Burgenland (Hungarian Őrvidék, Lajtabánság, Városvidék, Croatian Gradišće, Slovenian Gradiščansko) is the easternmost federal state or Bundesland of Austria and consists of seven political counties (Eisenstadt-Umgebung , Güssing, Jennersdorf, Mattersburg, Neusiedl am See, Oberpullendorf, and Oberwart) and 171 townships. It is 166 km long north to south but much narrower west to east (only 5 km wide at Sieggraben ).
Minorities and neighbours
Burgenland has notable Croatian (29 to 45 thousand) and Hungarian (5 to 15 thousand) minorities.
Burgenland has a very long border: To the west it borders the Austrian provinces of Niederösterreich and Steiermark. To the northeast it borders Slovakia, Hungary to the east and Slovenia to the farthest south.
Burgenland shares with Hungary the only lake without natural outflow in Europe, the Neusiedler See.
History of Burgenland
Between Hungary and Austria
The first inhabitation of Burgenland dates back to the Stone Age. During the Roman Empire it formed the core of the province of Pannonia. After the battle at Augsburg (955), German settlers started to inhabit the area.
Burgenland was given to Austria in 1459 but went to Hungary under King Matthias Corvinus in the peace treaty of Ödenburg (1452). Maximilian I won Burgenland back for Austria, while Kaiser Ferdinand II returned it to Hungary without a war.
After the demise of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy in 1918, the inhabitants of Burgenland voted for reunification with Austria. The decision was fixed in the peace treaties of Saint Germain and the Trianon. Despite the tedious diplomatic efforts by Hungary, the victorious parties of World War I set the date of Burgenland's official reunification with Austria as August 28th 1921. In fact, the invasion by the Austrian police and customs was stopped on the same day, hindered by sharpshooters who offered armed resistance with the supporting tolerance of Hungary.
1921: re-unified with Austria
With the help of Italian diplomatic mediation, the crisis was almost resolved in the autumn 1921, when Hungary committed to disarm the sharpshooters by November 6th 1921, with the caveat of a poll about the reunification of certain territories, including Ödenburg (Sopron), the designated capital of Burgenland, and eight other communities. The poll took place from the 14th to the 16th of December, and resulted in a clear (but doubted by Austria) vote of the people for Hungary.
On July 18th 1922, the first elections for the parliament of Burgenland took place. To cope with the changeover from Hungarian to Austrian jurisdiction, a lot of interim arrangements were made. The parliament decided in 1925 on Eisenstadt as the official capital of Burgenland, and moved from the various provisional estates throughout the country to the newly built Landhaus in 1929.
In 1923, emigration to the United States of America, which started in the late 19th century, reached its climax; in some places up to a quarter of the population went overseas.
After the Nazi Anschluss of Austria, the administrative unit Burgenland was dissolved and integrated into the districts of Niederdonau (Lower Danube) and Steiermark (Styria).
In addition to the oppression of the Jews, the ethnic groups Roma and Sinti also suffered from the people's xenophobic delusion; despite the fact that the Indian origin of these ethnics actually made them, according to the Nazi logic, "Aryan".
The Nazis began, with the help of mostly Jewish forced labour and committed inhabitants, to build the Ostwall (Eastern Rampart), which showed itself utterly useless at the time Soviet troops crossed the Hungarian-Austrian border and began to invade Austria . In the last days of the Nazi regime a lot of executions and death-marches of the Jewish forced labourers took place.
Mine fields 1945 - 1970
As of October 1st, 1945, Burgenland was reestablished with Soviet support and given to the Soviet forces in exchange for Steiermark (Styria), which was in turn occupied by the United Kingdom.
Under the Soviet occupation, people in Burgenland had to stand a time of serious mistreatment and an extremely slow economical progression, the latter induced by investor-discouraging presence of the Soviet troops. The Soviet occupation ended with the signing of the Austrian Independence Treaty of Vienna in 1955 by the Occupying Forces.
The brutally defeated Hungarian Revolution on October 23 1956 resulted in a shockwave of Hungarian refugees at the Hungarian-Austrian border, especially at the Bridge of Andau (Brücke von Andau), who were received by the inhabitants of Burgenland with an overwhelming amount of hospitality.
In 1957, the construction of the "anti-Fascist Protective Barrier" resulted in a complete bulkheading of the area under Soviet influence from the rest of the world, rendering the Hungarian-Austrian border next to Burgenland a deadly zone of mine fields (on the Hungarian border) and barbed wire, referred to as the Iron Curtain.
Starting in 1965 and finishing in 1971, the mine fields were cleansed because people were often harmed by them, even on the Austrian side of the border. This could well be taken as a sign of the Soviet Union towards opening the borders to the Western countries, starting in the late seventies.
Wine and Iron Curtain
Despite Burgenland (especially the area around Neusiedler See) always producing excellent wine, some vintagers in Burgenland added illegal substances to their wine in the mid-1980es. When this was revealed, the wine export of Austria broke down completely. After recovering from that scandal, vintagers in Austria, not only in Burgenland, started focussing on quality and mostly dropped the production of poor quality wine.
On July 27th 1989, the Foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, cut the Iron Curtain (in german: "Eiserner Vorhang") in the village of Klingenbach in a symbolic act with far-reaching consequences. Thousands of East Germans used this possibility to flee to the West. Again, the inhabitants of Burgenland received them with great hospitality. Later, this was often referred to as the starting shot of the German reunification.
With the year 2004, the complete opening of the borders in conjunction with Hungary joining the European Union will bring back the historical denotation of Burgenland being a bridge between the western and the eastern territories in Central Europe.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04