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Austro-Hungarian Monarchy

Domestic Policy: Divide and Rule

The strength of the Dual Monarchy lay in its vastness, its virtual economic self-sufficiency, and its opportunities for commercial intercourse from the Swiss border to the Carpathians. Its weakness was less in its ethnic diversity than in the unequal treatment accorded to its minorities in the spirit of the maxim "Divide and rule." Of the Slavic elements the Czechs and Serbs were the most disaffected. The efforts of the Taaffe ministry to satisfy Czech demands failed. The Italian minority was won to the Italian nationalist cause (see irredentism). The Romanians of Transylvania had bitter grievances against their Hungarian masters.

As nationalist movements gained within the empire, they enlarged their demands from cultural autonomy to full independence and ultimately broke up the monarchy. These movements existed not only in the oppressed provinces, but also among Hungarian extremists, who desired total independence, and among Austrian Pan-Germans, who advocated the union of German-speaking Austria with Germany.

The greatest danger to the monarchy probably was Pan-Slavism, spreading from Serbia and encouraged by Russia among the South Slavs. Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne, apparently had a project by which Croatia was to become the nucleus of a third, South Slavic, partner in the monarchy; his assassination (1914) at Sarajevo cut short this hope and precipitated World War I.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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