First Austrian Republic
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|Republic of Austria
|Client state of Italy (from 1932)|
Deutschösterreich, du herrliches Land
"German Austria, you wonderful country"
|-||1919–1920 (first)||Karl Renner|
|-||1932–1934 (last)||Engelbert Dollfuss|
|Historical era||Interwar period|
|-||Treaty of Saint Germain||21 October 1919|
|-||July Revolt||15 July 1927|
|-||Austrian Civil War||12 February 1934|
|-||May Constitution||1 May 1934|
|-||Anschluss||12 March 1938|
|Currency||Austrian krone (1919–1924)
Austrian schilling (1924–1938)
The First Republic of Austria (German: Republik Österreich) existed between the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye of September 1919—the settlement after the end of World War I which ended the Republic of German-Austria—and ended to with the establishment of a the Federal State of Austria based upon a dictatorship of Engelbert Dollfuss and the Fatherland's Front. The period was marked by violent strife between those with left-wing and right-wing views, leading to the July Revolt of 1927 and the Austrian Civil War.
The Republic's constitution was enacted in 1920 and amended in 1929.
In 1919, the state of German Austria was dissolved by the Treaty of Saint Germain, which ceded German-populated regions in Sudetenland to Czechoslovakia, German-populated Tyrol to Italy and a portion of southern land to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Kraljevina Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca, or SHS) also known as Yugoslavia. The treaty angered the German population in Austria who claimed that it violated the Fourteen Points laid out by United States President Woodrow Wilson during peace talks, specifically the right to "self-determination" of all nations. The new state managed to prevent two land claims from being taken by their neighbours. The first was the south-eastern part of Carinthia, which was inhabited mostly by Slovenians. It was prevented from being taken by the new SHS-state through a plebiscite on October 20, 1920, in which the population chose to remain with Austria. The second land-claim that was prevented was Hungary's claim to Burgenland, which, under the name "Western Hungary", had been part of the Hungarian kingdom since 1647. It was inhabited mostly by a German-speaking population, but had also Croat- and Hungarian-speaking minorities. Through the Treaty of St. Germain it became part of the Austrian Republic in 1921. After a plebiscite which was disputed by Austria, the city of Sopron (German Ödenburg) remained in Hungary.
After the war, Austria was governed by a coalition of left-wing and right-wing parties which had established a number of progressive socioeconomic and labour legislation. In 1920, the coalition government established the Constitution of Austria. However the new state was difficult to control, as much of the former empire's important economic regions had been taken away with the foundation of new nation-states. The matter was further complicated by the fact that a number of these new nation-states were still dependent on Vienna's banks.
Government and politics 1920–1932
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After 1920, Austria's government was dominated by the anti-Anschluss Christian Social Party which retained close ties to the Roman Catholic Church. The party's first Chancellor, Ignaz Seipel, attempted to forge a political alliance between wealthy industrialists and the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the nation having a steady political party in power, the politics of the nation were fractious and violent, with both left-wing (Republikanischer Schutzbund) and right-wing (Heimwehr) political paramilitary forces clashing with each other. In 1927, left-wing supporters engaged in a massive protest over the acquittal of right-wing paramilitaries who were found guilty of killing a man and a child. The huge protest was known as the July Revolt of 1927. The July Revolt was put down through violence by police which killed a number of protestors. The violence in Austria continued to escalate until the early 1930s when Engelbert Dollfuss became Chancellor.
Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss of the Christian Social Party took power in Austria in 1932, and moved the party and Austria towards dictatorship, centralization and fascism. In 1933, Dollfuss took advantage of an error in a bill in parliament, and his cabinet voted to dissolve the National Council and declared that parliament ceased to function.
The government was in competition with the growing Austrian Nazi party, which wanted Austria to join Germany. Dollfuss's Austrofascism tied Austria's roots with Roman Catholicism to the government, as a means to show reason to why Austria should not join a predominantly Protestant Germany. Violence escalated into civil war between Nazis, socialists, and Austrofascists.
On May 1, 1934, Dollfuss created a one-party state, to be led by the Fatherland Front (German: Vaterländische Front), with the proclamation of the authoritarian "May Constitution". Federalism and the controlling powers of the Federal Council was curtailed, while elections for the National Council was abolished, its members instead nominated by four non-elective, corporatist-styled councils; the State Council (Staatsrat), Federal Culture Council (Bundeskulturrat), Federal Economic Council (Bundeswirtschaftsrat) and the States' Council (Länderrat), supposedly providing their best opinions on respective areas. In practice all legislation and appointment was exercised from above by the Federal Chancellor's and President's decree. The state took complete control of employer–employee relations, known as Ständestaat, and began to crack down on pro-Nazi and pro–German-unification sympathizers. The Nazis responded by assassinating Engelbert Dollfuss on July 25, 1934 (see Maiverfassung 1934).
This assassination by the Austrian Nazis infuriated Austria's neighbor, Fascist Italy under dictator Benito Mussolini. Fascist Italy had good relations with Austria under Dollfuss and Mussolini suspected German involvement and promised the Austrofascist regime military support if Germany were to invade, as the Nazis had claims on Italian-administered Tyrol. Italy's support helped save Austria from potential annexation in 1934.
In 1938, Hitler had gained Italy's favour on the issue of annexation of Austria, and made clear his immediate intentions to take over the country. Schuschnigg desperately tried to avoid war with Germany, and organized a plebiscite set for March 13 to decide whether Austria would join Germany or remain independent. Schuschnigg intended to rig the vote to ensure a pro-Austrian victory. Austrian-born Hitler responded by demanding Schuschnigg's immediate resignation, which he was pressured to accept on March 11 which the immediate threat of occupation. Schuschnigg was replaced by Austrian Nazi leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Germany sent in troops the next day on March 12, which took over the nation. On March 13, the First Austrian Republic was formally dissolved and became part of Germany in the Anschluss (political union).
- Harry Hearder, Jonathan Morris. Italy: a short history. Cambridge University Press: 2004, p. 231.
- DIVIDE ON GERMAN AUSTRIA. - Centrists Favor Union, but Strong Influences Oppose It., The New York Times, January 17, 1919 (PDF)
- 1934 to 1938: Ständestaat in the Name of "God, the Almighty"