Austria At 90 – Though at times neither sovereign nor democratic…

29 11 2008

ov0102_w03_k_agPhoto: Historical Map of the Deutsch-Österreich territory of 1918. Photo Credit: Collection of Peter Wassertheurer

“Ninety years of the Republic of Austria..,” Johanna Rachinger, General Director of the Austrian National Library paused, and for a second the words hung in the air. “Now we all know that there are a number of inaccuracies that resonate with those words,” she admitted.

Yes. You could see a head nod here or there, particularly the grey ones. Because, for at least seven years, from 1938 to 1945, there had been neither a Republic nor a sovereign state of Austria. And with the elimination of the Parliament in March 1933 and the establishment of the Austro-Fascist state in May 1934, there was certainly no democracy.

These things are known, but not often spoken of in Austria even today. But sharing the podium at the Hofburg on Nov. 12 with President Heinz Fischer in front of Austria’s leading politicians, Rachinger didn’t want to cut any corners. Austria was celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Austrian Republic in 1918, and she wanted to get it right.

As Rachinger continued, Austria’s complex history in the early years of the 20th century became clearer – the intermittent abolition of an autonomous, democratic Austrian state and the entanglement in national-socialist injustice “mark a deep caesura between the First and Second Republic and define our national identity even today,” she said. Read the rest of this entry »

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End of an Era – The passing of two politicians who shaped late 20th century Austria

15 11 2008
Helmut Zilk and Thomas Klestil

Helmut Zilk and Thomas Klestil

Photo: Helmut Zilk (left) and Austrian President Thomas Klestil. Photo Credit: Österr. Bundesheer

Far right leader Jörg Haider’s sudden and tragic death in the early hours of his mother’s 90th birthday celebration, mirrored his political life. The Carinthian regional governor was a whirlwind, a controversial and charismatic populist, who successfully dominated Austrian domestic and international politics for over two decades.

Less than two weeks later, Austria mourned yet another political firecracker: Helmut Zilk, former Social Democratic Mayor of Vienna (1984 – 1994) died peacefully in his sleep Oct. 24th. at the age of 82. Zilk, although nominally retired, was still was actively involved in Austrian politics until a few years ago, and certainly willingly offered criticism on almost anything to do with the SPÖ.

His reach beyond party politics brought him respect from political opponents. Among those was Erhard Busek, Zilk’s political adversary, who called him a “Streithansl (squabbler) but also a man with a sense for reconciliation.” Read the rest of this entry »