News out of Austria indicates the tragic condition of yet another Catholic people in Europe. Economically the country is a vacuum, dependent on Russia for food and all supplies. Politically, while most opposition to the Provisional Government is restrained, it would seem that the quicker elections can be held the better the chance for the establishment of a new Austrian State.
Economic disorder has been occasioned bv. three forces. The natural disorganisation of a small
country incorporated in a larger, and then quickly severed from its newlyestablished economy. The ruthless requisitioning by Russia of all available live-stock, food, machinery, rollingstock (even the tram lines in Vienna have been taken by the liberating forces from the East), household goods and the very minimum essentials of life. The inevitable destruction of war and invasion.
There seems to be no doubt that the invading Russians treated the Austrian population abominably. For the first few days after the occupying army took over, there were house-to-house searches. The common people were handled bestially ; young women were regarded as " spoils of war," young men were beaten and imprisoned by looting and plundering men of the Soviet armies. With the arrival of the representatives of the Russian High Command this was stopped. There now seems to be a desire on the part of the Soviet to establish fairly decent conditions for the people and to make Austria a sort of "democratic " showpiece for the benefit of the Western Allies. The politiCal situation is more tomplea. and the problem is still further complicated by the claims of Dr. Karl Renner. leader of the Provisional Coalition and the Social Democrats.
It is probably true that Dr. Renner was motivated by goodwill towards Austria in his dealing with the Russians. He made the lirst overtures to the High Command which resulted in the establishment of order in the Russian Army's attitude to the people. He has acted as an Austrian liaison to the occupying armies. His work has brought some alleviation of hardship. But his claims for the popularity of his patty cannot be supported by contemporary evidence.
He states that in the event of an election he can rely on sixty per cent. of the Viennese voters. This is possibly true. But the only way to check it is to hold an election, which will not he possible until the end of the year. And Vienna is only part of Austria. Dr. Renner seems to be basing his voting potential on the last municipal election in Vienna. when his party was returned to power with a majority
of approximately sixty to forty. But in the last General Parliamentary Elec..
lion the figures were reversed. The Christian Democrats and kindred
parties held a similar majority over the Social 'Democrats. Dr. Renner is not trying to establish his party as the municipal government of Vienna now. He is trying to place it in a position where it will lead all Austria and he cannot claim a mandate from the people for such a Government on the basis 'o1 past elections.
Two other complicating factors are the distrust of the Volkspartei for Dr. Renner and the slumbering animosity of the population for the Red Army. The first is ascribed to the Pan-German record of Renner. It is interesting to note that the Soviet-ssupported Renner has a "Fascist" record (according to Soviet definition) infinitely stranger. than any of the Churchmen attacked by the
Russian radio. The second, to those first few days of the Russian occupation which were so frightful in their effect that it is doubtful if they will ever be forgotten by the tragically mistreated people.
Especially among the younger people is .Renner resented
The underground organisation, staffed by Catholics and dependent on Catholics, which carried on a magnificent struggle against the fearful odds of Gestapo rule. is perhaps the group with the highest potential political influence in Austria to-day. It is antiRenner: it is pro-Volkspartei.
It is a factor to be reckoned with in the future of Austria, which more than ever is turning to the Church and Catholic political parties as its guide to independence.