Meeting the Challenge...
Student Text Page No. 2: "Within Its Region"
In 996, a 16-year-old German king gave some land in the southern part
of his kingdom to a bishop who promised to fortify the land against invaders.
(Foreign policy, 996-style!) In the deed of transfer, the young king,
Otto III, mentioned one particular site within his territory. Its name
was Ostarrichi an old version of the name "Austria."
Since Otto's deed contains the earliest written reference to Austria's
name, Austrians decided to celebrate their nation's millennium in 1996.
They recalled their German roots and the Austrian culture which
evolved from those roots. And they asked what their nation's future role
might be. Austria has historic ties to both West and East Europeans. Would
it now function as a "bridge" between those former Cold-War enemies?
Days of empire. Austria has always been a crossroads for people
traveling north-south or east-west across Europe. Long before Otto III,
cargoes of salt, amber, silk, tea, and other goods were flowing through
the Danube River Valley, near Ostarrichi. Invaders from the east
also used the Valley, and that's why Otto was fortifying it.
Austria would not be a buffer zone for long,
though. Under two German families, the Babenbergs and Habsburgs, Austria
expanded into a great European power. It became the seat of the Holy Roman
Empire, then the Habsburg Empire, then the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
Writers, architects, and musicians flocked to Vienna, the Austrian capital,
where Croats, Slovaks, Czechs, and others from the empire met, mingled,
and learned from one another's artistic achievements.
Painful transition. Until 1918, however, Austria was never a true
nation. Before World War I, an Austrian in Innsbruck might be deeply loyal
to his German-speaking townsmen, his church, and the Austrian monarch.
Yet he might have no sense of connection to Austrians in Graz, 200 miles
away. After the war, Austria ceased to be a monarchy. A new constitution
made it a parliamentary republic with universal voting. And suddenly,
the opinions of people in Graz "mattered" to Innsbruck citizens! Hindsight
suggests that this change may have been too rapid. The Austrian population
was down to a fifth of its prewar size when a series of new disasters
hit the country: first, a global economic depression (1929), then Germany's
invasion and annexation of Austria (1938), and then the expulsion and
murder of Jews and other innocent war victims. Austrians were stunned....
New goals. At the end of World War II, Austria was a changed society.
Despite temporary occupation by the Allies, Austrians formed a new democratic
government and made new policies. One was a commitment "not to join any
military alliances." Another was a pledge never to let anything like the
Holocaust happen again. They also made terrific economic strides. By 2001,
the U.S. State Department described Austria as "one of the world's
richest nations." And today, inflation is still low (1.2 percent).
Trade with Germany is strong. As is investment in new East European democracies.
Key Questions. One of Austria's biggest challenges still lies
ahead. As a member of the European Union (EU), Austria has been active
in planning the EU's eastward expansion. It has also made the switch from
its own currency (schilling) to the euro. True: Some Austrians debate
EU policies dealing with immigration and mutual defense. And others still
ask if membership in the EU could keep Austria from realizing its own
national goals. Yet many agree that that's not the critical issue —
that there's no way to "go it alone" in Europe or the world today. What
do you think? What guidelines for policymaking might Austria find in its
past? The following article may help you ponder those questions:
Marsden, Gorden. "Whose Austria?" History
Today. October 1996.