Essay, Research Paper: Austria

Geography

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Austria is the republic in central Europe. It is about 360 miles long and has an
area of about 32,378 square miles. Vienna is the country’s capital and largest
city. Austria is predominantly a mountainous country, with an average elevation
of about 3000 feet. Most of the land falls within the eastern part of the Alps.
In general the major mountain ranges of Austria run in an eastern-western
direction and are separated from one another by large valleys. The northernmost
line of ranges includes the North Tirol Alps and the Salzburg Alps. Among the
central range is the Hohe Tauern, which tops in the Grossglockner, the highest
elevation in the country. The Pasterze Glacier, one of Europe’s largest,
descends from the Grossglockner peak. The southernmost ranges include the Ötztal
Alps, the Zillertaler Alps, the Carnic Alps, and the Karawanken Mountains.
Besides these eastern-western ranges, several series of mountain extend in a
northern-southern direction. The mountain barriers of Austria are broken in many
places by passes, including the Brenner Pass and the Semmering Pass. The
principal river is the Danube, which enters Austria at Passau on the German
border. Austrian tributaries of the Danube include the Inn, Traun, Enns, and
Ybbs rivers. In the south, important rivers are the Mur and the Mürz. In
addition to the rivers, the hydrographic system of the country includes numerous
lakes, Bodensee, and Neusiedler Lake in Burgenland. The lake is the country’s
lowest elevation point. The Austrian climate varies with altitude. Mountainous
regions are subject to moderate Atlantic conditions and experience more
precipitation than the eastern lowlands. Spring and fall are usually mild
throughout the country. Summers are short with moderate temperatures. Cold and
often severe winters last about three months in the valleys. The foehn is
important to Austria’s agricultural production, allowing for early cultivation
of the southern valleys. Average annual temperatures range between about 44°
and 48° F throughout the country. Average annual rainfall is about 26 inches in
Vienna and about 34 inches in Innsbruck. In some interior valleys, the average
annual rainfall is between about 60 and 80 inches. Austria has large deposits of
iron ore, lignite, magnesite, petroleum, and natural gas and is a prime world
agent of high-grade graphite. Some small deposits of bituminous coal have been
mined, as well as lead, zinc, copper, kaolin, gypsum, mica, quartz, salt,
bauxite, antimony, and talc. Deciduous trees, mainly beech, oak, and birch, are
predominant in the lower altitudes. Spruce, fir, larch, Austrian black pine, and
stone pine extend to the timberline. The higher altitudes have a very brief
season during which alpine plants, including edelweiss, gentians, primroses,
buttercups, and monkshoods, come into brilliant flower. Wildlife is generally
scarce in Austria. Chamois, deer, and marmot are still represented; bear, which
were once abundant, are now almost completely absent. Hunting is strictly
regulated to protect the remaining species. The Austrian people are
German-speaking, but the country has a varied ethnic mixture–a legacy from the
time of the multinational Habsburg Austria. About 96 percent of the population
is ethnic Austrian. Minority groups include Croats and Hungarians,
Slovenes,Czechs, as well as small numbers of Italians, Serbs, and Romanians. A
large amount of refugees in the years following World War II increased their
numbers, and new groups, such as the Turks, were added. According to the 1991
census, Austria had a population of 7,795,786. The 1996 estimated population was
about 8,023,244, giving the country an overall population density of about 248
people per square mile. About 61 percent of the population is urban, with more
than one-quarter of the people living in the five largest cities: Vienna, Graz,
Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. Austria is divided into nine federal provinces:
Burgenland, Kärnten, Niederösterreich, Salzburg, Steiermark , Tirol, Oberösterreich,
Vienna, and Vorarlberg. Roman Catholicism is the religion of about 78 percent of
the population of Austria. Reformed Lutherans and various other Christian
denominations account for 8 percent, and Muslims make up 2 percent. Those
without a religion or whose faith is unknown constitute 12 percent of the
population. German is the official language of Austria. About 2 percent of the
population speak languages other than German, mainly Croatian, Slovenian, Czech,
and Turkish. The basis of the Austrian educational system is the national law
that requires school attendance for all youths between the ages of 6 and 15.
Austria’s long tradition of free education dates from the Educational Reform
Act of 1774, instituted by the Empress Maria Theresa. This law, which was
expanded in 1867 and again in 1962, largely accounts for the fact that virtually
all of the adult population is able to read and write. During the 20th century,
Austria has received international recognition for the high quality of its
medical training. In the arts it has sought new approaches to the awakening of
students’ creative interests, especially in the field of art education under
the leadership of Franz Cizek. In many aspects, Austrian schools were among the
first anywhere to be marked by a general trend toward progressive education.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Vienna was a world center of culture,
particularly in music and literature. Austrian fine art usually is considered
with the art of southern Germany. A distinctive Austrian style is manifested in
the refined baroque architecture and sculpture of the 17th and 18th centuries,
notably in Vienna, Salzburg, and Melk. The largest of the 2400 libraries in
Austria is the National Library, founded in 1526. Important research collections
are housed in the various universities, in several old monasteries, and in a
number of scientific libraries. The collection of the former royal house
contains state papers dating from 816; collections of the Holy Roman Empire
dating from 1555; and documents concerning the history of the Austrian Empire,
the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and the period since 1918.The art and natural
science museums of Vienna are internationally known, as are many individual
collections. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is famous for its paintings by members
of the Brueghel family and for the works of Dutch, Italian, and German painters.
The Albertina collection of prints and drawings, the collections of jewelry and
relics of the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrian Gallery, the technical museum, and
the museum for folklore and ethnography are all well known. Salzburg, birthplace
of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, has several museums housing collections
