October 26th is a national holiday in Austria, but not just any holiday – it is literally “the” National Holiday, or “der Nationalfeiertag” in German. Internationally, it is known as Austria National Day.
The date celebrates October 26th 1955, when Austria signed its Declaration of Perpetual Neutrality and the last of the allied troops left the country a decade after the end of the Second World War.
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, they grew tired of the Allied occupation over time.
The Austrian parliament had little control over significant affairs because the Allied Control Council could veto any political or legislative action by the elected parliament.
That changed in 1955 when the Austrian State Treaty was signed, handing the country’s power back over to Austria, and Austria committed to its “perpetual neutrality” – the commitment was fundamental to the Soviet Union in the Cold War context.
The neutrality document 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.”
How do Austrians celebrate 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, honouring the war resistance victims 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.
In 2022, the events, which were significantly scaled back during the coronavirus pandemic, are back – and big. The program has a performance show, helicopters, tanks and a flight simulator in the military parade.
During the large-scale swearing-in ceremony for new army recruits at Heldenplatz, there will be a flyover with two Eurofighters and a C-130 Hercules jet. In addition, the Austrian Armed Forces present themselves at the Am Hof (foreign missions) and Burgtheater (disaster relief).
In addition, there is a “Security Festival” taking place at the Rathausplatz.
The celebration of the Armed Forces will be particularly marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We are living in a turning point in time”, said Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner (ÖVP) in a press statement.
She said: “Russia’s attack on Ukraine has shocked and affected us all. War has returned to Europe. Peace can no longer be taken for granted in Europe”.
All the events and special videos will be broadcast on Austria’s public television ORF.
Free admission to museums on National Day
The National Day offers the opportunity to visit many museums with free admission: the Austrian National Library (ÖNB) facilities, for example, have a unique programme in place. In addition, several other federal museums and institutions are open to the public.
The museums of the Graz Universal Museum Joanneum, as well as the Graz Museum, Vorarlberg Museum and 44 museums and collections in Burgenland, are also open to the public free of charge.
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There are also musical events, such as the Vienna Johann Strauss Orchester programme, playing music by Johann Strauss (son), Josef Strauss and Franz Lehár to celebrate the coming into force of Austrian neutrality.