Österreichische Liga für Menschenrechte

Geschichte der Liga

Unter der Leitung von o. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schmale wird die Geschichte der Liga seit 2008 in einem von Univ.-Ass. MMMag. Dr. Christopher Treiblmayr betreuten Projekt erforscht. Das Projekt ist am Institut für Geschichte der Universität Wien angesiedelt.

Derzeit wird an einem Sammelband zur Erforschung der Geschichte der Beziehungen der europäischen Menschenrechtsligen gearbeitet, welches auf den Ergebnissen eines Workshops "- Europäische Zivilgesellschaft?- Die Geschichte der internationalen Beziehungen der Menschenrechtsligen ", veranstaltet von der Österreichsichen Liga für Menschenrechte im April 2014, basiert.

Concordance democrats? The Austrian League for Human Rights and the Civil Society

Financing: Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung

Project director: O. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schmale

Project collaborator: Dr. Christopher Treiblmayr

Free project staff: Dr. Thomas Brendel

The intent of this project, started in November 2008, is to compose the changeful history of the Austrian League for Human Rights (ALHR). A national committee of the International League for Human Rights (ILHR), the ALHR was established in 1926 under the lead management of the Viennese sociologist Rudolf Goldscheid (1870-1931). After the German invasion in 1938 the League dissolved. Immediately after the end of the Second World War in 1945, it was rebuilt by a new executive committee.

Generally, and this may be understood as a guiding principle of the project, the approach is not only to string together a chronology of historical facts, but rather to reflect on the interaction between the ALHR as a Non-governmental Organization (NGO) and the Austrian as well as the European Civil Society. Therefore, the specific development of the Austrian society and political culture has to be taken into account: In fact, there are numerous civilian associations in Austria. The political culture, however, still lacks Civil Society structures, as can be observed in other European democracies. Despite the considerable changes that have taken place since the early 1970s through the activities of NGOs and Civil Society initiatives, the Austrian society and political culture can still be defined as a “concordance democracy” (consociationalism). Due to this specific political and social climate, the ALHR forged close links with the leading political parties, i.e. the Christian Social Party (CSP, until 1933; succeeded by the Austrian People’s Party, ÖVP, in 1945) and the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ, called SDAP in the First Republic), in order to intensify the lobbying for human rights issues.

In this effort, the League has been addressing a wide range of topics. Corresponding to its “Leitbild” (mission statement), the ALHR “has been dedicated since its inception to combating all forms of discrimination and has directed its efforts in particular against manifestations of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism as well as discrimination based on sexual orientation, handicap status or religion and to stand up for the rights of ethnic minorities”. According to Erich Körner, ALHR’s long standing secretary general, the League’s main activities during the Second Republic comprised five lines of action: information about human rights, education on human rights, advancement of civil peace and peaceful international understanding, protection and development of human rights as well as individual legal and social assistance. Our account of the League’s history is based on these postulated major social and political activities. Other research concerns stressed in the project include the different advisory councils established by the League to provide support in its main working fields, and the key issues of the ALHR’s various publications since 1926 besides the League’s journal “Das Menschenrecht” (“The Human Right”), first published in 1946. Based on this framework, as well as on the League’s archives, on additional archive materials and on testimonies of the League’s elder member generation, the project focuses on the following topics: personnel and organizational structure of the ALHR; pedagogy and education on human rights (especially regarding social matters as, for example, homosexuality); information; international and national co-operations in peace initiatives; legal and social assistance; ethnic groups and minorities in Austria and Italy (South Tyrol); cultural activities; women’s rights and finally the ALHR’s position and impact within the wider context of the history of human rights associations. Each of these topics is focused on the principal question whether the ALHR, in its different fields of activity through the years, constituted a mere Austrian “concordance democracy association” or a transnationally acting self-organized part of the Civil Society.

The central source of information for this project is the archive of the ALHR. Starting with the re-establishment of the League in 1945, the archive includes more than 300 files, evaluated in a pre-project. It contains, for example, all minutes of the general assemblies and the board meetings of the ALHR since 1946 in chronological order. Thus the personnel composition of the directorate and its intentions and activities can be documented consistently for the period of the Second Republic. This unit is complemented by a substantial collection of minutes, reports of activities and membership rosters of the advisory councils and the ALHR’s offices in Styria – the only one still in existence – Carinthia, Tyrol and Burgenland in the period between 1946 and 1984. The ALHR’s long-standing activities concerning ethnic minorities in Austria, as, for instance, the Slovenes in Carinthia or the Croats in Burgenland, and the German-speaking Tyrolians in South Tyrol can be thoroughly analysed by means of these documents. Another, very crucial, secondary source in the archive of the ALHR is its journal “Das Menschenrecht”, first published in 1946, as mentioned before. Since 1961 it appeared as a quarterly until it was relaunched under the new name of “Liga” (“League”) in 2004. All articles will be analysed especially by their topics and categorized in an Excel-database. Thereby, it shall be easy to recognize which fields of activities the respective directorate and editors considered important with regards to external affairs of the ALHR. At the same time, the League’s reaction to social, political and cultural developments and changes gets clear.

Altogether, the well-sorted archive of the ALHR and the aforementioned various other sources provide a profound insight into the history of the ALHR since its re-establishment in 1945/46. In contrast, the archive contains only few materials concerning the association’s history in the First Republic. This “disappearance of documents” has its reasons: Following its self-declared dissolution in 1938, the ALHR’s archive was either destroyed by the responsible leaders of the League as a measure of precaution or was confiscated by the national socialist authorities. After the Second World War, the Soviet occupying forces took away the archive materials of numerous German police and administrative departments. For many years these files remained under lock and key in a strictly clandestine and barred archive of the intelligence service in Moscow. Some of the materials of this “Special Archive” in Moscow have been returned to the Austrian State Archives in 2009 and can be inspected there. These files include documents concerning the ALHR’s history during the First Republic. Through the investigation of these personal remains and institutional files, presently analysed for the first time, revealing insights into the League’s history have already been obtained. This also applies to the files in the “Special Archive” concerning the activities of Viennese Masonic Lodges. Copies of parts of this archive have been retransferred to the archive of the Great Masonic Lodge of Vienna and were thus available for the project. They clearly indicate that the freemasons dominated the ALHR in the First Republic, especially in the period of its inception in 1926. Another part of this archive is still in Moscow and will be analysed there in the course of the project. Further remains and correspondence of members of the ALHR’s directorate and advisory boards between 1926 and 1938 have already been located in cheapest generic levitra other archives, for example the Archive for the History of Sociology in Austria at the Department of Sociology at the University of Graz, the Municipal and Provincial Archives of Vienna, the Manuscripts Department of the Vienna City Library and the archives of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York.

The main project objective is the publication of a monograph that will fill a gap in the histories of Austria and of human rights organizations by linking a profound historical study on the ALHR with the international scientific research on Civil Society in the 20th century.

This report was first published by Christopher Treiblmayr in: Wiener Zeitschrift zur Geschichte der Neuzeit 1/2010, pp. 173-175.


Dr. Christoph Treiblmayr


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