|Austria Table of Contents
The ethnic or national backgrounds of many Austrians reflect the multinational heritage of the Habsburg Empire. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a substantial amount of migration occurred within Austria-Hungary to the German-speaking provinces of Austria. Austria's western and Alpine provinces were affected much less by migration because their low levels of industrialization and urbanization offered few employment opportunities. Before 1918 Czech and Jewish migration influenced the composition of Austria's population to the greatest extent, although all the empire's peoples participated in it. The migrants to Austria from other parts of the empire were usually assimilated into German-speaking Austrian society in a generation or two. However, traditional religious prejudices and racist doctrines of the late nineteenth century prevented a full acceptance of Jewish migrants.
The post-World War I peace conferences that established the borders of the Republic of Austria created a relatively homogeneous German-speaking state (95.3 percent of the populace) but left German-speaking minorities in Czechoslovakia and Italy. Although the 3 million German-speaking inhabitants of the borderlands of Bohemia and Moravia had been subjects of the Habsburgs for centuries, their national orientation was German, and it would be not be accurate to see them as an Austrian minority outside of Austria.
The establishment of the Austrian-Italian frontier at the Brenner Pass involved the dismemberment of the province of Tirol and created an Austrian--or, more specifically, German-speaking Tirolean--minority of 200,000 persons in South Tirol that was incorporated into the Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige. While Italy was controlled by the Fascists (1922-45), Germanspeaking South Tiroleans were subjected to Italinization campaigns, and during World War II they were given the "option" of Italinization or emigration as "settlers" to areas occupied by Nazi Germany.
After World War II, a popular movement in South Tirol agitated for the region to be incorporated into Austria, but the Allies did not support these aspirations. An agreement in 1947 between Italy and Austria provided South Tiroleans with a special autonomous status. The realization of this status became a continuing point of contention that sometimes erupted into violence between South Tiroleans and Italians and caused friction between Vienna and Rome. However, in 1992 political representatives of the German-speaking South Tiroleans and the Italian authorities in Rome succeeded in drafting legislation that is likely to satisfy South Tirolean claims for autonomy as an Italian region.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress