by Sid Guttridge » 26 Dec 2019 10:09
I put the following up on AHF a couple of years ago regarding the regional plebiscites of 1921:
I think we have all been a little too trusting in accepting the provincial votes in Tyrol and Salzburg in 1921 as reliable. The following from pp.62-66, Austria at the Crossroads: The Anschluss and its Opponents by Jody Manning puts them in a rather different light:
On 24 April 1921, 97 per cent of the votes cast in an unofficial plebiscite in North Tyrol – a vote held against the wishes of the federal government – were in favour of union with Germany.206 A few weeks later Salzburg also went to the polls, again yielding a large majority in favour of a union with Germany.207 These results are often invoked as proof of overwhelming Anschluss sentiment, yet they are not quite the reliable indicators that they appear. The plebiscite in North Tyrol is a case in point. North Tyrol’s overriding concern was not Anschluss, but ending the Italian occupation of South Tyrol and restoring the unity of the province. For this reason, Tyrolean elites remained intentionally irresolute, willing to pursue any policy that would achieve this aim. Although they had provisionally ‘joined’ the Republic in November 1918, they vehemently asserted their autonomy vis-à-vis any decisions that could aversely affect this primary goal. Up until mid-1919, the policy of the dominant Tiroler Volkspartei, was not Anschluss with Germany, which would have put paid to any hope of reinstating Tyrolean unity, but the creation of an independent Tyrolean state. 208 Thus, when Vienna declared the Anschluss of Deutschösterreich with Germany in 1918, Tyrol, which had only provisionally joined the Republic, responded by threatening to withdraw from the state because of the question of German South Tyrol.209 Tyrolean elites unequivocally rejected the Anschluss policy of the central government, contemplating every conceivable alternative, including the possibility of an independent Tyrol linked in a loose union with Switzerland or Italy, or of a fusion of the ‘western provinces’.210 Some in the conservative camp supported the idea of a union between Tyrol and Bavaria, or even the creation of a south German state. Ultimately, and as Seipel correctly observed, in early 1919 at least, Vorarlberg and Tyrol would rather remain small, neutral states, or better still, unite with Switzerland, than be mutilated and join Germany.
In late 1919, with the Anschlussverbot confirmed, Tyrolean tactics were deliberately reversed. Now Anschluss with Germany – or rather Bavaria – appeared to the majority of the Tyrolean leadership to be their only hope of ever regaining South Tyrol and at the same time, escaping the prevailing economic misery. Yet, this still does not wholly explain the statistics. The voter returns appear conclusive, yet, as Bielka points out, the plebiscite was accompanied by severe electoral fraud and voter manipulation and an accurate percentage figure of voter eligibility is, therefore, impossible to attain. In addition to the massive propaganda campaign and not insignificant Reich German influence, ‘Ja’ ballot papers were pre-printed and provided at the polling stations and ballots were to be handed to an election official, undermining voter confidentiality. In addition, voter eligibility rules were liberally conceived and, therefore, open to abuse. Not only were those registered for the Nationalrat elections of October 1920 permitted to vote, but also those who registered themselves as living in Tyrol before April 1921, that is, less than a fortnight before going to the polls, as were all those Tyroleans who lived outside of the state; a train was even chartered from Bavaria to mitigate the financial burden of travelling ‘home’.
As Bielka concludes, the question of whether the overwhelming majority of Tyroleans wanted Anschluss cannot be definitively proven, and, considering the circumstances surrounding the plebiscite it appears ‘very doubtful’ that this was the case.215 The situation was similar in Salzburg province, where democratic principles were also liberally violated.216 Again, the majority of the ruling elite supported Anschluss, but the circumstances surrounding the ballot make it an unreliable indicator of public sentiment, let alone pan-German attitudes.217 What is more, Salzburg can in no way be considered paradigmatic for the rest of Austria. Salzburg, which had been independent until the early nineteenth century, had spent the shortest time under Habsburg rule; when it finally fell to Austria in 1816, part of the province, the Rupertiwinkel, had remained with Bavaria, which had ruled Salzburg during the Napoleonic years. Therefore, for Salzburg, union with Bavaria was an entirely logical step that might actually restore the provinces historic borders. Vorarlberg went to the polls on 11 May 1919, although here 80 per cent voted for union with Switzerland, towards which the province had always gravitated, both economically and culturally.218 The provincial movements do tell us that Germany – or rather, Bavaria – was the ‘obvious’ solution for some, but it was by no means the only one. They also tell us that Anschluss meant different things to different people, and that those who talked of Anschluss did not necessarily mean full political union.
Despite the initially compelling statistics, overall, it appears doubtful that a qualified majority of Austrians would have supported Anschluss with Germany.221 From the sparse evidence available, it appears that the pro-Anschluss movement could only hope for a slim majority in the event of a plebiscite, and not the 75 per cent necessary, and that the number of Anschluss supporters in 1919 was not more than 50 per cent of the population.222 Even Otto Bauer, leader of the Social Democratic party had to admit that both the bourgeoisie and the peasantry wanted ‘an independent Austria fully capable of a national life of its own’.223 More telling is Bauer’s admission that, because of the strength of the conservative opposition to Anschluss and the real possibility that the majority would have voted against the Anschluss, the Socialists did not dare to hold a referendum in 1919.
So, there we have it:
1) The conduct of the plebiscites was flawed.
2) Tyrol was interested in any way of getting South Tirol back, not in Anschluss with Germany, per se.
3) Salzburg cannot be held as typical of wider Austrian opinion.
4) Vorarlberg apparently wanted Anschluss with Switzerland, not Germany.
5) It was touch and go whether there was any majority in favour of Anschluss with Germany in 1919.
So it rather looks as though the plebiscite votes of 1921 are unreliable and their results therefore cannot be called in aid of any proposition that Austria was in favour of Anschluss without severe provisos.
Last edited by Sid Guttridge on 26 Dec 2019 11:09, edited 1 time in total.