|Background: Once the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire,
Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I. Following
annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938 and subsequent occupation by the victorious Allies,
Austria's 1955 State Treaty declared the country "permanently neutral" as a
condition of Soviet military withdrawal. Neutrality, once ingrained as part of the
Austrian cultural identity, has been called into question since the Soviet collapse and
Austria's increasingly prominent role in European affairs. A prosperous country, Austria
joined the European Union in 1995 and the euro monetary system in 1999.
Government type: federal republic
Currency: 1 Austrian schilling (AS) = 100 groschen
Geography of Austria
Location: Central Europe, north of Italy and Slovenia
People of Austria
Austrians are a homogeneous people; 92% are native German speakers. Only two numerically significant minority groups exist--30,000 Slovenes in Carinthia (south central Austria) and about 60,000 Croats in Burgenland (on the Hungarian border). The Slovenes form a closely knit community. Their rights as well as those of the Croats are protected by law and generally respected in practice. The present boundaries of Austria, once the center of the Habsburg Empire that constituted the second-largest state in Europe, were established in accordance with the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919. Some Austrians, particularly near Vienna, still have relatives in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. About 78% of all Austrians are Roman Catholic. The church abstains from political activity; however, lay Catholic organizations are aligned with the conservative People's Party. The Social Democratic Party long ago shed its anticlerical stance. Small Lutheran minorities are located mainly in Vienna, Carinthia, and Burgenland.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire played a decisive role in central European history. It occupied strategic territory containing the southeastern routes to western Europe and the north-south routes between Germany and Italy. Although present-day Austria is only a tiny remnant of the old empire, it retains this unique position.
Soon after the Republic of Austria was created at the end of World War I, it faced the strains of catastrophic inflation and of redesigning a government meant to rule a great empire into one that would govern only 6 million citizens. In the early 1930s, worldwide depression and unemployment added to these strains and shattered traditional Austrian society. Resultant economic and political conditions led in 1933 to a dictatorship under Engelbert Dollfuss. In February 1934, civil war broke out, and the Socialist Party was outlawed. In July, a coup d'etat by the National Socialists failed, but Dollfuss was assassinated by Nazis. In March 1938, Austria was incorporated into the German Reich, a development commonly known as the "Anschluss" (annexation).
At the Moscow conference in 1943, the Allies declared their intention to liberate Austria and reconstitute it as a free and independent state. In April 1945, both Eastern- and Western-front Allied forces liberated the country. Subsequently, Austria was divided into zones of occupation similar to those in Germany. Under the 1945 Potsdam agreements, the Soviets took control of German assets in their zone of occupation. These included 7% of Austria's manufacturing plants, 95% of its oil resources, and about 80% of its refinery capacity. The properties were returned to Austria under the Austrian State Treaty. This treaty, signed in Vienna on May 15, 1955, came into effect on July 27, and, under its provisions, all occupation forces were withdrawn by October 25, 1955. Austria became free and independent for the first time since 1938.
Population: 8,184,691 (July 2005 est.)
SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State
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