In the late nineteenth century, Austria suffered from problems connected with national identity as the age of the Empire was coming to an end. Many national movements in the Empire caused this process. National minorities were suppressed by the Vienna government and intended to reunite with their countries or to create autonomy within the existing Empire. Events of that time led Austria to a political crisis. Being multinational and enormous, the state was not easy to rule due to the nations’ desire to have opportunities and rights that the governing one had. Contradictions in Austria caused instability in Europe with profound implications and became one of the reasons that brought countries to the World War. Furthermore, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was the background of that war (Rauchensteiner 262). The world had been on the verge of war for a while and there were some reasons for that. However, after the shot in Sarajevo all the crises burst into a real war. It was the time for Austria to present itself in the international arena and play a decisive role in many principal events leading to the war, which brought the Empire considerable losses.
The existing system of international relations started to suffer. The great powers realized the possibility of war and no one wanted to become a victim. For that reason, some countries found a way out in creating alliances. The convergence of Russia and France could not but worry Prussia and Austria. Finding a way to secure themselves, Austria and Prussia and later Italy signed the Pact for the establishment of the Triple Alliance, which became the first coalition of European powers. The First World War turned into the war of coalitions and the world initially was divided into two alliances. The Entente was the second power and was created later when the strengthening of the Triple Alliance was indisputable. The confrontation between the two blocks was the central cause of the war. Every side had a strong wish to benefit and withdraw from the war with slight losses. That is an evident intention of every powerful country that engages in war.
In fact, a country in the condition of peace also searches for the best way to benefit in any situation. Austria, despite internal contradictions between national minorities, annexed the territory of Bosnia and included it into its possessions (Bushell 114). This situation deepened the crisis between the two blocks as each side had its own opinion about that event and the war was soon to burst. Germany supported international conflict in Europe caused by Austria, but Russia was not ready to wage war. Russia had to restrain discontent of Serbia and relations between these countries deteriorated. Contradictions between Russia and Austria arose during the Balkan Wars (Bushell 137). These countries belonged to different international blocks and, due to this fact, had different interests in the redistribution of the world.
As historical practice shows, huge multinational empires sooner or later cease to exist. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire are examples of destruction on the grounds of national unrest. Every nation is eligible for self-determination. Unfortunately, it was not understood by the great powers at the right moment. The First World War began when the colonial countries started to redistribute their territories and no diplomacy worked in that domain. All countries were not satisfied with their possessions or with possessions of the enemy. As it has been mentioned earlier, every country was searching for a profitable situation without any thoughts about consequences. Territories of decaying empires caused interest of politically stable countries and were another reason for redistribution. Perhaps, the opposing parties did not entirely assess the situation and possible outcomes. “It remains an irrefragable law of history that contemporaries are denied a recognition of the early beginnings of the great movements which determine their times” (Zweig 127).
Sarajevo assassination shocked the Austrian elite. Great powers tried to solve the conflict by diplomatic negotiations. Attempts to prevent war appeared to be unsuccessful due to profound contradictions and mutual allegations. The process launched much earlier was impossible to stop and the outbreak of war was an apparent event. The world could not exist in that condition anymore and demanded changes for the better. Unfortunately, measures for changings could not be peaceful; the situation escalated to the limit. The World War began and it became the war of innovations. The war took place on land, in the air, and under water. For the first time in history, Germany used the chemical weapon. Certainly, it was a sorrowful achievement in the warfare and a particular tragedy of the war. Nobody could be proud of that and the cruelty could not be justified. The usage of such kind of weapon left no chance for the opposite side because such attacks were almost impossible to predict.
Bloody battles took thousands of lives and brought sorrow to many families. Both parties suffered from colossal human losses. Those losses are irreparable because nothing is more valuable in the world than a human life and nobody has a right to take it. Some idea inspired soldiers to defend interests of their homeland. However, they were just pawns in the game of authoritative tops. It is sad to realize that this feature is typical in any war. A governing power does not think about consequences the war brings to ordinary people. Every state just blindly follows its aims and interests and is ready to sacrifice soldiers for achieving the ultimate goal.
Consequences of the war for Austria were destructive. Extreme changes affected all vital spheres of the state’s functioning. The economy was in a terrible condition – food supply blockade from the Entente made ordinary citizens suffer. Living standards sharply decreased. Due to that reason, separatist sentiments were increasingly growing among the nations of the Empire. People were tired of living in a condition of war and poverty caused many strikes in the streets of Vienna. The destruction process of the former great empire had started long ago, but with the end of the war it reached its peak. A lot of reasons caused the annihilation of the Empire. Politically, the Empire could no longer exist. Moreover, the Emperor himself abdicated and left the country no choice and Austria became a republic. Hundreds of years under the monarchy regime left an enormous imprint on the citizens’ consciousness and it was hard to rebuild the entire system of government. Constitution finally secured the Austrian federation status. In addition, a constituent assembly decided to expel the Habsburgs from the Austrian territory. People who had been the ruling elite before and could afford almost everything became the outcasts of the society. Common citizens believed that the dynasty was guilty for all their troubles and strongly wished to change everything in their homeland.
Great changes were coming and a year after the war Austria signed the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. According to this document, Austria lost an enormous part of its possessions and three new states appeared from the former Empire. Furthermore, Austria was deprived of its commercial and military fleet, had no right to have a standing army, and committed to paying reparations to victorious countries. It is difficult to imagine how this treaty affected already destroyed and weak common citizens and the situation with the economy in the whole. Strikes in Vienna were connected with hunger and unstable governing system, as well as with the proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic when communists in Austria began their demonstrations. The situation started to stabilize only after the adoption of the constitution and implementation of a number of reforms. People saw that the government was interested in building a new powerful country.
Decisions of the winners were not fair. The losing states had to pay huge amounts of reparations when their economy suffered from a terrible post-war destruction. Each country that participated in the war was guilty of terrible crimes against the humanity and had to pay for it. Definitely, every state was responsible for the actions it did and deserved punishment no matter whether it was the winner or not. Nowadays, it is problematic to analyze the events of that time and make clear judgments about decisions taken by the great minds of Europe. However, every war on the Earth is unfair and people have no right to use the weapon and take someone’s life for solving their conflicts. Each problem in the international relations should not be left without attention because sooner or later the outbreak of war becomes inevitable as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. The governing elite could avoid those catastrophic human and economic losses if they paid attention to economic, social, and political problems at their beginning. Austria should have created better conditions for national minorities in order to avoid discontent of all concerned parties. The war was unavoidable, but if people in the Empire had been united and internal problems had had no place in the Empire’s life, Austria could have emerged from the war as a winner and could have even benefitted from it. Thus, every event in history and every war should be analyzed carefully by current powers.