Burgenland

   As its name, which means Land of Castles, implies, the modern Austrian province of the Burgenland is both historically and geographically a border area. It was called that, however, only after 1919 and referred to the four counties of Hungary of which the region had been part on and off since the 10th century. The Burgenland was settled in the Mesolithic period (10,000–5000 BCE). By 5000 BCE, peasants were living in large numbers around Lake Neusiedl and the Pullendorf basin. Local copper and antimony deposits encouraged mining throughout the Bronze Age; the rich viticulture of the modern Burgenland can be traced back to around 700 BCE. The Celts had settled the area by 450 BCE, and it eventually was gathered into the Roman province of Pannonia 15 years before the beginning of the Christian era.
   The barbarian migrations brought Huns, Goths, Lombards, and
   Avars to the region. Around 800 Charlemagne defeated the Avars, thus bringing the Burgenland under Frankish–Bavarian control until 907, when the Magyars conquered it. While the Magyars continued to control its fortifications, the Burgenland was heavily settled by German-speaking peasants and artisans. Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries played an important role in bringing the terrain under cultivation as well.
   During the High Middle Ages, the Burgenland was largely under the control of local magnate families, the Güßing and the Forchtensteins in particular. During the second half of the 15th century, a few locations in the region came into the hands of the Habsburgs, who mortgaged them to local noblemen. Heavily damaged during the war with the Ottoman Empire in the early modern period, the Burgenland was fully reincorporated into the kingdom of Hungary as the sultans’ armies withdrew during the second half of the 17th century. From this time on, educational, ecclesiastical, and legal norms observed in the kingdom of Hungary prevailed in the Burgenland. The 17th century also brought the Hungarian magnate family, the Esterházy, to the Burgenland and to the town of Eisenstadt. Their influence over the politics and economy of the northern and central Burgenland endured even after the collapse of the Austro–Hungarian empire. Their palace in Eisenstadt became a hub of musical and artistic life in the 18th century, employing among others the composer Franz Josef Haydn. Adam Liszt, the father of the great Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt, also worked for the Esterházy estates.
   As early as the 18th century, some German Burgenlanders asked that their land be joined to the German-speaking areas of Austria, particularly the province of Lower Austria. These feelings intensified somewhat after the Ausgleich of 1867, which gave the regime in Budapest a freer hand in Magyarizing the populations under its control. More important, however, were the economic links that were springing up between western Hungary and the region around Vienna. Heavily agricultural, the Burgenland became a crucial purveyor for the kitchens and public eating establishments of Vienna in the 19th century. Surplus farm labor found work in the factories of the capital and in Lower Austria.
   It was chiefly for this reason that, when the Habsburg monarchy collapsed in the fall of 1918, the inhabitants of western Hungary, which also had a small, historic Croatian minority, demanded in large numbers that they be incorporated into the Austrian republic then taking shape. Preoccupied with making a state out of the territories acknowledged to belong to what was for a time cautiously known as the Provisional Republic of German Austria and in no condition to defend a takeover of western Hungary, the government in Vienna did not support the step.
   The first Hungarian Republic under Michael Károlyi proposed making the area autonomous within Hungary, an idea that attracted favorable attention. However, the Károlyi regime fell to a short-lived Bolshevik regime led by Béla Kun. The increasingly desperate economic situation in the new Austria raised the possibility that it would go the same way. Thus, the victorious powers at the Paris Peace Conference awarded the Burgenland and its capital Ödenburg (Hung.: Sopron) to the government in Vienna in the Treaty of St. Germain, signed on 10 September 1919, and its Hungarian equivalent, the Treaty of Trianon, completed in 1920.
   The arrangement brought armed resistance from the Hungarians, opening a year of skirmishing along the new border that left parts of it under Austrian control. Other areas remained in the hands of Hungary. Italian mediation led to a plebiscite in Sopron in 1921. The reliability of this was questionable, given the circumstances under which the ballots were cast. The Hungarian army continued to occupy the town and surrounding neighborhood even as the vote was taken. Sopron and environs chose to remain with Hungary, but the rest of the Burgenland joined the First Austrian Republic. Its new capital became Eisenstadt.
   Today, with a population of around 280,000, the Burgenland is still a provisioner to the Austrian capital, even though only a very small percentage of the population makes its primary living from agriculture. The area sends large numbers of commuters to Vienna and Lower Austria for jobs, either on a daily or weekly basis. Around 88 percent of the population is German speaking; Croatian- and Hungarian-speaking minorities have declined to around 7 percent and 3 percent of the population, respectively. The Hungarian-language population is swiftly aging out. In districts with substantial Croatian populations, there are 28 bilingual grammar schools in which German and Croatian are languages of instruction, as required by the Austrian School Law for Minorities passed in 1994. There is one bilingual high school, a bilingual technical track, and five high schools where Croatian or Hungarian can be studied. Electronics and agricultural processing remain important local industries.
   See also Education.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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