The Austian myth about Russia

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The image of Russia as a developing country consolidated further. A new impetus to the development of diplomatic relations was given under the reign of Maria Theresa and Catherine the Great. Russian diplomats made a large contribution to the cultural exchange between two countries and promoted a positive image of Russia. To name a few of them:

– Dmitry Mikhailovich Gallitzin (served as ambassador from 1763 to 1792) played a major part in improving relations between the Russian court and Emperor Joseph II. The street in Vienna where Russia ambassadorial villa was located is named after him (Germ. Gallitzinstraße). The nearby hill, Predigtstuhl, was referred to as Gallitzinberg for a long time;

– Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky (appointed in 1793) – a philanthropist who built a grand palace in Vienna, financed construction of a stone bridge across the Danube and opened an art gallery. He is remembered in Austria as one of the best educated people of his time who was well versed both in Russian and European culture;

– Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov (appointed in 1855), who served at the time of greatest challenges in diplomatic relations between two countries: Austria prepared to ally itself with France and England against Russia (under the treaty of 2nd of December, 1854). Austrian diplomats took a neutral stance in the negotiations and tried to put some distance between them and their allies, but the fall of Sevastopol altered the situation and Austria presented Russia with an ultimatum demanding to sign a treaty with Western powers (on rather unfavourable terms for Russia). It is believed that it was the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1856 after demands of Austria, that ended the epoch when Russia actively participated in West-European politics. Later, as a minister of foreign affairs, A.M. Gorchakov aspired to re-establish the balance in diplomatic relations between Russia and the House of Habsburg.

These examples prove the general statement that political, economic and cultural development in Russia and Austria was interrelated. Nevertheless, this interrelation cannot be described as a stable good-neighbour relationship. For example, although Austria and Russia were officially political and military allies since 1815, the negative image of Russia and Russians in Austrian works of journalism and literature was cultivated over the course of the 19th century. A surge in anti-Russian sentiment was observed during the Revolutions of 1848 and the Crimean War (1853–1856). On the whole, the Austrian image of Russia in the 19th century corresponded to that of an aggressor nation with emphasized features of hostility, barbarity, savagery and conservatism.[1]

In his article written in the late 1840s F. Schuselka, a well-known Austrian journalist and politician, stated that Russia was “a natural and unavoidable opponent of Austria <…> The whole civilised world looks upon Russia with dislike, fear and anger <…> liberty in Europe is menaced by the powerful Russian despotism in its savage forms <…> In any case the name of Russia fills Europe with dread”.[2] This statement was typical for European discourse on Russia in the 19th century when “a barbarian at the gate” became a common metaphor to describe the Russian state.[3]

[1] Sirotkina E.V. “Help from Russia is a misfortune for Austria”: the image of Russia in Austrian public opinion in the middle of XIX century. Global Scientific Potential: history, philosophy and sociology. No. 10 (31), 2013. Pp. 64 – 68. (in Russian).

[2] Schuselka F. Deutsch oder Russish? Die Lebensfrage Osterreich. Wien, 1849, 60 s. [Schuselka F. German or Russian? A Question of Life and Death for Austria. Vienna, 1849, 60 p.]

[3] Neumann I. Uses of the Other. The ‘East’ in European Identity Formation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, Borderline Series, 1999. 304 p. (Russ. ed.: Noimann I. Ispol’zovanie «Drugogo»: Obrazy Vostoka v formirovanii evropeiskikh identichnostei. Moscow, Novoe izdatel’stvo Publ., 2004. 366 p.). P. 130 – 131

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