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Meetings Calendar 2006
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History

 

From Noricum to Ostarrichi

The first embryonic state in the area that is now Austria was the Celtic kingdom of Noricum, which was for the most part integrated into the Roman Empire around 15 BC. Numerous settlements were founded under Roman rule, including Vindobona (Vienna), Iuvavum (Salzburg) and Brigantium (Bregenz). The Roman Empire collapsed after the invasion of the Germanic tribes. Up until the end of the 8th century, various Germanic tribes, Huns and Avars migrated through the territory that is now Austria.

In AD 800, Charlemagne established the Carolingian march between the rivers Enns, Raab and Drave in order to protect the border. In 976, the Babenberg family were given this territory in fief and in 1156 it was elevated to a duchy. The name “Ostarrichi” first appears in a deed of conveyance in 996.

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The Habsburg era

When the Babenberg line came to an end in the middle of the 13th century, the Habsburgs, who originated from what is now Switzerland, were given the Duchy of Austria in fief in 1282 after a brief interregnum by the Bohemian King Ottokar II. For the next 600 years until 1918, the history of Austria is closely interwoven with that of the House of Habsburg.

Following the Treaties of Worms and Brussels the House of Habsburg was split in 1521 and 1522 into two lines – an Austrian and a Spanish line – which ruled completely independently of each other in different territories. In 1526 the Austrian line gained possession of Bohemia and Hungary when the last Jagellion ruler died without heirs.

The 16th and 17th centuries were characterised by battles with the Ottoman Empire, whose armies twice penetrated to the gates of Vienna. Once the Ottoman expansion had been successfully repulsed, the resulting territorial gains gave the House of Habsburg the status of a great European power.

In 1700, the Spanish line of the Habsburgs died out. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the House of Austria (casa d’Austria) failed to regain the Spanish possessions, but was bequeathed all of Spain’s European possessions (Spanish Netherlands, Naples, and Lombardy). At this time, the Austrian line of the Habsburgs controlled the largest expanse of territory in its history.

When Emperor Charles VI died in 1740, he was succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresa, since the “pragmatic sanction” (1713) allowed for female succession. With her husband Francis Stephen of Lorraine, she founded the new Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty. The Habsburg lands were largely defended during the War of the Austrian Succession, and only the rich province of Silesia was lost to the Prussians.

Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II established the basis for a modern state in the 18th century with their reforms based on the principles of enlightened absolutism: central administration, compulsory education, abolition of serfdom, the Patent of Tolerance and reform of churches and monasteries. Imperial Vienna became a centre of music at this time. Christoph Willibald Gluck, Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose 250th birthday will be celebrated in 2006, created their immortal works here.

The changes in Europe caused by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars signalled the end of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1806 Emperor Francis II renounced the title of Holy Roman Emperor. Two years earlier, he had responded to Napoleon being crowned emperor by proclaiming the Empire of Austria, and ruled as Emperor Francis I of Austria until 1835.

After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig and Waterloo, a new European order was established at the Congress of Vienna (1814/15). Austria’s domestic and foreign policy until the 1848 Revolution was determined by the Austrian State Chancellor Prince Clemens von Metternich, who pursued a conservative, restorationist policy. Decisive Austrian defeats in the course of Italian unification forced the Habsburgs to make concessions to growing nationalist sentiment.

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Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy

In 1866, Prussia and Austria went to war over the leadership of the German Confederation. The conflict ended with Austria’s defeat at Königgrätz. Emperor Franz Joseph was forced to approve the dissolution of the German Confederation and the reorganisation of Germany under Prussian leadership without Austria. A domestic consequence of Austria’s defeat at the hands of Prussia was the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy. In the so-called Compromise of 1867, Hungary became an equal member in a dual state alliance (imperial and royal monarchy). However, this did not solve the problem of nationalism in the Habsburg multi-ethnic state.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 sparked the outbreak of the First World War. After the defeat of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, the German Reich and the allied Ottoman Empire) in the autumn of 1918, the European order crumbled. The Dual Monarchy disintegrated into nation-states. The small state of Austria became a republic.

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First Republic, ANSCHLUSS AND NAZI DICTATORSHIP

The constitution of 1920 marked the difficult beginning of the First Republic. The economy of the new state lay in tatters owing to the consequences of the war, reparations and territorial losses; large-scale unemployment led to political polarisation. Democracy came to a temporary end in Austria in 1933 when Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss established a dictatorial state. Dollfuss was assassinated in July 1934 in an attempted coup staged by the National Socialists.

On 12 March 1938 German troops crossed the border into Austria. The Anschluss of Austria into Greater Germany was implemented by law on 13 March 1938 and subsequently “legalised” by a referendum on 10 April. Austria had ceased to exist as an independent state.

During the following years, Austria’s Jews were exposed to unprecedented terror, subjected to mental humiliation and physical torture, robbed of their possessions and expelled from the country. Austrian Jews were denied all means of making a living. Around 65 000 Austrian Jews died in the Holocaust.

In addition, many Austrians who opposed the Nazi regime were sent to prisons and death camps.

The resistance groups active at the end of the war made contact with the Allied troops who were moving towards Austria to help speed up the liberation of the country. On 27 April 1945, before the Second World War had ended (capitulation of the German Wehrmacht on 8 May 1945), the provisional state government under Karl Renner declared the independence of Austria (Second Republic) and re-established the constitution of 1920 in its 1929 version.

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Second Republic

The first tasks facing this provisional cabinet were to restore civilian life, to supply the starving population with provisions and to rebuild democratic and political structures. On 25 November 1945, the first democratic elections for more than a decade were held. Leopold Figl, the chairman of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), became federal chancellor.

The immediate post-war period was characterised by economic reconstruction and attempts to restore Austria’s full sovereignty. Austria’s economic recovery moved ahead rapidly thanks to the generous help of the US Marshall Plan.

After years of negotiations with the Allies, the Austrian delegation was finally promised the State Treaty on 15 April 1955 in Moscow. On 15 May 1955, the foreign ministers of the four occupying powers signed the State Treaty in Vienna’s Schloss Belvedere. Foreign Minister Figl signed for Austria. Austria thus regained its full independence and sovereignty after seven years of Nazi dictatorship and 10 years of military occupation.

On 26 October 1955 (the national holiday), the National Council adopted the constitutional law of permanent neutrality. This was the political price for the Soviet Union’s approval of the State Treaty, but it was made clear that Austrian neutrality was not part of the Treaty, but a sovereign step taken by Austria.

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Austria in Europe and in the world

Following the signing of the State Treaty and restoration of sovereignty, Austria became a member of the United Nations in December 1955, and since then has been actively involved in the UN’s numerous tasks and missions. In 1956 it joined the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. Membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) followed in 1960. Austria entered into extensive free trade agreements with the European Community in 1972.

With the end of the Cold War, Austria moved from its position on the periphery between East and West into the centre of a larger Europe with new forms of partnership. This was expressed in a strong neighbourhood policy and Austria’s efforts to join the European Community.

After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Austria’s relations with the countries of Eastern and South-East Europe were intensified. Austria and Germany pushed for speedy recognition of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 during the Yugoslav conflict at the beginning of the 1990s. Austria established close economic and political relations with the successor states to Yugoslavia and with the other Central and South Eastern European countries.

On 1 January 1995 Austria became a member of the European Union (EU) and an observer in the Western European Union (WEU).

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Date: 01.02.2006