Austria's Shunning by the Global Community
Austria's Shunning by the Global Community
In late 1999, the right-wing Freedom Party was invited to join the Austrian government. In response, Western nations, including the United States, withdrew their ambassadors and the European Union sanctioned Austria.
- Austria's far-right Freedom Party espouses views that are anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant.
- The views of the Freedom Party cause fear and remind much of the world of the Holocaust.
- World opinion has never resolved whether Austria was a victim of Adolf Hitler's Germany or a willing participant in the Holocaust.
- Western nations, including the United States, the European Union and Australia, used sanctions, economic treats, and the removal of diplomats to register disapproval of Austria.
In the fall of 1999 in Austria, the Austrian People's Party—led by Wolfgang Schuessel—invited a right-wing party to participate in ruling Austria. Specifically, in order to hold onto power, the Austrian People's Party invited the right-wing Freedom Party, led by the charismatic and controversial Jörg Haider, to join with the Austrian People's Party to establish a majority by which to control the parliament. The Freedom Party had won more than a quarter of Austrian votes in the October 1999 national election.
The world community was shocked by this turn of events, which seemed to be the beginning of Austria's reversion to its dark past of fascism. Politicians in many Western countries reacted swiftly and strongly. The United States recalled its ambassador to Austria and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Austria that the United States would be monitoring the situation. Israel withdrew its ambassador from Austria indefinitely. Antonio Guterres, the Portuguese prime minister, warned of diplomatic isolation for Austria, as did Norway.
The Belgian foreign minister, Louis Michel, encouraged his countrymen to cancel their ski holidays in Austria; a significant act, given the amount of money tourism contributed to Austria's economy. Australia considered suspending the credentialling of its ambassador-designate to Vienna, Austria's capital. As quoted in the February 4, 2000 edition of The Age, Guentner Verheugen, a German member of the European Commission, said, "The message from the world is clear. The participation of a radical right-wing party in a democratic country in Europe will simply not be accepted. Those times are over, and I'm glad they're over." Such condemnation has its roots in Austria's past.
The twentieth century has been tumultuous for Austria. The country began the century at the center of the six-hundred-year old Hapsburg Empire—an empire that once covered most of what has become Eastern Europe and ended up a prosperous but relatively insignificant modern republic. The Treaty of Versailles, drawn up in 1919 following World War I, essentially saw the final dissolution of this once-great imperial force. As a result of the treaty, Austria nearly lost its autonomy when it fell under the governing jurisdiction of Italy, and as the Nazis gained increasing power in Germany during the interwar years, it became apparent that Austria's course would change again.
The Nazi Party had several reasons for wanting to claim Austria as their own. Adolf Hitler, Führer (leader) of the Nazi Party, was born in Austria at Braunau-am-Inn in 1889, and had lived in Wien (Vienna) from 1907 to 1913. Indeed, Hitler did not relinquish his Austrian citizenship to become a German national until 1932. Austria clearly held a special place in Hitler's heart. Furthermore, ninety-six percent of Austrians were German-speaking and were therefore culturally inclined toward their German neighbors and the Austrian Nazi Party had steadily gained support throughout the period. Thus in his seemingly endless appetite for lebensraum (living space) for Germany, Hitler decided to gain control over Austria by whatever means necessary.
As in many other parts of Europe, there had been a degree of unrest during Austria's interwar years. In the early 1930s, these sentiments began to come to a head. Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss had only a one-vote majority when he took power in 1932. His hold on power was made increasingly tenuous not only by pressure and threats from opposing political parties such as the National Socialists (Nazis) and the Social Democrats but also by Austria's perilous economic situation—in July 1932 Austria was forced to take a loan from the League of Nations of three hundred million schillings. In order to keep control of the country, Dollfuss introduced several restrictive measures that curbed the civil liberties of his countryfolk. Freedom of speech was suppressed, as was the freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. Political parties, such as the Austrian Nazis, were outlawed, and the Austrian parliament fractured into disarray. These actions only served to further agitate Dollfuss's opponents and convince them of his inappropriateness for office.
