During the past 10 centuries, the term Austria has designated a variety of geographic and political concepts. In its narrowest sense Austria has included only the present-day provinces of Upper and Lower Austria, including Vienna; in its widest meaning the term has covered the far-flung domains of the imperial house of Hapsburg. Its present connotation—German-speaking Austria—dates only from 1918. This article deals mainly with the history of German-speaking Austria. For wider historical background, see Holy Roman Empire; Hapsburg; Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; Hungary; Bohemia; and Netherlands, Austrian and Spanish.The Rise of Austria
Austria is located at the crossroads of Europe; Vienna is at the gate of the Danubian plain, and the Brenner Pass in W Austria links Germany and Italy. From earliest times Austrian territory has been a thoroughfare, a battleground, and a border area. It was occupied by Celts and Suebi when the Romans conquered (15 B.C.–A.D. 10) and divided it among the provinces of Rhaetia, Noricum, and Upper Pannonia. After the 5th cent. A.D., Huns, Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Bavarians overran and devastated the provinces. By c.600, Slavs from the east had occupied all of modern Styria, Lower Austria, and Carinthia.
In 788, Charlemagne conquered the area and set up the first Austrian (i.e., Eastern) March in the present Upper and Lower Austria, to halt the inroads of the Avars. Colonization was encouraged, and Christianity (which had been introduced under the Romans) was again spread energetically. After Charlemagne's death (814) the march soon fell to the Moravians and later to the Magyars, from whom it was taken (955) by Emperor Otto I. Otto reconstituted the march and attached it to Bavaria, but, in 976, Otto II bestowed it as a separate fief on Leopold of Babenberg, founder of the first Austrian dynasty. Emperor Frederick I raised (1156) Austria to a duchy, and, in 1192, Styria also passed under Babenberg rule.
The 11th and 12th cent. saw the height of Austrian feudalism and also witnessed the marked development of towns as the Danube was converted to a great trade route. After the death (1246) of the last Babenberg, King Ottocar II of Bohemia acquired (1251–69) Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola. Fearing his power, the German princes elected (1273) Rudolf of Hapsburg German king. Rudolf I asserted (1282) his royal prerogative to reclaim the four duchies from Ottocar and incorporate them in his domains. After the murder (1308) of Rudolf's son, Albert I, the German princes balked at electing another member of the ambitious family.
Albert's ducal successors enlarged the Hapsburg holdings by acquiring Tyrol (1363) and Trieste (1382) and extended their influence over the ecclesiastic states of Salzburg, Trent, and Brixen (see Bressanone), which, however, remained independent until 1803. Marriage allowed Albert II to be elected German king in 1438. Beginning with Albert II, the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire were always chosen from the Hapsburg dynasty. Despite their vast imperial preoccupations, the emperors always considered German Austria the prized core of their dominions. During the long reign of Frederick III (1440–93), the protracted Hapsburg wars with France began. In 1526, Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary were united under one crown (see Ferdinand I, emperor). In the same year Vienna was besieged for two weeks by troops of the Ottoman Empire under Sulayman the Magnificent, who had made a forceful advance into Europe. The Turkish threat to Austria ebbed and then climaxed again in the second siege of Vienna in 1683.
The patterns of medievalism were weakening in Austria, especially as the money economy spread, and in the 16th cent. the commercial revolution diminished the importance of Austrian trade routes and of the ancient gold and silver mines of Tyrol and Carinthia. Economic and political instability in the 16th cent. precipitated the spread of the Protestant Reformation, which the Hapsburg rulers attempted to counter by nurturing the Counter Reformation. The alliance then formed between church and state continued throughout the history of the monarchy.
The Austrian peasantry, especially in Tyrol, had gained some advantages in the Peasants' War of 1524–26; in general, however, the rising, backed by some Protestants but not by Luther, was defeated. Suppression of Protestantism was at first impossible, and, under Maximilian II, Lutheran nobles were granted considerable toleration. Rudolph II and Matthias pursued policies of partial Catholicization, and, under Ferdinand II, anti-Protestant vigor helped to precipitate the Thirty Years War (1618–48). Protestant Bohemia and Moravia, defeated by the Austrians at the White Mt. (1620), became virtual Austrian provinces. Austria proper remained relatively unscathed in the long holocaust; after the Peace of Westphalia the Hapsburg lands emerged as a distinct empire, whereas the Holy Roman Empire drifted into a mere shadow existence.
