The former Habsburg Crown Land of Carinthia was particularly affected by conflicts over the future boundaries of the German-Austrian successor state.
In the ‘Declaration of State concerning the extent, frontiers and relations of the territory of the State of German-Austria’ dated 22 November 1918 the newly founded republic of German-Austria laid claim to a frontier along the Karawanken mountains and the entire territory of Carinthia with the exception of the community of Seeland. Although elsewhere the right to ethnic self-determination was used as an argument – in the face of the threat of the loss of territory in the German-speaking areas of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, in the case of Carinthia geographic, transport and economic viewpoints were cited. The populations of Slovene-speaking or mixed-language districts were expected to consent to remaining in German-Austria. However, the State of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs proclaimed in Agram/Zagreb on 29 October 1918 – and succeeded on 1 December 1918 by the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (known as the SHS state), laid claim to the southern parts of Carinthia and Styria on the basis of the Slovenes living there.
The successor states of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy also used military means to try to push through their demands and thereby to confront the Allies with facts on the ground at the forthcoming peace negotiations in Paris. This led to the first South Slav troops advancing into Carinthia shortly after the armistice of 3 November 1918 and occupying the border area.
On 5 December 1918 the Provisional Carinthian Provincial Assembly decided to put up military resistance. The armed clashes at Grafenstein on 15 December 1918 marked the beginning of the defensive campaign, which reached its climax between 29 April and 7 May 1919 and ended with the occupation of Klagenfurt by SHS troops on 6 June 1919.
The Peace Treaty of Saint-Germain, signed by State Chancellor Karl Renner on 10 September 1919 stipulated that a plebiscite was to be held in two zones in Carinthia. In addition the Kanaltal/Val Canale was to be ceded to Italy and the Miess/Mežica valley and Unterdrauburg/Dravograd to the SHS state. Until the definitive vote the southern zone A was to be administered by SHS units and zone B with the Klagenfurt basin by Austrian units. In zone B there was to be a plebiscite only if the population in the more southerly zone A, where the Slovenes were in the majority, voted to remain with the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In the run-up to 10 September 1919 an immense propaganda battle took place in the voting areas. The unity of Carinthia was propagated with slogans such as: ‘What we have sown in Carinthia we also want to reap!’ or ‘Serb poison is green!’
In the plebiscite held in zone A on 10 October 1920 59% voted for Austria and 41% for the SHS state. Even the majority of Slovenes who lived in this area voted to remain with Austria – probably influenced by political rather than national considerations. As Helmut Rumpler has put it, it was a ‘compromise by the minority with the majority’. Initially it seemed that the quarrels over borders and the conflicts between nationalities had been solved, but the way the defensive campaign has been – and still is – turned into a question of ideology has contributed significantly to the polarization of the ethnic groups and to discrimination against the Slovenes of Carinthia, which reached its climax during the Second World War.
Translation: Leigh Bailey
Fräss-Ehrfeld, Claudia: Geschichte Kärntens. Bd. 3/2 – Kärnten 1918-1920. Abwehrkampf – Volksabstimmung – Identitätssuche, Klagenfurt am Wörthersee 2000
Fräss-Ehrfeld, Claudia: Kärnten 1918-1920, in: Karner, Stefan/Mikoletzky, Lorenz (Hrsg.): Österreich. 90 Jahre Republik. Beitragsband der Ausstellung im Parlament, Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen 2008, 193-202
Goldinger, Walter/Binder, Dieter A.: Geschichte der Republik Österreich 1918-1938, München 1992
Haas, Hanns/Stuhlpfarrer, Karl: Österreich und seine Slowenen, Wien 1977
Haas, Hanns: Die Wiener Regierung und die Frage Kärnten 1918-1920, in: Kärnten. Volksabstimmung 1920. Voraussetzungen – Verlauf – Folgen, Wien/München/Kleinenzersdorf 1981, 29-58
Hanisch, Ernst: Österreichische Geschichte 1890-1990. Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994
Vocelka, Karl: Geschichte Österreichs. Kultur – Gesellschaft – Politik, 3. Auflage, Graz/Wien/Köln 2002
Weimann, Ute: Die südslawische Frage und Jugoslawien. Grenzziehungen im Süden Österreichs unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Kärntenproblematik, in: Konrad, Helmut/Maderthaner, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Das Werden der Ersten Republik … der Rest ist Österreich. Bd. I, Wien 2008, 119-138
"Serb poison is green!": Propagandaplakat, quoted from: Fräss-Ehrfeld, Claudia: Geschichte Kärntens. Bd. 3/2 – Kärnten 1918-1920. Abwehrkampf – Volksabstimmung – Identitätssuche, Klagenfurt am Wörthersee 2000, 177 (Translation)
"What we have sown ...": Propagandaplakat, quoted from: Fräss-Ehrfeld, Claudia: Geschichte Kärntens. Bd. 3/2 – Kärnten 1918-1920. Abwehrkampf – Volksabstimmung – Identitätssuche, Klagenfurt am Wörthersee 2000, 179 (Translation)
"compromise by the minority ...“: Rumpler, Helmut (Hrsg.): Perspektiven der Forschung und Politik. Kärntens Volksabstimmung 1920, Klagenfurt 1981, 11, quoted from: Hanisch, Ernst: Österreichische Geschichte 1890-1990. Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994, 273 (Translation)
- The High Price of Peace
- Tyrol Is Divided
- Burgenland Is Gained
- The defensive campaign in Carinthia and the plebiscite on 10 October 1920
- Losing Southern Styria
- Fixing the Northern Frontier
- Austrian Federal Province or Swiss Canton?
- Austrian attempts to unite with Germany from the founding of the republic to the referendums in Tyrol and Salzburg in 1921