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Austria: National Day

Austria celebrates its National Day on 26 October each year, commemorating its Declaration of Neutrality in 1955.

It might seem a strange event to mark. However, it was an essential step towards regaining full Austrian sovereignty after 17 years of occupation – first, as part of Greater Germany after the Anschluss in March 1938, then by the four Allied Powers (UK, USSR, USA and France) after the end of the Second World War.

The Four-Power occupation mirrored that of Germany in some respects and, indeed, the interzonal boundaries were drawn with the occupation of Germany in mind – the French and American zones bordered their respective zones in Germany, while the Soviet zone was to the east of the country and bordered Czechoslovakia and Hungary, both of which were soon to become satellite states of the USSR. Nevertheless, a functioning government for the whole country was established almost immediately after the war ended, and was given an enormous boost in 1946 by the removal of most of the veto power of the Allied occupiers – all four had to agree for a veto to be effective.

Still, the onset of the Cold War made it appear possible for some time that Austria would at least remain subject to a heavy presence of occupying troops. But after Stalin’s death in 1953 and the subsequent easing of East-West tensions, veteran Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov made it clear to the Austrians in February 1955 that the USSR would be willing to end occupation in exchange for Austria’s neutrality. A State Treaty signed on 15 May of that year re-established an independent and democratic Austria with effect from 27 July; the last Allied troops left Austria on 25 October; and the Austrian Parliament added a formal Declaration of Neutrality to the Constitution the following day, 26 October, which was celebrated as a national holiday.

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