Russian in Kakania.

I just finished a long article by Gasan Guseinov, “Русский язык в современном мире” [The Russian language in today's world] (Druzhba narodov 2, 2014), and towards the end he talks about someone I’d never heard of with a delightfully implausible idea for reforming the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so I thought I’d translate that section here (original Russian below):

Not long before the First World War and the beginning of the final stage of the dissolution of the multinational empires — Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, British, and Russian — in 1900, in Vienna, there appeared a book by the Austrian diplomat Count Heinrich Coudenhove called Politische Studie ueber Oesterreich-Ungarn. Discussing the main source of unrest at the time in his country, Coudenhove, whose son would be, a quarter of a century later, an ideologue of the pan-European movement, suggested that Russian be made one of the state languages of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In that way Vienna, according to the thought of this extravagant polyglot, would kill two birds with one stone: it would undermine the influence of Russia and destroy at its root the pan-Slavic movement that was rocking the boat of Kakania, as the critical intelligentsia of the day mockingly called their empire. The boat he intended to save, however, collapsed in 1918.

[...] According to the statistics of 1900, English was the global language of the gigantic British Empire, spoken natively by 100 million and fluently by 300 million worldwide. In Europe, German was in second place, spoken by 80 million — only 20 million fewer than now, sixty years after the Second World War! Proposing that the Austrians compete with the British, Coudenhove compared Russian with Urdu, spoken in Britain’s overseas possessions. Russian — a language spoken by 120 million people between the Carpathians and the Pacific Ocean, between the Arctic Ocean and Afghanistan — should be implanted, he thought, also because having it as a second language was completely “harmless” for Germans, and it would make the other Slavs renounce both the idea of pan-Slavic cultural independence and the dream of political sovereignty for “ridiculous dwarf nations.”

As always, I’m fascinated by crackpot theories, as long as they aren’t currently popular enough to annoy me!

The original Russian:

Незадолго до Первой мировой войны и начала финальной стадии распада многонациональных империй — Оттоманской, Австро-Венгерской, Британской и Российской — в 1900 году в Вене вышла книга австрийского дипломата графа Генриха Куденхове под названием «Изучая политику Австро-Венгрии». Рассуждая о главном тогдашнем источнике беспокойства для своей страны, Куденхове, сын которого станет через четверть века идеологом паневропейского движения, высказал предложение сделать русский язык… одним из государственных языков Австро-Венгерской империи. Так Вена, по мысли экстравагантного полиглота, одним ударом убила бы двух зайцев — подорвала бы влияние России и уничтожила на корню панславянское движение, раскачивавшее лодку Какании — так издевательски называла свою империю тогдашняя критически настроенная австро-венгерская интеллигенция. Спасаемая лодка развалилась, однако же, в 1918 году.

[...] По статистике 1900 года, английский язык был глобальным языком гигантской Британской империи. 100 миллионов говорили на нем как на родном, 300 миллионов владели им в мире свободно. В Европе немецкий язык был на втором месте: на нем говорили 80 миллионов — всего на 20 миллионов меньше, чем сейчас, через 60 лет после Второй мировой войны! Предлагая австрийцам равняться на британцев, Куденхове сравнивал тогда русский язык с урду в британских заморских владениях. Русский — язык, на котором говорят 120 миллионов человек между Карпатами и Тихим океаном, между Ледовитым океаном и Афганистаном, — нужно было насаждать, считал он, еще и потому, что владение им как вторым родным совершенно «безопасно» для немцев, а вот остальных славян он заставил бы отказаться и от идеи общеславянской культурной самобытности, и от мечты о политическом суверенитете «смехотворных карликовых наций».


  1. English was the global language of the gigantic British Empire, spoken natively by 100 million and freely by 300 million worldwide.

    Does “freely” here mean “of their own choice”, or something more subtle ?

  2. No, no, it means “without noticeable problems” or the like. Sorry, the ambiguity didn’t even occur to me!

  3. literally “freely” but equivalent to “fluently”

  4. Much better, thanks — I’ve changed it accordingly. Translating on the fly, one sometimes doesn’t think of these solutions, so obvious in retrospect!

  5. Do we know more details about coining of the word “Kakania” btw? I see “k.u.k.” acronym all the time over in Rio Wang (and it took me a long time to decipher it – what’s obvious to the ex-Imperials is totally obscure for most of us). But I just realized that the “u” should have been voiced as “und” all the time. So it isn’t “Ka-U-Ka” but rather “Ka-und-Ka” which doesn’t make the transition to “Kaka” any easier?

  6. There isn’t a direct linguistic transition between “Ka-und-Ka” and “Kakania”; the latter is derived from the two K’s (each pronounced “ka”) in the official jargon.

  7. “K-K” as in pre-1867 Empire? Possible but still leaves the origin of Kakania in the dark; is it really a pan-Slavic redicule of the the Hapsburg monarchy? You see, all references point to Muzil’s book published in German well after the breakdown of the empire; it’s Kakanien in the original. But I couldn’t find any other Kakania references in any ex-Imperial Slavic language. And more recently Kakania is often referred to in a future tense, as post-Musil Euro-bureaucracy or post-imperial shared cultural space. So it leaves me wondering if Kakanien is semi-self-critical, semi-nostalgic notion born among the Austrians themselves after the demise of the K.u.K., rather than a Slav ridicule dating back to the years of the Empire.

  8. “K-K” as in pre-1867 Empire?

