Political ambitions over Habsburg hype

September 26, 2011
A monarchy-endorsing movement has vowed to compete in the next general elections as the last heir to the Habsburg throne is laid to rest.

Otto Habsburg was buried at the Imperial Crypt (Kapuzinergruft) in Vienna on Saturday. Around 2,000 people – among them political leaders from all over Europe – attended a requiem which was held ahead of the ceremony at St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Now a faction not represented in any provincial parliament or town hall in Austria hopes to benefit from the nostalgia-driven hype about the Habsburg family which has been rekindled by the death of the oldest son of Karl I. (Charles of Austria).

The Schwarz-Gelbe Allianz (Black-Yellow Association, SGA) said it wanted to participate in the next general ballot. The election is scheduled to take place in 2013. The party already tried to enter the federal parliament three years ago. However, it was kept from participating in the vote since it failed to garner the 2,600 statements of support every political party has to present to election officials ahead of a federal ballot.

The SGA said it was certain many more Austrians would back its goals now than in 2008. The party told magazine profil it wanted to create a commonwealth of the five countries which once formed the powerful Austrian-Hungarian Habsburg regime. The faction explained it saw good chances to reach this target by 2018. It explained a member of the Habsburg family should head the confederation of states it had in mind. The SGA described its envisaged form of government as a "democratic monarchy."

Political scientists agree that movements towards a monarchy will stand no chance in the foreseeable future in Austria regardless of political developments in and outside the country. Otto Habsburg’s son Karl – who has refused to rule out a comeback in politics – represented the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in the European Parliament (EP) for three years until 1999. He founded the Christlich-Soziale Allianz (Christian-Social Alliance, CSA) after leaving the EP to enter the federal parliament in Vienna in the general vote of 1999 but failed. The party claimed only 1.5 per cent of the overall vote. Four per cent are needed to win a seat in parliament.

The Austrian public has been at odds over how to approach the Habsburg family considering its legacy. Some commentators criticised that last Saturday’s procedures in the city centre of Vienna resembled a state funeral. Left-wingers claimed Austria’s political elite agreed to help Otto Habsburg to an "imperial funeral."

Habsburg has been praised as a "great European" by many due to his role in the EP. The Reichenau an der Rax-born father-of-seven was a member of the EP (MEP) for the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) for 20 years until 1999.

Habsburg fled to the United States when Austria joined the Nazi’s Third Reich after a manipulated referendum in 1938. He attempted to create alliances against Adolf Hitler’s empire overseas after having tried to become chancellor of Austria. Habsburg controversially claimed only two years ago that no other European country was more righteous to call itself a victim of Nazi Germany – a view vehemently challenged by most historians considering Germany’s attack on Poland and the strong support for Hitler among many Austrians.

Nevertheless, Federal President Heinz Fischer stressed he was convinced Habsburg "became wiser" in the final years of his long life. Fischer also told profil last week he would represent the Republic of Austria at the requiem "because I think this is the right thing to do."

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Werner Faymann, ÖVP Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and several other cabinet members as well as provincial governors attended the service at St Stephen’s Cathedral. Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, EP President Jerzy Busek, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and former Austrian ÖVP Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel also attended the requiem for Habsburg who was always close to the ÖVP.

Around 10,000 people followed the occurrences from outside the cathedral which is visited by many tourists throughout the year. People from all over Austria came to Vienna to take part. An elderly woman from Vorarlberg told radio station Ö1 she decided to travel to Vienna because she considered Habsburg a "fascinating person." She explained: "I read a lot about him and once even met him." A resident of Vienna angrily pointed out he was angered that "our money, taxpayers’ money, is spent on this event. Police, security – all financed by all of us."

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper described the occasion as the "final chapter of a 700-year-long drama." Tagesanzeiger, a Swiss daily paper, claimed Austrians "aim to prove that monarchy is still in their blood" after having followed imperial weddings elsewhere on TV.

The funeral service was held by Viennese Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the highest representative of the Austrian Roman Catholic Church. Many followers of events broadcast live by Austrian TV channel ORF were infuriated by Habsburg referred to as "Otto of Austria." They pointed out on social networking and short messaging sites like Twitter that the monarchy was abolished decades ago. However, some members of the online community watching the event on TV called for more respect for Otto Habsburg who passed away in Pöcking in the German state of Bavaria on 4 July.

Habsburg’s heart was laid to rest at Pannonhalma Abbey in Hungary yesterday in consideration of an ancient tradition among imperial emperors. Habsburg said he wanted his heart to be buried in the country neighbouring Austria to emphasise his strong ties with its people.

Habsburg lived in many European countries after his family left Austria following the end of World War One (WWI). They resided in Madeira, Portugal, as well as in Spain and Belgium. He wanted to move to Austria again but was kept from doing so due to stringent restrictions commonly known as Austria’s Habsburg laws.

Habsburg – whose wife Regina died in February 2010 – entered Austrian soil only in 1966 as the controversy considering him and his family continued after World War Two (WWII). Some political leaders feared the Habsburg family would call for an abolition of bylaws which dispossessed them after WWI. They were also concerned of a possible grasp for power by Otto Habsburg or other members of his family. In retrospect, analysts and historians said the chances of a reintroduction of the monarchy in Austria were nonexistent at any time after 1945.

While some of his points of views have been put into question, Habsburg’s fight for a peaceful Europe is widely appreciated. He helped to organise the so-called Paneuropa picnic in the Austrian-Hungarian border region in 1989 during which dozens of citizens of Communist states in Eastern Europe (EE) crossed the iron curtain-protected border. The occasion is seen as a key aspect in the Western World’s bid to end dictatorial regimes in EE.

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