Kreisky, Bruno

   Perhaps the preeminent political personality of Austria in the second half of the 20th century, Kreisky was born in Vienna to well-to-do parents of Moravian background. The family had Jewish roots, though Kreisky personally disavowed all confessional identification. Trained as a jurist, he also worked as a journalist. Membership in a Social Democratic Workers’ Party youth organization sensitized him to the human misery brought about by the unemployment of the interwar era.
   Kreisky spent the period between 1935 and June 1936 in confinement for continuing his political activities even after the party was outlawed for its role in the February Uprising of 1934. Indeed, in March 1936 he was found guilty of treason for his role in the upheaval. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1938, he fled Austria for Sweden. Returning to his native country, he entered its diplomatic service in 1946. Ten years later, Kreisky also entered electoral politics, winning a seat in the National Assembly as a representative from Lower Austria. As foreign minister from 1959 to 1966, he shepherded Austria’s entry into the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and carried on negotiations with Italy concerning the thorny problem of German minority rights in the South Tyrol. Becoming head of the Socialist Party of Austria (SPÖ) in 1967, Kreisky held that position until 1983. During this period, he was responsible for major ideological shifts in the organization in response to generational and occupational shifts in the Austrian electorate. Once the party of the urban proletariat, the SPÖ had now to win elections in which service-sector wage earners were rapidly gaining on industrial workers in numbers. Their concerns were driven far more by the desire to improve their personal standard of living and economic security than any need to limit the right to private property or to challenge middle-class values generally. With the examples of Soviet suppression of political dissent in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 very much on the minds of many Austrians, Kreisky became a vocal critic of antidemocratic regimes, including communist examples. He strongly argued for the individualism that had always played a central role in Austro-Marxist doctrine. In 1978, he would say that while Marx had made central contributions to socialist thought, many of his teachings no longer applied in the modern world.
   Kreisky won the powerful Austrian trade unions over to his more moderate point of view. He also gained the support of regional socialist parties as he traveled extensively throughout the country to win these organizations to his side. He thereby reduced the influence of Vienna’s SPÖ, always among the most radical voices and not always the most popular ones, of the movement. In 1971, the SPÖ received the majority of votes in the national election, inaugurating a period of SPÖ governments that lasted until 2000. Domestically, they followed Kreisky’s guidelines, which called for increasingly comprehensive social and educational benefits for the entire population, a program that the postwar prosperity of Austria made possible. Greater democratization was encouraged, as well, by such measures as lowering the voting age from 21 to 19, formal declaration of gender equality, and reorganizing the hierarchical structure of authority in universities Kreisky was particularly eager that Austria play an active a role in foreign policy, in keeping with its neutral status. He promoted the construction of the United Nations (UN) City, which houses some of the international organization’s agencies. Vienna thus became the third leg in the UN triad, the other two being New York and Geneva. Austria’s neutral status and Kreisky’s ongoing activities in the Socialist International encouraged him to become active in Arab–Israeli affairs. Although concerned about maintaining the security of the Jewish state, he also believed that Israel would have to come to a territorial accommodation with the Arab states on its borders and with the Palestinians, positions heavily criticized in Israel. In 1973 Kreisky, along with other European socialist leaders, recommended that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) be allowed to speak officially for the Palestinian people as a whole.
   Kreisky’s domination of Austrian politics ended in 1983, as his party came under heavy attack for its role in major financial scandals. Chief among these were questionable practices of his finance minister, Hannes Androsch (1938–), who was for a time seen as Kreisky’s successor as chancellor, and the building of the new, and supposedly hyper-modern, Vienna General Hospital, which absorbed vast sums of money, some of which was never accounted for. In 1983, Kreisky refused to enter any kind of coalition government; he gave up both the chancellorship and his role as party leader. He continued to play an active role as an elder statesman of the party and in international socialist affairs. When an SPÖ coalition with the Austrian People’s Party assigned the position of foreign minister to a leading figure of the latter party, Alois Mock, a supporter of Austrian entry into the European Economic Community, Kreisky resigned his position as honorary president of the SPÖ. He feared that such policies would undermine Austrian neutrality.
   See also Political Parties.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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