Bruno Kreisky

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Bruno Kreisky

Bruno Kreisky

In office
21 April 1970 – 24 May 1983
President Franz Jonas (1970-1974)
Rudolf Kirchschläger (1974-1983)
Deputy Rudolf Häuser (1970–1976)
Hannes Androsch (1976–1981)
Fred Sinowatz (1981–1983)
Preceded by Josef Klaus
Succeeded by Fred Sinowatz

In office
16 July 1959 – 19 April 1966
Chancellor Julius Raab
Preceded by Julius Raab
Succeeded by Lujo Tončić-Sorinj

Born 22 January 1911(1911-01-22)[1]
Vienna, Austria
Died 29 July 1990 (aged 79)
Vienna, Austria
Political party SPÖ
Religion Judaism / Agnosticism[2]

Bruno Kreisky (January 22, 1911  – July 29, 1990) was an Austrian politician who served as Foreign Minister from 1959 to 1966 and as Chancellor from 1970 to 1983. Aged 72 at the end of his chancellorship, he was the oldest acting Chancellor after World War II.

Life and political career

Kreisky was born in Margareten, a district of Vienna, to a liberal Jewish family. His parents were Max Kreisky (1876-1944) and Irene Felix Kreisky (1884-1969). His father worked as a textile manufacturer.[3] Shocked by the level of poverty and violence in Austria during the 1920s, he joined the youth wing of the Socialist Party of Austria (SPÖ) in 1925 at age 15. In 1927, he joined the Young Socialist Workers against the wishes of his parents. In 1929, he began studying law at the University of Vienna at the advice of Otto Bauer, who urged him to study law rather than medicine, as he had originally planned. He remained politically active during this period. In 1931, he left the Jewish religious community, becoming agnostic.[3] In 1934, when the Socialist Party was banned by the Dollfuss dictatorship, he became active in underground political work. He was arrested in January 1935 and convicted of high treason, but was released in June 1936. In March 1938 the Austrian state was incorporated in Germany, and in September Kreisky escaped the National Socialist persecution of Austrian Jews during Holocaust by emigrating to Sweden, where he remained until 1945. In 1942 he married Vera Fürth.

He returned to Austria in May 1946, but he was soon back in Stockholm, assigned to the Austrian legation. In 1951 he returned to Vienna, where Federal President Theodor Körner appointed him Assistant Chief of Staff and political adviser. In 1953 he was appointed Undersecretary in the Foreign Affairs Department of the Austrian Chancellery. In this position he took part in negotiating the 1955 Austrian State Treaty, which ended the four-power occupation of Austria and restored Austria's independence and neutrality.

Kreisky was elected to the Austrian parliament, the Nationalrat as a Socialist during the 1956 election. He was elected to the Party Executive along with Bruno Pittermann, Felix Slavik, and Franz Olah, and thus became a member of the central leadership body of the party. After the 1959 election, he became Foreign Minister in the coalition cabinet of Chancellor Julius Raab (ÖVP). He played a leading role in setting up the European Free Trade Association, helped solve the South Tyrol question with Italy, and proposed a "Marshall Plan" for the countries of the Third World.

Kreisky left office in 1966, when the ÖVP under Josef Klaus won an absolute majority in the Nationalrat. In February 1967 he was elected chairman of the Socialist Party. At the March 1970 elections, the Socialists won a plurality (but not a majority) of seats, and Kreisky became Chancellor, heading only the second purely left-wing government in Austria. He was the first Jewish Chancellor of Austria. In October 1971 he called fresh elections and won the first absolute majority achieved by an Austrian party in a free election. He won comfortable victories at the 1975 and 1979 elections.

Kreisky turned 70 in 1981, and by this time the voters had become increasingly uncomfortable they saw as his complacency and preoccupation with international issues. At the April 1983 election, the Socialists lost their absolute majority in the Nationalrat. Kreisky declined to form a minority government and resigned, nominating Fred Sinowatz, his Minister of Education, as his successor. His health was declining, and in 1984 he had an emergency kidney transplant. During his final years he occasionally made bitter remarks at his party, who had made him their honorary chairman. He died in Vienna in July 1990.

Political views and programs

Kreisky (left) with Abul Fateh in Vienna, 1962.

In office, Kreisky and his close ally, Justice Minister Christian Broda, pursued a policy of liberal reform, in a country which had a tradition of conservative Roman Catholicism. He reformed Austria's family law and its prisons, and he decriminalised abortion and homosexuality. Nevertheless he sought to bridge the gap between the Catholic Church and the Austrian Socialist movement and found a willing collaborator in the then Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Franz König. Kreisky promised to reduce the mandatory military service from nine to six months. After the election the military service was reduced to eight months (if it is done at once or six months plus eight weeks later on).

During Kreisky's premiership employee benefits were expanded, the workweek was cut to 40 hours, and legislation providing for equality for women was passed. Kreisky's government established language rights for the country's Slovene and Croatian minorities. Following the 1974 oil shock, Kreisky committed Austria to developing nuclear power to reduce dependence on oil, although this policy was eventually abandoned after a referendum held in 1978.

