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Friday, July 15, 2011

Death of the Last Austrian Crown Prince

For 95 years, he was known as the last Imperial Crown Prince in Europe and had the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary existed today, he could have been the longest reigning monarch in the 21st century, ruling for 89 years.

Otto von Hapsburg, a direct descendant of Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose death in June 28, 1914 precipitated World War I, died last July 4, 2011 at the age of 98. He was the elder son of Charles I, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary. 

Otto became an Austrian crown prince in 1916 when his father ascended the Austrian throne until the end of World War I in 1918 when the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was abolished following its defeat against the Allies. The Imperial family was stripped of their titles but retained their style as Imperial Princes and Princesses. Otto married a German Princess, Regina of Saxe-Meiningen (1951-2010) and had seven children together.

Austria-Hungary throne left a reputation of being the World War I aggressor, initiating one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history which did not effectively close until November 11, 1918. In the summer of 1914, the Imperial Prince, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Bosnia Herzegovina by a Serbian youth activitist, Gavrilo Princip, the Archduke was travelling with his wife, Sophia, to Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to meet his future subjects when the incident happened, it rattled the very foundation of the political platform of Europe in which the Great Powers trying to rebuild since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte of France in the famous Battle of Waterloo. It was so provoking and controversial that the three Great Powers which were not directly involved (Britain, Russia, France) tried to mediate to avoid military conflicts.

But the military commanders of the Austrian army, who, for so long had been contemplating a war against Serbia and Russia, were exasperated with the slow progress on the investigation, so they made a proposal to take part in the judicial proceedings, naturally Serbia rejected this plea, several days later, Austrian troops, attacked Serbia on July 19, 1914 which signaled the beginning of World War I....and the rest is history.

After World War I, Emperor Charles I and his family were exiled in Switzerland but he did not abdicate so Otto in sentiment became Emperor on the day his father died in 1922. Until he reached adulthood, he and his family were not allowed to enter Austria so they lived in various places in Europe. He obtained a PhD degree in Political and Social Sciences in the Belgian school, the University of Louvain. Otto became a crusader of peace later, he sternly condemned the Nazi's brutality and even requested the Austrian chancellor at that time to resist Nazi in Austria, he had helped several Jews to flee out of the country during the Second World War. 

His active involvement for peace and international intervention against Nazi almost cost his life, he was sentenced to death by the Nazi but he was able to escape to Portugal and then to the United States where he remained there until the war ended, he moved to France and Spain later but was not allowed to visit Austria because he was believed to be a threat. In the 1960s, after long years of hesitation, he signed a declaration renouncing all his claims to the Austrian Imperial throne to be able to go back to Austria but later it was reported, the crown prince regretted this decision.

He was an advocate of a unified Europe and sat as President of the International Paneuropean Union for 31 years, he had also served as a member of the European parliament for the Bavarian CSU party. He was one of the prime movers of the Pan-European Picnic (a peace demonstration held in the border of Austria) considered to be one of the instruments of the collapse of communism in Cental and Eastern Europe. He was a strong supporter of the rights of European refugees and was famous in his move in 1988 defending Pope John Paul II at the European Parliament when one person shouted at the pope (with his banner) as antichrist, Otto immediately snatched the banner and ejected the man from the chamber. In 2002, he was named as the first honorary member of the European People Party, the center-right politcal group of the European Parliament.

Procession of the Crown Prince's body, his coffin is draped in royal standard

Otto von Hapsburg died peacefully at his home in Germany on July 4, 2011 and in his death, he was treated a royal prince with his coffin draped with Hapsburg flag and decorated with Imperial royal coats of Austria, Hungary and Hapsburg family's coat-of-arms. His body will be brought tomorrow, July 16, 2011 to Viena, Austria where he will be buried at the family's crypt while his heart will be buried in Hungary. His funeral will be attended by European crown heads and some royal family members. King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, Grandduke Henri of Luxembourg, Prince Hans-Adams II of Liechtenstein are some of the crown heads confirmed to attend the burial. Other "fallen Kings" might attend too: King Michael I of Romania, King Constantine II of Greece and Czar Simeon II of Bulgaria.

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