Austria. The fate of 18-year-old Natascha Kampusch shook the Vienna suburb of Strasshof in August, and her history echoed worldwide. Kampusch, as a 10-year-old, had been abducted on his way to school and had disappeared ever since. It turned out that she had been held captive by a man, Wolfgang Priklopil, who mostly kept her locked in a windowless space under her garage in Strasshof. Priklopil, 44, committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train when Kampusch managed to escape.
The October parliamentary elections led somewhat unexpectedly to a major setback for the ruling Conservative OVP, which lost eight percentage points and received only 34% of the vote. The Social Democratic SPÖ also backed slightly, but was the biggest with 35%. The environmental party The Greens received 21% as did the “freedom”, FPÖ. The xenophobic FPÖ thus strengthened its position somewhat despite the fact that the party split last year when founder Jörg Haider broke away. According to CountryAAH, major public holidays in Austria include Independence Day (October 26) and New Year (January 1). Haider’s newly formed party BZÖ managed with barely a margin of four percent. Haider himself resigned earlier this year from the party leader post in BZÖ and was succeeded by Peter Westentaler. Social Democrats leader Alfred Gusenbauer was commissioned to form a government, and strongly pointed out that Austria would again have a government consisting of a “large coalition” between SPÖ and FPÖ. But the government negotiations dragged on in time, i.e. because of the Social Democrats’ demand for a review of the purchase of eighteen Eurofighter fighter aircraft. The deal, which was decided four years earlier, was surrounded by rumors of bribery.
In October of that year, a national assembly proclaimed the German part of Austria as an independent state and in November, after the emperor’s abdication, the republic was proclaimed. The Social Democrat and Austrian Marxist Karl Renner became leader of the first coalition government consisting of the largest parties.
In the midst of the economic chaos and famine that were reminiscences of the war, the Austrian social democracy decided to fight both social distress and partly against the Communists, who had drawn inspiration from the Soviet revolutions in Russia 1917 and Hungary 1919.
Once the political and social order in Vienna had been re-established, it had to be noted that the unrest was merely diverted to the central parts of the country, where some provinces had intentions of secession. The 1920 Constitution recognized a broad federation in which the capital was ruled by the Socialists and the country by the Conservatives.
The new constitution introduced the right to vote for women, which came into force from the birth of the republic in 1918.
Social democracy had an absolute majority in Vienna, where a third of the population lived; the Christian-social could also count on a secure hinterland among the peasants and the conservatives, while German nationalism was nourished by the dissatisfaction and had its supporters among the middle class in the cities.
The League of Nations supported the economic recovery in post-war Austria, on the condition that the country’s independence be maintained. The rationale was that they wanted to avoid a merger with Germany. In 1922, the government received a loan to stabilize the country’s economic situation.
The depression of 1929 brought the Austrian economy to the brink of collapse. The government tried to make an agreement on the establishment of a customs union with Germany, which was, however, strongly rejected by the other European countries. Along with the rise of Nazism, signals from the German nationalists in Austria testified to increased political strength.
The period from 1945 to the 1990s
At the Foreign Minister’s meeting in Moscow in 1943, an independent Austria was set up as an allied war target. In March – April 1945, the Russians occupied Vienna and eastern Austria, and troops of the west advanced into the west and south. In Potsdam in June 1945, Austria was divided into four occupation zones; one Russian, one American, one British and one French, with an Allied control council in Vienna that was given a special position.
On April 29, a government was formed in Vienna under Karl Renner. In the November 1945 elections, the People’s Party got 50 percent of the vote, the Social Democrats 44.6 percent and the Communists 5.4 percent. Other parties were not allowed to participate. The People’s Party was built on the left wing of the old Christian-social party. Its leader, Leopold Figl, formed a new coalition government. Renner was elected president. The main task of the Austrian authorities was to dismantle the occupation regime and to strengthen the country’s economic position. The economy improved slowly, not least thanks to the help from the United States.
Following the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, some easing occurred in Soviet occupation policy, and in 1955 the Russians declared their readiness to enter into a state agreement. Austria assured its will to neutrality, under international guarantee. In May, the four ambassadors of the great powers met in Vienna, and an agreement was made to terminate the occupation (Belvedere Agreement). In October, the last occupation soldiers left Austria. The National Assembly passed a law declaring Austria “forever neutral”. Agreements were entered into with the Soviet Union on compensation deliveries, exchange of goods and cultural cooperation. Austria joined the Council of Europe.
The country’s economic situation improved from the mid-1950s, especially after the delivery commitments to the Soviet Union were eased.