20 JANUARY 1900, Page 6


WE have often insisted on the two forces—one per- manent, the other dependent on a particular life —which make for the continued unity of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. Never certainly was the need for the operation of these forces greater or more urgent than it is at this moment. Parliamentary government is at an end in the Austrian half of the Empire, and its survival in the Hungarian half only brings into greater prominence the want of any mutual understanding between the two portions. In the happy phrase recorded by the Vienna correspondent of the Times, "Hungary is getting tired of having to stay in bed every time Austria happens to be taken ill." It is of little use to pass measures and enter into arrangements which depend for their validity on the consent of a Parliament which only lives by means of recurrent prorogations. There is, it is true, an article in the Austrian Constitution which allows things to be done by Imperial decree when it proves impossible to get them done by legislation. But, convenient as this provision is, the two results are not identical. A Parliamentary Government like that of Hungary is not happy when the co-ordinate Government of the other half of the Empire has become autocratic instead of Parlia- mentary, nor can it feel sure that in the event of a revival of Parliamentary vitality what has been enacted in the interval would command entire acceptance. If the Empire is to remain one, it is of the highest importance that the political machinery in the two halves of it should work with some- thing like equal smoothness. For some time past it has been nearer the truth to say that in the Austrian half it has ceased working altogether. Parliamentary institu- tions, if they are to be of any use, demand a. recognition of the elementary fact that both sides of the Chamber have a right to be heard. But this recognition is precisely what the majority and the minority in the Austrian Parliament are alike unwilling to give. The Germans will not listen to the Czechs, the Czechs will not listen to the Germans. And the refusal to listen implies much more than a refusal to pay any heed to the argu- ments used ; it implies a rooted determination not to give them a hearing, even in the physical sense of the term. A Session of the Reichsrath is an almost continuous repro- duction of what not so long ago used to be known at Westminster as "an Irish night." There are practically no rules of procedure, nor any means of getting rid of Members who persist in making discussion impossible. When debate is out of the question, the work of a Parlia- ment is at an end. It can neither make laws nor criticise administration. For any service that it can do to the nation it professedly represents it may as well have never been elected. No remonstrance, however, is of the slightest avail. The warning that they are putting Parliamentary institutions in peril has no terrors for men who see in the destruction of Parliamentary institutions the first step towards the breaking of a tie which each party has come to regard as injurious to its racial interests. Absolute supremacy or complete constitutional indepen- dence are the only alternatives which either will tolerate. Both solutions are incompatible with the continuance of a Parliament in which Czechs and Germans are alike repre- sented and are supposed to make laws for their common benefit.

The two forces which counteract this tendency are, of course, the Emperor Francis Joseph, and the external dangers which would threaten his subjects if the Empire of which they form part were broken in pieces. The first of these forces has lately been seen in unusually vigorous action. The calming and healing influence (,f the Emperor's intervention in political crises has commonly been exerted behind the scenes. This or that party leader has been summoned to the Palace, and has come away with a determination to make another effort in the direc- tion of tolerance or compromise. The result of the inter- view has been visible, but what actually passed at it has remained a secret. This time the Emperor has pursued a different plan. He has spoken, at unusual length and with unusual publicity, to Dr. Stransky, one of the Czech leaders, and he has done this after a dinner to the Parlia- mentary Delegations, and in the hearing of some at least of the other guests. In the Committee on the Army Estimates Dr. Stransky had spoken strongly on the lan- guage question, and had maintained the right of the Czech R. servists at their annual muster to answer the roll-call in their own tongue,—to reply " zde," instead of " hier." The law does not say in what language they shall reply, and, in Dr. Stransky's opinion, the military authorities will do well not to be more precise than the law. The Czech people are greatly excited on the question of language, and if their feelings are not taken into account there may, Dr. Stransky hints, be "regrettable consequences." Possibly if the question did not touch the Army the Emperor might have accepted Dr. Stransky's defence of his speech. It is true, no doubt, that the use of strong language in Parliamentary debates may have a tendency to create agitation outside. But if abstention from strong language leads the electors to consider that their interests are not properly looked after by their representatives it may have the same result. Whether the proceedings of the Czech members of the Delegation were more calculated to calm or to stimulate popular excitement we will not undertake to say, but Dr. Stransky's position is certainly arguable, and we imagine that on other occasions the Emperor himself has admitted this. This time, however, the controversy touches one of the two departments of national life which the Emperor makes especially his own,—the Army, and foreign affairs. "In military matters," he told Dr. Stransky, he will not "tolerate trifling of any kind." He is prepared, if necessary, to go the length of proclaiming a state of siege, and he will leave those condemned under it to bear whatever penalty is inflicted on them. He will "not grant any amnesties." Dr. Stransky's contention that the law leaves the R servist free to answer the roll-call in any language he pleases was at once brushed aside as a mere "lawyer's argument." In the Army the only language officially employed is German, and every soldier must master enough of German to understand orders and answer questions. The reason for this is obvious enough. If the absence of any law declaring what language shall be used in the Army were to betaken as a prohibition to the military authorities to make any regulation on the subject, the Austrian Army might speedily find Babel reproduced in its ranks. The choice of an officer would often depend on the particular languages he was able to speak. But though the utility of the rule which makes German the universal military language is beyond dispute, insistence on it is still a very grave exertion of the Emperor's power. It is, in fact, the rejection by the supreme authority of all attempts at a compromise on the language question in the Army. Probably neither Germans nor Czechs object to the principle that the whole Arm/ must have one official language. The point that divides them is what that official language shall be. To allow each soldier to speak in his own tongue may have seemed to offer a way out of the difficulty, but it is a way which the Emperor absolutely refuses to entertain. It remains to be seen what the effect of this unusually pro- nounced exertion of his authority will be. If the " zde " agitation subsides in consequence of it, the Emperor will have gained a very real victory. If the agitation continues unchecked, its repression by force will become inevitable, and the Emperor's function as a harmonising and pacifying influence will be at an end.

The Empire will then have to depend for the maintenance of its present unity either on the recognition by Czechs and Germans alike that in the last resort they have more to lose than to gain by dissolving into their separate nationalities, or on the discovery of some modus vivendi which shall enable these nationalities to live side by side without the intervention of any common Parliament. We have been accustomed to look upon the first of these solutions as the one which will in the long run be adopted, and if the teachings of common-sense are listened to this view of the situation will eventually be taken by both parties. An Austria broken up into its component elements would be an Austria at the mercy of powerful neighbours, and virtually left to make its choice between absorption and conquest. The danger is that this pro- spect, so certain in the eyes of unbiassed observers, may be so obscured by racial passion that it will cease to be a factor in the political calculations of those with whom the decision will rest. We are disposed to hope, however, that things may be prevented from going to this length by a voluntary return to an earlier and more rudimentary form of government. Austria, like some other countries, seems happier during a prorogation than when Parlia- ment is actually sitting, and a perpetual prorogation, which should leave the affairs of each nationality to be administered by the local Assemblies, might offer a means of avoiding the difficulty which it seems impossible to surmount.