- The term is a collective applied to the voluntary self-defense organizations that sprang up throughout the Austrian provinces immediately after World War I. At first they were connected with no specific political party, nor, with the exception of their hostility to Marxism, did they espouse any particular ideological viewpoint. They drew their membership from Austrian society as a whole. Jews and Christians participated. They served as local police, and where a region was under attack from foreign troops—in Carinthia, for example—they played a significant role in preserving the territorial integrity of the newborn First Austrian Republic. These organizations were gradually consolidated into a single group throughout the alpine lands. Seeing the militia as a way of offsetting similar organizations within the socialist camp, major industrialists, especially in Upper Styria, supported the Heimwehr heavily. The organization assembled an impressive arsenal, partially from local sources, partially with the aid of Benito Mussolini in Italy, who was much interested in maintaining a significant presence in Austrian affairs. They were uniformed, their colors the white and green of Styria, and kept alive their public presence through parades and other forms of demonstration, which brought them into direct and often violent conflict with their socialist counterparts, the Republican Guard.The authoritarian drift in Austrian politics after 1927, when street clashes in Vienna between socialists and the police ended in the burning of the Ministry of Justice building, moved the Heimwehr directly into the political arena. As chancellors, Ignaz Seipel and Engelbert Dollfuss supported and made use of the movement. Though a major wing of its membership was more German nationalist than the intensely Catholic leadership of the Christian Social Party, the vigorous anti-Marxism of both camps promoted cooperation between them. Indeed, neither Seipel nor Dollfuss would have been able to govern without the participation of the German national bloc in their coalitions.The leaders of the Heimwehr, Count Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, Major Emil Fey (1886–1938), Richard Steidle (1881–1940), and Walter Pfrimer (1881–1968), pledged their support of fascist principles in the Korneuburg Program of 1930. In doing so, they foreswore democracy, parliamentary government, and capitalism. They urged the creation of a corporate state and announced that they intended to take over the government. The display of unity was, however, deceptive; Fey, who spoke for Catholic and monarchist interests, and Starhemberg, who was an advocate of the Germannational cause, were on especially bad terms. In September 1931, the Styrian segment of the Heimwehr led by Pfrimer swung its support to the Austrian National Socialist movement. In the first years of the Dollfuss government, members of the Heimwehr occupied key ministerial positions, including the vicechancellorship and the Ministry of the Interior. The continued rivalry in the organization led to its dissolution in 1936 and the incorporation of its fighting forces into the Fatherland Front.See also Austro-Fascism.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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