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Deutschland - Österreich

Germany - Austria: Austria's physical and cultural separation from Germany was one of the most sensitive topics in Austrian political and social life in the last of the 20th century. Not only was this separation strictly demanded by the occupying forces after 1945 (Occupation of Austria 1945-1955), but it also complied with the ideas of most political leaders and large parts of the population. The experiences during the anschluss ("union" with Germany) of 1938 and the end of World War II in 1945 in particular resulted in a reconsideration of Austria´s relationship with Germany that had been marked out by the historical developments of centuries.

The close relationship between the two countries is based on the common bond of language, the often identical cultural background, the similar legal systems and the economic and personal ties that had existed throughout history.

This relationship has developed in many different directions in the course of time. The first era (10th /11th centuries) was characterised by a close interconnection during the emergence of the Austrian lands as fringe areas of the German principalities, mainly of Bavaria and Swabia, together with several phases of Germanic settlement. To what degree the Austrian population in the High Middle Ages was made up of people descending from earlier settlers, from the ancient times to the Romans, the Great Migration of the Germanic tribes and the Franks, and to what extent it consisted of new immigrants, will always be highly hypothetical. Probably there were also considerable regional differences. Some areas were still inhabited by people descending from settlers of the Greco-Roman period who had mixed with settlers of the Great Migration, whereas in other parts the Bavarian (parts of Upper Austria, Salzburg and Tirol) or Slavic (Carinthia, Styria and large parts of Lower Austria) national characteristics were vital elements in the make-up of the historical population. The new upper classes were mostly, but not only immigrants, since otherwise the spreading of the German language and the Bavarian dialects up to the 12th century could not be explained. It is an established fact that upper classes are quicker to adapt to language standards used by the common people than vice-versa.

The next period (12th /13th centuries) consisted in a gradual detachment of the Austrian lands from the principalities, favoured by the repeated division of Bavaria and the dissolution of the Swabian duchy. At this point some independent legal, economic and soon afterwards also cultural developments took place; the Austrian lands remained, however, part of the German kingdom. The Habsburgs, a dynasty originally from what is now north-western Switzerland, came to Austria in 1282 as rulers; their Swabian dialect must have been incomprehensible to many Austrians. The intention of the Habsburgs was then, as in the following generations, to restore the dignity of the German kings, possibly in line with the traditions of the Roman Empire. Thus, in the 14th /15th centuries, the southern German lands were ruled by the houses of Habsburg in Austria, Luxembourg in Bohemia and Hungary and Wittelsbach in Bavaria. Despite all their endeavours to ensure the development of their own territories and to further the special position of their house, the Habsburgs - right up to Emperor Franz Joseph - always stressed that they were indeed German princes.

In the 16th century, the Lutheran Reformation gained ground in Germany and the Austrian lands were also affected, but the Habsburgs eventually succeeded in halting the Reformation movement by the Counter-Reformation. They thus remained a dominant force in the southern German area, which had stayed Catholic. With this in mind, it is possible to understand the position of the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years´ War (1618-1648), at the end of which they drew enormous profit from the weakening of the German Empire and managed to strengthen their position as sovereign princes. At the same time, however, the Austrian monarchy took over the role as defender of German interests against France, and often also against the German princes, who - like Bavaria during the War of the Spanish Succession - allied with the French. In those years, the independent development of Austria was impaired by political measures as well as numerous economic and cultural ties with Germany. Since Austria also had possessions in the Vorlande south-western region of Germany, a constant flow of well-trained people came into Austria, skilled workers and artists looking for employment at the Imperial Court, army officers and later also graduate officials. But also many emigrants from the same region hoped for better conditions under the protective cloak of the Habsburgs in Hungary or Galicia in the 18th century. On the other hand, the German cultural area became more and more differentiated during the Baroque period. Austrian influence north of Bavaria progressively decreased, and cultural contacts grew rarer. This is clearly visible, on a lower level, from the travels of the journeymen, who only very rarely came to Austria from the regions north of the River Main.

The emergence of Prussia as a new great power in the 18th century (Prussia - Austria) brought about a political polarisation, which was further marked by several wars and the political and cultural relationship between Austria and Italy. Yet Vienna continued to enjoy great popularity in Germany in those times, mainly because of the numerous marriages between German princesses and the sons of the Habsburg emperors. Attracted by the large economic area in the Austrian Monarchy, young entrepreneurs began to move to Austria at the end of the 18th century; hence, industrialisation and economic modernisation in Austria were, to a high degree, started by immigrants from Germany.

