Minorities Research 1.

Ernő Deák

Hungarians through the Mirror of the Viennese Revolutions of 1848

 In 1835, in reaction to his placement under police surveillance, István Széchenyi made the following thought-provoking comment in his petition submitted to Chancellor Metternich: [i]

“Half of the problems arising in the world can be traced back to misunderstandings and fomented passions. If only there was a suitable mediator, who regarded the good of the entire cause, rather than his personal gains, by God he could achieve much good at the expense of very little effort. On my part I confess without further ado that the lack of such mediators is the chief cause of all the existing disagreements between the Austrian government and Hungary.”

 I inserted the above quotation, an extremely incisive one in my view, in the introduction to make my account more readily understandable. During the Biedermeier period Vienna knew a great deal more about Hungary, and about the reforms set in motion there, than it did at any time before or after it. Therefore, the way in which revolutionary Vienna received the Hungarian developments was hardly the work of some chance elements. Naturally, at this point one must make a very clear distinction between the Court and the associated aristocracy on the one hand and the bourgeois population on the other. Even regarding the common people, we have to differentiate between the (petit) bourgeoisie largely dependent on the Court and the by then significantly powerful working classes. A separate mention must be made of the intelligentsia, most notably the university youth.

 As a result of the dependency, the emergence of a revolutionary spirit in the lion’s den of the Holy Alliance was almost inconceivable. Vienna was more characterized by fretting and grumbling, than by concerted efforts directing against absolutist rule. The demands made by the Viennese revolution, which broke out on March 13, 1848, reveal the effects of Kossuth’s speech delivered in the Pozsony Diet on March 3, acknowledged by Viennese historiograhy. The impact of the speech changed the course of the demonstrations. First, however, we must address the question of how and why a certain overlap of interest could have emerged between the Hungarians and the Austrians, which soon developed into an extremely active sympathy for the Hungarian cause. To assume that such a reciprocity could have come about spontaneously would be preposterous.

 The attention of the Austrians, or more precisely, of the Viennese public, was drawn to the centuries-old Hungarian presence by their significant numbers (about 15,000 Hungarians lived in Vienna by the early 1840s), as well as by their important and dignified conduct. The Viennese people were especially impressed by the corps of the Hungarian Bodyguards, established by Maria Theresa in 1760, whose members made a striking effect during the various processions. The following commentary is very characteristic: [ii]

“The Viennese public watched with admiration, when the Court proceeded to the Prater on Easter or on May 1, escorted by the Hungarians, whose magnificence and splendour outshone that of the Austrian nobility. Especially the Hungarian Bodyguards made an operatic impression, with their members parading in their helmets, mounted on their full-blooded horses.”

 Such a spectacle did, of course, contribute to the general image of Hungarians, who were often described as “noble”, “courageous”, or daredevils”, and who had at the same time a noble heart and an honourable character. Their conduct, easy manners and magnanimity won over the admiration of the Viennese people. The injury politics of the Pozsony Diet especially appealed to the Viennese, who appreciated that the Hungarians expressed all that they were not allowed to say. Naturally, this was a superficial and offhand phenomenon, but we must not forget that after the Congress of Vienna, and most notably following the Diet of 1825-1827, the Hungarians gradually moved to the foreground of attention.

 The magazine Vaterlandische Blatter für den österreichischen Kaiserstaat, published between 1808 and 1820, must be mentioned here, as it regularly reported on Hungary’s statistical-topographical as well as cultural developments. Rather than mentioning several names, we would like to single out one person here, György Gaál (1783-1855), the librarian of the Esterházy Palace in Vienna, who not only published a collection of proverbs in six languages, but also popularised Hungarian drama in a separate volume (Theater der Magyaren, 1820). It was also György Gaál, who collected Hungarian folk tales from the accounts of Hungarian soldiers posted to Vienna), publishing it in German in 1822 under the title Märchen der Magyaren. (Despite the insistent efforts of Gábor Kazinczy and Ferenc Toldy, the Hungarian version only came out between 1857 and 1860.) Naturally, we could also mention József Márton, the editor and publisher of the Bétsi Magyar Újság and the Magyar Kurir, two magazines that were published between 1793 and 1860, and also the “Professor extraordinaire of Hungarian Language and Literature” at the University of Vienna.

