What is Austrian National Day and when was it first celebrated?

Photo liggraphy via Pixabay

As someone who moved to Austria a few years ago, there are still many things I do not know about the country.

Including, apparently today, when it suddenly dawned on me I had no idea about the roots of Austrian National Day, what it was or when it was first celebrated.

So, being the good journalist and happy Austria resident I am, I decided to look into it, so that I can then turn around and inform you.

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Everything other than bars, restaurants, cafes, museums and some tourist spots in Vienna are closed on Austrian National Day

When is Austrian National Day?

Obviously, Austrian National Day is October 26th — today — or I wouldn’t be talking about it.

That means no matter what day the 26th of October falls on, that day will always be Austrian National Day.

It also means, it is an official national holiday. Government buildings are closed. All businesses are closed. Banks are closed. Stores are closed.

Austrian embassies and consulates overseas are closed as well. Unless they are hosting special events to celebrate National Day.

Restaurants, cafes, bars, museums and most tourist spots in Austria generally remain open, although you will find a minority do close for the national holiday as well.

That’s why it is always smart to call ahead, or check a business’s website, before heading there, just to be on the safe side.

Thanks for the reminder, Google!

What is Austrian National Day and when was it first celebrated?

Now this is where my expertise on Austrian National Day was completely non-existent until this morning, when a quick trip to Google to search for something else made me remember it was Austrian National Day.

(I work from home, so most days I don’t even know what day it is, let alone if it’s a public holiday — I usually find out when I go for a walk and the shops are shut — yep, sometimes I am that clueless).

But, I made it my business to find out what Austrian National Day is as, living in Austria, I like to be clued up on all the local traditions.

Here is what I found out.

Austrian National Day was founded in 1955, which means it is a relatively new public holiday for the East Alpine country.

Its founding was in response to the Austrian Parliament passing a new constitutional law on permanent neutrality — making Austria one of a handful of European countries (Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Ireland) that are now permanently ‘neutral’.

Of course, like many things in Austria, this came about due to the Second World War and Austria’s role in it.

 

The Austrian flag flies over many of Vienna’s government buildings, including the city’s Rathaus (City Hall)

When that war ended, being an ally of Germany and the other Central Powers, Austria was occupied by Allied forces — the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union and France.

Both the country as a whole and the capital city, Vienna, were divided into four occupied zones, each run by a different country, with Vienna’s central district being run by a body called the ‘Allied Control Council’.

In other words the same four Allied countries administering the country as a whole.

For the next 10 years, Austria and most of the country’s legislative or political decisions were administered by this council. Although in later years, while the Austrian parliament themselves could pass laws, any law could still be vetoed by the Allied Control Council if they did not agree with it.

Unfortunately, for the country or countries involved, yes, this is often what happens when they are on the losing side in a war.

Happier times finally came to Austria in early 1955 when the Austrian State Treaty was signed and Austria became independent again.

A few months later, on October 26th, 1955, the law on permanent neutrality went into effect. Austrian National Day has been celebrated on that day ever since.

 

Russian soldiers in Schönbrunn Palace gardens, 1945 — copyright Embassy of the Russian Federation in Austria

Austria’s permanent neutrality is an enforced neutrality, however, as a result of the country’s occupation by Allied forces and the Soviet Union specifically requesting Austria be forced into implementing a permanent neutrality law.

To this day, that law prohibits Austria from entering into military alliances, or allowing foreign military bases on its territory.

Not a bad thing as, while I am an American citizen, I do not agree with the United States having so many overseas military bases — the U.S. has more than 800 foreign bases, while the remainder of the world only has 30.

With Austria’s permanent neutrality then, at least the country has been spared the United States’ nosying around in its business from on its own soil.

That, then, is the background you need to know to answer the question “What is Austrian National Day?”, and now we are all a bit better educated, eh?

Normally on Austrian National Day too, there are a whole series of interesting and cool events citizens, residents and visitors can attend.

But, with the current Austrian government’s never-ending restrictions against Covid-19 (no, I don’t agree with most of them, as I think they have been hugely damaging to the country, its economy and to the people who live here), everything this year is sadly being held online.

Michelle Topham