History of Austria

Early History

The Slavic tribe of the Carantanians migrated into the Alps in the wake of the expansion of their Avar overlords during the 7th century, mixed with the Celto-Romanic population, and established the realm of Carantania, which covered much of eastern and central Austrian territory. In the meantime, the Germanic tribe of the Bavarians had developed in the 5th and 6th century in the west of the country and in Bavaria, while what is today Vorarlberg had been settled by the Alemans. Those groups mixed with the Rhaeto-Romanic population and pushed it up into the mountains.

Carantania, under pressure of the Avars, lost its independence to Bavaria in 745 and became a margraviate. During the following centuries, Bavarian settlers went down the Danube and up the Alps, a process through which Austria was to become the mostly German-speaking country it is today.

The Bavarians themselves came under the overlordship of the Carolingian Franks and subsequently a Duchy of the Holy Roman Empire. Duke Tassilo III, who wanted to maintain Bavarian independence, was defeated and displaced by Charlemagne in 788.

An Eastern March (marchia orientalis) was established in Charlemagne’s time, but it was overrun by the Magyars in 909.

Babenberg Austria

After the defeat of the Magyars by Emperor Otto the Great in the Battle of Lechfeld (955), new Marches were established in what is today Austria. The one known as the marchia orientalis was to become the core territory of Austria and was given to Leopold of Babenberg in 976 after the revolt of Henry II, Duke of Bavaria.

The Marches were overseen by a comes or dux as appointed by the Warlord. The most normal translation of these offices is count or duke, but these titles conveyed very different meanings in the Early Middle Ages, and the Latin terminology is preferable to any modern translation. In lumbardi-speaking countries, the title was eventually regularised to Margravei (German: Markgraf; i.e. “Count of the Mark”).

The first record showing the name Austria is 996 were it is written as Ostarrîchi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March. The term Ostmark is not historically ascertained and appears to be a translation of marchia orientalis that came up only much later.

The following centuries were characterised first by the settlement of the country, when forests were cleared and towns and monasteries were founded. In 1156 the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy. In 1192, the Babenbergs also acquired the Duchy of Styria through the Georgenberg Pact. At that time, the Babenberg Dukes came to be one of the most influential ruling families in the region, peaking in the reign of Leopold VI (1198-1230).

However, with the slaughter of his son Frederick II in 1246, the line went extinct, which resulted in the interregnum, a period of several decades during which the status of the country was disputed. Otakar II Přemysl of Bohemia effectively controlled the duchies of Austria, Styria and Carinthia. His reign came to an end with his defeat in the battle of Dürnkrut and Jedenspeigen at the hand of Rudolf of Habsburg in 1278.

Habsburg Monarchy

Following the extinction of the Babenbergs in the 13th century, Austria came briefly under the rule of the Czech King Otakar II. Contesting the election of Rudolf I of Habsburg as Emperor, Otakar was defeated and killed by the German King, who took Austria and gave it to his sons in 1278. Austria was ruled by the Habsburgs for the next 640 years. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Habsburgs began to accumulate other provinces in the vicinity of the Duchy of Austria, which remained a small Duchy along the Danube, and Styria, which they had acquired from Ottokar alongside with Austria. Carinthia and Carniola came under Habsburg rule in 1335, Tyrol in 1363. These provinces, together, became known as the Habsburg Hereditary Lands, although they were sometimes all lumped together simply as Austria.

The history of the following two centuries had many ups and downs. Following the notable, but short rule of Rudolf IV, his brothers Albert III and Leopold III split the realms in the Treaty of Neuberg in 1379. Albert retained Austria proper, while Leopold took the remaining territories. In 1402, there was another split in the Leopoldinian line, when Ernest the Iron took Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola) and Frederick IV became ruler of Tyrol and Further Austria. The territories were only reunified by Ernest’s son Frederick V (Frederick III as Holy Roman Emperor), when the Albertinian line (1457) and the Elder Tyrolean line (1490) had become extinct.

In 1438, Duke Albert V of Austria was chosen as the successor to his father-in-law, Emperor Sigismund. Although Albert himself only reigned for a year, from then on, every emperor was a Habsburg, with only one exception. The Habsburgs began also to accumulate lands far from the Hereditary Lands. In 1477, the Archduke Maximilian, only son of Emperor Frederick III, married the heiress of Burgundy, thus acquiring most of the Low Countries for the family. His son Philip the Fair married the heiress of Castile and Aragon, and thus acquired Spain and its Italian, African, and New World appendages for the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs’ hereditary territories, however, were soon separated from this enormous empire when, in 1520, Emperor Charles V left them to the rule of his brother, Ferdinand.