Civil unrest erupted early in 1934 and a series of incidents culminated in a putsch (revolt or uprising), made up mainly of Austrian Nazi supporters, on July 25, 1934. The Vienna radio station was occupied as well as a building that supposedly held a meeting of government ministers. Some ministers had been warned of impending events and had escaped. Dollfuss, nonetheless, stood firm against the rebels, remained in the building, and was assassinated. Kurt von Schuschnigg, one of the ministers who had managed to flee, took on Dollfuss's role, and a new government was formed. Many of the revolt's perpetrators were jailed, and Austria turned to Italy for support in its attempts to remain independent and for protection from German invasion. In response, Italian dictator Mussolini took his troops right up to the Austrian-German border in order to keep the Germans at bay. However, in tying themselves so firmly to the Fascist Italians, the Austrians were put in a difficult position when Italy aligned itself with Nazi Germany. Despite a short-lived silence in the aftermath of their abortive putsch, the Austrian Nazis once again became increasingly vocal in their support of their German allies, and the Austrian government again found itself losing control.
In 1938 a meeting was called between Schuschnigg and Hitler at the Berchtesgarden, Hitler's country retreat, at Obersalzburg, Germany. Schuschnigg and his secretary of state for foreign affairs, Guido Schmidt, were told by Hitler during their intense two-hour meeting that he had lost patience with Austria and intended to take action. According to Klauss P. Fischer in Nazi Germany—A New History, Hitler said, "I am absolutely determined to make an end of all this. The German Reich is one of the Great Powers, and nobody will raise his voice if it settles its border problems."
Schuschnigg was then presented with a document to sign that was essentially an ultimatum. It demanded the lifting of the ban on the Austrian Nazi Party and the release of all imprisoned pro-Nazi agitators. Further, Dr. Artur Seyss-Inquart, a staunchly pro-Nazi Austrian, was to be appointed minister of the interior with the power to enforce the above demands. Another pro-Nazi, Edmund von Glaise-Horstenau, was to become minister of war and help facilitate cooperation between the German and Austrian armies. Finally, pro-Nazi Dr. Hans Fischböck was to be made minister of finance to oversee the merging of Austria's economic system into Germany's. Austria, in short, would lose any sort of independence it may have had and be subsumed under the German Reich. Protesting, Schuschnigg was once more shouted down by the Führer. Thus, under considerable duress and with grave misgivings, Schuschnigg signed the document.
Upon returning to Vienna, however, Schuschnigg hit upon a final, desperate plan. He announced that in March there would be a plebiscite (a plebiscite is a vote by an entire population, usually a vote of yes or no on a specific proposal). The people of Austria would decide for themselves if they wished to fall under the auspices of Nazi rule. If the majority voted against this notion, Schuschnigg would have a considerable trump card with which to undercut Hitler's assertion that most Austrians supported German control of their homeland.
Hitler was taken aback by Schuschnigg's initiative and decided he could not risk a plebiscite unless he could be completely assured of a favorable outcome. He demanded a postponement of the plebiscite, which Schuschnigg accepted. Then, realizing Schuschnigg's pliability, Hitler demanded Schuschnigg's immediate resignation and the appointment of Seyss-Inquart as chancellor. Schuschnigg gave in, and within hours, Austrian president Miklas, upon whose approval the resignation of Schuschnigg and the appointment of Seyss-Inquart hinged, caved in also. The Austrian government had effectively fallen to the Nazis. Hermann Göring (a Nazi leader and founder of the Gestapo) appointed pro-Nazi ministers over the telephone from Berlin, and local Austrian Nazis settled themselves into the Austrian chancellery, cleaning out other people's desks and making way for the new order. Schuschnigg sadly recalled of that day, "One young man brushed past me without an apology. He turned around and looked me up and down with a purposely offensive, superior smile. Then he went and slammed the door as if he were at home. I stared after him, and suddenly I realised: Invasion! Not at the borders yet but here, in the Chancellery: the Gestapo." (Fischer, 1995)
Two days later Austria was proclaimed a province of the German Reich, and its name, Österreich—which Hitler hated—was changed to Ostmark. With the streets of Vienna lavishly adorned with flowers and swastikas, Hitler made his grand entrance. Austria's independence was conclusively pronounced dead and the Anschluss complete.
Austria During World War II
By association, Austria became a participant in many of the often-atrocious German prewar and wartime activities; virulent anti-Semitism became public policy shortly after the Anschluss. According to Barbara Jelavich's book, Modern Austria: Empire and Republic, 1815-1986, from 1938 to May 1939, the number of Jews in Austria dropped from 220,000 to 121,000 due largely to emmigration.
