What is Austrian National Day and why is it celebrated?

The Austrian flag flies above the parliament building
How did it start, and what is there to do on Austria's national day? Photo: Alexander Klein/AFP
Austria celebrates its national holiday on October 26th. Aside from getting the day off work, how did it start and what is there to do on National Day?

Celebrations will be slightly pared down again in 2021 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but October 26th in Austria usually sees the unfurling of flags and a number of celebrations. 

What is Austrian National Day?

October 26th, 2021, marks the 66th year of Austrian National Day, although the date has only been a public holiday since 1965. 

It was on this day in 1955 that Austria signed its so-called Declaration of Perpetual Neutrality.

It states: “For the purpose of the permanent assertion of its independence externally and for the purpose of the inviolability of its territory, Austria freely declares its perpetual neutrality. Austria will maintain and defend this with all means at its disposal.”

It includes a commitment that “Austria will not join any military alliances and will not permit the establishment of any foreign military bases on her territory”.

But what prompted it?

After the end of the Second World War, Austria was jointly occupied by the Allied forces of France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union. While Austrians welcomed the end of the war, over time they grew tired of the Allied occupation. 

The Austrian parliament had little control over major affairs, because the Allied Control Council was able to veto any political or legislative action by the elected parliament. That changed in 1955 when the Austrian State Treaty was signed, handing power of the country back over to Austria, and Austria committed to its “perpetual neutrality”.

From 1946 to 1954, Austria celebrated Liberation Day on April 13th, commemorating the end of the Second World War. 

(In normal times) what happens on Austrian National Day?

Other than the hoisting of what feels like 100 flags for every resident, the Federal Government celebrates the day with a number of events. 

The president addresses the nation in a TV address, as well as honouring the victims of the war resistance and laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is also the day when new recruits of the Austrian Armed Forces are sworn in. 

These events will take place as usual in 2021, but other parts of the festivities have been pared back.

For example, the usual military celebrations in Vienna’s Heldenplatz are cancelled, and government buildings are closed, which means the traditional open houses will take place virtually instead, though some units of the police will host a programme on Minoritenplatz.

The former principal imperial palace, the Hofburg, will host a walk-in Covid-19 vaccination drive.

Many museums offer free or discounted entry on National Day — but note that in 2021 the 3G rule (proof of Covid vaccination, recovery, or a valid negative test required for entry) will apply.

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