The Republic of Austria (German: Republik Österreich) is a landlocked country in central Europe. It borders Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The capital is the city of Vienna.
Austria is a parliamentary representative democracy consisting of nine federal states and is one of two European countries that have declared their everlasting neutrality, the other being Switzerland. Austria is a member of the United Nations (since 1955) and the European Union (since 1995).
Origin and history of the name
The German name Österreich can be translated into English as the "eastern realm", which is derived from the Old German Ostarrîchi. Reich can also mean "empire," and this connotation is the one that is understood in the context of the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empire, German Empire, or Holy Roman Empire, although not in the context of the modern Republic of Österreich. The term probably originates in a vernacular translation of the Medieval Latin name for the region: Marchia orientalis, which translates as "eastern border," as it was situated at the eastern edge of the Holy Roman Empire, that was also mirrored in the name Ostmark applied after Anschluss to Germany.
Austria and the Holy Roman Empire
The territory of Austria originally known as the Celtic kingdom of Noricum, was a long time ally of Rome. It was rather occupied than conquered by the Romans during the reign of Augustus and made the province Noricum in 16 BC. Later it was conquered by Huns, Rugii, Lombards, Ostrogoths, Bavarii, Avars (until c. 800), and Franks (in that order). Finally, after 48 years of Hungarian rule (907 to 955), the core territory of Austria was awarded to Leopold of Babenberg in 976. Being part of the Holy Roman Empire the Babenbergs ruled and expanded Austria from the 10th century to the 13th century.
After Duke Frederick II died in 1246 and left no successor, the German King Rudolf I of Habsburg gave the lands to his sons marking the beginning of the line of the Habsburgs, who continued to govern Austria until the 20th century.
With the short exception of Charles VII Albert of Bavaria, Austrian Habsburgs held the position of German Emperor beginning in 1438 with Albert II of Habsburg until the end of the Holy Roman Empire. During the 14th and 15th century Austria continued to expand its territory until it reached the position of a European superpower at the end of the 15th century until the end of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918.
Just two years before the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, in 1804 the Empire of Austria was founded, which was transformed in 1867 into the double-monarchy Austria-Hungary. The empire was split into several independent states in 1918, after the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I, with most of the German-speaking parts becoming a republic. (See Treaty of Saint-Germain.) Between 1918 and 1919 it was officially known as the Republic of German Austria (Republik Deutschösterreich). After the Entente powers forbade German Austria to unite with Germany, they also forbade the name, and then it was changed to simply Republic of Austria. The democratic republic lasted until 1933 when the chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß established an autocratic regime oriented towards Italian fascism (Austrofascism).
Austria became part of Germany in 1938 through the Anschluß and remained under Nazi rule until the end of World War II. After the defeat of the Axis Powers, the Allies occupied Austria until 1955, when the country became a fully independent republic under the condition that it would remain neutral (see: Austrian State Treaty). Austria also became a member of the UN in the same year. After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Austria became increasingly involved in European affairs, and in 1995, Austria joined the European Union, and the Euro monetary system in 1999.
Austria became a federal, parliamentarian, democratic republic through the Federal Constitution of 1920. It was reintroduced in 1945 to the nine states of the Federal Republic. The head of state is the Federal President, who is directly elected. The chairman of the Federal Government is the Federal Chancellor, who is appointed by the president. The government can be removed from office by either a presidential decree or by vote of no confidence in the lower chamber of parliament, the Nationalrat.
The Austrian parliament consists of two chambers. The composition of the Nationalrat is determined every four years by a free general election in which every citizen is allowed to vote to fill its 183 seats. A "Four Percent Hurdle" prevents a large splintering of the political landscape in the Nationalrat by awarding seats only to political parties that have obtained at least a four percent treshold of the general vote, or alternatively, have won a direct seat, or Direktmandat, in one of the 43 regional election districts. The Nationalrat is the dominant chamber in the formation of legislation in Austria. However, the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat has a limited right of veto (the Nationalrat can - in most cases - pass the respective bill a second time bypassing the Bundesrat altogether). A convention, called the Österreich–Konvent  was convened in June 30, 2003 to decide upon suggestions to reform the constitution, but has failed to produce a proposal that would receive the two thirds of votes in the Nationalrat necessary for constitutional amendments and/or reform. However some important parts of the final report were generally agreed upon and are still expected to be implemented.
