An Austro-Hungarian Tragedy – The Kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria (Part Two)

Peasant agriculture meant dire poverty and even starvation. Between 1847 and 1889 no less than seven major famines occurred in Galicia, an average of one every six years. Following the abolition of serfdom in 1848 the condition of the peasantry hardly improved. Though the majority of peasants owned plots of land, their holdings were constantly diminishing. At the turn of the 20th century, the average peasant land holding was less than five acres. This would eventually be portioned out to their children. Thus if a peasant household had six children, that meant each would end up with less than an acre of land. To make matters much worse, peasant landholdings were largely non-contiguous. The average peasant owned twenty separate plots of land. One thing peasants did not have to worry about was taxes. That’s because over 99% of them were ineligible for taxation. This was due to the simple fact that they did not earn enough income. Even when something should have been good in Galicia for the peasants it was not.

Jews and Peasants of Galicia - An artist's rendering from 1886

Jews and Peasants from Galicia – An artist’s rendering from 1886

The Naked & The Hungry – Famine In Galicia
Millions were just trying to stay alive. As the modern age was dawning their situation was getting worse. Much of this had to do with population growth. Galicia had the highest density of rural population in all of Europe. This was despite the fact that emigration numbers were astronomical. In 1913, 400,000 Galicians left for other parts of the empire or abroad. Almost a million Galicians left for the United States from the late 1880’s through 1914. The question has to be asked, what was Galicia good for? To Austro-Hungarian administrators it was a source of raw materials. These materials took one of three forms, agricultural, mineral or human. It was a tragic irony that Galicia exported raw foodstuffs to the rest of the empire, while on average 50,000 Galicians died a year, either directly or indirectly due to hunger.

The province was referred to darkly by the Poles as “Golicja i Glodomeria.” Goly and Glodny are the Polish words for naked and hungry. Yet it was the Ukrainians who suffered most from hunger. Agricultural techniques had changed little from medieval times. The Austrians first, then later the Polish bureaucratic ruling class took few measures to alleviate the suffering of the millions of unfortunates working the land. On the contrary, the powerful passed laws to benefit the interests of elites. Scientific and technological breakthroughs had the potential to transform the province, but Vienna was uninterested in sustained investment or industrial development for Galicia.

The Government House in Lemberg (Lviv, Ukraine)

The Government House in Lemberg (Lviv, Ukraine) – where Polish elites administered Galicia from (Credit: Водник)

Everything That Can Be Extracted – Of Men & Materiel
Even when the Industrial Revolution began in earnest during the latter part of the 19th century throughout most of the Empire, Galicia was largely ignored. By the outbreak of World War I, only 9% of Austria-Hungary’s industry was to be found in Galicia. Workers in Lemberg (Lviv, Ukraine), the province’s largest city earned relatively meager wages, three-fifths those of a worker in Lower Austria. The one industrial bright spot was a burgeoning oil industry. By 1914, Galicia was producing five percent of the world’s oil. Of course, the profits generated from this boom were largely extracted from the province just like the black gold which spewed forth from the wells that had sprouted up and around the cities of Boryslav and Drohobych. Galicia was a province of paradox, rich in natural resources, totally lacking in social, economic and political means.

The one thing Galicia produced throughout its existence was people. The Austrians were always interested in its vast reserves of manpower. This helped staff an army that was supposed to keep the Russian Empire at bay. Large military bases were built up at Lemberg, Przemysl and Cracow. Using Galicians for manpower did pose several problems. The Empire’s military and political leadership was suspicious of the Ukrainians in the army. They might well side with their brethren across the border in Russia. Fortunately, for the Austrians, Russia was hardly better than Galicia when it came to the treatment of the Ukrainians. In addition, potential manpower for the military was not as great as the population figures showed, since many males were not physically fit enough to serve. The province led the empire in the most men unfit for military service. Bad diets and disease stunted growth. Everything Galicia produced seemed to have flaws.

Jewish Cemetery in Brody, Ukraine (Eastern Galicia) (Credit: Roman Zacharij)

Jewish Cemetery in Brody, Ukraine (Eastern Galicia) (Credit: Roman Zacharij)

A Kingdom In Name Only
Such barriers to progress and development could have been rectified by the ruling class, but it was not in their narrow interests. The wars, military, ethnic and ideological that would consume Galicia between 1914 and 1945 ended up transforming everything through chaos and ultra-violence. It is hard to believe that Galicia could suffer more than it did under Austro-Hungarian rule, but it did. By the end of the Second World War, the Polish ruling class and the Jews had been destroyed. Ethnic Germans, who were largely guilty of these destructions, vanished either by violence or disappearance. The descendants of Polish and Ukrainian peasants inherited the kingdom’s land base, but they were still not free. Another empire, the Soviet Union, was now their overlord.  This led many to look back at Austro-Hungarian rule as a halcyon period of progress and development. A rose tinted view of a Kingdom that was anything but. The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria sounded wonderful then and still does today. The reality was totally different. The name was about the only thing that ever gleamed.

2 thoughts on “An Austro-Hungarian Tragedy – The Kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria (Part Two)

  1. Enjoyed reading these articles.I think some of my ancestors came from Galicia. Any suggestions on how to find out what town they came from other than going there.

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