Austria - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Austria (German Österreich), republic in central Europe, lying mainly in the Alps. Close to three-fourths of Austria is mountainous. Austria was formerly, under the Habsburg monarchs, the heart of an extensive empire that was a major power. Vienna (Wien), which was the imperial capital, is still one of the world’s great cities, famous for its elegance, its splendid baroque architecture, and its music and theater. Vienna remains Austria’s capital and largest city.

At the end of World War I (1914-1918), the multinational empire headed by Austria was split up into separate nation states. Austria became a small landlocked republic about the size of the state of Maine. As the new nations put up trade barriers, Austria lost easy access to its former markets and sources of fuel. Its economic survival depended on foreign aid. The depression of the 1930s was ruinous for the Austrian republic. Conservative forces grew. In 1934 the Socialists, who had made Vienna a model of social democracy, were crushed, and a right-wing dictatorship entrenched itself. In 1938 Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany.

After Germany’s defeat in World War II (1939-1945), Austria was occupied by the Allied forces, including troops from the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Austria’s independence was restored in 1955, and it experienced a remarkable economic revival. Today, Austria is a prosperous nation and a member of the European Union, with thriving export industries and a large income from tourists. Visitors are attracted to Austria by the magnificent mountain scenery and the rich culture of Vienna.


Austria is about 580 km (about 360 mi) long from east to west and has an area of 83,872 sq km (32,383 sq mi). It is bounded on the north by Germany and the Czech Republic; on the northeast by Slovakia; on the east by Hungary; on the south by Slovenia, Italy, and Switzerland; and on the west by Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Austria is predominantly a mountainous country, with an average elevation of about 910 m (about 3,000 ft). Most of the land falls within the eastern division of the Alps. In general the major mountain ranges of Austria run in an east-west direction and are separated from one another by rather broad valleys. The northernmost line of ranges includes the North Tirol (Tyrol) Alps and the Salzburg Alps. Among the central ranges is the Hohe Tauern, which culminates in the Grossglockner, the highest elevation (3,797 m/12,457 ft) in the country; the Pasterze Glacier, one of Europe’s largest, descends from the Grossglockner peak. The southernmost ranges include the Ötztal Alps, the Zillertaler Alps, the Carnic Alps, and the Karawanken Mountains. Besides these east-west ranges, several series of mountain spurs extend in a north-south direction.

The mountain barriers of Austria are broken in many places by passes, including the Brenner Pass in the west and the Semmering Pass in the east. The Brenner Pass, which has been used since Roman times, is famous as the historic gateway to Italy from northern Europe.

The areas of Austria not within the Alps are primarily in the north and east. In northern and eastern Austria the Alps descend to an area of low hills, gentle slopes, and many lakes. In the east the area of the Danube basin includes Vienna and a plain that extends into Slovakia. The northern section consists of rolling upland.

Rivers and Lakes in Austria

The principal river of Austria is the Danube, one of Europe’s great rivers. It enters Austria at Passau on the German border and continues its southeastern course, past Linz and Vienna, to Bratislava on the Slovakian border. Austrian tributaries of the Danube include the Inn (forming part of Austria’s German border), Traun, Enns, and Ybbs rivers. In the south, important rivers are the Mur and the Mürz.

In addition to the rivers, Austria has numerous lakes, notably Bodensee in Vorarlberg, which forms part of the border with Germany and Switzerland, and Neusiedler Lake in Burgenland, on the border with Hungary. The lake is the country’s lowest elevation point (115 m/377 ft). Austria’s lakes, especially those near Salzburg, contribute to the country’s beauty and the diversity of its landscape.

Climate in Austria

Because much of Austria is mountainous, climatic conditions vary greatly. The climate varies with elevation; with location in relation to Atlantic, continental, and Mediterranean influences; and with certain local wind characteristics. In general, eastern Austria has a continental type of climate, with cold winters and warm summers, while the climate of the valleys of the west and north is influenced by cool, rainy northwest winds from the Atlantic Ocean. In the Alps temperatures decrease with altitude. In the winter, however, heavy, cold air tends to sink into the valleys, which are then often colder than the nearby slopes.

Spring and fall are usually mild throughout Austria. Summers are short, with moderate temperatures. Cold and often severe winters last about three months in the valleys, where they are usually ended by the foehn, a warm, dry wind from the south that is often accompanied by damp fog and sudden thaws that precipitate avalanches. The foehn is important to Austria’s agricultural production, making possible early cultivation of the southern valleys.

Average annual temperatures range between about 7° and 9°C (about 44° and 48°F) throughout the country. Average annual rainfall is 610 mm (24 in) in Vienna and 870 mm (about 34 in) in Innsbruck. In some interior valleys, the average annual rainfall is between about 1,520 and 2,030 mm (about 60 and 80 in).

Mineral Resources in Austria

Austria has sizable deposits of iron ore, lignite, magnesite, graphite, petroleum, and natural gas. Some small deposits of bituminous coal have been mined, as well as lead, zinc, copper, kaolin, gypsum, mica, quartz, salt, bauxite, antimony, and talc.

Soils in Austria

Rich terra rosa (red) soils predominate in Austrian valleys. At slightly higher elevations, the soil is of a brown forest type. Alpine meadow soils are usually found in high-elevation regions.

Plants and Animals in Austria

Austria is one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe. Deciduous trees, mainly beech, oak, and birch, are predominant at lower elevations; spruce, fir, larch, Austrian black pine, and stone pine extend to the timberline. The higher elevations have a very brief season during which alpine plants, including edelweiss, gentians, primroses, buttercups, and monkshoods (see Aconite), come into brilliant flower.

Wildlife is generally scarce in Austria. Chamois, deer, and marmot are still present; bear, which were once abundant, are now almost completely absent. Hunting is strictly regulated to protect the remaining species.

Environmental Issues in Austria

Industrial emissions, a high volume of tourist traffic, and significant air pollution from other countries—principally the former East Germany, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic—combine to make acid rain the major environmental problem in Austria. One-quarter of the forests suffer some acid damage, and tree cover may be significantly reduced in some areas. To combat this problem, the country has imposed stringent automobile exhaust standards. Other environmental threats include agricultural expansion, damming of rivers for hydroelectric power generation, and erosion caused by loss of forest cover.

The country is 46.9 percent (1995) forested, with most forests located in the alpine zone and consisting of fir, pine, and oak, or oak and chestnut at lower elevations. About 85 percent of the forests are reserved for timber harvest. Wetlands have been reduced to 10 percent of their historic extent.

Austria’s land protection system exists mostly as separate designations of the nine provinces. Overall, 28.3 percent (1997) of the country was under some form of protection, including three national parks and hundreds of nature reserves, nature parks, and landscape reserves.

Austria has joined with its neighbors in formulating plans to protect the Alps and is working toward transborder protected area designations with Germany and Hungary. Austria has signed and ratified conventions on the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats and on wetlands.


The Austrian people are German-speaking, but the country has a varied ethnic mixture—a legacy from the time of the multinational Habsburg Austrian empire. About 99 percent of the population is ethnic Austrian. Minority groups include Croats and Hungarians (in Burgenland), Slovenes (in Kärnten [Carinthia]), Czechs (in Vienna), as well as small numbers of Italians, Serbs, and Romanians. An influx of refugees in the years following World War II increased their numbers, and new groups, such as the Turks, were added.

According to the 2001 census, Austria had a population of 8,032,926. The 2009 estimated population was 8,210,281, giving the country an overall population density of 100 persons per sq km (258 per sq mi). Some 66 percent of the population is urban, with more than one-quarter of the people living in the five largest cities: Vienna, Graz, Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.

Principal Cities of Austria

Austria’s five major cities are Vienna, Graz, Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. Vienna, the capital and largest city, is also Austria’s economic and cultural center. The city extends across the Danube River, and its suburbs reach into the famed Vienna Woods, located west of the city. Vienna’s magnificent residences, palaces, parks, and churches make it one of Europe’s grandest cities. Vienna had a population of 1,651,437 in 2006.

