- The competitive standoff between the democracies of the Western world and the Eastern bloc controlled by the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1989 touched upon every country in Europe in some way. The period, however, changed Austria profoundly. Poised after 1955 between the two military alliances that divided the continent, the Soviet Warsaw Pact (1955) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, 1949), Austria began a transformative balancing act after World War II that was institutionalized by its pledge of neutrality in the Austrian State Treaty of 1955. Austria’s initial concerns during Allied occupation were to regain state sovereignty and the assets associated with it. Its spokesmen could ill afford to offend any of the victorious powers, even though firsthand experience of Soviet brutality, particularly with women, convinced many Austrians that they wanted to be part of the noncommunist West. The Soviets, however, were uniquely positioned to help Austria with a very pressing territorial problem. Yugoslav Communist boss Marshall Tito (1892–1980) sent forces into Carinthia in 1945 and was at that point on comparatively good terms with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Fortunately for Austria, the problem more or less took care of itself. In 1948, Tito broke with Stalin, exposing Yugoslavia to potential Soviet retaliation. A year later, the Soviets renounced formal support of Yugoslavia. Tito gave up territorial claims in Carinthia and confiscated Austrian property in his country rather than demanding formal reparations for war damages. Well into the 1950s, Austria feared attack by the combined forces of Czechoslovakia and Hungary or by Hungary alone. Nevertheless, during the especially dangerous moment in 1956 when the Vienna government opened its borders to fleeing Hungarian rebels, the Soviets wanted Austria to seal its borders at the Burgenland and did not invade it. Soviet suppression of rebellions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 virtually destroyed the Communist Party of Austria by splitting it. Before that, however, the Western occupying powers led by the United States (U.S.) did all that they could to turn Austria into a redoubt against the advancement of Soviet communism. The U.S. was ready to withhold Marshall Plan funds and credits in 1958 to discourage any Austrian deviation from its pro-Western orientation. The U.S., along with France and Great Britain, supported the clandestine remilitarization of Austria, especially after the Prague Communist coup of 1948. Between 1950 and 1955, Americans promoted rearmament so intensely and secretively that only a select group of top cabinet officials in the Vienna government knew about it. By the end of the occupation, a “core army” was in place, staffed by some gendarmerie units and the police, 6,500 of whom were trained between 1952 and 1955. Their central mission was to put down any communist subversion that arose in Austria after the State Treaty was signed. Only in 1996 did the Austrian public learn that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had maintained 79 weapons arsenals in their country between 1952 and 1955. Informal conversations with NATO defense planners went on as well. Even in the late 1950s, as the Soviets sharpened their watch on Austrian neutrality, the U.S. sent military equipment to Austria. Indeed, the practice continued through 1962. Moscow’s transfer of military equipment to the Vienna regime was negligible by comparison. The Berlin Blockade and Allied airlift of 1948–1949 strongly suggested that Soviet communism and its Western opponents could go to war to defend their territorial and ideological interests in Europe. Some loosening of international tensions took place after Stalin’s death in 1953, but central Europe remained an unsettled place. The exchange of sovereignty for neutrality in the State Treaty positioned Austria well to play the role of a bridge between the two sides; Vienna, particularly its foreign minister Bruno Kreisky, fashioned Austrian foreign relations accordingly. During the 1960s, he and others worked to bring the Soviets and the U.S. together to discuss their apparently intractable differences, especially the divided status of Germany. Although these contacts were largely unproductive—the sulfurous Soviet–American Vienna Summit in 1961 was exemplary—they did give Austria a distinctive place in world affairs.Though trade with Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and other Eastern bloc countries was renewed soon after the end of World War II, the main focus of Austrian commerce and manufacture shifted from the Vienna Basin westward. Soviet occupation of eastern Austria and confiscation of its assets hastened pastoralization of the area. The closely controlled Soviet trading system made it far more profitable for Austria to redirect its business toward market-driven economies in Europe and throughout the world. Moreover, the U.S. blocked Austrian export of strategic materials to the east. The nearer one came to these boundaries in the 1950s and 1960s, the shabbier and more economically backward the surrounding area looked. Many areas still subsisted on farming and forestry. Serious tourism, a lucrative source of hard currency for Austria after World War II, was virtually absent near its eastern borders. Only in 1991 did these regions join the general shift of the Austrian economy toward service enterprises.The Cold War revived immigration from former lands of the Habsburg Empire to Austria. The most dramatic cultural change in the country, however, came from the American occupation and its aftermath. As part of its program to push Austria, along with the world, toward entrepreneurial values and liberal political institutions, governments in Washington sponsored America Houses with programs and libraries open to all who wanted to learn something about life in the United States. Even Austrian farming came in for attention: 577 4-H Clubs, 264 alone in the former Soviet occupation zone, taught local boys and girls how to raise crops and domestic animals efficiently and profitably. Disillusioned with many of the traditional social, political, and even aesthetic preferences of preceding generations, which had brought them Nazism and dictatorship, Austria’s young took to American popular culture—jazz, Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola, and all—with heartfelt, and sometimes lasting, enthusiasm.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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