THE CONDITION OF AUSTRIA
Commonwealth and Foreign
[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.] Stn,—The state of mind of Austria in these times is like that of the man who tried to shoot Niagara in a barrel. She has the breathless consciousness of being tossed hither and thither by savage elemental forces, never quite knows whether she is right way up or not, but meanwhile continues to breathe in the padded interior of her barrel and to hope that she will eventually pass unscathed into smooth water.
The decision about Austria will not be reached inside Austria. The Government does not rest on popular support, and the measure of the public support it enjoys is therefore of secondary importance. It rests on an efficient and well-armed executive, and the lesson of contemporary Europe is that such Governments can maintain themselves in power indefinitely, since nothing but force can expel them, and they are superior in the instruments of force.
The Government can only be shaken from outside. In its own house it is master, and the endemic quarrels within the patriotic fraternity called " The Fatherland Front " (the Catholic-Fascist political organisation behind the Government) do not seriously threaten it, whatever its Nazi and Socialist adversaries may say. That the Government, a year after the advent to power of National Socialism in Germany, destroyed by force the greatest party in Austria and the one which alone could be trusted to resist to the end the Hitlerist campaign to subjugate Austria, was a European disaster, and probably an irreparable disaster. It robbed the fight for Austrian independence of most of its meaning, for who, inside or outside Austria, is interested in Austrian independence if Austria is going to be Fascist and everything else that Nazi Germany is, save, possibly, anti-Semitic and pan-German? Only Italy, the few Austrian Fascists and monarchists, and the Austrian Jews, who in their press daily bewail Fascist persecution of the Jews in Germany and daily belaud the successes of a Fascist dictator who is not anti-Jewish. Only a reasonable compromise between the two great parties of parliamentary and republican Austria—Socialists and Catholics—was needed to unite the great majority of Austrians in the fight to save Austria, and, therewith, the last stronghold of Germanic civilisation. That this compromise was not reached, and that the workpeople of Vienna were bombarded in their tenements, is now by general agreement attributed to Italian influence.
Nevertheless the fight for Austrian independence still goes on, and outsiders who lost sympathy for the guardians of it after the slaughter of Austrian workpeople in 1934 still cannot but admire the courage and coolness of those who are fighting it. Moreover, it still has some meaning, for the methods of the Clerico-Fascist dictatorship are far less ruthless than those of National Socialism ; some freedom, some scope for individualism, some remnant of the period of enlightenment, still remains. That the struggle is a real one, that life itself is involved, was shown by the Dollfuss and other murders.
The Clerical Chancellor von Schuschnigg and the Fascist Vice-Chancellor Prince Starhemberg go calmly on their way, arresting Nazis here and Socialists there, reviewing their little parades of a few thousand Fascist auxiliaries, for all the world as if a gigantic nation in arms were not bearing, day by day, week by week,, month by month, with intolerable pressure on their northern frontiers.
The seizure of the Rhineland gave a foretaste of the might and implacability of Hitlerist Germany, which boldly accepted the risk of a European war on that day. It sent the temperature of the Austrian Nazis rocketing far beyond fever-point. They had after the unsuccessful rising of 1934 come to realise that they were helpless within Austria, that only armed inter- vention from Germany could subjugate Austria, and now they thought to see the prospect of this intervention much nearer at hand. Italy, they thought, was deeply bogged in the Abyssinian mire. A few weeks later the Italian adventure developed into a triumph. The thought of Italian opposition to any German incursion into Austria, which the Nazis had come contemptuously to dismiss as illusory or, in any case, unimportant, took on a different complexion.
What does the future hold ? The Rhineland coup and the Abyssinian collapse have given Europe a last warning, which is as unlikely to be taken as all previous warnings. These events have shown how strong the dictators are and how ruthless—and Germany is infinitely stronger than Italy. Austria, and, with her, Europe is caught between two Fascist dictatorships.
That Germany has modified or, will modify her ambitions in Austria no man, woman or child in Austria will believe. The overwhelming belief is that when she has fortified the reoccupied Rhineland against French intervention she will descend on Austria and/or (as the business letters say) Czechoslovakia. By that time Signor Mussolini might have done a deal ' with Herr Hitler, in which case Austria might conceivably be clasped peacefully to the bosom of National Socialism ; but the German and Hungarian minorities in Czecho- slovakia might well be so stirred by this development near at hand that they would rise like one man and war would become inevitable. Most observers, however, think the Mussolini-Hitler deal unlikely, on grounds not of ethics, but of self-interest, so that a German descent on Austria would bring immediate Italian intervention, and between dawn and dusk a European war would have begun.
These are the prospects for Austria and for Europe. The Rhineland, Abyssinia and Geneva have been the latest scenes in the European tragedy,, of implacable dictators and irresolute democracies. Developments are moving towards war in Europe with a logic• and precision which leaves optimism the prerogative of ostriches ; professional students of it find no grounds for optimism. Events seem already to have taken charge. The political cargo has broken loose in Europe and is shifting about, so that the ship no longer answers her helm. Too many opportunities have been lost.
The peoples of this part of Europe—over 70,000,000 of them all told—look helplessly on at the kaleidoscopic drama of swashbuckling military dictatorships, armed to the teeth, and ready at any. moment to draw a gun, and hesitant pacific democracies, laboriously professing to discern an olive branch in the clenched fist which at intervals lands with relentless force on their solar plexus. Under the influence of the irresolution and vacillation in London and Paris, and especially of the disastrous defeat which the League and Great Britain have received in Abyssinia, confusion has progressed so far in this part of Europe that the peoples of these small states have no idea on what side they would be fighting if war broke out tomorrow, or who would be fighting whom. They only know that they would be in the fight somewhere. They can only crouch like the man in the barrel and hope for the best. Hoping for the best, indeed; is now the foreign policy of a large part of Europe south of the Danube.—I am, Sir, yours, &c., A CORRESPONDENT IN VIENNA.