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Transitional Justice in Austria

While success of denazification in Austria as a whole can be described as limited at best, one can observe a very short period immediately after end of World War II when Austrian government showed its strong willingness to take on a real anti-fascist measure.

Transitional Justice in Austria

However, even these early measures, shaped by credible spirit of mainstream anti-fascist consensus, were part of ubiquitous "victimism". The political elite of Austria considered their country on a par not with West Germany, but with France or Denmark, which, also becoming a victim of Nazi policy of aggression, persecuted their own citizens as long as they cooperated, thereby incurring blame.

In decision of Council of Ministers, legal awareness of citizens, memory of victims and strengthening of state's own position in relation to allies were named as reasons for legal interpretation of Nazi era in Austria immediately after war. The laws of May 8, 1945 and June 26, 1945 on prohibition and opponents of war, respectively, were first milestones of this legal regime in Nazi era.

The Prohibition Law, passed on same day as surrender of Wehrmacht, not only immediately banned NSDAP and all associations and branches associated with it, but also made all forms of reconstruction open to persecution. At same time, all drivers and pilots who belonged to SS, SS, SA or Nazi Party were required to register. Their cases were then examined by a special commission set up for this purpose, and it could initiate various sanctions, such as occupational bans or various measures of repentance.

At same time, all former members of Nazi Party lost right to vote. Of approximately 700,000 NSDAP members, about 540,000 are registered in Austria, of which 98,330 are classified as "illegals" because they were already party members in Austria when NSDAP was banned.

The latter, on basis of "victimism", had to take into account that "new" Austria presented them with greater difficulties than those who joined party later. Indeed, in “victimist” sense, they collaborated with hostile foreign powers in an attempt to destroy Austria. Therefore, they were considered "senior traitors" after 1945.

Worse, however, were German citizens who came to Austria between 1938 and 1945 for various reasons. These Germans can basically be divided into those who came to live and work in Austria after "political union" of 1938, and those who fled to Austria from Eastern Europe in last months of war.

What these two groups have in common is that from very beginning Austrian government sought to get rid of them as quickly as possible. People who held German citizenship before March 13, 1938 were expelled from Austria after 1945, regardless of whether they had any personal ties to Nazi state.

This resulted in a more or less egregious shortage of personnel in certain areas, but situation was sanctioned by Austrian authorities. After all, their actions were connected not so much with rational considerations as with political calculations and ideological positions: responsibility for all National Socialism would be collectively shifted to Germany.

Transitional Justice in Austria

Even German-speaking refugees from Czechoslovakia, Balkans, and other formerly German-occupied territories were admitted to Austria with great reluctance and, if possible, extradited to Germany as soon as possible. Conditions in Austrian refugee camps and transport to Germany were sometimes inhumane, and Austrian authorities seemed to try to distance themselves from ideas of ordinary Germans by treating German-speaking refugees and German citizens as badly as possible. For centuries, Austrians considered themselves part of average German, and now there has been a most radical break.

Although German citizens and so-called Germans were clearly collectively suspected of being National Socialists, state's attitude towards Austrian National Socialists was ambivalent at best. As in West Germany, various denazification measures, especially prosecution of former Austrian National Socialists, were highly controversial among population and were often considered unfair.

This applies both to measures of allies and to measures of Austrian authorities themselves. An argument often made by opponents of hardline denazification in this context is to "do your job": in Nazi era, people had no choice but to do their job.

40 years later, Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim also took this position when he discussed his Nazi history on campaign trail, and on closer examination, this argument has nothing to do with "victims" of "ism" hegemony. almost paradoxical contradiction. After all, you can not be a victim, honestly fulfilling your duty. In this case, Heidemarie Uhl (appropriately uses term "double pronouncement" to describe "a particular Austrian historical policy".

Pretending to be Hitler's first victim is appropriate for honoring World War II veterans as heroes and defenders of Fatherland, while ignoring real victims of Nazi criminal policies. Deserters and other victims of Nazi military justice were declared "cowards" and "traitors".

The "victimism" of hegemony and anti-fascist consensus of its political elite were frustrated immediately after war by population, which in fact considered themselves not victims of Hitler, but victims of war against Hitler, and saw denazification measures as "punishment for victorious powers."

