Hannes Richter

The Austrian State Treaty

Hannes Richter

A Historic Milestone


The signing of the Austrian State Treaty by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles together with the three other foreign ministers of the Allied occupying powers on May 15, 1955

The following is an article by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice written for Die Europäische Rundschau, a quarterly on politics, economics and contemporary history in a special issue commemorating the Austrian State Treaty of 1955.

On May 15, 1955, at 11:00 am, in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, the Austrian State Treaty was signed, an historic moment in European history that resonates to this day. Perhaps even more relevant for today's world were the words of Leopold Figl, who after the signing called out to the dignitaries present, "Austria is free." This cry of freedom and the emotions that moved so many Austrian citizens on that day still ring out - perhaps even more so - in our own era.

In recent months, dramatic elections have taken place in countries as diverse as Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the undeniable message of these elections has been the same human yearning to be free to decide one’s own future; for nations to be not just sovereign but also democratic. The message of the Austrian State Treaty is that the will of statesmen and the tenacity of populations can achieve freedom through diplomacy, negotiation, and patient political work. Men like Julius Raab, Adolf Schärf, Bruno Kreisky, Leopold Figl and many others worked for years to achieve a goal that many would not have thought possible in the depths of the
Cold War.

The State Treaty remains one of the fundamentals of Austria's identity today, a symbol for the emergence of Austrian independence, and an important milestone in European history. It ended the four-power occupation and re-established Austria as a democratic, sovereign nation that today embodies the values of freedom and respect for the rule of law that are shared by Europe, the United States, and indeed the world.

The 50th Anniversary of the State Treaty coincides with the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II in May 1945. Sixty years ago, few would have thought the achievement of the State Treaty possible, most could not have imagined the end of the Cold War fifteen years ago, or foreseen Austria's joining the European Union ten years ago, or believed that one year ago Austria's neighbors, which had the misfortune to wind up on the wrong side of freedom's divide 1945, would likewise join a Europe whole, free, and at peace. Austria now finds itself restored to its historic place in the not only geographic, but political heart of Europe.

The great American statesman, John Foster Dulles, considered his role as a signatory to the Treaty the culmination of one of his proudest achievements. Twenty years ago, another of my predecessors, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, called the State Treaty "a victory of reason and peace, exemplary also of the present." The United States is indeed proud of the role it played in helping preserve peace and stability in Europe for two generations after World War II.

Along with the aid of the Marshall Plan, the U.S. played a central role in the development of a free and prosperous modern Austria, an Austria which is a solid and proven partner in political stabilization and reform efforts in many countries in the region. Austria plays not only a key role in efforts to promote stability in the Balkans, but Austrian peace-keepers have served with distinction in UN missions for many years, and Austria is an ac-tive and effective member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace.

Austrian contingents are helping bring stability and democracy to Afghanistan, and most recently, the country's generosity in providing aid to victims of the tsunami catastrophe is testimony to the humanitarian spirit that speaks to the best in the Austrian tradition. Next year, 2006, Austria will assume its regular turn in the Presidency of the European Union, and play a leading role in determining the course of Europe's future.

So there can be no doubt that the Austria that came into being 50 years ago has been an important and indeed unique contributor to security, peace and prosperity in Europe and beyond, a tremendous achievement for a great country with a grand tradition, but not an easy history.

It was the vision of the statesmen responsible for the State Treaty who get the deserved credit for this achievement, but it was the spirit of freedom in the hearts of the Austrian people that was the inspiration for this remarkable diplomatic success. Austria showed fifty years ago how a nation can overcome adversity and not just survive, but build great things. We should all be inspired by Austria’s accomplishments over the last fifty years, truly great strides that rank among the achievements of Europe’s modern history.