The Reformation (1526-1618)

In 1526, following the Battle of Mohács, in which Ferdinand’s brother-in-law Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia, was killed, Ferdinand expanded his territories, bringing Bohemia and that part of Hungary not occupied by the Ottomans under his rule. Habsburg expansion into Hungary, however, led to frequent conflicts with the Turks, particularly the so-called Long War of 1593 to 1606.

Austria and the other Habsburg hereditary provinces (and Hungary and Bohemia, as well) were much affected by the Reformation. Although the Habsburg rulers themselves remained Catholic, the provinces themselves largely converted to Lutheranism, which Ferdinand I and his successors, Maximilian II, Rudolf II, and Mathias largely tolerated.

In the late 16th century, however, the Counter-Reformation and the Society of Jesus began to make its influence felt, and the Jesuit-educated Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, who ruled over Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola before becoming Holy Roman Emperor, was energetic in suppressing heresy in the provinces which he ruled.

The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)

When, in 1619, he was elected Emperor to succeed his cousin Mathias, the ultra-pious and intransigent Ferdinand II, as he became known, embarked on an energetic attempt to re-Catholicise not only the Hereditary Provinces, but Bohemia and Habsburg Hungary as well as most of Protestant Europe within the Holy Roman Empire. Outside his lands, his reputation for strong headed uncompromising intolerance had triggered the Thirty Years’ War in May of 1618 in the polarising first phase, known as the Revolt in Bohemia. After several initial reverses, he became accommodating but as the Catholics turned things around and began to enjoy a long string of successes at arms he set forth the Edict of Restitution in 1629 vastly complicating the politics of settlement negotiations and prolonging the rest of the war; encouraged by the mid-war successes, he became even more forceful leading to infamies by his armies such as the Sack of Magdeburg.

His forced conversions or evictions carried out in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, which with the later general success of the Protestants therefore had greatly negative consequences for Habsburg control of the Holy Roman Empire itself, while these campaigns within the Habsburg hereditary lands were largely successful in religiously purifying his demesnes, leaving the Austrian Emperors thereafter with much greater control within their hereditary power base – although Hungary was never successfully re-Catholicised – but one much reduced in population and economic might while less vigorous and weakened as a nation-state.

In terms of human costs, the Thirty Years’ wars many economic, social, and population dislocations caused by the hardline methods adopted by Ferdinand’s strict counter-reformation measures and almost continual employment of mercenary field armies contributed significantly to the loss of life and tragic depopulation of all the Germanies, during a war which some estimates put the civilian loss of life as high as 50% overall. Studies mostly cite the causes of death due to starvation or as caused (ultimately by the lack-of-food induced) weakening of resistance to endemic diseases which repeatedly reached epidemic proportions amongst the general Central European population – the Germanies were the battle ground and staging areas for the largest mercenary armies theretofore, and the armies “foraged” amongst the many provinces stealing the food of those people forced onto the roads as refugees, or still on the lands, regardless of their faith and allegiances. Both townsmen and farmers were repeatedly ravaged and victimised by the armies on both sides leaving little for the populations already stressed by the refugees from the war or fleeing the Catholic counter-reformation repressions under Ferdinand’s governance.

Austria’s Rise to Power (1657-1714)

The long reign of Leopold I (1657-1705) saw the culmination of the Austrian conflict with the Turks. Following the successful defence of Vienna in 1683 led by King of Poland John III Sobieski, a series of campaigns resulted in the return of all of Hungary to Austrian control by the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699. At the same time, Austria was becoming more involved in competition with France in Western Europe, with Austria fighting the French in the Third Dutch War (1672-1679), the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697) and finally the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), in which the French and Austrians (along with their British and Dutch allies) fought over the inheritance of the vast territories of the Spanish Habsburgs. Although the French secured control of Spain and its colonies for a grandson of Louis XIV, the Austrians also ended up making significant gains in Western Europe, including the former Spanish Netherlands (now called the Austrian Netherlands, including most of modern Belgium), the Duchy of Milan in Northern Italy, and Naples and Sardinia in Southern Italy.

Charles VI and Maria Theresa (1711-1780)

The latter part of the reign of Emperor Charles VI (1711-1740) saw Austria relinquish many of these fairly impressive gains, largely due to Charles’s apprehensions at the imminent extinction of the House of Habsburg. Charles was willing to offer concrete advantages in territory and authority in exchange for other powers’ worthless recognitions of the Pragmatic Sanction that made his daughter Maria Theresa his heir. The most notable instance of this was in the War of the Polish Succession whose settlement saw Austria cede Naples and Sicily to the Spanish Infant Don Carlos in exchange for the tiny Duchy of Parma and Spain and France’s adherence to the Pragmatic Sanction. The latter years of Charles’s reign (1736-1739) also saw an unsuccessful war against the Turks, which resulted in the Austrian loss of Belgrade and other border territories.

