Ljubljana, July 1-3., 2019.
This conference was the first of an annual series to be held at different venues for the duration of the ERC NEPOSTRANS (Negotiating Post-Imperial Transitions) project, each dedicated to the subsequent key themes of the project (www.1918local.eu). The main goal of NEPOSTRANS is to analyze regional and local transitions from the Habsburg Monarchy to the successor states from a variety of perspectives. The first object of the project’s analysis is “the state,” namely how the state as such and the state’s relation to society changed during the First World War and throughout the following transition period, up to 1930.
While the state seems to be everywhere, it is—ironically—probably one of the most elusive concepts and phenomena. It is something that everyone knows, but only few attempt (or dare) to define. It is neither a single institution or structure, nor the people who operate it. It is certainly not merely the set of laws and legal rules that govern society. It is also not just a common endeavor of people who, living together, attempt to set the rules of their society. It is at once all and none of these.
Given the broader theme of transition and transformation, and the emphasis on state-society relations, the phenomenon of change is of crucial importance. Indeed, the analysis should take as its point of departure the (various) interfaces between state and society, where people, in often changing capacities, interact with the state. Primarily, it means a shift of focus to lower levels—that is, regional and local—where people most often encounter the state in their everyday experience, either actively or passively. This does not mean, however, that other aspects of the state (such as higher levels of government or state-wide politics) should be entirely neglected. Focusing on the regional and local levels of the state offers an intimate perspective without excluding what is otherwise relevant within the whole complex of the state. The nature of these changes and the local effects and aspects—its peculiarities—are the focus, and by concentrating on state-society relations the intention is to reveal how individuals and groups (and not the state) shaped the post-imperial transformation and transition.
Heidi Hein-Kirchner’s keynote speech (“The Challenges of Double Transformations in East Central Europe and their Failure in Local and Regional Contexts – Eastern Galicia as an Example”) provided a perspective more focused on the abstract, normative aspects of post-WWI statehood: why did democratization fail in the successor states? She argued, with the help of the Galician case, that the new states faced a double transformation as social and national emancipation went hand in hand. However, as an additional set of problems, challenges of increased political mobilization and the social aspects of backwardness (illiteracy, poverty etc.) were combined with continued violence and civil war became bound to ethnicity, and a securitization of society followed. It was all the easier as democratic principles were limited to the highest level of politics and civil society was not strong enough to provide means of participation at every level. Furthermore, national minorities were excluded rather than included and thus, finally, the principle of nationalism trumped over democracy and mitigated the acceptance of democracy paving a path to democratic failure that was markedly different from the collapse of Italian parliamentarism or the Weimar Republic.
The first panel consisted of three papers, each of which reflected on the fits of post-imperial administrative transition in the years immediately following the First World War. Marco Bresciani’s presentation—the first of the conference—began our discussion of “double transformations” in Trieste. Bresciani reflected on the political consequences of the interactions between stayover Habsburg imperial and newly-appointed Italian bureaucrats and politicians; the creation of and relations between new minorities and the majority-Italian Kingdom of Italy; and the claims to power made by rival oppositional political groups—including incipient fascists and partially bolshevized socialists—along with scores of those whose politics fell somewhere among the key parties in these debates. The core point made by Bresciani centered on his documentation of the rhetorical tropes and politico-social concepts used by local Italian fascists to cordon off, as it were, the particularly Italian working class from the multiethnic proletariat that still made up the majority population of Trieste. For Bresciani, the later fascist transformation of the area on bureaucratic-administrative terms began in the streets, in the confrontations between Italian nationalists and fascists and the “Slavic,” post-Habsburg minorities who now lived in the Kingdom of Italy. The second paper was presented by Chris Wendt, who demonstrated the importance of intermediaries at the level of local governance, his case focusing on Tyrol and the continuity of personnel in the Land administration at Innsbruck. By the end of the First World War, much of the southern portion of the former Tyrolean crownland had been occupied by the Italian Army. Extreme shortages of necessary goods (e.g., food, fuel, housing), retreating soldiers and POWs, and unrest among the population in unoccupied, northern Tyrol became the central concern for provincial, district-level, and municipal officials, who themselves were caught up in the strange, often uncertain transition from empire to republic. This complex of variables was combined with the exacerbation of a long-standing set of frustrations among rural and urban populations, producers and consumers, and workers and industrialists. In this period of transition, the intermediary bureaucrats of the district and provincial administrations opted for a policy of accommodation, even relinquishing portions of the state’s monopoly on violence for the sake of peace. In the third paper, Marcin Jerząbek showed us the ambiguities of state transition in two bordering post-imperial regions: Teschen and Upper Silesia. The former existed as a sub-crownland region within the Habsburg Empire; the latter, a parcel of territory within the Hohenzollern Empire. This meant two similar, but ultimately divergent, transitions. Teschen Silesia was the object