Austria’s second largest city, Graz, is the capital of the province of Steiermark. Located on the banks of the Mur River in a fertile basin, Graz is an important industrial, commercial, and educational community, with a population of 244,604. Linz, the provincial capital of Oberösterreich, is located on the Danube River and is an industrial community and a port, with 188,362 residents.

One of the most picturesque cities in Austria is Salzburg, located on the Salzach River in the foothills of the Alps. Salzburg, the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is internationally known for its annual music festivals. This popular Austrian tourist center has a population of 148,473. High in the Tirolean Alps is the city of Innsbruck, a favorite winter resort and sports center. The provincial capital of Tirol, it is located on the Inn River and has a population of 116,851. The beauty of Innsbruck and its location make the city a tourist attraction.

Religion in Austria

Roman Catholicism is the religion of 78 percent of the population of Austria. Various Protestant denominations account for 6 percent of the population. Those without a religion or whose faith is unknown constitute 16 percent of the population.

Languages spoken in Austria

German is the official language of Austria. About 2 percent of the population speaks languages other than German, chiefly Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian, and Turkish.

Education in Austria

The basis of the Austrian educational system is the national law that requires school attendance for all youths between the ages of 6 and 14. Austria’s long tradition of free education dates from the Educational Reform Act of 1774, instituted by Empress Maria Theresa. This law, which was expanded in 1867 and again in 1962, largely accounts for the fact that virtually all of the adult population is able to read and write.

Although the foundations of Austria’s present educational system were laid in the 18th century, its roots can be traced to the monastic schools of the Middle Ages. One such school, the Schottengymnasium in Vienna, has been in continuous operation by the order of the Benedictines since 1155. Austria was under German occupation from 1938 to 1945, and the country’s schools suffered severe restraints on their teaching programs. Since World War II, various programs have been inaugurated to expand and strengthen the educational system.

During the 20th century, Austria received international recognition for the high quality of its medical training. In the arts it sought new approaches to the awakening of students’ creative interests, especially in the field of art education under the leadership of Franz Čizek. In many aspects, Austrian schools were among the first anywhere to be marked by a general trend toward progressive education.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

Education is free and compulsory in Austria from the ages of 6 to 15. All students attend elementary school (Volksschule) for four years, from 6 to 10. Afterward, children have two choices for secondary school. They may attend a Hauptschule for four years and then go on to a technical or vocational school or receive other specialized training. Or they may receive an eight-year general secondary school education at an Allgemeinbildende Höhere Schule (general high school). The latter enables them to enter any Austrian university. In 2006 some 355,293 students annually attended 3,718 elementary schools, and 783,000 students were enrolled in secondary schools.

Universities and Colleges

The largest of Austria’s six universities is Vienna University, founded in 1365. Other major universities are Graz University (1586), Innsbruck University (1669), and Salzburg University (1622). Austria also has 13 technical or specialized universities as well as colleges of technology. Its music conservatories and academies of fine arts and applied art offer further education, as well. Summer programs attract many students from other countries. University enrollment in 2006 was 253,100.

Culture of Austria

Austria’s monasteries were cultural centers during the Middle Ages, producing illuminated manuscripts. A distinctive Austrian style developed in the refined baroque architecture and sculpture of the 17th and 18th centuries, notably in Vienna, Salzburg, and Melk. Throughout the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, Vienna was a world center of culture, particularly in music and literature. Austrian artists of the Sezession group participated in the international art nouveau movement of the late 19th and earlier 20th centuries.

Libraries and Museums

The largest library in Austria is the National Library, founded in 1526. Important research collections are housed in the various universities, in several old monasteries, and in a number of scientific libraries. The collection of the former royal house contains state papers dating from 816, collections of the Holy Roman Empire dating from 1555, and documents concerning the history of the Austrian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and the period since 1918.

The art and natural science museums of Vienna are internationally known, as are many individual collections. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) is famous for its paintings by Pieter Bruegel and for the works of Dutch, Italian, and German painters. The Albertina has an outstanding collection of prints and drawings. The Belvedere Palace houses a gallery of Austrian art; Austrian art can also be seen at the Leopold Museum. The Museum of Modern Art displays works of the 20th and 21st centuries. Vienna also has museums of applied arts, technology, and ethnology. Salzburg, birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, has several museums housing collections of his manuscripts and memorabilia, including one in the house where he was born.


In Austrian literature Karl Kraus and Robert Musil tracked the empire’s decay. Heimito von Doderer and Thomas Bernhard ranked high among postwar novelists. Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek won the 2004 Nobel Prize in literature. See Austrian Literature.

Art and Architecture

Important artistic contributions from Austria include early wood carvings, Gobelins tapestries, hand-carved and hand-painted chests, intricately forged grates and other ironwork, stained-glass windows, Augarten porcelain from Vienna, lace, and leatherwork. In the 15th century sculptor Michael Pacher created carved altarpieces; the best known of these is at Saint Wolfgang, Austria. Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna is the best example of Gothic architecture in the country. Much building was done in the baroque style after the end of the Thirty Years’ War; the outstanding Austrian baroque architects were Johann Fischer von Erlach and Johann Hildebrant (Baroque Art and Architecture). Modern architects include Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, and Hans Hollein. Among the best-known modern painters of Austria are Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, and Hundertwasser.


The Land of Music is a name often given to Austria. Composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss the Elder and Younger, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz von Suppé, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Franz Lehár, and Arnold Schoenberg, as well as conductors Felix Weingartner, Clemens Krauss, and Herbert von Karajan, are just a few who have enriched Austrian cultural life. The Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra are celebrated organizations. Vienna has two famous opera houses, the Volksoper (People’s Opera), opened in 1904, and the Vienna State Opera, completed in 1869 and known for its beautiful architecture and fine performances. In addition, every provincial capital has its own theater, and the summer festivals in Vienna, Salzburg, and Bregenz are outstanding musical events.


The Austrian economy is based on a balance of private and public enterprise. All the basic industries were nationalized in 1946, after World War II, to protect them from Soviet takeover as war reparations. Nationalization encompassed all oil production and refining; the largest commercial banks; and the principal companies in river and air transportation, railroad equipment, electric machinery and appliances, mining, iron, steel, and chemical manufacturing, and natural-gas and electric power production. However, government control was reduced through privatization efforts that began in the late 1980s and early 1990s and allowed for the sale of shares in many nationalized companies to private investors. Today, many of these companies are run as private businesses, although the government continues to own and operate utilities and other monopolies.

After the Allied occupation ended in 1955 and Austria regained its independence, Austria’s economy made a rapid recovery and Austria took its place among the developed countries of Europe. Austria joined the European Union in 1995, and in 2002, along with other EU members, made the euro its currency. Over the years, Austria has maintained close ties with countries in eastern Europe. Since the collapse of Communism in those countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more than 1,000 Western companies have chosen Austria as their base for new eastern European operations. Austria ships many of its exports to countries in central and eastern Europe.

In 2007 Austria’s estimated annual national budget included revenues of $138.5 billion and expenditures of $143.2 billion. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $373.2 billion in 2007. Agriculture accounted for 2.3 percent of GDP, and manufacturing for 32 percent. As in any developed country, services contributed the largest amount to GDP, 66 percent. Tourism is an important service industry in Austria.

Agriculture of Austria

Of the total land area, 17 percent is cultivated. Many Austrian farms are under 10 hectares (25 acres) in size. Austria’s farms satisfy most of the country’s food needs, and some surpluses, such as dairy products, are exported. The principal agricultural regions are north of the Alps and in the Danube River basin. Farmers grow crops, raise cattle, and plant orchards and vineyards in these areas. Membership in the European Union required Austria to lower its agricultural prices, and farm income dropped as a result.

Major products in 2007 were sugar beets, maize, wheat, barley, potatoes, grapes, and other fruit. Annual milk production was about 3.3 billion liters (about 870 million gallons). Livestock included 3.2 million pigs, 2 million cattle (of which about one-fourth were milk cows), 312,375 sheep, and 87,000 horses.

