Monday, October 04, 2004

From Emperor to Blessed 

Controversy erupts in Europe, as the Pope once again fails to make everyone happy:

"The last emperor of Austria, Karl I, will be beatified by the Pope tomorrow amid fierce political and religious argument over how saintly he really was.

"While Austrian monarchists are delighted to see the first member of the defunct Habsburg dynasty set on the path to sainthood, critics claim that Karl I was an alcoholic adulterer who advocated the use of poison gas in the First World War."
You can read a bit more about Karl (or Charles) here. My hometown of Krakow, together with the rest of southern Poland, was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for more than a century, after Austria, Prussia and Russia helped themselves to Poland and partitioned the country between them in the late eighteenth century. As far as foreign occupations go, the Austrian one was the best (or at least the least worst) of the lot, the Austro-Hungarian empire having had a reputation for relative liberalism. For any visitors to Krakow, there's a good pub on Florianska Street devoted to the life and times of the Empire.

Having said all that, I don't have a particular opinion on this controversial Papal choice. Russia's last Tsar Nicholas II and his whole family have been, of course, made saints by some sections of the Russian Orthodox Church, on the account of their martyrdom at the hands of Godless Bolsheviks. If we have to beatify the First World War's loser monarchs, I think Karl I is a better choice.

Martin Kugler, a spokesman for the Habsburg family, defends the emperor as an enlightened ruler:
"As emperor, Karl pushed a comprehensive social programme. He appointed the world's first social affairs minister and protected tenants and children. He instituted worker protection and a family's right to social security. The essence of these measures remain in place today."
Deutsche Welle asks: "A Patron Saint for Politicians?" Maybe a patron saint of the welfare state?


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