Budapest, market hall

The Canadian historian William Hubbard showed how tightly social, economic and demographic developments in the second half of the 19th century in Cisleithania, the western Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were linked to the migrational processes and the minorities issue. In the seven biggest cities in this area, namely Vienna, Graz, Trieste, Prague, Brno, Lemberg/Lvov/Lviv and Krakow, the share of the population born in these cities was rather small. As in other European and American cities urbanisation was fed by migration from the countryside, not by higher birth rates in the cities. In Vienna you had in 1880 a share of immigrants of 65 %. Especially in Vienna immigration was a hot issue of social and political debate. The dynamisms of migrational processes and the political, economic and social status of minorities in the 19th and 20th century were undoubtedly due to urbanisation and industrialisation processes. Immigration followed the allocation of capital, but also traditional migrational processes continued that added to the numbers of already existing minority groups dispersed across the Danube region. One should not forget that migration was already a central phenomenon of the pre-industrial society here.


In the course of the 19th century the population of Vienna for instance grew six times, including an extension of the territory of the city. As the Habsburg monarchy was a multi-national state millions of people of different nationality moved around. This resulted in cultural differences compared to other European cities and led to special problems of integration of masses of people in the fast growing cities. In Vienna, but also in Budapest, Prague, Trieste, Lemberg/Lvov/Lviv the migration was not only regional migration from the country, but long-distance migration from other parts of the Habsburg Empire. Already in 1857 the Viennese population consisted to 50 % of persons not born in the city. These included Germans, Czechs, Moravians, Slovaks, Jews, Hungarians, Poles, Ruthenes (today: Ukrainians), Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Italians, Romanians, Greeks, Armenians. Most of the Jews in Vienna saw themselves as Germans, others as Poles or Turks. In the 1880 the share of immigrants was even above 60 % of the Viennese population. Most of the migrants apart from those from Lower Austria come from Moravia and Bohemia. In the course of the 19th century the migration from German areas declined dramatically. Around 1900 only 38 % of the population were citizens of Vienna, 62% had „alien status“. Only the Viennese citizenship secured an undisturbed stay in the city. Aliens were threatened with eviction in case of poverty or small offences against the law and were sent to their place of birth. A form of citizenship, the “Heimatschein”, was only to be acquired by birth. In the 20th century a right to citizenship after a long stay was established, so there was an unbridgeable gulf between place of birth and place of living with all its legal consequences and crises of identity in the time of the huge migrationary processes in the Danube region in the 19th century.


HEIMATBERECHTIGUNGEN “HOME RESIDENCE PERMIT” in some cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire


From the city From the same region / surrounding area From the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy Foreigners
Vienna 1890 36% 10% 44% 10%
  1910 56% Viennese citizenship (manipulated census!) 7% 28% 9%
Trieste 1890 45% 42% 13%
  1910 52% 32% 16%
Prague 1890 27% 65% 5% 3%
  1910 44% 48% 6% 2%
Lemberg/Lviv 1890 44% 47% 5% 3%
  1910 49% 43% 4% 4%
Krakov 1890 41% 49% 5% 5%
1910 37% 50% 6% 7%





Place of birth 1880 in % 1910 in %
Vienna 38.5 48.8
Austria proper 18.7 14.8
Bohemia & Moravia 26.7 23.0
Galicia & Bukovina 1.9 2.3
remaining Cisleithania 2.4 2.1
Transleithania 7.7 9.0 (+ foreigners)
abroad 4.1


Adapted from Hubbard 1973


A large part of the immigrants were Jews, who were defined as a religious group in statistics of those days. In 1867 Jews were awarded full and equal civil rights in the Habsburg monarchy and after that date tens of thousands of Jews left the northern and eastern parts of the empire in the direction of Vienna and Budapest. In 1910 Budapest was the biggest Jewish town in Europe with 23.1 % of the population and Vienna was the second biggest with 8.6 %. According to a statistic of 1880 30 % of the Jews in Vienna were born there, 22 % had migrated from Moravia and Bohemia, 28 % from the Hungarian part of the monarchy, 11 % from Galicia – this share rose dramatically until 1914 due to the pogroms of tsarist Russia.