 With the necessary connections, the flow of information between Hungarians and Austrians was only natural, and the Hungarians of Vienna undoubtedly played the role of mediator in this. In other words, by March 1848 the persons and circles sympathising with or opposing to the Hungarian movement all had been aware of what was happening, and what was in the making, in Hungary.

To characterize the image formed of Hungary and of Hungarians, we can draw on the works of two prominent Austrian writers and poets: one being Count Anton Alexander Aursperg (1806-1867), who became known under the pseudonym Anastasius Grün, and who in 1848 represented Ljubljana in the Frankfurt Parliament; in a narrative poem of 88 lines, he paid homage to Prince Ferenc Rákóczi’s memory, presented as a symbol of freedom. In search of a motto for the poem entitled Officium Rakoczianum, he chose the first sentence of Rákóczi’s declaration: Recrudescunt inclytae gentis hungarae vulnera, repeating it, with some modification in the German translation, in the first line of the poem: Hungary’s old wounds are renewed, he continues, and nothing but iron can heal them.

 In Rodosto, the Turkish town to which he was exiled for taking up arms to defend “God, Liberty and Country”, the Prince summoned his last remaining soldier, “Sebrik” (his master of ceremony Miklós Sibrik); it was to him that the Prince addressed his dying words; and it was also he who placed his Confessions in the arms of the dead man, covering him in the flag of the insurrection featuring the words “For God, Liberty and Country”. Sibrik said the following words to the dead Prince: “Not the words of bitterness that the asylum and the suffering provoked you into saying, but your flag alone that speaks in your behalf, your words, and your slogan are what will save the poor people of your country, should the old wounds of Hungary—God forbid it!—be reopened.”

The other writer was Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868), the most important story-teller of nineteenth-century Austria. One piece of his four-part short story series entitled Studien, printed in 1844 in Heckenas’s press-house, described the conditions during the Reform Age, the bustling provincial life, providing a framework for a love story as well as giving practical illustrations of Széchenyi’s reform ideas with the help of introducing “model farms”.

In sharp contrast to the Viennese Court, the symbol of immutability, Hungary during the Reform Age attracted attention with its vigorous life. This could also explain the reason why Lajos Kossuth’s speech on March 3 at the Pozsony Diet created such a stir, eventually directly sparking off the Revolution on March 13. Albeit with a few days’ delay, news were continuously arriving from Hungary: the Court’s agents and the Hungarian correspondents, as well as the ordinary visitors brought them and disseminated them, sometimes even in written form. More important than the manner of realisation was the already mentioned mediation. Kossuth’s speech, originally delivered in Hungarian, was noted down and brought to Vienna, where it obviously had to be translated into German. Within a few days it was talked about in civil societies and cafes and, more importantly, it was read out and debated in public. Ferenc Pulszky, who resided in Vienna at the time, later claimed that he had been responsible for translating Kossuth’s speech into German; in reality, the existence of several translators can be assumed. According to one of the most reliable chroniclers, Heinrich Reschauer (Das Jahr 1848. Geschichte der Wiener Revolution, Vol I. Wien, 1876), it was the Hungarian-named Dr. Moriz Kalazdy (properly Kálozdy), who was to be credited with the translation. The first people to read it out in public was the Hungarian-born medical student Maximilian Goldner, whose delivery failed to make full effect on account of the speaker’s over-excitement and poor voice. There were two points in Kossuth’s speech which literary electrified the Viennese people. One was his demand for a constitution, and the other was the fact that he demanded it not only for Hungary but for the entire Empire as well; in other words, he wanted the absolutist government to be replaced by a constitutional system. The text included some references to the young Archduke Francis Joseph, as Kossuth hoped the necessary changes to come from him. Finally, the full text of the speech was delivered, in a thunderous voice and amidst loud cheering, by a university student named Putz, who was even asked to repeat some of the passages. The masses, up to that point explosive and restless, persuaded the hesitant estates to act immediately, so the petition, which demanded fundamental rights (freedom of speech, of the press, of association) from the Court, was ready within minutes. The previously mentioned Heinrich Reschauer evaluated the impact of Kossuth’s speech as follows: [iii]

Kossuth’s speech had an enormous impact not only in Hungary but also in Austria, and most notably in Vienna. Without overestimating this impact, we can safely say that there had never before been a speech in Europe as powerful as this.”

