A brief “history” of … Austria

A brief “history” of … Austria


First thing, the present:

Today Austria’s official language is german, 8.5 million inhabitants (which is just a little more than Switzerland), more than 29 winners of the nobel prize (same as Germany), no mountains over 4000m, the highest one is the Großglockner with 3798m. It is the heaviest country in Europe per square kilometer and weighs 112 billion tons! The biggest lake is Neusiedler See, which in part belongs to Hungary. The richest Austrian is the owner of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz. Austria is the leading country in the fight for GMO-free products in the EU, unfortunately in contrary feeding gen-manipulated stuff to animals is legal.
33% of electricity come from renewable sources and they have the oldest still published daily paper in the World, the Wiener Zeitung since 1703.
Concerning freedom of the press (Reporters without boarders) 2015 it has been No. 11 in the world.
In the List for Human Development Index (an indicator for prosperity) it is only No.23 but had rising tendencies since the 1980s.
In the Corruption Index 2015 it is No.16 in the world (first is Denmark, last are Somalia and North Korea) and on the list of gross domestic product per capita (simplified, money per person) it is around No.15.

So far some facts.

But now, the past…

Long long ago the lands of what we know as Austria today were inhabited by the Celts.
Since than the boarders of this country have been changed a lot of times.
That’s what the story’s all about.

We will start with the Romans, that’s easy…they conquered the region around 800BC called it Noricum and built many towns, amongst others Vindobona (Vienna).Well… In the 10th century the Dutch of Bavaria included this part of Central Europe (today Lower Austria) and named it Ostarrîchi.
Like time went by different tribes like the Germans and the Avars overran the country, than Charlemagne, King of the Franks and first west-european Emperor since the antiquity got hand on it (the mighty ruler surely wouldn’t have called his troops tribe, sorry!)
But as sovereigns come and go there came another one, Friedrich Barbarossa the man with the red beard who used the lands of Austria to settle long lasting conflicts. He and his Staufer-Clan reigned Austria till finally the Emperors to come appeared on the scene. The Habsburg-Clan in person of Rudolph I. of Germany who started a dynasty that would last through 7 centuries. Austria hence became a part of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations and Habsburg soon it’s leading power. Habsburg was quite a prepossessing bunch and through diplomacy and marriage (or call it trick and forced marriage) succeeded in including Spain, the Netherlands and parts of Italy in their dominion. You know somehow you have to get all your legitimate and illegitimate children, nieces and nephews married and if the dowry is a new little country, that’s just even better! But, thus they managed to be powerful over a long time without being involved in wars! An early form of „Make love, not war!“ Those marriages even rose to a much quoted line of latin poetry: „Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube!“  what means „Let others make war, you, fortunate Austria, marry!“
For half a century the Habsburg brothers Charles and Ferdinand were the dominant figures of southern and central Europe. 1521 Charles gave the Austrian countries as part of the huge empire to his brother Ferdinand I. who later additionally inherited Bohemia and Hungary (that’s what happens when you use inbreeding as a means of policy over centuries). This sounded like a great deal  for Ferdinand but now the mighty Ottoman Empire, the Turks in person of Suleiman the Magnificent, was his direct neighbor and Suleiman wanted the Austrian territory.
This time no Austrian princes was to be found to marry Suleiman….sad story that leads to the 1st siege of Vienna in 1529. But the Viennese fought a brave fight and in the end the Turks had to draw back defeated. A milestone that marked the end of Suleiman’s expansion policy and the beginning of the slow decline of the Ottoman Empire. But first their threat was to continue for another 200 years.

But back to Austria.

The attempt by the Holy Roman Empire to renew catholic power in the evermore upcoming protestant movement led to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Did you read the story about Switzerland? Than you know what was wise….
But as fighting on one front wasn’t enough, the rivalry between Habsburg and the French about the predominance in Europe was another reason for this devastating war, which left Austria as all the other participating countries in a bad state.
At the end of the 17th century the Turks were defeated a second time. After that they didn’t try to subjugate Austria again. After the Spanish line of Habsburg died out (once again I suppose inbreeding was the reason) this power vacuum 1700 led to another war with France, with the result that Austria received the Spanish Netherlands (today the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg), Naples and Lombardy. This acquisitions together with the conquest of the Balkans created Austria’s greatest territorial extent to date.
1740 the first woman, Maria Theresia was the legitimate heir in the line of succession, but as her right was endangered she ascended the throne indirectly and elbowed through the coronation of her husband. But in fact she did the government business and although she was perceived as weak she saw through extensive reforms in the fields of finance, education, civil rights and so on.