of competing Polish-Czechoslovak territorial claims, which were only later settled in the early 1920s via plebiscite. Upper Silesia, similarly, was to be portioned between the newly-created Polish rzeczpospolita and the Weimar Republic via plebiscite, per the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In the lead-up to these events, however, nationality councils appeared in each case, acting as intermediaries between receding imperial governments, local populations, and the newly-formed republican states. In this sense, the Silesian examples are no different from those other meso-regional nationality councils that appeared everywhere in the wake of imperial collapse and revolution in the autumn of 1918. However, it is the compounded factors of receding imperial powers, nationality councils, violent post-war skirmishes/wars/uprisings, plebiscites, and eventual, formal partition—all of which occurred in the span of four years—which left the local populations in Teschen and Upper Silesia in a precarious state of ‘statelessness,’ as Jerząbek demonstrates. By 1922, when “the state” was reintroduced in each of these cases (by Polish and German authorities, respectively), it became clear that meso-level institutions (some new, like the councils, some old, like the district-level imperial officials), were the main mediating force in the fraught “double transformations” of power in these triple-border regions split among the new German, Polish, and Czechoslovak republics.
The second panel brought a kaleidoscopic analysis of the influences of post-Habsburg institutional transitions and territorial delineations on the everyday lives of locals from three contested borderlands. ELISABETH HAID focused on the territory along the newly established Polish-Romanian border created after the military collapse of the short-lived Western Ukrainian People’s Republic in summer 1919. Drawing from the archival materials and press reports, Haid connected the outbursts of local conflicts with the new state border and its contested demarcation, but also with the formation of the new state institutions. In her view, the accurate border line, as well as the role of state institutions and their jurisdiction,s had to be negotiated not only on the national or political level, but also between the local actors and the Polish state. SEBASTIAN PAUL spoke about the emergence of hundreds of local and regional councils in the immediate post-war period, from October 1918 until spring 1919, in the contested border areas of Upper Silesia, Teschen / Těšínsko / Cieszyn, and the Árva / Orava region. Councils filled the administrative void on the local and regional level and included “the people” in the political process. As a result, councils showed a much higher ability to reconcile differing political interests in these nationally contested territories in comparison to the mutually competing newly established national governments. Somehow unsurprisingly, compromises made by councils on the ground were thus often dismantled from outside – be it by national governments or by the international organizations like the plebiscite commissions. ANIKÓ IZSÁK presented the circumstances in the formerly Hungarian Máramaros County divided between Romania and Czechoslovakia since 1919. The newly established state border had a significant impact on the everyday life of the local population in these predominantly agricultural areas. Local farmers, for instance, could not take their herds on seasonal pasture on the other side of the border. Seeking the continuity with the traditional patterns of agricultural land use and requesting the regulation of pasturage in the borderlands, the farmers wrote many petitions and complaints to the Romanian-Czechoslovak boundary commission.
The third panel focused on symbolic and structural transformations of cities and regions after World War I. Alison Carrol gave a presentation on the post-War transition of Alsace from the German Empire to the French Republic, considering how borders changed in terms of population and landscape. The transition, depicted as a natural and historical return to France, was actually a complex process that took decades. The establishment of the French state was followed by clashes between the central state and the locals regarding what was German and/or Alsatian. In this process, the central authorities showed little attention to specific regional instances. Though French institutions were keener to secure state control over new boundaries, still they had not to alienate the population to the new state. Šárka Navrátilová focused on the dynamic cultural and economic growth of Brno, a town that became the second most important Czechoslovak city in the Interwar period. Interrelated with the growth of the Czech state, Brno experienced the foundation of emerging public institutions that made the city a symbol of the new nation-state, challenging or changing its multiethnic character. By analyzing mainly local newspapers and addressing three main public institutions (University, International airport, and Exhibition center) Navrátilová stressed out the nationalities conflict (Czechs vs Germans), but also outlined intra-national cooperation. While other contrasting elements existed, such as regional Czech rivalries and class differences, the speaker pointed out that different group played a role in the modernization of the city. Cody J. Inglis dealt with the correlations of borders demarcations, international diplomacy, and railway infrastructure. Through the establishment of the border demarcation between Austrian and Czechoslovakia on the confluence of the River Thaya and Morava, Inglis displayed that railway infrastructure was more important of the national self-determination principle. Further, international decisions of border redrawing generated and exaggerated local problems producing shortages of certain goods and boosted smuggling. Regarding personnel and legal changes, specifically referring to Znojmo/Znaim, Inglis argued that many experts held their positions and former Imperial forms and plans, at least in the first post-war years, were kept. The presenter concluded that borders
drown on infrastructural bases dispute the national narratives of natural and geographical borders, as well as experts’ continuity dispute the alleged rupture of new nation-states.
