a new pro- vincial constitution reacted bitterly when Slovene nationalists displayed their Slavic red-white-and-blue colors publicly or founded a Slovene nationalist association in Graz, seeing such actions as public challenges to German and liberal ideals. On the other hand, the German-speaking deputies in Graz treated Slovene speakers (as opposed to Slovene nationalists) as trustworthy political allies, agreeing to publish Slovene language translations of the diet’s proceedings in local German newspapers in order to make the legislative session more accessible. “Many of the Slovenes who read the Graz papers are very intelligent people,” noted one German liberal deputy to the diet, and appending the translations would “give them more trust in us.”
These examples suggest that at mid-century, local differences in language use did not define community relations and identities as fully as later nationalists believed they should. In 1848 local relations and familiarity still appear to have counted far more than any abstract interregional sense of nation. At the same time, if local differences in language use did not convey incommensurable differences, and bilingualism often appeared to be the norm, then local examples of intermarriage and social interaction between users of different languages would not have seemed remarkable either. For this reason too, definitions of Germanness remained open and vague, and liberal in their relations to other nations. Again, from the pages of Schwarz-Roth-Gold, one writer in July 1848 underlined this openness, claiming that membership in the nation “is based not simply on the soil of birth or language of culture, but rather on . . . nobility of action and the worthiness of conviction.” Those who sought out education for themselves and their children and demonstrated their commitment to humanistic values could indeed become German. In fact, the 1848ers believed that this same set of moral qualities that defined their nation would enable it successfully to regulate relations among all the other nations within the Austrian Empire. “We want a German Austria . . . a powerful leader for all our brother nationalities, not through [coercive] power . . . but rather through the voluntary respect that we earn when we deal in freedom and humanity.”
Yet even as German nationalists conceived their nation in open and liberal terms, they, and their counterparts in other movements, faced serious political issues that appear to us to have almost guaranteed the development of mutual antagonism among movements. The Herculean task of reconstituting political and social order on a new basis, as manifested in the efforts of the Frankfurt and Vienna (later Kremsier) parliaments, the short-lived Slav congress, the town councils and provincial diets, all but guaranteed that practical issues of language use would create a serious political bone of contention. German nationalists had trouble understanding the protests of those who sought to undo the earlier attempts to make German a lingua franca for the empire. It is perhaps a testimony to the narrow social basis of nationalist activists, men who had much more in common than they cared to admit, that they maintained a common vision of liberal freedoms in the Kremsier draft and refused to allow their efforts to be derailed by nationalist conflict. It was precisely the issue of language use in government and administration that created a space for the political activism that fundamentally divided nationalists by the late nineteenth century.
In the fifty years following the revolutions of 1848, far more people in the Austrian Empire became actively involved in a public sphere whose limits grew well beyond the boundaries of village or region. Nineteenth-century governments too, continued on the path of centralized state building that had been initiated by their reforming predecessors of the eighteenth century. In the aftermath of the revolution the Habsburg regime had even revived its efforts to impose greater coherence on regional and lo- cal administration through expanded use of German in the bureaucracy. This new insistence on German as the language of governance in the 1850s provoked effective opposition in Hungary. Government centralization in Austria, however, went well beyond language use in the civil service to encompass education reform, development of a transportation and communications infrastructure for the entire empire, and targeted investment to promote industrialization.
Constitutional reform in the 1860s loosened censorship, expanded public education and associational life significantly, and increased popular participation in politics. The expansion of communications and transportation infrastructures often recast political questions in interregional as opposed to local terms. Through the efforts of local associations, local media and political parties, more and more Austrians joined public life in some capacity or other. With the Compromise of 1867, the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy gradually adopted nationalizing policies typical of nation-states like France, Germany, or Italy. The empire that formed the Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy, however, remained officially anational (later multinational). This state experienced a steady rise in mass political participation, culminating with the implementation of universal manhood suffrage for parliamentary elections in 1907.
In Austrian society, attempts to categorize and mobilize people in ethnic or national terms emerged from popular nationalist political initiatives after 1848 and not directly from the offices of government agencies. Nevertheless, the ongoing modernizing efforts of the state played a critical, if unwitting, role in the nationalization of Austrian society in the late nineteenth century. As nationalist political movements competed within the framework of the new constitutional system to increase their electoral constituencies in an age of growing mass-based politics, they sought to make the idea of national identity relevant to every aspect of life. They succeeded at least in nationalizing political life by demanding the application of constitutional guarantees of linguistic equality to an ever-expanding set of institutions. From educational to judicial institutions, from administrative to commercial practices, no possible corner of public life remained immune to the demands of nationalists. The late-nineteenth-century infusion of nationalist content into public life ranged from the provision of welfare benefits or access to education at all levels to local forms of economic competition and even to patterns of consumption.