A federal republic, Austria is divided into nine states, (German: Bundesländer). These states are divided into districts (Bezirke) and cities (Statutarstädte). Districts are subdivided into municipalities (Gemeinden). Cities have the competencies otherwise granted to both districts and municipalities. The states are not mere administrative divisions, but have some distinct legislative authority separate from the federal government.
|In English||In German|
|3 Lower Austria||St. Pölten||Niederösterreich||St. Pölten|
|4 Upper Austria||Linz||Oberösterreich||Linz|
|5 Salzburg||Salzburg||Salzburg (Land)||Salzburg|
|9 Vienna||Vienna||Wien (Land)||Wien|
Austria is a largely mountainous country due to its location in the Alps. The Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps are all partly in Austria. Of the total area of Austria (84,000 km²), only about a quarter can be considered low lying, and only 32% of the country is below 500 metres. The high mountainous Alps in the west of Austria flatten somewhat into low lands and plains in the east of the country.
Austria may be divided into 5 different areas. The biggest area are the Austrian Alps, which constitute 62% of Austria's total area. The Austrian foothills at the base of the Alps and the Carpathians account for around 12% of its area. The foothills in the east and areas surrounding the periphery of the Pannoni low country amount to about 12% of the total landmass. The second greater mountain area (much lower than the Alps) is situated in the north. Known as the Austrian granite plateau, it is located in the central area of the Bohemian Mass, and accounts for 10% of Austria. The Austrian portion of the Viennese basin comprises the remaining 4%.
The greater part of Austria lies in the cool/temperate climate zone in which humid westerly winds predominate. With over half of the country dominated by the Alps the alpine climate is the predominate one. In the East the climate shows continental features with less rain than the areas with high rainfall averages. The six highest mountains in Austria are:
|1||Großglockner||3.797 m||Hohe Tauern|
|2||Wildspitze||3,768 m||Ötztal Alps|
|3||Weißkugel||3,739 m||Ötztal Alps|
|4||Großvenediger||3,674 m||Hohe Tauern|
|5||Similaun||3,606 m||Ötztal Alps|
|6||Großes Wiesbachhorn||3,571 m||Hohe Tauern|
Austria has a well-developed social market economy and a high standard of living. Until the 1980s many of Austria's largest industry firms were nationalised, however in recent years privatisation has reduced state holdings to a level comparable to other European economies. Labour movements are particularly strong in Austria and have large influence on labour politics.
Germany has historically been the main trading partner of Austria, making it vulnerable to rapid changes in the German economy. Slow growth in Germany and elsewhere in the world affected Austria, slowing its growth to 1.2% in 2001. But since Austria became a member state of the European Union it has gained closer ties to other European Union economies, reducing its economic dependence on Germany. In addition, membership in the EU has drawn an influx of foreign investors attracted by Austria's access to the single European market and proximity to EU aspiring economies. Therefore estimates of growth in 2005 (up to 2%) are much more favourable than in the crippling German economy.
Agriculture: Austrian farms, like those of other west European mountainous countries, are small and fragmented, and production is relatively expensive.
Industry: Although some industries, such as several iron and steel works and chemical plants, are large industrial enterprises employing thousands of people, most industrial and commercial enterprises in Austria are relatively small on an international scale.
To meet increased competition from both EU and Central European countries, Austria will need to emphasize knowledge-based sectors of the economy, continue to deregulate the service sector, and lower its tax burden.
See also: List of Austrian companies
Austria's capital Vienna is one of Europe's major cities with a population exceeding 1.6 million (2 million with suburbs) and constitutes a melting pot of citizens from all over Central and Eastern Europe. In contrast to this Metropolis, other cities do not exceed 1 million inhabitants, in fact the second largest city Graz is home of 305,000 people (followed by Linz with 180,000, Salzburg with 145,000 and Innsbruck with 134.803 (2005)). All other cities have fewer than 100,000 inhabitants.
Austrians of German mother tongue, by far the country's largest ethnic group, form 91.1% of Austria's population. The remaining number of Austria's people are of non-Austrian descent, many from surrounding countries, especially from the former East Bloc nations. The Austrian federal states of Carinthia and Styria are home to a significant (indigenous) Slovenian minority with around 14,000 members (Austrian census; unofficial numbers of Slovene groups speak of about 40,000). So-called guest workers (Gastarbeiter) and their descendants also form an important minority group in Austria. Around 20,000 Hungarians and 30,000 Croatians live in the east-most Bundesland, Burgenland (formerly part of Hungary).
