Austria remembers 1955 treaty as it plays host to Shultz, Gromyko. Treaty ended postwar occupation; talks today seek US-Soviet dialogue

A leather-bound volume waved 30 years ago from a palace balcony over the heads of a vast, excited Viennese crowd is being celebrated here this week. That volume held the state treaty that ended 10 hard years of Austrian partitioning after World War II. In 1945 the four victorious war powers had split the country into four zones, much like defeated Nazi Germany.

Foreign ministers of the four -- Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union -- are to be on hand tomorrow for the anniversary.

Now, just as 30 years ago, Austria seems one of the few places where the four might meet in an atmosphere devoid of the polemics and acrimony of a new cold war.

In May 1955 East-West tensions were briefly set aside amid relief at a thaw in international relations. One British observer at the time described the beaming Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, as looking to the Viennese ``as a sort of Maytime Father Christmas.''

The reason: ``Mr. Nyet,'' as he was known, had finally taken a negotiating U-turn in favor of a treaty for which the Russians, at the time, almost got more local credit than the Western allies.

How much of a smile Mr. Molotov's successor, Andrei Gromyko, will raise this week may depend on how well he feels today's meeting with US Secretary of State George Shultz has gone. That meeting is seen as a crucial attempt to get Washington and Moscow talking seriously again about arms control -- at the highest level.

Ever since 1955, Austrian politicians have liked to see their country as a kind of bridge, usefully situated between East and West. So it is, up to a point.

But there is scant optimism among diplomats and other concerned officials from both East and West here that history might repeat itself or that anything more than a tentative first step can be made beyond the apparent better direction of 1955.

Austria, being neutral, albeit firmly Western in orientation, can afford to stand aside from current international tensions. Most Austrians do so, though they share the general European concern that, if the US and the Soviet Union don't resolve their problems, they and the rest of the Continent will be caught in the middle.

Austrians may well congratulate themselves on what they are now celebrating. Theirs is a decidedly less troubled existence than that which most European states, East and West, or the US itself, have had since 1955.

The papers are recording graphically the war's end 40 years ago, when the country was in economic chaos and hunger was rife as the Second Republic was born.

``From stones and rubble we became a modern state, economically competitive today with the advanced industrial world at large,'' former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky said in a recent interview.

He and many other Austrians can recall with horror the turbulent 1930s, the civil strife and widespread unemployment, the bloody February of 1934, and the right-wing dictatorship that made Austria easy prey for Hitler four years later.

Mr. Kreisky, first as foreign secretary and then as chancellor of a socialist government for 13 years, epitomizes the postwar Austrian scene.

That scene has been one of extraordinary domestic peace, combining coalition (for 17 years before Kreisky's tenure as well as since his retirement in 1983) or majority government, with political and economic consensus largely accepted by the two main parties, business, and labor.

Most Austrians like it that way. Since the war, they have had only seven heads of government. The country has never been racked by the strikes that have been commonplace in most of the major Western countries. Between 1976 and 1982, time lost through industrial stoppages here averaged less than a half-minute per employee.

Before the 1955 treaty, the US Marshall Plan had already pumped in $1 billion in aid, so that by 1950 the economy was largely reconstructed.

From then on, however, 7 million Austrians were more or less ``on their own.'' And through the 1960s and the '70s, the gross domestic product grew by 4.8 percent annually, better than most most developed nations.

Thereafter, the world recession brought a downturn. Even so, the Austrian mix of market economics and state intervention contrived to exceed the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's average growth rate for both Europe and the OECD's area as a whole.

Inflation has never neared double figures. Unemployment is negligible. And Austria generally enjoys highly beneficial trade and economic relations with both East and West.

Politically, the country has no serious problems. Austrians are content that two major parties dominate the scene.

Most people here disdain left or right extremes, as a recent incident showed. A Cabinet minister met with an Austrian-born former Nazi SS major on his return from Italy, where he had been serving a life sentence for his involvement in mass killings of civilians in 1944.

The resultant criticism shook the Austrian government momentarily, since the minister belongs to the rightist Freedom Party, which, since the last election, has been the junior partner in coalition with the Socialists. But when the minister apologized for his indiscretion, the extreme-right near-Nazi wing in his own party rebuked him for doing so.

It was a maladroit reminder that the past has not completely been laid to rest here, and it prompted the government to initiate legislation to close loopholes in the present laws against Nazi activity.

That legislative action is aimed principally at things like the distribution of Nazi literature outside schools and alleged efforts to engage youth in Hitler Jugend-style training.

``We know there is a hard core of some 200 active Neo-Nazis,'' says Interior Minister Karl Blecha. ``We do not know how many sympathizers they have.'' A recent university study suggested that 1 Austrian in 6 or 7 remains sympathetic to far-right views.

However that may be, there still seems no ground for fearing any meaningful revival of Naziism. Austrians have ``never had it so good.'' The social and economic policies that have brought both general prosperity and political stability for 30 years seem likely to go on doing so for the foreseeable future.

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