The monarchy, although repressive of free speech and worship, was far from absolute; taxation and other powers rested with the provincial estates for a further century. Emperor Charles VI (1711–40), whose dynastic wars had drained the state, secured the succession to the Hapsburg lands for his daughter, Maria Theresa, by means of the pragmatic sanction. Maria Theresa's struggle with Frederick II of Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession (see Austrian Succession, War of the) and the Seven Years War opened a long struggle for dominance in the German lands.
Except for the loss of Silesia, Maria Theresa held her own. The provincial estates were reduced in power, and an efficient centralized bureaucracy was created; as the nobles were attracted to bureaucratic service their power as a class was weakened. Maria Theresa's husband, Francis I, became Holy Roman emperor in 1745, but his position was largely titular. The major event of Maria Theresa's later reign was the first partition of Poland (1772; see Poland, partitions of); in that transaction and in the third partition (1795) Austria renewed its eastward expansion.
Joseph II, who succeeded her, impetuously carried forward the reforms which his mother had cautiously begun. His attempts to further centralize and Germanize his scattered and disparate dominions met stubborn resistance; his project to consolidate his state by exchanging the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria was balked by Frederick II. An exemplar of "benevolent despotism" and a disciple of the Enlightenment, Joseph also decreed a series of revolutionary agrarian, fiscal, religious, and judicial reforms; however, opposition, especially from among the clergy and the landowners, forced his successor, Leopold II, to rescind many of them. In Joseph's reign the Austrian bourgeoisie began to emerge as a social and cultural force. Music and architecture (see Vienna) flourished in 18th-century Austria, and modern Austrian literature (see German literature) emerged early in the 19th cent.
In the reign of Francis II, Austria was drawn (1792) into war with revolutionary France (see French Revolutionary Wars) and with Napoleon I. The treaties of Campo Formio (1797) and Lunéville (1801) preluded the dissolution (1806) of the Holy Roman Empire, and in 1804, Francis II took the title "Francis I, emperor of Austria." His rout at Austerlitz (1805) led to the severe Treaty of Pressburg (see Pressburg, Treaty of).
An upsurge of patriotism resulted in the renewal of war with Napoleon in 1809; Austria's defeat at Wagram led to the even more humiliating Peace of Schönbrunn (see under Schönbrunn). Austria was forced to side with Napoleon in the Russian campaign of 1812, but in 1813 it again joined the coalition against Napoleon; an Austrian, Prince Karl Philipp von Schwarzenberg, headed the allied forces. The Congress of Vienna (1814–15; see Vienna, Congress of) did not restore to Austria its former possessions in the Netherlands and in Baden but awarded it Lombardy, Venetia, Istria, and Dalmatia.
As the leading power of both the German Confederation and the Holy Alliance, Austria under the ministry of Metternich dominated European politics. Conservatism and the repression of nationalistic strivings characterized the age. Nevertheless, the Metternich period was one of great cultural achievement, particularly in music and literature.
The revolutions of 1848 shook the Hapsburg empire but ultimately failed because of the conflicting economic goals of the middle and lower classes and because of the conflicting nationalist aspirations that set the revolutionary movements of Germans, Slavs, Hungarians, and Italians against each other. Revolts were at first successful throughout the empire (see Risorgimento; Galicia; Bohemia; Hungary); in Vienna the revolutionists drove out Metternich (Mar., 1848). Emperor Ferdinand granted (April) a liberal constitution, which a constituent assembly replaced (July) with a more democratic one. After a new outbreak Vienna was bombarded, and the revolutionists were punished by troops under General Windischgrätz. Prince Felix zu Schwarzenberg became premier and engineered the abdication of Ferdinand in favor of Francis Joseph.
Absolutism returned with the dissolution of the constituent assembly. Austrian leadership in Germany was reasserted at the Convention of Olmütz in 1850. Alexander Bach intensified (1852–59) Schwarzenberg's centralizing policy, thus heightening national tensions within the empire. But economic prosperity was promoted by the lowering of internal tariff barriers, and several reforms dating from 1848 were upheld, notably the complete abolition of feudal dues.