The official language, German, is spoken by almost all residents of the country. Austria's mountainous terrain led to the development of many distinct German dialects. All of the dialects in the country, however, belong to Austro-Bavarian groups of German dialects, with the exception of the dialect spoken in its west-most Bundesland, Vorarlberg, which belongs to the group of Alemannic dialects. There is also a distinct grammatical standard for Austrian German with a few differences to the German spoken in Germany.
Politics concerning ethnic groups (Volksgruppenpolitik) in Austria
An estimated 25,000-40,000 Slovenians in the Austrian state of Carinthia as well as Croatians and Hungarians in Burgenland were recognized as a minority and have enjoyed special rights following the Austrian State Treaty (Staatsvertrag) of 1955. The Slovenians in the Austrian state of Styria (estimated at a number between 1,600 and 5,000) are not recognized as a minority and do not enjoy special rights, although the State Treaty of July 27, 1955 states otherwise. The right for bilingual topographic signs for the regions where Slovene and Croatian speaking Austrians live alongside with the German speaking population (as required by the 1955 State Treaty) is still to be fully implemented. There is also an undercurrent of thinking amongst parts of the Carenthian population that the Slovenian involvement in the partisan war against the Nazi occupation force was a bad thing, and indeed "Tito partisan" is a not an infrequent insult hurled against members of the minority. Many Carinthians are afraid of Slovenian territorial claims, pointing to the fact that Yugoslav troops entered the state after each of the two World Wars. The current governor, Jörg Haider, regularly plays the Slovenian card when his popularity starts to dwindle, and indeed relies on the strong anti-Slovenian attitudes in many parts of the province for his power base. However, a recent poll suggests that a 2/3 majority of Carinthians are in favour of an increase of bilingual topographic signs in order to fulfil the requirements set by the State Treaty. Another interesting phenomenon is the so called "Windischen-Theorie"  stating that the Slovenians can be split in two groups: actual Slovenians and Windische, based on differences in language between Austrian Slovenians, who were taught Slovenian standard language in school and those Slovenians, who spoke their local Slovenian dialect but went to German schools. To the latter group the term "Windische" (originally the German word for Slovenians) was applied, claiming that they were a different ethnic group. This theory was never generally accepted and has been ultimately rejected several decades ago.
While northern and central Germany was the origin of the Reformation, Austria (and Bavaria) were the heart of the Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th century, when the absolute monarchy of Habsburg imposed a strict regime to maintain Catholicism's power and influence among Austrians. Despite this establishment of Catholicism as the predominant Christian religion (Protestants have throughout Austria's history remained a relatively small group), Austria's history as a multinational state has made it necessary for Habsburg rulers to deal with a heterogeneous religious population. Religious freedom was declared a constitutional right as early as 1867 and Austria-Hungary was home of numerous religions beside Roman Catholicism such as Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims (Austria neighboured the Turkish empire for centuries), Mormons and both Calvinists and Lutheran Protestants.
Still Austria remained largely influenced by Catholicism. After 1918 First Republic Catholic leaders such as Theodor Innitzer and Ignaz Seipel took leading positions within or close to the Austrian Government and increased their influence during the time of the Austrofascism – Catholicism was treated much like a state religion by dictators Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. Although Catholic leaders welcomed the Germans in 1938 during the Anschluss of Austria into Germany, Austrian Catholicism stopped its support of Nazism later on and many former Religious public figures became involved with the resistance during the Third Reich. After 1945 a stricter secularism was imposed in Austria and religious influence on politics has nearly vanished.
As of the end of the 20th century about 73% of Austria's population are registered as Roman Catholic, while about 5% consider themselves Protestants. Both these numbers have been on the decline for decades, especially Roman Catholicm has suffered an increasing number of seceders of the church. This is due partly to child sexual abuse scandals by priests as well as the alleged unwillingness of the Roman Catholic Church to implement reforms. In addition Austrians Catholics are obliged to pay a mandatory tax (calculated by income – ca 1%) to the Austrian Roman Catholic Church, which acts as another incentive to leave the church.
