unbekannter Gast

Erste Republik#

First Republic: The history of the First Republic started on November 12, 1918, the day the Republic "Deutschoesterreich" was proclaimed by the Provisional National Assembly, which was formed by all German speaking members of the Reichsrat (elected in 1911) on October 21, 1918. On October 31, H. Lammasch, the last Austrian Prime Minister, handed over the administration of the state to the State Council, which comprised the 3 presidents and 20 members (from all political parties) of the Provisional National Assembly. On November 11, 1918 Emperor Karl waived his right to exercise political authority. The Social Democrat, K. Renner as the State Chancellor formed a concentration government including all political parties.

The Constituent National Assembly elected on February 16, 1919 passed the first parliamentary federal constitution, which came into force on October 1, 1920. Red, white and red, formerly the colours of the House of Babenberg, now became the national colours ( Coat of Arms).

In 1919 the Paris peace commission forbade the union of the new republic with the German Reich ( Anschluss). On March 24, 1919 the former Emperor Karl and his family had to leave Austria, since he refused to formally renounce his right to the throne. On April 3, 1919 the National Assembly passed a law by which the members of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine ( Habsburg Law) were expelled and their possessions in Austria expropriated and by which titles of nobility were also abolished.

On September 10, 1919 the National Assembly had to accept the provisions of the peace treaty of Saint-Germain, which was signed by State Chancellor Renner on October 25, 1919. This treaty imposed all the war debts of the old Empire on the new republic. Furthermore, Austria was to stop calling itself "Deutschoesterreich" (German-Austria) and Burgenland was ceded to Austria; in southern Carinthia a plebiscite was held in 1920 and the vote was in favour of Austria ( Carinthian Resistance Movement, Carinthian Plebiscite), while South Tyrol, with 230,000 Austrian inhabitants, had to be ceded to Italy without plebiscite. Austria retained approximately 12 % of the lands of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. The young state was faced with enormous economic problems. In addition to the problems caused by the conditions of the immediate post-war period, such as hunger, coal shortage, inflation and unemployment, domestic affairs were fraught with tension between the political parties: on June 10, 1920 the Christian Socialist Party terminated the coalition with the Social Democrats, which had existed since October 1918. On October 22, 1922 the Social Democrats left the government and went into opposition; they remained in opposition until 1934, when their party was dissolved.

On December 16, 1920 Austria was admitted to the League of Nations. On October 4, 1922 Federal Chancellor I. Seipel secured a 20-year League of Nations Loan amounting 650 million Austrian gold crowns, while Austria was placed under international financial supervision (lifted in 1926). In 1924 the new currency, the Austrian Schilling, was introduced, which ushered in a period of gradual economic recovery.

The first large hydro-electric power plants (Partenen in Vorarlberg, Partenstein in Upper Austria, Teigitsch power plants in Styria) were constructed, some routes of the federal railways were electrified, the road network was extended and renovated (Gaisberg road 1929, the Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse and Wiener Hoehenstrasse 1935, Packstrasse 1936), publicly financed dwellings were built in Vienna, the process of industrialisation was promoted, the production of agricultural goods increased considerably (by 1937 agriculture already met 81 % of the food demand and was increasingly mechanised). Tourism gained great importance as a source of foreign exchange. In 1921 the Vienna Fairs were founded. The export of finished goods (wood, wood products, iron, steel, paper, textiles, dairy products) boosted the foreign trade balance. In 1925 the budget had a financial surplus of ATS 76.5 million, and in 1927 the currency was covered at a rate of 70 % by the gold reserves and exchange holdings.

However, the Austrian economy was still faced with heavy burdens; since the necessary capital could not be raised at home, it had to be obtained abroad and Austria thus exposed itself to political influences from abroad. 100,000 of the approximately 250,000 civil servants had to be dismissed or retired prematurely. In 1919 the railways had lost approximately 75 % of their network, what was left were mainly the expensive mountain routes; huge sums of foreign currency had to be spent for the purchase of mineral coal.

Achievements in the field of social legislation were remarkable, making Austria a pioneer among the countries of Europe in terms of social achievements, which included the introduction of: the eight-hour day, the works council, unemployment insurance and old-age pension schemes; at the same time, legal protection of tenants was maintained. The Social Democrat F. Hanusch and the Christian Socialist J. Resch were successful in introducing progressive legislation on holidays for white-collar and blue-collar workers, the employment of servants and disabled persons and collective bargaining. Social welfare and health care were re-organised, dental care centres for school children, mother and child health clinics and social welfare centres were established, new sports facilities, baths and modern kindergartens were opened.

In the field of art and academic activities the young republic maintained its prominent position with its old metropolis Vienna. The Vienna Burgtheater, opera, operetta and the Salzburg Festival, founded by M. Reinhardt, H. von Hofmannsthal and R. Strauss, made Austria popular all over the world, literary works by such Austrian writers as A. Wildgans, H. von Hofmannsthal, F. Werfel, S. Zweig, R. Musil, F. Kafka, H. Broch and J. Roth have become part of world literature. Some of the most important scientists from Austria were the Nobel prize winners K. Landsteiner, E. Schroedinger and J. Wagner-Jauregg. O. Gloeckel and his pioneering school reforms in Vienna followed modern re-organisation of the educational system; the introduction of adult evening schools and public libraries served large groups of the population, and vocational schools of agriculture gained considerable importance.