As many had anticipated, when Charles died in 1740, all those assurances from the other powers proved of little worth to Maria Theresa. The peace was initially broken by King Frederick II of Prussia, who invaded Silesia. Soon other powers began to exploit Austria’s weakness. The Elector of Bavaria claimed the inheritance to the hereditary lands and Bohemia, and was supported by the King of France, who desired the Austrian Netherlands. The Spanish and Sardinians hoped to gain territory in Italy, and the Saxons hoped to gain territory to connect Saxony with the Elector’s Polish Kingdom. Austria’s allies – Britain, Holland and Russia, were all wary of getting involved in the conflict. Thus began the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), one of the more confusing and less eventful wars of European history, which ultimately saw Austria holding its own, despite the permanent loss of most of Silesia to the Prussians. In 1745, following the reign of the Bavarian Elector as Emperor Charles VII, Maria Theresa’s husband Francis of Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was elected Emperor, restoring control of that position to the Habsburgs – or, rather, to the new composite house of Habsburg-Lorraine.

For the eight years following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that ended the War of the Austrian Succession, Maria Theresa plotted revenge on the Prussians. The British and Dutch allies who had proved so reluctant to help her in her time of need were dropped in favour of the French in the so-called Reversal of Alliances of 1756. That same year, war once again erupted on the continent as Frederick, fearing encirclement, launched a pre-emptive invasion of Saxony. The Seven Years’ War, too, was indecisive, and saw Prussia holding onto Silesia, despite the combined forces of Russia, France and Austria, and with only Hanover as a significant ally on land.

The end of the war saw Austria, exhausted, continuing the alliance with France (cemented in 1770 with the marriage of Maria Theresa’s daughter Archduchess Maria Antonietta to the Dauphin), but also facing a dangerous situation in Central Europe, faced with the alliance of Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia. The Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774 caused a serious crisis in east-central Europe, with Prussia and Austria demanding compensation for Russia’s gains in the Balkans, ultimately leading to the First Partition of Poland in 1772, in which Maria Theresa took Galicia from Austria’s traditional ally.

Over the next several years, Austro-Russian relations began to improve. When the War of Bavarian Succession erupted between Austria and Prussia in 1777 following the extinction of the Bavarian line of the Wittelsbach dynasty, Russia refused to support its ally, and the war was ended, after almost no bloodshed, on May 13, 1779 when Russian and French mediators at the Congress of Teschen negotiated an end to the war. In the agreement Austria receive the Innviertel from Bavaria.

Joseph II and Leopold II (1780-1792)

On Maria Theresa’s death in 1780, she was succeeded by her son Joseph II, already Holy Roman Emperor since Francis I’s death in 1765. Joseph was a reformer, and is often considered the foremost example of an 18th century enlightened despot. Joseph attempted to bring under control the Roman Catholic Church and the various provincial nobilities of his lands, which led to widespread resistance, especially in Hungary and the Austrian Netherlands, which were used to their traditional liberties.

Joseph’s foreign policy was equally ambitious, and equally unsuccessful. He pursued a policy of alliance with Catherine the Great’s Russia, which led to a war with the Ottoman Empire in 1787. Austria’s performance in the war was distinctly unimpressive, and the expense involved led to further resistance. By the time of Joseph’s death in 1790, all his plans seemed ruined, with both Hungary and the Netherlands in open revolt and the war in the Balkans dragging on and seeming impossible to finish, given Russia’s commitment to continuing the war.

Joseph’s death proved a boon, as he was succeeded by his more sensible brother, Leopold II, previously the reforming Grand Duke of Tuscany. Leopold knew when to cut his losses, and soon cut deals with the revolting Netherlanders and Hungarians. He also managed to secure a peace with Turkey in 1791, and negotiated an alliance with Prussia, which had been allying with Poland to press for war on behalf of the Ottomans against Austria and Russia.

