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Thousands mourn son of last Austrian emperor

VIENNA : Thousands of mourners joined European royalty on Saturday for the funeral of Otto Habsburg-Lothringen, the elde
Published July 16, 2011

articVIENNA: Thousands of mourners joined European royalty on Saturday for the funeral of Otto Habsburg-Lothringen, the eldest son of the last Austrian Emperor.

A critic of Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938, Habsburg became a force in the Paneuropean Union movement and took up the cause of former subjects in eastern Europe oppressed during communist rule.

Drawn to politics well into his later years and a member of the European parliament for two decades, Habsburg died on July 4 in Germany, where he had lived since 1954. He was 98.

Habsburg's death stirred some nostalgia for the golden years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed at the end of World War One. The Habsburgs were its ruling family and fled to Switzerland once the monarchy was abolished.

Habsburg-Lothringen officially gave up his claim to the throne in 1961 and was allowed to return to post-war Austria only in 1966 after years of political and legal wrangling.

"He had a stamp in his passport from every country except Austria. The way he was treated was shameful," said Reinhilde Prewein, who came to pay her respects before the ceremony in Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Thousands packed into the cobbled square to watch the ceremony broadcast on large screens. Members of historical societies wearing traditional uniforms and carrying embroidered banners mingled with mourners.

Inside the cathedral, family members bowed before his coffin, the women veiled in black lace.

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden attended the service alongside members of royal families from Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Spain and Britain.

Habsburg's body will be placed in the imperial crypt in Vienna, where dozens of his ancestors lie. His heart will be buried in the Abbey of Pannonhalma, in western Hungary.

Austrian magazines packed their pages with stories on the Habsburg dynasty this week, featuring eulogies from prominent politicians and industrialists.

"The little state of Austria is suffering from the empty feeling of once having been the crown jewel of a huge Empire," cultural weekly Falter wrote, adding: "To talk about the Habsburgs is also to talk about Austrian identity."

Born in 1912, the man also known as Archduke Otto von Habsburg became head of the imperial House of Habsburg after the death of his father, Charles, in 1922.

During years his years of exile in Europe and the United States, he worked on ways to overcome the Cold War divide.

He helped arrange a "Pan-European Picnic" on the Austro-Hungarian border in 1989 which led to a brief opening of the Iron Curtain, fostering the movement that would help lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later.

"He always knew that there is much more which unites us on the European continent than divides us. It was a most important message for all of us," Poland's Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, told Austrian television.

Habsburg was a member of the European Parliament for the German state of Bavaria for two decades and gave lecture tours around the world on politics.


Copyright Reuters, 2011



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