“We Are Austrian.” Part 4

The Croatian lady said she was Austrian, but what else beside Croatian ladies might be in a generalized “Austrian”?  There’s no doubt much possibility for extensive study of such a thing starting with what’s in history.  There are, of course, other places to be looking as well.  And, if one is doing precise research for some reason, one might try to sort out exactly how influential any Austrian influence might be in whatever is being considered.  Case in point:  there’s a “Franz Josef” area of New Zealand.  People live there.  Outsiders play there – it’s a tourist place.  There’s also a Russian Franz Josef because Austria – old Austria – once sent out polar expeditions.  New Zealand’s a bit distant in a couple of ways.  (Do they naturally have torte?) 

A lot of customs and traditions (therefore cultural things) are related to religion.  That’s as good a place as any other to start speculating, especially since religion’s been so fundamental to so much in the human experience.  Although closely connected to the Roman Catholic church, Austria had at least three kinds of Christianity; Protestantism and Eastern Orthodox groups were also around – something easily overlooked where the immigrants were lumped together.  There usually are atheists sprinkled amid the religious; and, given certain historic facts, it is possible there was some adherence to some primitive beliefs.  Jewish people can be found almost anywhere.  And, given the Turkish incursion, hidden Muslims are a distinct possibility. 

While Austria could be viewed as the Roman Catholic Germans (northern Germany is considered rather Protestant, and maybe religion helped maintain separate nations), there had to be some mixture.  Meanwhile, given Austria’s “collection” of over a dozen different nationalities, religion had to be a unifying factor.  Services in Latin are Latin to all people in all places and foreign to all.  Religious uniforms might vary from convent to convent or monastery to monastery, but some basic principles were the same in all of them.  A Jewish element might (quietly) observe a different set of holidays, but if it’s Christmas, it’s Christmas around the world and among Protestants as well.  It is only “others” who don’t have a baby Jesus. 

Speculation can produce understanding.  


“We Are Austrian.” Part 3

The Croatian lady’s point is more easily understood if one remembers that whether a person is a Texan, New Yorker, Californian or name your state, all are Americans.  It’s not quite the same, of course, as, for one thing, the language is pretty much the same from one side of the country to the other.  Another thing is that the national history isn’t something that can drift back into ancient times, emphasizing dissimilarities.  Further, religion doesn’t hold the people to what might be called a “like heritage.”  Every nation in Europe might have it’s own saints, patron and other, but the Emperor was also the “Holy Roman Emperor” at the beck and call of the Roman Catholic Pope.  The details are quite different; it’s the general concept that’s similar. 

So, we are Austrian.  If one sits in Rome or London, a seemingly endless sea is just beyond.  If one sits in Vienna, there are mountains just beyond.  Those may not be as conducive to a sense of freedom and an ability to escape.  Every little patch of ground takes on an importance.  Shipments of goods by sea are not so easily accomplished although not impossible.  In addition, what was exported with the immigrants back in the early 1900’s was the old Austria.  Today, all over Europe, there is an overlay of the European Union.  In some form that’s been around for fifty years, but the great exodus in the heritage many Americans have happened a century or more ago.  While what is of the more distant past might match their past, today is different.   

Many empires have existed, developed for whatever reasons seemed practical for the people of a given place at a given time.  Although in some cases very long gone, their imprint in some way easily exists today, very often in language and also in other ways both imperceptibly and clearly.   It’s been said about that old Austria that it was at least an economic unit.  Whether that had any influence for modern times is for true analyst types to figure.  Unofficially  it’s not surprising that things like traditional “ethnic foods” would drift from one region to another to eventually be claimed by both, perhaps with a few variables included.   So, today in a far away land where all of what was is misty to begin with, it can be hard to determine what belongs to who.  (Maybe more later.)

Grandmothers can be a great treasure. 