After this the estates quickly made up their minds and drafted a proposal for the Court; at the same time, the troops dispatched to Herrengasse fired into the crowd. Their action on Monday, March 13 took a toll of fifteen lives (according to a pamphlet, thirty-six people fell victim to violence during the March days on various locations in Vienna). Therefore, unlike the peaceful revolution in Budapest, the Viennese revolution was a bloody one. Things were truly set into motion when, on the day of the outbreak of the revolution in Pest, a group of envoys led by Palatine Joseph arrived in Vienna from the Pozsony Diet, accompanied by a bunch of jurati (law students), who came to express their gratitude for revolutionary Vienna’s contribution to the success of the Hungarian movement. This confluence provided the high tide in the several-century shared history of the two countries: what Kossuth announced as a political program, the Viennese people led by the revolutionary youth achieved in bloody fighting. The Hungarian deputies leaving Vienna on March 17 issued a ceremonial manifesto to brotherly Vienna:

“Brothers, we express our thanks to You. Our answer is this: Long live the dynasty, the common freedom, the brotherhood of Austria’s peoples in ideas, emotions and interests.”

In those days of March and April, one deputation followed the next in quick succession between Vienna and Pozsony. Lajos Kossuth’s visit to Vienna deserves a separate mention; Kossuth—even according Széchenyi’s diary—was worshipped by the people of Vienna. On April 7, the day of appointing the first, sovereign and responsible Hungarian Ministry, the students of the Viennese University produced a pamphlet addressed to the Hungarian Nation. It would be difficult to find a more vivid description of the Viennese people’s feelings towards the Hungarians:

“So many thousands of hearts in our great country have been electrified, when, during those historical days of March, the idea emanated from you in a flare: “Constitution for the whole of Austria!” As a result of the glorious nation’s deed, and thanks to the loving will of the sovereign, all the peoples came to share in this. You heard the cheers and you experienced the enthusiasm, with which your noble deputies and inspiriting youth had been received.”

The words of the message reflect, in a surprisingly clear manner, the empathy and the understanding with which revolutionary Vienna greeted the Hungarian war of liberation—not only at that particular moment but right until late October.

“For centuries you had to fight for the preservation of your ancient constitution. You shed your hearts’ blood to retain at least the shell of the pearl so that future generations be able to restore.

Hungarians! The fruit has ripened and we are grateful for its omnipotent and nurturing blessing. Persistently and bravely, you have protected and guarded the flame of freedom, preventing it from extinction throughout the tempestuous centuries. Now freedom is for all of us to share...

From now on Austria and Hungary can only exist in unison. From now on we have the same alliance, the same friendship and the same enemies. May God grant us victory and grace! Éljen!” (The last word is the Hungarian term for ‘viva!’)

On April 9 the Viennese youth paid a visit to the Hungarian Parliament. To greet them, Pest County’s Deputy, Móric Szentkirályi gave a speech. Referring to the Viennese reception, he expressed his opinion that the emotions of the heart had surfaced in the nearly one-thousand-year-old Austro-Hungarian relations only recently. The political doctrine of the past one hundred years, which had been based on the division of peoples, came to an end. Our hearts and hands are now linked by freedom:

“Lending support to one another, marching hand in hand, we shall rise high among the peoples of Europe.”

After his speech, Szentkirályi offered his hand to Dr. Kálózdy, who came forward on behalf of the Viennese youth, and who presumably also acted as an interpreter. (As we have seen earlier, Kálózdy was one of the translators of Kossuth’s speech.)

The next visit after April 11 came on April 15, when the Parliamentary youth went to see Minister Pillersdorf. Once again, the prevailing theme was that the Hungarians and the Germans were united in freedom and in the love felt for the sovereign. (It must be pointed out that in 1848 the word ‘Austrian’ did not denote a nationality, and Austria’s German-speaking public were regarded Germans in accordance with the current norms of nationhood. This also found an expression in the political symbols, insofar as the German tricolor /black-red-golden/ stood for revolutionary progress, while the Habsburg colours /black-and-yellow/ generally alluded to the forces of reaction.)

Two days later, on April 17, the Hungarian National Guards presented the Viennese with a flag. The address there was as follows: German Brothers, Vienna’s free citizens! In addition to emphasizing the common freedom and union, the translator handed over the flag with the following words:

“For that reason, take this flag featuring the colours of our blessed and free country as a token of our unremitting loyalty and deeply felt fraternity!”

Similarly to the Pozsony incident, the ceremonial donation of the flag had its own Hungarian spokesman in the person of Móric Herczegy, who presented himself to his audience with the following words:

“Since the Hungarians assembled here cannot speak your language all that well, they appointed me as their spokesman, who has lived among you for years.”

