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The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand: The Archduke Who Despised Hungarians

Péter Cseresnyés 2019.06.28.

On this day, exactly one hundred and five years ago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. With tensions already running among Europe’s powers, this event created an opportunity for nations to battle each other, thus triggering the world’s bloodiest and most devastating war in history until then. While the assassination of the crown prince is a deeply discussed subject, there are segments of Franz Ferdinand’s character we don’t often hear about. One being his loathing of Hungarian people. Interestingly, the Hungarians had gone to war to “take revenge” for the assassination of a leader who hated them, and a few years later, this led to the end of historic Hungary and the Hungarian Kingdom.

Once emperor, Franz Ferdinand intended to create a three-member monarchy consisting of the Slavs, the Austrians, and Hungarians, to balance the “overpower” of Hungarians in the dualist state as he saw the 1867 Austro-Hungarian Compromise.  He was determined to weaken the Hungarian power which he hated and believed was the barrier to change. “…the Hungarians are always traitors and take up arms against their ruler and the dynasty,” he wrote.

On This Day – In 1867 Hungary Establishes Dual Monarchy With Austria

According to historian László Gulyás’s description,

…the three cornerstones of his (Ferdinand’s) political conviction were clericalism, anti-democratic views, and anti-Hungarianism,” and the basis of his worldview was that “politics is a matter only for the ruler, while the people, the masses have to obey.”

The Archduke’s plan was to abolish the partially re-established sovereignty of Hungary and to incorporate Hungary into the federal state system, in which the ruler had a strong central role. His reforms would have weakened the power of the Kingdom of Hungary so the Crown Prince was regarded as a dangerous enemy among Hungarian court members.

He wrote:

The Hungarians are all rabble, regardless of whether they are minister or duke, cardinal or burgher, peasant, hussar, domestic servant, or revolutionary.”

In his eyes, the always “rebelling” Hungarians were the biggest obstacle to set his plans into motion. Franz Ferdinand often complained that in Hungary, the glorification of revolutionary hero Lajos Kossuth, the decline of the monarchical principle, and the dominance of the Freemasons and the Jewish people was prevalent.

He regarded Gyula Andrássy, Foreign Minister and especially the “patented traitor” Prime Minister István Tisza, as representatives of the Hungarian independence who needed to be stopped – if necessary – even with military force.

Raising his voice against Hungarians many times throughout his years, it should also be added that not only did he loathe the Hungarian political elite, but the nation as a whole. The only reason he supported universal suffrage was to destabilize the Eastern part of the Monarchy, and most of all, to break the power of the Hungarian ruling class.

Hungarian Review – The Compromise: A European Perspective

Hungarians were not the only people he hated – he just despised them the most. Besides Hungarians, he had problems with Poles, Jews and Serbs, as well as Italians. He felt some sort of sympathy for Romanians but that was mainly because of the logic of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” according to Hungarian historian Zoltán Szász.

As previously mentioned, with the triad state, he wanted greater rights for south Slavs, Czechs, and other subjugated ethnicities, in an attempt to weaken and overpower Hungary’s influence and strength in the empire, and consolidate power in the crown.

In this three-member state, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Dalmatia would have been a single entity, fully against the interest of the young Serbian state, thus creating hatred among Serbians toward the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the crown prince of the throne.

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On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in Sarajevo by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip and then the Great War broke out.

Featured image: illustration of the asssassination in French newspaper Le Petit Journal. Illustrations by Wikimedia Commons.