of his manuscripts and memorabilia, including one in the house where he was
born. The Austrian economy is based on a balance of private and public
enterprise. All the basic industries were nationalized in 1946; these included
all oil production and refining; the largest commercial banks; and the principal
companies in river and air transportation, railroad equipment, electric
machinery and appliances, mining, iron, steel, and chemical manufacturing, and
natural-gas and electric power production. Government control was reduced
through lack of efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, allowing for the sale
of shares in many nationalized companies to private investors. Austria has
maintained close ties with the countries of Eastern Europe. Since the collapse
of communism in those countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more than
1000 Western companies have chosen Austria as their base for new Eastern
European operations. Of the total land area, about 17 percent is considered
suitable for cultivation. Meadows and pastures constitute about 24 percent of
the total land area, and market gardens and vineyards account for slightly more
than 1 percent. About half of Austrian farms are under 25 acres in size. Major
products in the early 1990s were wheat,barley,maize, grapes, potatoes, sugar
beets, apples, and rye. Austria’s farms satisfy most of the food needs of the
country, and some surpluses such as dairy products are exported. Annual milk
production was about 870 million gallons. Livestock included 3.7 million pigs,
2.4 million, 312,000 sheep, and 61,400 horses. Executive power is exercised by
the president of the republic, who is elected by popular vote every six years,
and by the Council of Ministers, which is headed by a chancellor, appointed by
the president for a term not exceeding four years. Suffrage is universal for
citizens 19 years of age and older. Federal legislative power is vested
principally in the Nationalrat (National Council), or lower house of the
bicameral Federal Assembly. The Nationalrat is composed of 183 members elected
for four-year terms by popular vote according to proportional representation.
The cabinet may remain in office only so long as it enjoys the confidence of the
Nationalrat. The Bundesrat (Federal Council), the upper house, consists of 64
members chosen by the provincial legislatures in proportion to population for
terms ranging from four to six years, depending on the length of terms of the
provincial legislatures they represent. Although the powers of the Bundesrat are
primarily advisory, the council can delay passage of the bills. Each of the nine
provinces has a unicameral legislature elected on the same basis as the
Nationalrat. The legislature chooses a provincial governor. All legislation must
be submitted by the governor to the federal ministry for approval. The
provincial legislature, however, may override a ministry veto by majority vote.
Cities and villages are administered by elected communal councils, which in turn
elect mayors, or burgomasters.The legal system is based on the division between
legislative, administrative, and judicial power. There are three supreme courts:
the Supreme Constitutional Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and the
Supreme Judicial Court. The judicial courts include 4 higher provincial courts,
17 provincial and district courts, and about 200 local courts. The
constitutional court deals with matters affecting the country’s constitution,
and examines the legality of administration and legislation. The administrative
court deals with matters affecting the legality of administration. The new
Socialist chancellor, Fred Sinowatz, formed a coalition with the Freedom Party;
however, the alliance collapsed in 1986 when the Freedom Party took a sharp turn
to the right under its new leader, Jörg Haider. Mismanagement and layoffs in
the public sector coupled with controversy over privatization fueled discontent
with the government, the Socialists, and the political patronage system. The
presidential election in 1986 was won by the People’s Party candidate, Kurt
Waldheim, former secretary general of the United Nations, despite allegations
that he had lied about his actions in the German army during World War II. The
vote reflected the ambiguous attitude of many Austrians toward their country’s
Nazi past. After parliamentary elections in November, Chancellor Sinowatz
resigned and Franz Vranitzky, another Socialist, took office, forming a
coalition with the People’s Party. His government had to deal with continuing
cutbacks in the public sector, high budget deficits, and international unease
over Waldheim’s election. The coalition survived the elections of October
1990, but lost seats to the right-wing Freedom Party. In 1991 Waldheim announced
that he would not seek reelection the following year, and the Socialist Party
changed its name to the Social Democratic Party. Thomas Klestil, a career
diplomat and former ambassador to the United States, was elected president in
1992, partly on the promise to press forward Austria’s application to join the
European Union (EU). In 1994, five years after it was first submitted,
Austria’s application to join the EU was endorsed by the European Parliament
and approved by Austrian voters in a nationwide referendum. The country
officially joined the EU on January 1, 1995. In the mid-1990s a number of
violent incidents against minorities occurred in Austria, including numerous
letter bombings. Underground extremist right-wing groups claimed responsibility
for the attacks, heightening fears of a resurgent neo-Nazi movement in the
country and spawning large public protests against the persecution of
minorities. In the October 1994 parliamentary election, the ruling coalition of
the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party retained a legislative
majority but lost 23 seats. It was the worst showing by the coalition since
1945, reflecting rising dissatisfaction with the government’s direction. The
Freedom Party, which advocated greater restrictions on Austria’s ethnic
minorities, continued to make gains, winning a total of 42 seats in the
Nationalrat. In October 1995 the ruling coalition collapsed over a budget
dispute. In December the Social Democratic Party won elections once again, and
in March 1996 it reunited with the People’s Party to form a new government. By
late 1996 Haidar’s right-wing Freedom Party had increased in popularity. An
outspoken opponent of immigration and the EU, Haidar won support among
working-class Austrians by arguing that both posed dangerous threats to Austrian
jobs. He also tapped into a growing dissatisfaction among Austrians over
budgetary cuts designed to meet EU criteria for participation in a common
European currency by 1999. In January 1997 Vranitzky resigned as chancellor and
leader of Austria’s Social Democratic Party. He designated Finance Minister
Viktor Klima as his successor.

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