Naturally, once the honey-moon was over, there came the ordinary weekdays. Although the Viennese public never tired of hearing about revolutionary developments and the brotherly assurances of the various deputations, the Hungarians—feeling satisfied with the work they had done so far—became lost in their own affairs. And since the various governments formed in the center of the Empire in quick succession, themselves were preoccupied with the convening of the Imperial Assembly and the passing of new laws, the attention shifted away from the Hungarians and the subject of the mutual interests only came up in the rhetoric. As it soon became apparent, the Hungarians did not wish to tie the country’s affairs directly to Vienna. This was manifested in the fact that—causing immense disappointment to the Imperial Parliament—they had no intention of sending deputies to the latter, while were very eager to send an envoy to the Fankfurt Assembly as that was regarded as the German National Assembly. As a result, during the Summer sympathy greatly diminished for the Hungarians who—in all appearances—seemed to be busy grilling their own steaks, rather than working for the common good of the Empire. At the Court, but also in certain bourgeois circles, the Hungarians’ reluctance to take part in the Italian campaign was met with incomprehension, while their unwillingness to take over a share of the Empire’s public expenditure (in view of the fact that they wanted their own Ministry of Finance and National Bank) seemed outright preposterous. The next turn in the events came in late August and early September, when the double-dealing practices of the Chancellery became evident on the one hand, and the revolutionary circles of Vienna realised that the cause of liberty would be decided in Hungary on the other: if freedom was defeated there, then the fate of revolutionary Vienna would also be sealed. Naturally, the Hungarians in Vienna saw Jellacic’s preparations and took countermeasures, trying not only to win over the public mood, but also to secure the active involvement of the Viennese.

In response to the dramatic developments, the Hungarians once again appeared in Vienna (August 29) to dispel any doubts and to win favour at the Imperial Parliament. Dated September 19, a pamphlet announced the arrival of another Hungarian deputation, which wanted to trust a six-month-old child to the care of the representatives. This was an allusion to Maria Theresa’s three-month-old baby Joseph II, whom the Empress had trusted to the care of the Hungarian Estates, asking them to save the Empire. The Hungarian deputation now expected something similar from the Imperial Parliament in Vienna. Apart from the reminder, the text was not written in a humble tone; on the contrary, it defiantly announced that “... we want to be free, and no power on Earth can rob us of our freedom (...) Our battle cry is: We want to be free, and our enemies must perish.” 

As is well known, the Imperial Parliament, in which the Slavic element was in majority, declined to receive the Hungarian deputation. The explanation was more than contradictory: Hungary was not a member of the Imperial Parliament, which practically acknowledged Hungary’s separation. In those days a pamphlet entitled Hungary is Republic, signed by ‘a German’, once again called the Viennese people’s attention to the danger of war.

“The Hungarian Parliament’s deputation wasted their time coming to Vienna. Although the Emperor granted them an audience, they failed to get a reassuring answer. Angered by this, they travelled back to Pest on the Saturday steamboat. When the Hungarians left Vienna, they stuck a red feather to their hats and tied a red ribbon around their waists. But red is the colour of the Republicans!!!”

The author thought that there might be a dictatorship in Hungary, and the country might eventually break away from Austria. And yet, he concluded that there were two reasons why this would not take place: one was the Hungarians’ heartfelt sympathy for the dynasty, and the other the actual balance of power. Four million Hungarians were far too few and weak to be able to protect its independence against the entire Empire.

Unlike at the Court and in the Imperial Parliament, in Vienna the sympathy for the Hungarians revived. The pamphlet distributed as a supplement to the September 10 issue of (Politischer) Studenten-Courier addressed the Hungarians with a variation on the Polish anthem: “Hungary is not yet lost.” The text was an interesting amalgamation of Sándor Petőfi’s National Song and allusions to Rákóczi’s war of liberation. Be worthy of yourself, as you are Hungarians: Hungarians can live and die, but they cannot live in servitude. Finally there was an exclamation:

“Be brave! But that is needless to tell you, since you are Hungarians; so rather: Hungary is not yet lost! And as long as there is free Hungary, there is also free Germany, and for that reason we stand by you in the fight against the enemies of freedom—the enemies of freedom are our enemies, too!”

