Austria Regains Its Independence Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The signing of the Austrian State Treaty marked the end of the four-power Allied occupation of Austria by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union and signaled the restoration of Austrian sovereignty. Conditions of the treaty included Austria’s “permanent neutrality” and the departure of Allied troops from the newly independent nation by the end of September, 1955.

Summary of Event

The Austrian State Treaty is firmly rooted in Allied plans for the reconstruction of central Europe following the end of World War II and in the Cold War Cold War;Austria between the United States and the Soviet Union. Generally, it can be said that the first governing principle for the handling of Austria following its liberation from National Socialist rule in April, 1945, was the Moscow Declaration Moscow Declaration (1943) of October, 1943, which deemed Austria the “first victim of fascist aggression.” The declaration also declared that Austria had a special responsibility to atone for crimes committed under Nazi rule, and that Austrian citizens would have to atone for their part in Nazi crimes. Still, Austria’s politicians for years portrayed their country as a victim of the Nazis while forgetting the complicity of many Austrians in Nazi Germany’s wartime conquests. Austrian State Treaty (1955) [kw]Austria Regains Its Independence (May 15, 1955) [kw]Independence, Austria Regains Its (May 15, 1955) Austrian State Treaty (1955) [g]Europe;May 15, 1955: Austria Regains Its Independence[04850] [g]Austria;May 15, 1955: Austria Regains Its Independence[04850] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 15, 1955: Austria Regains Its Independence[04850] [c]Cold War;May 15, 1955: Austria Regains Its Independence[04850] [c]Government and politics;May 15, 1955: Austria Regains Its Independence[04850] [c]Military history;May 15, 1955: Austria Regains Its Independence[04850] [c]Geography;May 15, 1955: Austria Regains Its Independence[04850] Dulles, John Foster [p]Dulles, John Foster;Cold War pacts Molotov, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Ilyichev, Ivan Ivanovich Thompson, Llewellyn Raab, Julius Figl, Leopold Macmillan, Harold Pinay, Antoine Lalouette, Roger Wallinger, Sir Geoffrey Arnold

Austria’s path to the state treaty was a twisting one with all sorts of dead ends that mirrored the ups and downs of the Cold War. This course was fittingly compared on one U.S. poster to a carousel spiraling upward, with Austria as a horse and a Russian “Njet” (“No”) at the top of the poster, representing Soviet reluctance to support the conclusion of an agreement.

On one hand, Soviet stalling on the drafting of a treaty, which had begun in 1947, prompted U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles to compare Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov to the evil power that kept “pushing the stone back” on Sisyphus in the story from Greek mythology. For Dulles, Austria was Sisyphus and the stone was Russia stalling on the state treaty, embodied by Molotov. On the other hand, the Soviets saw in the treaty a chance to get concessions from the other Allies and to get hefty payments from Austria for Soviet cooperation. By using delaying tactics, the Soviets turned the negotiations into stop-and-go proceedings for nearly eight years.

The issue of neutrality was a sticking point in the treaty negotiations, even though, according to information from a poll conducted in March, 1947, by the Information Service Branch of the U.S. forces in Austria, 78 percent of Austrians in the U.S. zone of occupation favored strict neutrality for Austria on the Swiss model. The call for neutrality was later amended by Austria’s politicians, who made clear that they intended to be neutral militarily, not ideologically, meaning that Austria would participate in the international political sphere.

The breakthrough in negotiations came when Austria was permitted to participate in the Berlin Conference Berlin Conference (1954) of January, 1954, on an equal par with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Failure to agree on the status of Germany, however, blocked talks, because the Soviets were not willing to remove their troops from Austria until Germany had been made neutral, something France, Britain, and the United States were not willing to allow.

In February, 1955, the Soviets invited the Austrians to Moscow for bilateral negotiations. The United States was worried that the Austrians would be tricked by Molotov, but the meeting was allowed to proceed. In April the Austrian delegation arrived in Moscow and signed the so-called “Moscow Memorandum,” in which the Soviet Union declared itself willing to restore Austria’s sovereignty and remove its occupation troops if Austria declared itself “permanently neutral.” This was a major breakthrough, although when Austrian federal chancellor Julius Raab read a statement on April 15 that“the Austrian Government will declare its status of neutrality like that practiced by the Swiss Confederation . . . ,” Molotov was less than enthusiastic.

