Geography, Politics, and History
Austria has not always been a small, landlocked European country with eight million inhabitants. Austria's cultural and historical influence reflects its imperial past, the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Habsburg dynasty that once ruled it. Austria's long history begins with the Celtic tribes who were later conquered by the Romans. After the Romans, Austria was controlled by the barbarians, the Bavarians, and later (788) became part of Charlemagne's empire, only to fall into feudal disarray in the following centuries.
In the late 13th century, Rudolph I of Habsburg came to rule over a reunified Austria. The House of Habsburg and Austria would be linked for the next 700 years, often reflecting the Habsburg philosophy of imperial expansion, usually expressed in Latin: Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube. ("Laßt andere Krieg führen, Du, glückliches Österreich, heirate." = "Let others wage war, you, happy Austria, marry!")
The 1914 assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand precipitated the outbreak of World War I. After the war and a redrawn map of Europe's national boundaries, Austria emerged as just a small remnant of its empire, losing over 85 percent of the former monarchy's territory. In 1920, a new Austrian constitution created a federal republic. That constitution, revised in 1925, 1929 and 1955, is still in force.
But the next world war also brought change to Austria. The rise of Germany's Nazi government eventually brought about the annexation (der Anschluss) of Austria as a province of Germany in 1938. At the end of the war in 1945, Austria was occupied by the Allies and divided into zones, just as in Germany. Unlike Germany, Austria did not regain its sovereignty for another ten years, in 1955. That same year saw Austria's entry into the United Nations.
A 1955 constitutional law declared Austria's "perpetual neutrality" as a condition for Soviet military withdrawal. Despite its neutrality, in January 1995 Austria became a member the European Union (along with Finland and Sweden). But its neutrality is one reason that Austria is not a member of NATO. In 1999 Austria entered the European Monetary Union and now has the euro as its national currency.
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