Now a little childishness…The legendary Napoleon Bonapart, suffering from megalomania, 1804 declared himself Emperor of France and peeked with one eye (or maybe two) on becoming Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations (what a big wig bla-bla word!!!) ….Franz II. got jealous and wanted his own Emperor’s Crown and consequently proclaimed himself Emperor of Austria. Like this he became Emperor of both Austria and the Holy BlaBlaBa till 1806 he resigned from the BlaBla-Crown (too much work?) what marked the end of the high-handed association. The name was far too long anyway!
The French revolution and the Napoleonic Wars from 1792 on, ended with the decisive Battle of Waterloo (oh yes, thanx Wikipedia, now I can finally put this event under a heading!) and the defeat of Napoleon, culminating in the famous Congress of Vienna 1815 which installed a new order for Europe and decided for Austria to become part of the German Confederation.  After years of increasing nationalist movement among the inhabitants of the multi-cultural Habsburg Empire, Austria als constant troublemaker 1866 was compelled from the Confederation after the Austro-Prussian wars and lost his territory in Italy.
In the meantime 1848 the than only 18 year old Franz Josef I. became No.1 and the famous Empress Elisabeth, better known as Sissi arises. I guess at least for those of us living in german speaking countries, this part of Austrian history seems tangible because of the wonderful kitschy Sissi-Films! The Hungarians (as part of the Austrian Empire) for years wanted to become independent and under Count Andrassy increased their pressure and finally through the mechanism of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 (Ausgleich) achieved their aims of autonomy, not least of all because of Sissis mediation. This marks the beginning of the k. und k. monarchy, the fist k. stands for „kaiserlich“ = imperial (Emperor of Austria), the second for „königlich“ = royal (Kingdom of Hungary). The following years saw a growing parliamentarism and an increasing weakening of monarchy, what besides other things got the sweet Sissi-Dresses out of fashion. Around 1900, Vienna was one of the biggest cities in the World.
In June 1914 the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand, presumptive heir of the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo by a member of the Black Hand (a secret Serbian military society, formed with the aim of uniting all the territories with a South Slavic majority not ruled by either Serbia or Montenegro) started World War I. In November 1916 the Emperor died, leaving his huge footprints to his relatively inexperienced great-nephew Charles. The defeat of the Central Powers  (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) by the Entente (France, Russia, Great Britain) and their allies in 1918 resulted in the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, and the last Austrian Emperor went into exile and already died 1922. WW I was a disaster for the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which split into many tiny countries. The Habsburg reign ended in 1919 after almost 7 centuries, when Austria turned into a Republic, suffering badly from inflation, unemployment and the loss of a national identity. Tensions between Social Democrats and Conservatives accumulated into open fights. In 1934, a Conservative government took the legislative powers from the parliament, thereby paving the way for Austria to become a fascist country.
And there comes Mr. Hitler, borne in Austria, in „Mein Kampf“ he expressed his dream to re-unite the German-speaking peoples of Europe in a recreation of the great Reich which once held them together. We all know that history is bursting with big guns!! But in his early years Austria still resisted the growing fascist tendencies. Anyway only until on March 12th 1938, German troops entered Austria and were welcomed by cheering and celebrating crowds. This date marks the Anschluss of Austria with Nazi-Germany and subsequently caused 300000 Austrian victims. After WW II in 1955, Austria declared its neutrality and re-gained full sovereignty. The neutral status allowed the country to establish itself as a bridge between East and West during the Cold War.
The country joined the EU in 1995 and introduced the Euro in 2002.
In the last 30 years 5 parties have been dominating the country, SPÖ/ÖVP/FPÖ/Die Grünen/BZÖ. They have a federal parliamentary republic and after a neck-and-neck-race between Norbert Hofer (FPÖ) and Alexander Van der Bellen (Die Grünen) in May 2015, which the latter won with a narrow majority, they have their first green government and hopefully find a way to fight lasting right-wing tendencies.

In the end Austria is a very likable and relaxed country with the loveliest dialects, yummy food, beautiful nature and I will always love to come back during all seasons!