Nevertheless, the outrage towards the Imperial Parliament and the sympathy for the Hungarians were manifested at other levels, too. The September 19 issue (80) of the student magazine mentioned above reported on a sympathy demonstration for the Hungarians:

“Led by the Democratic Association and with the participation of the Academic Legion and the Civil Guards as well as of a large number of workers, the people of Vienna expressed their most profound and warmest sympathy for you (Hungarians) in a magnificent torch procession, accompanied by the ceaseless ‘viva’ exclamations by members of the left wing of the Imperial Parliament and of the Academic Legion. The President of the Democratic Association, Tausenau gave a lengthy and wonderful speech (...) The (Hungarian) members of Parliament replied in an enthusiastic and cordial tone. In the following the Democrats’ Chaises and Eckhard spoke. Finally, the Workers’ Association performed several German songs. The crowd dispersed at 1:00 a.m. with the expressed wish that Hungary and Germany would soon score a victory over the ‘Chancellery’s hyena politics’.”

September proved to be a period of enforced preparations. As has been said earlier, the Hungarians had to win over the sympathetic Viennese people for active involvement. There were posters recruiting voluntary soldiers, promising a monthly salary with the prospect of Hungarian citizenship and a plot of land for those who would like to settle in Hungary—naturally, after the victory. On September 15 a pamphlet informed the public that at 6:00 p.m. on the previous day two rowing boats (for lack of steamboat) with Szeredy’s irregulars on board from Vienna arrived in Budapest. They were greeted by the Mayor Rottenbiller, whose welcoming words were answered by two legionaries, Dr. Gustav Mathey and Dr. J. B. Hammerschmidt. What is more, the “wonderful, upright Kossuth” himself turned up in the harbour; he spoke to them, and even gave a brotherly kiss to Hammerschmidt. Meanwhile, the five-verse marching song of the irregulars was born, written by Friedrich Kreichel on the steamboat ‘Béla’ on September 14. Its first verse (in a draft translation) reads as follows:

Rise for the country, rise to the fight!
Our blood-coloured banners fly!
Bravely and resolutely, you must reach
For your drawn and good swords!
The enemy has attacked our brothers.
We must not leave this un-avenged!

We also know of the Hungarian Irregulars of Vienna, one member of which wrote his eight-verse marching song in the same days. The fifth verse leaves very little doubt about the radicalism of its author:

Not for King or Crown,
Not for Princes or Throne;
For the golden throne of Freedom
Our Legion stands to fight.

The October days, the fourth Viennese revolution, deserve separate mention; although not directly instigated by Hungarians, [iv] the rebellion broke out on account, as well as in support, of the Hungarian cause. In the second volume of his history of the Viennese revolution, Moritz Smets, co-author with the earlier mentioned Reschauer, gave a detailed account of the immediate cause and the precise story of the October 6 revolution. Vienna’s revolutionary forces caught wind of marching orders issued to Richter’s Grenadier Division to attack Hungary. Not only did the crowd begin to fraternise with the soldiers, many of whom handed over their weapons, they even raised barricades, leading to an armed clash between the insurgents and the troops, in which the former carried the day, thus successfully preventing the division’s march against Hungary. Revolutionary fervour was further increased by the frenzy broken out against Minister of Defence Latour. Not only was he responsible for sending troops against the demonstrators, he even proved to be a liar: following his positive denial of being in contact with the Croatian Ban, Hungarians in Vienna actually found his letters to Jellacic. The Minister of Defence was summarily dealt with by the Viennese crowd: he was lynched, and his body was hang from a lamp post.

By then the forces of reaction had gone over to the offensive: Windischgrätz rushed to the aid of Jellacic’s army just outside Vienna. In Znaim the vanquisher of the Prague insurrection received the Emperor’s order: he was to complete the work of peace in the shortest time according to his best judgement. [v] The military superiority of the united armies broke the Viennese resistance: before that, however, we could witness a tragic manifestation of Austrian-Hungarian fraternity. Faced with overwhelming forces, Vienna were inclined to surrender, but the Hungarians offered the prospect of help. Entitled Liberty is at Stake! Rise in Arms!, a pamphlet explained the Hungarians’ holy fight for freedom, offering to the Viennese public the prospect of military help by the Hungarian troops who would probably have to enter Austrian territory in pursuit of Jellacic’s army. The pamphlet asked the Austrians not to receive the Hungarians with hostility, but to confront Jellacic together. The proclamation, which was dated October 10, was counter-signed by Baron Zsigmond Perényi of the House of Lords, and by János Pálffy of the House of Commons—both in their capacity as deputy chairman. The message printed in capitals—VIENNA IS SAVED! THE HUNGARIANS ARE COMING!—on the first page of the October 13 issue of the newspaper Der Freimüthige hinted at this prospect. Two days later, on October 15, the Hungarian population of Vienna (die hier answeseden Ungarn) called upon the Viennese public to unite with the Hungarian troops outside the town walls and defeat Jellacic together. Vienna received Hungary’s hesitation with growing unease, nay disappointment. In a tone characteristic of the current situation, the Politischer Studenten-Courier addressed the Hungarians directly in its October 17 issue as follows:

