Habsburg seeks right to return

ADRIAN BRIDGE

Central Europe Correspondent

Having successfully defied a ban on entering his native land, Felix Habsburg, the youngest son of the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, yesterday called on the government in Vienna to lift all restrictions on his freedom to return home.

Accompanied by his lawyers, Mr Habsburg, now 79 and the most senior member of the family never to have renounced any claim to the imperial throne, declared that since joining the European Union at the beginning of last year, Austria no longer had the right to bar him from the country.

But he was quick to dash any hopes diehard monarchists may have had that he was launching a bid for a Habsburg comeback.

"I have no intention of becoming active politically . . . I am too old for that," he said. "I also have no intention of calling into question [the fact that Austria is now] a Republic."

Felix Habsburg was less than three years old when his father, Emperor Karl I, was forced to step down and go into exile following defeat in the First World War and the dismembering of the Austro-Hungarian empire that followed.

In the almost 80 years since, he has lived in Portugal, Belgium, the United States and, most recently, Mexico. In all that time, he has only been permitted to return to Austria once, for three days in 1989, to attend the funeral of his mother, Zita. The original law banning Habsburg family members from entering Austria was passed at a time when there were still many in the country who would have supported a restoration of the monarchy and for many years Felix and his two older brothers lived in hope that they would one day receive the call.

After the Second World War, however, most members of the family - most significantly Karl's oldest son and heir, Otto - abandoned such dreams and, in return for renouncing any claim to the throne, or properties, were allowed to visit whenever they wanted.

Unlike his brother Otto, who went on to become a prominent member of the European Parliament, Felix Habsburg never signed the renunciation and even yesterday said he still had no intention of doing so.

Although he never agreed on the ban, Mr Habsburg had little choice but to obey it until Austria's membership of the EU last year led to a relaxing its border controls with countries to the west. Indeed, his successful entry to the country was by car from neighbouring Germany, from which he was waved through by a border guard who barely bothered to look at his passport.

Government officials yesterday played down Mr Habsburg's unauthorised visit, which they admitted they had been powerless to prevent. They said they would consider his request to be granted full freedom to travel to Austria.

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