On May 15 foreign ministers and ambassadors of the Allied occupying powers and the foreign minister of Austria met at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna to sign the treaty. It was a huge coup for the Austrians, who, unlike the Germans, were able to get the Soviet Union to agree to withdraw from Austrian territory in exchange for a promise of permanent neutrality as well as compensation for wartime German assets they believed Austria still held.

The treaty had nine signatories: Molotov, Dulles, U.S. ambassador to Austria Llewellyn Thompson, French foreign minister Antoine Pinay, Russian ambassador to Austria Ivan Ivanovich Ilyichev, French ambassador to Austria Roger Lalouette, British foreign minister Harold Macmillan, British ambassador to Austria Sir Geoffrey Arnold Wallinger, and Austrian foreign minister Leopold Figl. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia became parties to the treaty later by way of accession, but since the dissolution of these nations in the 1990’s, they are no longer considered party to the treaty, while Russia is recognized as the successor state to the Soviet Union.

Following the signing, Austrian foreign minister Figl declared “Austria is free!” at the Belvedere Palace and stood on the balcony with the other foreign ministers and ambassadors to present the treaty to the Austrian people, who cheered loudly when they saw the signed document. Vienna’s Die Presse newspaper reported on May 17 that Vienna’s streets were full of celebrants. People rejoiced in the rain, dancing, singing, and playing music until the early hours of the morning. They waltzed and sang the Austrian national anthem “Land der Berge, Land am Strome” (land of mountains, land on the river Danube).

The Austrian parliament affirmed the country’s permanent neutrality on October 26, the date on which Austria’s independence is celebrated every year. Austria was formally admitted to the United Nations on December 15, completing the country’s full reintegration into the community of nations.

Significance

The Austrian State Treaty reestablished Austria as a “sovereign, independent, and democratic state” in its boundaries before 1938, when the Nazis annexed Austria to Germany in what is known as the Anschluss, or political union. Further prohibited was a restoration of the Habsburg Dynasty. Austria was indeed a “special case” during Cold War negotiations, for the treaty of sovereignty marked the first and only time the Soviet Union had relinquished control over a nation under its influence.

Perhaps Dulles summarized best what the state treaty meant in a television appearance with U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower two days after the treaty was signed: nearly “16,000 square miles and 1.7 million people have been freed from Soviet control and economic exploitation. . . . [I]t marks the first time that the Red Armies will have turned their face in the other direction and gone back since 1945.” In short, the treaty legally recognized and fully legitimized the Second Austrian Republic and freed it from foreign occupation. Austrian State Treaty (1955)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allard, Sven. Russia and the Austrian State Treaty: A Case Study of Soviet Policy in Europe. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970. Looks at Soviet delays and demands during the state treaty negotiations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bischof, Günter. Austria in the First Cold War, 1945-1955: The Leverage of the Weak. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Examines the place of Austria between the East and the West during the Cold War and concludes that Austria exerted its leverage to the fullest in bringing about the signing of the treaty. Excellent bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carafano, James J. Waltzing into the Cold War: The Struggle for Occupied Austria. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002. Provides an overview of the Allied and especially U.S. occupation of Austria and the trials and tribulations of occupation for the U.S. forces in Austria.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Düriegl, Günter, and Gerhard Frodl, eds. The New Austria: The Exhibition to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the State Treaty 1955-2005. Vienna: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, 2005. The catalog that accompanied the fiftieth anniversary exhibit on the Austrian State Treaty. Contains comprehensive essays by noted Austrian experts on the treaty and its continuing significance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Larson, Deborah Welch. “Negotiating the Austrian State Treaty, 1953-1955.” Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1995. A concise fifteen-page overview of the winding path to the state treaty.

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Germany Splits into Two Republics

Warsaw Pact Is Signed

Soviets Crush Hungarian Uprising

Soviet Union Invades Czechoslovakia

Brezhnev Doctrine Mandates Soviet Control of Satellite Nations

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