Austria

Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a landlocked East Alpine country in the southern part of Central Europe.

Austria is bordered by Germany to the northwest, the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia to the northeast, Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west.

Vienna, Austria’s capital and its largest city, is unique in that it is both a city and a state.

Austria occupies an area of 83,879 km2 and has a population of nearly 9 million people. While German is the country’s official language, many Austrians communicate informally in a variety of Bavarian dialects.

Tourism & What to do in Austria

Climate & Best time to visit

The greater part of Austria lies in the cool (temperate) climate zone, where humid westerly winds predominate. With nearly three-quarters of the country dominated by the Alps, the alpine climate is predominant.

In the east—in the Pannonian Plain and along the Danube valley—the climate shows continental features with less rain than the alpine areas.

Although Austria is cold in the winter (−10 to 0 °C), summer temperatures can be relatively high, with average temperatures in the mid-20s and the highest temperature of 40.5 °C in August 2013.

Austria has the following climate types: Oceanic, Cool/Warm-summer humid continental, Subarctic/Subalpine, Tundra/Alpine and Ice-Cap.

It is important to note though that Austria may experience very cold, severe winters, but most of the time they are only around as cold as those in somewhat comparable climate zones, for example, Southern Scandinavia or Eastern Europe. As well, at higher altitudes, summers are usually considerably cooler than in the valleys/lower altitudes.

The subarctic and tundra climates seen around the Alps are much warmer in winter than what is normal elsewhere due in part to the Oceanic influence on this part of Europe.

Geography & Administrative division

Austria occupies an area of 83,879 km2 and is bordered by Germany to the northwest, Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia to the northeast, Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west.

Austria is a largely mountainous country because of its location in the Alps. The Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps are all partly in Austria.

Administrative division

Austria is a federal republic consisting of nine federated states (Bundesländer).
The states are subdivided into districts (Bezirke) and statutory cities (Statutarstädte).
Districts are subdivided into municipalities (Gemeinden).

Statutory Cities have the competencies otherwise granted to both districts and municipalities. Vienna, Austria’s capital and its largest city, is unique in that it is both a city and a state.

Demographics & Languages

Austria occupies an area of 83,879 km2 and has a population of nearly 9 million people.

While German is the country’s official language, many Austrians communicate informally in a variety of Bavarian dialects.

Origin of the name & Local symbols

The first record showing the name Austria is from 996, where it is written as Ostarrîchi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March.

History & Timeline

Austria initially emerged as a margraviate around 976 and developed into a duchy and archduchy. In the 16th century, Austria started serving as the heart of the Habsburg Monarchy and the junior branch of the House of Habsburg – one of the most influential royal dynasties in history. As an archduchy, it was a major component and administrative centre of the Holy Roman Empire.

Early in the 19th century, Austria established its own empire, which became a great power and the leading force of the German Confederation but pursued its own course independently of the other German states. Following the Austro-Prussian War and the compromise with Hungary, the Dual Monarchy was established.

Austria was involved in World War I under Emperor Franz Joseph following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the presumptive successor to the Austro-Hungarian throne. After the defeat and the dissolution of the Monarchy, the Republic of German-Austria was proclaimed with the intent of the union with Germany, which eventually failed because of the Allied Powers and the state remained unrecognized. In 1919 the First Austrian Republic became the legal successor of Austria. In 1938, the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler, who became the Chancellor of the German Reich, achieved the annexation of Austria by the Anschluss. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 and an extended period of Allied occupation, Austria was re-established as a sovereign and self-governing democratic nation known as the Second Republic.

Austria is a parliamentary representative democracy with a directly elected Federal President as head of state and a Chancellor as head of the federal government. Major urban areas of Austria include Graz, Linz, Salzburg and Innsbruck. Austria is consistently ranked in the top 20 richest countries in the world by GDP per capita terms. The country has achieved a high standard of living and in 2018 was ranked 20th in the world for its Human Development Index. Vienna consistently ranks in the top internationally on quality-of-life indicators.

