“Eastern Europe was unstable because of its economic backwardness” Do you agree?

During this period Eastern Europe was dominated by Austria-Hungary. The Hasburg Empire stretched across central and eastern Europe, invoking 50 million people under its rule. This under any other sense would have given Austria-Hungary a powerful standing in the world. However, the truth of the matter was that whilst other great Powers prospered, Austria-Hungary struggled to survive. It was this struggle which made the region unstable. The instability can be broken up into three sub topics, these are; economic backwardness, nationalism and neighbouring states.

In some ways the economic backwardness of the region did have a part to play in the instability of the region. It is the regions productivity which highlights its first problems. The iron production of Austria-Hungary is 2.1 million, this falls short of other countries, such as France who produced double that with production reaching 4.1 million tonnes. It was in coal production too that Austria-Hungary fell short as it only produced 1.17 million tonnes of coal; this was short compared to Germany, who produced 3.85 million tonnes of coal.

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The main economic problem for this region was the regionalism of the economies and the fact that the two economies of Austria and Hungary were dualist, i.e. against each other. The Austrian economy at the time was a industrial economy, with the Hungarian side being a agricultural one. This made the inefficient and backward economy of Hungary become a burden upon the more efficient and wealthier economy of Austria. This caused tension as it meant Austrians began to ask why they were being laid with the burden of supporting an economy which wasn’t theirs and in which money could be saved by cutting the support. Also, the regionalism of the economies within Austria-Hungary caused instability too. This was shown as the Czechs, enjoyed having the rich industrial region of Bohemia. However, they were unable to keep the profits which were gained from this region and they were shared out among the region. This was not only unfair but it had the negative effect on the region as it made the Czech minority call out for independence, thus, causing a rise in instability. This apparent regionalism and the fact that not all the regions were equal in wealth meant that regions which were not as wealthy, such as the Hungarian one, were carried by the wealthier ones, such as Austria. This caused minorities to call out for independence, causing unrest.

However, economic backwardness, in my opinion, is the third main reason why Eastern Europe was unstable. The main cause of Eastern Europe becoming unstable was nationalism. Nationalism is the belief that humankind is divided up into nations and that all nation have the right to self-government and to determine their own destiny as nation states. The nationalism problem originally began in Austria-Hungary due to the fact that there were many different nationalities living within Austria-Hungary; this gave the scenario of different people with different aims and wants.

These nationalities didn’t necessarily get on well with each other too. The prime example of this was between the Austrians and the Hungarians. Racially the Austrians were German and the Hungarians were Magyars. This was apparent as the Magyars disliked the common army whose German insignia and words of command were a reminder of Austrian domination. The approach of the Magyars was different to the Austrians too. The Austrians in 1907 universal manhood suffrage was introduced, this got rid of the practise of choosing representatives to the Reichsrat on the basis of nationality. However, the Magyars approached this differently; they received universal suffrage in 1908, however only those who could read and write Magyar were entitled to vote. This resulted in less then 7% of the population in having the right to vote, enabling the Magyars to remain in power. The Magyars still carried on with its discrimination, by implementing the policy of Magyarisation, this meant everyone had to speak Magyar in schools, even though some schools didn’t have any Magyars within its staff or pupils. This angered a lot of people as it was deemed as a culture being forced on a group who didn’t want it. This lasted from 1853 to 1918. This caused instability as it meant that minorities soon began to get angry and this caused more tension in the region.

The second most important reason why there Eastern Europe was unstable was due to neighbouring states. This is even truer with Pan-Slavism. The Russians and Serbs had always shared a common identity as they were both Slav countries, this gave the belief to Russia that it had to protect its “brother” Serbia, and they were just as determined as each other to get one up over Austria-Hungary. This was made apparent in the Bosnian Crisis 1908-1909. This crisis came about due to the fact that Austria took advantage of the revolution within Turkey and took the province of Bosnia. This angered Serbia who wanted it as there were 3 million Serbs within the province. Russia then arranged a conference to help Serbia, but that fell through and Austria kept Bosnia. This made Serbia very hostile to Austria-Hungary and it prompted Russia to start a massive arms build up, no wanting to be embarrassed again. This caused Eastern Europe to become unstable as in some senses the battle lines were drawn, thus causing an increase in tension between those countries.

Other events such as The First Balkan War (1912) didn’t help things get any better. Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria all attacked Turkey, and captured most of its territory in Europe. A peace conference was arranged by the British and Germans to sort out the situation. Result of it was that land was apportioned among the Balkan states. However, the Serbs were unhappy, they wanted Albania as it gave them a outlet to sea, but Austrians along with Britain and Germany rejected idea as they wanted Albania to become an independent state. This was seen as a deliberate move in order to prevent Serbia becoming too powerful. This wasn’t the last of it though. Bulgaria was unhappy too, as they were hoping for Macedonia, with most being given to Serbia. Bulgaria then attacked Serbia in 1913 and started Second Balkan War. However, their plan misfired as Greece, Romania and Turkey rallied to support Serbia. The Bulgarians were easily defeated; with the Treaty of Bucharest forfeiting most of their gains from the first war. An Anglo-German influence had stopped an attack by Austrians who were itching to attack Serbia. This again highlights the tension in the region. Pan-Slavism is also seen here as both Serbia and Russia are acting in a way which is unsettling minorities within the Hasburg Empire.

All these mixed together are the main cause of the light at the end of the tunnel, World War One. Even though economic backwardness had a part to play by angering minorities such as the Czechs who were forced to share profits with those who didn’t deserve it, i.e. the Hungarians. This was only caused some tension and it was nothing compared to the other two reasons. The main cause of Eastern Europe becoming unstable was the sense of nationalism in the region. This nationalism meant that minorities, especially those in Hungary were not given many rights, especially when the Magyars provided over 90 % of important posts. This came at a time where minorities such as Serbs, Croats and Slavs all demanded better civil rights such as the creation of national universities and the allowance of their language to be used in local government. The introduction of Magyarisation only added fuel to the movement. Also with the “Neighbouring States” situation and Pan-Slavism it bought about the next main reason of the instability. It was due to events such as the Bosnian Crisis and the Balkan Wars which bought about war. This was due to the fact that it made Serbia and Austria hate each other more and more and the anger of the Serbs due to the Balkan Wars bought about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, which bought war to the region of Eastern Europe, signifying the level of instability in the region due to reasons other then economic backwardness.