To realize this nationalization of public life as fully as possible, however, each group had to define a set of shared qualities that would help newly politicized Austrians to understand to which nation they belonged and why. Additionally, the dynamic of nationalist political competition within Austria after 1867 caused the leaders of each group regularly to insist that its needs were incommensurable with those of competing nations and that a gulf of enormous proportions separated the members of one nation from another. Such claims of differences among populations were made vigorously and often, in part because national belonging continued to mean very little to most nineteenth-century Austrians as they went about their daily routines. And while ordinary Austrians may have reacted with interest or indifference to claims about the importance of national loyalties, nationalist activists continued to develop and refine their claims about national differences, how they manifested themselves in daily life, and how they could be measured scientifically.
By 1900 both ideas about nation and the numbers of people who felt allegiance to nations had changed dramatically throughout East Central Europe. The character of ideas about Germanness changed too, in part because of the growing popularization of politics, in part because of the 1867 Compromise, which had recognized the rights of the Hungarian nation, and in part because of the activism of other nationalist groups in the empire, particularly the Czech nationalists. The role of the German language and culture as a broadly unifying factor in Austrian public life declined considerably as Slav nationalists agitated successfully in the legislatures and the courts for the use of their languages in schools, universities, the courts, and the civil service. German might remain the inner, interregional language of the imperial bureaucracy and of the military, but its advantages as a universal lingua franca in the region had diminished.
Many German nationalists clung uneasily to the traditional claim of German language and culture as somehow more culturally advanced and therefore more valuable than the other languages in public use in the monarchy. With the establishment of Polish and Czech universities at L’viv/Lwów/Lemberg and Prague, with Italian nationalist demands for an Italian-language law faculty and Slovene demands for a university in Ljubljana, the position of German as the undisputed vehicle of culture, progress, and modernity was less self-evident. As a result, German nationalist assertions of their nation’s Kulturträger status in East Central Europe became increasingly strident. As German nationalists became more defensive about the position of their language and culture in the monarchy, they began to adopt new arguments to justify their leading position. They did not abandon arguments about the universality of their nation, and except for the anti-Semites among them, they continued to welcome anyone into its ranks. Yet at the same time, they articulated some new arguments that located specific spaces as German and that stressed the incommensurable differences that separated theirs from other cultures. Speakers of other languages, especially in the cities, seemed less and less likely to choose to become German for the sake of social
mobility, now that they had other options available to them in other languages.
Consequently, the German nationalist community became more inward-looking and exclusive in its rhetoric. The greater German nationalist focus on national ownership of territory and on the fundamental differences that allegedly separated nations also derived from a growing appreciation of the importance of numbers, rather than of “quality” or cultural status, in influencing local and imperial politics. Elections had to be won if control by one nationalist group or another was to be exercised effectively. Although a curial system that favored wealthier and better-educated citizens dominated local municipal and regional elections, activists nevertheless sought to mobilize every possible voter in every curia for their purposes.
After 1848, many government policies of modernization depended on initiatives in the social sciences that sought to organize and map populations according to their linguistic and religious character, for the purpose of applying social policy more effectively. Categorization of local populations according to language use in the im- perial census, for example, became valuable tools for the development of local school and, later, welfare policies after the passage of the 1867 constitution in Austria. Since the constitution had promised equal treatment to the speakers of Austria’s different languages, this required setting up schools in native languages wherever possible. Over time, the implementation of this guarantee and its application to other areas of public life (courts, civil service) required increased statistical knowledge about the linguistic make-up of local populations.