The Second Republic declared its perpetual neutrality in foreign political affairs in 1955. Austria has been a member of the United Nations since 1955 and joined the European Union in 1995. It plays host to the OSCE and OPEC and is a founding member of the OECD and Interpol. Austria also signed the Schengen Agreement in 1995, and adopted the euro currency in 1999.

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The Central European land that is now Austria was settled in pre-Roman times by various Celtic tribes. The Celtic kingdom of Noricum was later claimed by the Roman Empire and made a province. Present-day Petronell-Carnuntum in eastern Austria was an important army camp turned capital city in what became known as the Upper Pannonia province. Carnuntum was home for 50,000 people for nearly 400 years. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was invaded by Bavarians, Slavs, and Avars. Charlemagne, King of the Franks, conquered the area in AD 788, encouraged colonization, and introduced Christianity. As part of Eastern Francia, the core areas that now encompass Austria were bequeathed to the house of Babenberg. The area was known as the marchia Orientalis and was given to Leopold of Babenberg in 976. The first record showing the name Austria is from 996, where it is written as Ostarrîchi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March. In 1156, the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy. In 1192, the Babenbergs also acquired the Duchy of Styria. With the death of Frederick II in 1246, the line of the Babenbergs was extinguished.As a result, Ottokar II of Bohemia effectively assumed control of the duchies of Austria, Styria, and Carinthia. His reign came to an end with his defeat at Dürnkrut at the hands of Rudolph I of Germany in 1278. Thereafter, until World War I, Austria’s history was largely that of its ruling dynasty, the Habsburgs.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Habsburgs began to accumulate other provinces in the vicinity of the Duchy of Austria. In 1438, Duke Albert V of Austria was chosen as the successor to his father-in-law, Emperor Sigismund. Although Albert himself only reigned for a year, henceforth every emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was a Habsburg, with only one exception. The Habsburgs began also to accumulate territory far from the hereditary lands. In 1477, Archduke Maximilian, only son of Emperor Frederick III, married the heiress Maria of Burgundy, thus acquiring most of the Netherlands for the family. In 1496, his son Philip the Fair married Joanna the Mad, the heiress of Castile and Aragon, thus acquiring Spain and its Italian, African, and New World appendages for the Habsburgs.In 1526, following the Battle of Mohács, Bohemia and the part of Hungary not occupied by the Ottomans came under Austrian rule. Ottoman expansion into Hungary led to frequent conflicts between the two empires, particularly evident in the Long War of 1593 to 1606. The Turks made incursions into Styria nearly 20 times, of which some are cited as “burning, pillaging, and taking thousands of slaves”. In late September 1529 Suleiman the Magnificent launched the first Siege of Vienna, which unsuccessfully ended, according to Ottoman historians, with the snowfalls of an early beginning winter.

During the long reign of Leopold I (1657–1705) and following the successful defence of Vienna against the Turks in 1683 (under the command of the King of Poland, John III Sobieski), a series of campaigns resulted in bringing most of Hungary to Austrian control by the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.Emperor Charles VI relinquished many of the gains the empire made in the previous years, largely due to his apprehensions at the imminent extinction of the House of Habsburg. Charles was willing to offer concrete advantages in territory and authority in exchange for recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction that made his daughter Maria Theresa his heir. With the rise of Prussia, the Austrian–Prussian dualism began in Germany. Austria participated, together with Prussia and Russia, in the first and the third of the three Partitions of Poland (in 1772 and 1795).