The military and political weakness of the empire was demonstrated by the Austrian loss of Lombardy in the Italian War of 1859. Attempts to solve the nationalities problem—the "October Diploma" (1860), which created a central legislature and gave increased powers to the provincial assemblies of nobles, and the "February Patent," which transferred many of these powers to the central legislature—failed. Prussia seized the opportunity to drive Austria out of Germany. After involving Austria in the war over Schleswig-Holstein in 1864, Bismarck found an easy pretext for attacking. Overwhelmingly defeated by Prussia at Sadová (or Sadowa; also know as the battle of Königgrätz) in 1866 (see Austro-Prussian War), Austria was forced to cede Venetia to Italy. With this debacle Austria's political role in Germany came to an end.
A reorganization of the government of the empire became inevitable, and in 1867 a compromise (Ger. Ausgleich ) with Hungarian moderate nationalists established a dual state, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. But the realm, a land of diverse peoples ruled by a German-Magyar minority, increasingly became an anachronism in a nationalistic age. Failure to provide a satisfactory status for the other nationalities, notably the Slavs, played a major role in bringing about World War I. Important developments in Austrian society during this period were the continued irresponsibility of the nobility and the backwardness of the peasantry, the growth of a socialist working class, widespread anti-Semitism stimulated by the large-scale movement to Austria of poor Jews from the eastern provinces, and extraordinary cultural creativity in Vienna.
The disastrous course of the war led to the breakup of the monarchy in 1918. Charles I renounced power; after a peaceful revolution staged by the Socialist and Pan-German parties, German Austria was proclaimed (Nov. 12) a republic and a part of Greater Germany.
The Treaty of Saint-Germain (1919) fixed the present Austrian borders and forbade (as did the Treaty of Versailles) any political or economic union (Ger. Anschluss ) with Germany. This left Austria a small country with some 7 million inhabitants, one third of whom lived in a single large city (Vienna) that had been geared to be the financial and industrial hub of a large state. The Dual Monarchy had been virtually self-sufficient economically; its breakup and the consequent erection of tariff walls deprived Austria of raw materials, food, and markets. In the postwar period, starvation and influenza exacted a heavy toll, especially in Vienna. These ills were followed by currency inflation, ended only in 1924 by means of League of Nations aid, following upon chronic unemployment, financial scandals and crises, and growing political unrest.
"Red" Vienna, under the moderate socialist government of Karl Seitz, became increasingly opposed by the "Black" (i.e., clericalist) rural faction, which won the elections of 1921. The cabinet of Social Democrat Karl Renner was succeeded by Christian Socialist and Pan-German coalitions under Schober, Seipel, and others. Unrest culminated, in 1927, in violent riots in Vienna; two rival private militias—the Heimwehr of the monarchist leader E. R. von Starhemberg and the Schutzbund of the socialists—posed a threat to the authority of the state. Economic crisis loomed again in the late 1920s. National Socialism, feeding in part on anti-Semitism, gained rapidly and soon absorbed the Pan-German party.
Engelbert Dollfuss, who became chancellor in 1932, though irreconcilably opposed to Anschluss and to National Socialism, tended increasingly toward corporative fascism and relied heavily on Italian support. His stern suppression of the socialists precipitated a serious revolt (1934), which was bloodily suppressed by the army. Soon afterward a totalitarian state was set up, and all independent political parties were outlawed. In July, 1934, the National Socialists assassinated Dollfuss but failed to seize the government.
Kurt von Schuschnigg succeeded Dollfuss. German pressure on Austria increased; Schuschnigg was forced to legalize the operations of the National Socialists and to appoint members of that party to cabinet posts. Schuschnigg planned a last-minute effort to avoid Anschluss by holding a plebiscite, but Hitler forced him to resign. In Mar., 1938, Austria was occupied by German troops and became part of the Reich. Arthur Seyss-Inquart became the Nazi governor.
In 1943, the Allies agreed to reestablish an independent Austria at the end of World War II. In 1945, Austria was conquered by Soviet and American troops, and a provisional government was set up under Karl Renner. The pre-Dollfuss constitution was restored with revisions; the country was divided into separate occupation zones, each controlled by an Allied power.
