The Habsburg Empire collapsed at the end of the First World War, to be replaced by separate nation states across central and eastern Europe. How did society change in this new context? What norms and practices from the Habsburg era were carried over into the post-1918 era? These questions are central to the work of the Nepostrans project, as Dr Gábor Egry explains.
The collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918 following defeat in the First World War led to a dramatic shift in the social and political landscape across Central and Eastern Europe, as the previous imperial structure was replaced by nation states. As the Principal Investigator of the Nepostrans project, Dr Gábor Egry aims to investigate the nature of this transition from Empire to nation state. “In the project we are looking for both signs of continuity and also signs of rupture in institutional and cultural practice,” he outlines. While the primary focus in the project is on the post-imperial transition, researchers are also using material dating back to before 1918, in order to build a deeper picture of the practices and habits of both people and states. “We’re looking at how these local societies and administrations operated, what kind of individual relations mattered in that context? What were the important local institutions and what were of secondary importance?” explains Dr Egry.
Nepostrans project This research involves extensive analysis of material and documents available from local and national archives in nine regions and the different national capitals, from which Dr Egry and his colleagues hope to gain new insights into how society and institutions changed following the end of the Habsburg Empire. The Empire itself originated in the 13th century, and while its borders shifted over time, it still covered vast expanses of territory across central and eastern Europe at the start of the First World War in 1914. “The Habsburg Empire was very heterogenous in terms of people, culture and language,” says Dr Egry. The Empire functioned as a dual monarchy from the latter part of the 19th century, with some areas administered from Vienna, and others from Budapest. “There was a dual centre. Different areas were often treated differently by the centre in terms of the application of certain legal frameworks and political relations,” continues Dr Egry. “Which social groups were integrated into the Imperial framework and which were excluded? This question is partly related to the political and cultural background.”
From Karlovy Vary to Kotor, From Bregenz to Brașov and Trieste to Lviv.
Researchers aim to investigate these types of questions through analysis of archival material, then look to identify continuities in the post-1918 era, as well as any ruptures. The institutional position, and the development of new modes of governance, is one topic Dr
Egry and his colleagues are addressing in the project. “Who were the faces of the state? Who represented the state? Who tried to shape the state?” he outlines. The way in which a state was built helped to shape perceptions of the authorities and their wider role. “If there is a friendly face behind a desk in a state office, then that’s very different to meeting somebody who adopts a very dismissive attitude towards you from the moment they meet you. It gives people a very different impression of the state,” points out Dr Egry. “As an individual you may encounter people who are more or less efficient, but the inner workings of the state can still be similarly revealing. We’re interested not just in individual attitudes, but also certain ideas about how the state should operate when it encounters the people and faces society.”
The attitude of state officials towards the wider population helped to shape public attitudes and perceptions of its legitimacy, another topic of interest in the project. Researchers are looking at the legitimising aspects of statehood, how the state perceived itself and how it actually functioned. “What kind of influence did
historical events and individuals exert on these dual aspects of state formation?” asks Dr Egry. This process of state-building took place against a backdrop of major changes to national borders following the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, which left many people who felt themselves to be culturally and linguistically Hungarian outside the new national borders, while Dr Egry says that people in other areas of the former Habsburg Empire experienced a similar dislocation.
the project’s research, with the first couple currently in the process of being prepared. “We want to conclude the whole project with a collective monograph that touches on issues of statehood, continuity and rupture,” continues Dr Egry. “We will deal with certain themes (state, elites, ethnicity, discourses) on the basis of our research related to these broader discourses around nationhood. We will also produce some more traditionally comparative work.”
We’re looking at how these local societies and administrations operated, what kind of individual relations mattered in that specific context? What were the important local institutions and what were of secondary importance?
“It’s also true for parts of the newly-created country of Czechoslovakia, where many people felt culturally German, while millions of Ukrainians lived in Poland. This was a general feature of the area of the former Habsburg Empire,” he explains.
There were however also some commonalities, in terms of culture, social practices, like cuisine or coffeehouse culture and a whole host of other social norms, a shared legacy of being part of the Habsburg Empire for so long. Through focused analysis of the available data, Dr Egry hopes to identify the areas of continuity and the areas of rupture following the end of the Imperial era. “We want to focus on the local level, to look at the common people’s experience of transition from empire to nation state,” he stresses. The plan is to publish a number of papers on the basis of
This year is an opportune time to reflect on these issues of statehood, as the centenary of the Treaty of Trianon will be marked in June. The centenary will give Dr Egry and his colleagues an opportunity to present their research and challenge conventional thinking on the history of central and eastern Europe. “We want to challenge some of the dominant ideas and to explore the politics of memory, as well as to contribute to a new history of Eastern Europe,” he says. “At some point we want to bring together secondary school students from different states to discuss these issues and publish our results. We want to influence how society thinks about the past, and also about how this relates to the present. How do individuals relate to the state? How do they view and handle diversity within society?”
Polish customs guard controlling a carriage on the border between Bukovina an Galica, early 1920s. National Digital Archive of Poland, public domain.
NEPOSTRANS Negotiating post-imperial transitions: from remobilization to nation-state consolidation. A comparative study of local and regional transitions in post-Habsburg East and Central Europe Project Objectives The main objective is to shed light on state and society relations and interactions through the experiences of and throughout a profound change of statehood. The local focus offers access to a history that challenges the narrative of overall nationalization still prevalent regarding the former Habsburg Monarch and the comparative method enables a generalization that would enrich the theories of statehood too. Project Funding The project is funded by the ERC CoG 2017 772264 agreement. Project Partners Project patners are University of Strasbourg, University of Ljubljana, Trianon100 Momentum Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, The Transition of Croatian Elites from the Habsburg Monarchy to the Yugoslav State (Croelites) research project at the University of Zagreb. Contact Details Gabor Egry, MTA doktora/DSc történész/historian Principal Investigator/Vezető kutató ERC CoG-2017 NEPOSTRANS főigazgató/director-general Politikatörténeti Intézet/Institute of Political History 1054, Alkotmány u. 2, Budapest T: +36 30 821 4667 E: email@example.com E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.nepostrans.eu W: www.1918local.eu Dr Gábor Egry
Gábor Egry is Doctor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (2018) and directorgeneral of the Institute of Political History, Budapest. His research topics are ethnicity, nationalism, politics of memory and identity in modern East Central Europe. He held fellowships at the New Europe College, Bucharest, Stanford University, Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena, IOS Regensburg.