Unfortunately, Leopold’s reign also saw the acceleration of the French Revolution. Although Leopold was sympathetic to the revolutionaries, he was also the brother of the French queen. Furthermore, disputes involving the status of the rights of various imperial princes in Alsace, where the revolutionary French government was attempting to remove rights guaranteed by various peace treaties, involved Leopold as Emperor in conflicts with the French. The Declaration of Pillnitz, made in late 1791 jointly with the Prussian King Frederick William II and the Elector of Saxony, in which it was declared that the other princes of Europe took an interest in what was going on in France, was intended to be a statement in support of Louis XVI that would prevent the need from taking any kind of action. However, it instead inflamed the sentiments of the revolutionaries against the Emperor. Although Leopold did his best to avoid war with the French, he died in March of 1792. The French declared war on his inexperienced son Francis II a month later.

The French Revolution and Napoleon (1792-1814)

The war with France, which lasted until 1797, proved unsuccessful for Austria. After some brief successes against the utterly disorganised French armies in early 1792, the tide turned, and the French overran the Austrian Netherlands in the last months of 1792. While the Austrians were so occupied, their erstwhile Prussian allies stabbed them in the back with the Second Partition of Poland, from which Austria was entirely excluded. This led to the dismissal of Francis’s chief minister, Philipp von Cobenzl, and his replacement with Franz Maria Thugut.

At around the same time, the increasing radicalisation of the French Revolution, as well as the French occupation of the Low Countries, brought Britain, the Dutch Republic and Spain into the war, which became known as the War of the First Coalition. Once again, there were initial successes against the disorganised armies of the French Republic, and the Netherlands were recovered. But in 1794 the tide turned once more, and Austrian forces were driven out of the Netherlands again – this time for good. Meanwhile, the Polish Crisis again became critical, resulting in a Third Partition (1795), in which Austria managed to secure important gains. The war in the west continued to go badly, as most of the coalition made peace, leaving Austria with only Britain and Piedmont-Sardinia as allies. In 1796, the French Directory planned a two-pronged campaign in Germany to force the Austrians to make peace, with a secondary thrust planned into Italy. Although Austrian forces under Archduke Charles, the Emperor’s brother, were successful in driving the French back in Germany, the French Army of Italy, under the command of the young Corsican General Napoleon Bonaparte, was brilliantly successful, forcing Piedmont out of the war, driving the Austrians out of Lombardy and besieging Mantua. Following the capture of Mantua in early 1797, Bonaparte advanced north through the Alps against Vienna, while new French armies moved again into Germany. Austria sued for peace. By the terms of the Treaty of Campo Formio of 1797, Austria renounced its claims to the Netherlands and Lombardy, in exchange for which it partitioned the territories of the Republic of Venice with the French. The Austrians also provisionally recognised the French annexation of the Left Bank of the Rhine, and agreed in principle that the German princes of the region should be compensated with ecclesiastical lands on the other side of the Rhine.

The peace did not last for long. Soon, differences emerged between the Austrians and French over the reorganisation of Germany, and Austria joined Russia, Britain and Naples in the War of the Second Coalition in 1799. Although Austro-Russian forces were initially successful in driving the French from Italy, the tide soon turned – the Russians withdrew from the war after a defeat at Zürich (1799) which they blamed on Austrian fecklessness, and the Austrians were defeated by Bonaparte, now First Consul at Marengo, which forced them to withdraw from Italy, and then in Germany at Hohenlinden. These defeats forced Thugut’s resignation, and Austria, now led by Ludwig Cobenzl, to make peace at Lunéville in early 1801. The terms were surprisingly mild – the terms of Campo Formio were largely reinstated, but now the way was clear for a reorganisation of the Empire on French lines. By the Imperial Deputation Report of 1803, the Holy Roman Empire was entirely reorganised, with nearly all of the ecclesiastical territories and free cities, traditionally the parts of the Empire most friendly to the House of Austria, eliminated.

With Bonaparte’s assumption of the title of Emperor of the French in 1804, Francis, seeing the writing on the wall for the old Empire, took the new title of Emperor of Austria as Francis I, in addition to his title of Holy Roman Emperor. Soon, Napoleon’s continuing machinations in Italy, including the annexation of Genoa and Parma, led once again to war in 1805 – the War of the Third Coalition, in which Austria, Britain, Russia and Sweden took on Napoleon. The Austrian forces began the war by invading Bavaria, a key French ally in Germany, but were soon outmaneuvered and forced to surrender by Napoleon at Ulm, before the main Austro-Russian force was defeated at Austerlitz on December 2. By the Treaty of Pressburg, Austria was forced to give up large amounts of territory – Dalmatia to France, Venetia to Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy, the Tyrol to Bavaria, and Austria’s various Swabian territories to Baden and Württemberg, although Salzburg, formerly held by Francis’s younger brother, the previous Grand Duke of Tuscany, was annexed by Austria as compensation.

