Europe

Habsburg: Funeral held for last Austro-Hungarian heir

  • 16 July 2011
  • From the section Europe

The funeral of the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Habsburg, has taken place in the Austrian capital Vienna.

European royals and political leaders, many from nations that his family ruled over, attended the service.

The body of the last crown prince was buried in the Imperial crypt at a private ceremony. His wife, who died last year, was buried alongside him.

Mr Habsburg, a former MEP, died earlier this month at the age of 98 in Germany.

Thousands of Austrians and tourists lined the streets of Vienna's city centre ahead of a procession into St Stephen's Cathedral, where about 1,000 mourners had gathered.

Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn presided over a funeral mass, attended by European royals including Sweden's King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein.

Among the political figures at the ceremony were Austrian President Heinz Fischer, and the prime ministers of Croatia and Macedonia.

Members of historical societies wearing traditional uniforms mingled with mourners outside the cathedral watching the service on large screens.

Mr Habsburg's body was buried shortly afterwards in the Imperial crypt where his ancestors lie. However, his heart will be taken to Hungary for burial at an abbey west of Budapest on Sunday, in accordance with a Habsburg tradition.

A passionate advocate of European unity, Mr Habsburg served as a member of the European parliament for two decades.

His son Karl Habsburg said his father witnessed huge changes in Europe during his life.

"It would always be wrong to only remember him in the context of the old monarchy or only remember him in the context of the European Union. I think he should be remembered in the whole arch that his life has been creating... over the whole changes that happened to Europe in his lifetime," he said.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna says that there have been some complaints that the pomp surrounding the funeral is out of place in a republic.

'Life in exile'

Mr Habsburg was born in 1912, six years before the collapse of the empire at the end of the First World War.

Image caption Otto von Habsburg only relinquished his claim to the fallen Austro-Hungarian empire in 1961

He spent many decades exiled from Austria after his family fled in 1919, but relinquished his own claim to inherit the empire in 1961. Five years later he was allowed to return to Austria.

He was an opponent of the Nazis and spoke out against Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938.

In 1989 he helped organise the Pan-European Picnic demonstration on the border of Austria and Hungary.

The border was briefly opened, an event credited with helping usher in the fall of the Berlin Wall months later.

Mr Habsburg then dedicated himself to having the former communist-ruled states of eastern Europe brought into the EU.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso paid tribute to him as "a great European... who gave an important impetus to the European project throughout his rich life".

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