    No, I didn’t say that, and it wasn’t what I had in mind. I suspect you’re overthinking this: it’s not some direct derivation from a particular form (k-k or k-u.-k), it’s simply a use of the two k’s to form a mock toponym. And what makes you think it has anything to do with Slavs? As far as I know, it’s an anti-imperial formation that could have been created by anyone critical of the status quo.

  9. You’re right, Language. I guess I just quickly glimpsed over at Russian wikipedia that “Широкое употребление аббревиатуры K.K. в официальной документации вызывало у народов (особенно славянских), населявших империю, различные ассоциации” and left with a (false) impression that it must have been an exclusively an invention of the Slavs.

    … cool to find a fairly close parallel to Russia’s “sovok”!

  10. Hah! Yes, that’s a great parallel.

  11. Dmitry Pruss, I can’t believe that you’ve missed such gems as К. u. k. Militarmagazinkatze from the main source of an ordinary Russian’s knowledge about (ahem) Kakania.

    One of the reasons to think that Kakania was specifically Slavic way to talk about k. u. k. is that in Russian ending -ia (-ия) is a regular ending for a country name.

  12. But the original German form was Kakanien (cf. Tschechien, Slowenien, Kroatien, Bosnien, Rumänien, Polen, Galizien, Italien, Venetien, Serbien, etc.); and of course the -ia ending is just as much Latin/Romance as Russian.

  13. For the first A in Kakania, where the K.u.K. acronym would more naturally imply Kukania, I think I read somewhere years ago that ‘kaka’ is as scatological in German as it is in English (where ‘caca’ = babytalk for ‘shit’ – noun or verb) and Latin (where ‘caco, cacare, cacavi, cacatum’ = ‘shit’ – the verb). If so – can a German confirm or deny? – Musil (or whoever coined the term) was being crude.

  14. On coins it was just ‘K. K.’ without ‘u’ in the middle. See

  15. Looking back at the 2010 discussion about Kakanien at this site, I would say this: the superior type of German associates it with Ancient Greek kakós, while the unwashed masses think of Kacke.

    For the first A in Kakania, where the K.u.K. acronym would more naturally imply Kukania…

    It’s actually an abbreviation for kaiserlich und königlich, not an acronym in the sense of being the first letters of (say) the name of an organisation or country, as in “USA”.

    As to the pronunciation, it’s not “kuk”: Das u zwischen den zwei ks wird trotz der verkürzten Form voll ausgesprochen; die korrekte Aussprache lautet somit „k[a] und k[a]“. This is from the linked article, which also warns against confusing k.k. and k.u.k..

  16. A nitpick: Спасаемая лодка is not “the saved boat” but ” the boat (that was) to be saved”, i.e. the empire Coudenhove wanted to save ended in 1918.

  17. A nitpick: Спасаемая лодка is not “the saved boat” but ” the boat (that was) to be saved”, i.e. the empire Coudenhove wanted to save ended in 1918.

    Yes, of course — thanks, and I’ll fix that too. Another casualty of on-the-fly translating!

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    I was thinking not just kakos but Kakophonie, which might be thought applicable to a multilingual polity that lacked Russian as everyone’s common L2.

  19. In a sense, Coudenhove sounds more outdated – for 1900 – than crazy. He notes that German is a “global language” (Weltsprache) and none of the empire’s other languages qualify – except Ruthenian, as a dialect of Russian. (He sees Russian gradually becoming a global language. ) My German is too rudimentary to read through the whole thing. Coudenhove seems to argue that other Slavs in the empire would not mind learning a language that is both Slavic and global and therefore as socially and culturally prestigious as German.

    But it was 1900 and Czech was rapidly gaining respectability. As for Ruthenian, Coudenhove probably used the term to cover the Slavic dialects of what is now Western Ukraine. By 1900s, it seems that the party of Ukrainian vernacularists had triumphed over the so-called Russophiles and the idea of Ruthenian as vernacular Ukrainian, a language separate from Russian, had prevailed among local intellectuals and had full support from the Vienna government. (“Ukrainian culture by the end of the nineteenth century had become the mainroad of Ruthenian civilization,” wrote Robert A. Kann.)

    Some Carpatho-Ruthenians disagreed, to Vienna’s displeasure, and would be treated as potential traitors in WWI. But in the 1860s, Coudenhove’s idea could have been taken seriously.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    Me, I think the Hapsburg monarchy missed its chance for relevance when it chose to appease the Hungarian aristocracy rather than transforming itself into the Holy Roman Empire of the Slavic Nation. They could have devised a common literary standard somewhere between Old Church Slavonic and the modern varieties from Dalmatia to Galicia, a vysokoslovenski (or dobroslovenski?), something like “educated Pannonian”. I’m sure John Cowan has an alternate history for this.

  21. missed its chance for relevance when it chose to appease the Hungarian aristocracy rather than transforming itself into the Holy Roman Empire of the Slavic Nation

    I like the vision :) but to upstage the resurgence of Hungary, they should have had the Neoslavonian up and running for a couple generations already before 1848.

    Anyhow divide-and-conquer is used by the empires all the time, but unite-and-defend? Hardly ever.

  22. Yes, I’ve often rued the destructive influence of Hungary on the Habsburg Empire, but I’m damned if I can figure out how they could have escaped it.


  1. […] Hat notes a proposal to give Russian official status in Austria-Hungary to defuse pan-Slavism, and observes […]

Speak Your Mind