Sunday, January 18, 2015


One of Europe’s most peaceful democracies, though it wasn’t always thus. The great Hapsburg Empire dominated Europe for centuries, as Austro-Hungary for a while, anschlussed into Germany for a while too. But that – other than some question-marks over former President and later UN General Secretary Kurt Waldheim  - is all history now, though I suspect there are few who understand why; I confess that I was one of those until my researches led me to an unexpected answer: at the end of World War 2, it was the Soviets who liberated Austria, and the price they demanded for their withdrawal afterwards was a constitutional law declaring the country's "perpetual neutrality". Austria, therefore, despite being the most obviously European country, is not and cannot be a member of NATO - NATO'S own website states that "NATO-Austria relations are conducted through the Partnership for Peace framework, which Austria joined in 1995. NATO and Austria actively cooperate in peace support operations, and have developed practical cooperation in a range of areas." But still neutral, and still unable to support NATO militarily when NATO becomes involved (e.g. the Balkans Wars of the 1990s), or to call on it for military support should Austria fall into the sights of those who are studying maps of Slovakia, say, or the Czech Republic, or Hungary. A very different neutrality from, say, Switzerland or Liechtenstein.

Hitler's birtplace, Braunau am Inn
One of the fascinations of studying history is to witness the many ways in which human progress turns out not to be linear at all, but sporadic, and two-directional. Humanity as a whole moves forward, improving its technology, acquiring deeper understanding of the physics of the cosmos and the quirks of human behaviour, opening its creative spirit to art and music, poetry and theatre, science and medicine...but not every country moves forward with it, and many indeed go backwards. We have already seen this with Afghanistan, and will see it again in Mali and in Greece, in many other places that are not what they once were, others which seem to be actively striving to go backwards. Such too is Austria, which will always be Vienna and Salzburg, and whose list of artists, writers, composers, intellectuals is simply too long, and anyway unnecessary, to fill up space here. And yes, Hitler too, but Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven have survived him, and more importantly so have the Jewish Mahler and Freud. What has Austria actually contributed to the world in the last 50 years? Niki Lauda and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear to top that list, to which I can only say "quod est demonstrandum" and note that Marks For in this instance reflects a period now long in the past, while Marks Against reflects the present-day neutrality in more than just the political meaning of that word.

Marks For: 10 or 41 as you prefer (the number of symphonies composed by Mahler and Mozart respectively)

Marks Against: 1 (see my poem for Kurt Waldheim in "Welcome To My World")

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