This trend was continued in the 19th century, mainly by immigrants from the Catholic German lands. Even though the south-western German regions became separated from Austria during the Napoleonic Wars and gained total independence in 1815, and the southern German states were allies of France in the wars against Austria, the relationship between Austria and southern Germany was only strained for a short period of time. Tirol in particular maintained good contacts with southern Germany (Tyrol's Fight for Freedom). In the course of the 19th century this changed again, because the German-speaking Austrians considered themselves a minority vis-à-vis the other nationalities in the Monarchy and were, accordingly, looking for mutual support. In those years, it was particularly the educated Austrians who oriented themselves towards Germany. Modern technologies were spreading, books and newspapers reached unprecedented levels of circulation and had great influence on the intellectual attitudes of the educated. Austrian writers who failed to find a publisher in Leipzig remained provincial, those who gained acceptance there (e.g. P. Rosegger) were not only read, but secured themselves a place in history. On the other hand, the appeal of Imperial Vienna was greater than ever before, as can be seen from the likes of L. v. Beethoven, later J. Brahms or F. Hebbel, who lived and worked in Vienna. But many statesmen, government officials and army officers also came to the Austrian Empire, while an increasing number of Austrian scientists and artists gained acceptance in Germany.

Not until after 1848 did the German-Austrian relationship change considerably; the controversy over the "grossdeutsch" (Great German, or Pan-German) and the "kleindeutsch" (Little German) solutions in the Frankfurt Parliament led to political rivalry. The Austrians, who thought of themselves as Germans, favoured the grossdeutsch solution, whereas the majority of Germans, who were more inclined towards Prussia, were against Austria. The fight for Germany ended in 1866 with Austria's defeat at the battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa) and its agreement to the dissolution of Deutscher Bund (German Confederation). Prussia proceeded with its endeavours to create a German empire, which was officially proclaimed in 1871. This constituted a new German union, from which Austria was excluded. In view of the increasing conflicts among the different nations in Austria after 1871, a stronger urge for close contacts with the new German Empire emerged; a large majority of the "German Nationalists" did not question the sovereignty of the Austrian Empire. The industrialisation process in Austria was considerably slower than in Germany, because the individual Austrian lands were not equally developed. The fact that the Austrians did not evolve as quickly and uniformly as the Germans gave birth to a wide-spread feeling of inferiority among the Austrians, which was in some ways fuelled by the Germans as well. This rivalry grew deeper due to the many contacts maintained on account of the common language,. The Germans thought of themselves as more efficient - often rightly so - and the Austrians were all too often no match for them. This competition marked the last decades of the Monarchy and was further increased during World War I, when Austrian military actions were not possible without Germany's assistance (victory at Gorlice 1915, occupation of Romania 1916, Battles of the Isonzo 1917).

At the end of the war, large parts of the population of the now small Austrian Republic were very much in favour of unification with the Republic of Germany, as is shown by referendums in several provinces in the years 1920/21. The relationship during the interwar years was marked by a wealth of co-operations: various cultural associations worked together, business life was increasingly dominated by large German companies, and there were close contacts also between intellectuals. This wide-spread desire for unity with Germany was exploited by the Nazis and resulted in the Anschluß of 1938, which incorporated Austria into the German Reich.

Soon after the union with Germany, however, discontent spread among the Austrians, as the Nazi government showed little respect for the individualities of the Austrians and also invaded the spheres of traditional customs and folklore. The National Socialists implemented the anschluss, on the one hand by integrating Austria into Germany's administrative apparatus, which modernised many spheres of life, and on the other by re-modelling societal behaviour according to Nazi principles (National Socialism). The tensions and contrasts thus created were continuously suppressed and found an outlet only during mass gatherings that were difficult to control (such as sports events). The modern instruments of technology (newspapers and radio) were used to promote the creation of a standardised society in Germany and Austria, but had little success.

In the wake of the events during World War II and the shock of defeat in 1945, the Austrian population felt that not only the separation of the two countries, but also economic and social detachment from Germany was necessary; cultural contacts, however, stayed largely intact. Since then the sovereignty of the Austrian state has never again been questioned by its own population; on the contrary, a national consciousness evolved and was further strengthened by success in foreign policy (State Treaty, neutrality) and the economic recovery. In many respects the relationship with Germany has eased. At the same time however, it has grown tighter than ever before, mainly in the field of culture, in literature and the media (esp. television). Many Germans, however, still seem to have some prejudices against Austria, while Austrians tend to view the relationship as fairly uncomplicated, even though Germany's economic influence has reached unparalleled levels. What has also disappeared is the wish for territorial union with Germany, which in the wake of World War II had created some concern among the allies, notably the Soviet Union. The sovereignty of the Austrian state is thus unquestioned and desired by an overwhelming majority of the population.

Austria's accession to the European Union in 1995 brought about qualitative changes in its relation to Germany. On one hand the prohibition to enter into political union with Germany which forms part of the State Treaty of 1955 has lost significance, while on the other hand the new political and economic community, which affects not only Germany and Austria but all the EU member states, has created new dimensions which do not seem to have been fully recognised by the population at large.

Literature: G. Holzer, Verfreundete Nachbarn: Österreich - Deutschland. Ein Verhältnis, 1995.

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