A History of Austria - Part XIII

1955: Full Independence & Neutrality

In 1955, Austria declared its neutrality similar to Switzerland. This had been done to meet a condition for re-gaining full sovereignty. The occupying troops of the allies left in late 1955. Austria joined the United Nations in the same year and its economy recovered - with international aid through the Marshal plan - rapidly. Being the geographic heart of Europe, the neutral status allowed Austria to become a "bridge" between East and West during the Cold War in the following decades. It also played a key role in absorbing Hungarian refugees after anti-communist revolts in 1956 and helping Czech refugees after the Prague Spring revolt in 1968.

Art by the Vienna Actionist can be seen in the MUMOK museum of modern art in Vienna

Democracy was stabilised with all its symptoms: independent media, treaties with other nations, a self-confident and articulate academic and artistic scene. In the 1960ies, the "Wiener Aktionismus" (Viennese Actionism, to be seen in the MuseumsQuartier, see picture to the left) shocked the global establishment with the introduction of public defecation and other bodily functions to the World of art.

Literature often picked up the role of Austria in the Nazi time. In the 1960ies, Vienna became the centre for many international organisation and associated lobbies, such as the UN (Vienna International Centre), the IAEO and OPEC. This in turn vitalised the cosmopolitan flair of the city.

Ever since the 1950ies, the political World of Austria was divided into a conservative (black) and a social-democratic (red) half. This division was meant to create a balance in the power between the two parties, in order to avoid a situation similar to the inter-war-period with the so-called "Austrian civil war". The tradition of dividing offices and power among one conservative and one social democrat was called "Proporz", went through all layers of public and many private and social structures and persists in many areas until today (even though it is done more discretely these days).

1970 to 1980: Adding a Socialist Touch

In 1970, Austria′s most legendary chancellor Bruno Kreisky, a social democrat, became chancellor and ruled the country for 14 years. Modelling Austria after Scandinavian countries like Sweden, he established a pronounced socialist tradition in the country.

Bruno Kreisky, the man who screwed up my retirement plans by spending the pension funds

Kreisky left a significant mark on Austria′s society and his politics are responsible for the wide middle-class (and a fair portion of the depths) that the country has today. Internationally, he tried to establish Austria as a bridge between the Western and Eastern blocks and between Israel and the Arab World (Kreisky himself was an atheist of Jewish background).

In these days, an increasing number of immigrants mostly from the Balkan, but also from Turkey moved to Austria. Today, Muslims are the third biggest religious community in Austria, almost as big as the number-two (Lutheran Protestants). This is largely due to the immigration originating from this period.

1980 'til today: Fall of the iron curtain, Austria & the EU

The 1980ies were characterised by cartoons, kindergarten and later school (at least as far as I am concerned - I was born in 1980). Matters of a more national scale was the "Neue Deutsche Welle" (new German wave) in pop-music with Austria′s contribution of Falco ("Rock me Amadeus!"). There was also an awakening of an environmental awareness (much to the shock of the social democrats, "green" issues triggered the formation of left-wing citizen groups that later formed the Green Party).

Austria going Europe: The Euro became the official currency in 2002

For the first time, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky admitted the very active role of Austrian′s in the Nazi crimes. And there was growing success of the FPÖ, a right-wing party that turned right-wing populist under its leader Jörg Haider. The FPÖ became the first of a whole bunch of such parties in Europe and in the 1990ies, one of the most successful.

The 1990ies were dominated by Austria′s new role of being at the heart of an iron-curtain-free Europe. Suddenly all the nations of the East were at the backdoor, creating many opportunities for the Austrian economy and many risks. Austria joined the European Union in 1995. The war in the countries of former Yugoslavia caused a constant stream of refugees coming into Austria and much aid was provided through donations.

Austria signed the Schengen Agreement, which means that there are no border controls among Schengen partners. The current political situation follows tendencies of economic liberalisation and Austria's interests in EU and Eastern Europe. In 2002, the Euro became the official currency.

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Further Reading

"Austrian History in less than 1000 words"

"A Jewish History of Austria"

A Complete List of all Austrian Monarchs