Otto von Habsburg died on 5 June, 2011, aged 98. On the death of his father the Emperor Karl, on April 1, 1922, he became the heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary, and accordingly, pretender to the thrones of 11 different countries in Central Europe.
There is an excellent obituary in the London Daily Telegraph of 4 July, 2011 which opens with this panoramic summary: that he "began his public life as the infant Crown Prince of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, and ended it as Father of the multinational European Parliament."
According to this obituary, he was greeted with wild enthusiasm by the monarchy’s Magyar subjects when in 1916 on the death of the Emperor Franz Joseph, his father was crowned in Budapest as the new King of Hungary. As Emperor of Austria, Karl was also King of Bohemia, King of Croatia, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Galicia and Lodomeria, and Grand Duke of Cracow. This reminds us of the vast spread of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
As his father was, Otto was a force for good. This is not to criticise unfairly his grandfather the Emperor Franz Joseph, who was a gradualist. But with the defeat of the Central Powers, and American President Woodrow Wilson's obsession with national self determination at all costs, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was doomed.
Then the Regent Admiral Horthy blocked two attempts to restore Karl to the Hungarian throne – such a restoration was believed to be unacceptable to the Entente powers. On the second attempt, the Royal Family took refuge on a British gunboat, HMS Glowworm, in a Danube port from which they were taken to Madeira.
As Hungarians said, for the next 24 years, Hungary would be a kingdom without a king, ruled by an admiral without a fleet, in a country without a coastline.
As David Warren says in the Ottawa Citizen on 6 July( "The Europe that might have been"), Otto led opposition to Hitler in the Austria of the 1930s; was an important and trusted adviser to both Roosevelt and Churchill during the Second World War; was a significant opponent of the spread of Soviet Communism after the Second World War; played a role in bringing down the Iron Curtain; and in a hundred ways advanced the re-integration of eastern with western Europe through the decades thereafter.
“ He was a major figure in pan-European politics until (literally) this week,” concludes David Warren.
…Europe – if the Austro-Hungarian empire had survived…
( Continued below)
David Warren puts the life of Otto von Hapsburg into the context of 20th century European history. He asks us to consider what could have happened had the European powers not plunged into war in 1914.
(This very question was the subject of a fascinating book by the English historian, Niall Ferguson who is a professor of history at both Harvard and Oxford. This is The Pity of War, first published by Penguin Books in 1998. This may be purchased here, tax and deliverycosts free fora special price of AUD $20.82)
"Imagine, for a moment,” David Warren writes “a world in which that war-to-begin-all-total-wars did not happen, and in the upshot of which, that Austro-Hungarian Empire did not disintegrate, the Bolshevik Revolution could not occur, Adolf Hitler had no opportunity to rise, and so many vast slaughters could not follow from the triumph of "nationalisms" and "socialisms," having been deprived of their root cause.
Think thus of a "backward" world in which "Western Civ." were still fully intact, and in which Emperor Otto might have reigned these last 89 years. (His great-grand uncle, Franz Josef, ruled for only 68, seeing off innumerable nationalist movements throughout his realms.
Imagine, for a moment, a tranquil reign of that length, in which all the various peoples of the Austro-Hungarian realms had been able to live out their lives, uninterrupted by catastrophic wars and murderous desolations, each triggered by some abstract, revolutionary cause.
Consider the actual history of each of the countries that were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the eve of that Great War, and ask if their peoples actually benefited from the destruction of the Habsburg dynasty (itself, a continuum of 650 years).
Those forced to live through the horrors of nazism, fascism and communism would surely say no.