Likewise, when World War II was declared in September 1939, Austria was aligned with Germany and the other Axis powers, Italy and Japan. Austria vicariously shared in the victories gained for the Germans through Austrian troops who had been co-opted onto the Nazi side: Poland was conquered in three weeks, Norway and Denmark were taken in April of 1940; Holland, Belgium and France fell in May and June. However, thanks in part to the entrance of the United States into the war in 1943, the tide began to turn against the Axis powers. By the beginning of 1944, it was clear that the German war machine was in trouble.
As the war drew to a close, with an Allied victory becoming an increasingly likely outcome, where Austria stood in terms of allegiance and responsibility was a difficult question. Were the Austrians a conquered nation, along with the likes of Poland, Denmark, and France, or were they aligned with the enemy, no different than other German territories? Winston Churchill stated in a November 1939 speech that he regarded Austria as being among the nations taken forcefully by Germany. A meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow in November 1943 determined much the same but also indicated what would prove to be the contradictory nature of Austria's postwar status: Austria, though a victim of Hitler, would be held responsible for its part in the war.
Austria After the War
While Austria's civilian population did not suffer the severe food and fuel shortages that characterized their experiences during World War I, they were at the mercy of massive air raid attacks when the Allies invaded Italy in 1943. Factories and civilian centers were hit. Vienna suffered its first significant raid in April 1944, and subsequent attacks cost an estimated nine thousand Viennese their lives. The Soviet army made its way into Austria forcefully, bringing with it five days of fierce fighting, culminating in its arrival in Vienna on April 13, 1945. The war was finally over for Austria on May 7, with the cessation of this fighting. Hitler had committed suicide on April 30 in Berlin, and the Germans unconditionally surrendered on May 8. Two hundred and forty-seven thousand Austrian members of the armed forces were dead, missing or had died in captivity; twenty-nine thousand civilians had died. More than 750,000 men were held in Soviet prisoner-of-war camps, some to return home as late as 1955.
Following the Second World War, Austria was divided between the four Allied powers—the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and France—in much the same manner that postwar Germany was, and this division was maintained until the mid-1950s. A degree of freedom was allowed the people of Austria, however. Moves were made toward the end of the war to reestablish the independent Republic of Austria and the first free elections since 1930 were held in late 1945. The Social Democrats and the Christian Social Party (now known as the People's Party) began their long-standing duopoly over Austrian politics during this period.
The Freedom Party of Austria
The political party that Jörg Haider led (until recently), the FPÖ (Die Freiheitlichen in Österreich or Freedom Party of Austria), was founded in 1956. It remained on the fringes of Austrian politics and made few inroads into the power held by the Social Democrats and the Christian Social Party. Two major strengths of the Social Democrats and the Christian Social Party were their ability to promote a healthy tourist trade that was vital to Austria's economy and to develop a progressive welfare state. However, when the 1980s recession and resulting claims of corruption blemished this untarnished state record and their long-held good public opinion plummeted, the FPÖ (Freedom Party) found an avenue through which to make their move towards power.
Jörg Haider was born in 1950 in the upper Austrian town of Bad Goisern to two enthusiastic, long-term supporters of the Nazi Party. Haider's parents had been early champions of the far-right movement, even moving to Germany to become party officials. Following World War II, Haider's parents were punished for their allegiances and forced to take up menial work. Critics suggest that Haider's parents' views left an indelible mark on his own political philosophies. Haider did very well in school and studied law in Vienna. During his youth he belonged to a far-right sports club and a university bruederschaft—a fraternity of uniformed students run by former Nazis (Roxburgh 2000). Haider joined the Freedom Party in 1976 and in 1986 became the leader.
When Haider became leader, the Freedom Party could barely secure five percent of the national vote. In the fourteen years since his ascension to power, the support base has risen to twenty-eight percent. This is a considerable achievement, given the strong hold on power held by the ruling two-party coalition. A significant part of Haider's success lies in his personal charisma. Commentators on the BBC News remarked that he "works a room like [U.S. president] Bill Clinton, embracing supporters and using the familiar 'du' form of address." Further, he has captured elements of the youth vote with his fashionable, youthful appearance and seemingly refreshing alternative approach to the otherwise slightly stagnant and dull world of Austrian politics. One youthful supporter appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's current affairs program Foreign Correspondent, and said of Haider, "He's a very charismatic person and he also has the touch of the young man … he still has the aura of a young one, a dynamic one. …" Indeed, Haider has succeeded in capturing forty percent of his support from the voters under thirty years of age.
