Today, 12th March, will see the celebrations for the 653rd birthday of the biggest and oldest universities in the german-speaking parts of Europe / the University of Vienna.
The so called Dies Academicus (the day of the university) is held every year with the highlight of the promotions of the best student. Their promotion will not only be held on a speacial day, but under the eyes of the president (in former times the emperor) - promotio sub auspiciis praesidentis/imperatores - from whom the students will receive a ring as sign of their achievements.
The date saw not only in 1365, important historic events taking place for the University of Vienna with it's impacts present in today's society. In 1848 the revolution pushed forward and intellectually prepared by students had a massiv impact on the Austrian Empire forcing Chancellor Metternich and ultimately Emperor Ferdinand I. to resign after military conflicts, a sieg of Vienna and nationalistic movements in Italy and Hungary saw themselves on the road to independence.
Students demanding civil liberties
AT THE DIES ACADEMICUS
In the 1756 built "New University" - today main building of the Austrian academy of the sciences (ÖAW) - numerous students met on 12 March 1848 together with sympathizing professors at the new university building, build in 1756 in the centre of Vienna. (Note: today the old part, now used by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. There, in front of the university they wrote a petition in the sense of constitutional liberties to the emperor. The main demands of the students aimed at a parliamentary constitution, at civil freedoms, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and, above all, concerning the university, freedom of teaching and learning.
Fighting on the barricades
It was to the Lower Austrian House of Representatives the next day. Students gathered at Herrengasse, where it was located. The leaders where afraid and soldiers were ordered to gain back control. The soldiers fired at the students, ordered by Archduke Albrecht as commander of Vienna. This first violent acts was the spark that would ignite the fire of the revolution.
The streets of Vienna have seen battles, barricades during the following days. To calm the situation, the emperor made a pledge on March 15th to give the empire a constitution.
The students, together with the citizens of Vienna, formed guards, bodies of government and ruled in Vienna. The Revolution spread over the empire, with nationalistic tensions in Italy and Hungary further fuelling the rapid developments.
Academic legion - students in charge
One of those bodies, formed by students, was the Academic Legion (Akademische Legion), the citizens formed a National Guard (Nationalgarde) und during the summer of 1848, politically, ideologically and strategically discussions were held in every city, from german states, where the revolution was as successful as in Vienna. The Emperor gave a constitution, the first free elections were held, the first parliament came together and started the process of developing a constitution on their own.
With socialist, nationalist, constitutional monarchists and democrats the conflicts within were getting more intense and dominant. Using the weakness and the disputes, the army of the monarch started a military campaign against the revolutionary parts. At the last days of October 1848, the sieg of Vienna was successful and the emperor gained the upper hand again.
In the following months the military dominance secured the power of the Habsburg-Family as rulers, the constitution and every progress, every pledge during the year 1848 was taken back, absolute monarchy was back – but the people remembered their ideas – today though, the first step towards democracy and civil liberties are mostly forgotten.