Forestry and Fishing in Austria

Some 46 percent of the total land area is forest. A comprehensive reforestation and conservation program has been in progress since the early 1950s to compensate for damage inflicted during World War II and for postwar overcutting of forest trees. About three-fourths of the forests consists of conifers, mostly spruce, which are important in the paper and pulp industry as well as in building construction. In 2007 some 21.3 million cubic meters (753 million cubic feet) of roundwood were cut.

Processing and consumption of fish are low in Austria, and most table fish are imported. Sport fishing in the mountain streams is popular.

Mining in Austria

Austria is relatively limited in mineral resources. The major minerals extracted in Austria in 2006, with annual production (metal content), included iron ore (600,000 metric tons) and silver (1 metric ton). Fossil fuel production included crude petroleum (6.5 million barrels), coal (1.2 million metric tons), and natural gas (2.1 billion cubic meters/73.8 billion cubic feet). Other minerals commercially mined included magnesite, copper, lead, salt, graphite, gypsum, kaolin, and talc.

Manufacturing in Austria

The Austrian manufacturing industry consists of a few large organizations, many of which operate under government auspices, and a great number of small and medium-sized production units. A significant proportion of its manufacturing income comes from heavy industries, such as the production of iron and steel, and machinery. Medium- and small-scale plants produce machines, instruments, textiles, chemicals, and ceramics. About 26 percent of the labor force is employed in the manufacturing sector. The principal manufactured products in the early 2000s were metals and metal products; machinery, including automobile engines and transmission and telecommunications equipment; food products; wood and paper products; and chemicals.

Tourism of Austria

With the famous Alps and a wealth of cultural and recreational facilities, Austria is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. A premier winter sports area, the country also has summer music festivals (including the celebrated Salzburg Festival), lake resorts (especially in Kärnten), medicinal spas, and many museums and other attractions. In 2007 some 21 million people from other countries visited Austria. More than half of these tourists were from Germany, with the rest coming primarily from Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States. An important part of the Austrian national economy, tourists spent $18.9 billion in the country in 2007.

Energy in Austria

Austria has numerous hydroelectric installations, which together produced 59 percent of the country’s electrical output in 2006. Austria generated a total of 58.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. Substantial amounts of hydroelectricity were exported to other European countries, but Austria was forced to import natural gas from eastern Europe, as well as crude petroleum, to meet its energy needs.

Currency and Banking of Austria

The monetary unit of Austria is the single currency of the European Union (EU), the euro (0.70 euros equal U.S. $1; 2007 average). Austria is among 12 EU member states to adopt the euro. The euro was introduced on January 1, 1999, for electronic transfers and accounting purposes only, and Austria’s national currency, the schilling, was used for other purposes. On January 1, 2002, euro-denominated coins and bills went into circulation, and the schilling ceased to be legal tender.

As a participant in the single currency, Austria must follow economic policies established by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB is located in Frankfurt, Germany, and is responsible for all EU monetary policies, which include setting interest rates and regulating the money supply. On January 1, 1999, control over Austrian monetary policy was transferred from the central bank of Austria, the Austrian National Bank, to the ECB. After the transfer, the Austrian National Bank joined the national banks of the other EU countries that adopted the euro as part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). Austria has more than 1,100 commercial, savings, cooperative, and mortgage banks.

Commerce and Trade in Austria

Austria joined the European Union in 1995 and today carries out much of its trade with other EU members. Germany is the largest market for and supplier to Austrian industry. Other leading markets for exports include Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, and the United Kingdom. Leading sources for imports (in addition to Germany) are Italy, the United States, France, and Switzerland.

The value of Austria’s imports in 2007 was $161.3 billion. Industrial and general machinery, transportation equipment, clothing and accessories, metals, food products, metal manufactures, textiles, office machines, and petroleum and petroleum products were among the chief import commodities. Austrian exports totaled $161.8 billion in the same period. The principal products exported included specialized and general industrial machinery, metal manufactures, electrical machinery, transportation equipment, paper and paper manufactures, iron and steel, textiles, engines, and telecommunications and sound equipment.

Transportation in Austria

Austria has a highly developed system of rail, air, water, and highway transportation. As a landlocked and mountainous country, Austria depends on rail passage for a major share of its foreign trade. In 2007 the country had 5,818 km (3,615 mi) of railroads, about 90 percent of which were owned by the state. Austria is known for its highway system, leading to even the remotest valley and highest mountains. Improved highways and roads totaled about 133,928 km (83,219 mi). Water transportation is confined largely to the Danube River. Shipping companies provide freight and passenger service on the Danube River. The principal goods shipped by river are iron, coal, coke, petroleum and petroleum products, and fertilizer. Many international carriers serve Austrian airports, with most traffic to Schwechat, near Vienna. Austrian Airlines, the national airline, serves many international and domestic routes. Lauda Air, a privately operated competitor, began service in the 1990s.

Communications in Austria

The Austrian public broadcasting system, Österreichische Rundfunk (ORF), ran all radio and television broadcasts until the 1990s, when the first privately owned Austrian radio stations began operation. A national commercial television station received a license in 2000. Austrians also receive cable and satellite broadcasts, primarily from Germany. ORF provides three radio and two television services. In 1997 there were 751 radios and 540 televisions licensed per 1,000 persons.

Telephone communications are directed by the Austrian postal service. In 2005 there were 450 telephone mainlines for every 1,000 persons. Some 17 daily newspapers are published; daily newspaper circulation averages 2.6 million. Newspapers with a national circulation include Wiener Zeitung (the oldest daily newspaper in the world), Neue Kronen-Zeitung, Kurier, Der Standard, and Die Presse, all published in Vienna; and Salzburger Nachrichten, published in Salzburg.

Labor in Austria

In 2007 the Austrian labor force totaled 4.2 million. Membership in the 13 unions that make up the Austrian Trade Union Federation has declined, but nearly two-fifths of the workforce still belonged to a union in the early 2000s. Women make up 45 percent of the total labor force.


Austria is a democratic, federal republic governed according to the constitution of 1920, as amended in 1929 and subsequently modified. Like the constitutions of many other Western democracies, the constitution of Austria provides for a distinct division of power among the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government. Laws having their origin in 1862 and 1867 guarantee basic human rights and liberties; the rights of minorities are also guaranteed by the constitution.

Executive of Austria

Executive power is exercised by the president of the republic, who is elected by popular vote every six years, and by the Council of Ministers, or cabinet, which is headed by a chancellor, appointed by the president for a term not exceeding four years. The chancellor is usually from the party with the largest number of seats in the Nationalrat (National Council). Suffrage is universal for citizens 19 years of age and older. The president may succeed himself for only a single term.

Legislature of Austria

The Austrian parliament has two chambers: a lower house known as the Nationalrat (National Council) and an upper house, the Bundesrat (Federal Council). Federal legislative power is vested principally in the Nationalrat, which is composed of 183 members. They are elected for four-year terms by popular vote according to proportional representation. The cabinet may remain in office only so long as it enjoys the confidence of the Nationalrat. The Bundesrat consists of 64 members. They are chosen by the popularly elected provincial legislatures, in proportion to population, for terms ranging from four to six years, depending on the length of terms of the provincial legislatures they represent. The Bundesrat’s function is to represent local interests. Although the powers of the Bundesrat are primarily advisory, the council can delay the passage of bills.

Political Parties of Austria

All political parties are legal in Austria except those explicitly advocating Nazism (see National Socialism). Austrian politics in the second half of the 20th century was dominated by two main parties, the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs [SPÖ]) and the Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei [ÖVP]). Beginning in the late 1980s, however, the strongly nationalist right-wing Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs [FPÖ]) rapidly gained strength. The FPÖ agitates against refugees from eastern Europe and appeals to many angry and xenophobic members of the working class and to the younger generation for whom the war years are not a memory or for whom big-party politics hold little attraction. In 2005 the former leader of the FPÖ formed a breakaway party known as the Alliance for Austria’s Future. Other national parties include a coalition of Green parties, which are affiliated with the international Greens environmental movement, and the Liberal Forum.

Local Government of Austria

Austria is divided into nine federal provinces (Bundesländer): Burgenland, Kärnten (Carinthia), Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), Salzburg, Steiermark (Styria), Tirol (Tyrol), Oberösterreich (Upper Austria), Vienna (having the same boundaries as the city), and Vorarlberg.