Yet for all of his apparent savvyness, Jörg Haider has stirred up controversy by espousing some rather un-savvy and politically incorrect opinions. At about the time he became leader of the Freedom Party, Haider inherited a massive estate in the Austrian province of Carinthia that was reportedly illegally purchased during World War II by his great-uncle from an Italian Jew who apparently sold his home under extreme duress from the occupying Nazi forces. During his first term as governor of Carinthia, after he taking power in 1989, Haider stated during a parliamentary debate that the Third Reich had an orderly employment policy. The uproar that resulted from this remark led him to resign from his post. He attempted to apologize for the comment after it met with such an outraged response, but he did not deny his belief in his statement. Instead, as related by the BBC News, he said, "I unequivocally made the point that this remark was not made with the meaning understood by you. If it reassures you then I take back the remark with regret."
It is an apology loaded with double meaning, the sort of dual edged comment typical of Haider. his words have often been said to mean whatever his audience wants them to mean. Not suprisingly, Haider was not dissuaded from his opinions; several years later, he described Nazi concentration camps as "punishment camps" (with the inference that their inmates were there because they had committed a crime and deserved punishment). He also stated that, "The Waffen SS was a part of the Wehrmacht [the German military] and hence it deserves all the honour and respect of the army in public life."
Further, while attending a reunion of old SS men, Haider described those gathered as "sound, decent men of principle" and has also drawn a link between the deportation of the Jews by the Nazis to the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II. During the early 1990s, Haider seemed to many to be nothing short of a Nazi apologist. A German neo-Nazi reinforced the suspicions of many when he wrote of Haider and the Freedom Party that:
… the far-right Freedom Party … founded largely by former Austrian Nazis … now led by the charismatic son of Austrian Nazis, a grinning yuppie who praised the 'labour policies' of the Third Reich … its antiforeigner rhetoric about the need to protect Austria's 'cultural purity' didn't seem to hurt [the German neo-Nazi cause] either, nor did its leaders' veiled praises of the Third Reich or their support of SS veterans groups … (Hasselbach 1996).
Having hit upon the abundant well of popular malcontent regarding the all-encompassing powers of the European Union (E.U.) and its moves to broaden Western Europe's borders to admit the less fortunate inhabitants of the war-torn Balkan region, Jörg Haider has touted anti-European Union and anti-immigration stances as major planks of the FPÖ's political platform. He has played upon the social anxiety a country that is the bulwark of Western Europe and whose neighbors are less affluent Eastern European countries. The proximity of these countries is threatening to Austria, whose population is ninety-five percent Germanic stock (three percent of the population are Croat, two percent Slovene, and one percent Turkish). Haider has described the European Union as a "bureaucratic monster" the E.U. border broadening plans as "a declaration of war against all working and upstanding people." He attempted to stop Austria from joining the European Union in 1995. He also tried to force a referendum on whether Austria should join the E.U.'s single currency. On both counts, he failed.
Toward Austria's (approximate) five percent population of immigrants, Haider is no more generous. During the October 1999 electoral campaign, he suggested that the austere nature of the country's budget could be blamed on the added burden of immigrants upon the nation's economy. Haider has said of the immigrant population of Austria:
You have to provide housing conditions for them, you have to organise a school system where they can speak their traditional language … we have to provide jobs for them and if we have an increasing unemployment rate in Austria, I don't think it's responsible to accept so many … immigrants coming to Austria and asking for jobs.
