The Austrian Myth: Victimization and Nationalism in the Post-War Period
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The words of the Moscow Declaration of 1943 allowed Austria to claim itself as a victim of Hitler, rather than a contributor to the Nazis in WWII. In the years following the war, this distinction would define the attitude of Austrians towards their role in war, despite the stark statistics of Austrian support for the Nazi cause. The victim status allowed society to develop taboos and an alternative collective memory of history. This memory was embodied in monuments and museums dedicated to the war. Additionally, a sort of social amnesia for the years between 1938 and 1945 was constructed. More or less, this silence continued until the election of Kurt Waldheim as the President of Austria in 1986. The former UN Secretary General’s campaign for the presidency led to the discovery of his actual wartime past by members of the World Jewish Congress. Despite the discovery that Waldheim had been a member of the SA and was involved in atrocities in Greece during WWII, the Austrian people rejected the international cry to vote against the former Nazi and elected Waldheim as their president. Jörg Haider, the governor of Carinthia and leader of the Austrian Freedom Party (the Austrian far right party), was also faced with allegations of Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitism in the 80s but continued to gain popularity, especially in the youth vote. The Freedom Party is one of the strongest far right parties in Europe and currently holds a quarter of the votes in Austria. While the history of post-war Austria remains linked to the actions of Germany during the Second World War, the way in which the two societies dealt with the guilt of their part in the war separates the legacy of the war in Austria from that in Germany. The taboos and strict omission of conversation about Austria’s role let the people avoid any confrontation with their guilt. This was not an option in Germany. This thesis will address the manipulation of memory in developing a national myth. The author will draw a correlation between the Moscow Declaration and the popularity of the far right thought in Austria today. Additionally, this thesis will conclude that the use of a national myth in dealing with an unfavorable role in an historical event is not unique. The author will examine the use of the omission of certain historical events in youth education as a tool for developing nationalism.