Otto von Habsburg (20 November 1912 – 4 July 2011), also known by his royal name as Archduke Otto of Austria, was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary from 1916 until the dissolution of the empire in 1918, a realm which comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.
He subsequently became the pretender to the former thrones, Head of the Imperial House of Habsburg, and Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1922, upon the death of his father. He resigned as Sovereign of the Golden Fleece in 2000 and as head of the Imperial House in 2007.
The eldest son of Charles I and IV, the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and his wife, Zita of Bourbon-Parma, Otto was born as third in line to the thrones, as His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke and Imperial Prince Otto of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia.
With his father’s accession to the thrones in 1916, he was himself likely to become the Emperor. As his father never abdicated, Otto was considered by himself, his family and Austro-Hungarian legitimists to be the rightful Emperor-King from 1922.
Otto was active on the Austrian and European political stage from the 1930s, both by promoting the cause of Habsburg restoration and as an early proponent of European integration—being thoroughly disgusted with nationalism—and a fierce opponent of Nazism and communism.
He has been described as one of the leaders of the Austrian anti-Nazi resistance. After the 1938 Anschluss, monarchists were severely persecuted in Austria, and—sentenced to death by the Nazis—Otto fled to the United States, with a visa issued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
Otto von Habsburg was Vice President (1957–1973) and President (1973–2004) of the International Paneuropean Union, and served as a Member of the European Parliament for the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) from 1979 to 1999.
As a newly elected Member of the European Parliament in 1979, Otto had an empty chair set up for the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the European Parliament, and took a strong interest in the countries behind the Iron Curtain during his tenure.
Otto von Habsburg played a central role in the revolutions of 1989, as a co-initiator of the Pan-European Picnic. Later he would be a strong supporter of the EU membership of central and eastern European countries.
A noted intellectual, he published several books on historical and political affairs. Otto has been described as one of the “architects of the European idea and of European integration” together with Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, and Alcide De Gasperi.
Otto was exiled in 1918 and grew up mostly in Spain. His devout Catholic mother raised him according to the old curriculum of Austria-Hungary, preparing him to become a Catholic monarch. During his life in exile, he lived in Switzerland, Madeira, Spain, Belgium, France, the United States, and from 1954 until his death, finally in Bavaria (Germany), in the residence Villa Austria.
At the time of his death, he was a citizen of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, having earlier been stateless de jure and de facto and possessed passports of Monaco, the Order of Malta, and Spain.
His funeral took place at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on 16 July 2011; he was subsequently entombed in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna and his heart buried in Pannonhalma Archabbey in Hungary.
Otto was born at Villa Wartholz in Reichenau an der Rax, Austria-Hungary. He was baptised Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius on 25 November 1912 at Villa Wartholz by the Prince-Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz Xaver Nagl.
His godfather was the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (represented by Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria); his godmother was his grandmother Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal.
In November 1916, Otto became Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia when his father, Archduke Charles, acceded to the throne. However, in 1918, at the end of the First World War, the monarchies were abolished, the Republics of Austria and Hungary founded instead, and the family was forced into exile in Madeira.
Hungary did become a kingdom again, but Charles was never to regain the throne. Instead, Miklós Horthy ruled as regent until 1944, in a kingdom without a king.
He spoke German, Hungarian, Croatian, English, Spanish, French and Latin fluently. In later life, he would write some 40 books in German, Hungarian, French and Spanish. His mother made him learn many languages because she believed he one day might rule over many lands.
An early advocate of a unified Europe, Otto was president of the International Paneuropean Union from 1973 to 2004. He served from 1979 until 1999 as a Member of the European Parliament for the conservative Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) party, eventually becoming the senior member of the European Parliament.
He was also a member of the Mont Pelerin Society. He was a major supporter of the expansion of the European Union from the beginning and especially of the acceptance of Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia.
During his time in the European Parliament, he was involved in a fracas with fellow MEP Ian Paisley, a unionist Protestant pastor from Northern Ireland.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II had just begun a speech to the Parliament when Paisley, a vehement anti-Catholic, shouted that the Pope was the Antichrist, and held up a poster reading “Pope John Paul II Antichrist”. Otto snatched Paisley’s banner and, along with other MEPs, ejected him from the chamber.
He was one of the men instrumental in organising the so-called Pan-European Picnic at the Hungary-Austria border on 19 August 1989. This event is considered a milestone in the collapse of Communist dictatorships in Europe.
He was reportedly a patron of the Three Faiths Forum, a group which aims to encourage friendship, goodwill and understanding amongst people of the three monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In December 2006, he observed that, “The catastrophe of 11 September 2001 struck the United States more profoundly than any of us, whence a certain mutual incomprehension. Until then, the United States felt itself secure, persuaded of its power to bombard any enemy, without anyone being able to strike back.
That sentiment vanished in an instant. Americans understand viscerally for the first time the risks they face.”
On 5 July 2007, Otto von Habsburg received the Freedom of the City of London from the hands of Sir Gavyn Arthur, a former Lord Mayor of London.
He was known as a supporter of the rights of refugees and displaced people in Europe, notably of the ethnic Germans displaced from Bohemia where he was once the Crown Prince. He was a jury member of the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award.
He also held Francisco Franco in a high regard and praised him for helping refugees, stating that he was “a dictator of the South American type, not totalitarian like Hitler or Stalin”.
In 2002, he was named the first ever honorary member of the European People’s Party group.
On the 2008 anniversary of the Anschluss, Otto von Habsburg made a very controversial statement, as part of his “1938 Remembrance Day” address before Parliament that “there is no country in Europe that has a better claim to be a victim of the Nazis than Austria”.
The context of this statement left little room for the media to interpret it in a better light. Although his speech received an ovation, the Habsburgs were once again distanced from the popular opinion of the Austrian people, as demonstrated in public protest, media criticism and disapproval voiced by Austrian politicians.
Social Democratic Party Defence Minister Norbert Darabos was quoted as saying that the remarks were “unacceptable”, “a veritable democratic-political scandal” and that he had “insulted the victims of National Socialism”. Otto von Habsburg was also quoted as saying that “a discussion as to whether Austria was an accomplice or a victim is an outrage”.
Austrian People’s Party military spokesman Walter Murauer defended Otto’s statement at the time Murauer claimed that there was “another reality behind the mass of people who listened to Hitler on the Heldenplatz”. Meaning the “thousands in the resistance and thousands in prison waiting to be transported to Dachau” near Munich.
Murauer also recalled that Engelbert Dollfuß had been the only head of government in Europe to have been murdered by the Nazis. Murauer advised Darabos “to avoid populist pot-shots against an honourable European of the highest calibre.” Otto’s son, Karl von Habsburg, also defended his father’s words, in a 2011 statement, stating that “there were guilty parties in practically every country”.
After the death of his wife, Regina in 2010, Otto stopped appearing in public. He died at the age of 98 on Monday, 4 July 2011, at his home in Pöcking, Germany. His spokeswoman reported that he died “peacefully and without pain in his sleep”.
On 5 July, his body was laid in repose in the Church of St. Ulrich near his home in Pöcking, Bavaria, and a massive 13-day period of mourning started in several countries formerly part of Austria-Hungary. Otto’s coffin was draped with the Habsburg flag decorated with the imperial–royal coats of arms of Austria and Hungary in addition to the Habsburg family coat of arms.
In line with the Habsburg family tradition, Otto von Habsburg was buried in the family’s crypt in Vienna, while his heart was buried in a monastery in Pannonhalma, Hungary.