“We Are Austrian.” Part 2

As described by the Croatian lady, many people essentially are of given ethnic groups but were developed in the spirit of Austria.  In many places Austria (with or without the Hungary added) does not have the best of reputations.  Certainly a hundred years ago in places like the United States claiming to be Austrian was ill-advised – just keep the mouth shut and maybe translate the name into English.  Time didn’t help matters any beyond turning the feared into the victimized (maybe).  Some in four generations or so have tried to figure out some form of respectability.  And, understanding Austria while sitting someplace else in the world (with it’s own viewpoint) is a mountainous task in itself, never mind it with the Hungary attached or Holy Roman Emperors included. 

Without getting too involved here, the place to start that is the word "empire."  Empires are big things.  So, how big was it?  Probably on a par with the British; that’s why  they managed to carry on a few wars with each other.  One thing in the thoughts should be "big" or vast, but these days it is best if that’s simply left in the back of the mind.  There was power, maybe not in ancient times, but surely later.  That was well tinged with the Roman Catholic church, likewise little respected in some places, but that is a thing in common with others outside the realm.  Anything big and religious can come up with good things, like art, maybe from the far reaches of an empire.  Well, call it something else, like Viennese if at all possible.  It can be Slovak and still be Viennese. 

And, a tangent of sorts:  Hungarian is Austrian.  Hungarian grandmother said, "We are Altaic."  The Altai Mountains are in northwestern China more or less.  Ural-Altaic was the classification some years ago.  In spite of academics (who really knows?), it may be the case or close to it and probably shouldn’t be ignored.  Older linguistics maps say Altaic.  Hungarian is not Indo-European but Hungarian has been in Europe for a thousand years, much of it as part of Austria (be there a king or not).  Surely there has been some inter-mingling in a thousand years.  Hungarian is Austrian, It just sounds different.  Great-grandmother talked Hungarian and about Kiev.  Kievan Rus may be firmly Slavic, but some is Hungarian and thereby Austrian.  (More some other time.) 

Language holds people together and simultaneously separates them from others.

“We Are Austrian.” Part 1

A number of years ago a travel reporter interviewed a rather young Croatian couple in Croatia.  The woman was quoted as saying something like, "We are Austrian."  What she meant was that they were Croatian, but the heritage of their area was Austrian.  A Viennese waltz (or such pastry) might not be on every street corner, but such had not vanished in mist after the first world war when the Habsburg/Hapsburg empire fell in fragments.  She put it very simply and well.  It’s true not just of Croatians but of others as well.  In modern America it’s hard for many people to grasp the idea for a number of reasons, perhaps starting with the fact that Austria and England (the foundation of the United States) were not historically the best of friends. 

One must, as they say, "sit" somewhere and view the world from that vantage point to  get some understanding of an outlook.  If one is sitting in, say, Kansas (or Covington, Kentucky), there are all kinds of things going on somewhere around, but "big power" to be alert about is elsewhere, namely, Washington, D.C.  It’s also in Houston (home to NASA), Seattle (home of Microsoft), etc.  Now, if one is sitting in one of those spots, Kansas is just a little square on a map (Covington is an invisible dot).  And, power to be alert to is someplace else.  Furthermore, if Washington (and Seattle and Houston) are properly alert, no one in Kansas (or Covington) need to be alert to much else.  Of course, actual physical sitting isn’t really necessary, but things like maps help. 

When it comes to sitting in Austria, "Austria" itself is not the best operative word to use for all viewpoints.  Case in point:  although Austria was the Hapsburg home land, for a while a Hapsburg also sat on the throne of Spain and the "Spanish Hapsburgs" led to influences in Latin America.  The name Hapsburg leads to much more.  Another case in point:  although the Germanic home ground included a dozen or more nationalities, around 1900 when there was wave of immigration to the U.S. (descendants of which are now quite "American") the country was officially called "Austria-Hungary."  Hungary administered the east of it.  Someone looking for an ancestral aspect might need to sit in Budapest rather than Vienna.  (More on this another time.)  

Hunky town sometimes comes to mind.