As Sunday marked 100 years since the once-almighty Habsburg dynasty's fall from power and the disintegration of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, some monarchic sectors of Austrian society continue to pine for what they perceive as an idealized past – and possible future – of supposed greatness.
On Nov. 11, 1918 – the day the brutal World War I ended after four years and millions of senseless deaths – Austro-Hungarian Emperor Charles I formally renounced participation in state affairs, thus putting an end to almost 650 years of his bloodline's domination over Central Europe.
Four years earlier, as the Great War broke out, triggered by the assassination of Charles' uncle, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo, the Empire was already strained by the nationalistic aspirations of self-rule of many of the dozen or so ethnicities living together within its borders.
Hungarians, Italians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Poles, Ukrainians and Romanians were all part of Europe's second-largest country (after the Russian Empire) in terms of territory – spanning over 420,000 square miles – and third-biggest in population (some 51 million inhabitants).
After the resounding defeat of the Central Powers in the war, the empire fragmented into three large republics along ethnic lines: Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia (which later split into two countries in 1993).
The remaining imperial territories joined states such as Italy, Poland, Romania, Ukraine or the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
A century later, members of the "Black-Yellow Alliance" – a reference to the colors on the bygone empire's flag – continue to venerate what they believe to be the greatness of the Habsburg monarchy and call for a return to the imperial status quo.
Nicole Fara, a 47-year-old political scientist, heads this peculiar group, which counts with hundreds of followers across Austria who want to reinstate a Central European monarchy with a common emperor at the helm.
This time, though, the system would be a constitutional monarchy in the same vein as other European royal families instead of the absolute power enjoyed by the emperors of yore.
"We lack stability and need a clear hierarchy; if not, we get chaos such as the one we're seeing in current politics," Fara told EFE.
"In fact, Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830-1916) always said: 'I protect my people from politicians,'" she added during a meeting of the Alliance at Vienna's nostalgia-infused Kaffee Monarchie.
In the first decades after the fall of the empire, the monarchic movement counted hundreds of thousands of followers among its ranks, although the number declined after 1961, when Otto von Habsburg (1912-2011), the son of Charles I, renounced the throne, something his father never formalized.
Otto, a fervent anti-communist who was also critical of the Nazi movement, had dreamed of unifying Europe to counter the growth of nationalism across the continent in the 1930s.
This sort of Central European reunification spearheaded by a monarch is the Alliance's main goal, Alexander Schneider, a member of its leadership, explained to EFE.
The Alliance's vision is to join together six nations that are currently sovereign members of the European Union: Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia.
"Central Europe is unique in the world. In no other place do so many cultures, peoples and languages live together as here," Schneider, a 51-year-old telecommunications engineer, claimed.
The group wants to implement a democratic common hereditary monarchy for these countries, but they do not call for abandoning the EU.
"We don't want to leave the EU, quite the contrary. Central Europe could establish itself as a counterweight to the big European countries such as Germany, France and Italy," Schneider argued, stressing that Austrian monarchists were "pure democrats."
Several polls over the past few years show that up to 20 percent of the Austrian population (which totals almost 9 million inhabitants) would be in favor of a return to monarchy in the Alpine nation.
"After a constitutional vote, it'd be logical to ask the Habsburg family (if they want to return). We can be proud of having the oldest royal family in Europe," Schneider added. "The future is much more important than the past and the future needs to be European. The 20th century was American, the 21st will be Chinese. The 22nd century could be European again, as long as we know how to take advantage of our cultural potential."
By Jordi Kuhs