Each of the nine provinces has a unicameral legislature elected on the same basis as the Nationalrat. The legislature chooses a provincial governor. The provincial legislatures have the rights to exercise any power not specifically reserved by the constitution for the central government. All legislation must be submitted by the governor to the federal ministry for approval. The provincial legislature, however, may override a ministry veto by majority vote. Cities and villages are administered by elected communal councils, which in turn elect mayors, or burgomasters.

Judiciary in Austria

The legal system is based on the division between legislative, administrative, and judicial power. There are three supreme courts: the Supreme Constitutional Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and the Supreme Judicial Court. The first of these courts ensures the constitutionality of legislation, while the second supervises financial matters and watches over the administrative machinery of government. The Supreme Judicial Court is the highest court. The judicial courts include 4 higher provincial courts of appeal, 17 provincial and district courts, and about 200 local courts.

Health and Welfare in Austria

The Austrian system of social insurance is comprehensive, including sickness, disability, accident, old-age, and unemployment benefits, allowances for families with children, and rent aid. The program is financed by compulsory employer and employee contributions. Health insurance and some other benefits are voluntary for those who are self-employed.

Defense of Austria

An Austrian army was authorized by the treaty of May 15, 1955. Under the terms of this treaty, which promulgated Austria’s sovereignty and neutrality, no limitation was placed on the army size, but its equipment was restricted to conventional weapons. Austria has compulsory military service of six months plus duty in the reserves for men aged 18 to 50. In 2006 the Austrian armed forces included 39,600 members. Austria is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, it has contributed to UN and NATO peacekeeping forces.


Very little is known about the original inhabitants of Austria. Celtic peoples had appeared by about 700 BC. They mined salt in Hallstatt in Upper Austria, which has given its name to a late Bronze Age culture. The Celts also built settlements in other parts of Austria and merged with older residents of Austria.

Early Period

Much of the region inhabited by the Celts south of the Danube River was known as Noricum. The western uplands region between the upper Rhine River, the lower course of the Inn River, and the Bavarian and subalpine plateau was known as Rhaetia, an area which also included parts of modern-day Germany and Switzerland. The plains region in the east and southeast was known as Pannonia and included areas in present-day Hungary and Slovenia. The Romans invaded all three regions about 15 BC and made them provinces of the Roman Empire. Under Roman control, the provinces eventually became outposts for offensive and defensive action against various Germanic tribes.

To a large extent Roman strategy was based on the fact that the region contains important passes through the Eastern Alps and thus commands vital transportation arteries between northern, southern, western, and eastern Europe. One of the first Roman military posts in the region was Vindobona (now Vienna), which was located on the site of a Celtic settlement on the edge of the Eastern Alps and on an arm of the Danube. Vindobona became an important strategic crossroads for two main trade routes and for numerous roads leading into the fertile basin of Niederösterreich. Carnuntum (now Petronell), east of present-day Vienna, was another important Roman center in the area. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius composed part of his Meditations at Carnuntum, and he died at Vindobona in AD 180.

As a result of periodic overpopulation and land hunger, combined with pressure from remote peoples and the attraction of the wealth of the peaceful Roman provinces, tribes of the Germanic peoples attacked the provincial frontiers at various times starting in AD 166. The frontiers completely broke down during the 4th century AD. Goths, Rugians, Lombards, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Huns at one time or another crossed the Vienna Basin. The Alamanni advanced into Rhaetia, the Herulians captured Juvavum (now Salzburg), and the Goths advanced along the Drava (Drau) River.

The Slavs and the Avars moved into Pannonia from the east and southeast at about the same time the Germans invaded the northwest. By the mid-6th century the German Bavarians had occupied Tirol, and the Alamanni had settled to the west. The Slavic peoples were split into northern and southern groups by Asiatic Avars and Bavarians contending for control of the Danube River valley. The Avars left only superficial traces in the country, but the Slovenes built settlements in the depopulated valleys of the Eastern Alps. The Germans finally overwhelmed the Slovene settlements, which could not depend on a continuous stream of new settlers. In a few areas of what are now Kärnten and Steiermark the Slovenes managed to establish permanent settlements.

In the western regions Irish, Frankish, and English missionaries converted the Germans, and the towns of Salzburg and Passau emerged as centers of Christian work and culture. A cathedral was constructed in Salzburg about 774, and before the end of the century the archbishop of the community had obtained jurisdiction over neighboring dioceses.

Medieval Era

During the 8th century, after strife among the Germans, the Franks secured the throne of Bavaria. Fighting continued during that century between the Avars and the Bavarians in the Danube River valley. At the end of the century Frankish leader Charlemagne devastated the territory of the Avars and established a series of outposts (military districts) of his empire in the country between the Enns and Raab rivers to serve as buffer territories against further encroachment from the east. One of these outposts was the Ostmark (Eastern March), which later became known as Ost Reich (Eastern Country) or Österreich (Austria). Other marches (border territories) in the east and southeast were Carantania and Carniola, and later Steiermark. These marches, however, were too weak to hold back intrusions from the east.

The Magyars, a nomadic people migrating slowly from the east, advanced easily along the Danube River valley until they were finally defeated by the German king Otto I at Augsburg in 955 in the Battle of the Lechfeld. Otto I revived the Eastern March as a bulwark against aggression from the east, and he gave the more influential title of margrave to its administrator. These moves marked the emergence of Austria as a political entity. The boundary of the Eastern March was slowly extended eastward until in the early 11th century it reached what later became known as Moravia. The margrave of Austria was subordinate to the duke of Bavaria, whose domain included this march. The main function of the margrave was the defense of the march and the outlying areas, and for that purpose the margraves enjoyed exceptional power.

Between 976 and 1246 the Babenberg rulers of Austria—first as margraves and later as dukes—contributed much to the growth of the march. They built cities and roads, encouraged trade, and enhanced their prestige by participation in the Crusades. Castles were built along the Danube, and inland. One of the outstanding figures of the house of Babenberg was Leopold III, who ruled from 1095 to 1136. Later canonized as a saint, Leopold founded an Augustinian abbey at Klosterneuburg, not far from his castle on Leopoldsberg near Vienna, and a Cistercian monastery at Heiligenstadt (now part of Vienna).

Vienna was chosen in 1146 as the seat of government. It benefited handsomely from the commercial stimulus that accompanied the Crusades. Early in the 13th century the city limits were extended, and Vienna was protected by strong, new fortifications. According to tradition, the fortifications were financed with the ransom paid for the release of English King Richard the Lion Hearted, who had been captured by the duke of Austria on his return from the Crusades. The Babenberg line ended in 1246, when Duke Frederick II died in battle, leaving no heirs.

A violent struggle for control of Austria—economically attractive and of large strategic importance—followed the death of the last Babenberg duke. King Ottokar II of Bohemia was elected duke and he strengthened his claim by marrying a sister of the last Babenberg. Ottokar conquered Steiermark, and he inherited Carinthia and a portion of Carniola during his reign from 1253 to 1278. His power was opposed by Rudolf I of Habsburg, who was elected Holy Roman emperor in 1273. In 1278 Ottokar was defeated in battle by Rudolf’s forces and slain. In 1282—one of the key dates in Austrian history—Rudolf proclaimed the lands of Austria a hereditary possession of the house of Habsburg, and such they remained until 1918. By 1283 most of the former domain of Ottokar had come under the rule of Rudolf’s son Albert I.

Austria Under the Habsburgs

The rise of Austria is closely linked to the house of Habsburg. From the beginning the Habsburgs conceived of their holdings as a private estate, and that attitude persisted, more or less, for more than 600 years. During the 14th and 15th centuries the Habsburgs increased their holdings in the eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire. Archduke Rudolf IV proclaimed the indivisibility of Habsburg hereditary possessions, which corresponded roughly to the modern republic of Austria. From 1438 until 1806 (except for 1742-1745), the archdukes of Austria held the title of Holy Roman emperor.