Austria later became engaged in a war with Revolutionary France, at the beginning highly unsuccessfully, with successive defeats at the hands of Napoleon, meaning the end of the old Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Two years earlier, the Empire of Austria was founded. From 1792 to 1801, the Austrians had suffered 754,700 casualties. In 1814, Austria was part of the Allied forces that invaded France and brought to an end the Napoleonic Wars. It emerged from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as one of the continent’s four dominant powers and a recognised great power. The same year, the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) was founded under the presidency of Austria. Because of unsolved social, political, and national conflicts, the German lands were shaken by the 1848 revolutions aiming to create a unified Germany. The various different possibilities for a united Germany were: a Greater Germany, or a Greater Austria or just the German Confederation without Austria at all. As Austria was not willing to relinquish its German-speaking territories to what would become the German Empire of 1848, the crown of the newly formed empire was offered to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. In 1864, Austria and Prussia fought together against Denmark and secured the independence from Denmark of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. As they could not agree on how the two duchies should be administered, though, they fought the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. Defeated by Prussia in the Battle of Königgrätz, Austria had to leave the German Confederation and no longer took part in German politics. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Ausgleich, provided for a dual sovereignty, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, under Franz Joseph I. The Austrian-Hungarian rule of this diverse empire included various Slavic groups, including Croats, Czechs, Poles, Rusyns, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes, and Ukrainians, as well as large Italian and Romanian communities. As a result, ruling Austria–Hungary became increasingly difficult in an age of emerging nationalist movements, requiring considerable reliance on an expanded secret police. Yet, the government of Austria tried its best to be accommodating in some respects: for example, the Reichsgesetzblatt, publishing the laws and ordinances of Cisleithania, was issued in eight languages; and all national groups were entitled to schools in their own language and to the use of their mother tongue at state offices. Many Austrians of all different social circles such as Georg Ritter von Schönerer promoted strong pan-Germanism in hope of reinforcing an ethnic German identity and the annexation of Austria to Germany. Some Austrians such as Karl Lueger also used pan-Germanism as a form of populism to further their own political goals. Although Bismarck’s policies excluded Austria and the German Austrians from Germany, many Austrian pan-Germans idolized him and wore blue cornflowers, known to be the favourite flower of German Emperor William I, in their buttonholes, along with cockades in the German national colours (black, red, and yellow), although they were both temporarily banned in Austrian schools, as a way to show discontent towards the multi-ethnic empire. Austria’s exclusion from Germany caused many Austrians a problem with their national identity and prompted the Social Democratic Leader Otto Bauer to state that it was “the conflict between our Austrian and German character. The Austro-Hungarian Empire caused ethnic tension between the German Austrians and the other ethnic groups. Many Austrians, especially those involved with the pan-German movements, desired a reinforcement of an ethnic German identity and hoped that the empire would collapse, which would allow an annexation of Austria with Germany.A lot of Austrian pan-German nationalists protested passionately against minister-president Kasimir Count Badeni’s language decree of 1897, which made German and Czech co-official languages in Bohemia and required new government officials to be fluent in both languages. This meant in practice that the civil service would almost exclusively hire Czechs, because most middle-class Czechs spoke German but not the other way around. The support of ultramontane Catholic politicians and clergy for this reform triggered the launch of the “Away from Rome” (German: Los-von-Rom) movement, which was initiated by supporters of Schönerer and called on “German” Christians to leave the Roman Catholic Church.

As the Second Constitutional Era began in the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary took the opportunity to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip was used by leading Austrian politicians and generals to persuade the emperor to declare war on Serbia, thereby risking and prompting the outbreak of World War I, which eventually led to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over one million Austro-Hungarian soldiers died in World War I.