The defeat meant the end of the old Holy Roman Empire. Napoleon’s satellite states in southern and Western Germany seceded from the Empire in the summer of 1806, forming the Confederation of the Rhine, and a few days later Francis proclaimed the Empire dissolved, and renounced the old imperial crown.

Over the next three years Austria, now led by Philipp Stadion, attempted to maintain peace with France, but the overthrow of the Spanish Bourbons in 1808 was deeply disturbing to the Habsburgs, who rather desperately went to war once again in 1809, this time with no continental allies. Stadion’s attempts to generate popular uprisings in Germany were unsuccessful, and the Russians honoured their alliance with France, so Austria was once again defeated, although at greater cost than Napoleon, who suffered his first battlefield defeat in this war, at Aspern-Essling, had expected. The terms of the Treaty of Schönbrunn were quite harsh. Austria lost Salzburg to Bavaria, some of its Polish lands to Russia, and its remaining territory on the Adriatic (including much of Carinthia and Styria) to Napoleon’s Illyrian Provinces.

Klemens von Metternich, the new Austrian foreign minister, aimed to pursue a pro-French policy. The Emperor’s daughter, Marie Louise, was married to Napoleon, and Austria contributed an army to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. With Napoleon’s disastrous defeat in Russia at the end of the year, and Prussia’s defection to the Russian side at the beginning of 1813, Metternich began slowly to shift his policy. Initially he aimed to mediate a peace between France and its continental enemies, but when it became apparent that Napoleon was not interested in compromise, Austria joined the allies and declared war on France in August 1813. The Austrian intervention was decisive. Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig in October, and forced to withdraw into France itself. As 1814 began, the Allied forces invaded France. Initially, Metternich remained unsure as to whether he wanted Napoleon to remain on the throne, a Marie Louise regency for Napoleon’s young son, or a Bourbon restoration, but he was eventually brought around by British Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh to the last position. Napoleon abdicated on April 3, 1814, and Louis XVIII was restored, soon negotiating a peace treaty with the victorious allies at Paris in June.

19th Century

Under the control of Metternich, the Austrian Empire entered a period of censorship and a police state in the period between 1815 and 1848 (Biedermaier or Vormärz period). However, both liberalism and nationalism were on the rise, which resulted in the Revolutions of 1848. Metternich and the mentally handicapped Emperor Ferdinand I were forced to resign to be replaced by the emperor’s young nephew Franz Joseph. Separatist tendencies (especially in Lombardy and Hungary) were suppressed by military force. A constitution was enacted in March 1848, but it had little practical impact. However, one of the concessions to revolutionaries with a lasting impact was the freeing of peasants in Austria. This facilitated industrialisation, as many flocked to the newly industrialising cities of the Austrian domain (in the industrial centres of Bohemia, Lower Austria, Vienna and Upper Styria). Social upheaval led to increased strife in ethnically mixed cities, leading to mass nationalist movements.

In 1859, the defeats at Solférino and Magenta against the combined forces of France and Sardinia led to the loss of Lombardy and Tuscany to the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was striving to create a unified national Italian state.

The defeat at Königgrätz in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 resulted in Austria’s exclusion from Germany; the German Confederation was dissolved. The monarchy’s weak external position forced Franz Joseph to concede internal reforms. To appease Hungarian nationalism, Franz Joseph made a deal with Hungarian nobles, which led to the creation of Austria-Hungary through the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. The western half of the realm (Cisleithania) and Hungary (Transleithania) now became two realms with different interior policy, but with a common ruler and a common foreign and military policy.

The Austrian half of the dual monarchy began to move towards constitutionalism. A constitutional system with a parliament, the Reichsrat, was created, and a bill of rights was enacted in 1867. Suffrage to the Reichstag’s lower house was gradually expanded until 1907, when equal suffrage for all male citizens was introduced. However, the effectiveness of parliamentarism was hampered by conflicts between parties representing different ethnic groups, and meetings of the parliament ceased altogether during World War I.
The decades until 1914 generally saw a lot of construction, expansion of cities and railway lines, and development of industry. During this period, now known as Gründerzeit, Austria became an industrialized country, even though the Alpine regions remained characterised by agriculture.

In 1878, Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been cut off from the rest of the Ottoman Empire by the creation of new states in the Balkans. The territory was annexed in 1908 and put under joint rule by the governments of both Austria and Hungary.

Nationalist strife increased during the decades until 1914. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was the presumed heir of Franz Joseph as Emperor, in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist group triggered World War I. The defeat of the Central Powers in 1918 resulted in the disintegration of Austria-Hungary. Emperor Karl of Austria, who had ruled since 1916, went into exile.

