World War I
Home Front, 1914-1918
Democratic Austria

Austria in Transition, 1918-1920

Emperor Charles I. abdicated on November 11th 1918. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, hitherto held together by the monarchy, was in the process of disintegration. The Viennese administration soon found itself reduced to a rump Austria, the provinces (Länder) of Vorarlberg, Tyrol (except the south, annexed by Italy), Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Oberösterreich and Niederösterreich. After plebiscites were held, Plebiscite Carinthia and the Burgenland (Lajtabanszag, without Sopron) were to join in 1920 respectively 1921.
This new, reduced Austria had a rather homogenous German-speaking population. The country went through the sudden transition from an Empire which granted it's citizens only very restricted participation in the political process to a parliamentary democracy.

Elections were held in March 1919; the Social Democrats (SDAP) gained 40.8 %, the Christians (CSP) 35.9 %, the Nationals 20.8 %. The Austrian parliament's first decision was to declare it's wish to unify with Germany, an act vetoed by the Entente Powers. The young Republic was called Deutschösterreich (German Austria).
The Social Democrats formed the country's first democratic administration. Austria's social democrats leaned to the left, planning to implement major reforms, which alienated the christians and the very conservative nationals.
In 1920 a republican constitution was introduced, with a bicameral parliament : Nationalrat (National Council) as the first chamber where legislation was to be discussed, and the Bundesrat (Federal Council) which had the right to block certain legislation. Head of state was to be the Bundespräsident (Federal President), active government business would be conducted by the Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor). Universal womanhood suffrage was introduced (1920).

Austria was only a small part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had declared war on Serbia in 1914. Yet, as it's legitimate successor, together with Hungary it was held accountable and forced to pay reparations. Austria's economy was overburdened, as it had to switch back from wartime economy to peacetime economy, had to integrate returning soldiers, P.O.W.s and immigrants, mostly German nationals from the lost territories unwilling to live under the new regime. The consequence was hyperinflation; as in Germany, every community was given the right to print it's own money.

Library of Congress, Country Studies : Austria
Turning Points in the Development of Parliamentarism in Austria 2.6 The Republic and the Parliamentary System, 2.7 Towards a Federal Constitution, The Federal Constitution, from the Austrian Parliament
Von der Regierungsverantwortung in die Illegalitat, from SPÖ Geschichte, in German, chronology 1919-1939
Burgenland, Abstimmungsgebiete (Plebiscite Areas), Kaerntner Volksabstimmung (Carinthian Plebiscite), English-language articles from aeiou
Inflation, from aeiou
DOCUMENTS Historical Population Statistics : Austria, from Population Statistics, at Univ. Utrecht
Austrian Notgeld issued by local communities 1920/1921, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
Documents Austria, Nov. 1918, from Primary Sources of 20th Century Austrian History, posted by Zeitgeschichte Information System, only docs.1-4 on Nov. 1918, docs in German
Treaty of St. Germain 1919/20, from Australian Treaty Series (Treaty St. Germain en Laye Sept. 26th 1919, entered into force in Australia July 16th 1920)
REFERENCE Article : Austria-Hungary, in : New International Year Book 1919 pp.71-77 [G]
Article : Austria, in : New International Year Book 1920 pp.68-72 [G]
Article : Austria-Hungary, in : Statesman's Year Book 1919 pp.658-687 [G]

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First posted in 2000, last revised on August 16th 2007

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