On 21 October 1918, the elected German members of the Reichsrat (parliament of Imperial Austria) met in Vienna as the Provisional National Assembly for German Austria (Provisorische Nationalversammlung für Deutschösterreich). On 30 October the assembly founded the Republic of German Austria by appointing a government, called Staatsrat. This new government was invited by the Emperor to take part in the decision on the planned armistice with Italy, but refrained from this business.This left the responsibility for the end of the war, on 3 November 1918, solely to the emperor and his government. On 11 November, the emperor, advised by ministers of the old and the new governments, declared he would not take part in state business any more; on 12 November, German Austria, by law, declared itself to be a democratic republic and part of the new German republic. The constitution, renaming the Staatsrat as Bundesregierung (federal government) and Nationalversammlung as Nationalrat (national council) was passed on 10 November 1920. The Treaty of Saint-Germain of 1919 (for Hungary the Treaty of Trianon of 1920) confirmed and consolidated the new order of Central Europe which to a great extent had been established in November 1918, creating new states and altering others. The German-speaking parts of Austria which had been part of Austria-Hungary were reduced to a rump state named The Republic of German-Austria. The desire for Anschluss (annexation of Austria to Germany) was a popular opinion shared by all social circles in both Austria and Germany. On 12 November, German-Austria was declared a republic, and named Social Democrat Karl Renner as provisional chancellor. On the same day it drafted a provisional constitution that stated that “German-Austria is a democratic republic” (Article 1) and “German-Austria is an integral part of the German reich” (Article 2). The Treaty of Saint Germain and the Treaty of Versailles explicitly forbid union between Austria and Germany. The treaties also forced German-Austria to rename itself as “Republic of Austria” which consequently led to the first Austrian Republic. Over 3 million German-speaking Austrians found themselves living outside the new Austrian Republic as minorities in the newly formed or enlarged states of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Italy. These included the provinces of South Tyrol (which became part of Italy) and German Bohemia (Czechoslovakia). The status of German Bohemia (Sudetenland) later played a role in sparking the Second World War. The status of South Tyrol was a lingering problem between Austria and Italy until it was officially settled by the 1980s with a great degree of autonomy being granted to it by the Italian national government. Between 1918 and 1919, Austria was known as the State of German Austria (Staat Deutschösterreich). Not only did the Entente powers forbid German Austria to unite with Germany, but they also rejected the name German Austria in the peace treaty to be signed; it was, therefore, changed to Republic of Austria in late 1919. The border between Austria and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia) was settled with the Carinthian Plebiscite in October 1920 and allocated the major part of the territory of the former Austro-Hungarian Crownland of Carinthia to Austria. This set the border on the Karawanken mountain range, with many Slovenes remaining in Austria.

Much like Germany, Austria was divided into American, British, French, and Soviet zones and governed by the Allied Commission for Austria. As forecast in the Moscow Declaration in 1943, a subtle difference was seen in the treatment of Austria by the Allies. The Austrian government, consisting of Social Democrats, Conservatives, and Communists (until 1947), and residing in Vienna, which was surrounded by the Soviet zone, was recognised by the Western Allies in October 1945 after some doubts that Renner could be Stalin’s puppet. Thus, the creation of a separate Western Austrian government and the division of the country was avoided. Austria, in general, was treated as though it had been originally invaded by Germany and liberated by the Allies. On 15 May 1955, after talks which lasted for years and were influenced by the Cold War, Austria regained full independence by concluding the Austrian State Treaty with the Four Occupying Powers. On 26 October 1955, after all occupation troops had left, Austria declared its “permanent neutrality” by an act of parliament. This day is now Austria’s National Day, a public holiday. The political system of the Second Republic is based on the constitution of 1920 and 1929, which was reintroduced in 1945. The system came to be characterised by Proporz, meaning that most posts of political importance were split evenly between members of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Interest group “chambers” with mandatory membership (e.g. for workers, business people, farmers) grew to considerable importance and were usually consulted in the legislative process, so hardly any legislation was passed that did not reflect widespread consensus.

Since 1945, governing via a single-party government has occurred twice: 1966–1970 (ÖVP) and 1970–1983 (SPÖ). During all other legislative periods, either a grand coalition of SPÖ and ÖVP or a “small coalition” (one of these two and a smaller party) ruled the country.

Kurt Waldheim, a Wehrmacht officer in the Second World War accused of war crimes, was elected President of Austria from 1986 to 1992.

Following a referendum in 1994, at which consent reached a majority of two-thirds, the country became a member of the European Union on 1 January 1995.

The major parties SPÖ and ÖVP have contrary opinions about the future status of Austria’s military nonalignment: While the SPÖ in public supports a neutral role, the ÖVP argues for stronger integration into the EU’s security policy; even a future NATO membership is not ruled out by some ÖVP politicians (ex. Dr Werner Fasslabend (ÖVP) in 1997). In reality, Austria is taking part in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, participates in peacekeeping and peace creating tasks, and has become a member of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace”; the constitution has been amended accordingly. Since Liechtenstein joined the Schengen Area in 2011, none of Austria’s neighbouring countries performs border controls towards it anymore.

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