Remembering the Empire – National Histories, Imperial Memories Session 1

Session 1 of our online seminar series National Histories, Imperial Memories: Representing the Past in Interwar Central Europe will take place at


18.00 CET on 21 September 2021

on Zoom, featuring papers by

Robert Dassanowsky (University of Colorado)


Béla Rásky (Wiesenthal Institute, Vienna)

Moderator: Nóra Veszprémi (Masaryk University, Brno – CRAACE)


The event is free and open to all, but you need to register. Click here for the registration form. See the full seminar schedule here.



Robert Dassanowsky (University of Colorado)

A Persistence of Vision: Re-Presenting Vienna’s Imperial Forum after 1917

The Ringstrasse signifies a scopic regime that enforced class consciousness and hierarchy, with the historicist structures of the imperial government, culture, and arts facing inward towards the old city and the Hofburg palace. In lieu of a national statement, it offered the urban equivalent of the Baroque churches of the Counter-Reformation, luring the middle and lower classes away from the rationalist Word, training them to deify the contents within the Ring. It is the unfinished pastiche of the ‘apostolic’ imperial Hofburg palace and surroundings that functions as an Eye of God, the visual perspective keeping the city in a semiotically worshipful stance. The Red Vienna of modern working class fortresses indicates a very different architectural relationship by this successor state to its lingering imperial past. Rudolf Perco’s megalomaniac design from 1917 known as the Sühnendenkmal für den Weltkrieg [Monument of Atonement for the World War], would rise 150 meters, the height of an urban contemporary steel and glass office structure. It would destabilize, even deny postimperial social and cultural values of the Hofburg and the museums with war ‘sins.’ In the 1930s, a massive Christian revival mecca for the world was envisioned with a gargantuan Zelte Davids [Tent of David]. This pyramidal structure would have extended far back into the adjoining sixth district, and the visual perspective of the somewhat renewed symbol of the Hofburg would have been like gazing at the distant Temple Mount or any sacred ‘ruin.’ National Socialist attempts to complete the forum in Speerian dimensions or crush the unyielding image of the tract were halted by the war. Subsequent touristic exploitation of the mythic palace and its surroundings arrived with the new optics of the Austrian Second Republic and the Cold War.

Robert Dassanowsky is CU Distinguished Professor of Film and Austrian Studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. His books include Austrian Cinema: A History (2005); New Austrian Film (co-ed., 2011); World Film Locations: Vienna (ed., 2012); Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds: A Manipulation of Metafilm (ed., 2012); Screening Transcendence: Film under Austrofascism and the Hollywood Hope 1933–38 (2018) and After Vienna: Postimperial Salzburg as Austria’s Future ‘Kulturstadt’ 1919–1938. (co-ed., 2022). Dassanowsky is a sponsor of the VIS Vienna Shorts Film Festival, member of the European Film Academy (EFA), Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and Delegate of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.  He is also active as an independent film producer.


Béla Rásky (Wiesenthal Institute, Vienna)

Remembering and Forgetting the Habsburg Empire in Austria and Hungary, 1918–2000: A Comparison

Austria and Hungary, until 1918 the dominant halves of an empire and after 1918 two defeated states of WWI, became independent small states after the Paris peace treaties. While their fate became similar, their memory of the former empire evolved fundamentally differently in politics, media, the humanities and the arts. Even the turning points are marked by different dates. Solely 1918 represented a clear break with the past in both countries, reflected e.g. in the political posters of the time. Habsburg nostalgia came to the fore in sporadic cases, for example in Austrian (silent) film productions, while in Hungary the visual political propaganda did not mourn the Habsburg Empire, but the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, now lost. When in 1934, the Austrofascists came to power in Austria, Habsburg traditions regained influence. After the Anschluß in 1938, the Nazi film industry made several films with nostalgic plots. The works filmed under the trademark Wiener Film were and often are interpreted as subtle expressions of resistance, but actually only served shallow entertainment, distraction. After 1945, there still was an increased focus on visual ‘Habsburgian’ motifs in Austria. This is to be seen, be it in films, in state-mandated representations or in newsreels, as an element of nation-building, as well as an act of concealing the Nazi era by reviving unproblematic continuities. Even the avant-garde – which primarily expressed itself in texts – could not counter this concentrated force of visuality instrumented by the state. Only by the end of the century were Habsburg visions nothing more than PR of the tourist industry.

On the other hand, in Hungary after 1945, especially after the Stalinist take-over in 1949, any nostalgia for the Habsburg Empire or for the Kingdom of Hungary was suppressed by the state. Only towards the end of the 1970s did a certain liberalisation of the Habsburg image begin: first in historiographical reassessments, then increasingly in the restoration of monuments, and finally in popular (visual) culture, in film and TV. But this turnaround is incomprehensible without understanding the beginning erosion of the Kádár regime, the state-controlled cultural and research policy. After 1989/90, however, Hungarian democracy will not pick up here, but in terms of historical politics rather revive the visual culture of the Horthy era.

Béla Rásky is a historian and Permanent Senior Fellow at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute. He served as Managing Director of the VWI from January 2010 to September 2020. He has contributed to numerous projects and exhibitions in contemporary history, including the organisation of the estates of Felix Hurdes, Emmerich Czermak, Vinzenz Schumy, and Christian Broda; research on the attitudes of successive Austrian parliaments towards National Socialism; numerous translations of historical works from Hungarian into German, including István Bibó’s ‘The Jewish Predicament in Post-1944 Hungary’ and ‘The Miseries of East European Small States’ as well as Jenő Szűcs’s ‘The Three Historical Regions of Europe’; co-organisation of the exhibitions ‘Die Kälte des Februar’, ‘3 Tage im Mai’, ‘Flucht nach Wien’, ‘Wien um 1930’; and many years of contribution to the Österreichische Kulturdokumentation, Internationales Archiv für Kulturanalysen. Until 2003, Rásky was director of the Austrian Science and Research Liaison Office Budapest, before working freelance and at the Wien Museum.

Watch the session on our Youtube channel:


This seminar is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 786314).

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