About 12% of the population declare that they do not belong to any church or religious community. Of the remaining people, about 180,000 are members of the Eastern Orthodox Church and about 7,300 are Jewish. It has to be noted that the Austrian Jewish Community of 1938 – Vienna alone counted more than 200,000, of which solely 4,000 to 5,000 remained after the Second World War. The influx of Eastern Europeans, especially from the former Yugoslav nations, Albania and particularly from Turkey largely contributed to a substantial Muslim minority in Austria – around 300,000 are registered as members of various Muslim communities. The numbers of people adhering to the Islam has increased largely during the last years and is expected to grow in the future. Buddhism, which was legally recognized as a religion in Austria in 1983, enjoys widespread acceptance and has a following of 20,000 (10,402 at the 2001 census).
A 2005 survey among 8,000 people in various European countries showed that Austrians are still among the countries with the strongest belief in God. 84% of all Austrians do state they believe in God, with only Poland (97%), Portugal (90%) and Russia (87%) in front of the countries surveyed. This is a much larger figure than the European average of 71% or Germany with 67%. 
Although Austria is a small country, its history as a world power and its unique cultural environment in the heart of Europe have generated contributions to mankind in every possible field. One might argue that Austria is internationally best known for its musicians. It has been the birthplace of many famous composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner, Johann Strauss, Sr., Johann Strauss, Jr. or Gustav Mahler as well as members of the Second Viennese School such as Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern or Alban Berg.
Complementing its status as a land of artists, Austria has always been a country of great poets, writers and novelists. It was the home of novelists Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Thomas Bernhard or Robert Musil, of poets Georg Trakl, Franz Werfel, Franz Grillparzer, Rainer Maria Rilke or Adalbert Stifter. Famous contemporary playwrights and novelists are Elfriede Jelinek and Peter Handke. Among Austrian artists and architects one can find painters Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele or Friedensreich Hundertwasser, photographer Inge Morath or architect Otto Wagner.
Austria was the cradle of numerous scientists including physicists Ludwig Boltzmann, Lise Meitner, Erwin Schrödinger, Ernst Mach, Wolfgang Pauli, Richard von Mises and Christian Doppler, philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, biologists Gregor Mendel and Konrad Lorenz as well as mathematician Kurt Gödel. It was home to psychologists Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Paul Watzlawick and Hans Asperger, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, economists Joseph Schumpeter, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek (Austrian School) and Peter Drucker, and engineers such as Ferdinand Porsche and Siegfried Marcus. In addition, Austria is the birthplace of the current governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Although Austrians can look back with pride on their cultural past, current Austria does not stand back in art and science. Austria hosts a tremendous amount of culture, with its classical music festivals in Vienna, Salzburg and Bregenz, its modern artists and writers, its theatres and opera houses.
- Austrian folk dancing
- Austrian German
- Communications in Austria
- Cuisine of Austria
- Education in Austria
- Foreign relations of Austria
- Media in Austria
- Military of Austria
- Public holidays in Austria
- Spanish Riding School
- Stamps and postal history of Austria
- Tourism in Austria
- Transportation in Austria
- References and bibliography can be found in the more detailed articles linked to in this article
- The aeiou Encyclopedia (Homepage | Table of Contents | Search)
- About Austria Austrian Tourist, Travel and Culture Guide
- Amateur Radio in Austria
- Answers.com Article on Austria
- Austria in Pictures
- Austria.info Official homepage of the Austrian National Tourist Office (German, English and other languages)
- Austrian Cultural Forum New York Cultural meeting place in Manhattan
- Austrian Recipes on CookBookWiki.com
- Austrosearch Bilingual Austrian Search engine and Directory (German, English)
- Bundeskanzleramt Österreich/Federal Chancellor of Austria Website of the Federal Chancellery of Austria (German, English)
- Cia.gov CIA's Factbook on Austria
- Dwellan.com Tourism in Austria
- Library of Congress Portals on the World - Austria
- Peter Diem The Symbols of Austria
- Photoglobe.info Country Studies - Austria Info
- Radio-ORF Austrian Radio stations - both classical and modern music (live feed)
- Tiscover.at Austria travel guide
- Travel Information from Any Travels Travel Information about Austria
- Austria-Hotels-Travel Austria Travel Destination
- US Department of State Facts and Information (updated February 2005)
- Willgoto Austria Travel guide and directory
- Austrian Airlines
- Parks in Austria National parks, nature parks, reserves and other protected areas
- Banks in Austria
- Austrian hotels and tourist resources
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