Thursday 2 October 2008

The Last King of Western Ukraine

Blessed Karl of Habsburg-Lorraine, Emperor and King

Published in the All Saintstide 2008 issue of Chrysostom, Newsletter of the Society of St. John Chrysostom.

The first Ukrainian immigrants to North America came from what used to be called Galicia (Ukrainians call it Halychyna), which today is Western Ukraine. Indeed, until November 1918, Galicia was part of Austria-Hungary, an empire ruled by the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty. Its last ruler was Karl Franz Josef Ludwig Hubert Georg Maria, Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia and Lodomeria, Illyria, King of Jerusalem etc. This is a brief history of Kasier (Emperor) Karl’s dynasty, it’s Catholic values and its connection to Ukraine.

Karl was a member of the Habsburg family, which had ruled the Holy Roman Empire (the name for Germany in the Middle Ages) and much of Europe for seven hundred years. Arguably the greatest European royal house, at one time or another, Habsburgs ruled in today’s Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, parts of Italy, Romania, Poland and Ukraine, most of Central and South America and even the Philippines (named after Habsburg King Philip II of Spain). Understandably, the Habsburg motto was “the world is not enough.” Emperor Charles (Karl) VI’s daughter and heir, Maria Theresa, married the Duke of Lorraine, prompting a change in the family name to Habsburg-Lorraine.

Besides being the first female Habsburg monarch, Maria Theresa was also significant in Ukrainian history as the first of her dynasty to rule Ukrainians. Until the eighteenth century, Right-bank Ukraine was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but in 1772, Russia and Prussia decided to divide this state and offered a portion to Maria Theresa. In those days, one country could not simply conquer another without a dynastic claim to provide some legality. Maria Theresa’s ministers satisfied this requirement by creating the fairytale Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, which harkened back to the ancient principalities of Halych and Volodymyr. Galicia contained a mixed population of mainly Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians (known then as Ruthenians); its capital was Lemberg, which is known today as Lviv.

Habsburg rule met in greatest challenges during the nineteenth century, otherwise known as the age of nationalism. At the turn of that century, Napoleon, wanting to be the sole emperor in Europe, dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. Cleverly, the Habsburg ruler of the time, Franz II, reinvented his imperial title, becoming Franz I, Emperor of Austria. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars had awakened the various ethnic groups to the notion of belonging to their own separate nation (called national consciousness). As multi-ethnic empire, Austria was plagued with the problem of conflicting national aspirations of its component peoples, among which were the Galician Ukrainians.

The most famous modern Habsburg was undoubtedly Franz Josef I, who came to the throne at the young age of eighteen, in 1848, and ruled for sixty-eight years. Most of our Ukrainian ancestors’ passports to the Americas were issued in his name. Franz Josef was unlucky in war and sought a policy of compromises with the empire’s political and ethnic groups, the most significant being the division of his realms into Austria-Hungary in 1867. He was also unfortunate in his family: his only son, Crown Prince Rudolph, committed suicide in 1889; his wife Empress Elizabeth was assassinated in 1898; and his nephew and second heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in 1914. Eventually, when the eighty-six year-old emperor died in 1916, he was succeeded by his twenty-nine-year-old great-nephew, Karl. At the time of Karl’s birth, in 1887, the possibility of him succeeding to the throne was remote. There were three others ahead of him in the line of succession, in addition to any of their future children. The untimely deaths of two uncles and his own father brought Karl to the throne.

Archduke Karl had been brought up to be deeply religious. In 1907, he chose as his wife someone who shared his Catholic outlook on life: Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. Karl held modern views on the nationalities question and believed that, in order to best serve its people, his empire would have to become a confederation of autonomous nations linked by the Habsburg emperor as their common sovereign. He also looked favorably on Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky’s project to free eastern Ukraine from Russian domination and making a Habsburg prince its king. The main candidate for the Ukrainian throne was Karl’s distant cousin, Archduke Wilhelm, nicknamed Vasyl Vyshyvany for his embroidered Ukrainian shirts. Vyshyvany learned the Ukrainian language and led an Austro-Ukrainian corps, the Sichovi Striltsi, during the First World War.

Karl had become emperor-king two years into the war and made every effort to end the conflict. He attempted to broker a reasonable peace, even if it meant giving away some of the empire’s territory. German military leaders, however, refused to compromise. In the last month of his reign, Karl was able to enact a reform that made his empire into a federation. Nevertheless, the victorious allied powers encouraged its component nationalities to break away from Austria. Germany and Austria-Hungary surrendered on 11 November 1918, and Kaiser Karl was forced from power. He refused to formally abdicate his sacred trust and later attempted to regain his throne in Hungary, where he was still formally recognized as king. As a result, the allies exiled him and his family to Portugal where, traumatized and impoverished, he died a saintly death in 1922, at the age of thirty-five.

Dethroning the dynasty did not resolve the ethnic conflicts in former Habsburg realms. Poles and Ukrainians bitterly fought for control over Galicia, where Archduke Vasyl Vyshyvany was instrumental in furnishing military assistance to the short-lived Western Ukrainian Republic. By June 1919, however, the stronger Polish army had defeated the Ukrainian forces. After attempting in vain to obtain concessions for the Ukrainian population, in 1923, the League of Nations formally recognized the sovereignty of the Polish Republic over Eastern Galicia. Galician Ukrainians continued to fight for equal civil rights under Polish, Nazi, and finally under Soviet rule.

The Allies had forbidden the Habsburgs to reign in any of their former domains. Indeed, the the absence of a moderate monarchy in many these countries paved the way for the rule of dictatorships. In the face of Nazi and Communist aggression, Emperor Karl’s son, Crown Prince Otto, came very close to being invited to become head of state in both Austria and Hungary. For his opposition to totalitarianism, he was sentenced to death by his dynasty’s former subject, Adolph Hitler. Archduke Wilhelm Vyshyvany also opposed Hitler and Stalin. As a result, he died in Soviet prison in 1948. Remarkably, Vyshyvany replied to his interrogators in Ukrainian. More fortunate was the crown prince, who escaped his cousin’s fate. Today, at the age of ninety-five, Otto von Habsburg continues to promote the Catholic values of his family in the political forum. For example, both he and his son Karl have served as members of the European parliament. Also, in various interviews, Otto has reflected on the importance of Ukraine in Europe’s future and continues to warn of the emerging totalitarianism in Russia.

The House of Habsburg’s commitment to humanity was formally recognized by the Catholic Church in 2004 with the beatification of “Karl of Habsburg, Emperor and King”. Pope John-Paul referred to him as “a model for Christian statesmen of today.” The emperor’s four living sons and many of his descendants and relatives attended the ceremonies, together with representatives of the various nations he once ruled. Giving thanks to the Lord for Karl’s example of Christian leadership, the thousands present also paid homage to Christ’s Vicar-on-earth, the Pope, whose own father came from Austrian Galicia and who had served in the Habsburg armies. At the time of Pope John-Paul’s death, some news reports claimed that Karol Wojtyla’s parents had named him after Karl, their last emperor-king.

Боже буди покровитель / Цїсарю Єго краям,
крїпкий вірою правитель / мудро най проводить нам,
прадїдну Єго корону / борони від ворога,
тїсно із Габсбургів троном / сплелась Австрії судьба!

-Imperial Hymn in Old Ukrainian