In the fourth panel, presenters grappled with reshaped space as a result of the war on the one hand, and disappointed local attitudes, as well as resilient political and administrative arrangements, on the other. Claire Morelon began by exploring the paradox between triumphant representations of post-war Prague as the “new” capital of Czechoslovakia and the grim reality of everyday life in the city. In this context, the joining of Prague’s suburbs with its center took on symbolic significance as a demonstration of a united “New Prague.” Nonetheless, conflicts over claims to political legitimacy continued to roil the capital through the early republic, as residents’ expectations for peacetime were continually frustrated. As Morelon noted, the legacy of these divisive early years for the first Czechoslovak Republic remains to be explored.
Likewise, Ivan Jeličić also looked to the local to complicate a narrative of post-imperial nationalization, analyzing municipal-level administrative shifts in the district of Volosko-Opatija/Volosca-Abbazia on the Austrian Littoral. Jeličić showed that most Habsburg officials were in fact carried over by both the short-lived local SHS National Council and the following Italian military occupation, and that when Italian military authorities did order personnel changes, they considered factors besides the national. Although Italian parties ultimately won increased municipal control, Croatian and Slovene parties in some zones maintained substantial representation before the fascist takeover, showing that the “Italianization” of the district was far from straightforward.
Finally, Károly Ignácz examined how wartime efforts to provision the outskirts of Budapest reshaped the administrative makeup of the Hungarian capital. In order to feed hungry residents, the Hungarian government came to rely on a Social Democratic organization, the General Consumer Cooperative, while it worked to integrate these outskirts into the center. Although plans for a consolidated “Greater Budapest” were ultimately left unrealized after the war, these wartime supply networks did lead to novel developments: Budapest’s outskirts were combined into a separate entity, while the General Consumer Cooperative’s distribution system proved to be so indispensable that it survived not only the war’s end and multiple post-war revolutions, but also the ensuing period of counter-revolutionary violence.
The fifth panel exemplified the integration of former Hungarian territories into different nation states and the role of local compromises. JERNEJ KOSI dealt with the small slavophone region Prekmurje, composed of the remnants of two former Hungarian counties, as part of the Yugoslav nation state or more precisely of its meso level unit Slovenia. He thus illustrated the fragmented character of the new Yugoslav state, being far from centralization and legal unity. Unification processes took place rather within Slovenia: Kosi highlighted the continuity of imperial Austrian law and the imposition of Austrian administrative regulations to the former Hungarian region, though on the ground the handling of Hungarian legal traditions was situational and pragmatic. VERONIKA SZEGHY-GAYER examined the establishment of the new Czechoslovak Republic in Eastern Slovakia and the role of local elites in small towns in this transition process, pointing to different strategies of these mainly pro-Hungarian elites. While some of them left for Hungary when the Czechoslovak army arrived, others became actors of the new state, perceiving themselves as protectors of the local interest. Szeghy-Gayer pointed to a continuity of personnel especially
in the first years, until a new Czechoslovak administration was established. Some of those, who did not stay in the administration, nevertheless remained political active. GÁBOR EGRY explored Greater Romania as a composite state with various legal and social traditions on the example of two institutions at the interface of state and society, namely public notaries and voluntary fire fighter associations. In contrast to their civic character in former Hungarian territories, firefighters were for example quasi part of public service in the Old Kingdom. Egry pointed to the persistence of the diverse structures and regulations, attempts for unification, local compromises and the role of regional interest groups in these processes.