High spirited and ambitious, Rudolf IV devised strategies for uniting the kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary to his possessions, and he dreamed of winning full independence from the German empire. He sponsored the founding of the University of Vienna (1365), financed the enlargement of Saint Stephen’s Church, and energetically promoted commerce and handicrafts. Rudolf died prematurely, having ruled from 1358 to 1365, and he never fully realized his ambitious plans.

During the Renaissance trade flourished with adjacent principalities and even with faraway Russia, whenever the absence of warfare permitted. Freight carried on the Danube to Hungary, Bohemia, and Germany almost equaled the great Rhine trade, and overland trade with Venice and other northern Italian cities reached impressive dimensions. Germany was a lucrative market for Austrian wines and grain, while Hungary purchased woolens and other textiles turned out by Austrian craftsworkers or imported from western Europe. Mines in the Salzkammergut yielded large quantities of salt.

During the reign of Emperor Maximilian I from 1486 to 1519, the Habsburg empire became a great power, as its territory expanded because of several advantageous marriages. His own marriage to Mary of Burgundy brought a large part of that territory into the empire. He also arranged the marriage of his son Philip (later Philip I of Castile) to Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand V and Isabella I. In this way he established the Habsburg claim to Spain and its possessions in Italy and the Americas.

Maximilian sponsored military reforms and encouraged art, literature, and learning. The paintings he collected later became the pride of Austrian museums. After Maximilian’s death in 1519 his grandson Charles, Philip I’s son, became Holy Roman emperor as Charles V.

Charles V combined under his rule the inheritances of his grandparents; Habsburg hereditary lands in Austria; the Low Countries; and Spain and its possessions. Charles held sway over vaster dominions than any other European ruler before or since. The extent of the Habsburg empire proved impossible for one monarch to rule. In 1521 and 1522 Charles gave Ferdinand lands in Austria and part of Germany. Division of the Habsburg dynasty into Spanish and Austrian branches was completed when Charles abdicated in 1556 as king of Spain in favor of his son Philip II and, in 1558, as Holy Roman emperor in favor of his brother Ferdinand.

Ferdinand I had married into the ruling house of Bohemia and Hungary and in 1526 had become king of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). Previously, the possessions of the Habsburgs had been pretty thoroughly German in language, except for enclaves of Slavs. After the addition of Hungary and Bohemia, the Habsburg realm was highly diversified. The expanded domains contained many peoples—Magyars, Slovaks, Czechs, Serbs, Germans, Ukrainians, and Romanians.

Ferdinand’s reign was marked by wars with the Ottoman Empire. In 1526 Ottoman sultan Süleyman I crushed the Hungarian army and captured the city of Buda. Ottoman troops moved steadily west along the broad valley of the Danube, and in 1529 they stood before the gates of Vienna. Austria, with Polish help, repelled the invaders, who drew back into Hungary. Warfare between Austrian and Ottoman forces continued for two generations, and almost two centuries passed before Habsburg arms completely broke the dominion of the Ottomans over Hungary.

Civil and Foreign Wars

During the 16th and 17th centuries Austria also was involved in the strife that followed the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Charles V had fought the Reformation on religious and political grounds. His struggle to preserve religious unity as a basis for Habsburg power led to war within the empire, which then became entwined with wars against France and the Ottoman Empire.

The Reformation made surprising progress in Austria, and many people left the Roman Catholic Church. Several forces checked the spread of Protestantism: the Council of Trent, which reformed the Catholic church; the Society of Jesus (see Jesuits), which reconverted the great landed families, rightly assuming that the peasants would follow their lords; and coercion by the court of Vienna.

Ferdinand II, an uncompromising champion of the Counter Reformation, attempted to reimpose Catholicism on his subjects. This ardently Catholic and rigidly authoritarian ruler became king of Bohemia in 1617 and Holy Roman emperor in 1619. Protestants in Bohemia, fearing they would lose their religious liberties, rebelled in 1618. This began the first phase of the Thirty Years’ War. After the rebels deposed Ferdinand in 1619, this internal Austrian conflict grew into a European war, fought mainly on German soil. The Habsburgs were defeated in battle, and the Peace of Westphalia (1648) weakened their control over the Holy Roman Empire by reducing it to a loose union of independent states.

In the 1680s the Ottoman Empire agreed to help Hungarian rebels against Habsburg rule. The climax came in 1683, when Ottoman armies once more besieged Vienna. The city was rescued by an army of Poles and Germans under Polish king Jan III Sobieski. The imperial armies won major victories near the end of the century, led by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who drove the Ottomans out of Hungary. After the prolonged warfare had ended, Habsburg cities saw a wonderful outburst of architectural activity. Massive baroque buildings—ornate, with elaborate decoration inside and outside—were built in Prague, Salzburg, and especially Vienna. The magnificent Belvedere Palace was built in Vienna for Prince Eugene. Churches and abbeys that had been destroyed were also rebuilt. The imposing Benedictine abbey at Melk, perched on a rocky cliff above the Danube, typified baroque tastes in Austria and advertised the triumph of the Counter Reformation.

The removal of the Ottoman threat in the east enabled Austria to follow a more aggressive policy in western Europe. In 1700 Charles II of Spain died without an heir. He left Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, and his possessions in Italy to Philip, duke of Anjou, a grandson of Louis XIV, king of France. Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, a Habsburg from the Austrian line, claimed these lands for his son Joseph I; this led to war (see Spanish Succession, War of the). At the end of the war Philip was recognized as Philip V, king of Spain, but Austria gained control of the Spanish Netherlands and Spanish possessions in northern Italy.

In 1713 Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI promulgated a so-called Pragmatic Sanction, which declared his possessions indivisible and hereditary in both the male and female line of the House of Austria. Charles had no son and did not want his country to be plunged into internal convulsions after his death or to be dismembered by foreign powers. Hungary accepted the sanction only after Charles confirmed the Hungarian constitution and autonomy, in effect strengthening Hungarian separatism. Most European monarchs pledged to accept the Pragmatic Sanction in return for various concessions, but they repudiated their pledges in 1740 when Charles died, leaving no male heirs.

Enlightened Despotism

In accordance with the Pragmatic Sanction, Charles’s eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, who in 1736 had married Francis, duke of Lorraine, ascended the Habsburg throne. (In 1745 Francis became Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, but his wife remained the power on the throne.) Maria Theresa’s ascension and rival claims to Habsburg dominions led to war (see Austrian Succession, War of the) and culminated in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). As a result Austria lost most of Silesia, economically the best-developed province of Bohemia, to Prussia. But in 1772, during the reign of Maria Theresa’s son and successor, Joseph II, Austria cooperated with Russia and Prussia in the dismemberment of Poland. In the process the Habsburgs gained the Polish region of Galicia.

Internally, the reigns of Empress Maria Theresa, from 1717 to 1780, and of her son, Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790), were a period of administrative centralization and reform. Under Maria Theresa a central bureaucracy was established in Vienna, and its agents supervised local administration throughout the empire. The power of local assemblies was curtailed. Hungary was the only territory in the empire to retain self-rule. Joseph II reduced the power of the Roman Catholic Church in his dominions by removing its control over secular matters, and he decreed religious toleration. He abolished serfdom and brought about land reforms. He reorganized the system of taxation and introduced a new legal code, and he attempted to encourage the spread of literacy. At the same time he introduced still greater administrative centralization.

Joseph’s reforms, especially the abolition of serfdom, land reform, and the effort to curtail the power of the church, aroused widespread opposition. At the time of his death, Hungary and Belgium were in full revolt, and there was unrest in the Austrian hereditary lands and Bohemia. Joseph’s brother and successor, Leopold II, revoked most of the reforms and was forced to recognize Hungary as a separate unit of the Habsburg lands. Even so, Joseph’s reign had regenerated the monarchy and opened it up to European trends.

