Chancellor Bruno Kreisky says the reason he invited the world to celebrate Austria's 25th anniversary yesterday -- and the reason the world came -- is to recall what detente can achieve.
"We had the choice, whether to make the anniversary an internal or an international event," Kreisky explained in a recent interview. "But because of the current world situation, we wanted this to be proof to the world to work in favor of detente."
Indeed, it was no small achievement when in 1955 Austria managed to get the four post-war occupying powers -- the United States, the Soviet Union, France and Britain -- to withdraw by accepting a permanent neutral status. The event marked the beginning of detente and remains the only significant withdrawal of Soviet military power in Europe since World War II.
This small landlocked country, about the size of Maine, has in the meantime taken deft advantage of its special status and its central European location to strengthen ties both East and West and prove there is profit in being politically uncommitted.
Austrian leaders have cultivated an image of an independent and impartial country. Vienna, a graceful old former imperial capital city, advertises itself as a crossroads for East-West, North-South dialogues. It plays host to U.s.-Soviet summits, is the site for seemingly permanent disarmament talks, and last year christened a $700 million United Nations complex on the east bank of the Danube River.
It is also a city of multinational corporations and middlemen, cashing in on flourishing Austrian-based trade with the communist world.
Overall, Austria's economy has performed more miraculously than West Germany's. Austria's inflation rate last year, under 4 percent, was the lowest in Europe. The unemployment rate is 2 percent and a growth rate over the past decade was 52 percent, second only to Japan's.
Little wonder, then, that Austrian-brand neutrality has been offered by the West as a solution to the Afghanistan crisis in exchange for a Soviet withdrawal of their troops.
But Kreisky, 69, a foreign policy enthusiast with a lifetime of experience with the Soviets said the Austrian solution won't work for Afghanistan. Austria in 1955 had four occupying powers with something in common to negotiate about. Afghanistan in 1980 has one occupying power, he said.
His own answer is to get the Soviets to accept an Afghan government based on political groups in the country, but leave it up to the nonaligned and Third World countries to negotiate this with Moscow. "They are in a much better position to do so," Kreisky said. "The Soviets will not give in to the West."
Nor would Kreisky recommend Austrian-style neutrality for any other states in Europe. He said the Soviets, by agreeing to make Austria neutral, hoped to set an example that would lure West Germany and such smaller countries as Denmark and the Netherlands away from Western allegiances then being formed.
Lately, as a result of transatlantic strains, talk about a neutral Europe has come up again. Kreisky counselled against it for security's sake.
"Europe can only be safe in a military alliannce with the United States," he said. "We are willing to accept neutrality in order to preserve our unity and not end up like Germany. But an alliance gives a maximum of security. Neutrality is not a policy of secuity."
Kreisky's government last year recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization. Moreover, the Austrian chancellor has become identified increasingly with the Third World-dominated nonaligned movement.
Some see these developments as a dangerous drift away from Austria's pro-West, if neutral, leanings. "We have to keep clear today the difference between Austrian neutrality and neutralism," said Hubert Feichtlbauer, editor of the Austrian weekly Furche.
At home, the Austrians take care of themselves. In contrast to their conservative nature, they operate one of Europe's most complete welfare states. The costs of job, health and old-age benefits has meant a deficit budget for Kreisky's Socialist Party government that is proportionately greater -- about 4 percent of national income -- than the U.S. debt.
One of the wonders is how the Austrian economy can carry the loss with so little inflation. The Economist magazine observed: Austria exported all its economists to America and Britain.
The real reason has to do with Austria's triangular "social partnership" among industry, government and labor. Policy is made by a cozy circle including the speaker of the Parliament, Anton Benya, who is the president of trade unions, and Stephan Koren, the governor of the Central Bank and a former prominent opposition politician.
This sense of solidarity dates back to World War II when many in Austria's current establishment were in the same Nazi concentration camps. It translates basically into promises by the government to keep unemployment low and the unions to keep labor peace. Only Switzerland in Western Europe has fewer strikes.