Kreisky played a prominent role in international affairs, promoting dialogue between North Korea and South Korea working with like-minded European leaders like Willy Brandt and Olof Palme to promote peace and development. Although the 1955 State Treaty prevented Austria joining the European Union, he supported European integration. Austria cast itself as a bridge between East and West, and Vienna was the site for some early rounds of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Kreisky opposed Zionism as a solution to the problems faced by the Jewish people, claiming that Jews were not an ethnic group or race, but rather a religious group, even equating claims of the existence of the Jewish people as a distinctive nationality to National Socialist claims of a Jewish race, and claiming that such ideas raised questions about Jewish dual loyalty. However, he did not oppose the existence of Israel or question the legitimacy of Israeli patriotism, and developed friendly relations with the Israeli Labor Party and the Peace Now movement, though he harshly criticized the Israeli right wing and the Likud party as fascists. Kreisky referred to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin as a terrorist, and had a stormy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir especially during the 1973 hostage taking. He once said that he was "the only politician in Europe Golda Meir can't blackmail." He cultivated friendly relations with Arab leaders such as Anwar Sadat and Muammar Gaddafi, and in 1980 Austria established relations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. He tried to use his position as a European Jewish Socialist to act as a mediator between Israel and the Arabs.

Kreisky was notable for his apologetic approach to former National Socialist party members and contemporary far-right Austrian politicians. For example, Kreisky praised far-right populist Jörg Haider calling him "a political talent worth watching".[4] Kreisky is alleged to have used coded anti-semitic language to attract right-wing voters in Austria. In 1967, neo-National Socialist Austrian leader Norbert Burger declared that he had no objections to Kreisky despite his Jewish background, claiming that he was simply a "German" and neither a religious Jew or a Zionist. Kreisky felt that he had never personally suffered as a Jew, but only as a socialist. While imprisoned for his socialist activities during the Dollfuss regime, many of his cellmates were active National Socialists, and Kreisky accepted them as fellow political opponents. Following his election in 1970, Kreisky wanted to demonstrate that he was indeed "Chancellor of all Austrians", and appointed four politicians with National Socialist backgrounds to his cabinet. When National Socialist hunter Simon Wiesenthal reported that four members of Kreisky's cabinet were former National Socialists, Kreisky didn't remove them from the government, though one did resign. Kreisky responded that everybody had the right to make political mistakes in their youth. This incident marked the beginning of a bitter conflict, which did not end until Kreisky died. In 1986, Wiesenthal sued Kreisky for libel. Three years later the court found Kreisky guilty of defamation and forced him to pay a substantial fine.[5]

In 1976, the Bruno Kreisky Foundation for Outstanding Achievements in the Area of Human Rights was founded to mark Kreisky's 65th birthday. Every two years, the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Prize is awarded to an international figure who has advanced the cause of human rights.

Later in his life Kreisky tried to help some Soviet dissidents. In particular, in 1983 he sent a letter to the Soviet premier Yuri Andropov demanding the release of dissident Yuri Orlov, but Andropov left Kreisky's letter unanswered.[6]


Today, Kreisky's premiership is the subject of controversy. Many of his former supporters see in Kreisky the last socialist of the old school and look back nostalgically at an era when the standard of living was noticeably rising, when the welfare state was in full swing and when, by means of a state-funded programme promoting equality of opportunity, working class children were encouraged to stay on at school and eventually receive higher education, all this resulting in a decade of prosperity and optimism about the future.

Conservatives criticise Kreisky's policy of deficit spending, expressed in his famous comment during the 1979 election campaign that he preferred that the state run up high debts rather than see people become unemployed, and hold Kreisky responsible for Austria's subsequent economic difficulties. Despite this criticism, Kriesky did much to transform Austria during his time in office, with considerable improvements in working conditions, a dramatic rise in the average standard of living,[7] and a significant expansion of the welfare state,[8][9][10][11][12][13][14]and arguably remains the most successful socialist Chancellor of Austria to this day.

See also


  1. [1], Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. [2], New York Times: "Bruno Kreisky was born in Vienna on Jan. 22, 1911, to Irene Felix and Max Kreisky, a textile industrialist. The family was of Jewish descent, but the son later described himself as a religious agnostic."
  3. 3.0 3.1
  4. The Death of a Right-Wing Populist. Der Spiegel (2008-10-13). Retrieved on 2008-11-29.
  5. Minicy Catom Software Engineering Ltd. Austria's Attitude Toward Israel: Following the European Mainstream. Retrieved on 2010-04-17.
  6. Kreisky's letter along with Andropov's resolution on it (PDF). Retrieved on 2010-04-17.
  7. "Austria",Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2001. © 1993-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved
  8. Socialists in the Recession: The Search for Solidarity‎ by Giles Radice and Lisanne Radice
  13. A Concise History of Austria by Steven Beller

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Leopold Figl
Foreign Minister of Austria
1959 – 1966
Succeeded by
Lujo Tončić-Sorinj
Preceded by
Josef Klaus
Chancellor of Austria
1970 – 1983
Succeeded by
Fred Sinowatz
Party political offices
Preceded by
Bruno Pittermann
SPÖ Party Chairman
1967 – 1983
Succeeded by
Fred Sinowatz
Preceded by
United States Prentis C. Hale
President of Organizing Committee for Winter Olympic Games
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France Jean de Beaumont
Preceded by
Japan Kogoro Uemura
President of Organizing Committee for Winter Olympic Games
Succeeded by
United States Hugh Carey
Academic offices
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Simone Veil
College of Europe Orateur
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