863.00/1398: Telegram

The Chargé in Austria (Wiley) to the Secretary of State

56. Penultimate sentence of my 34, February 21, 6 p.m. In an impassioned address to the Fatherland Front at Innsbruck, Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite for Sunday, March 13, when every Austrian citizen would be expected to vote yes to his program for a “free, German, independent, social, Christian Austria dedicated to peace and bread. The world shall see our will to life.” Chancellor spoke in some detail of program to create work. Problem of workers holidays to be solved. Emphasized social and equalitarian aspects of program and invited especially participation of former Socialists as well as members of all former parties. Complained of failure in certain quarters of Nationalist campaign to keep “German peace” and declared that veiled threats from the same quarters would not be tolerated. Exhorted Front members to the utmost discipline and warned against any infraction of “German peace.”

All Austrian citizens, male and female, born not later than 1914 eligible to vote “yes or no.” Secrecy of ballot optional, full details and instructions (perhaps modifications) in the morning papers.

Schuschnigg’s decision for plebiscite is encouraging. It shows that the Government has not (as was feared) yielded to defeatism and that Schuschnigg is endeavoring to reassert his authority. French Minister believes plebiscite if successful will not only have a wholesome effect internally but will greatly improve Austrian position vis-à-vis England and France.

According to reliable information Schuschnigg has had promises of support from labor leaders both legal and illegal. Though position of Government less favorable than a fortnight ago chances of securing majority still seem good if plebiscite not bungled. Age qualification for voting will eliminate large percentage pro-Nazis.

Seyss-Inquart was notified yesterday to demur decision sudden plebiscite. He is said to be flabbergasted. External position seems improved. Schmidt alleges that Austria has received encouraging assurances from Italy. He refuses to reveal how or when; perhaps via London.

The Government has requested the French Minister to use influence on French press in order that plebiscite should not be presented as anti-German move.