When I started discussing my upcoming Atlas of Prejudice book with my German publisher, I got a special request. Because the German edition of my book will be aimed at the German-speaking market (duh!), I was asked to make a map of Europe according to Austria.
I have always found Austrian history irresistibly fascinating. It’s quite hard to believe that just 100 years ago this tiny quiet country was actually the biggest empire on the continent (if you don’t count Imperial Russia). The Hapsburgs, the famous dynasty that ruled it, almost succeeded in turning Europe into a single political unit, long before the current European Union hijacked the idea of economic and political integration.
The final incarnation of the empire, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, dramatically disintegrated in the turmoil of World War I under the pressure of the emerging nationalist movements. Usually World War I is associated with the Russian revolution but the Austrian collapse was a no less remarkable event. From an undisputed center of European power, Vienna turned into a provincial museum-town literary overnight. And just like Saint Petersburg, it never really recovered from the cataclysm.
The monarchy collapsed mostly because it was unable to find a way to reform itself. Apart from its ethnic complexity, its rulers were also ideologically shortsighted and more preoccupied with preserving the traditions of the past rather than embracing modernity. Klemens von Metternich, Austria’s most famous 19th Century politician, famously described the free press as the greatest of all evils. His political skills of a conservative pragmatist helped keep the state on life support for an extra century but also ensured its spectacularly painful death.
This map pokes fun of the awkward situation in which Austria-Hungary found itself in the beginning of the 20th Century. Weak, outdated, ridiculed from all sides, it lived through its final days blissfully unaware of the terminal illness it had contracted. Blinded by its delusions of grandeur, it started World War I in pursuit of glory but soon realized it was riding a train to hell.
Now, as I finally got this entire history lesson out of my system, I can really concentrate on a map of Europe according to contemporary Austrians. Be sure to keep an eye on my Mapping Stereotypes project page for any updates! :)