Warfare with France

From 1792 to 1815 the Habsburg Empire was involved almost continuously in warfare, first in the French Revolution and then in the Napoleonic Wars. The French rebels’ democratic and nationalistic ideas were a threat to the absolutist Habsburgs, who were drawn into the conflict after Leopold II was succeeded by his reactionary son, Francis II, in 1792. Austrian military involvement began with a successful Austro-Prussian invasion of France, then faltered when the French forces drove the invaders back across the border and, during the winter of 1794 and 1795, conquered the Austrian Netherlands. In 1806, after Napoleon’s conquest of most of Germany, Francis dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. In anticipation of this move, in 1804 the monarch had declared himself Francis I, hereditary emperor of Austria. Following Austria’s defeat at the Battle of Wagram in 1809, Francis’s daughter Marie Louise married Napoleon, cementing the peace treaty negotiated by Prince Klemens von Metternich.

It was not long before Napoleon’s fortunes turned, however, and Austria was part of the coalition that drove him into exile in 1814. Francis’s power and territory were to some extent restored by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Although Austria lost some territories in Belgium and southwest Germany, it gained Lombardy, Venetia, Istria, and Dalmatia. The diplomatic skill of Austrian chancellor Metternich made the Habsburg Empire the center of the new European order. Austria became a leading power in both the German Confederation, which replaced the Holy Roman Empire, and the Holy Alliance of European rulers.

Revolution of 1848

From 1815 to 1848 the course of the Austrian Empire, directed by Metternich, was essentially dedicated to preserving the status quo. The empire was still basically rural, although significant industrial growth had taken place since the late 1820s. The forces of nationalism, especially in Hungary and Bohemia, became entwined with a desire for social and political change. The pressures for change were heightened by peasant discontent.

In 1848 revolutions broke out in much of Europe. A rebellion in Vienna in March quickly spread, as Germans, Magyars, Slavs, Italians, and others turned against the imperial regime. These violent explosions threatened to tear the Habsburg empire apart. Small groups of students and workers, as well as liberally oriented members of the middle class, demanded that Metternich leave office and that a constitution be granted. The Habsburg court quickly gave in, and Metternich, who for two generations had been the “Rock of Order,” fled in disguise to England. In response to the demands of the peasants, the Austrian assembly abolished serfdom. See also Revolutions of 1848.

Street fighting broke out in Vienna in October 1848, but an imperial army bombarded the city, ending the insurrection. Ferdinand I abdicated in December, and his 18-year-old nephew, Francis Joseph I, began a reign that would last until 1916. The new emperor promulgated a constitution for Austria that set up a parliamentary government. Italian rebels took over the government in Milan, and Hungary declared itself all but independent, bound to the empire only through its Habsburg monarch. In addition, a constitutional assembly drew up a plan for the administrative organization of the empire along national lines.

The revolutionary forces soon were weakened as the goals of different social classes and nationalities clashed. The Habsburg armies defeated the Italian rebels and, with the help of conservative Russia, crushed the Hungarian rebellion. Francis Joseph dropped all liberal pretensions. He abolished constitutional government and rejected the plan for imperial reorganization along national lines. The only reform that survived was the abolition of serfdom.

Austrian Losses

In the 1850s Austria faced the problems of protecting the empire from nationalism, especially in Italy and Prussia, and from Russian advances into the Balkan Peninsula. During the Crimean War (1853-1856) Austria threatened to intervene on the side of England and France if Russia did not evacuate the Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Walachia. After the Russians complied in 1854, Austria occupied the territories until the end of the war. The prolonged conflict ruined Austria’s finances, however, and its longtime ally Russia became an enemy, supporting the anti-Austrian policies of France and Prussia.

After a war that broke out in 1859, the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia expelled Austria from the Italian Peninsula, gained Lombardy, and created the kingdom of Italy. After this defeat, the emperor tried to strengthen his government by promulgating a limited constitutional system, which satisfied none of the opposition groups.

Austria fared no better in its struggle with Prussia for supremacy in Germany. The Prussian chancellor, Prince Otto von Bismarck, was determined to eliminate Austria from German affairs and bring about German unification under Prussian leadership. The climax was reached in 1866 with a Prussian victory on the battlefield of Sadowa near Königgrätz (now Hradec Králové, Czech Republic). The German Confederation was dissolved and Prussia took the lead in the reorganization and eventual unification of Germany. In addition, Austria lost Venetia to Prussia’s ally, Italy (see Seven Weeks’ War).

The Dual Monarchy

Losses of land and prestige during the 1860s led to a new arrangement of relations between Austria and Hungary. Various proposals were put forth for a unified parliament for the two countries, but they failed to win acceptance from the Magyar nobility in Hungary. In 1867, a compromise (German Ausgleich) was reached that gave Hungary its own constitution and a nearly independent status. Austria and Hungary were separate states, each with its own constitution, government, parliament, and language. The Austrian Empire was transformed into Austria-Hungary, also known as the dual monarchy, with the Magyars supreme in Hungary and the German Austrians ruling throughout the rest of the realm. The two states were linked by a single monarch, who was emperor in Austria and king in Hungary, and by common ministers of foreign affairs, war, and finance.

The 1867 compromise inspired movements for autonomy among other national groups within the empire. Besides Magyars and German Austrians (about 10 million each), the empire as a whole was also home to nine major nationalities: Czechs, Poles, Ruthenes (Ukrainians), Slovaks, Serbs, Romanians, Croats, Slovenes, and Italians. Most of the Slavic peoples of the empire still had a distinctly inferior political status and remained discontented. About 6.5 million Czechs living in Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia made up the largest, most advanced, and most restless minority. All efforts of the national groups to achieve autonomy were stymied by Hungarian determination never to alter the political structure created by the compromise.

The constitution of 1867 regulated the political system in the Austrian half of the dual monarchy until 1918, but its liberal provisions were restricted in practice. Voting was tied to property qualifications, for example, and the aristocracy retained considerable influence. The ministers were responsible to the emperor, who had emergency powers to govern without parliament. As Austria experienced significant economic growth, there was increased social conflict, stronger national movements, the rise of mass political parties, and virulent anti-Semitism. From the 1880s political life was dominated by conflicts among the various nationalities.

Alongside the negative features of Austrian political life there were some solid achievements. Under Vienna’s mayor, Karl Lueger, a program of “municipal socialism,” including the building of hospitals, schools, and parks, made the city among the most progressive in Europe. Vienna was also the scene of extraordinary artistic and intellectual innovation. Scientists and scholars, writers, and creative artists enhanced the city’s international renown. A distinguished medical school attracted scores of students from other countries, and Sigmund Freud created the new discipline of psychoanalysis. No city in the world surpassed Vienna in the quality or quantity of musical offerings. Johann Strauss the younger composed waltzes and operettas that popularized the legend of Vienna as the city of gaiety and mirth. Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner, faithful to the musical legacy of Ludwig van Beethoven, won worldwide acclaim as composers. Richard Strauss was the master of opera; his opera Der Rosenkavalier has enjoyed lasting popularity. Dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who wrote the libretto for Der Rosenkavalier, and novelist and dramatist Arthur Schnitzler formed the Young Vienna group with other writers.

Alliance with Germany

The establishment of the German Empire in 1871 led to reorientation of Habsburg foreign policy toward the Balkan Peninsula. The intention of the foreign minister, Hungarian Count Gyula Andrássy, was to preserve the status quo. Adopting a policy of friendship with Germany, Andrássy promised that Austria-Hungary would not interfere in German internal affairs; in return, Germany backed Austro-Hungarian attempts to limit Russian influence in southeastern Europe. Austrian interests in eastern Europe were threatened not only by nationalism but also by the power of Russia. By the late 1800s Russia had gained considerable influence in the Balkan Peninsula and elsewhere by supporting Pan-Slavism, a movement for the union of all Slavic peoples.

When Russia defeated the Ottomans in 1878, Austria-Hungary, supported by Germany and Britain, intervened to prevent the Russians from seizing all Ottoman possessions in Europe. The Congress of Berlin (1878) restricted Russian acquisitions; it also permitted Austria-Hungary to administer the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary signed a formal alliance; with the addition of Italy in 1882 it became known as the Triple Alliance. From its inception, this alliance—the mainstay of Austria-Hungary’s international position—was dominated by Germany, which subordinated Austria-Hungary’s foreign policy interests to its own.

