Relationship status: it’s complicated. Summarised in the vernacular of the virtual age, Austrian-Czech relations have long been characterised as uneasy, bolstered by a range of stereotypes established across the past centuries – the Czech as the beer-swelling yokel ‘Václav’, the Austrian as the kaisertreu snobbish brute, or a country bumpkin with right-wing sentiments. Rather than to divulge in these exaggerated characterisations any further – which are often malicious, sometimes humorous, and occasionally contain a grain of truth – Neighbours: An Austrian-Czech History Book draws attention to the joint history of the two countries in a decidedly more positive light.
In November 2018, to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Austrian Republic, a new museum was installed, the House of Austrian History, in spaces formerly occupied by the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
When it first opened there was considerable interest in the British press in the venture, above all in the events leading up to its creation. As the Economist noted, the museum neatly encapsulates Austria’s often fraught political life. The project was initiated with the support of the Social Democrats – and its reading of history is certainly more aligned with the social democratic view of Austria’s past – but with the People’s Party and the Freedom Party now in government, the longer-term future of the institute is still not certain.
Our artwork of the month – the first instalment in this new series – is not from the interwar period: it was created in 2008-2009. It has been chosen as an introductory piece because it represents an important aspect of our research in a thought-provoking way. Our project considers Central Europe after 1918 as a shared cultural space, but in doing so it has to deal with the political reality: the newly minted nation states of the region and the new borders drawn between them. These borders – either their enforcement, or, as in the case of Hungary, their fervent contestation – were central to political discourse in all of these countries. The concept of the nation state relies on the idea that the ethnic, cultural and administrative borders of a nation should correspond with each other; this is, however, rarely the case in reality. The new states of Central Europe were not homogeneous either ethnically or culturally. In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, different ethnic groups had not only lived side by side, but also intermingled. After 1918 the population of the region underwent a radical mental shift from imperial multi-nationalism towards ethnic nationalism. Yet, multi-ethnicity was still present, and cultural transfer happened between ethnicities and across borders. What does this curious map tell us about all this? Let’s take a look.
Photography has long been a stepchild of art historical research in Austria, and only few publications, most notably Anton Holzer’s Fotografie in Österreich (Vienna, 2013), have provided comprehensive assessment of this topic. Talks about the first Austrian museum of photography are ongoing, however, and Vienna’s exhibition landscape has started to include an increasing number of photographic exhibitions into its schedule. This year, coinciding with the centenary of the First Austrian Republic in November 1918, several museums in Vienna are focusing on photography in interwar Austria, and offer diverse insights into the medium’s significance at the time.
Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the brand new state of Czechoslovakia was founded on 28 October 1918. Unifying several provinces with no previous historic connections – Bohemia, Moravia, Czech-speaking Silesia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia -, it was a multiethnic state that nevertheless sought to construct a single, encompassing national identity for its citizens. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary, Dr Marta Filipová, a member of the CRAACE team, has written an article about the complex identity politics of Czechoslovakia for the University of Birmingham website. Read it here.