Post World War I and the First Republic

Following the defeat of Austria-Hungary in World War I, the Empire was broken up based loosely on national grounds. Austria, with its modern borders, was created out of the main German speaking areas. On November 12, 1918, Austria became a republic called German Austria. The newly formed Austrian parliament asked for union with Germany. Article 2 of its provisional constitution stated: Deutschösterreich ist ein Bestandteil der Deutschen Republik (German Austria is part of the German Republic). Plebiscites in the countries of Tyrol and Salzburg 1919-21 yielded majorities of 98 and 99% in favour of a unification with Germany. It was feared that small Austria was not economically viable. In the end France and Italy prevented the merger, and demanded the construction of an independent Austria that had to remain autonomous for at least 20 years. The Treaty of Saint Germain included a provision that prohibited political or economic union with Germany and forced the country to change its name from the “Republic of German Austria” to the “Republic of Austria,” i.e. the First Republic. The German-speaking bordering areas of Bohemia and Moravia (later called the “Sudetenland”) were allocated to the newly founded Czechoslovakia. Many Austrians and Germans regarded this as hypocrisy since US president Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed in his famous “Fourteen Points” the “right of self-determination” for all nations. In the democratic German Weimar constitution the aim of unification was codified in article 61: “Deutschösterreich erhält nach seinem Anschluß an das Deutsche Reich das Recht der Teilnahme am Reichsrat mit der seiner Bevölkerung entsprechenden Stimmenzahl. Bis dahin haben die Vertreter Deutschösterreichs beratende Stimme.“ (German Austria has the right to participate in the Reichsrat (Germany) (the constitutional representation of the federal German states) with a consulting role according to its number of inhabitants until the unification with Germany.”).

Although Austria-Hungary had been one of the Central Powers, the allied victors were much more lenient with a defeated Austria than either Germany or Hungary. Representatives of the new Republic of Austria convinced them that it was unfair to penalise Austria for the actions of a now dissolved Empire, especially as other areas of the Empire were now perceived to be on the “victorious” side, simply because they had renounced the Empire at the end of the war. Austria never did have to pay reparations because allied commissions determined that the country could not afford to pay. It was also the only defeated country to acquire additional territory as part of border adjustments: the Burgenland, a small land tract to the east that despite its German-speaking majority had belonged to Hungary. The area had been discussed as the site of a Czech Corridor to Yugoslavia.

On October 20, 1920, a plebiscite in the Austrian state of Carinthia was held in which the population chose to remain a part of Austria, rejecting the territorial claims of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes to the state. The German-speaking parts of western Hungary, now christened Burgenland, joined Austria as a new state in 1921, with the exception of the city of Sopron, whose population decided in a referendum (which is sometimes considered by Austrians to have been rigged) to remain with Hungary. However, the Treaty of Saint Germain also meant that Austria lost significant German-speaking territories, in particular the southern part of Tyrol (now the province of Bolzano-Bozen), to Italy and the German-speaking areas within Bohemia and Moravia to Czechoslovakia.

Between 1918 and 1920, there was a coalition government including both left and right-wing parties, which enacted progressive socioeconomic and labour legislation. In 1920, the modern Constitution of Austria was enacted. The interwar years were socio-economically difficult for Austria, partly because the newly created borders tore apart what had been a common economic area.

Austrian politics were characterised by intense and sometimes violent conflict between left and right from 1920 onwards. The Social Democratic Party of Austria, which pursued a fairly left-wing course known as Austromarxism at that time, could count on a secure majority in “Red Vienna”, while right-wing parties controlled all other states. Since 1920, Austria was ruled by the Christian Socialist Party, which had close ties to the Roman Catholic Church. It was headed by a Catholic priest named Ignaz Seipel (1876-1932), who served twice as Chancellor (1922-1924 and 1926-1929). While in power, Seipel was working for an alliance between wealthy industrialists and the Roman Catholic Church.

Both left-wing and right-wing paramilitary forces were created during the 20s, namely the Heimwehr in 1921-1923 and the Republican Schutzbund in 1923. A clash between those groups in Schattendorf, Burgenland, on January 30, 1927 led to the death of a man and a child. Right-wing veterans were indicted at a court in Vienna, but acquitted in a jury trial. This led to massive protests and fire at the Justizpalast in Vienna. In the July Revolt of 1927, 89 protesters were killed by the Austrian police forces. Political conflict escalated until the early 1930s. Engelbert Dollfuss of the Christian Social Party became Chancellor in 1932.

Fascism in Austria (1934-1938)

Under the Christian Social Party, the Austrian government was moving towards centralisation of power in the Fascist model. In March 1933 the Dollfuss cabinet took advantage of a formal error during a vote on a bill in parliament. As the vote was very narrow, all of the three presidents of the National Council stepped down because they were not allowed to vote themselves while in office. This was an unforeseen event but it could have been resolved according to the rules of procedure. However, the cabinet declared that the parliament had ceased to function and forcibly prevented the National Council from reassembling. The executive then took over legislative power by using an emergency provision which had been enacted during World War I. Even after this putsch, the socialist party hesitated and tried to resolve the crisis in a peaceful way.

On February 12, 1934 the new Austrofascist regime provoked the Austrian Civil War by ordering search warrants for the headquarters of the socialist party. At that time the socialist party structures were already weakened and the uprising of its supporters was quickly defeated. Subsequently the socialist party and all its ancillary organisations were banned.

On May 1, 1934, the Dollfuss cabinet approved a new constitution that abolished freedom of the press, established one party system (known as “The Patriotic Front”) and created a total state monopoly on employer-employee relations. This system remained in force until Austria became part of the Third Reich in 1938. The Patriotic Front government frustrated the ambitions of pro-Hitlerite sympathisers in Austria who wished both political influence and unification with Germany, leading to the assassination of Dollfuss on July 25, 1934. His successor Schuschnigg maintained the ban on pro-Hitlerite activities in Austria, but was forced to resign on March 11, 1938 following a demand by Hitler for power-sharing with pro-German circles. Following Schuschnigg’s resignation, German troops occupied Austria with no resistance.

Annexation of Austria

Although the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of St. Germain had explicitly forbidden the unification of Austria and Germany, Nazi Germany was striving to annex Austria during the late 1930s, which was fiercely resisted by the Austrian Schuschnigg dictatorship. When the conflict was escalating in early 1938, Chancellor Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite on the issue on March 9, which was to take place on March 13. On March 12, German troops entered Austria, who met celebrating crowds, in order to install Nazi puppet Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Chancellor. With a Nazi administration already in place and the country integrated into the Third Reich, a referendum on April 10 approved of the annexation with a majority of 99.73%. This referendum is, however, believed by many observers and historians to have been rigged.

As a result, Austria ceased to exist as an independent country. This annexation was enforced by military invasion but large parts of the Austrian population were in favour of the Nazi regime, many Austrians would participate in its crimes. There was a Jewish population of about 200,000 then living in Vienna, which had contributed considerably to science and culture and very many of these people, with socialist and Catholic Austrian politicians were deported to concentration camps, murdered or forced into exile.

Just before the end of the war, on March 28, 1945, American troops set foot on Austrian soil and the Soviet Union’s Red Army crossed the eastern border two days later, taking Vienna on April 13. American and British forces occupied the western and southern regions, preventing Soviet forces from completely overrunning and controlling the country.

Post World War II and the Second Republic

In April 1945 Karl Renner, an Austrian elder statesman, declared Austria separate from Germany and set up a government which included socialists, conservatives and communists. This exceptionally wise action by Renner affected the view of the Allies who were to treat Austria more as a liberated, rather than a defeated country – this government being recognised by the Allies later that year. The country was occupied by the Allies from May 9, 1945 and under the Allied Commission for Austria established by an agreement on July 4, 1945, it was divided into Zones occupied respectively by American, British, French and Soviet Army personnel, with Vienna being also divided similarly into four sectors – with an International Zone at its heart.

Though under occupation, this Austrian government was officially permitted to conduct foreign relations with the approval of the Four Occupying Powers under the agreement of June 28, 1946. As part of this trend, Austria was one of the founding members of the Danube Commission formed on August 18, 1948. Austria would benefit from the Marshall Plan but economic recovery was very slow, as a result of the State’s 10-year political overseeing by the Allied Powers.

Contrary to the First Republic, which had been characterised by sometimes violent conflict between the different political groups, the Second Republic became a stable democracy. The two largest leading parties, the Christian-conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) remained in a coalition led by the ÖVP until 1966. The communists (KPÖ), who had hardly any support in the Austrian electorate, remained in the coalition until 1950 and in parliament until 1959. For much of the Second Republic, the only opposition party was the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), which included pan-German and liberal political currents. It was founded in 1955 as a successor organisation to the short-lived Federation of Independents (VdU).

Independent Austria

The two major parties strove towards ending allied occupation and restoring a fully independent Austria. The Austrian State Treaty was signed on May 15, 1955. Upon the termination of allied occupation, Austria was proclaimed a neutral country, and “everlasting” neutrality was incorporated into the Constitution on October 26, 1955.