Serbia, made independent of the Ottoman Empire by the Congress of Berlin, was a satellite of Austria-Hungary until 1903, when new leaders came to power intent on unifying all the South Slavs in the Habsburg monarchy, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, into an enlarged Serbian state. In 1908, after a revolution in the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary annexed the two provinces. The Serbs, backed by Russia, protested vehemently. Only Germany’s support of Austria-Hungary prevented war. By the time Serbia emerged from the Balkan Wars victorious and territorially enlarged, Austro-Hungarian leaders were convinced that war with Serbia was inevitable.

World War I

On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist. After receiving German assurances of support, the Austro-Hungarian foreign office sent a harsh ultimatum to the Serbian government, holding it responsible for the assassination and requiring its total acceptance of Austria-Hungary’s demands within three days. Despite a conciliatory reply that accepted all but two of the demands, and mediation efforts by the European powers, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28. Germany’s declaration of war on Russia and France in early August transformed the conflict into World War I.

Austro-Hungarian military activity during the first year of the war was concentrated against Russia and Serbia. In May 1915 Italy, which had declared its neutrality in 1914, left the Triple Alliance and entered the war on the side of the Allies. The Austro-Hungarian army suffered many setbacks, and the monarchy, weakened by decades of internal dissension, began to disintegrate after the death in 1916 of Francis Joseph I. He was succeeded by his grandnephew, Charles I of Austria. In 1917 the new emperor failed in several secret attempts to achieve a separate peace with the Allies, angering the Germans in the process. At the same time representatives of the Czechs, Poles, and South Slavs set up organizations in the Allied countries to gain sympathy and recognition. By late 1917 nationalist activities made the monarchy increasingly untenable.

During the spring and summer of 1918 Austro-Hungarian forces were defeated on every military front; shortages of food and other necessities triggered strikes and demonstrations at home and mutinies in the army and navy. Recognizing that the collapse of the monarchy was inevitable, the nationalist groups within the empire organized national councils that acted like separate governments. The South Slavs, meeting in Zagreb on October 7, 1918, advocated union with Serbia, and on October 28 the Czechs proclaimed an independent republic in Prague. On October 31 the Magyars had a revolution that initiated the creation of an independent Hungarian republic. On November 3, Austria and Hungary each signed an armistice with the Allies. On November 12 Charles relinquished all part in the administration of the state and left Austria. Within days Austria and Hungary declared themselves republics.

The First Austrian Republic

The Austrian Republic came into being as a disorganized and impoverished state of some 7 million people. The dissolution of the monarchy deprived Austria of the industrial areas of Bohemia and Moravia and ended the large internal market created by the union between Austria and Hungary. German Austrians desired union with the new German Republic, but this was forbidden by the peace treaties of Versailles and Saint-Germain. The new constitution (1920) created a federal state, with a bicameral legislature and a democratic suffrage.

Economic reconstruction took place with the aid of outside agencies. Between 1919 and 1920 U.S., British, and Swedish organizations provided food to relieve the desperate situation. Rising inflation heightened the country’s distress, and in 1922 Austria appealed for help to the League of Nations. The league arranged for a large loan to prevent economic collapse. In return, Austria pledged to remain independent for at least 20 years. The deflationary policies that were a condition of the loan caused much economic hardship and unemployment, but Austrian finances slowly stabilized.

The internal political situation remained uneasy because of antagonisms between Socialist-dominated Vienna and the conservative provinces. On July 15, 1927, the Socialists organized mass demonstrations in Vienna to protest the acquittal of three members of a right-wing group, who were on trial for killing two people during a clash with the Socialist Schutzbund (Defense League). The Palace of Justice was burned, and about 100 people were killed when police fired on the demonstrators.

Fascism and Anschluss

A succession of federal governments, dominated by the conservative Christian Social Party, could not overcome either the continuous unrest or the economic misery of the Great Depression. The rise of Austrian Nazism (see National Socialism) became a new destabilizing factor. Faced with his party’s declining electoral strength and growing opposition from the left and the extreme right, the Christian Social chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, dissolved parliament in 1933 and ruled by decree. Backed by the army and the Heimwehr (Home Defense League), a Fascist paramilitary organization, in February 1934 the government crushed the Socialist opposition. Later all political parties were abolished except the Fatherland Front, which Dollfuss had created to unite the conservative forces. In April he introduced a constitution that did away with parliamentary government and vested control in the executive.

Dollfuss was killed in July during an attempted Nazi putsch (takeover). Under the new chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, the regime drifted on, weakened by internal rivalries but sustained by promises of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to maintain the status quo. His guarantee lasted only until the Rome-Berlin Axis was established in 1936. Schuschnigg soon reached an agreement with Adolf Hitler that acknowledged Austria as “a German state.”

When Schuschnigg called for a plebiscite on Austrian independence in 1938, Hitler demanded and received his resignation. The Anschluss (annexation) was accomplished when German troops entered Austria on March 12, and a Nazi government was formed, headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Austria, now called the Ostmark (Eastern March), was divided into seven administrative districts under the central authority of the German Third Reich.

World War II and Allied Occupation

As a province of the German Reich, Austria was firmly harnessed to the Nazi military organization. After World War II began in 1939 Germany ruthlessly exploited the human and material resources of Austria. Thousands of Austrian soldiers fought for Hitler on the Russian front. In October 1943 the chiefs of state of the United States, Britain, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) signed the Moscow Declaration, which proclaimed the reestablishment of an independent Austria as one of the Allied war aims. Soviet troops liberated the eastern part of Austria, including Vienna, in April 1945. Socialist leader Karl Renner was chosen to head a provisional government.

After the war Austria was divided into four zones of occupation controlled, respectively, by the United States, France, Britain, and the USSR. Vienna was similarly divided. By the terms of a June 1946 agreement, the Austrian government received qualified authority over the entire country, including the right to legislate and to administer the laws. The occupation powers retained authority on matters such as demilitarization and the disposal of German-owned property. German economic assets in each zone were assigned to the respective occupying power. Laws passed in 1946 and 1947 eliminated Nazi influence from public life, but former Nazis without criminal records were allowed to participate in general elections in 1949.

The Austrian government, elected in November 1945, faced immediate problems that severely taxed its limited powers. The war had shattered industry and disrupted agricultural production and transportation and communication systems. The economy was in chaos. The people of Austria had faced near starvation. The first task of the Figl government was to institute a relief program. Austria’s economic recovery was greatly facilitated by United States aid given under the European Recovery Program. By 1951 industrial production had exceeded prewar peaks; it continued to rise in the succeeding years. The government encouraged economic development by nationalizing utilities and some industries and by embarking on a program of public spending.

Restoration of Sovereignty

The most significant event in the postwar era was the restoration of Austrian sovereignty in May 1955, after long negotiations between the USSR on one side, and the United States, Britain, and France on the other. Finally, in exchange for Soviet concessions Austria promised “…not to join any military alliances or permit any military bases on its territory.” The four Allies and Austria signed the State Treaty on May 15, 1955, formally reestablishing the Austrian republic. The treaty prohibited Anschluss between Austria and Germany, denied Austria the right to own or manufacture nuclear weapons or guided missiles, and obligated Austria to give the USSR part of its crude oil output for years to come. In December 1955 Austria became a United Nations member.

The Second Republic

From 1945 until 1966 Austria was governed by a coalition of the Socialist and People’s parties. The number of positions each party received depended on its share of votes in parliamentary elections. This framework was extended to the economic sphere, as the state, industry, labor, and agricultural interests developed a partnership and created a modified market economy. Prosperity rested in part on nationalized industries, such as electric power plants and oil refineries; the government also controlled the banks. A new Austrian national consciousness developed based on shared experiences of wartime devastation, reestablishment of national sovereignty, successful reconstruction of the country, and the international prestige gained from Austria’s unique position as a bridge between East and West.

