The case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
The Austro-Hungarian monarchy created by the compromise of 1867 was the third most populous state in Europe before the First World War. The traditional vision of the country as a decrepit and backward Empire has been thoroughly revised by historians of the region in the past twenty years. This new historiography presents Austria-Hungary in its final years not as an anachronistic entity mired in ethnic conflict but as a viable political structure, which faced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenges rather similar to those experienced by other European states. Older narratives on the rise of invincible modern nationalism among ethnic groups leading to the decline of Austria-Hungary and its subsequent downfall have been replaced by a more nuanced understanding of the creation of national identities within the empire during this period. This more complex representation of the work of nationalists also helps re-evaluate the vitality of forms of loyalty to the Empire. Several institutions actively contributed to the creation of a sense of collective belonging and personal allegiance. Even nationalist parties and associations were not fighting against the state but rather in a competition primarily directed at each other for the allegiance of populations (German against Czech, or Slovene, Ukrainian against Polish), appealing for recognition from the central state. As the state was supranational, especially in the Austrian half of the monarchy, nationalism cannot be considered as a state-affirming force as is the case for other countries covered in the project. This general context and the nature of political violence, which sometimes combined national and social motives, make the relationship between nationalism and armed associations less straightforward in the case of Austria-Hungary. Keeping in mind the different nuances of political categories, there is ample scope (such as the interaction of armed associations with the labour movement) for fruitful comparison with other European case studies.