“We started the October 6 revolution in support of your good cause and your liberty, shedding our blood and embarking on an immensely difficult and arduous fight. Could you now let us down at a time of desperation, hesitating and contemplating whether you could leave your country in good conscience and rush to the aid of the Viennese people?”

The proclamation ended with the revolutionary rhetoric so typical of the times:

“Every minute of delay might bring great misfortune, as the enemy might deploy new troops in any minute, further weakening us who are already at the end of our tether. Hungarians, for that reason you must act swiftly and without delay: we are waiting for your help, and we would bless you and extend our arms for brotherly embrace; we want to be with you in war and in peace, and would not desert you in times of need or despair; we make alliance with you, and there would be no power which could severe the link between us.”

At this point we must mention the Hungarians’ memorandum dated October 19, which was published in the newspaper Der Radikale on October 21, signed by town commander Cäsar Wenzel Messenhauser. “The Hungarian nation has for centuries been linked to the people of Austria with very close ties, indeed; and these ties were further strengthened by the constitutional freedom, which the Monarchy’s peoples won for themselves in March, and which the Emperor ratified subsequently,” the declaration began; it then continued as follows: “It is our common to duty defend our constitutionally guaranteed liberty.” Further down there were more mentions of the Hungarian army’s decision to pursue the Croatian army to bring relief to the Viennese brothers. Important is the argument, which explains why the Hungarian intervention served the good of the entire Empire:

“We are convinced that by expelling Jellacic’s army from Austria and by restoring open transport and trade with Vienna we do a great service not only to the freedom of a nation allied with us, but also to the dynasty and to the entire Empire.

The Hungarian army is ready to live and die for the common interest.”

The memorandum was signed by Dénes Pázmány, János Móga, László Csányi, Sámuel Bónis and Pál Luzsenszky. Something of a last ray of relief could be glimpsed from a report given by Messenhauser at 12:45 p.m., who observed the battle from the steeple of St. Stephen’s Cathedral:

“The battle seems to extend in the direction of Oberlaa and Inzersdorf. The view is obstructed by the fog. So far—it appears—the Hungarians are surging ahead triumphantly. Should our town be approached by a routed army, it will be the duty of every arms-bearing citizen to seize arms without further orders.”

On the same day the Hungarian army was defeated at Schwechat by the combined forces of Jellacic and Windischgrätz. On the next day, on October 31, Windischgrätz occupied the town, taking a bloody revenge on those who, placing all their trust in the Hungarians, refused to lay down their weapons and resisted. The heroic manifestations of Austrian-Hungarian brotherhood did not end there, as those who still believed in the cause of Hungary’s freedom, such as the resolute members of the Academic Legion, moved to Hungary to continue the fight. [vi]

The Hungarian surrender at Világos, which followed in less than a year, had a devastating effect on the Austrian democrats, even though after October 31 the triumph of reaction was regarded an accomplished fact in Vienna. As a typical reaction, here is an extract from a letter written by Ferdinand Kürnberger (aged 28 at the time), in Dresden on August 1849. [vii] (The writer was a journalist and a self-confessed democrat born in Vienna, who joined the Academic Legion during the Viennese revolution, for which reason he had to flee after the fall of Vienna.)

“Görgey’s capitulation and Hungary’s fall—what devastation! How could I describe the indescribable? My long-dried-out eyes, which failed to shed tears at the fall of Vienna, have now been crying, with the agony of revulsion gripping my soul.”

With the crushing of the Hungarian war of liberation the Austrian-Hungarian relations took a very deep dive, obliterating almost all the memories of fraternity during the years of absolutist rule. Later generations inherited the official version of history, subscribing to it in an obvious attempt to legitimise Habsburg rule and therefore branding every revolutionary movement as unlawful rebellion and disobedience.

