My mother was born in Vienna in 1924, and I have been investigating the history of Austria in an attempt to put her early life into context; I was shocked at what I found out. The origins of the country are complex and multi-faceted. Suffice it to say that at some point it emerged from the Holy Roman Empire, and in the mid-nineteenth century formed a dual monarchy with Hungary to become the multi-national state of Austria-Hungary, ruled by a succession of Habsburg emperors. Subject countries included Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia Herzegovina, Galicia (composed of parts of Poland and Ukraine), part of Romania, and sections of northern Italy. It was a prosperous nation: the population in 1914 was 53 million, and manufacturing capacity rivalled Britain, Germany, and the USA. The imperial capital was Vienna, a city of grandiose public buildings and a cultural life to match. There were theatres, concert halls, opera houses, and art galleries, and at various times Vienna was home to Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, the Strausses and Gustav Mahler. In the early twentieth century, it hosted radical movements in art, philosophy, and music. For more than 50 years Sigmund Freud practised psychoanalysis in Vienna.
Most people know that the first World War was sparked off by Austria-Hungary's decision to declare war on Serbia, blaming it for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—heir to the imperial throne—in Sarajevo. Russia waded in as an ally of Serbia, Germany likewise as an ally of Austria-Hungary; Germany then invaded France (an ally of Russia) via Belgium, and this brought Britain into the war.
Four years later Austria-Hungary had been defeated. One by one its component nations declared independence, and the economy collapsed. The currency went into freefall, and in the winter of 1918 in Vienna there was no coal for heating or wheat for bread. The population was starving, and reduced to bartering for essentials. Excessive hubris had destroyed one of the largest and most prosperous of European nations. The New York Times commented that the world should consider to ‘subsidize the Austrian capital ... The world’s stock of charming cities is not so large that we can afford to let one of the most charming pass into decay’.
I don’t expect that Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, or Corriere della Sera will be running stories like that about London any time soon, but the B****t fallout is only just beginning. Food exports to the EU are down, and businesses are reporting difficulties getting staff because EU workers have returned home. There is also worry about the ability of the financial services industry—which contributes more than 10% of UK tax receipts—to avoid contraction over regulatory issues with the EU. When the effect of that starts to bite, we’ll look back on the so-called 'sausage war' with nostalgia.
B****t: the theft that keeps on thieving...
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs