History of Austria

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This is the history of Austria. See also the history of Europe and history of present-day nations and states.


Early history

The territory of modern Austria was part of the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures in prehistoric times. During the first millennium before the modern era, its population were largely Celts. The Kingdom of Noricum was the first state known on Austrian territory. It became a Roman province in 16 BC. The Danube formed the northern border of Roman territory, which was divided among the provinces (from east to west) of Pannonia, Noricum and Raetia.

Early middle ages

After the upheavals of the Vlkerwanderung, Slavs 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 Karantania, 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.

Karantania, 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 ascertain 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

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Document in which "ostarrichi" was first mentioned 996

Main article:Babenberg

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.

The Marches were overseen by a comes or dux as appointed by the king. 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 German-speaking countries, the title was eventually regularized to Margrave (German: Markgraf). (i.e. "Count of the Mark").

The first record showing the name Austria is 996 where it is written as Ostarrchi, 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 characterized 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 death 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 of Bohemia effectively controlled the duchies of Austria, Styria and Carinthia. His reign came to an end with his defeat at Drnkrut at the hand of Rudolf of Habsburg in 1278.

The Habsburg Monarchy (13th century–1918)

Also see: Habsburg Monarchy

Beginnings (1278-1526)

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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, Ottokar 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 and Austria's Rise to Power (1526-1714)

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Battle of Vienna 1683

In 1526, following the Battle of Mohcs, 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 began to make its influence felt, and the Jesuit-educated Archduke Ferdinand, who ruled over Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, was energetic in suppressing heresy in the provinces which he ruled. When, in 1619, he was elected Emperor to succeed his cousin Mathias, Ferdinand II, as he became known, embarked on an energetic attempt to re-Catholicize not only the Hereditary Provinces, but Bohemia and Habsburg Hungary as well. Although carried out in the midst of the Thirty Years War, which had greatly negative consequences for Habsburg control of the Empire itself, these campaigns within the Habsburg hereditary lands were largely successful, leaving the Emperors with much greater control within their hereditary power base, although Hungary was never successfully re-Catholicized.

The long reign of Leopold I (1657-1705) saw the culmination of the Austrian conflict with the Turks. Following the successful defense of Vienna in 1683, 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. (The latter was traded for Sicily in 1720).

Charles VI and Maria Theresa (1711-1780)

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Maria Theresia as a young woman 1727

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.

And, 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 favor 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 Russia, France, and Austria all combining against him, 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 Inn District from Bavaria.

The Reigns of Joseph II and Leopold II (1780-1792)

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Joseph II (right) with his brother and successor Leopold II (left)

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 eighteenth century enlightened despot. Joseph attempted to bring under control the 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 Era of the French Revolution and Napoleon (1792-1814)

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Victorious Archduke Charles of Austria during the Battle of Aspern-Essling (May 21-22, 1809)

The war with France, which lasted until 1797, proved unsuccessful for Austria. After some brief successes against the utterly disorganized 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 radicalization 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 disorganized 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 recognized 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 reorganization of Germany emerged, 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 Zrich (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 Lunville in early 1801. The terms were surprisingly mild - the terms of Campo Formio were largely reinstated, but now the way was clear for a reorganization of the Empire on French lines. By the Imperial Deputation Report of 1803, the Holy Roman Empire was entirely reorganized, with nearly all of the ecclesiastical territories and free cities, traditionally the parts of the Empire most friendly to the House of Austria, eliminated.

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Map of Europe in 1811 after several french victories

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 Wrttemberg, 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 honored 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 Schnbrunn 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.

The Nineteenth Century (1815-1918)

Main articles: Austrian Empire, Austria-Hungary, Congress of Vienna

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 Vormrz 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 his 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 freeing of peasants in Austria. This facilitated industrialization, as many flocked to the newly industrializing cities of the Austrian domain. (Industrial centers were Bohemia, Lower Austria with Vienna, and Upper Styria). Social upheaval led to increased strife in ethnically mixed cities, leading to mass nationalist movements.

In 1859, the defeats at Solfrino 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.

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Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia, 1915

The defeat at Kniggrtz 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 also internal reforms. To appease Hungarian nationalism, Franz Joseph made a deal with Hungarian nobles, which led to the creation of Austria-Hungary in the compromise, or Ausgleich, in 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 also 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 were 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 Grnderzeit, Austria became an industrialized country, even though the Alpine regions remained characterized by agriculture.

In 1878, Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina, 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 1907 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.

The First Republic (1918–1934)

Following the defeat of Austria-Hungary in World War I, in the Aftermath of 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.

Immediately after the war, the newly-formed Austrian parliament asked for a union with Germany. It was often feared that small Austria was not economically viable. In the end France and Italy prevented the merger, but constructed an independent Austria. The Treaty of Saint Germain included a provision that prohibited political or economic union 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 penalize 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 new territory as part of border adjustments -- a small land tract to the east that belonged to Hungary.

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High inflation led to a change of currency from the old Krone to the new Schilling in 1925

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 christianed 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, most of all South Tyrol 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 labor 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 characterized 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 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 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 Dollfu of the Christian Social Party became Chancellor in 1932.

Austrofascism (1934–1938)

Main article: Austrofascism

Under the Christian Socialist Party, the Austrian government was moving towards centralization 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 forcefully 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 sympathizers 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.

Part of Nazi Germany (1938–1945)

Main article: Anschluss, Nazi Germany

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On March 12th 1938 German troops march into 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 no resistence, 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 aproved of the annexation with a majority of 99.73%.

As a result, Austria ceased to exist as an independent country during World War II. Technically, this annexation was forced by military invasion, but large parts of the Austrian population were in favour of the Nazi regime. Many Austrians participated in its crimes. The large Jewish population (about 200.000 Jews were living in Vienna at that time), which had had considerable significance for science and culture at that time, was killed or forced into exile, as were many socialist and catholic Austrian politicians. There were some Austrian resistance groups, but none of them were very successful.

At the end of World War II, Austria was liberated from Nazi rule by Allied Forces. On March 30, 1945 Red Army forces entered the country, and on April 13 captured Vienna. US and British forces freed the western and southern parts of the country.

The Second Republic (since 1945)

Allied occupation

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Occupation zones in Austria

In the same year, Austrian independence was restored, but under an Allied Commission, established by agreement of July 4, 1945. The country was then under official Allied occupation from May 9, 1945 to July 27, 1955, when the Austrian State Treaty was signed. Like Germany, Austria was divided in four zones, each of which was controlled by one of the four allied powers, with Vienna being also divided into four zones. Austria participated in the Western European "economic miracle", with the benefit of the Marshall Plan.

In April 1945, the Soviet government allowed the establishment of government including socialists, conservatives and communists, but led by the socialist elder statesman Karl Renner. This government was recognized by the by the western allies later that year. Even though under occupation, the Austrian government was officially permitted to conduct foreign relations with the approval of the four occupying governments under the agreement of June 28, 1946. As part of this trend, Austria was one of the founding members of the Danube Commission since August 18, 1948.

Other than in the First Republic, which had been characterized 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 (VP) and the Social Democratic Party (SP) remained in a coalition led by the VP until 1966. The communists (KP), 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 (FP), 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).

Independence and political development during the Second Republic

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Austrian State Treaty is shown to the public in 1955

The two major parties strove towards ending allied occupation and restoring a fully independent Austria. The Austrian Independence 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 characterized by the system of Proporz, meaning that posts of some political importance were split evenly between members of the SP and VP. 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 VP-SP coalition ended in 1966, when the VP gained a majority in parliament. However, it lost it in 1970, when SP leader Bruno Kreisky formed a minority government tolerated by the FP. 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 criticized, as the accumulation of a large national debt began, and non-profitable nationalized industries were strongly subsidized.

Following severe losses in the 1983 elections, the SP entered into a coalition with the FP under the leadership of Fred Sinowatz. In Spring 1986, Kurt Waldheim was elected president and 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, Jrg Haider became leader of the FP. Chancellor Vraniztky rescinded the coalition pact between FP and SP, and after new elections, entered into a coalition with the VP, which was then lead by Alois Mock. Jrg Haider's populism and criticism of the Proporz system allowed him to gradually expand his party's support in elections, rising from mere 4% in 1983 to 27% in 1999. The Green Party managed to establish itself in parliament from 1986 onwards.

The 90s and the recent past

The SP-VP coalition persisted until 1999. Austria joined the European Union in 1995 (Video of the signing in 1994 (, and Austria was set on the track towards joining the Eurozone, which it did in 2002.

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

In 1999, the VP fell back to third place behind the FP in the elections. Even though VP chairman and Vice Chancellor Wolfgang Schssel had announced that his party would go into opposition in that case, he entered into a coalition with the FP – with himself as chancellor – in early 2000 under considerable national and international protest. Jrg Haider resigned as FP chairman, but retained his post as governor of Carinthia and kept pulling the strings in his party behind the scenes.

In 2002, disputes within the FP resulting from losses in state elections caused the resignation of several FP government members and a collapse of the government. Wolfgang Schssel's VP emerged as the winner of the subsequent election, ending up in first place for the first time since 1966. The FP lost more than half of its voters, but reentered the coalition with Schssel. Since then, the FP has been losing dramatically in almost all local and state elections. Disputes between "traditional" nationalist and more pragmatic members of the party resulted in a split-off of a new party including the latter group, which is called Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZ) and again led by Jrg Haider. Since all FP government members and most FP members of parliament decided to join the new party, the Schssel coalition remains in office.

See also


de:Geschichte sterreichs et:Austria ajalugu eo:Historio de Aŭstrio hr:Povijest Austrije it:Storia dell'Austria nl:Geschiedenis van Oostenrijk ja:オーストリアの歴史


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