Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Der Kaiser ist tot.

The above photo was taken nearly a century ago. The octogenarian Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, sits with his great-great-nephew Otto. Franz Joseph had ascended the throne at the age of eighteen in December 1848, when his uncle Emperor Ferdinand I abdicated in hopes of quieting the popular unrest that had reached Vienna in Europe's "Year of Revolution." Personal tragedy and the specter of revolution were two constants of Franz Joseph's long reign: his only son committed suicide in 1889, his wife was killed by an Italian anarchist in 1898, and the murder of his nephew and presumptive heir in Sarajevo in June 1914 led directly to the start of the First World War. In spite of all this, as Franz Joseph sat for this portrait he may perhaps have nourished the hope that the young Otto would someday lead his country in more peaceful times.

The young boy in this picture, Archduke Otto von Habsburg, died yesterday at the age of 98 after a truly remarkable life. Having been Crown Prince during the brief reign of his father, Emperor Karl I, Otto was forced into exile with his family and formally banished from his homeland at the age of six. As the prospects of a restored Habsburg monarchy grew dimmer and dimmer, Otto made a happy and successful new life for himself as a journalist and public lecturer and ultimately (and perhaps most remarkably) as a democratic politician, represting Bavaria in the European Parliament for twenty years. Otto von Habsburg became one of Europe's great statesmen, a vigorous advocate for European economic and political integration and an articulate champion of the continent's Christian heritage.

Numerous tributes to Otto von Habsburg have been published in the international press over the past two days; one that particularly caught my attention is this editorial from the Salzburger Nachrichten, entitled "Otto Habsburg - Der Kaiser ist tot" (Otto Habsburg - The Kaiser is dead). Here are some excerpts, in my own loose and admittedly imperfect translation:
Only now is the Empire really history. The Republic has made its peace with the Habsburgs.

There is a picture of Otto Habsburg from the year 1914. The two-year-old sits in a white dress on the lap of his great-great uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph, with his father, who later became Emperor Karl, standing in the background. With his lifetime of almost 100 years, Otto von Habsburg was the last direct connection to the Danube Monarchy. With him, the Emperor is truly dead for the first time.

His long life was closely connected with the history of Austria. He was involved in the country's futile struggle against Hitler in 1938. He helped Austria stand anew in 1945. He was there with his Pan-European Movement as Europe came together. He helped bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and helped move Austria back into the center of Europe. And he was there when Austria, and subsequently its neighboring countries, joined the European Union. A few days before his death, another of his great dreams come true as Croatia's accession to the EU was sealed.

. . .

All attempts to make the name of Habsburg forgotten failed, because they had to fail. Just as the history of Europe is unthinkable without Christianity, the existence of Austria is simply unthinkable without the Habsburgs. Yet it was only this year - after more than 90 years - that the Republic made its peace with the former ruling family and lifted its ban on their candidacy in presidential elections.

As I said before [in the title of the editorial], it seems that it is only now that the Emperor is really dead.
Eternal memory! AMDG.


At 7/11/2011 8:31 PM, Blogger Carl Krauthauser said...

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Why is the Emperor dead? +Otto's son, Karl (Emperor Karl II) is +Otto's successor, though the official Austrian Republican government has not proclaimed him so, nor recognized him as Crown Prince, so I guess technically, he is a pretender to the throne. Anyway, as Otto pointed out, the Austrian people have never been given a say as to whether or not they would want the monarchy restored in some fashion. So I hold out the hope that the Hapsburg monarch will one day ascend the throne. Let us pray!

At 7/12/2011 10:15 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Slava na viki!

I took the title "Der Kaiser ist tot" from the Salzburger Nachrichten op-ed. +Otto made a good point when he said that the Austrian people have never had the chance to really weigh in on the restoration of the monarchy (of course, the fact that he suggested they had a right to weigh in on this shows what a democrat he really was!). At the same time, no one really expects this to happen - most of the media coverage I've seen here regarding +Otto's death emphasizes that he was "der letzte Thronfolger" - any claims his descendants might wish to make seem to carry substantially less weight because he actually lived during the Kaiserzeit and they did not.

Another interesting question is whether the Habsburgs will have any kind of political influence in the future. Karl Habsburg followed his father into the European Parliament, but his political career was cut short by financial scandal and he seems unlikely to seek office again in the future. Another member of the family, Ulrich, is a politician in Austria (representing the Green Party, interestingly enough) and made an unsuccessful bid for president last time around (he didn't get enough signatures to run). Whether there will be more like them remains to be seen.

At 7/14/2011 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Otto von Habsburg renounced his right to the Austrian throne in the 1960s, I imagine as part of some deal with the Austrian or Western European classe politique that allowed him to become a MEP.


At 7/14/2011 4:34 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Yes, he renounced his claim to the throne in 1961 - not in order to become a MEP but simply so that he could obtain an Austrian passport and freely enter the country of his birth, two things he was then expressly prohibited from doing by Austrian law unless he renounced his claim to the throne. Even so, there was so much controversy about his possible return to Austria that he wasn't able to visit until 1966.

However one wants to analyze the motives that Otto Habsburg may have had for renouncing his royal claims, I believe that in his later career he showed a sincere and selfless commitment to the common good and to the causes of democracy of European unity. I hope that he will be remembered for that and not merely for being der letzte Thronfolger.

At 7/15/2011 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected.

I wished I hadn't implied the existence of an explicit and negotiated quid pro quo. For what it's worth, the German-language Wikipedia has it that he renounced his claims in order to be able to enter Austria als Europapolitiker, i.e. as a politician concerned with European politics.

I'd be the last person to attribute egotistical motives to Otto and his father. Whether it is true or not, I've been told that his father, blessed Karl, was at one point sounded out by the victors of World War 1, whether he'd be willing to commit to carry their water in exchange for their help effecting his restoration. His response, so the perhaps apocryphal tale, was that as a King and Emperor he had taken an oath to work exclusively for the benefit of his subjects, and that this commitment could not be diluted. If the anecdote is true, I cannot say, but that people believe it surely is a tribute to the family's integrity.


At 7/15/2011 5:33 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Even if egotistical motives are excluded, the 1961 declaration can certainly be interpreted in various ways - as a pragmatic means of eliminating a roadblock to traveling to Austria, as a way of asserting a position as a Europapolitiker concerned with broader issues, as a concession to the reality that the monarchy was unlikely to be restored, etc., etc.

In any case, Otto von Habsburg seems to have done a great deal of good in the years after the declaration that may not have been possible otherwise. In a political context, he may well have realized that he could make a more effective difference on the issues he cared about if he gave up his dynastic ambitions.


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