Economic recovery was hindered by the decline of trade between Western and Eastern Europe and by the division into zones. Austria was formally recognized by the Western powers in 1946, but because of Soviet disagreement with the West over reparations, the occupation continued. On May 15, 1955, a formal treaty between Great Britain, France, the United States, the USSR, and Austria restored full sovereignty to the country. The treaty prohibited the possession of major offensive weapons and required Austria to pay heavy reparations to the USSR. Austria proclaimed its perpetual neutrality. In 1955 it was admitted to the United Nations.
By the 1960s unprecedented prosperity had been attained. Austria had joined the European Free Trade Association in 1959, but association with the European Economic Community (Common Market) was held back by Soviet opposition. Politically, a nearly equal balance of power between the conservative People's party and the Socialist party resulted in successive coalition cabinets until 1966, when the People's party won a clear majority. They were ousted by the Socialists in the 1970 elections, and Bruno Kreisky became chancellor. A long-standing dispute with Italy over the German-speaking population of the Trentino–Alto Adige region of Italy was dealt with in a treaty ratified in 1971.
In 1983 the Socialist government fell, and the Socialists were forced to form a coalition with the far-right Freedom party. Austria captured world attention in 1986 when former UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim was elected president despite allegations that he had been involved in atrocities as a German army staff officer in the Balkans during World War II. Also in 1986 the Socialists (subsequently the Social Democrats) and the People's party again joined together in a "grand coalition," with Social Democrat Franz Vranitzky as chancellor; it retained control of the government through the 1990s.
Austria began a partial privatization of state-owned industries in the late 1980s and entered the European Union (EU) in 1995. Waldheim was succeeded as president in 1992 by Thomas Klestil, the candidate of the People's party; Klestil was reelected in 1998. In 1997, Chancellor Vranitzky resigned and was replaced by Social Democrat Viktor Klima.
In the Oct., 1999, elections, the People's party placed third, just barely behind the far-right Freedom party, whose leader, Jörg Haider, was criticized as demagogic and nativist. The electoral results complicated the formation of a stable new government, which was only achieved in Feb., 2000, when Wolfgang Schüssel of the People's party became chancellor of a People's party–Freedom party coalition. Austria was quickly ostracized by other EU nations because of the Freedom party's participation in the government, and Haider—who had not joined the government—subsequently resigned as party leader. The sanctions imposed by the EU came to be regarded as threatening by smaller EU countries, however, and on the recommendation of an EU fact-finding commission they were lifted in Sept., 2000. Feuding within the Freedom party led to the collapse of the government two years later.
Elections in Nov., 2002, were a major setback for the Freedom party, which was a distant third, while the People's party won a plurality. Despite the collapse of their coalition several months before, the People's party again formed (Feb., 2003) a government with the Freedom party, with Schüssel as chancellor. A little more than a year later, in Apr., 2004, Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat, was elected president; his victory, the first by a Social Democrat since 1986, was regarded as a sign of voter unhappiness with the government. A split in the Freedom party led party leader Haider to form (2005) the Alliance for Austria's Future and exclude extremist Freedom party members, and the Alliance replaced the Freedom party in the government.
In the Oct., 2006, parliamentary elections the Social Democrats won the largest number of seats, besting the People's party, but Social Democratic leader Alfred Gusenbauer needed to form a coalition in order to govern, and by the end of 2006 he had not succeeded in doing so. The Freedom party finished third in the voting, while Haider's Alliance finished fifth, after the Greens. In Jan., 2007, the Social Democratic and People's parties formed a coalition government with Gusenbauer as chancellor, but the government collapsed in July, 2008.
The Sept., 2008, elections saw the Social Democrats again win a plurality, but with slightly less than 30% of the vote; the two far-right parties combined nearly equaled that. Haider died in an automobile accident the following month. In December, the Social Democratic–People's party coalition was re-formed, with Social Democrat Werner Faymann as chancellor. Fischer was reelected president in Apr., 2010. The share of the vote won by the Social Democratic and People's parties further eroded, to 27% and 24% respectively, in the Sept., 2013, parliamentary elections; two months later, they again formed a coalition government, with Faymann as chancellor.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.