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Military Conscription and Austrian Electoral Geography

Submitted by on February 11, 2013 – 4:02 pm 6 Comments |  
Conscription World MapNote to Readers: The invaluable website Electoral Geography 2.0: Mapped Politics  has posted a number of interesting electoral maps over the past several months while GeoCurrents focused on linguistic issues. For the next week or two, we will examine several of these maps in detail, beginning with the portrayal of a seemingly minor but nonetheless intriguing election, the Austrian Conscription Referendum of 2013.

Conscription of Women MapAs the Wikipedia map posted to the left shows, roughly half of the world’s sovereign states staff their militaries at least in part through conscription, whereas most of the rest employ all-professional militaries (four sovereign states—Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti, and Iceland—are mapped as not having armed forces). A number of countries have moved toward professionalization in recent decades; according to the map, Ukraine and Georgia will do so “in the near future.” The accompanying Wikipedia article notes that, as of 2010, several countries drafted women as well as men to serve in their armed forces. I have indicated these states on the second map posted here.

Few clear geographical patterns are evident in these maps. Western and central Europe, however, does stand out as a region dominated by professional militaries, with only a handful of countries employing the draft. A recent referendum in Austria, had it passed, would have left Denmark, Finland, Estonia, and Greece as the only countries in the European Union without all-professional militaries. The Austrian voters, however, decisively turned down the measure, with almost 60 percent opting to retain conscription.

Austrian Conscription Election MapThe geographical patterns revealed by this election are clear. As can be seen in the map indicating the “yes” vote for professionalization, a clear urban-rural divide characterized the vote. All of Austria’s seven largest cities, noted on the map, either supported the measure or spit their votes, whereas most rural areas overwhelmingly opposed it. The one exception was the largely rural state (land) of Burgenland, located along the Hungarian border. Burgenland is a highly distinctive part of Austria, as it was historically linked to Hungary. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the German-speaking majority of the region opted to join Austria, while the new government of Hungary tried to retain the territory. Another proposal mooted at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was to turn Burgenland into a “Czech-Yugoslav Territorial Corridor” that would have linked the two Slavic-majority states carved out of the empire. In the end, the WWI victors insisted that the area be transferred to Austria, although several border districts, including the city of Sopron (Ödenburg), were returned to Hungary following a controversial plebiscite.

Following Burgenland’s union with Austria, most of the region’s Hungarian population departed for Hungary. The state is still relatively diverse, however, with some 30,000 to 45,000 Croatians and 5,000-15,000 Hungarians out of a total population of 285,000. Before the Holocaust, Burgenland had substantial Jewish and Roma populations. According to the Wikipedia, “After the war, Jews from Burgenland founded the Jerusalem haredi neighbourhood of Kiryat Mattersdorf, reminding of the original name of Mattersburg, once a centre of a famous yeshiva.”

On other electoral maps, Burgenland does not stand out so strongly from the rest of Austria, although it is noted as a bastion of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ). Intriguingly, the Green Party (Die Grünen) tends to get fewer votes in Burgenland than in other parts of the country. In the 2008 Austrian legislative election, for example, the Green’s received only 5.7 percent of the Burgenland vote, the lowest figure among Austria’s nine states by a substantial margin.


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  • Verpa’

    Very nice article about an unknown topic.

  • It seems to me that the Austrian population voted largely along party lines (following a 180 degree turnaround by both parties relative to their historical preferences).
    Burgenland is the only state beside Vienna that has been consistently dominated by the SPÖ for decades. In that respect it does stand out. The reason for Burgenland’s political orientation is not so much its history as part of Hungary, but the fact that much of the population are workers who commute to larger population centers such as Vienna and Graz. So it’s not typically rural. The Green party is small because its voters are not workers, but well-educated and urban.

    Styria and Salzburg currently also have SPÖ-led governments at the moment, but they don’t have structural left-leaning majorities. They were dominated by the ÖVP until the early 2000s. (Especially Salzburg is pretty conservative, and its SPÖ governor publicly supported the draft before the referendum).

    • By the way, the minister of defense who wanted to abolish the draft, Norbert Darabos, is a Burgenland Croat.

    • Many thanks for your informative comments, which help explain the patterns seen on the maps. Do you have any insight on the relatively high level of support for the Green Party in Vorarlberg in the far west?

      • I don’t have a good sense about what is going on there (Vorarlberg is linguistically very distinct), but I have a few ideas:
        – The local Green Party developed in a conservative milieu (Kaspernaze Simma etc.)
        – The state, in particular the Rhine Valley, is actually quite densely populated and industrialized. According to the German Wikipedia ( ), the agglomeration between Feldkirch und Hörbranz is one of the most densely populated areas in Europe (don’t know if that’s true).
        – The SPÖ is extremely weak (as are the Social Democrats in neighboring Switzerland). Note that the Greens are even stronger in
        Baden-Württemberg (Germany). Vorarlberg has linguistic and cultural ties with these regions.

  • One thing that’s apparent from the world map is that there seems to be little correlation between whether a country has conscription and its chances of being involved in a war. Several countries in the always-troubled Middle East lack conscription, while conscription exists in several countries in usually peaceful South America.

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