VIENNA: Austria on Monday marked its 100th anniversary as a republic born from the embers of World War I and the Austro-Hungarian empire with a lavish ceremony at Vienna´s prestigious State Opera House.
The sprawling Austro-Hungarian empire was broken up in the wake of World War I and Emperor Charles I renounced the throne on November 11, 1918, with Austria officially declaring itself a republic the following day.
The event at the opera house was attended by the political, economic and cultural elite.
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen — a member of the Greens party — as well as centre-right Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his far-right deputy Heinz-Christian Strache made speeches calling for democratic consensus and for the respect of differing political opinions.
“Only a liberal democracy fights for joint solutions that benefit all… democracy means civilised debate and confrontation,” said the 74-year-old Van der Bellen.
Economically broken after World War I and in search of a new collective identity, the Austrian Republic witnessed violent clashes between right and left from the start which eventually gave rise to two dictatorships, Austrofascism and Nazism.
But after the long periods of division, Austrians have tended to opt for centrist coalitions since 1945.
Chancellor Kurz, the 32-year-old leader of the centre-right People´s Party or OeVP, called for democratic dialogue, saying “our history has taught us that violent words can lead to violent actions.”
His deputy, Strache, head of the far-right Freedom Party which shares power in a coalition with OeVP, said it was important to focus on “what unites us, rather than what separates us.
“We need to take a step towards each other… rather than de-legitimise a different opinion out of principle,” the 49-year-old politician said.
Some of the founders of the Freedom Party were former Nazis and the party is fiercely anti-immigration.
President Van der Bellen has repeatedly criticised its hard-line stance and warned against policies that target minorities and incite hatred and exclusion.__The News