In the 1870s, government statisticians developed a census apparatus that would question Austrians, among other things, about their language of everyday use. The imperial government had no wish to promote nationalist agitation or the importance of national identity, however indirectly, through the census. Yet its attempt at linguistic categorization for limited policy purposes produced several unintended side effects, including new opportunities for nationalist politicians. Statistical studies like the decennial census did not automatically produce nations through a kind of Foucauldian effect, but they certainly did produce new opportunities for nation-building, which creative nationalist politicians readily exploited. In early debates over the particular form of the census, nationalists had complained vigorously that it asked respondents for their language of daily use instead of for their mother tongue or their nationality. The nationalists’ failure to impose national categories on the census, however, did not daunt activists in the least. They simply used other tools at their disposal—press, political agitation, mass meetings—to link language usage in the census to broader, newly invented mass nationalist identities. The nationalists appropriated census categories like “language of daily use” in order to mobilize people on the basis of common qualities. Already in the 1880s, following the first Austrian census, activists claimed that all those who had listed a particular language on the census form belonged in fact to that nation. This claim, and the counter-claims it provoked, produced powerful effects in Austrian public life. By 1910 many more people believed the language question referred to their nationality—a fixed personal identity—rather than to the function of language in their locality. Nationalist activists even turned to the courts to challenge the census results for particular localities where they believed the national enemy had somehow manipulated the outcome. If nationalists complained that the census did not explicitly ask for the national allegiance of its respondents, historians might complain that it made no allowance for the many people who used more than one language in families, businesses, or daily social lives, to report that critical fact. We have no way of knowing whether any of these respondents in fact spoke the language of another nation as well. We historians have also validated nationalist claims about the census, however inadver- tently, by reading it ourselves as if it somehow revealed national self-identification among the Austrian population. Histories of the Habsburg Monarchy or East Central Europe invariably include maps depicting the languages that a majority of people reported in a particular region. Almost always these maps identify their subjects as “the Czechs,” “the Germans,” or “the Slovenes,” for example, rather than as “Czech- speakers,” “German-speakers,” or “Slovene-speakers.” This slippage on the printed page—from the individual who reported a single language of daily use in the census to the presumption of national identity—transforms all people into members of nations, whether they felt that way or not. From there it is a small step to territorialize those nations by assigning to them the geographic regions where they appear to have constituted a majority.
Instead of accepting nationalist claims that associated language use on the census with a declaration of national identity, historians might more fruitfully ask what factors induced some respondents to report one language in a given year in- stead of another language. How might we explain the choices of those individuals, families, and communities who self-consciously practiced a form of bilingualism, marrying their German language skills to Czech, Slovene, Polish, or Hungarian (or marrying their Czech skills to an acquired knowledge of German)? In some regions we know that the same people reported different languages of daily usage in different decennial censuses. What situations caused them to report one language one year and a different language ten years later? Considering these questions in a nineteenth-century context might help us to avoid presuming that such people had already developed a single and consistent sense of national identity. It would also encourage us to follow Rogers Brubaker’s productive suggestion that we think of individual national professions of identity—professions of nationness—as an occasion or as an event rather than as an ongoing process or and unchanging, internalized truth. Finally, keeping these questions in mind would help us literally to see things differently when we examine the abstract depictions of social scientists that map language use onto territory.
If we consider the information that these abstracted maps, graphs, and charts fail to convey to us (bilingualism, situational reporting of linguistic usage), we can see one reason why it is so difficult to speak of Germans, German communities, or a German nation in nineteenth-century Central and Eastern Europe. Other kinds of choices made by individuals, families, and communities also undercut the clear assertion of national identity proclaimed for them by contemporary nationalist activists. Why, for example, did some parents in multilingual regions choose to rear and school their children in more than one language?
Nationalist activists tried to square their version of reality with the social behaviors they encountered by denouncing such people as “amphibians,” “national hermaphrodites,” and as psychologically deformed opportunists who would sell themselves and their children to the highest national bidder. Or they depicted such people as the unfortunate pawns of oppressive employers and landlords who forced them to adopt a different language from their authentic one in order to save their job or their apartment. By speaking and writing in these terms, nationalists sought to normalize the concept that everyone indeed had one authentic national identity. To us, however, the example of people who did not easily fit into a nationalist schema points to the fundamental difficulty of presuming that language use in the nineteenth century implied a particular national community identity.
