Austria, a Country Reborn

As the Habsburg Empire entered the final year of the Great War, the future seemed wide open. A turbulent century followed.

On a pleasant summer’s day in July of 1977, several dozen people gathered in the Cemetery of St. George, in Geneva, for the unveiling of a bronze statue, whose tidy locks were just visible over the heads of the crowd. From his gown, an academic or possibly a judge, in his hand a book, the likeness was of Aurel Constantin Popovici, a name that is largely forgotten today.

Pulling away the drapes was someone much better known: Otto von Habsburg, son of the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Strictly speaking, he was no longer “von” as he had relinquished any claim to the throne in 1961, in exchange for the right to return to Austria. And since 1973, he had been president of the International Pan-European Union, the oldest European integration movement, founded in 1922 by his life-long friend and ally Richard Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, whom he had succeeded.

But familiar or not, Aurel Popovici was a legend to those attending. A lawyer and politician, he was the author in 1906 of a proposed United States of Greater Austria, a plan for a confederation of 15 semi-autonomous states defined by language and cultural traditions, united under the mantle of the Habsburgs. The proposal had brought him into the circle of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was looking for a solution to the rising ethnic tensions among the Empire’s Czechs, Poles, Romanians and South Slavs resentful of the special status granted to the Hungarians under the dual monarchy. It wasn’t the only proposal of its kind, but it was one of the best, and the Arch-duke became its champion, and according to witnesses, enraged his imperial uncle the unbending Franz Joseph.

empire republic austria reborn
Click to zoom.

Looking back, Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold believed that, had Franz Ferdinand succeeded to the throne, he would have opposed declaring war on Serbia and tried to replace the dual monarchy by a supranational federation. Perhaps if the old Emperor hadn’d lived quite so long… Perhaps if the Archduke had changed his mind and decided not to go to Sarajevo after all…

But history is written as much by circumstance as any of our best-laid plans. After the Great War, the Empire was was taken apart and the Republic was born. Over the century that followed, Austria went through very dark times, of Austro-Fascism, of National Socialism, but also experienced an unlikely, even spectacular, rebirth following World War II. A bridge during the Cold War and a safe haven for free-thinkers and dissidents, the Austrian Republic has maintained its role at the heart of what has become the European project.

In this chapter of our Empire to Republic series, we explore Austria’s past and present, with historical analysis and some of the voices, facts and well-kept secrets that continue to shape the Alpine nation today.

Dardis McNamee
Dardis McNamee is the Editor in Chief of Metropole. She has written for The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler (NYC), the Wall Street Journal Europe and Die Zeit in Vienna, as well as having been a speechwriter to two U.S. ambassadors to Austria. She was awarded the 2007 Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching (Media & Communications).

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!


RECENT Articles

New Leadership for Austria’s Cultural Reopening

Having faced growing criticism from all sides, State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Ulrike Lunacek resigned May 15.

The Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | Europe’s First Lung Transplant for a ...

The coronavirus has arrived in Austria. Here’s all you need to know about current measures, including available resources, trusted sources and tips – regularly updated.

7 Restaurants to Have Iftar This Ramadan

Today marks the beginning of Eid al-Fitr or Festival of Breaking the Fast, concluding a month of fasting for Muslims keeping the Ramadan. We’ve compiled a list of sweet spots in the city for you to celebrate the Sugar Feast.

After Ibiza | Older, But None the Wiser

A year ago the infamous video was released: it showed the then Vice-Chancellor H-C Strache promising lucrative state contracts for other favors. What was at first a political embarrassment has now sparked a broader corruption investigation.

Reopening the Borders | What Our Neighbors Are Doing

Austria, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary plan a coordinated opening in mid-June.

Top 5 Viennese Musicians in Quarantine

Many performers have taken to the internet where they teach, play and release fresh content, keeping our spirits alive during the crisis. Here are some of Metropole’s favorites!


Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.