Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Sad News

Otto von Hapsburg has died. From his obituary, I especially liked these bits:

'...he was greeted with wild enthusiasm by the monarchy’s Magyar subjects when his father was crowned in Budapest as the new King of Hungary. The official photograph shows the young boy, dressed in ermine and velvet with a great white feather in his cap, sitting between his parents in their ornate coronation robes.’

‘The [Hapbsburg] rescuer now was not a family member but a British Army officer — Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Strutt, dispatched on the personal authority of King George V with orders to escort the beleaguered Austrian emperor and his family to safety. This Strutt accomplished in some style, reassembling their royal train for the journey into Switzerland on March 25 1919. Otto never forgot the experience. Whenever he heard in later life complaints about British indifference to the Habsburgs’ fate he would reply: “Yes, but there was always Strutt.” ‘

I wonder why there’s a bust of him in Paks (a rather dismal town my husband tells me we once visited, only because Hungary’s only nuclear power station is there [a Ukrainian and a Pole we knew were always keen to picnic near nuclear facilities, make of that what you will]). Maybe it's because the sensible people of Paks recognised that the Austro-Hungarian empire, all things considered, was probably as good as it gets - some might go even further (eg my husband) and say that the fifty years under that empire before the First World War was one of the most civilised periods of human history. And I probably wouldn't argue with him. In terms of glorious cafes and opera houses per square foot, it has no rivals.

What does surprise me is the fact that Hapsburg's obituarists missed the opportunity to tell the hackneyed story about him, in which a colleague asked him whether he'd seen the Austria-Hungary football match and he replied, predictably, 'No, who were we playing?'


  1. Just Sunday I was listening to a neighbor, Bosnian-born, telling me how well things ran under Tito.

    Also, do you need to end the quotation after a couple of paragraphs?

  2. Can't get the formatting to go right, George. I assume you are suggesting some kind of parallel between the Austro-Hungarian empire and the former Yugoslavia. Can't see it myself.

  3. Well, I wonder whether don't gain in contrast with what came after. I don't say that the short-lived Austro-Hungarian empire didn't have its moments and its virtues--it did better at managing a multi-national empire than some did. Yet it left behind a record of considerable discontent by many of its inhabitants.

    My neighbor is a contractor, not a political theorist; I don't know how in the latter, unaccustomed, role he would rank Tito's Yugoslavia. But he spent his childhood and adolescence in a nation of political stability and relative prosperity. In his young manhood he saw his family's house burned down, his personal safety hung largely on the fluency of his Serbo-Croatian, and in the end he had to flee.

    His history compresses the tragedies of a state's disintegration into a very few years, say ten, where the disintegration of Austria-Hungary took 30 years to work out. Yet I think that the grandparents of another acquaintance, Austrian refugees of the late 1930s and he would find something in common.

  4. It seems to me that Tito was a thug who sought power, whereas Franz Josef, his major predecessor in Slovenia, Croatia and the Vojvodina, was a person thrust into a position of power who tried to rule benevolently and didn't do a bad job in an imperfect world. The fate of opponents of Tito, eg the 50,000 men and women tortured and starved and forced to compete with each other in beating up new arrivals on Goli Otok, was surely reason enough to recognise that his rule was very different to that of his Hapsburg predecessor, not to mention the events of the terror in Yugoslavia (see Tito's Flawed Legacy by Nora Beloff, Chapter 4). There is so much to say on this subject. Ultimately though I do regard the Austro-Hungarian empire in its final form as very admirable, despite flaws (in an imperfect world, as I said before), whereas Yugoslavia, which I did live in, although after Tito's death, but before its complete disintegration, was cohesive, because forced to be, and otherwise lacked any real qualities to recommend it that were not the qualities inherited from the Austro Hungarian empire eg nice architecture. I don't want to get embroiled in the arguments of the region but, depending on what it is, your neighbour's ethnicity may possibly have some bearing on his views.