The expression ‘revolutionary Vienna’ has usually survived in historical memory (mostly without allusions to Hungary) in the traditions of the left-wing movements; the Social Democrats identified with it—naturally, after discarding its nationalistic traits. In a characteristic manner, the Austrian Communist Ernst Fischer, who became disillusioned after the Prague events of 1968, emphasised the revolutionary elements in his work Österreich 1848 (1946). An interesting manifestation of the Social Democrats’ identification was the booklet Barrikaden by Claudius Droot (published for the centennial of 1848, with original drawings), who relied on sources to describe the events to the trade union youth in the manner of a local correspondence. 

In the interest of an authentic evaluation of the Viennese events of 1848 one would nevertheless have to take into account the multi-coloured character of Austrian society. Take, for example, the great playwright Franz Grillparzer (also the archivist of the Court Chancellery), who, like the already mentioned Adalbert Stifter, habitually confessed to be an Austrian patriot, rather than a German nationalist, which was manifested in his unconditional loyalty to the dynasty. His views are well documented by his already classic definition: Der Weg der neueren Bildung führt von der Humanität über die Nationalität zur Bestielität—“The course of the new culture leads from humanism through nationalism to bestiality.” It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that he lauded the ageing General Radetzky fighting against the Italians in a poem, pointing out that Austria was in his camp; in other words, he identified Austria with the imperial armies, rather than with the revolutionary movements. As another example, we could mention the case of the revolutionary turned liberal Dr. Alexander Bach, who—appraising the situation in time—kept shifting to the right, until finding himself in the chair of Minister of the Interior in the neo-absolutist government. This ambivalence has still survived, as best manifested by the present crisis of Thracian identity. The New Year’s concert of Vienna is, for example, broadcast by most TV stations around the world. The concert is traditionally concluded with Johann Strauss’s Radetzky Marsh, a music inspired by similar sentiments as Grillparzer’s poem. The prevalent self-evaluation of Austrian historiography and historical consciousness is vividly expressed by the title of the Graz university professor Alexander Novotny’s work written for the centennial of 1848: 1848. Österreich Ringen um Freiheit und Völkerfrieden vor 100 Jahren (1848. Austria’s Fight for Freedom and for Peace between its Peoples One Hundred Years Ago). Of course, in 1948, when Austria was occupied by four great powers, such an expression of historical merits might have had a special actuality. When, however, we disregard the question of actuality, we ought to realise that in this specific search for identity many a thing would receive an emphasis contrary to its merits, and things would eventually be relegated to obscurity—just as it happened to the Viennese-Hungarian co-operation and common interests existing in 1848, which—as we have already indicated—failed to exert a comprehensive influence on Austrian society and was not captured by posterity’s historical consciousness.

(The other quotes in the text are taken from the Viennese press and pamphlets published in 1848. A collection of these can be found in the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek and the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.)



[i] Magyarország Ujabbkori Történelmének Forrásai. Gróf Széchényi István naplói. Vol. IV. (1830-1836), ed. Viszonta, Gzula. Budapest 1934, p. 690 cont.

[ii] Strobach, Wolfgang: Ungarn im Spiegel der öffentlicher Meinung Wiens 1848. Doctoral Thesis, Vienna 1947, p. 16

[iii] Reschauer, Heinrish-Smetz, Moritz: Das Jahr 1848. Geschichte der Wiener Revolution, Vienna 1876.

[iv] The Hungarians nevertheless showed appropriate activity, most notably through the German-language weekly magazines Der Völkerbund (published between May and September) and Ungarn und Deutschland (between late July and late August). The former was set up on Ferenc Pulszky’s initiative and received a monthly subsidy of 800 forints by Prime Minister Lajos Batthyány. See: Gloria victis, Szabadságharcunk a világirodalomban 1848-49. München 1973, p. 333.

[v] Das Werk des Friedens nach eigenem Ermessen in möglicht kurzer Zeit zu vollbringen. Cited bz Droot, Claudius: Barrikaden. Wien, 1948. p. 119.

[vi] On September 14 the elite corps of the Viennese Legion for Hungary was formed. Its commanding officers called to arms the members of the Academic Legion still on the same day: Rise for Hungary!

[vii] Kürnberger, Ferdinand: Briefe eines politischen Früchtlings. Aus dem Nachlass herausgegeben von Otto Erich Deutsch. Leipzig-Wien 1920. p. 27.