Due to growing public pressure, Austrian government had to gradually reform and repeal laws passed in 1945. After an unsuccessful attempt by Allied Forces Commission to change law in 1946, amendments to Prohibition Act were passed in 1947 containing over 50 amendments requested by Allied Forces Commission.

Transitional Justice in Austria

However, today it matters less when it comes to membership in Nazi statistical office. Rather, positions taken by stakeholders proved to be decisive. Since Soviet Union had previously rejected all attempts at amnesty and then unexpectedly agreed to it, Austrian government declared an amnesty in 1948, rehabilitating about 90 percent of former National Socialists who had suffered from denazification measures.

The rest of Bellastedts - about 42,000 Austrians - were finally amnestied 2 years after signing of Austrian State Treaty in 1957, including many who had been imprisoned during 1945 war with Germany. Previously, there have been repeated political interventions in favor of individual "criminals", now they are collectively rehabilitated and thus can return to center of society. Although it is quite reasonable to call denazification of Austria a complete failure.

After all, former National Socialists continued to flourish in all social and political fields after 1945, but question is whether reintegration of former National Socialists was also a factor in success of Austrian state building. For example, 10 percent of Austrian electorate would have been excluded from political participation if those half a million former members of Nazi Party had not regained their right to vote in 1948.

Access to political participation is an important factor in determining success or failure of states as imaginary communities. Especially in Austria, success of broad participation in state building can be illustrated in an ideally typical way. After all, Austrian domestic politics until 1990s was characterized by consensus politics, in which two main parties shared about 95% of vote until late 1980s, dividing republic equally. Although former National Socialists have their own party, they are popular in both major parties and are re-entering ruling elite.

After 1945, Austria faced typical problem of any form of transitional justice: how to purify society ideologically and politically without further endangering its stability. It is in those areas that are crucial to functioning of modern society that, at least in Austria, there are nominal National Socialists: politics, justice, medicine, science, government and education.

While it would be possible to completely clear these areas of all former members of Nazi Party, question arises of how to quickly replace these people, especially since many non-National Socialist elites are employed in fields such as science or medicine Deported or killed National Socialists. At same time, it must also be remembered that denazification was third political purge of Austrian territory in just 12 years: first was carried out by fascist Stenderstedt in early 1930s, second in 1938, carried out by Nationalistsocialists, third in form of denazification immediately after war.

Therefore, size of available functional elite does not necessarily increase. The fact that Austria had developed its own form of fascism prior to 1938 presented certain problems for both sides, especially in process of denazification and restoration of Austria. What should they do with their new partners? Many representatives previously held high positions in hierarchical states.

In this context, term concentration street spirit is often used to explain why former enemies who clashed in open civil war in 1934 suddenly became so willing to cooperate after 1945.

Transitional Justice in Austria

Of course, it's undeniable that partial joint internment of National Socialists may have helped to bury old hatchet to some extent, especially between Social Democrats and Conservatives, but Geist de la Grid street itself is a myth. deeply rooted in "doctrine of victim". This was especially case in 1945, as Oliver Raskolb has already pointed out, when a significant part of elite of society was not kept in concentration camps and, therefore, could not contact politicians there.

In 1945, there may have been more consensus that politicians of Austrian People's Party did not accuse their counterparts in Germany of supporting Anschluss in Germany, and that elite, on other hand, neglected their counterparts from government to participate - this is a This tacit agreement, after initial exceptions on both sides, persisted until 1960s in order not to deal with Austrian history in 1930s, which was clearly problematic in itself.

The same goes for "victimism": Germany's externalization of National Socialist fascism, portraying Austria as first victim, provided country with material they were more than happy to Crack twice in World Wars. In this context, Thomas Wallach used term "displacement" in what he called historical unconscious of Second Republic, borrowing from psychoanalysis: imposition of "doctrine of sacrifice" on memory of conflict between two world wars. in course of its formation, it becomes a genuine “doctrine of victim”, capable of covering all opposing discourses.

Everyone is now a common victim of National Socialism, whether they are actually persecuted in Nazi state or somehow part of that state: those imprisoned for political reasons are now bound to exile. Even those Austrians who were active in different levels of Nazi state found a common narrative.

Victimism creates a unifying community narrative that is used to upstage old opposition. The German-Austrian annexation of 1938 was chosen to hide trauma of interwar period. While this does not always work smoothly in political reality, it is one of main reasons for the political elite's success in state building in Austria.

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