Doron Rabinovici, the Jewish Austrian writer and part-organizer of many of Vienna's recent anti-Haider protests, laments that Haider's "policy is to make social problems into ethnic problems." Haider lays the blame for the country's woes at the feet of immigrants and those who are different. Further, Rabinovici notes that abuse and harassment of Jewish people in Austria has increased tenfold since the Freedom Party's election to power. Barbara Greinicher, a worker for Austria's Caritas charity, which assists mainly refugees and immigrants, states that since the success of Haider's party "you can express … in public that you don't like foreigners, that you prefer Austrian culture." Leon Zelman, the head of the Jewish Welcome Service in Vienna (which connects visiting or returning Jews with their Viennese heritage), spent his teenage years in Auschwitz. He spoke to a BBC correspondent about his feelings towards Haider as Zelman sat in his room above St. Stephen's Square and watched and listened to a Haider rally:
The way he [Haider] manipulated the crowd, the way the people cheered, the whipping up of hatred and intolerance—that was what scared him [Zelman], and reminded him of Nazi rallies he had witnessed as a boy. He [Zelman] says he wept at the memory.
The question is whether Haider has the makings of another Hitler: is the world community right to be concerned about the Austrian situation, or is it overreacting? Haider refutes charges of his party's neo-fascism and xenophobia and blames the charges on political manipulation by Austria's other parties. Haider denies the charges—either through a genuine desire to correct public misconceptions about his party's aims or through a more studied, politically astute and rather disturbing attempt to make the FPÖ's policies seem publicly acceptable as they make a dash for power. Again, on the Foreign Correspondent show, Haider claimed that:
We have been attacked as being a xenophobic and fascist movement. There is no reason behind it. There's only the question of having a strong battle in Austria between a block of two powerful parties which do not want to lose power. We have been too successful in the past so they use all the arguments they can put on the table to attack us.
Haider has backed away from, if not apologized for, almost all of the outrageous remarks that he has made. In an address made in Vienna in November 1999, following the Freedom Party's electoral success, Haider apologized to Austria's Jewish citizens for some of his comments:
In the past, some remarks which have been attributed to me in connection with Nazism which were certainly insensitive or open to misunderstanding. I am personally sorry for this, firstly because I believe I hurt the feelings of people who were themselves victims of Nazism or whose relatives were, and secondly because the statements were not made in line with the personal values of tolerance and humanity which are the basis of my political work.
In the same address, he went on to say that:
Where we in the Freedom Party have responsibility, no one needs to pack their suitcases and no one has to leave their home. Where we in the Freedom Party have responsibility, freedom and democracy are in good hands. (BBC News)
Recent History and the Future
In February of 2000, Haider, with Wolfgang Schuessel, signed a "democracy pledge" that committed the political parties of both men to uphold just values while in office. Haider also recently volunteered to visit a Jewish Museum in Montreal while on a visit to Canada (his request was refused). His latest and most significant attempt at improving the chances of his ostracized nation and political party was to resign his post as the FPÖ's leader in late February 2000, to be replaced by Susanne Reiss-Passer. He officially stepped down in early May.
However, as with many of his remarks, Haider's actions can be interpreted as having dual meanings. His resignation from the FPÖ leadership has been dismissed by many as a ploy; some believe he meant to lull the concerned European community into a sense of security and then launch the great leap forward into the chancellor's seat. Indeed, when talking on the Foreign Correspondent of his chances of the ultimate success in Austrian politics, namely chancellorship, he said "I am sure that it will happen." The FPÖ likewise appears to be in no doubt that Haider will return. According to the May 22, 2000 issue of Time, new leader Susanne Reiss-Passer confidently proclaiming after Haider's resignation, "This is still Jörg Haider's party!"
For now, the situation is improving for Austria. Sanctions, such as the freeze on bilateral political contacts, may be suspended. Attempts have been made now to thaw relations between Austria and the rest of the world community. Switzerland was the first to make a move toward this, when in March 2000 it received Austria's chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, on his first bilateral visit since tensions arose. Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, traditionally receives new Austrian ministers first and saw no reason to behave differently after the most recent election. Finland followed in April when the Finnish foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, argued that the ban is counterproductive and hampers the making of key EU policy decisions.
Germany's new opposition leader, Angela Merkel, has also criticized the European Union's decision to isolate Austria, stating, as Finland has, that Austria is a vital part of the EU community. Further, Merkel suggested, the European Union's actions have led only to greater notoriety for Haider. Hungary has also joined the countries moving away from the European Union's hardline position on Austria by receiving Schuessel on his second bilateral state visit since the shunning of Austria.
