Austria ~ Republic


AUSTRIA ~ Republic

Country of west central Europe, much of it Alpine, the lower lands being crossed by the River Danube.

1. Origins.   At the end of the Great War in 1918, Austria-Hungary fell apart.  On 30th October the German deputies in the Reichsrat (the parliament for the Austrian half of the Empire) proclaimed themselves the parliament for Deutschösterreich (German Austria).  On 11th November the deputies, who represented parts of Bohemia as well as the German Austrian lands, declared German Austria a Republic and a part of the new German Republic.   The Allies however had no intention of allowing Germany to gain territory and the union of Germany and Austria was expressly forbidden in both the Treaties of Versailles (with Germany) and St Germain (with Austria).   The word German was dropped from the state’s name at Allied insistence, 21st October 1919.   The Constitution of the new state was drawn up in 1920.

2. Extent.    Austria’s northern and western borders were historic ones.   The new state of Czechoslovakia was allowed to keep the borders of the old Bohemia.   The German-Austrian border was that between the Habsburg lands and Bavaria, adjusted over many years and finally setttled in 1816.   The borders with Switzerland and Liechtenstein were also long-standing, though the possibility that the Vorarlberg would secede and join Switzerland only finally disappeared in 1923.   (Liechtenstein, which had been in a customs union with Austria-Hungary, entered into new arrangements with Switzerland in 1921 and 1924).   The southern and eastern borders of the new Republic saw changes from the old Austro-Hungarian ones.    By the Treaty of St Germain, Austria had to accept the loss of the South Tirol, Trieste, Görz and Istria to Italy, Carniola to Italy and Yugoslavia and southern Styria to Yugoslavia.   A plebiscite in southeastern Carinthia, held in 1920, went in Austria’s favour.   Under the terms of the Treaty of Trianon, 1920, Austria gained most of the Burgenland from Hungary, though a plebiscite in 1921 excluded the city of Sopron.

3. Restoration.   In 1938 the First Republic was absorbed by Nazi Germany.   By April 1939 Ostmark had officially displaced Österreich, to be replaced in 1940 by the Reichsgaue der Ostmark.   Even this reduction of Austria to the state districts of the eastern borderland proved insufficiently vague and in 1942 the collective name for the one-time Austrian lands became the Alpen und Donau Reichsgaue, the Alpine and Danubian state districts.

With the destruction of the Third Reich in 1945, Austria was treated partly as enemy – troops of the four principal allies each occupied zones of the country – and partly as victim – unlike Germany, it was allowed its own government.   Late in April a government headed by Karl Renner, who had been the first Chancellor of post-Habsburg Austria, took office under the auspices of the Soviet authorities.   It was not until October that the suspicous western powers recognised his government, but the establishment of a government recognised through all Austria meant that, however circumscribed its powers were, Austria was going to avoid the fate of its German neighbour, division for the time being into two states.

In 1955 full sovereignty was restored to Austria and the Allied occupation ceased, at the not very onerous price of Austrian neutrality.   It was the first significant withdrawal of Soviet power from the region into which the Red Army had advanced in 1945;  the Soviet Union was hoping that Germany too could be made a neutral zone.

4. Territorial divisions.   The BUNDESLAND is the fundamental unit of Austrian government;  together the nine Bundesländer constitute the federal Republic of Austria.   During the union with the Third Reich, the Länder were replaced by REICHGAUE.

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