July 27th in German History: The Austrian State Treaty Comes Into Force

Signatures on the Austrian State Treaty

The division of Germany following The Second World War is the topic that features prominently in the public memory. Less famous is the division of Austria. Austria was partitioned between the Allied powers until 1955. On July 27th of that year, the zones of occupation were effectively reunited, and the state of Austria reestablished.

In 1938, Austria was annexed by the Third Reich as part of Hitler’s movement to unite all German-speaking peoples into one nation. That annexation was met with little domestic opposition within Austria, and during the Second World War, the nation was treated essentially as any other German territory. However, after the war, the Allies treated Austria as the first victim of German aggression. Nevertheless, Austria was partitioned between the US, the USSR, France, and the UK, and the capital of Vienna was itself split into fourths like Berlin was. As soon as an Austrian government was reestablished, it began attempts at ending the occupation. However, the developing Cold War and the accompanying US-USSR tensions made unification unlikely as neither side wanted Austria to join the other’s bloc. However, Austria was able to maintain control of territories disputed with Yugoslavia, and Stalin’s death in 1953 led to the USSR taking a softer line regarding Austria. Foreign Minister Molotov, operating under the direction of Premier Khruschev, opened negotiations and was able to reach an agreement with the Western Allies. The Treaty created a free and democratic Austria, and one that was understood to be a neutral nation. Further, it banned Nazi parties within the nation and, just as Versailles had in 1919, prohibited Austrian unification with Germany. In accordance with the treaty, Allied troops left Austria on October 25th, 1955, and the Austrian parliament declared its neutrality the next day.

Austria’s reunification was accomplished so quickly in large part because that nation was so small compared to Germany and Korea that neither the US nor the Soviet Union was very concerned in its choosing a side. German reunification, in contrast, was feared not only by the USSR but also by France and the UK, who did not want a political and economic rival in Europe that could surpass them. That the Austrian State Treaty succeeded and early attempts of German reunification failed is just more evidence that domestic politics depend greatly on international actors.

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