While the First Republic achieved stability in the fields of economic affairs and culture, political hostility between the conservative and socialist elements increased. The two major political parties formed armed paramilitary forces, veterans´ organisations emerged from 1920, the Heimwehr groups (defence forces) 1921-1923, the Republican Schutzbund (defence league) in 1923. The Linz Programme, the development of Austro-Marxism, the strengthening of the Heimwehr (para-military force) and Austro-Faschism characterised the situation. The acquittal of the defendants in Schattendorf Trial in 1927 led to the Vienna July Revolt, in the course of which the Ministry of Justice building was set on fire.

These events weakened the Social Democrats and strengthened the Heimwehr, so that their anti-parliamentarian demands were realised in 1929 in the form of a series of constitutional amendments which gave increased powers to the federal president at the expense of the Nationalrat. The president was to be elected by direct popular vote, his functions were no longer merely representative in nature and he was given the power to appoint the members of the federal government, to dissolve parliament and to order new elections.

The world economic crisis of 1929 brought about new economic problems for Austria. Factories had to shut down, the number of unemployed receiving benefits increased from 264,148 in February 1929 to 401,321 in February 1933, there were approximately another 100,000 unemployed persons without claim to (insurance) benefits. In 1931, the bankruptcy of the Creditanstalt, then the most influential banking house in Austria, brought Austria close to economic disaster.

The only relief that Austria was granted was the decision of the conference of The Hague in 1930 to release Austria from the obligation to make reparation payments, from the claims of the successor states to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the lien on earnings from customs and tobacco monopoly ("Generalpfandrecht"). In 1932 Austria had to take another loan from the League of Nations, amounting ATS 300 million (Treaty of Lausanne). The attempt by J. Schober to launch a project for a customs union with Germany (1931) failed because of the opposition of France, Italy and Czechoslovakia.

On March 4, 1933 the president of the Nationalrat resigned and the two vice presidents followed his example, the reason being an argument over alleged irregularities in the voting procedure, and on March 7 Dollfuss declared that parliament had proved unworkable. This was the end of parliamentary democracy during the First Republic; E. Dollfuss prevented the Nationalrat from meeting again and introduced authoritarian rule by emergency decrees, invoking the War-time Enabling Act of 1917. In the same year the Republican Schutzbund (defence league), the communist party and the National Socialist party (both of which never had any parliamentary seats during the First Republic) as well as the Styrian Heimatschutz (local defence force) were declared illegal. In May 1933 the Fatherland Front was founded. Following the armed resistance of the Schutzbund in Linz against police and the Heimwehr, who were searching for weapons, on February 12, 1934 the Republican Schutzbund rose in arms and outright civil war followed ( Uprising, February).

On May 1, 1934 Dollfuss proclaimed the "Christian-German Federal State of Austria on a Corporate Basis", removed the term Republic from the official name of the state, and gave it a new constitution ( Maiverfassung); he made the Fatherland Front the "exclusive policy-making organ"; legislation was placed in the hands of the State Council, the Federal Council for Culture, the Federal Economic Council and the Provincial Council (Staatsrat, Bundeskulturrat, Bundeswirtschaftsrat, Laenderrat) ( Corporate State).

By this time the danger of National Socialism had become more and more imminent. On May 27, 1933 the government of the National Socialist German Reich passed the law of the "1,000-Mark-Ban", under which every German citizen who intended to travel to Austria had to deposit a forfeit of 1,000 Marks (in 1932, 40 % of foreign tourists in Austria were Germans). Within Austria, the NSDAP terrorised the state with acts of sabotage. On July 25, 1934 an attempted putsch by the National Socialists failed, but Federal Chancellor Dollfuss, whom they had taken prisoner, was murdered ( July Putsch). In 1934 Austria, Italy and Hungary signed the Protocols of Rome, which aimed at safeguarding Austria´s sovereignty. The protocol was preceded by an accord between Great Britain, Italy and France which guaranteed Austria´s independence. However, on July 11, 1936 a compromise with Germany was signed ( Juliabkommen) under whose provisions Austria committed itself to pursue its foreign policy as "the second German state".

On October 10, 1936 K. Schuschnigg, who had became chancellor on the death of Dollfuss in 1934, dissolved all defence forces after having passed a law on the introduction of universal compulsory military service on April 1, 1936. The policies of Hitler and fascist Italy under B. Mussolini ("Berlin- Rome Axis") made the Protocols of Rome ineffective. In a meeting between Hitler and Schuschnigg at Berchtesgaden on February 12, 1938, Hitler threatened to have German troops invade Austria immediately if Austria did not comply with his demands (e.g. general amnesty for the imprisoned National Socialists, inclusion of Nazi ministers in the Austrian government).

When Schuschnigg called a referendum to decide on Austria´s independence, Hitler reacted with a series of ultimatums to which Schuschnigg was forced to give way on the evening of March 11, 1938: He renounced resistance "to avoid bloodshed", resigned and handed over government business to the Austrian National Socialist A. Seyss-Inquart, who was named by the Germans. In the night of March 11 German troops entered Austria. On March 13, 1938 Hitler proclaimed the "re-union of Austria and the German Reich" ( Anschluss) in Linz. Austrian Federal President W. Miklas was forced to resign on March 13, 1938. Great Britain, France and Italy, which was on friendly terms with the corporate state, failed to live up to any of their guarantees and accepted this act of violence as a fait accompli. The League of Nations did not interfere, either. The only state that entered a formal protest was Mexico.


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