« PreviousContinue »
longest in Europe. Its valley has always been the main artery of continental trade. Historically Austria owes its political life and its large territory to this river.
The importance of this natural highway was intensified at the time of the Turkish penetration into Europe. The conquest of Balkan land by Mohammedan armies was to be followed by further westerly invasions for which the Danube provided a convenient route. Austria's mission was to check the Turkish advance. For this purpose Christendom in the affected regions rallied around Austria. The large number of Slavs who owe allegiance to the house of Hapsburg to-day is a relic of former grouping for protection. But with the passing of the Turkish danger the reason for Austrian subjection of alien peoples was removed. Valid reason may therefore be advanced for the liberation of Italians, Slavs or Rumanians from the Austrian yoke.
The southern boundary of the Austrian state abuts against Italian lands from Switzerland to the Carinthian hills. Along this contact
line a notable Italian element maintains itself within Italian
Austria. This foreign area is Italian proper in western Elements
Tyrol and Ladin in its eastern extension. The southerly advance of Germans in the mountains followed the valleys of the Etsch and Eisack, showing thereby that the channels through which mountain waters flowed also facilitated transit of traders from German highlands to the Adriatic. A steady current of freight has been maintained along this route since the beginnings of continental commerce. By the Middle Ages numerous colonies of German merchants had acquired solid footing along the much-traveled road over the Brenner Pass which connected Augsburg and Venice.
By degrees the Germans occupied the valley of the Etsch south of its confluence with the Eisack. The divide between Teutonic and Italian languages has its westernmost reach at Stelvio near Trafoi. The junction of Swiss and Austrian political boundaries at this point corresponds to the contact between the German of the Tyrol and the Romansh idioms of Engadine. Ladin settlements begin north of the Fleims valley and spread beyond the Groden basin to Pontebba and Malborghet where the meeting of three of Europe's important peoples, the Romans, Germans and Slavs, occurs.
The Italian section of the Tyrol constitutes the Trentino of presentday Italian irredentists. As early as 774 Charlemagne's division of the region between the kingdoms of Bavaria and of Italy had implied
BOHEMIA SLAV VANGUARD
recognition of differences which later were to be expressed by nationality. But the importance of maintaining German control over natural lines of access to southern seas determined his successors to award temporal rights in the southeastern Alps to bishops upon whose adherence to Germanic interests reliance could be placed. The bishopric of Trentino thus passed under the Teutonic sphere of influence which is preserved to-day by the political union of the territory of the old see to the Austrian Empire. Definite annexation of the Trentino to the province of Tyrol took place in 1815. Contact with the Teutonic element appears to have failed, however, to eradicate or modify the Italian character of the region's institutions or its life.
The Czechs of Bohemia make up Slavdom's vanguard in Europe. On a racial map the area they occupy conveys a vivid picture of a ram
battering the compact mass of Teutons. Few regions Bohemia Slav
are as well defined as this mountain-framed land. It Vanguard
is the most centrally situated block of continental Europe. Here better than in any unredeemed territory perhaps, the poet's song, the historian's tale and the scientist's achievements have contributed to the awakening of national conscience. With school, church and their famous athletic and tourist associations as sole weapons, the Czechs are waging a vigorous campaign to secure political independence. Within their territory Pan Germanism is strictly on the defensive. Pitted against Saxons on the north, Bavarians on the west and Austrians on the south, the Czechs like the Slav-encircled Hungarians appear to derive renewed energy from the very encroachments upon their national ideals.
With the Bohemians must be included their kinsmen and neighbors the Moravians and Slovaks. Community of national aspirations
is generally ascribed to these three Slavic groups. A The Other
Czecho-Slovak body consisting of about 8,500,000 inCzechs
dividuals thus came into being within the Dual Monarchy. The Slovaks are mountain dwellers who have but slightly fraternized with Czechs and Moravians notwithstanding close racial and linguistic affinity. The course of centuries failed to change their customs or the mode of life led in the western Carpathians. The Hungarian plain unfolded itself below their rocky habitation without tempting them to forsake the seclusion of their native valleys. Their language holds its own as far east as the Laborec valley. Junction with Polish is effected in the Tatra.
South of the Baltic the unbroken expanse now peopled by Germans merges insensibly into the western section of the great Russian plain.
This extensive lowland is featureless and provides Poland's Buffer Position
no natural barriers between the two nations it
connects. The Polish area alone intervenes as a buffer product of the basin of the middle Vistula. The region is a silt-covered lowland which emerged to light after the drying out of glacial lakes of recent geological age. It appears to have been inhabited by the same branch of the Slavic race since the beginning of the Christian era. It was the open country in which dearth of food and the consequent inducement to migration did not exist. The development of Poland rests primarily on this physical foundation. Added advantages of good land and water communication with the rest of the continent likewise contributed powerfully to the spread of Polish power, which at one time extended from the Baltic shores to the coast of the Black Sea.
