Von Habsburg on Presidents, Monarchs, Dictators

For anyone who thinks of blue bloods as worn out and effete, a chat with Otto Von Habsburg smacks like the backside of a duelist's glove.

He remains an aristocrat at heart, however, a background for which he offers no apology. And Dr. Von Habsburg, as he likes to be called, knows a lot about the subject. The Von Habsburgs, one of Europe's oldest and most influential royal families, provided the dukes and archdukes of Austria from 1282 on, the kings of Bohemia and Hungary from 1526 to 1918, the Holy Roman Emperors from 1438 to 1806, the kings of Spain from 1516 to 1700 and the emperors of Austria from 1804 to 1918.

Von Habsburg was six when his parents, Emperor Charles and Queen Zita, were forced into exile. After World War II, he turned down an offer from Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to assume the Spanish throne, instead acting as a friend and adviser to Juan Carlos, whom Franco in 1969 chose as his successor. Last year, the late Pope John Paul II canonized Von Habsburg's father, Emperor Charles, making him the first monarch in almost five centuries to achieve sainthood.

(Austria, as part of a series of anti-Habsburg laws, refused to let him back into the country until 1961 when, as one of the earliest advocates for a united Europe and a longtime representative to the European Parliament, he agreed to renounce all claims to the Habsburg throne.)

"Aristocracy has to begin somewhere," he says, recalling how a friend, the late Felix Somary, took him to the Zurich-Eiger railroad station soon after the end of World War II when Stalin began to clamp down on Eastern Europe. Somary, an economist and Swiss banker who predicted World War II and the Depression, pointed to a trainload of unkempt passengers arriving from Central Europe.

"'Look around,'" Von Habsburg recalls Somary telling him. "'These are going to be our overlords in the future.'"

Von Habsburg is pleased to say Somary was wrong, pointing instead to America's political aristocracy. "You have some political families which are playing a tremendous role. Take the Kennedys," he observes.

How about the clan of the current President Bush and his father? "Too," says Von Habsburg. "It isn't bad for a country to have people with a certain tradition, where the father gives the son the same outlook and training."
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