Although more people clearly saw themselves as Germans, as part of a larger German nation by 1900, the significance of that choice and the meanings with which they imbued this choice also remained diverse and often contradictory. The generally swift rise of popular literacy and newspapers throughout the empire meant that people far away from each other received their news from sources that presented it in a uniform context. Far more people who adopted a national identity now shared a comparable sense of the meaning of their Germanness and who belonged to their community, than earlier in the century. Nevertheless, regional loyalties remained powerful when it came to those definitions, and activists often scrambled to paper over several conflicts about the character of the German community that had emerged by 1900. Two particularly vexing questions that prevented the formation of an ideologically unified German nationalist movement involved the role of Jews and the Catholic Church within that movement. Several organizations and parties defined their German identity in terms of racial, religious, or economic anti-Semitism. Several, including the largest among them, remained open to Jewish membership and to a non-racial definition of the German community. Many German nationalists in a region like the Tyrol (like Christian Socials in Lower and Upper Austria) continued to define their community identity in terms of loyalty to the Catholic Church, whereas German nationalist organizations and parties elsewhere saw the Church as their nation’s enemy. When these latter organiza- tions attempted to unify their efforts, as with the first Congress of German Nationalist Defense Organizations in 1908, for example, they could not achieve the hoped-for unity, precisely due to the powerful disagreements about these issues, particularly the role of Jews. While it is true that far more Austrians saw themselves as belonging to a German nation in 1900 than had been the case in 1848, they did not agree at all on the character or meaning of this nation.
This essay has attempted to demonstrate that terms like “German” or “nation” carried far more diffuse and locally based meanings for diverse nineteenth-century populations than they did to Germans at various points in the twentieth century. The study of context, of historical contingency, and of individual circumstance is key to determining what individuals and communities adopted what national identities over time. So is the idea of nationness as event rather than identity. When and in what kinds of situations in the nineteenth century did people tend to see themselves as national? In what kinds of situations were they indifferent or ambivalent about the idea of belonging to a nation? Individuals, families, or even communities may have adopted national identities at certain moments, but that did not prevent some of them from adopting different identities at other moments, or from expressing complete indifference to those identities at yet other moments. Even those who did identify themselves consistently as “Germans” throughout this period would not necessarily have understood themselves as members of a larger interregional German community, one that formed an interconnected, unified cultural and social whole. Their sense of their Germanness may have derived from their particular religious practice, their local social position, or their degree of education. In the context of specific regional and local identities there may indeed have been plenty of self-described Germans to be found, but little sense of a larger connection among such groups of individuals. Imposing the common term “Germans” on these diverse populations risks compromising the accuracy of our representations of people in the past by flattening out their considerable differences to fit them into a broad modern category.
It is also clear, however, that the requirements of modernizing states and the efforts of developing social sciences worked together, however unintentionally, to promote the categorization of populations in terms of language use, religious practice, and eventually according to the abstract concept of nation. While state policies did not alone create nations in the nineteenth century, they often created the available political and social spaces where local or regional activists could articulate particular interests. Even states like Austria, whose policy opposed the recognition of national interests, nevertheless helped to produce the spread of nationalism through promises of linguistic and religious equality. The most egregious example of Austrian state policy that unintentionally encouraged the process of nationalization of populations was undoubtedly the Moravian Compromise of 1905. Undertaken in order to diminish the harmful effects of political nationalism on public life, the compromise created separate Czech and German electoral lists and school systems. The new law required, however, that all Moravians register themselves and their families as either members of the Czech or German nation, thus forcing many who had not previously considered themselves to be part of either nation to join one of them.
From the perspective of the twentieth century, the history of the nineteenth century in Central and Eastern Europe seems to offer a panoramic view of worsening relations among neighboring communities that used different languages or practiced different religions. What we are seeing, however, is neither the awakening of nations nor the end of some kind of idyllic existence characterized by an acceptance of diversity or so-called hybrid identities at the local level. The largely rural communities of East Central Europe in particular knew nothing of hybridity or multiculturalism because they knew nothing of modern nations. What they experienced in their everyday lives was completely normal to them and not exceptional. What was exceptional to them, however, was the gradual intrusion in their world of outsiders, of civil servants, of communications and commercial networks, of new media, of political parties. Even in 1848, when popular politics first exploded the cultural fabric of daily life in the region, the potential for all-consuming nationalist conflicts to tear society apart remained only a potential. Activists in 1848 were not the activists of 1900. The former still defined their world in tangible ways that privileged local interests and interpreta- tions of the world. For this reason, their nationalisms did not necessarily exclude other nationalisms, and given the legal and social conditions of the day, most envisioned a society characterized by personal emancipation. By 1900, however, local condi- tions had changed radically, thanks to the spread of media, the rise of literacy, and a remarkable political mobilization. So too had the contents of nationalist ideologies. Local interests were now understood by more people to be intimately connected to nationalist interests. A broad and abstract concept of nation (whichever version) had become part of loyalty to the traditions of place, making local conflict on nationalist lines more of a possibility in daily life.