The political system of the Second Republic came to be characterised by the system of Proporz, meaning that posts of some political importance were split evenly between members of the SPÖ and ÖVP. Interest group representations with mandatory membership (e.g. for workers, businesspeople, farmers, etc.) grew to considerable importance and were usually consulted in the legislative process, so that hardly any legislation was passed that did not reflect widespread consensus. The Proporz and consensus systems largely held even during the years between 1966 and 1983, when there were non-coalition governments.

The ÖVP-SPÖ coalition ended in 1966, when the ÖVP gained a majority in parliament. However, it lost it in 1970, when SPÖ leader Bruno Kreisky formed a minority government tolerated by the FPÖ. In the elections of 1971, 1975 and 1979 he obtained an absolute majority. The 70s were then seen as a time of liberal reforms in social policy. Today, the economic policies of the Kreisky era are often criticised, as the accumulation of a large national debt began, and non-profitable nationalised industries were strongly subsidised.

Late 20th Century

Following severe losses in the 1983 elections, the SPÖ entered into a coalition with the FPÖ under the leadership of Fred Sinowatz. In Spring 1986, Kurt Waldheim was elected president amid considerable national and international protest because of his possible involvement with the Nazis and war crimes during World War II. Fred Sinowatz resigned, and Franz Vranitzky became chancellor.

In September 1986, in a confrontation between the German-national and liberal wings, Jörg Haider became leader of the FPÖ. Chancellor Vranitzky rescinded the coalition pact between FPÖ and SPÖ, and after new elections, entered into a coalition with the ÖVP, which was then lead by Alois Mock. Jörg Haider’s populism and criticism of the Proporz system allowed him to gradually expand his party’s support in elections, rising from 4% in 1983 to 27% in 1999. The Green Party managed to establish itself in parliament from 1986 onwards.

The SPÖ-ÖVP coalition persisted until 1999. Austria joined the European Union in 1995, and Austria was set on the track towards joining the Eurozone, when it was established in 1999.

In 1993, the Liberal Forum was founded by dissidents from the FPÖ. It managed to remain in parliament until 1999. Viktor Klima succeeded Vranitzky as chancellor in 1997.

In 1999, the ÖVP fell back to third place behind the FPÖ in the elections. Even though ÖVP chairman and Vice Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel had announced that his party would go into opposition in that case, he entered into a coalition with the FPÖ – with himself as chancellor – in early 2000 under considerable national and international protest. Jörg Haider resigned as FPÖ chairman, but retained his post as governor of Carinthia but kept substantial influence within the FPÖ.

21st Century

In 2002, disputes within the FPÖ resulting from losses in state elections caused the resignation of several FPÖ government members and a collapse of the government. Wolfgang Schüssel’s ÖVP emerged as the winner of the subsequent election, ending up in first place for the first time since 1966. The FPÖ lost more than half of its voters, but re-entered the coalition with the ÖVP. Despite the new coalition, the voter support for the FPÖ continued to dwindle in all most all local and state elections. Disputes between “nationalist” and “liberals” wings of the party resulted in a split, with the founding of a new liberal party called the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and led by Jörg Haider. Since all FPÖ government members and most FPÖ members of parliament decided to join the new party, the Schüssel coalition remained in office (now in the constellation ÖVP-BZÖ, with the remaining FPÖ in opposition) until the next elections. On 1 October 2006 the SPÖ won a head on head elections and negotiated a grand coalition with the ÖVP. This coalition started its term on 11 January 2007 with Alfred Gusenbauer as Chancellor of Austria. For the first time, the Green Party of Austria became the 3rd largest party in a nation-wide election, overtaking the FPÖ by a narrow margin of only a few hundred votes.

The grand coalition headed by Alfred Gusenbauer collapsed in the early summer of 2008 over disagreements about the country’s EU policy. The early elections held on September 28 resulted in extensive losses for the two ruling parties and corresponding gains for Heinz-Christian Strache’s FPÖ and Jörg Haider’s BZÖ (the Green Party was relegated to the 5th position). Nevertheless, SPÖ and ÖVP renewed their coalition under the leadership of the new SPÖ party chairman Werner Faymann.

On October 11, 2008, Jörg Haider died from injuries sustained in a car accident he had caused while driving under the influence of alcohol. He was succeeded as BZÖ party chairman by Herbert Scheibner and as governor of Carinthia by Gerhard Dörfler. It was revealed after his death that Haider had engaged in an gay affair with an aide for several years.

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