Political uniformity was thus the result of the unifying influence of a region characterized by common physical aspects. From the Carpathians to the Baltic, the valley of the Vistula constitutes both the cradle and the blossoming field of Polish humanity and its institutions. In spite of the remoteness of the period of their occupation of the land, these children of the plains never attempted to scale mountainous slopes. The solid wall of the western Carpathians between Jablunka and Sanok, with its abrupt slopes facing the north, forms the southern boundary of the country.
The struggle for predominance between Poles and Germans along Poland's western boundary is fully nine centuries old. In the 6th
century Slavonic tribes had become widely disPolish-German
tributed between the Oder and the Elbe in the course Rivalry
of westerly expansions, which corresponded to south and west migrations of Teutonic peoples. The beginning of the present millennium witnessed the inception of a slow and powerful Germanic drive directed toward the east. Repeated German aggressions brought about the earliest union of all Polish tribes into one nation at the beginning of the 11th century. It proved, however, of little avail before the fighting prowess of the knights of the Teutonic Order who, by the first half of the 13th century, had succeeded in adding all Wend territory to Teutonic dominions. This early and northern phase of the “Drang nach Osten" brought the Germans to the coast of the Gulf of Finland. Their advance was
POLAND WITHOUT DEFENSES
rendered possible in part by the presence of Tatar hordes menacing southern Poland. Teutonic progress was also facilitated by the condition of defenselessness which characterizes an open plain. Between the Oder and the Vistula the slightly undulating lowland is continuous and devoid of barriers to communication which the interposition of uplifted or uninhabitable stretches of territory might have provided.
Polish history has been affected both favorably and adversely by this lack of natural bulwarks. The one-time extension of Polish Poland Without sovereignty to the coasts of the Baltic and Black Defenses
Seas or to within fifty miles of Berlin and the cen
tral plateau of Russia was a result of easy travel in a plain. This advantage was more than offset by the evident facility with which alien races were able to swarm back into the vast featureless expanse forming Polish territory. The very dismemberment of the country is in part the result of the inability of the Poles to resort to the protection of a natural fortress, where a stand against oppressing foes might have been made.
Poland's easterly expansion, with its prolonged and finally disastrous conflict with Russia, began after the battle of Grünwald in 1410. Although the Poles then inflicted a decisive defeat on the German knights, the western provinces they had lost could not be regained. In the eastern field the basin of the Dnieper merged without abrupt transition into that of the Vistula just as the basin of the Oder on the west had formed the western continuation of the Baltic plain. Four centuries of struggle with Russia ensued until the Muscovite Empire absorbed the greatest portion of Poland.
The presence in Europe of Hungarians, a race bearing strong linguistic and physical affinity to Turkish tribesmen, is perhaps best
explained by the prolific harvests yielded by the Harvests Attract
broad valleys of the Danube and Theiss. Huns, Hungarians
Avars and Magyars, one and all Asiatics wandering into Europe successively, were enticed into abandonment of nomadism by the fertility of the boundless Alföld. Western influences took solid root among these descendants of eastern ancestors after their conversion to Christianity and the adoption of the Latin alphabet. So strongly did they become permeated by the spirit of Occidental civilization that the menace of absorption by the Turkstheir own kinsmen—was rendered abortive whenever the Sultan's hordes made successful advances toward Vienna. At the same time,
fusion with the Germans was prevented by the Oriental origin of the race. The foundation of a separate European nation was thus laid in the Hungarian plains.
A minor group of Hungarians has settled on the eastern edge of the Transylvania mountains. They live surrounded by RuThe Magyar
manians on all sides except on the west, where a lone Outpost
outpost of Saxons brings Teutonic customs to the east.
The name of Szekler, meaning frontier guardsmen, applied to this body of Magyars, is indicative of their origin. Their presence on the heights overlooking the Rumanian plain bespeaks the solicitude of Hungarian sovereigns to control a site on which the natural bulwark dominating their plains had been raised. These Magyars represent at present the landed gentry of Transylvania.
This Hungarian colony was in full development at the end of the 13th century. Its soldiers distinguished themselves during the period of war with the Turks. Prestige acquired on the battlefield strengthened the separate and semi-independent existence of the community. The region occupied by these Hungarians is situated along the easternmost border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The towns of Schässburg and Maros Vásárhely lie on its western border. The Rumanian area situated between the land of the Szekler and the main Hungarian district is studded with numerous colonies of Magyars, thereby rendering delimitation of a boundary in the region almost impossible.
The Saxon colony adjoining the Szekler area on the west is also a relic of medieval strategic requirements. In spite of the name by
which this German settlement is designated, its original A Frontier
members appear to have been recruited from different Relic
sections of western European regions occupied by Teutons. Colonization had already been started when King Gesa II of Hungary gave it a fresh impulse in the middle of the 12th century by inducing peasants of the middle Rhine and Moselle valleys to forsake servitude in their native villages in return for land ownership in Transylvania.
To promote the efficiency of the soldier colonists as frontier guardsmen an unusual degree of political latitude was accorded them. In time their deputies sat in the Hungarian diet on terms of equality with representatives of the nobility. Prolonged warfare with the Tatar populations attempting to force entrance into the Hungarian plains determined selection of strategical sites as nuclei of original settlements. These facts are responsible for the survival of the