The coalition weathered occasional differences and the loss of prewar and wartime leaders. President Renner died in December 1950 and was succeeded by the Socialist Party leader, Theodor Körner. While Socialist candidates were elected to the presidency (until 1986), the People’s Party supplied all the federal chancellors until 1970. In 1957 Austria became embroiled in a dispute with Italy over the status of Austrians in Trentino-Alto Aldige (South Tirol), which had been under Italian rule since 1919. The settlement finally reached in 1969 called for implementation of a 1946 agreement guaranteeing the linguistic and cultural rights of the German-speaking Austrian population.

In 1960 Austria became a signatory to the pact establishing the European Free Trade Association. The government announced in July 1961 that it would seek an association with the European Economic Community (EEC) that was compatible with its military neutrality. The initial Socialist Party opposition to participation gradually waned, and in 1972 Austria signed a bilateral free-trade agreement with the EEC.

The Kreisky Chancellorship

The Socialists won a narrow electoral victory in 1970, which for the first time made them the largest party in the Nationalrat. Socialist leader Bruno Kreisky was appointed chancellor and formed the first all-Socialist cabinet in Austrian history. The Kreisky era was marked by modernization and a dramatic increase in the standard of living for people in all social classes. Many social and labor reforms were introduced, and the government spent heavily on job creation and subsidies. Kreisky’s foreign policy initiatives gave Austria a position in international affairs far beyond its size. Despite his popularity and achievements, opposition developed around environmental issues, financial scandals, proposed tax increases, and especially the building of a nuclear power plant near Vienna (see Nuclear Energy). When antinuclear forces won a narrow victory in a 1978 referendum, the government was forced to abandon the nearly completed plant. Kreisky resigned in 1983, after the Socialists lost their absolute majority in the Nationalrat.

New Problems and Opportunities

The new Socialist chancellor, Fred Sinowatz, formed a coalition with the Freedom Party; however, the alliance collapsed in 1986 when the Freedom Party took a sharp turn to the right under its new leader, Jörg Haider. Mismanagement and layoffs in the public sector coupled with controversy over privatization fueled discontent with the government, the Socialists, and the political patronage system. The presidential election in 1986 was won by the People’s Party candidate, Kurt Waldheim, former secretary general of the United Nations, despite allegations that he had lied about his complicity in Nazi atrocities while serving in the German army during World War II. The vote reflected the ambivalent attitude of many Austrians toward their country’s Nazi past.

Franz Vranitzky, another Socialist, took office as chancellor after parliamentary elections in November 1986, forming a coalition with the People’s Party. His government had to deal with continuing cutbacks in the public sector, high budget deficits, and international unease over Waldheim’s election. The coalition survived the elections of October 1990, but lost seats to the right-wing Freedom Party. Because of Austria’s international isolation, Waldheim was prevailed upon not to seek reelection in 1992. The People’s Party candidate, Thomas Klestil, a career diplomat and former ambassador to the United States, was elected president in 1992, partly on the promise to press forward Austria’s application to join the European Union (EU). In 1994, five years after it was first submitted, Austria’s application to join the EU was endorsed by the European Parliament and approved by Austrian voters in a nationwide referendum. The country officially joined the EU on January 1, 1995.

In the 1994 parliamentary election, the ruling coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party retained a legislative majority but lost 23 seats. It was the worst showing by the coalition since 1945, reflecting rising dissatisfaction with the government’s direction. The Freedom Party, which advocated greater restrictions on Austria’s ethnic minorities, continued to make gains, winning a total of 42 seats in the Nationalrat. In October 1995 the ruling coalition collapsed over differences on how to handle Austria’s budget deficit.

In the December 1995 general election, both ruling parties were slightly strengthened. After agreeing on a package of austerity measures, they resumed their coalition in March 1996, with the Social Democrat Vranitzky as chancellor. (The Socialist Party had renamed itself the Social Democratic Party in 1991.) In January 1997 Vranitzky resigned as chancellor and leader of the Social Democratic Party. He was succeeded in both positions by Finance Minister Viktor Klima.

In April 1998 Thomas Klestil was elected to another six-year term as president. He received more than 63 percent of the vote, the second best showing ever in a presidential election in Austria.

Strained Relations

In April 1999 the far-right populist Jörg Haider was elected governor of the southern Austrian province of Kärnten (Carinthia) after his Freedom Party received over 40 percent of the local vote. As the October 1999 Nationalrat elections approached, Haider’s Freedom Party continued to gain in popularity. Haider, an outspoken opponent of immigration and the EU, won support among working-class Austrians by arguing that both posed dangerous threats to Austrian jobs. He also gained international notoriety for praising aspects of Germany’s former Nazi regime, remarks for which he later apologized. In the October elections, the Freedom Party won 27 percent of the vote, or 52 seats in the Nationalrat, which tied them with the People’s Party. After coalition talks broke down between the People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party, which won 65 seats, the People’s Party agreed to form a coalition with the Freedom Party. The new government took office in February 2000, with People’s Party head Wolfgang Schüssel replacing Viktor Klima as chancellor. Haider did not join the government, choosing instead to retain his post as governor of Carinthia.

International response to the Freedom Party’s inclusion in the government came swiftly. Austria’s partners in the EU immediately downgraded diplomatic relations with Austria by halting high-level official contacts. Norway, which is not an EU member, also ceased top-level contacts with Austria. Israel recalled its ambassador. Several European governments cancelled contracts with Austrian firms or urged tourist boycotts, and the United States announced that official contacts would be limited. Within Austria, numerous street demonstrations in Vienna called for the government to step down. In the face of this outcry, Haider resigned as Freedom Party leader on February 28, 2000.

In September 2000, after seven months of diplomatic isolation, the EU unconditionally lifted the sanctions against Austria. A joint statement issued by EU member states said the sanctions had served their purpose by sending a political signal, but warned that the influence of the Freedom Party on Austria’s government remained grounds for serious concern.

Recent Developments

Austria’s government collapsed in September 2002 after Haider mounted a revolt within the Freedom Party that forced the resignation of Freedom Party leader and Austrian vice chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer. Her resignation led Chancellor Schüssel to dissolve the People’s Party’s coalition with the Freedom Party and call snap elections for November, a year earlier than scheduled. The elections were a clear victory for the People’s Party, which gained 42 percent of the vote, and a rebuke for the Freedom Party, which saw its share of the vote decline to just 10 percent. In February 2003 the People’s Party renewed its coalition with the Freedom Party, despite widespread opposition to such a renewal among Austrian voters.

In Austria’s 2004 presidential election, a candidate backed by Schüssel’s conservative coalition was defeated by Social Democrat Heinz Fischer, who received 52 percent of the vote. Outgoing president Thomas Klestil died on July 6, 2004, just two days before his second term was to end. In 2005 Haider left the Freedom Party and formed a new right-wing party, the Alliance for Austria’s Future, hoping to regain the voters the Freedom Party had lost because of its extremism.

In parliamentary elections held in October 2006, the Social Democratic Party won 68 seats in the 183-seat Nationalrat, only two more than the People’s Party. The Greens and the Freedom Party each won 21 seats, and a number of other parties won the remainder. The Social Democrats and the People’s Party held negotiations on forming a coalition government that faltered on major policy differences. Finally, in January 2007 the parties reached agreement and formed a new power-sharing government. Social Democrat leader Alfred Gusenbauer became chancellor.

Disagreements within the coalition government, however, soon brought it to the point where little could be accomplished, and snap (unscheduled) parliamentary elections were called for September 2008. Both the Social Democrats and the People’s Party entered the elections with new leaders. Apparently frustrated by the constant in-fighting between the two parties, Austrian voters registered their unhappiness by giving the Social Democrats and the People’s Party their worst results since 1945. The Social Democrats won only 30 percent of the vote and the People’s Party 26 percent, while the far-right Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria’s Future together nearly doubled their vote total from 2006 to 29 percent.

Pressured by the global financial crisis, the Social Democrats and People’s Party entered into negotiations to form a coalition government. As negotiations proceeded, Haider, the leader of the Alliance for Austria’s Future, died in an automobile accident. The two parties finally reached an agreement in December 2008 to form another power-sharing government that excluded the far-right parties. Social Democratic party leader Werner Faymann was expected to become chancellor in the new governing coalition, which was also expected to approve new tax cuts aimed at relieving Austria’s economic woes.

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