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HS 352 - Modern Austria in Central Europe

The course attempts to analyse the development of present-day Austria from the multi- national Habsburg Empire at the beginning of the 20th century to a new multi-national “Empire”, the European Union, at the beginning of the 21st century. It will start with a look at the political system and ethnic tensions within the Habsburg Empire and discuss the way these tensions contributed to the decision to start a war in 1914 that effectively killed the cosy liberal middle-class world of the 19th century. German-speaking Austrians who had dominated the Habsburg Empire regarded themselves as the real losers of that war: They had lost great power-status; their claims to self-determination went largely unheeded; inflation had done away with their savings; war-time controls had effectively converted the economy into a socialist one; defeat in 1918 was followed by outbreaks of revolutionary violence.

The brief period of stabilization from 1922 to 1929 was shattered by the Great Depression that exacerbated social tensions between rival political camps (“Lager”) that were armed to the teeth. During the 1930’s Austria was caught between rival authoritarian and totalitarian movements, became a dictatorship in 1933, suffered two civil wars in 1934 and was finally taken over by Adolf Hitler in 1938. Austrians formed a more or less normal part of Hitler’s Third Reich but were encouraged to set up shop again as an independent state by the victorious allies in 1945.

Post-war Austria was able to avoid partition along German lines, received generous help under the Marshall-Plan and was established as a neutral buffer state between East and West in 1955. In contrast to the divisive politics of the “First Republic”, the “Second Republic” was characterized by an unusual, almost suffocating system of consensus between the two biggest parties and a “shadow government” of organized interest groups (“Social Partnership”) that presided over an economy with a large element of state control. Fairly successful during the “Reconstruction” years, this “neo-corporatist” system showed signs of strain from the 1980’s onwards when faced with the challenges of uneven growth, immigration and “globalisation”. Internationally, the collapse of the Soviet Empire allowed Austria to join the EU in 1994; domestically, the growth of new political movements (from the Greens to Jörg Haider’s version of the Freedom Party) challenged the old-established duopoly of power and helped to bring Austria into line with European developments.

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Some basic instruction in modern history

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