In fact, the actions of the European Union regarding Austria are being questioned as having legally contravened E.U. powers. The E.U. treaties allow for the suspension of a member who consistently violates democracy and human rights but there is no provision in the treaty for members who may, in the future, create such problems. Austria is scheduled to vote in a referendum that will give an idea of their feelings about the sanctions, and, as a result, their feelings about the European Union in general. Indeed, there are some who suggest that the whole incident has played right into Haider's hands in creating anti-E.U. sentiment.
On the Foreign Correspondent television program, Anton Polinka, an Austrian professor in politics and history suggested that:
Haider is not a second Hitler or even a second Hitler in disguise … he's the successful Austrian version of a new type of right wing politics.
It is this phenomenon of right-wing parties that really makes the other members of the European Union nervous and, indeed, it is what this entire incident has been largely about. Extreme right-wing groups are gaining ground throughout Europe; Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and France, parties bordering on the neo-fascist are making parliamentary gains. Swedish prime minister Goran Persson, addressing an international Holocaust forum in Sweden made these widespread concerns clear, when he stated that, "Anti-democratic forces continue to gain our support. The danger lies in our failure to learn from history, our failure to see the connection." Prime Minister Persson decided to call the forum after research revealed the fact that ten percent of Swedish schoolchildren do not know about the Holocaust. If the world begins to forget about Nazism's horrors, the rise of far-right figures like Haider may not seem so troubling until it is too late.
No matter how much of Haider's platform one takes seriously at this early stage, the ghosts of the past are certainly stirring in one form or another throughout Europe. Austria, it would seem, is just the beginning. Shadows of Austria's dark past, which the country has thus far largely managed to evade, are coming back to it in a variety of ways. Some Austrian companies are facing compensation claims for the use of forced labor during World War II and one of Austria's most respected neuro-psychologists and forensic experts, Heinrich Gross, has recently been on trial for his part in a Nazi program to experiment on handicapped children, an experiment that is believed to have resulted in hundreds of deaths.
As the fallout from this international diplomatic crisis continues to land, the outcome remains unclear. Has Austria learned the lessons taught by its past? Haider, in typically double-edged form during a recent interview with the German periodical Die Zeit, showed an alarming hint of his more malevolent intentions, stated "There is a lot of excitement in the European chicken pen—even though the fox hasn't even got in."
"Europe has Little to Fear from this Goose-Stepping Austrian", Seattle P-I.com. 12 October 1999. http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com/opinion/austop.shtml (8 September 2000).
Fischer, Klaus P. Nazi Germany—A New History. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1995.
Foreign Correspondent. Television program. On Australian Broadcasting Commission, March 2000.
Hasselbach, Ingo with Tom Reiss. Fuhrer-Ex—Memoirs of a Former Neo-Nazi. New York: Random House, 1996.
Jelavich, Barbara. Modern Austria: Empire and Republic, 1815-1986. 4th ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Laqueur, Walter. Fascism—Past, Present, Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Leuker, Angela. "The Haider Effect," Time 17 July 2000, 36.
Parkinson, F., ed. Conquering the Past—Austrian Nazism—Yesterday and Today. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1989.
Pitney, Geoff. "Haider Signs to Guarantee Democracy," The Age, 4 February 2000.
Purvis, Andrew. "This is still Jörg Haider's Party!" Time, 22 May 2000.
Roxburgh, Angus. "Haider and the Auschwitz Survivor."BBC News Online. 29 February 2000. http://news6.thdo.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/from%5Four%5Fown%5Fcorrespondent/newsid%5F628000/628728.stm (8 September 2000).
Sully, Melanie A. The Haider Phenomenon. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 1997.
1920 The Republic of Austria is formed.
1938 The Anschluss takes place: Austria is forcibly incorporated into Hitler's Germany.
1945 Austria is occupied by Soviet Union, British, U.S., and French forces.
1955 Soviet Union troops withdraw from Austria and Austria is recognized as an independent and neutral state (though it remains within the Soviet bloc of influence).
1956 The Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is formed.
1986 Jörg Haider becomes the leader of the Freedom Party of Austria.
1995 Austria joins the European Union.
1999 Haider's Freedom Party of Austria makes an impressive showing in the general election in Austria.
2000 The Freedom Party is invited to join the government. Sanctions and expressions of concern from around the world follow. Austria's chancellor signs a "democracy pledge" to ease concerns. Haider resigns as the FPÖ's leader.