A vast mixture of cultures, languages, nationalities, religions was a common phenomenon in all big centres of the Habsburg Empire like Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Krakow, Czernovitz, Trieste. Multiculturalism was an everyday social reality. It also became visible in more rural areas with advanced industrialisation like Steyr, Wiener Neustadt. The multilingual character of Vienna and other centres of the Habsburg empire stood out against the predominantly monolingual urban cultures of Berlin, Paris or London. In Budapest a statistic of 1890 found that more than half of the population were bi-or even multi-lingual. In Vienna such a statistic was not made, probably because it would have been politically dangerous. By comparison bi-or multilingualism accounted for 3.2 per cent in Berlin around 1900. Language statistics of these times cannot be used as a basis for analysis in Vienna because in the census of 1900 the nationalist-populist Viennese Mayor Karl Lueger declared that whoever did not declare German the language he used all the time would not be considered for any job in the city’s public sector. Landlords threatened to evict Czech-speaking tenants and foster children were taken away from foster parents who spoke Czech with them. It was politically vital for Lueger to keep the numbers of German-speakers high. In contrast to this officially „corrected“ census, the statistics of the 1850s and 1860s still spoke of the colourful picture of the different peoples of the empire as a mirror of the nations of the empire, whereas half a century later the statistics were manipulated to create a majority of German-speakers in Vienna. This is a reflection of the growing nationality conflict that accelerated in the course of the second half of the century and tore the Habsburg Empire apart.


The idea of ethnically and linguistically homogenous nation states ran contrary to the imperial, dynastic concept of the multi-national Habsburg Empire, which led to the dissolution of the empire in the Danube basin in 1918. The cities of the Habsburg Empire were a mirror of the multi-national state. After solving the „Hungarian question“ in 1867 by sharing power with Budapest, the „Czech question“ became a politically hot issue, especially in Vienna with its large Czech minority. German speaking elites felt threatened by the demands of other nationalities. Demographically of course the German-speaking group was shrinking continuously, so that the historical power monopoly of the German-speakers was being questioned. Apart from the German Nationalist Party also intellectuals supported the position of the superiority of the German culture, among them Franz Werfel, Karl Renner, Otto Bauer, Viktor Adler. In Vienna the Christian Socialist Party und Karl Lueger and not so much the German Nationalist Party succeeded in exploiting the middle-and lower-middle class protest against modernisation and changes and against the emancipation of minorities for its purposes. They ruled Vienna from 1897 till 1914 and fought back all Czech claims. Mayor Lueger for example prevented the acknowledgement of the Viennese Czechs as a national minority, the establishment of public Czech schools and passed a law that stated that new Viennese citizens had to swear to maintain the German character of the city, which meant that a membership in a Czech club was a breach of the law.


Even the newly established Social Democrats who were rapidly gaining in influence were not untouched by the current nationalist trend. Nevertheless they had no decisive influence on the politics of the empire. When the Viennese Workers’ Organisation was founded in 1867 it was a supranational organisation. As many workers were migrant workers and had a high degree of mobility, they were less subject to nationalist appeals then, meetings were held in German and Czech with Slovene and Czech chairpersons. The Social Democratic programme was issued in four languages of the monarchy. There were lots of activities, strikes, parades organised jointly by German, Czech and Hungarian workers. From 1907 on the Socialist trade unions and the Social Democratic Party were more and more influenced by nationalist politics and the organisations split up. Many lower-class people attacked members of minority groups, such as the Jews in the cities of the Habsburg Empire. They viewed them as scapegoats for all that oppressed them and blamed them for the pressure on the job market. There were several incidents of violent fights between nationalities, especially in Vienna.


Immense pressure was on the Jewish population: on the one hand on the Jewish bourgeoisie who was seen as the capitalist enemy and was used as the explanation and cause of a socially motivated anti-Semitism, and on the other hand on the poor eastern Jews from Galicia that had fled pogroms. In the last decades of the Habsburg Empire anti-Semitism had already acquired anti- modern elements. In stupid simplification Jewish entrepreneurs, scientists, intellectuals and white-collar workers were identified as “agents of modernism”.  Based on a religiously motivated hate against Jews, anti-Semitism developed into an especially aggressive variant in Vienna. The number of Jews leaving the Jewish religious community and the number of converts was in no other European capital as high as in Vienna, which resulted in a high degree of assimilation. In contrast, a large part of the Jewish population lived in ghetto-like conditions in the 2nd and 20th district of Vienna. The possibilities for integration were in the second metropolis of the Habsburg Empire, Budapest, considerably better than in Vienna. In Vienna Karl Lueger from the Christian Socialists ruled the city as mayor. He was heading a party that was explicitly anti-Semitic. He spoke of Budapest as “Judapest” because Budapest was ruled twice by Jewish vice-mayors and in 1913 by a Jewish mayor.



Johnston, William M., The Austrian Mind. An Intellectual and Social History 1848 –

1938, University of California 1972.

Müller-Funk, Wolfgang (Hrg.), Kakanien revisited, A.Francke Vlg. 2002

Schorske, Carl E., Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Politics and Culture, New York 1981

Multikultureller Alltag in Wien, Beiträge zur Historischen Sozialkunde, 2/91